- Powerful and Brutal Weapons: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Easter Offensive
In Powerful and Brutal Weapons, Stephen P. Randolph incisively analyzes North Vietnam's offensive into South Vietnam in the Spring and Summer of 1972, seeing the "Easter Offensive" and the interactive responses by all parties to the conflict as pivotal – even decisive – in shaping the end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. Randolph uses not only an impressive range of U.S. records but also some important fresh sources from Hanoi such as official histories and proceedings of the Politburo. The result is a remarkable achievement that brings together multiple perspectives – for example, opposing elements within the Nixon administration (with Defense Secretary Melvin Laird a special object of scorn), competing factions among the U.S. military services (with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Thomas Moorer often charged by Nixon to cut service chiefs and Laird out of major decisions and actions), and vying foreign policy actors in Washington, Saigon, Hanoi, Moscow, and elsewhere. Exceptionally observant and insightful, Randolph's work weighs in convincingly on many hotly contested issues about the latter stages of the American war in Vietnam.
In fact, Powerful and Brutal Weapons is far more than the story of a single big campaign. It sketches out the broad architecture of the Nixon administration's effort to extricate itself from Vietnam and Nixon's larger aspirations in [End Page 623] Sino-Soviet-American affairs, making clear his simultaneous willingness to use force in ways beyond what Lyndon Johnson had allowed and his keen sense that Congressional and public patience was all but gone. Similarly, Randolph shows a Nixon who is keen to use American force to achieve clear political goals (though not always realistically and effectively), yet who harbors distrust and even disdain for the leaders of the U.S. armed services, especially the Air Force. Rarely does a study cover so well and in so integrated a way everything from the grand strategic level all the way through tactical implementation.
Among interpretations that depart from some past work, Randolph convincingly shows that the main impediment to acceptance of Nixon's terms for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Vietnam in 1972 was not resistance by the Hanoi government but the objection of South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to allowing North Vietnamese (NVA) forces to remain in place south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ). In short, Hanoi had agreed to U.S. terms (for example, by dropping the demand for Thieu's removal) in response to Linebacker I and related U.S. efforts to support Saigon – that is, well before Linebacker II. Randolph also embeds Nixon's policies concerning Vietnam into the larger "triangular" diplomacy including the opening of relations with the People's Republic of China and the achievement of strategic arms limitation with the Soviet Union. Nor does he slight the long-term pressures caused by Nixon's way of war, such as how the major expenditure of U.S. military assets that was undertaken required, in Randolph's estimation, a decade to replace.
Randolph has made a major and important contribution to the study of the American war effort in Vietnam, of civil-military relations, and of the interplay of war making and diplomacy. It is an indispensable part of the core literature on the place of Vietnam within the larger context of U.S. policy objectives in the 1970s.