I have seen snippets (first in Jeremiah Denton's book "When Hell was in Session" ) of information from recent scholarship that the North Vietnamese may have been ready to give up in 1972. I have scoured recent books on the Vietnam War and have not found any that address the question of this theory. Does anyone know of any publication(s) that addresses this? Any studies, papers, or books that have recently explored the inner deliberations of the North Vietnamese.

  • 10
    Where did you see these 'snippets'?
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 20:19
  • Highly unlikely they were "near collapse". They did suffer lot of casualties in 1972, but so did the enemy (South Vietnam) and Americans were getting ready to withdraw completely from Vietnam.
    – rs.29
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 22:30
  • I first noticed it in Jeremiah Denton's book "When Hell was in Session." His description of the actions of his prison staff offer a clue. With this information, other reports began to corroborate the idea. Unfortunately, I did not document the other sources, but the question grew.
    – Paul
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 11:26
  • 2
    Give up and collapse are radically different things. Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 10:44
  • Any more so than in Westmoreland's frequent pronouncements to that effect? Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 3:56

1 Answer 1


Were the North Vietnamese close to collapse in 1972?

I would say No, that wasn't the case. For most of 1972 US troops involved in the war were being significantly reduced. America was turning over the execution of the war to South Vietnamese forces. In April, North Vietnamese had started a significant large scale, three pronged offensive against the South. While not the decisive victory the North had hoped for, they did gain ground. US actions in Vietnam in 1972 were largely a response to this offensive.

What you are probable thinking of was the Nixon / Kissinger designed Operation Linebacker. The large scale American bombing campaign conducted May-Oct 1972 against the North. The US targeted not only logistic infrastructure, but population centers in the North for the first time since 1967 Operation Rolling Thunder. It was the first large scale use of smart weapons in the War. Linebacker was designed not to collapse the North Vietnamese regime, nor win the war, rather blunt the ongoing North Vietnamese ground offensive into the South and also to force North Vietnamese concessions which had stalled peace talks since 1967. Linebacker accomplished both of these goals.

The greatest opportunity for an American military "victory" in Vietnam was also a low water mark for US involvement. The 1968 Tet offensive. Prior to 1968, the United States had been slowly losing an asymmetric war in Vietnam. In Jan of 1968 North Vietnam changed tactics and brought their clandestined forces in the south out of the shadows and directly challenged US forces across the south. This lead to support for the war being reduced domestically within the United States, it also lead to the devastation of North Vietnamese forces in the South. It has been hypothesized that if the US had moved its forces to the frontiers and borders to prevent the North from re-infiltrating into the South, they could have won the war. Perhaps not, but it was one of the greatest opportunities for victory in the war. In reality the US never realized how tenuous the North's southern forces were after Tet.

  • What "smart weapons" do you have in mind? Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 14:26
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    @RodrigodeAzevedo The LGB was developed during this time frame.
    – justCal
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 14:54
  • 2
    @RodrigodeAzevedo: WP: Operation Linebacker -- "Between the 6th and the 15th, U.S. aircraft also struck and destroyed the Paul Doumer and Thanh Hóa bridges and the Yên Viên railway marshalling yard. This marked the introduction of laser-guided bombs against strategic targets in North Vietnam."
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 14:59
  • @RodrigodeAzevedo, I've heard stories that laser guided bombs were so accurate the North Vietnamese soldiers took shelter from the bombing campaign in the courtyard of the Hanoi Hilton because it was one of the safest places in the city. The US could target different buildings in the city while safely not targeting the POW buildings. That was a new concept in 1967. During WWII and Korea huge strategic bombing campaigns involving hundreds of aircraft were used to destroy factories. With smart bombs fewer and smaller aircraft could more reliable engage such targets.
    – user27618
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 15:10
  • @JMS I have also heard stories that laser-guided bombs were not all that accurate in the Gulf War. I do not see how bombs become less accurate over time. Perhaps the expectations had become too high by 1991. Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 15:15

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