The "Nixon Letter"
One of the eternal mysteries of the MIA issue is this basic question: Why would the Vietnamese not release all US POWs at the end of the war? There are several theories proposed to answer this question, none of which hold up to scrutiny. Briefly here are the leading theories.
The Nixon Letter
As the negotiations to end the Vietnam War progressed through 1972, the North Vietnamese and their "Viet Cong" allies became more and more obstinate. Nixon decided to put on some serious pressure in late 1972. US forces mined the harbor of Haiphong, North Vietnam's main port, and we unleashed a horrendous bombing campaign, the "Christmas bombing" of December 1972. These actions got their attention. For example, the mining of Haiphong almost stopped the flow of equipment and munitions from the Soviet Union and East Europe to the point that, when the Christmas bombing started, Vietnamese missile units were running out of surface-to-air missiles.
The North Vietnamese had often raised the issue of paying to rebuild Vietnam. They made these points:
At some point, Kissinger and Nixon persuaded the North Vietnamese that, if they would reach a peace agreement, the US would make a statement of some kind regarding rebuilding North Vietnam. On January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed. On February 1, 1973, President Nixon sent the following letter to North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong.
Reproduced below is the "Nixon letter." Actually, what is reproduced below is a State Department news bulletin in which State released the Nixon letter. To make reading easier, I have highlighted the letter in green type.
Follows the full text of the 1977 Department of State release containing the "Nixon Letter."
Department Of State Bulletin
Former President Nixon's Message to Prime Minister Pham Van Dong
The Department released on May 19, 1977, the text of a message dated February 1, 1973, from former President Nixon to the Prime Minister of the former Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Mr. Pham Van Dong. The existence and substance of this document have already been made public, including public references by the recipient. Its author has indicated no obligation to its release. In light of all present circumstances, we have determined that the message is no longer deemed sensitive, and it has been declassified.
TEXT OF MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM.
February 1, 1973
The President wishes to inform the Democratic Republic of Vietnam of the principles which will govern United States participation in the postwar reconstruction of North Vietnam. As indicated in Article 21 of The Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam signed in Paris on January 27, 1973, the United States undertakes this participation in accordance with its traditional policies. These principles are as follows:
UNDERSTANDING REGARDING ECONOMIC RECONSTRUCTION PROGRAM
It is understood that the recommendations of the Joint Economic Commission mentioned in the President's note to the Prime Minister will be implemented by each member in accordance with its own constitutional provisions.
NOTE REGARDING OTHER FORMS OF AID
In regard to other forms of aid, United States studies indicate that the appropriate programs could fall in the range of 1 to 1.5 billion dollars depending on food and other commodity needs of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
End of the full text of the 1977 Department of State release containing the "Nixon Letter."
This is the famous "Nixon letter" that is pointed to by the MIA cult as being proof that Nixon offered the Vietnamese a bribe of several billion dollars to release US POWs. Note several points about this letter.
This "pledge" to the North Vietnamese was made on February 1, 1973, several days AFTER the Paris Peace Accords, ending the war, were signed. Thus, this letter was not a part of the peace agreement and it certainly was not a part of any terms of release for US POWs.
The escape clauses
Nixon carefully built into this letter escape clauses for himself and for the US.
Not a Promise
Note that this letter is NOT a promise or a pledge to pay anything. The introductory sentence states: The President wishes to inform the Democratic Republic of Vietnam of the principles which will govern United States participation in the postwar reconstruction of North Vietnam. This sentence means that, if the following terms are met -- joint commission, Congressional approval -- then we may help rebuild North Vietnam.
This is not a promise and the Vietnamese were certainly sophisticated enough to recognize that fact.
And there you have it, the muchly-ballyhooed "Nixon letter." You read it, you review the history and the context of the letter, then you tell me if this is a POW ransom note.
October 17, 2000