Paris peace talks break down

Paris peace talks break down

For the first time since the Paris peace talks began in May 1968, both sides refuse to set another meeting date for continuation of the negotiations.

The refusal to continue came during the 138th session of the peace talks. U.S. delegate William Porter angered the communist negotiators by asking for a postponement of the next scheduled session of the conference until December 30, to give Hanoi and the Viet Cong an opportunity to develop a “more constructive approach” at the talks.

The U.S. side was displeased with the North Vietnamese, who repeatedly demanded that South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu resign as a prerequisite for any meaningful discussions. Although both sides returned to the official talks in January 1972, the real negotiations were being conducted between Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, the lead North Vietnamese negotiator, in a private villa outside Paris. These secret talks did not result in a peace agreement until January 1973, after the massive 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Offensive had been blunted and Nixon had ordered the “Christmas bombing” of Hanoi and Haiphong to convince North Vietnam to rejoin the peace negotiations.


2000 Camp David Summit

The 2000 Camp David Summit was a summit meeting at Camp David between United States president Bill Clinton, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat. The summit took place between 11 and 25 July 2000 and was an effort to end the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The summit ended without an agreement.

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Reports of the outcome of the summit have been described as illustrating the Rashomon effect, in which the multiple witnesses gave contradictory and self-serving interpretations. [1] [2] [3] [4]


American Experience

Paris Peace Talks:
In 1967, with American troop strength in Vietnam reaching 500,000, protest against U.S. participation in the Vietnam War had grown stronger as growing numbers of Americans questioned whether the U.S. war effort could succeed or was morally justifiable. They took their protests to the streets in peace marches, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience. Despite the country's polarization, the balance of American public opinion was beginning to sway toward "de-escalation" of the war.

National Archives

This was the backdrop as the United States and Hanoi agreed to enter into preliminary peace talks in Paris in 1968. However, almost as soon as the talks were started, they stalled. When President Lyndon Johnson turned over the presidency to Richard Nixon eight months into the talks, the only thing the two sides had agreed on was the shape of the conference table.

Despite candidate Nixon's promise of "peace with honor," the deadlock would continue for three-and-one-half years of public and secret meetings in Paris. Two key issues had locked both parties. Washington wanted all northern troops out of South Vietnam Hanoi refused any provisional South Vietnamese government that involved its leader, Nguyen Van Thieu. In June 1969 the first troop withdrawals were made by the U.S., as part of its "Vietnamization" plan, whereby the South Vietnamese would gradually assume complete military responsibilities in the war while continuing to be supplied by U.S. arms.

In February 1970, national security advisor Henry Kissinger began secret one-on-one meetings with North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho outside Paris while the formal peace process continued in the city. Still, little progress would be made until the summer of 1972. By then, Nixon was pursuing détente with both China and the Soviet Union and was eager to put Vietnam behind him before the next election. Both sides wanted peace. Hanoi feared political isolation if the U.S. had a rapprochement with China and the Soviet Union. They also knew that peace would end the fearsome U.S. bombing and might finally mean the complete withdrawal of the military giant. Nixon wanted to move to other foreign policy initiatives.

Kissinger assured the North that their troops would be able to remain in the South after the cease-fire. Kissinger also backed down on the U.S. support of the Thieu regime by agreeing to an electoral commission made up of neutralists, Viet Cong and members of the Saigon government that would oversee the political settlement in the South. In return, the North withdrew its condition of Thieu's removal, and agreed the future flow of Vietnamese troops to the South would stop.

By October 1972, a tentative cease-fire agreement was reached. The accord called for the simultaneous withdrawal of U.S. troops and freedom for American POWs, to be followed by a political settlement of South Vietnam's future. Washington would extend postwar economic assistance to help Vietnam rebuild its destroyed infrastructure. On October 22, Nixon suspended all bombing north of the twentieth parallel and four days later Kissinger proclaimed that "peace was at hand."

The celebration was premature. Thieu, who had not been consulted during the secret negotiations, demanded changes that infuriated Hanoi, and talks broke off on December 13. Nixon, caught between a stubborn ally and a tough enemy, took action. He promised Thieu $1 billion in military equipment that would give South Vietnam the fourth largest air force in the world and assured Thieu that the United States would re-enter the war if North Vietnam did not abide by the peace. They were promises that Thieu had no reason to doubt Nixon had just won a landslide election and the Watergate affair was nearly invisible on the political landscape.

As for the stick, Nixon resolved to punish the North. During 12 days of the most concentrated bombing in world history, called the Christmas bombing, American planes flew nearly 2,000 sorties and dropped 35,000 tons of bombs against transportation terminals, rail yards, warehouses, barracks, oil tanks, factories, airfields and power plants in the North. In two short weeks, 25 percent of North Vietnam's oil reserves and 80 percent of its electrical capacity were destroyed. The U.S. lost 26 aircraft and 93 air force men.

When peace talks resumed in Paris on January 8, 1973, an accord was reached swiftly. The peace agreement was formally signed on January 27, 1973. It closely resembled what had been agreed to back in October of the previous year. Kissinger later justified the accord by saying, "We believed that those who opposed the war in Vietnam would be satisfied with our withdrawal, and those who favored an honorable ending would be satisfied if the United States would not destroy an ally."

America's longest war was over.

The release of POWs:
In the days following the signing of the peace accord on January 27, 1973, the American prisoners of war got word that the war was over. Camp officers read the news from prepared texts stating that the men would be released 120 at a time at two-week intervals. The sick and wounded were scheduled to depart first the others would follow in the order in which they were captured.

As the men were dismissed following the announcement at Hoa Lo., Lt. Colonel Robinson Risner about-faced and called to the 400 men, "Fourth Allied POW Wing, atten-hut!" Lt. Gerald Coffee remembered the men's reaction. "The thud of eight hundred rubber-tire sandals coming together smartly was awesome." Squadron commanders returned the salute and then dismissed their units with a unified "Squadron, dis . . . missed!"

Some were reluctant to believe the news. Coffee's squadron commander Lt. Everett Alvarez, in captivity for 8 1/2 years, said to Coffee: "You know, I've been up and down so many times over the years that I'm not sure what to think. It looks good, everything seems right, but I'll believe it when I see it. I'm not ready to party it up . . . yet."

Those who believed the announcement was true had a wide variety of reactions. Coffee said that "some men were exchanging a wink and a smile or a light punch on the shoulders, but most, with minds racing unto themselves, already projected themselves twelve thousand miles away and considered the joyful and spooky prospect of reunions with loved ones." POW Sam Johnson remembers his group at Hoa Lo "ran to each other, hugging and crying and whooping with joy." At the another Hanoi prison camp, Plantation, Al Stafford felt "a kind of emptiness which changed, slowly, to profound, bottomless fatigue." He explained afterwards that he had never felt so tired and so vacant in his life, which expressed itself in a deep desire to go back to his cell and sleep.

With the peace, the persistently austere POW conditions were finally relaxed. The men were given letters from families that had been withheld for months and years, along with supplies and other presents from home, including MAD magazine. The prisoners started receiving fresh supplies of bread and vegetables, canned meat and fish, undoubtedly attempts by the North Vietnamese to get the men looking better.

In the hours and days before their release, POWs imagined their future lives. Alvarez daydreamed of "returning to a normal life" in which "we would make our own decisions and set our own agendas." The expectation of normal, daily activities -- getting in a car and cruising down a highway or rolling in a haystack -- filled him with "tingling anticipation. I would get up whenever I pleased, make my own selection of clothing, eat whatever I wanted, and go wherever I fancied."

The last evening in Hoa Lo, Vietnamese guards gave the American prisoners their going-away clothes. Coffee recalled that his fellow soldiers eyed the clothes "like a bunch of little kids in a toy store." They played with the zippers on their jackets and laced and unlaced shoelaces that "we hadn't seen . . . for years." The men were given small black tote bags to carry what they had -- cigarettes, toiletries and gifts they'd received. Some snuck in a souvenir of captivity. For Alvarez, this was a tin drinking cup he said he had used "for so long that it had taken on the sentimental value of a baby's cup."


More Comments:

Mark safranski - 1/30/2009

LBJ was certainly very angry with and disdainful of Hubert Humphrey and concerned with his own place in history.

It's very hard to sift all of the motives that a personality like LBJ had for any given action - Robert Caro's portrait of Johnson is a man beset by a spectrum of impulses, from the venal to the noble. Much like Richard Nixon in that regard.

Was the bombing halt an attempt to swing the election to Humphrey? Not directly but it's probable Johnson would have taken the credit after the fact had Humphrey squeaked by in 1968.

Paul Moreno - 1/28/2009

By the way, by "Johnson" I meant Lyndon B., not K.C.

Robert KC Johnson - 1/28/2009

Whether the South Vietnamese had incentive to attend the talks is somewhat beside the point in terms of the political ramifications of the Chennault effort. Had Johnson gone public with what he (and Dirksen, it's worth noting) considered treasonous activity by Nixon operatives, it's hard to imagine Nixon would still have prevailed.

On the first point, there's no evidence in the tapes that Johnson saw the bombing halt as a way to swing the election to Humphrey indeed, the tapes confirm how angry he was with Humphrey's distancing himself from LBJ's Vietnam policy.

Paul Moreno - 1/28/2009

I concur with the last two posts. In what way could Nixon possibly be construed as "levying war against the United States, or giving aid and comfort to their enemies"? It looks more like Johnson was ready to sell out our South Vietnamese ally for the sake of getting Humphrey elected. And when one considers the concurrent shenanigans to get his man, Abe Fortas, the chief justiceship, Nixon looks like a model of probity in comparison.

