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The Kissinger


In National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s view,

Vietnam offered very few lessons that

could be usefully applied elsewhere.


t your request, I have prepared

some thoughts on the “lessons of

Vietnam” for your consideration

and for your background informa-

tion in dealing with further press

questions on the subject.

It is remarkable, considering

how long the war lasted and how

intensely it was reported and

commented, that there are really not very many lessons from our

experience in Vietnam that can be usefully applied elsewhere

despite the obvious temptation to try. Vietnam represented a

unique situation, geographically, ethnically, politically, militarily

and diplomatically. We should probably be grateful for that and

should recognize it for what it is, instead of trying to apply the

“lessons of Vietnam” as universally as we once tried to apply the

“lessons of Munich.”

Memorandum 3173-X: The White House, Washington

Secret/Sensitive/Eyes Only

Memorandum For: The President

From: Henry A. Kissinger

Subject: Lessons from Vietnam

Declassified E.O. 12957, Sec. 3.5, NSC Memo, 11/24/98, State Dept Guidelines,

by KBH, NARA, Date 2/10/00, Gerald R. Ford Library

The real frustration of Vietnam, in terms of commentary and

evaluation, may be that the war had almost universal effects but

did not provide a universal catechism.

A frequent temptation of many commentators has been to

draw conclusions regarding the tenacity of the American people

and the ultimate failure of our will. But I question whether we

can accept that conclusion. It was the longest war in American

history, the most distant, the least obviously relevant to our

nation’s immediate concerns, and yet the American people

supported our involvement and its general objectives until the

very end. The people made enormous sacrifices. I am convinced

that, even at the end, they would have been prepared to support

a policy that would have saved South Vietnam if such an option

had been available to use.

It must not be forgotten that the decisions of American

administrations that involved this nation in the war were

generally supported at the time they were taken, and that they