Guest Historian Eric Lipps says, in this thread, we explore alternate scenarios for the interdiction campaign authorised by the Nixon Administration during the Vietnam War. Please note that the Cuba War thread is set in a congruent timeline but extends in a different direction into the 1970s; the POD for both is the last minute pardon of Alger Hiss by President Harry S. Truman. If you're interested in viewing samples of my other work why not visit My AOL site.
In 1970, as word of the U.S. opposition to disaster relief for North Vietnam spreads, large-scale anti-American rioting erupts in London, Paris, Bonn and Madrid. 'Spontaneous' protests are also held in a number of Eastern European capitals, including East Berlin.
In the U.S., Father Robert Drinan, running for Congress in Massachusetts, denounces the 'inhumane intransigence' of the Nixon Administration before a large crowd. Drinan's words make the evening news in Boston and are picked up by nationwide TV, prompting a furious Richard Nixon to ask if there isn't some way to get the Vatican to 'shut that pinko priest up.'
In 1970, as reports come in regarding the casualties from Operation Linebacker, already estimated as over 200,000 and continuing to climb, Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev informs President Nixon that the he is withdrawing his agreement to Nixon's proposed summit conference on atmospheric nuclear testing, which had been scheduled for later that month. 'The Soviet people cannot negotiate with a leader who has been willing to resort to mass murder on a grand scale against the populace of a fraternal socialist state,' Brezhnev informs a furious Nixon.
How dare that (expletives deleted) Red (expletive deleted) lecture me about mass murder!' Nixon rages to Vice-President Agnew and aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. 'Compared to what Stalin did, Linebacker's a (expletive deleted) slap on the (expletive deleted) wrist!'
In 1970, a revised and expanded version of the Johnson-era military plan Operation Noah's Ark, rechristened Operation Linebacker, is launched in Southeast Asia. Key dikes along the Red River are heavily bombed from high altitude with powerful conventional explosives. President Nixon had considered using nuclear weapons, but had been persuaded that doing so would invite nuclear reprisals from China against South Vietnam and run the risk of a broader nuclear war.
The non-nuclear bombardment proves to be more than destructive enough. Saturation bombardment makes up for the difficulty of precisely targeting particularly vulnerable points. Flooding of rice paddies disrupts the food supply. The deliberate wrecking of roads and rail lines constructed in proximity to the dikes disrupts the North Vietnamese transportation network, worsening food shortages by hindering delivery of food to the cities from the countryside.
The North Vietnamese had attempted to protect the dike system by mounting anti-aircraft radars, surface-to-air missiles and artillery atop the dikes. However, the U.S. bombers involved operate largely unhindered.
In 1970, as reports of the disastrous effects of Operation Linebacker on North Vietnam continue to accumulate, Secretary of State William P. Rogers protests to President Nixon that the bombing campaign has seriously damaged America's image overseas.
Nixon's response is volcanic. 'I don't give a flying (expletive deleted) what a bunch of weak-kneed (expletives deleted) foreign (expletive deleted) think! I'm not going to be the first U.S. President to lose a war, and I'll do whatever it (expletive deleted) takes to (expletive deleted) win!
And if you don't understand that, Rogers, you can (expletive deleted) quit and let me put in a Secretary of State who does!' Rogers manages to calm his boss, but this meeting marks the beginning of the end for him at the State Department. Increasingly, Nixon will freeze him out and rely on others, notably National Security Adviser Dr. Henry A. Kissinger.
In 1970, reports reach Washington that the North Vietnamese Army is withdrawing troops across the border with South Vietnam to combat growing unrest in the North Vietnamese countryside resulting from the food and fuel shortages caused by the Operation Linebacker dike bombings. The intel also mentions that the contamination of water supplies by debris, human and animal waste, and vast numbers of human bodies has led to outbreaks of typhus.
United Nations Secretary General U Thant calls for immediate UN aid to the stricken country. At the urging of President Nixon, however, U.S. ambassador Charles W. Yost demands that Hanoi first agree to 'end all hostilities against the legitimate government of South Vietnam and withdraw its support for anti-government insurgents attempting top overthrow that government.' Otherwise, Yost continues, relaying his boss's thinking, 'the United Nations will simply be providing Communist aggressors with the means to continue their aggression against the free people of South Vietnam.' Ambassador Yost makes clear that the United States will 'vigorously oppose' any United Nations disaster relief to North Vietnam unless the Nixon Administration's conditions are met.
In 1970, with U.S. troops in combat with North Vietnamese Army units inside North Vietnam, massive demonstrations are held at several U.S. universities. At Columbia University in New York City, the offices of the administration in Hamilton Hall are occupied by protestors who refuse the orders of campus security guards to vacate the premises.
Tensions had been building for some time, since the discovery by student activists of papers in the International Law Library linking the university to a Defense Department think tank called the Institute for Defense Analyses. Several students had been placed on probation for violating a university policy against indoor demonstrations, prompting a short-lived student strike.
In 1969, with the approval of outgoing President Lyndon B. Johnson, President-elect Richard M. Nixon is briefed on Operation Garden Plot and Operation Noah's Ark, the Johnson Administration's secret plans to conduct mass arrests of antiwar activists and to strike at North Vietnam by bombing the country?s elaborate system of dikes to cause flooding and famine.