Brian Robertson - 1/26/2009

The Election eve bombing halt (or the Chennault affair)is still one of the most politically polarizing topics of the war. Democrats argue that Johnson legitimately hoped to achieve progress, while Republican sources argue that Johnson called that halt to swing the election to Humphrey. Also, many allege that Chenault acted largely on her own capacity. Which, even with LBJ's sparse wire-tapping evidence (The X file at the Johnson Library), is difficult to prove. Lost in this political finger pointing of "playing politics with war," in my opinion, is the fact that the South Vietnamese had no incentive to attend the talks before the 1968 election and Nixon convinced Thieu's government to attend the talks after the election (as Johnson wished). Thus, Nixon's alleged interference, if it did occur, did not prevent the Paris Peace Talks. In fact, Nixon based his Vietnamization policy on Johnson' De-Americanization policy.

William J. Stepp - 1/25/2009

Dick Milhous didn't commit treason in "politicizing" the war. If anyone had committed treason (against the Contitution), it was LBJ in his escalation of the war.
Of course, Milhouse proved to be an even bigger mass murderer when he became president.

And now comes word that Obamaramadrama is officially a mass murderer. What a shock!


Ten Historic Peace Deals The World Actually Managed To Pull Off

In a world continuously scarred by wars, the work of peacemakers around the globe has never been more demanding or more important.

Around the globe, mediators, diplomats, conflict resolution experts, civil society groups and countless others are toiling -- often behind the scenes -- to reach the agreements that end wars. Their task has grown more complex as the nature of conflict evolves, becoming more interconnected, ideologically driven and dependent on new technologies.

Peace deals are often just a first step on the hard road to lasting peace. Yet that first step is crucial: a feat of hope over despair, and compromise over confrontation. “If we are serious about peace, then we must work for it as ardently, seriously, continuously, carefully, and bravely as we have ever prepared for war,” writes American author Wendell Berry in Citizenship Papers.

Below is an outline of 10 recent historic peace agreements that moved some of the world's worst conflicts toward peace, based on data compiled by Uppsala University’s Department of Peace and Conflict Research.

Egypt and Israel

On March 26, 1979, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty that ended the 30-year state of war between the countries, and made Egypt the first Arab state to recognize Israel.

President Jimmy Carter with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin during the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty at the White House in Washington on March 26, 1979. (AP Photo)

The treaty was the fulfillment of the Camp David Accords agreed on in U.S.-brokered talks a year earlier, for which the Egyptian and Israeli leaders were awarded a joint Nobel Peace Prize.

For the first time since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the nation had normal relations with an Arab neighbor. The deal also included Israel's return to Egypt of the Sinai peninsula, which it had captured in a 1967 war. Egypt, in turn, agreed to keep the region demilitarized. Egypt also opened up the strategic Suez Canal to Israeli ships.

It was a historic deal, but highly controversial in the region. Other Arab countries, still in a state of war with Israel, suspended Egypt from the Arab League. Sadat was assassinated by Egyptian Islamic extremists in 1981, who cited the deal as one of their grievances. Meanwhile, Egypt was richly rewarded by the U.S. for the peace deal in economic and military aid.

El Salvador

On Jan. 16, 1992, El Salvador’s government and leftist rebels agreed to end over a decade of civil war in the Chapultepec Peace Accords.

FMLN Commander Joaquin Villabolos signs the El Salvadoran Peace Accords at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City on Jan. 16, 1992. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta)

Conflict broke out in El Salvador in 1980 amid mounting government repression, wealth disparities and popular protests. Leftist guerrillas called the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation waged an offensive against U.S.-backed government troops and brutal paramilitary death squads. The war left at least 70,000 people dead and the country’s economy and infrastructure in ruins.

The government and rebels eventually asked the U.N. to mediate peace talks, and despite continued violence, they reached a final deal in 1992. Under the agreement, the rebels agreed to lay down their arms after a nine-month ceasefire and become a political party. The government agreed to cut the size of the Salvadoran military, investigate human rights abuses and institute limited land and democratic reforms.

While El Salvador’s civil war was over, the country struggled to cope with the legacy of the war amid soaring crime and gang violence. “It takes the sons and daughters of warriors to consolidate the peace,” explained Diana Negroponte, a Latin America scholar at the Brookings Institution. “However, in El Salvador, for want of job opportunities and advancement within the country, some of the next generation turned to gang warfare."

South Africa

On Nov. 18, 1993, the South African government and Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress party agreed on an interim constitution that paved the road to the end of apartheid.

F.W. de Klerk (L) shakes hands with Nelson Mandela (R) at the World Trade Centre near Johannesburg, Nov. 18, 1993. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)

Mandela had been released after 27 years in prison three years earlier, amid escalating political violence in the country. After decades of armed struggle against white minority rule, Mandela's ANC movement entered negotiations with the government to end the system of apartheid.

The 1993 constitution laid out the path to South Africa’s first multi-racial elections in 1994 and the structures of a post-apartheid rule, including a Constitutional Court and Bill of Rights. The ANC won the election by a landslide, and Mandela became the first president of democratic South Africa.

Bosnia

On Dec. 14, 1995, the leaders of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia signed the Dayton Accords, ending the worst conflict in Europe since World War II, with around 100,000 casualties and over 2 million displaced.

Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic (L), Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic (C) and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman sign the Dayton peace accord on Dec. 14, 1995, at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (MICHEL GANGNE/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia collapsed, the multiethnic republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina tried to break away in 1992. But it descended into violence as Serbian, Bosniak and Croat forces fought for territorial control. Serbian forces’ systematic killing, deportation and rape of Bosniaks and Croats raised international alarm, and after massacres in Markale and Srebrenica, NATO forces intervened, bombing Serbian positions. U.S., European and Russian leaders brought the warring leaders together for peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995, and the agreement was signed a month later.

The Dayton Accords established separate Serbian and Muslim-Croat political entities under a single Bosnian state. The deal was praised for freezing the conflict, but it did not end the region’s deep divides. Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegović said the agreement was like "drinking a bitter but useful medicine." Today, Bosnia has a weak central government, with its political components maintaining their own flag, their own anthem and their own version of history, the BBC reports.

Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević was tried for genocide in Bosnia and war crimes in Kosovo by a special U.N. tribunal in 1999, although he died before the conclusion of the trial.

Guatemala

On Dec. 29, 1996, the Guatemalan government and leftist rebels signed a peace deal that ended 36 years of civil war, the longest and deadliest of Central America’s civil wars.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Arzu (L) greets Guatemalan Rebel Commander Rolando Moran after the signing of the peace accord in Guatemala City, December 29, 1996. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

After a U.S.-supported military coup in 1954, leftist guerrillas launched an insurgency against the military government in 1960. Guatemalan forces and paramilitary groups waged a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that took a particularly heavy toll on the nation’s poor and indigenous population. A 1999 U.N. report found state-sponsored attacks on indigenous Guatemalans amounted to genocide, and blamed U.S. support to the military for aiding human rights violations. In all, as many as 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or “disappeared” during the conflict.

Peace talks began in the early 1990s, and culminated in the deal to end hostilities in 1996, earning guerrilla leader Rolando Morán and Guatemalan President Álvaro Arzú the UNESCO Peace Prize. The peace process controversially included an amnesty for many crimes committed during the conflict. However, in recent years, Guatemala has begun to try some of the most grave abuses, including an ongoing case against former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Human rights activists blame the long years of impunity for the violence and organized crime that blights Guatemala, one of the most dangerous countries in the world. In 2007 the U.N. set up an international commission against impunity to help Guatemala fight criminal networks in the country.

Tajikistan

On June 27, 1997, Tajikistan’s president and the leader of the United Tajik Opposition signed a peace accord in Moscow that ended five years of civil war.

Tajik opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri (L) and Russian President Boris Yeltsin shake hands, as Tajikistan President Imomali Rakhmomov looks on in Moscow's Kremlin, June 27, 1997. (AP Photo)

The conflict broke out shortly after Tajikistan became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. An imbalance of power between ethnic and regional groups led to an armed uprising against the Moscow-backed government. The civil war killed over 50,000 people and created a humanitarian crisis in the country, already the poorest nation in Central Asia. The U.N. made several attempts to broker a peace deal before the warring parties finally agreed to end hostilities and institute political reforms in 1997.

While the peace deal ended the war, the country remains mired in poverty and corruption, and is heavily dependent on security and economic support from Moscow.

Northern Ireland

On April 10, 1998, seemingly intractable enemies in Northern Ireland agreed to a peace deal called the Good Friday Agreement, helping to bring an end to decades of sectarian and political strife.

(L-R) Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair after signing the Northern Ireland peace agreement, April 10, 1998. (AP Photo/Dan Chung/Pool)

Under the deal, republicans (who want Northern Ireland to be part of the Republic of Ireland) and unionists (who want to remain in union with Great Britain) essentially agreed to disagree on the final status of region. In the meantime, the agreement established a separate parliament, or assembly, for Northern Ireland and a ministerial council for coordination with the Republic of Ireland. It also included provisions for police reform, for the release of paramilitary prisoners and for the paramilitaries to turn over their weapons. The deal was ratified by referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Peace faced several stumbling blocks. Paramilitary splinter groups opposed to the deal continued the violence, including the Real IRA bombing in Northern Ireland's Omagh that August of that year that killed 29 people. Political disputes raged over several components of the deal, including the annual unionist marches in Northern Ireland, which remain a flashpoint today. The Northern Ireland Assembly barely functioned until 2007, when former enemies the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin formed a power-sharing government. Controversies continue today over what was agreed upon, including secret assurances to fugitive republican paramilitaries.

