The Final Act
As the final months of 1974 - the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese astrological calendar-played themselves out, American observers of the situation in Southeast Asia were in general agreement that South Vietnam had shown surprising political and military viability since the U.S. withdrawal. Nguyen Van Thieu's presidency had proven surprisingly tranquil politically, and the ARVN had shown that it could fight it out with the North Vietnamese on even terms. The ARVN counterattack had regained most of the territory lost in the 1972 Easter Offensive prior to the cease-fire, and though powerful PAVN forces remained in the South under the terms of the Paris Accords, the communist forces had limited success in 1973 and the first half of 1974. What remained of the Viet Cong had been destroyed during 1972 and the guerrilla war in the south was effectively over.
But the crucial battle of 1974 for the Republic of Vietnam was not on the ground in Asia, but on the floor of the American Congress. The Watergate affair, the power of the press and his own flawed judgement had finally caught up with Richard Nixon, and on 9 August, facing impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, he resigned from office to be replaced by Vice President Gerald Ford; with Nixon went America's commitment to South Vietnam and Nguyen Van Thieu. Disillusioned by the futility of the war and aggressively lobbied by a resurgent anti-war movement, Congress decided to 'give peace a chance' and, less than two weeks after Nixon's resignation, it slashed the Administration's request for one billion dollars in military aid for South Vietnam to 700 million dollars and severely cut aid to the faltering Lon Nol regime in Cambodia. Already forced to adopt stringent conservation measures to protect its dwindling stocks of spare parts and munitions and with the availability of U.S. air power to enforce the provisions of the Paris Accords proving problematical, the ARVN faced a well-armed and resupplied foe who could not be long in attacking. Looking ahead to the long-term consequences of the cutback in American aid, the more perceptive U.S. intelligence
analysts had come reluctantly to the conclusion that an eventual North Vietnamese victory was more or less inevitable. Nevertheless, the combat performance of the much- maligned ARVN had proven much better than expected and the analysts saw no signs of imminent collapse. Even in the inner circle of the last major American military headquarters in Indochina, the United States Support Activities Group (USSAG)at Nakhon Phanom, in Thailand, the consensus was that the ARVN would no doubt lose ground in 1974, perhaps even permanently losing control of a province or two to the communists, but that they would muddle through for another year, and perhaps longer. Cracks in the ARVN facade were not long in appearing: Phuoc Long Province north of Saigon fell on 6 January after a two week battle for the provincial capital, and ARVN reserves of artillery ammunition, in particular, were thin. But USSAG's primary concern for the moment was Cambodia, where the Khymer Rouge were closing in inexorably on the capital of Phnom Penh.Page 45 (Chapter Eleven-The Final Act)