In Richard Nixon's final appeal to voters on NBC right before the 1968 Presidential Election, he made an explosive claim about the Vietnam war. Here is how the Eugene Register-Guard reported it:

[Nixon] said he had a “very disturbing report,” gleaned from an unnamed Air Force general, that the enemy was moving thousands of tons of supplies into South Vietnam.... [Hubert] Humphrey branded the Nixon charge "totally irresponsible," and accused the Republican of trying to "frighten the American people."

This charge was a big deal at the time, because then-President Lyndon B. Johnson had negotiated a ceasefire in Vietnam, and Nixon was casting doubt on whether it was working.

My question is, was Nixon telling the truth that an Air Force general had told him that the North Vietnamese were moving thousands of tons of supplies into South Vietnam? And was it actually true that the North Vietnamese were doing this at the time?

Unless a particular Air Force General 'fesses up in an autobiography, the first question is unanswerable.

On the second question, absolutely that was happening. It had been happening for years, escalating in quantity and variety of supplies transported, since at least 1959. The supply trail was known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, ran through the mountains of neighbouring neutral Laos and during the final weeks of the 1968 campaign the Air Force was making final preparations for Operation Command Hunt against it. This bombing campaign began November 11, just 6 days after the Nov. 5th election.

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As noted in Wikipedia, the North Vietnamese had spent most of 1968 expanding the Trail following the Tet Offensive in January that year.

  • I wonder if there's a list of Air Force Generals in 1968. – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 19 at 6:27
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    The other way to answer it is to find out from Nixon's campaign aides and the like which generals if any he was talking to at the time. – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 19 at 6:30

Wikipedia suggest the yearly trail capacity in 1968 was between 10000 (1964) tons, 81000 (1968 reserved offensive supplies) tons and 40000 (end 1970) tons. It usefully doesn’t specify which ton. The first and last estimate appear to be for the overland route controlled by the 559th.

Nixon’s statement regarding the logistic capacity of the PLAF/PAVN appears substantially correct, even if it discounts indigenous supply by NFL/PRG manufacture and capture of ARVN materiel.

Whether Nixon was informed of this by an airforce general cannot be verified to the standards of Sceptics, but it is reasonable to assume that Nixon had been briefed by someone who knew the logistic situation and I’m inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt here. The claims are substantiable and the claimed source is reasonable. Nixon didn’t have any motivation to lie here; shocking people with the truth had the desired political effect.

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    This works into your answer better than mine: "Recall that Nixon was VP for the first two years of American involvement in Vietnam, 1959-60." – Pieter Geerkens Nov 19 at 9:09
  • 10 000 tons per month, year or what? – d-b Nov 19 at 17:34
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    I would assume it's the standard American short ton for a government document in the late 60s. The confusion around international units seems to be a more recent phenomenon. – jpmc26 Nov 19 at 21:31
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    @d-b: Note on first line: "the yearly trail capacity" – Pieter Geerkens Nov 19 at 21:48
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    What is unmentioned in both of these answers is that Nixon - or at least Nixon's team - was also working to sabotage the peace talks, by persuading South Vietnam to not participate as long as LBJ was President. "You'll get a better deal after the election." – Jamie Hanrahan Nov 20 at 11:15

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