Yet the agreement marked a historic breakthrough in a centuries-long political quagmire, and transformed life in conflict-torn Northern Ireland. “After 15 years, the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland still occasionally quivers, sometimes abruptly, and yet it holds,” Irish novelist Colum McCann wrote on the anniversary of the agreement in 2013. “It is one of the great stories of the second half of the 20th century, and by the nature of its refusal to topple, it is one of the continuing marvels of the 21st as well.”

Papua New Guinea

On Aug. 30, 2001, the government of Papua New Guinea and leaders of island of Bougainville signed a peace deal, formally ending the most violent conflict in the South Pacific since World War II.

Chiefs, elders and politicians attend the ceasefire signing ceremony on the island of Bougainville, April 30, 1998. (AP Photo/Australian Defence PR)

The civil war was first sparked by local resistance to the Panguna copper mine, owned by an Australian company, amid concerns about its environmental impact on the island. A separatist uprising broke out in the 1980s and was brutally crushed by Papua New Guinean security forces. As the conflict spiraled, some 20,000 people lost their lives. The parties reached a ceasefire in 1998, mediated by Australia and New Zealand. The full peace agreement three years later included granting considerable autonomy to Bougainville and holding a referendum on full independence within 10 to 15 years.

As that deadline approaches, Bougainville’s autonomous government has warned that international support for the implementation of the agreement had waned in recent years. The government launched preparations for the referendum earlier this year.

Liberia

On Aug. 18, 2003, Liberian representatives signed a peace agreement in the Ghanaian capital Accra, ushering in a more stable period for the war-torn country.

Sekou Damate Conneh, leader of the main rebel group, signs a peace pact in Accra on Aug. 18, 2003. (AFP/Getty Images)

Liberia had been wrought by conflict since a 1980 military coup, which was followed by a 1989 uprising led by warlord Charles Taylor. Taylor later won presidential elections, but his support for rebel forces in neighboring countries made Liberia a pariah state, and Liberian rebels battled to oust Taylor’s regime. Liberia’s civil wars left at least 200,000 dead.

In 2003, the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted Taylor for war crimes in that country’s brutal conflict. Taylor agreed to resign and went into exile in Nigeria. After Taylor left the country, the government, rebels, political parties and civil society groups reached a peace accord, which was monitored by United Nations peacekeepers. The peace deal ushered in a two-year transitional government, before democratic elections brought to power Africa’s first democratically elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Her government set up a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate crimes committed during the long years of war.

The peace stuck, and Liberia made progress rebuilding its shattered economy. But corruption and political disillusionment linger on, as Liberian writer Robtel Neajai Pailey explained on the 10th anniversary of the accord. “Although the guns have fallen silent, Liberia is experiencing what social theorist Johan Galtung called negative peace -- that is, peace derived from the absence of physical violence,” he wrote in The Guardian. “Over the next decade and beyond, Liberia must strive for positive peace: the absence of indirect, structural violence manifested in poverty, inequality, and impunity.”

Nepal

On Nov. 21, 2006, Nepal’s Prime Minister Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the head of the Communist Party of Nepal Prachanda entered into peace talks to end a decade of civil war.

Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala (L) talks to Maoist Chariman Prachanda (R) during the signing of a peace agreement, in Kathmandu on Nov. 21, 2006. (DEVENDRA M SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Maoist rebels rose up against the country’s constitutional monarch in 1996, seeking to establish a communist republic. The conflict raged for a decade, killing more than 13,000 people. Nepalese King Gyanendra assumed executive powers in 2005 and vowed to end the rebellion. But popular pressure forced him to rescind his absolute control, and a new Nepali government invited the rebels for peace talks, culminating in the 2006 deal.

The Maoists entered politics, and the monarchy was abolished in 2008, but subsequent governments have failed to agree on a new constitution. The Himalayan nation continues to grapple with political instability, as it faces the mammoth task of recovering from the massive April 2015 earthquake.


The Lyndon Johnson tapes: Richard Nixon's 'treason'

Declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson's telephone calls provide a fresh insight into his world. Among the revelations - he planned a dramatic entry into the 1968 Democratic Convention to re-join the presidential race. And he caught Richard Nixon sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks. but said nothing.

After the Watergate scandal taught Richard Nixon the consequences of recording White House conversations none of his successors has dared to do it. But Nixon wasn't the first.

He got the idea from his predecessor Lyndon Johnson, who felt there was an obligation to allow historians to eventually eavesdrop on his presidency.

"They will provide history with the bark off," Johnson told his wife, Lady Bird.

The final batch of tapes released by the LBJ library covers 1968, and allows us to hear Johnson's private conversations as his Democratic Party tore itself apart over the question of Vietnam.

The 1968 convention, held in Chicago, was a complete shambles.

Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters clashed with Mayor Richard Daley's police, determined to force the party to reject Johnson's Vietnam war strategy.

As they taunted the police with cries of "The whole world is watching!" one man in particular was watching very closely.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was at his ranch in Texas, having announced five months earlier that he wouldn't seek a second term.

The president was appalled at the violence and although many of his staff sided with the students, and told the president the police were responsible for "disgusting abuse of police power," Johnson picked up the phone, ordered the dictabelt machine to start recording and congratulated Mayor Daley for his handling of the protest.

The president feared the convention delegates were about to reject his war policy and his chosen successor, Hubert Humphrey.

So he placed a series of calls to his staff at the convention to outline an astonishing plan. He planned to leave Texas and fly into Chicago.

He would then enter the convention and announce he was putting his name forward as a candidate for a second term.

It would have transformed the 1968 election. His advisers were sworn to secrecy and even Lady Bird did not know what her husband was considering.

On the White House tapes we learn that Johnson wanted to know from Daley how many delegates would support his candidacy. LBJ only wanted to get back into the race if Daley could guarantee the party would fall in line behind him.

They also discussed whether the president's helicopter, Marine One, could land on top of the Hilton Hotel to avoid the anti-war protesters.

Daley assured him enough delegates would support his nomination but the plan was shelved after the Secret Service warned the president they could not guarantee his safety.

The idea that Johnson might have been the candidate, and not Hubert Humphrey, is just one of the many secrets contained on the White House tapes.

They also shed light on a scandal that, if it had been known at the time, would have sunk the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee, Richard Nixon.

By the time of the election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks - or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had "blood on his hands".

The BBC's former Washington correspondent Charles Wheeler learned of this in 1994 and conducted a series of interviews with key Johnson staff, such as defence secretary Clark Clifford, and national security adviser Walt Rostow.

But by the time the tapes were declassified in 2008 all the main protagonists had died, including Wheeler.

Now, for the first time, the whole story can be told.

It begins in the summer of 1968. Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign.

He therefore set up a clandestine back-channel involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser.

At a July meeting in Nixon's New York apartment, the South Vietnamese ambassador was told Chennault represented Nixon and spoke for the campaign. If any message needed to be passed to the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, it would come via Chennault.

In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris - concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.

Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.

So on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out.

He was also told why. The FBI had bugged the ambassador's phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault's calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to "just hang on through election".

Johnson was told by Defence Secretary Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace.

In a series of remarkable White House recordings we can hear Johnson's reaction to the news.

In one call to Senator Richard Russell he says: "We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move."

He orders the Nixon campaign to be placed under FBI surveillance and demands to know if Nixon is personally involved.

When he became convinced it was being orchestrated by the Republican candidate, the president called Senator Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader in the Senate to get a message to Nixon.

The president knew what was going on, Nixon should back off and the subterfuge amounted to treason.

Publicly Nixon was suggesting he had no idea why the South Vietnamese withdrew from the talks. He even offered to travel to Saigon to get them back to the negotiating table.

Johnson felt it was the ultimate expression of political hypocrisy but in calls recorded with Clifford they express the fear that going public would require revealing the FBI were bugging the ambassador's phone and the National Security Agency (NSA) was intercepting his communications with Saigon.

So they decided to say nothing.

The president did let Humphrey know and gave him enough information to sink his opponent. But by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency. So Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway.

Nixon ended his campaign by suggesting the administration war policy was in shambles. They couldn't even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table.

He won by less than 1% of the popular vote.

Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives - quite apart from the lives of the Laotians, Cambodians and Vietnamese caught up in the new offensives - before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.

The White House tapes, combined with Wheeler's interviews with key White House personnel, provide an unprecedented insight into how Johnson handled a series of crises that rocked his presidency. Sadly, we will never have that sort of insight again.

Listen to the Archive On 4 programme: Wheeler: The Final Word, on BBC Radio 4 at 20.00 GMT on Saturday or for seven days afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.


What Did the 1919 Paris Peace Conference Have to Do with the Vietnam War?

Hồ Chí Minh at the French Communist Party’s first congress in 1920. Found on the University of Exeter’s Imperial & Global Forum blog. U.S. Library of Congress records this same photo as that of Hồ Chí Minh at the Peace Conference.

All roads lead to Paris, or so it seemed to what remained of the young male generation following the Great War. And certainly for colonists desiring nations of their own, the only place worth a shot was Paris in 1919, especially when U.S. President Woodrow Wilson introduced the idea of “self-determination” in his famous “Fourteen Points.” Having traveled the world for the past eight years, one particular disillusioned colonist found himself in Paris at the end of Empires.

Most history classes covering the modern era discuss how World War I and the Treaty of Versailles (the war’s key peace treaty) led to World War II. But the Great War had ramifications for many wars other than its “sequel.” That includes the Vietnam War. When France colonized Vietnam, it existed in three separate parts: Tonkin in the North (where Hanoi lay), Annam in the center, and Cochinchina in the South (including the city of Saigon). Cochinchina came under French control in the 1860s during Napoleon III’s rule. Tonkin and Annam followed in the 1880s, as well as Laos and Cambodia. The political relationships between the individual areas and France differed, with some, including Annam, existing as protectorates with semi-autonomous rule.

