Echoes From an Earlier Conflict
How Congress wrestled with two presidents for control of the Vietnam War
In December 1974, the month after those crucial elections, Congress overwhelmingly approved a foreign assistance act slashing the appropriation for South Vietnam. "The Republicans' staggering losses left the president little choice but to aggressively appease the opposition if he wanted to get anything done," writes Brinkley in his biography Gerald R. Ford. "And the only thing that would appease them was an end to the Vietnam War."
In January 1975, the North Vietnamese launched another major offensive, and by the end of March, they had captured numerous provinces, with little resistance from the beleaguered South Vietnamese, who were running out of supplies and ammunition.
Ford requested $1.4 billion in emergency military aid for South Vietnam and Cambodia. Congress authorized only $1 billion and actually appropriated just $700 million. Meanwhile, the city of Quang Tri fell to the Communists, then the ancient capital of Hue, and the Americans began evacuating remaining U.S. personnel and thousands of Vietnamese refugees.
With the House and Senate balking on saving the Saigon regime, the president addressed the nation before a joint session of Congress. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urged him to tell the American people that "Congress was solely to blame for the debacle in Southeast Asia," Ford later wrote, but he refused, considering that option too divisive. Instead, Ford called for unity and said the United States couldn't "abandon our friends while our adversaries support and encourage theirs."
But Congress would have none of it. The legislators decided not to provide any more money for South Vietnam, and Ford felt there was nothing more he could do. With the North Vietnamese about to take Saigon, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu resigned and fled the country. In the final hours, American helicopters evacuated desperate Vietnamese from the rooftops. But many were left behind in a final humiliation that closed the book on America's involvement in Vietnam after 11 years.