Year
1973

U.S. officially ends participation in a Cold War conflict

The Paris Peace Accords are signed by officials from the United States and North Vietnam, bringing an official end to America’s participation in its most unpopular foreign war. The accords did little, however, to solve the turmoil in Vietnam or to heal the terrible domestic divisions in the United States brought on by its involvement in this Cold War battleground.

Peace negotiations between the United States and North Vietnam had been ongoing since 1968. Richard Nixon was elected president that year, largely on the basis of his promise to find a way to “peace with honor” in Vietnam. Four years later, after the deaths of thousands more American servicemen, South Vietnamese soldiers, North Vietnamese soldiers, and Viet Cong fighters, the Paris Peace Accords were signed, and America’s participation in the struggle in Vietnam came to a close.

On the military side, the accords seemed straightforward enough. A cease-fire was declared, and the United States promised to remove all military forces from South Vietnam within 60 days. For their part, the North Vietnamese promised to return all American prisoners of war within that same 60-day framework. The nearly 150,000 North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam were allowed to remain after the cease-fire.

The political side of the agreement was somewhat less clear. In essence, the accords called for the reunification of North and South Vietnam through “peaceful means on the basis of discussions and agreements between North and South Viet-Nam.” Precisely what this entailed was left unsaid. The United States also promised to “contribute to healing the wounds of war and to postwar reconstruction of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam [North Vietnam] and throughout Indochina.”

Most Americans were relieved simply to be out of the Vietnam quagmire. The war against communism in Southeast Asia cost over 50,000 U.S. lives and billions of dollars, in addition to countless soldiers wounded in the line of duty. At home, the war seriously fractured the consensus about the Cold War that had been established in the period after World War II–simple appeals to fighting the red threat of communism would no longer be sufficient to move the American nation to commit its prestige, manpower, and money to foreign conflicts.

For Vietnam, the accords meant little. The cease-fire almost immediately collapsed, with recriminations and accusations flying from both sides. In 1975, the North Vietnamese launched a massive military offensive, crushed the South Vietnamese forces, and reunified Vietnam under communist rule.

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