A group of Annamese/Indochinese (French colonial) soldiers heading to the front. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Thus, when World War I came to an end, all of these areas had been in the French colonial sphere of influence for a relatively short time. The man known as Nguyễn Ái Quốc or Nguyễn Tất Thành who found himself in Paris in 1919 was born in 1890, three years after his home region of Annam became a French protectorate. “Annam” was often used as a collective name for the region now known as Vietnam, and the people were called Annamites. Nguyễn Ái Quốc, having become more politically minded over time and distance, decided, along with several Vietnamese comrades, that now was the time to act and put forth an official request that Annam be granted greater autonomy.

Crowd at Versailles after the Peace Treaty is signed, 28 June 1919. Source: Wikipedia.

This man, Nguyễn Ái Quốc, was none other than Hồ Chí Minh. He wrote directly to the American Secretary of State in a telegram, ten days before the peace talks began. To this telegram, he attached a document detailing the “Revendications du Peuple Annamite,” or “Claims of the Annamite People.” He wrote to the American Secretary of State most likely because it was Woodrow Wilson who presented the idea of self-determination to the conference, not to mention the United States’ colonial history, as well.

Hồ Chí Minh pictured in Marseille in 1921 as an “Indochinese” delegate to the French Communist Congress. Source: Wikipedia.

In this document, Hồ Chí Minh detailed eight requests to all governments of the Entente:

“(1) General amnesty for all the native people who have been condemned for political activity.
(2) ….granting to the native population the same judicial guarantees as the Europeans have, and the total suppression of the special courts which are the instruments of terrorization and oppression against the most responsible elements of the Annamite people.
(3) Freedom of press and speech.
(4) Freedom of association and assembly
(5) Freedom to emigrate and to travel abroad.
(6) Freedom of education, and creation in every province of technical and professional schools for the native population.
(7) Replacement of the regime of arbitrary decrees by a regime of law.
(8) A permanent delegation of native people elected to attend the French parliament in order to keep the latter informed of their needs.”

Hồ Chí Minh “signed” the document as Nguyễn Ái Quốc (“Nguyen who loves his country”). Interestingly, Hồ Chí Minh and his comrades do not request total independence. At this time, it seems, they wanted to continue as a French protectorate, but with greater autonomy–perhaps eventually leading to independence through a gradual decline in French presence over time.

“Revendications du Peuple Annamite”–the document sent to the Secretary of State. Source: Imperial & Global Forum blog

The French government, and all other governments present at the peace talks, ignored the document’s requests. But the document, itself, was not ignored the French State found this unnerving and potentially dangerous to their power in “Indochina,” so the Parisian police hired an undercover agent to find out who sent this radical statement. The agent followed the goings-on of the Parisian Vietnamese community, writing his observations down in serious detail in attempt to find “Nguyễn Ái Quốc.” After a period of time, Hồ Chí Minh confessed that he wrote the document, and the matter was closed, though it seems certain the French government kept an eye on him from that point forward.

The “Big Four” in Paris, May 1919. From left: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Italian Premier Vittorio Orlando, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Source: Wikipedia. Hồ Chí Minh appealed to the American government again in 1946, following World War II. This was ignored, just as before. Source: Wikipedia (document in U.S. National Archives).

For all the praise Hồ Chí Minh and his comrades gave France’s commitment to liberty and justice in the final words of the document, this response–not acknowledging the request and leading a secret investigation for the document’s author–showed that France had no intention of negotiating democratically with its Vietnamese citizens. In this moment where France committed to Wilson’s Fourteen Points, including self-determination, it also tightened its grip on its colonies. This approach of never “conceding” to the colonized led to the bloody dissolution of France’s colonial empire in the mid-century–not just with Vietnam, but with Algeria, as well.

A mere three years after France’s humiliating surrender in Vietnam, the French Republic told General Jacques Massu to use whatever force deemed necessary (including any amount of torture) to crush the Algerian independence movement. Here, his 10th Paratrooper division marches through the streets after the Battle of Algiers in 1957. Source: Wikipedia. Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, Hồ Chí Minh, and Soong Ching-ling together for the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 1959. Source: Wikipedia.

Much to the retrospective regret of the U.K., U.S., and France, Hồ Chí Minh found great company in communism, rather than democracy or republicanism. One year after this rejected declaration, he helped found the French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Français). In 1923, he left France for the USSR and China, where he spent most of the 20s and 30s before returning to Vietnam in 1941 to lead the Viet Minh independence movement. Perhaps 1919 was a missed moment for the anti-communist states’ relations with Vietnam, and perhaps it was not. Whatever the case, all roads would have eventually led to the Hồ Chí Minh Trail.

Sources:
Goebel, Michael. “A Parisian Ho Chi Minh Trail: Writing Global History Through Interwar Paris.” Imperial & Global Forum (blog). Centre for Imperial and Global History, University of Exeter. 14 September 2015.
University of Massachusetts – Boston. “Ho Chi Minh Documents on the Era of the First World War.” Understanding the Vietnam War (project & repository). UMass – Boston. No date provided.
Wikipedia — Hồ Chí Minh.

UMass – Boston’s “Understanding the Vietnam War” site is amazing–full of interviews, documents, photographs, and more, if you want to explore the war’s historical progression.


Contents

Before the peace talks began, both sides offered concessions. The Palestinian Authority offered to put on hold international recognition as a state by applying to international organizations while Israel offered the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, 14 of whom are Arab-Israelis and all of whom had been in Israeli jails since before the 1993 Oslo I Accord. [6] [7] The prisoners were responsible for killing, in all, 55 Israeli civilians, 15 Israeli security forces personnel, one French tourist and dozens of suspected Palestinian collaborators. [7]

Commenters have however pointed out that Israel had already promised to release these same 104 Palestinians, back in 1999 under the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, [8] but never did. [9] Critics also worry that Israel will simply quietly re-arrest the potentially released Palestinians, and state that Israel is using the slow release to hold the negotiations hostage and that the main goal of the release is to bolster Israel's image. [10] According to the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee Report, Israel's decision not to release the prisoners at the time was due to significantly increased violence against Israel by their partner in the memorandum, the PLO, leading up to the Second Intifada. In the time leading up to the planned release, Israel perceived "institutionalized anti-Israel, anti-Jewish incitement the release from detention of terrorists the failure to control illegal weapons and the actual conduct of violent operations" as a sign that "the PLO has explicitly violated its renunciation of terrorism and other acts of violence, thereby significantly eroding trust between the parties." [11]

Over the 9 months period, John Kerry met with the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on 34 occasions, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu roughly twice as many times. [12] On 29 July 2013, as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for a second day in Washington to discuss renewing peace talks, Mahmoud Abbas said "in a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands." His comments drew immediate condemnation from Israeli officials, who accused him for discriminating against Jews. [13] [14] [15] [16]

On 13 August, the first day, the Palestinian team leaders were Saeb Erekat and Muhammed Shtayyeh while their Israeli counterparts were Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho. The US mediators were Martin Indyk and Frank Lowenstein. [17] On 13 August, Israel released the first batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners. [18] On 19 August, Mahmoud Abbas called for the US to step up its involvement in the talks, saying its role should be proactive and not merely supervisory. [19] On 20 August, Israel urged the United States to back Egypt's military government, saying failure to do so would risk derailing the peace talks. [20] On 22 August, Mahmoud Abbas said that no progress had been made in the first four talks. He also said that the Palestinian right of return would likely have to be waived in the event of any peace agreement. He also walked back his earlier statement that he wanted a Palestinian state without a single Israeli he said that what he meant was no Israelis who were "part of the occupation", but that he wouldn't have a problem with Jews or Israelis coming to Palestine for business or tourism reasons, as long as they were not an occupying force. [21]

On 5 September 2013, Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said that Israel has yet to put any new offers on the table, that Israel has only allowed Martin Indyk to attend one of the six talks so far, and that the Palestinian leadership would not accept "temporary solutions", only a permanent peace deal. [22] On 8 September, Israel accused the Palestinians of leaking information about the talks, which are supposed to be kept secret, to the press. An Israeli official also stated that some of the information leaked by Palestinians was not true. [23] On 25 September, both Israel and the Palestinians agreed to intensify peace talks with an increased United States role. [24]

On 26 September, Mahmoud Abbas spoke in front of the UN Security Council, and welcomed the resumption of peace talks while at the same time criticizing Israel's settlement building. The Israeli delegation was not present for Abbas' speech, because they were observing the holiday of Sukkot. [25] Hamas and the Islamic Jihad called for a third intifada, and a spokesman for Hamas' armed wing said that the current peace talks were "futile". [26]

On 17 October 2013, Abbas reiterated his view that he would not accept any Israeli military presence on Palestinian territory. [27] On 22 October, Israel and the Palestinians are reported to have discussed the issue of water. [28] On 27 October, Israel prepared to release another round of Palestinian prisoners to create a positive climate for the ongoing peace talks. [29] On 28 October, Netanyahu categorically rejected the Palestinian right of return and said that Jerusalem must remain undivided. [30] On 29 October, the second stage of the Palestinian prisoners' release was completed as 26 prisoners were released. [31]

On 6 November, Israeli negotiators said there will not be a state based on the 1967 borders and that the Separation Wall will be a boundary. [32] On 14 November, the Palestinian team quit the negotiations blaming the "escalation of settlement-building." [33]

