In 1972, the Democratic National Convention voted with its heart and nominated Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, a vocal opponent of the war. Decrying the loss of life in Vietnam, McGovern promised to crawl on his knees to Hanoi, if that was what it took to bring peace, and ran on a platform of immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. His reading of the American electorate was less astute than his reading of the Democratic party and the ultimate result was a triumph for Richard Nixon. Noting the disparity between the enormous size of Nixon's electoral and popular landslide victory and his negative media coverage, political theorists gave new credence to Nixon's talk of a "silent majority" which supported him. There was, however, a small and at first nearly invisible defect in his presidency: on 22 June, five men with ties to Nixon's reelection campaign were caught breaking into the Democratic Party National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate luxury apartment complex in Washington. Nixon denied responsibility, and at first even the media considered the so-called Watergate Caper something of a joke. It was to prove otherwise. Though it took time, the investigative journalism of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post and Seymour Hersh of the New York Times was to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the President and his men were behind the break-in. Even then Nixon's position was still tenable, but when Congress sought to investigate, he stonewalled the investigation and attempted to destroy evidence linking him to the affair, committing in the process acts which would lead the House of Representatives to recommend his impeachment. However, as Nixon took office for his second term, all this was far in the future and for the moment his position seemed secure.
There was progress in the Paris negotiations as election day approached, and in October Nixon scaled down bombing of the north as a quid pro quo. The negotiations nearly reached a settlement on the basis of a cease-fire-to which President Thieu violently objected-only to breakdown definitively in December. Secure in the aftermath of his landslide victory over George McGovern, Nixon reacted strongly and on 18 December ordered bombing of the north to be resumed. The resultant campaign, LINEBACKER II, differed from its predecessor in both scale and intensity. Pulling out all the stops, Nixon authorized attacks on targets in the Hanoi-Haiphong vicinity from the outset using B-52s for the purpose for the first time. Though uninspired tactics imposed by Strategic Air Command headquarters in far-away Omaha produced heavy casualties to SAMs on the first three nights, the B-52s wrought immense damage around Hanoi and Haiphong while inflicting remarkably few civilian casualties in the process. At the end of eleven days, the communists were ready to call it quits. On 8 January, Le Due Tho and Kissinger returned toParis and by the 23rd they had reached an agreement.
While Nixon might term the results peace with honor, Kissinger had in fact settled for terms that fell far short of Lyndon Johnson's policy objectives, accepting the presence of substantial North Vietnamese forces in the south and recognizing a Communist Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) of South Vietnam The United States was to provide only logistic support to the ARVN and all but fifty U.S. military personnel were to be withdrawn from South Vietnam. President Thieu, sensing betrayal, was brutally coerced into concurrence, accepting out of necessity Nixon's assurance that he would resume bombing should the communists violate the terms of the accord by reinforcing their units in the south. Hanoi released the American POWs, many of whom had been languishing in North Vietnamese prisons under conditions of terrible deprivation and brutality for seven years or more. To most Americans, their emotion-choked homecoming marked the end of the war.