Cut Off His [Thieu's] Head

The Nixon Library's June 23, 2009, release of 150 hours of Nixon tapes from January 1973 shed light on a little-known chapter in the history of the Vietnam War. That month, Nixon was desperate to get South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu's agreement to a settlement that National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger had negotiated with North Vietnam. Thieu thought Nixon's settlement terms would lead to a Communist military victory, an assessment Nixon and Kissinger privately shared.

The North Vietnamese accepted Nixon's terms in October 1972, but South Vietnam resisted until January 1973. What made the difference then? The threat of a cutoff in aid to South Vietnam spearheaded by Nixon's conservative congressional supporters.

While Kissinger’s "telcons" (transcripts of the adviser's phone calls made by secretaries) previously showed how Nixon orchestrated the threat through two of his prominent Senate supporters on the war, Barry M. Goldwater, R-Arizona, and John C. Stennis, D-Mississippi, the telcons left out some revealing statements, such as this one that Nixon made to Kissinger on Inauguration Day 1973: "I don't know whether the threat goes too far or not, but I'd do any damn thing, that is, or to cut off his [Thieu’s] head if necessary."

Date: 
Jan 20, 1973
Time: 
09:32
Participants: 
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger
Conversation Number: 
036-021