On 4 December 2013, Saeb Erekat told John Kerry that the peace talks with Israel were faltering and urged Kerry to salvage them. Also, an Israeli newspaper reported that Israel was prepared to hand 2000 hectares (5000 acres, or 7 sq. mi.) of land to the Palestinians to show that it was prepared to allow Palestinian projects on these lands. The land had been privately owned by Palestinians but militarily occupied by Israel. [34] On 26 December, Likud ministers led by Miri Regev began pushing a bill to annex the Jordan Valley, which would prevent Netanyahu from accepting the American proposal for the Jordan Valley and border crossings into Jordan to be placed under Palestinian control, with border security provided by IDF soldiers and the US. [35] On 30 December, Saeb Erekat said that the peace talks had failed, citing the aforementioned Israeli bill to annex the Jordan Valley. Erekat said that denying the Palestinian state a border with Jordan would be a clear step toward apartheid, and that the PA should instead unilaterally seek international recognition and membership in organizations. Erekat also said that "Israel wants to destroy the two-state solution through its daily practices." The PLO senior official also rejected the idea of extending the peace talks beyond their nine-month deadline. [36] On 30 December, Israel released its third set of prisoners, consisting of 26 Palestinian security prisoners. [37]

On 1 January 2014, Maariv reported that Israeli and American leaders had been discussing, and seriously considering, the possibility of ceding parts of the Arab Triangle to the Palestinians in exchange for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The residents of the Triangle would automatically become Palestinian citizens if this happened. This idea is similar to the Lieberman Plan. Rami Hamdallah also said that despite Erekat's insistence that the talks had failed, the Palestinians would continue participating in the talks until the April deadline. [38] On 5 January, hardliners in Netanyahu's coalition threatened to withdraw from the government if he accepted the 1967 borders as a baseline for talks. Dovish opposition parties, such as Labor, said they would join if this occurred, in order to prevent the coalition from breaking up completely. [39] On 9 January, according to insiders, support for a two-state agreement within the Knesset stood at 85 in favor to 35 opposed. In addition to the Labor Party, American negotiators were also attempting to persuade Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, both of which are generally supportive of the peace process, to join the government to keep negotiations alive. [40]

On 10 January 2014, Israel approved plans for 1,400 settler homes. Saeb Erekat responded by saying "The recent announcement shows Israel's clear commitment to the destruction of peace efforts and the imposition of an apartheid regime". [41] Tzipi Livni, who also opposed new settler homes, was responded by Israeli politician Ze'ev Elkin, who suggested the settlements were vital for Israel's security: "The path that Livni recommends means we will have to say goodbye to our security," he said. [42] On 14 January, Israel's defense minister Moshe Ya'alon rejected the negotiations and insulted John Kerry, saying he was acting based upon "messianic feeling", and that "The only thing that can 'save' us is that John Kerry will get a Nobel Peace Prize and leave us alone." Yuval Steinitz, another members of the Likud, expressed general agreement with Ya'alon's views, but disagreed with the personal insult. [43] However, Yaalon later issued an official apology in a written statement sent to media from the Defense Ministry. [44] On 18 January, Israel's finance minister Yair Lapid threatened to take his party, Yesh Atid, out of the coalition if peace talks did not advance. This would have toppled the government and forced either the formation of a new coalition, or early elections. [45]

On 21 January 2014, Israel announced plans for 381 new settler homes in the West Bank. The Palestinians condemned this move, and also ruled out the possibility of the peace talks extending beyond the nine-month deadline. [46] On 22 January, Abbas said he would like Russia to take a more active role in the negotiations. [47] On 27 January, the Palestinians said they would not allow "a single settler" to remain in a Palestinian state, but that this did not stem from anti-Jewish attitudes. Rather, Jews living in the West Bank would have the option of remaining if they renounced their Israeli citizenship and applied to be citizens of Palestine. A poll has shown that 4.5% of Jewish settlers would consider becoming Palestinian citizens under such an arrangement. [48] On 31 January, according to Martin Indyk, the framework for the US-backed Middle East peace deal will allow up to 80 per cent of Jewish settlers to remain in the West Bank. The deal would redraw borders so that some 80 per cent of settlers' homes would be redesignated as being in Israel, while other parcels land would be handed back to Palestinian control in a proposed land-swap deal. Another key point of the framework would be that Israel would be allowed to retain a role in maintaining security along the West Bank's border with neighbouring Jordan. The new security arrangements would see a zone created with hi-tech fences equipped with sensors and drone surveillance planes flying overhead. Also the final peace treaty could also provide compensation for victims on both sides of the historic conflict. [49]

On 3 February 2014, Abbas suggests that US-led NATO troops patrol a future Palestinian state instead of Israeli troops having a presence in Jordan Valley, but Israeli settlers and soldiers have five years to leave Palestine once the state is formed. [50] On 6 February, Israel reportedly sought to annex 10 percent of the West Bank, but Palestinian negotiators insisted that they keep at least 97 percent. [51] On 9 February, ministers voted down a proposal by Likud legislator Miri Regev to annex certain West Bank settlements and the roads leading to them. [52]

During the course of negotiations, Netanyahu followed the precedent of Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [53] and made recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a requirement for peace. Some news sources falsely reported that Netanyahu was the first Israeli Prime Minister to make such a requirement. [54] Urging Abbas to recognize Israel as the Jewish-nation state, he reportedly said:

'it's time for the Palestinians to stop denying history. Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinian leadership must be prepared to recognize the Jewish state. In doing so you will tell your people that, though we have a territorial dispute, Israel's right to exist is beyond dispute. You would finally make it clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict." [55]

To that end, he announced his intention to introduce such a definition of Israel in a Basic Law. The proposed law would be in addition to Israel's declaration of independence of May 1948 which defines Israel as a Jewish state. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni expressed concern over the proposal. Although she was in favor of defining Israel more clearly in law as "the national home of the Jewish people and a democratic state", she has expressed opposition to "any law that gives superiority" to the Jewish nature of state over the country's democratic values. Livni also said she could only support legislation where "Jewish and democratic would have the same weight, not more Jewish than democratic, nor more democratic than Jewish". [56]

Abbas dismissed this demand, pointing out that the Palestinians had already extended recognition of the State of Israel, both in 1988 and in the 1993 Oslo Accords. He added that, neither Jordan nor Egypt, with whom Israel had made peace treaties had been asked to recognize Israel's Jewish character. The Palestinians would never accept Israel as a 'religious state' since, it would damage the rights of Israel's Palestinian minority and

'to accept it now as a Jewish state would compromise the claims of millions of Palestinian refugees whose families fled the fighting that followed Israel's creation in 1948 and were not allowed to return." [57] [58] [59]

On 28 March 2014, Israel failed to release the fourth tranche of 26 Palestinian prisoners, as scheduled, in what Palestinian sources say was a violation of the original terms for the peace talks, [60] According to Israeli officials, the Palestinians had publicly claimed that they would break off peace talks once the final batch of prisoners were released. [61] [62] Israel reportedly demanded an extension of the April 29 deadline before the release. [63] The agreement had included a Palestinian undertaking not to sign up for international conventions. After Israel withheld the prisoners' release, Mahmoud Abbas went ahead and signed 15 conventions regarding adhesion to human and social rights. Israel then demolished several EU funded humanitarian structures in E1 [ citation needed ] and stated the prisoners' release depended on a Palestinian commitment to continuing peace talks after the end of April deadline. [64] Some days later, Israel approved tenders for 708 more Israeli residential units beyond the Green Line, in Gilo, followed by various sanctions against Palestinians in retaliation for their joining of international conventions. [65] [66]

At the end of March, Haaretz reported that the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority were negotiating a "grand bargain" to "salvage peace talks". [67] Kerry and Netanyahu discussed a possible deal to extend them until the end of 2014 and to ensure the Palestinians didn't make unilateral moves at the United Nations. [67] The Israeli proposal conditioned the release of the fourth tranche of 26 Palestinian prisoners on an extension of the negotiations beyond the current deadline of 29 April and included the release about 400 low-profile Palestinian prisoners, as well as the 26 high-profile prisoners, including 14 Israeli Arabs. [67] [68] It excluded the high-profile prisoners Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat who Israel categorically refused to release. [67] Israel also offered to put an unofficial freeze on most settlement construction outside of East Jerusalem for the next eight months. [67] Israel said it would resolve the status of family reunification requests submitted by some 5,000 families in the West Bank and Gaza. [67] According to Israeli officials, the United States would release Jonathan Pollard as a concession to Israel. [67] On 23 April 2014, The Jerusalem Post reported that Abbas listed 3 conditions for extending peace talks beyond the 29 April deadline that the borders of a future Palestinian state be dealt with during the first three months of the extended talks, a complete freeze on all settlement construction, and the release without deportation of the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners, including Israeli-Arabs. [69]

Israel reacted angrily to the Fatah–Hamas Gaza Agreement of 23 April 2014 whose main purpose was reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, the formation of a Palestinian unity government and the holding of new elections. [70] Israel halted peace talks with the Palestinians, saying it "will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction", and threatened sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, [71] [72] including a previously announced Israeli plan to unilaterally deduct Palestinian debts to Israeli companies from the tax revenue Israel collects for the PA. [73] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of sabotaging peace efforts. He said that Abbas cannot have peace with both Hamas and Israel and has to choose. [74] [75] Abbas said the deal did not contradict their commitment to peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution [76] and assured reporters that any unity government would recognize Israel, be non-violent, and bound to previous PLO agreements. [77] Shortly after, Israel began implementing economic sanctions against Palestinians and canceled plans to build housing for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank. [78] Abbas also threatened to dissolve the PA, leaving Israel fully responsible for both the West Bank and Gaza, [79] a threat that the PA has not put into effect. [ citation needed ]

Notwithstanding Israeli objections and actions, a Palestinian Unity Government was formed on 2 June 2014. [80]

On 8 July 2014, in David Intercontinental Hotel [81] (Tel Aviv) took place Haaretz's "Israel Conference on Peace". Among participants: Members of Knesset, President Shimon Peres, Minister Naftali Bennett and representatives of Israelis and Palestinians peace organizations. [82] [83] [84]