Nixon is pleased with both plans, which together potentially offer him the chance to both win a war aand lash out hard against his domestic political critics, whom he has resented since his entry into politics in 1946.
In 1971, following three days of heavy aerial bombardment of the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, U.S. and ARVN forces enter the city.
They find an appalling spectacle of wrecked buildings inhabited by sick and starving people. The destruction of key roads and water supplies by the U.S. Military's Operation Linebacker has meant that Hanoi is desperately short of even the most basic supplies. The dead lie everywhere, unburied; disease is rampant, and emergency precautions must be taken to prevent infection of the invading troops.
What the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies do not find is the North Vietnamese leadership, which has managed to escape the city. Interrogation of locals reveals that the departing leaders have taken a substantial cache of supplies, including weapons, ammunition, food and medicine with them; apparently, these materials had been stockpiled since well before the start of Linebacker, and the cache had been added to even during the last few months without regard for the needs of the 'proletariat' the leaders claimed to represent.
Surprisingly, though, resentment of the leadership is balanced by hostility toward the U.S. and its allies, who are blamed for the breakdown of North Vietnam?s rickety infrastructure and, in the case of the Americans in particular, disliked as foreigners. The joyous reception some in the U.S. government had expected the populace to give their 'liberators' is not forthcoming.
In 1971, via radio broadcasts, the North Vietnamese government proclaims that it has reconstituted itself in the coastal city of Dien Bien Phu.
The symbolism of the choice is obvious: the French military's failure to hold that city had marked the end of that country's colonial rule over what was then called 'French Indochina.'
In the U.S., President Nixon is furious. The broadcasts, word of which quickly spreads through the U.S. and European media, undercuts his ability to claim that a triumphant end to the Vietnam War is near.
It will get worse. Before the next month is out, the CIA will learn that some 60,000 North Vietnamese troops have crossed the border into neighboring Cambodia - not as refugees, but in order to open up a jungle route to allow them to bypass opposition forces to ferry supplies and to strike at targets in South Vietnam.
In 1973, responding to an earlier presidential request, the Joint Chiefs of Staff present President Richard Nixon with the detailed plans for what they are calling Operation Fullback, an effort to overthrow the newly established Communist government of Cambodia and hunt down the remnants of the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong which are hiding there and in neighboring Laos.
Essentially, Fullback is a modified version of the successful Operations Linebacker and Linebacker II, which in 1970-'71 drove the NVA and its Vietcong allies out of South Vietnam, pursued them northward and then drove the North Vietnamese Communist government from power.
The report contains one significant caveat: "It is projected, based on the results of Linebacker and Linebacker II, that this operation may result in considerable collateral damage, including noncombatant casualties. Your Administration should be prepared to deal with significant political fallout both from U.S. antiwar sources and from the international community".
President Nixon expresses his profane contempt for the international community. As for the antiwar movement, the following day he will issue orders to put into effect operation Garden Plot, a Johnson-era proposal for rounding up political dissidents and confining them in internment camps recommissioned from some of those used to hold Japanese-Americans during world War II Over the last several years, Nixon has secretly had six such camps prepared for use. Nixon believes that the successful expulsion of the NVA and its allies from South Vietnam, and the defeat of the Hanoi regime, proved that he was right all along about the war, and that those who oppose continuing the conflict until the last vestige of Communist insurrection is rooted out are doing so out of treasonous motives and therefore should be treated as enemies of the United States.
In 1969, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower dies of congestive heart failure at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He is 78 years old.
For the past sixteen years, Eisenhower has been the subject of conspiracy theories centering on his refusal to condemn President Harry S Truman's January 19, 1953 pardon of accused Soviet spy and convicted perjurer Alger Hiss.
In 1958, Robert Welch, founder of the far-right John Birch Society, had raised eyebrows and tempers by citing his actions regarding the Hiss pardon as proof that then-President Eisenhower was himself a Soviet agent under the 'control' of his brother Milton Eisenhower, a charge even Wisconsin Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, still riding the wave of power which had enabled him to successfully defy the Army in public hearings in 1953, did not quite dare to endorse.
In 1972, on New Year's Day, bombings rattle Havana.
Batista flees Havana by Eric LippsTo the disgust of U.S. occupation commander Gen. William Westmoreland, a shaken President Fulgencio Batista flees the city. U.S. troops are dispatched to "escort" the Cuban president back to the capital, where he receives a dressing-down from Gen. Westmoreland concerning his "cowardice".
The American commander is unhappy with Batista for another, more fundamental reason as well: his inability to put an end to the Castro insurgency despite the massive U.S. military and intelligence support he has received since his restoration to power.
Unwittingly anticipating a line later used in America, Westmoreland warns Batista that the seemingly unending rebellion is "a cancer growing on your presidency".
