Invading Cambodia

Nixon explains Invasion of Cambodia

On April 31, 1970 Nixon went before the American people to explain why an invasion of Cambodia was necessary to win the Vietnam War. In this he failed: the war was already deeply unpopular and expanding the war appeared a failure to fulfill Nixon's promise of ending the war.

Student Argues Against Nixon's Actions

The student's sign, "Nixon said he would end the war and bring the country together look what he did!" explains much of the vehemence regarding the invasion of Cambodia. Nixon was elected on the promise that he would end the war in Vietnam, much like Eisenhower with the Korean War. Unlike Ike, Nixon not only continued the war, he expanded it and increased U.S. involvement. This seemed a betrayal to many voters.

To protect our men who are in Vietnam, and to guarantee the continued success of our withdrawal and Vietnamization program, I have concluded that the time has come for action…We take this action not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam and winning the just peace we all desire.”

-President Richard Nixon, April 30, 1970

April 31-May 4, 1970

            At 9pm on April 30th, President Nixon addressed the nation announcing that he had ordered an invasion of Cambodia alongside the South Vietnamese Army. Details of the speech led in the Technician on Friday, May 1st, yet news of the invasion were far from the main focus of the day. The front page was dominated by the runoff election for where Cathy Sterling and John Plow dominated. It should not be surprising that this was the case: the election had been a central news story for more than a month while the war in Vietnam was nearing its sixth year. Over the next several days, however, the invasion of Cambodia would rise in importance until it was as large as the unorthodox student government election.

            Outside of the opening story, the Technician published only one other mention of Cambodia, an editorial titled “Nixon and his New Indo-China War” railing against Nixon’s argument that invading Cambodia would hasten to end the war. As the author concluded, “All that myth about Nixon’s ‘plan for peace’[1] should be perfectly clear now: Richard M. Nixon is a fighter, a man of war. He isn’t going to end hostilities in Vietnam or Cambodia, or Laos now or ever.”[2] Interestingly, Wilson’s editorial was paired with another on growing frustration with the current student government. NC State's students were angry with both their university and national governments. This was already happening in the Student Body President election—almost certainly the reason the election garnered such widespread interest—and soon Technician readers would have their opportunity to make a statement regarding the war in Vietnam.

            Just three days later, on Monday May 4th, the Cambodian War was the number one event. Many students, given time, had grown angry and demanded the right to speak publicly about the invasion. In the lead article, “Campus Leaders Call Convocation” the current student body president and student senate president requested a meeting of all students in the brickyard and that “the faculty hold all classes from 10 o’clock a.m. through 12 o’clock noon at the site of the convoctation in an effort to extend the educational process.”[3] The brickyard meeting was timed to coincide with similar convocations at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University. In fact, the NC State student body leaders followed the lead of Duke, which issued its convocation only call 24 hours beforehand. An editorial argued, however, that “protest from [NC] State may be reckoned with more than that of Duke or Carolina because State is usually so quite about such matters.”[4]

            An important theme arrived with the convocation call. In a short piece at the bottom of page 1, the student body leaders who issued the call wrote to readers that “The University should be a forum for intellectual expression, and the concept of academic freedom demands that dissent be freely expressed.” After news of the Kent State shootings (which occurred just a few hours after the Technician went to press) this concept of intellectual expression would loom large in discussions of the Peace Retreat. Student leaders used the concept of a university to force the school’s administration into allowing a boycott.

            Why did the invasion of Cambodia spawn such fury? The students, and many across the country believed that Nixon lied to them. When elected in 1968 he promised to get us out of Vietnam; now two years later he was escalating the war and invading a second country. This was antithetical to pulling out of Vietnam and implied that the war might go on for many years more. And those doing the fighting and dying were the same age as NC State's students. Perhaps a similar fate would befall them when they graduated?


See a word picture of for May 1st, of the Technician 

To read about the radicalization of NC State in the 1960s, (by Lauren Roland) click here 

[1] Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 with a promise to end the war in Vietnam. His solution was to double down.

[2] Craig Wilson, Technician Volume LIV, Number 77, Friday May 1, 1970 “Nixon and his New Indo-China War”

[3] Jack Cozort, Technician, Volume LIV, Number 78, May 4, 1970, “Campus Leaders Call Convocation”

[4] Technician, May 4, 1970, “Students: speak out on Indochina War”

To read about the radicalization of NC State, click here