    . Peace is the only path to true security for Israel and the Palestinians, an exclusive article for Haaretz's Israel Conference on Peace // This article was written before 30 June 2014. Published in Haaretz, 8 July 2014 | 4:00 AM . Palestine's vision of peace is clear // Haaretz, 7 July 2014 | 6:00 PM . Peace would be possible with the Arab Peace Initiative at its core // Haaretz, 7 July 2014 | 9:17 PM

On 2 May 2014, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, cited an anonymous senior American official as placing the blame for the break-down in talks mainly on Israel's settlement stance, directly quoting the remark: 'Netanyahu did not move more than an inch." Israeli sources in Jerusalem later reported that the remarks came from the US Special Envoy Indyk himself, who was reportedly preparing to hand in his resignation. [86] Whoever the source of the comment, the White House cleared the interview in which the remarks were made. [87] In this the officials appeared to be referring to the Israeli government announcement of a record 14,000 new settlement housing units. [88] [89] Mark Landler has written that the remark attributed to Indyk reflected the President's own views:

Publicly, Mr. Obama has said that both sides bear responsibility for the latest collapse. But the president believes that more than any other factor, Israel’s drumbeat of settlement announcements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem poisoned the atmosphere and doomed any chance of a breakthrough with the Palestinians. [87]

In a talk later given at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Indyk stated that Netanyahu had shown enough flexibility to come within the zone of an agreement. However, Indyk also stated that Netanyahu was undermined by members of his coalition, who kept making announcements of new settlements. [87] Although Israeli sources insisted that Netanyahu negotiated in good faith. [90] In an interview with The New York Times, Indyk further added that his impression was that, 'For Israelis . .(t)The Palestinians have become ghosts,' citing what he felt was the most meaningful personal moment in the talks, when the Palestinian Director of Intelligence, Majid Faraj, told his Israeli counterparts across the table, "You just don't see us." He also said that "there is so much water under the bridge. the difficulties we faced were far more because of the 20 years of distrust that built up". [91]

Pope Francis during his three-day pilgrimage to the Middle East, intervened in the collapsed peace process, endorsing the State of Palestine, calling the situation "increasingly unacceptable" and issuing an invitation to both the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to join in a prayer summit at his home in the Vatican. A meeting was scheduled to that effect for 6 June. [92]

In June 2014, a leaked recording from an unknown date showed that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat believed the reason Netanyahu entered the peace talks was to build more settlements and disliked how President Mahmoud Abbas had committed to not go to international bodies. [93]

However, Israeli national security adviser Joseph Cohen revealed a 65-page document that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat submitted to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on 9 March, three weeks before Israel was to release the final batch of Palestinian prisoners. In it, Erekat proposed a strategy for the PA during the final month of negotiations and after 29 April, when the talks were originally scheduled to end before their premature collapse. Erekat recommended applying to join various international conventions, informing the U.S. and Europe that the Palestinians wouldn't extend the talks beyond 29 April, demanding that Israel nevertheless release the final batch of prisoners, intensifying efforts to reconcile with Hamas to thwart what he termed an Israeli effort to sever the West Bank from Gaza politically, and various other diplomatic and public relations moves. Cohen concludes that even while the Palestinians were talking with Washington about the possibility of extending the peace talks, they were actually planning to blow them up, and had been planning to do so even before Abbas met with U.S. President Barack Obama on 17 March. [94] [95]

According to Peace Now, during the nine months of peace talks Israel set a new record for settlement expansion at nearly 14,000 newly approved settler homes. [ citation needed ] Despite freezing settlements was not a precondition to restart peace talks, [96] [97] Palestinian official Nabil Shaath condemned settlement construction, saying "the settlement activities have made negotiations worthless." [98] For its part, Israeli spokesman Mark Regev condemned sporadic Palestinian incitement, saying "the terrorist attacks against Israelis over the last few days are a direct result of the incitement and hatred propagated in Palestinian schools and media." [99] According to B'Tselem, during this same period forty-five Palestinians and six Israelis were killed. [100]

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the peace talks failed, there would likely be a third intifada. [101] Despite all efforts of John Kerry, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for the lack of progress, saying "the problem is with the Israeli side and not with us," [102] In January, a PLO member reported that the US implied a threat to cut all aid to the Palestinian Authority and a future inability to control Israeli settlement expansion if a peace agreement was not reached. [103]

EU Ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen said if peace talks fail, Israel will likely be blamed for the break down. [104] Yair Lapid said that the country could be targeted by an economically costly boycott if peace talks with the Palestinians fail, signalling that concerns about growing international isolation have moved centre stage in Israel's public discourse. [105]

Some critics believe that Israel is only trying to "put on a show," claiming the Israelis do not seek a peace agreement, but are using these peace talks to further other goals, including improving their image, strengthening their occupation of the West Bank, and decreasing the viability of Palestine as a state free of Israeli occupation. [106] [107] [108] Henry Siegman faults the United States, arguing that it is 'widely seen as the leading obstacle for peace' for its repeated failure to use leverage against Israel, and for failing to impose red lines for an agreement, and leading Israeli leaders to believe no consequences would ensue were Israel to reject American proposals. [109]

Danny Danon stated that the Palestinians failed to make concessions during the negotiations period and that they were only interested in seeing militants released from prison. [110] Netanyahu told Kerry "I want peace, but the Palestinians continue to incite, create imaginary crises and avoid the historical decisions necessary for a real peace." [111]

Israel was accused by Palestinian officials of trying to sabotage the peace talks by approving nearly 1200 new settlement homes shortly before the negotiations were due to start. [112] Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. [112] Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev stated that these settlements would "remain part of Israel in any possible peace agreements." [112] [113]

The British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said: "We condemn the recent decisions taken by the Israeli authorities to advance plans for 1096 settlement units in the West Bank, and to approve the construction of 63 new units in East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, undermine trust and threaten the viability of the two-state solution." [114]

On 13 August, Israel approved another 900 settler homes in East Jerusalem in addition to the 1,200 settlements announced on the 10th. [115] On 30 October, Israel stated it would go ahead with plans to build 3,500 more homes for settlers. [116] Netanyahu then said "any further settlement construction may stir unnecessary clashes with the international community". [117]


To Tell the World: Wives of POWs

THE POWS CALLED IT ALCATRAZ, a Hanoi jail where 11 Americans were separated from other prisoners and held in solitary confinement because they were the leaders of POWs who refused to cooperate with their captors and maintained their own code of conduct. They were subjected to especially brutal treatment. Back home, their wives began a relentless campaign to get the government to step up its efforts to free the prisoners and make sure North Vietnam followed the Geneva Convention. In an excerpt from Defiant: The POWs Who Endured Vietnam’s Most Infamous Prison, the Women Who Fought for Them, and the One Who Never Returned, author Alvin Townley describes how two wives in particular defied the code of silence imposed on POW families and took their cause public to put pressure on the government.

“Why do you want to fight against the just cause of Vietnam?” Hanoi Hannah asked American GIs on Jan. 30, 1968 it was Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. “You can see you are losing. Lay down your arms! Refuse to fight! Demand to be taken home, now! Today! Do you want to die in a foreign land, 8,000 miles from your home?”

As the broadcasts droned on, the 11 POWs at Alcatraz learned that North Vietnam and the Viet Cong had staged coordinated attacks throughout the South around Tet. According to Hannah, the People’s Army and the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (Viet Cong) had routed the Americans, the South Vietnamese army and the puppet regime in Saigon. Reality differed somewhat. A small unit breached the U.S. Embassy, rockets rained on the American base at Cam Ranh Bay and General William Westmoreland’s own headquarters came under fire. Ultimately, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces recovered from the surprise attack and effectively beat back the surge, but American casualties topped 20,000, with more than 5,000 killed from January through March of 1968. Insurgent losses were many times higher, yet the Communists accepted prices Americans would refuse to pay.

In the days immediately following Tet, the North Vietnamese prison camp authority covered the walls of one Alcatraz “quiz room” with photographs from the offensive. A young sergeant walked the POWs along the walls, showing them images of victorious Communist forces, burned ruins in Saigon and defeated Americans. Other photos showed images from the United States: peace marches, protests and student rallies. Sam Johnson tried not to believe the pictures.

“What do you think?” asked the sergeant.

“Look around you,” he said. “You can see we are winning the war. How can you think the war will not be over soon? The United States will retreat and go home, and we will be the winners.”

A guard the POWs called Rabbit visited during the same week and happily cast even more doubt into the minds of the Alcatraz Eleven. “Our just cause is winning,” he gloated to Sam during a quiz. “Now you can see!”

“What do you mean?” Sam asked.

“You have seen proof!” Rabbit exclaimed. “Our photos, our radio! The United States has given up and will lose the war in Vietnam!”

“I cannot believe your photos or your radio.”

“The bombing has stopped,” Rabbit said. “Your country has deserted you. You will never go home. You have been left here to die.”

“I can’t believe that,” Sam said. If he let himself believe that, he’d crack in a week—but months had passed since he’d last heard an American jet over Hanoi or wailing air raid sirens. Somewhere deep inside, he worried Rabbit might be telling the truth.

“You will see,” Rabbit said with disturbing finality. “We are right.” He sent Sam back to his concrete box, which now felt a little more like a tomb.

Sam told himself that Rabbit and Hanoi Hannah were lying, as they had before. Without any information to the contrary, however, he wondered what had transpired in South Vietnam and what it meant for the men in Alcatraz. How many more years would they spend in their claustrophobic cells? Would the war ever end? Their government wouldn’t abandon them, would it?

Locked inside Cell 3, Sam found the walls alive with discussion tapped in code. Rabbit had lectured many of the POWs that day, and everyone had an opinion. “The U.S. will never give up on us,” George Coker flashed to Nels Tanner, who sent his message up and down the long cellblock.

