December 3, 2017

1970. Vice President Agnew Blasts Proposed Vietnam Withdrawal Date

Agnew Criticizes the Hatfield-McGovern Amendment
Protestors in Canberra, Australia gather outside the old Parliament House to protest the Vietnam War in 1970 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 7, 1970

Vice President Agnew was at the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention in Miami Beach today to make a speech. After reading the text of the address and cogitating on it for several hours, you might call this a semi-demi-instant analysis.

And despite the danger of losing my standing as an intellectual effete-ist I find myself in agreement with Mr. Agnew for once—but probably for the wrong reasons.

The vice president was speaking before the VFW, most of whom are presumed to be hawks who like the red meat of patriotic oratory.

His targets for the day were a fellow Republican, Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, and a former bomber pilot, Democratic Senator George McGovern of South Dakota.

Their legislative sin, in the eyes of the vice president, is the Hatfield-McGovern Amendment, which would require President Nixon to cease all US military operations in Southeast Asia by next January 1, and have all American troops out of Vietnam by June 30, 1971.

I happen to agree with Spiro Agnew that this kind of amendment attempting to legislate military strategy in a war the administration is pledged to disengage from is unwise and wrong. Such a congressional stricture on the president would banish all hope for a negotiated settlement in the Paris talks, and would weaken the collective security treaties the US has made with allies around the globe.

However, in his Miami Beach speech today Mr. Agnew seemed to be following the traditional military diktat that says "if you must do something, over-do it."

The vice president landed on Senator Hatfield and McGovern like a B-52 load of bombs. He called their Amendment to End the War a "blueprint for the first military defeat in the history of the United States"—forgetting, perhaps, the British troops which landed in Agnew's native Maryland in 1812, marched on Washington, and burned both the White House and the Capitol—which was not exactly a triumph of American arms.

If the Hatfield-McGovern proposal is approved by Congress, Agnew declared that 43,000 dead and 285,000 wounded would have suffered for nothing: "An American army, undefeated on the field of battle, will come home in humiliation because impatient pacifists in the Senate lost the war..."

It has been my understanding that never has the United States sought military victory in Vietnam; the destruction of the Hanoi government has never been the US military objective. A fact which the vice president overlooked today.

Mr. Agnew correctly boasted of the president's Vietnaminization program and the continuing cutback of American troops as the Saigon government becomes strong enough to shoulder the burden.

But the vice president's bitter attack today was a blunt admission that there likely will be US troops in Vietnam after June 15 of 1971, and possibly long after that.

In his VFW speech, Mr. Agnew attacked those abroad in the land and in the halls of Congress who are the voices of that same shortsighted isolationism that lost the peace after World War I—and helped to bring on World War II. Thus did the Republican vice president defend Democratic President Woodrow Wilson against his GOP opposition. It took fifty years to come full circle.