Forty-nine years ago, on the evening of April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon appeared on television to address the nation. Although his administration was in the process of withdrawing U.S. forces from Vietnam, the purpose of Nixon’s presentation was to announce an expansion of the ongoing conflict. As he spoke, American and South Vietnamese (ARVN) combat units were crossing into Cambodia, a nominally neutral country that had long served as a de facto sanctuary and logistics base for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).
Nixon framed his decision to invade Cambodia as an essential response to an existential threat. “My fellow Americans,” he announced, “we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home.” The situation was dire, not simply (or even especially) in Southeast Asia, but domestically and globally. “We see mindless attacks,” he continued, “on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years.” Within the United States itself, “great universities are being systematically destroyed” even as “small nations all over the world find themselves under attack from within and from without.”
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