“Never happen,” agreed the optimist, Jerry Denton. “They won’t leave us here.”

The men on both sides hoped their leaders were correct.

By March 1968, 78 percent of the U.S. public believed the war would lead nowhere. Calls for withdrawal became more widespread. In Tet, the administration and the public saw a long-discounted insurgency stage a campaign across the whole of South Vietnam. The United States had nearly 500,000 troops deployed to Southeast Asia, and an endless cycle of aircraft carriers constantly came and went from Yankee Station, yet somehow America had still not won.

In the aftermath of Tet and a narrow victory over primary challenger Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire, President Johnson decided not to seek a second term. Even as he prepared to pass the Vietnam conflict to yet another U.S. president, he reiterated his hope for peace while also restating his commitment to South Vietnam’s struggle against Communist forces.

At the Paris peace talks in May, the North Vietnamese demanded a complete halt to the bombing before serious talks began. The United States, however, wanted to prevent Hanoi from using a halt to regroup, as it had done during previous bombing pauses. Further delaying peace, Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan, one of the North Vietnamese leaders most committed to military victory, still believed that the longer they waited, the stronger their negotiating position would become. Consequently, the final year of President Johnson’s term would yield little diplomatic progress while nearly 17,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam.

That spring of 1968 marked the Alcatraz Eleven’s fifth month in exile. Jim Mulligan watched the overcast winter skies become clearer each day during his morning walks to the latrine. In the early morning, the sun began heating Jim Mulligan’s roof and his exposed wall. Then as it arched across the sky, it directed its rays on his cell’s door and iron transom. Heat from the roof tiles, door, metal plate and walls seared his lungs with each breath and began roasting him from the inside out. As the cell grew hotter, he crouched by the narrow opening under the door to suck the slightly cooler air from outside.

On May 26, he lay on his sweaty back and prayed for aid. “Lord, you’ve got to help me,” Jim pleaded. “I can’t stand it any longer, Lord. Lord, you’ve got to do something.” Seemingly in response, Jim heard the distant rumble of a thunderstorm. Inspired, he offered another plea, “Lord, make it rain, make it rain.” Before the day ended, the rain arrived, cooling the tiles and walls surrounding him. “Thank you, Lord, thank you, Lord,” he repeated. “When I get out and tell this story someone will say, ‘It was just coincidence, the mere arrival of a fast-moving tropical cold front.’ But you and I know it was more than that. In my direst need I begged for your help and you answered me. Thank you, Lord.”

Whether divinity interceded or not, Jim believed it had. As days of captivity ticked by, the Lord became a crucial member of the Alcatraz brotherhood.

By June POWs estimated temperatures inside the cells at more than 110 degrees. Sweat, body odor, honey bucket and heat combined to make each breath nauseating. Long-term dehydration eroded the POWs’ minds and bodies. Night brought only slight relief, as the walls radiated heat long after sundown. Worst of all, the inmates knew no relief would come until fall.

Jerry Denton realized that if something didn’t change sooner than that, these POW pilots would have survived their ejections, years in Hoa Lo’s dismal cells and countless torture sessions only to be broiled to death. He finally struck upon a plan. He and Coker, known as CAG, placed the men on a gradual hunger strike they each took slightly less food each day and claimed they’d become too hot to eat. Thus, they avoided a direct challenge to the camp commander, whom they called Rat. The next time Jerry saw a guard, he requested an audience with the camp commander. With Rat curious about the men’s waning appetites, Jerry got his hearing.

A guard escorted him up the steps near Cell 1 through the courtyard gate, along the narrow stucco quiz building and through one of its three doors to a small room with a concrete floor. A single light bulb burned overhead, and green shutters covered a window that overlooked the rear of Jim Mulligan’s and CAG’s cells.

Rat was seated behind a desk, waiting for him. When he’d taken his seat, Jerry said to Rat, “I want to congratulate you on carrying through on the excruciating treatment and putting us to a slow death by heat.”

“No, Denton,” Rat responded. “I did not know conditions were that bad. Our orders are to keep you isolated and in irons. We have no orders to kill you. We will study.”

The appearance of Cat, commander of the entire North Vietnamese prisoner detention program, on June 19, 1968, hastened the Camp Authority’s assessment. When CAG saw Cat through his peephole, he frantically tapped to Jim Mulligan, “That’s the Cat.” As part of Cat’s tour, Rat arranged an interview with Mulligan.

“Why do you not eat?” Rat asked when the interview began.

“I am not well,” Jim replied. Rat translated for Cat, even though Cat understood English.

“Where are you sick?” Cat asked.

In answer, Jim stood up and took off his shirt. The officials gawked at his pasty, emaciated torso. Muscle had disappeared and bone showed through skin. “You are impolite,” said Cat, switching to English. “Put on your clothes. I will punish you for your bad attitude.”

“You can’t punish me any more than you punish me now,” Mulligan shot back. “I am more dead than alive. You keep me in the leg irons and you do not give me fresh air and I am dying here. I am lonesome for my family. I get no mail. I do not care what you do any more. I am sick and I am dying….It is too hot and I need fresh air.”

The outburst surprised the officers, but Cat maintained his composure and leveled a soft question at Jim, asking about his family.

“I miss my wife and six sons,” he answered. “On July 1 it is the birthday of my wife.”

“If you eat your food the Camp Authority may have for you a letter on the birthday of your wife,” Cat said. “Will you try to eat for me your meal today?”

Jim issued a halfhearted answer, and Rat ordered him back to the sauna of Cell 11. Jim bowed and shuffled off, purposely looking even more lethargic than he felt. Within the hour, Cat and Rat entered the courtyard with a chubby supply officer nicknamed Piggy. Piggy opened Jim’s door and winced at the wall of blistering air that hit him. He braced himself on the door and immediately jerked his hand away from the scalding iron and wood. Jim smiled and pointed to the iron-plated transom, which registered an even higher temperature. Piggy hustled off to talk with Cat and Rat.

Later that day, work crews entered the courtyard and began covering the roofs with palm leaves and planting vines along the buildings, creating shade to combat the sun. Most important, the workers detached the metal plates covering the transoms. Rusted screws slowed the work, but within two days, each cell had some protection from the rays above and an airway to vent the heat. The conditions remained oppressive, and the POWs would still suffer through a long summer, but at least they could breathe.

Soon after workers pried the iron plate from Jim Mulligan’s cell, a guard delivered a plate of rice, seaweed soup and a banana. Jim ended his hunger strike, gulping down every scrap in the relative cool of his cell he guessed the temperature had fallen nearer 100. On July 1, Cat kept his promise and gave him a letter from Louise.

As peace negotiations began in Paris that spring of 1968, Sybil Stockdale, the wife of Alcatraz POW Jim Stockdale, prepared for her annual migration from Coronado, Calif., to Sunset Beach in Connecticut. Before she departed, another military wife suggested she meet with Louise Mulligan. Mirroring military hierarchy, leadership roles on the homefront fell to the wives of senior officers. Thus Sybil led San Diego’s League of Wives, and Louise essentially led the less-formalized POW wives on the East Coast, although she would never have claimed that position. That summer, Sybil drove from Connecticut down to Virginia Beach for dinner with Louise, and the two POW wives sat down to what would be a momentous meal. Sybil shared ideas about mobilizing clergy and other public figures on behalf of the POWs, a tack that would give the wives more activist roles no longer would they just provide each other with emotional support. They discussed the need to comply with the government’s Keep Quiet policy (the families of POWs were urged to keep the prisoners’ status secret they were not to disclose anything more than prisoners’ names, ranks, service numbers and dates of birth), but the two headstrong women recognized that someone else had to take initiative considering the government’s lack of progress. By the dinner’s end, it was agreed that Louise would formalize the POW movement on the East Coast and coordinate operations with the League of Wives on the West Coast. Together they would operate under the umbrella of the League of Families of American Prisoners of War and Missing. Sybil’s League of Wives, Louise’s network and other small groups would begin using the common League of Families name, even as they retained their independence and, for the moment, remained primarily regional organizations.

Louise first needed to identify all the POW/MIA wives— from every branch of the military—living in the greater Norfolk area, but the Navy, Army and Air Force refused to release any names. Undeterred, Louise and other local wives in her network soon learned that the Department of Defense had obtained foreign footage of POWs and was showing the reels at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach Defense had invited nearby Army and Air Force wives and family members to help identify individual prisoners. Nobody had invited the Navy wives, so they simply showed up. They met their Air Force and Army counterparts and welcomed them to their sisterhood.

By the fall, Sybil had become fully convinced that government diplomats either could not or would not act to help the POWs. Her tolerance for the Keep Quiet policy had ended when Ambassador Averell Harriman welcomed the early release of three more POWs in August. As Sybil and most members of the military community saw it, agreeing to selective early release violated the Code of Conduct. Their men had pledged—sworn—to accept no parole or special favors their orders stated they should come home in order of shootdown.

Lieutenant Commander John McCain—the future U.S. senator shot down in the same month that the Eleven arrived at Alcatraz—had resisted intense pressure from Cat to accept early release that very summer. Cat had hoped for a publicity victory by releasing the badly injured son of the newly installed commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Jack McCain, but the young McCain flatly refused to accept Cat’s offer. Guards beat him for four straight days and extracted a confession. Other men also accepted punishment and deprivation rather than the favor of early release. The POW wives and their incarcerated husbands alike were galled by those who went home before their fellow prisoners.

In early September, Sybil read a San Diego Union article titled “Red Brainwash Teams Work on U.S. Pilots,” which described the treatment of POWs. She immediately sent a pointed telegram to Harriman, demanding to know how he would protect her husband and other POWs against these Geneva violations.

