Analysis & Opinions - Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

50 Years Later, The Legacy of The Paris Peace Accords Isn't One of Peace

| Jan. 26, 2023

Historian Fredrik Logevall discusses why the agreement that ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam never led to the promised "peace with honor"

After years of negotiations and secret talks, on January 27, 1973, representatives of the South Vietnamese communist forces, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the United States gathered in Paris to sign the Paris Peace Accords, officially titled, “Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” A ceasefire to the decades-long war was set to go into effect the next morning. Yet, by the time the last American combat troops left the country on March 29, 1973, fighting had already resumed.

The Accords didn’t bring lasting peace to Vietnam. The anti-communist South Vietnamese government would fall two years later.

To help us better understand how the Accords came to be and played a central role in the ultimate fate of Vietnam, the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia sat down for a conversation with historian Fredrik Logevall, Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs at HKS, and author of “Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for History.

Ash: As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, which effectively put an end to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, how would you describe the legacy of the accords?

Logevall: For the United States, the legacy is immense. The agreement permitted the extrication of U.S. forces; in this way, it marked the effective end of America’s long and bloody military involvement in Indochina. American society had been torn apart by the struggle, and the Accords marked the beginning of closure. (Though Richard Nixon promised to punish North Vietnam with airpower if it violated the terms of the deal, the threat lacked credibility—Congress and the public were not going to allow a reapplication of U.S. firepower.) For the Vietnamese, however, the Accords meant something else, for the core question over which the war had been fought—the political existence of South Vietnam—remained unresolved. No real peace resulted, as Hanoi stayed committed to its goal of reunification of the country under its control. For Vietnamese in both the north and south, therefore, the 1973 deal can be said to have marked the start of another phase in a three-decades-long struggle for control of Vietnam. The Americans were leaving, but the core stakes didn’t change. Only in April 1975, with the so-called “Fall of Saigon,” would Hanoi complete its takeover of the South....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Logevall, Fredrik."50 Years Later, The Legacy of The Paris Peace Accords Isn't One of Peace." Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, January 26, 2023.

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