In 1971, the Cambodian government of Lon Nol falls in a coup orchestrated by former North Vietnamese troops and indigenous leftist guerrillas calling themselves the Khmer Rouge.Fall of Lol Non's Government by Eric Lipps
Lon Nol's regime had itself been established by a CIA-backed coup in March 1970 which deposed Prince Norodom Sihanouk while he was out of the country, and the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge exploit Nol's CIA connection -- documented in papers seized during the takeover--to whip up anti-American sentiment.
Over the next several months, Cambodia's new rulers will establish a totalitarian regime on Marxist principles. Under the influence of the Vietnamese among the leadership, who include NVA general Vo Nguyen Giap, they mobilize a guerrilla army aimed at launching a cross-border assault on U.S.-occupied Vietnam.
In the U.S., early CIA reports regarding this effort will not be taken seriously by the Nixon administration. President Nixon, determined to claim victory in Southeast Asia, will dismiss the possibility of an attack from Cambodia as 'alarmist.'
In 1972, "peace candidate" George McGovern shocks the Democratic Party's leadership by winning the California primary, narrowly defeating Hubert H. Humphrey. Until then, party elders fearful of McGovern's "extreme" liberalism had hoped he could be decisively beaten before the national convention. It now appears that will not happen.McGoverns Shocks by Eric Lipps
The party establishment is particularly afraid of McGovern because, with all of North Vietnams major cities now under U.S. and ARVN military control, Republicans are claiming that victory is within reach. "There remains only the task of cleaning out the countryside," asserts a confident Vice-President Spiro Agnew during a speech in France commemorating the 1944 D-Day landings there. "All that remains of the enemy is a small cadre of dead-enders, and once they're beaten, the people of North Vietnam will gratefully accept the gift of freedom we have given them, just as did the people of France in '44". Showing his instinct for the jugular, Agnew continues, "And when that happens, they will remember who fought for them, and who in this country preferred to leave them under Communist tyranny"
Unfortunately for Agnew, the media will quickly point out that his reference to "this country" appears to be a blooper, given that he is addressing a French audience and not an American one. The Nixon White House will issue a "clarification" the next day.
In 1971, President Nixon is informed that a force of perhaps 40,000 North Vietnamese troops has crossed into Laos and is driving south to link up with the NVA force which had earlier entered Cambodia.Operation Linebacker escalated by Eric Lipps
Nixon is livid. He demands to know how, with the North Vietnamese supposedly on the ropes, the NVA has been able to mount these operations. "How the
(expletive deleted) were they able to get into (expletive deleted) Cambodia, anyway?"he rages "Look at the (deleted) map! They shouldn't have had such forces anywhere that far south by now!"
In a subsequent meeting with CIA Director Richard M. Helms, Nixon will be told that Agency analysts believe that elements of the NVA were deliberately detached from the main fighting force in response to the devastating attacks of Operation Linebacker, as part of a plan to bypass the advancing U.S. and ARVN troops and strike at them from behind as well as reach targets well inside supposedly 'safe' territory.
Following this meeting, President Nixon issues secret orders authorizing the bombing of Dien Bien Phu.
Pointing to the serpentine track of the adversary's trail through the jungle, Nixon observes, "If you want to kill a snake, you cut off the head".
No one among his advisers is inclined to point out that he had tried that already, with the capture of Hanoi, without success.
In 1979, Ronald Reagan, former governor of California, declares his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. In the speech announcing his run, Reagan blasts President Carter for "abandoning America's friends in embattled Indochina and liberated Cuba".
Reagan DeclaresPresident Orlando Bosch of Cuba, who had succeeded Fulgencio Batista following the latter's death in 1973 and had won a 1974 election generally regarded as rigged with the assistance of the U.S. occupation forces which had been in Cuba since the Bahia de Cochinos intervention of April 1961, praises Reagan for his hard-line stance.
Also favorable is the response of President Nguyen Van Thieu of the United Republic of Vietnam. Both Bosch and Thieu are battling Communist insurgencies, Cuba's led by deposed president Fidel Castro and Vietnam's by General Vo Nguyen Giap of the former "Democratic Republic of Vietnam," AKA North Vietnam.
In 1954, the 56-day battle of Dien Bien Phu ended with the destruction of Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh guerrilla forces by tactical nuclear weapons supplied to the French defenders by the U.S. military at the order of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (pictured).
Siege Lifted at Dien Bien PhuPresident Eisenhower, who in 1953 had successfully pressed the recalcitrant North Korean government to accept an armistice in the Korean conflict by threatening to use nuclear weapons if Pyongyang did not agree, had concluded that providing the French with a nuclear option was the only way to prevent their defeat, which he believed would inevitably lead to a Communist takeover of all of "Indochina".
The use of nuclear weapons at Dien Bien Phu was a military success, allowing France to reassert control over its rebellious Asian colonies. It was, however, a political burden for the United States, whose role in the matter was an open secret. Throughout the Third World, America was increasingly seen as all too willing to use nuclear weapons against non-white adversaries, even as it found excuses to avoid a nuclear strike against the white-ruled Soviet Union. The fact that the Soviets had their own nuclear arsenal was not seen as convincing disproof of this charge, since the U.S. had enjoyed a nuclear monopoly from 1945 to 1949 but had not, even during the Berlin crisis of 1948, used atomic bombs against the USSR.
© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.