Harriman cabled: “Dear Mrs. Stockdale…North Vietnamese representatives here have indicated to me that the release last month of three pilots was a gesture of good will. I have urged them to give serious consideration to further releases, including those pilots that have been held the longest time, and those that have been injured. I am sure you realize that the welfare and early release of our men held prisoner continues to be uppermost in my mind.”

The ambassador’s encouragement of more early releases left the POW wives aghast at the State Department’s lack of military understanding—not to mention its failure to make any substantive progress on properly freeing any prisoners or guaranteeing their Geneva rights. Sybil could hardly believe her country’s POW policy revolved around arbitrary North Vietnamese benevolence. She wanted President Johnson to publicly shame Hanoi for its violation of the Geneva Convention—and she wanted him to bring her husband home. She felt he should either decide to win the war by employing America’s full arsenal or agree to withdraw after the prisoners were freed. More hesitation seemed only to assure more anguish for the POWs and their families, who all lived in limbo.

On the third anniversary of her husband’s shootdown, Sybil began to compose the article that would at long last break from the military’s Keep Quiet policy. She shared the idea with her confidant at the Pentagon, Commander Bob Boroughs, who expressed concern that the article could jeopardize the clandestine communication between Jim and Naval Intelligence. Still, Sybil adamantly believed the POW/ MIA community needed someone to take the first step across the line that the government had, in her opinion, so senselessly drawn. Boroughs tabled his objections he knew Sybil had made her decision, and privately he seemed to believe it was the right course.

She submitted her article to the Copley News Service, which owned the San Diego Union. They called several days later to ask if Sybil wanted to sell them the story. “Heavens no,” she said. “I just want to tell the world the truth about what’s happening to Jim.” Copley assigned a reporter to write an article about her story. The Oct. 27, 1968, San Diego Union carried the reporter’s piece in section A, ending Sybil’s three years of silence. The article described North Vietnam’s Geneva violations, announced the role of the League of Families and quoted Sybil as saying, “The North Vietnamese have shown me the only thing they respond to is world opinion. The world does not know of their negligences and they should know!” Sybil read over her words and wondered when the government would upbraid her for breaking its policy. As it turned out, the Pentagon was too preoccupied with military efforts to respond. With Johnson’s term winding down and the antiwar movement growing, the State Department and the rest of the administration also remained silent.

Louise Mulligan soon learned about the article. Like Sybil, she had lost faith in the government. Though the people in the Washington bureaucracy proved accessible—she could always speak with someone at the White House, Pentagon or State Department—all their words and promises had done nothing for her Jim. In a meeting with Harriman, Louise shared her first letter from her husband. Jim made comments about receiving bananas, vitamins, oranges, meat and vegetables—along with Piles Of Whole grain rice and Plenty Of Warm soup. Louise had figured out the hidden message and knew Jim received none of those things, but Harriman missed the code for “POW.” He did not think Jim playing “that famous game of solitaire” had any connection to solitary confinement. Louise rolled her eyes as her last bit of patience with the Johnson administration slipped away.

Back at home in Virginia Beach, Louise rallied the other East Coast POW wives, and together they composed a letter to the Department of Defense announcing their decision to bring their cause to the public. That members of the rule-bound military world would break ranks showed the depth of their disillusionment with the government. The Pentagon offered no resistance, and the women now accepted responsibility should their publicity bring harm to their husbands.

In early November, the Alcatraz prisoners heard Hanoi Hannah announce that Richard Nixon had defeated Hubert Humphrey in the presidential election. Sam believed Nixon would draw a tougher line with regard to the war. The Camp Authority anticipated the same and toughened its own stance.

With the prospect of a new man in the White House and a new secretary of defense, many POW families saw an opportunity for change. Sybil Stockdale wrote California Governor Ronald Reagan, hoping he’d serve as her emissary to the new administration, but Reagan’s staff refused to schedule an appointment. Livid, Sybil dispatched a biting telegram to his office. The next week, Reagan called her directly she would never forget first hearing his resonant voice. When the two had finished their conversation, he had promised to pass Sybil’s message to President-elect Nixon. For the first time since her long ordeal began, Sybil felt that a politician genuinely cared.

By early January 1969, five other San Diego wives had written articles about the plight of POW/MIA families. Following the plans Sybil and Louise hatched that previous summer, the East and West Coast organizations continued transitioning from support groups to leagues of advocacy, from regional entities to one with national scope. The League of Families now also had member groups from across the country, including one organized in Texas by Sam Johnson’s wife, Shirley. Leaders like Louise Mulligan spent entire days talking on the phone with activists throughout the country, sharing information, encouragement and ideas. Together, these independent but coordinated groups pressured the military, the government and every other possible source for information, and they began educating Americans about the Geneva Convention. They flooded elected officials and the media with POW-related news and encouraged POW/MIA families to become activists and educators, telling their stories to communities and press across the country.

The League organized a nationwide telegram-writing campaign in the days before the presidential inauguration, and on January 20 more than 2,000 telegrams concerning the POW/MIA issue landed in the White House. President Nixon took office facing a community of families his administration could neither ignore nor silence. The new president responded to several families, informing them that he shared their concern and that “the subject of [prisoner] release and welfare will have an urgent priority in our talks in Paris.” He would also share his concern with his new secretary of defense. Having proven they could mobilize America’s military families and grab Washington’s attention, the coalescing national network began distributing materials to the public, providing instructions for cabling the North Vietnamese delegation at the Paris peace talks to inquire about America’s captive and missing servicemen. Members of the League courageously defied their government’s Keep Quiet policy and raised their voices, hoping Washington and the world would listen.

Alvin Townley has published three other books: Legacy of Honor, Spirit of Adventure and Fly Navy.

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.


Notes Indicate Nixon Interfered With 1968 Peace Talks

In October 1968, during the Paris Peace Talks, the U.S. was ready to agree to cease bombing Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, in exchange for concessions that would halt the decades-long conflict which eventually killed an estmiated 58,000 American soldiers, 2 million Vietnamese civilians and 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong combatants. But suddenly, the day before the 1968 presidential election, a close race between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon, South Vietnam inexplicably walked away from the negotiating table. Direct U.S. military involvement in the war lasted another five years.

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For decades, rumors have swirled that Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign had interfered in the Vietnam peace negotiations by sending a messages through Nixon aide Anna Chennault to the South Vietnamese embassy and on to President Nguyen van Thieu. The Nixon campaign, it was rumored, promised the South Vietnamese bigger concessions if they waited to negotiate peace until after Nixon was elected. The idea was to not give President Lyndon Johnson and Humphrey a PR victory by suspending the war before the election.

Now, political biographer John Farrell, writing in The New York Times' opinion section this weekend, reports that handwritten notes from Nixon’s future White House Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman show evidence that the 36th president tried to secretly influence the peace talks while still a presidential candidate and a private citizen.

Throughout his lifetime Nixon and his aids vociferously denied that he would do any such thing. “My God. I would never do anything to encourage” South Vietnam “not to come to the table,” Nixon is heard telling Johnson in a conversation taped in the White House, reports Farrell.

But over the years, more information about the incident leaked out. According to David Taylor at the BBC, in 2013 declassified tapes from Johnson’s White House show that the FBI had intercepted Chennault’s calls to the South Vietnamese ambassador telling them to “just hang through the election.” Johnson also ordered the FBI to surveil the Nixon campaign and to figure out if Nixon was personally involved in the back channel operation.

Taylor reports that Johnson became convinced that Nixon knew about the ploy and even sent the candidate a message through Senator Everett Dirksen telling him to back down and that he was engaging in treason.

Though the Johnson administration debated going public with the information before the election, they decided against it because they lacked “absolute proof” that Nixon was personally involved, writes Farrell. Taylor reports they were also afraid of revealing that the FBI was intercepting calls from the South Vietnamese ambassador and Chennault, a U.S. citizen, and that NSA was also monitoring communications.

The handwritten notes from Haldeman, however, seem to corroborate the idea that Nixon knew about the plan and personally ordered Chennault to communicate with South Vietnam. The notes were taken by Haldeman on October 22, 1968, during a phone conversation with Nixon. They include Nixon’s orders to “Keep Anna Chennault working on” South Vietnam, and also say: “Any other way to monkey wrench it? Anything RN [Richard Nixon] can do.” The notes also show Nixon wanted to have nationalist Chinese businessman Louis Kung also pressure president Thieu not to accept a truce. The notes indicate Nixon wanted his running mate Spiro Agnew to pressure C.I.A. director Richard Helms and that they campaign sought to get Taiwanese president Chiang Kai-Shek involved.

Farrell reports that the notes have actually been available since the Nixon Presidential Library release them in 2007. But Farrell only realized the content of the handwritten notes about what has become known as The Chennault Affair while researching a new biography of Nixon.

While it’s likely that the revelation of Nixon’s involvement might have influenced the outcome of the 1968 American election, Jack Torry reports for Politico that the Paris Peace Talks were likely on the ropes before November 1968, and that the North Vietnamese were not serious about ending the war. Transcripts from the time show that South Vietnamese President Thieu was not willing to participate in talks that included the National Liberation Front, the communist party trying to overthrow the South Vietnam government.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.


Introduction

The Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the United States, recognized American independence and established borders for the new nation. After the British defeat at Yorktown, peace talks in Paris began in April 1782 between Richard Oswarld representing Great Britain and the American Peace Commissioners Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams. The American negotiators were joined by Henry Laurens two days before the preliminary articles of peace were signed on November 30, 1782. The Treaty of Paris, formally ending the war, was not signed until September 3, 1783. The Continental Congress, which was temporarily situated in Annapolis, Maryland, at the time, ratified the Treaty of Paris on January 14, 1784.