|Map of the Easter Offensive|
Part eleven, kids.
Amid waning morale and skepticism from soldiers, the first major test of the South Vietnamese army came in early 1971 with an invasion of Laos. The U.S. armed forces were relegated to protecting the ARVN from the Vietnamese side of the border. The offensive known as Lam Son 719, was a complete disaster for the South Vietnamese. After 46 days in February and March, it was clear that the South Vietnamese could not sustain another attack of that sort. Young South Vietnamese people struck back at the Americans, angry that they were now turning their backs on them. U.S. commanders, worried about attacks from Vietnamese civilians and the lack of motivation among their own troops, saw the need to end the war, no matter what.
This idea of abandonment had long been entertained by the regular GIs, but now it was beginning to sound like an option to the commanders as well. It was evident in that Nixon’s approval rating was sliding as was opinion on his handling of the war. Everyone involved smelled the stench of death on the South Vietnamese, and saw that there was no way to persuade the American troops to continue to die in large numbers. Knowing that very little could be done to secure victory, the Nixon government went to work in 1972 hoping to at least secure peace. Apparently, the complaints of soldiers had finally reached the ears of the men in power.
In an attempt to move the peace process forward, Nixon unveiled an eight point plan in January of 1972. In response to Nixon’s new plan, the North Vietnamese launched an all out attack on the ARVN and remaining U.S. forces in March. This was done to help give the North an upper hand in the peace process, and to pressure Nixon who was facing the presidential election in November. As with the Tet Offensive before it, the Easter Offensive caught military leaders by surprise. It is not surprising, however, that this lack of information about the attack made troops angry at their superiors. W.R. Baker, who was stationed in Da Nang during 1971 and 1972, wrote that, “The "intelligence failure" during the Easter Offensive was less a failure to collect intelligence than it was a failure to exploit obvious indicators.”
Every slight advantage that the U.S. had during the Vietnam war had been systematically taken away by the enemy, either through their cunning or our inability to take away their edge. After the Spring of 1972 you would be hard pressed to find any man in Vietnam who still fully supported the war.