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#218: Nixon Goes to China

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In this Feb 21, 1972 photo, President Richard M. Nixon, left, shakes hands with Chinese leader Mao Zedong during Nixon's groundbreaking trip to China
In this Feb 21, 1972 photo, President Richard M. Nixon, left, shakes hands with Chinese leader Mao Zedong during Nixon's groundbreaking trip to China

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

Today, we continue the story of the thirty-seventh president of the United States, Richard Nixon.

(MUSIC)

The year is nineteen sixty-nine. Richard Nixon, a Republican, is in the first year of his first term in office. His biggest foreign policy problem is the continuing war in Vietnam. During the election campaign, Nixon had promised to do something to end the war.

The question was: what?

Some Americans want him to withdraw troops from Vietnam immediately. Bring the soldiers home, they say. Others believe the United States should take whatever measures are necessary to win. Expand the ground war, they say, or even use nuclear weapons.

Withdrawing troops would leave South Vietnam alone to resist communist North Vietnam. Yet that was the reason the United States had entered the conflict -- to prevent the communists from capturing the south.

Expanding the war would not be an easy decision either. Already, by nineteen sixty-nine, more Americans had died in Vietnam than had died during the Korean War.

For Richard Nixon, the war is a terrible test. If he fails, his presidency could end the way Lyndon Johnson's presidency ended. Johnson decided not to run for re-election after he lost public and political support for his war policies.

Presidents have advisers, and Nixon's most important adviser was Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was an expert on foreign relations. He later served as Nixon's secretary of state. Together, they tried many ways to settle the conflict in Vietnam. It took several years before the involvement of the United States would finally end.

The American efforts were both diplomatic and military. Peace talks were taking place in Paris. But the Nixon administration started secret peace talks in Paris at the same time. The administration also withdrew some troops from Vietnam. Yet -- secretly -- it sent other troops into Cambodia. And it began bombing Laos.

AUDIO: Bombing

The Nixon administration also started bombing North Vietnam again. Lyndon Johnson had stopped the raids a few years earlier.

(MUSIC)

Efforts to end American involvement in Vietnam did not begin immediately. For his first eight months in office, President Nixon made no major policy changes. Then, in October nineteen sixty-nine, he ordered the withdrawal of sixty thousand troops.

He said he acted to speed the peace talks. He also ordered American commanders to give the South Vietnamese most of the responsibility for fighting.

Americans were happy that fewer troops would be involved. But many were unhappy that the withdrawal was not complete. Huge anti-war demonstrations took place in the United States in the autumn of nineteen sixty-nine. On November fifteenth, several hundred thousand people protested in Washington.

Nixon tried to explain to the American people why he was not ordering an immediate withdrawal. In his words: "It is not the easy way. It is the right way."

In the spring of nineteen seventy, American and South Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia.

RICHARD NIXON: "Tonight, American and South Vietnamese units will attack the headquarters for the entire communist military operation in South Vietnam."

Nixon described to the American public why he had decided to order the actions in Cambodia.

NIXON: "This key control center has been occupied by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong for five years, in blatant violation of Cambodia's neutrality. This is not an invasion of Cambodia. The areas in which these attacks will be launched are completely occupied and controlled by North Vietnamese forces. Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries, and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw."

(MUSIC)

Early in nineteen seventy-one, the Nixon administration decided to provide air and artillery support for a South Vietnamese invasion of Laos. The goal was to stop supplies from reaching North Vietnam through that neighboring country.

South Vietnamese forces destroyed many enemy weapons. But they also suffered heavy losses, and many American planes were shot down. After six weeks, the South Vietnamese were forced to withdraw.

Many members of the United States Congress were angry. They said the invasion of Laos was another in a long series of failures. Nixon's administration had said the United States was winning the war. Opposition Democrats in Congress said the administration was lying. Criticism by the American public grew louder, as well.

Demonstrations took place across the country, including on college campuses.

AUDIO: Kent State shooting

On May fourth, nineteen seventy, National Guard troops shot and  killed four students during protests at Kent State University in Ohio.

This is what Neil Young means when he sings of "four dead in Ohio" in a famous protest song that he wrote in reaction to the killings.

(MUSIC: "Ohio"/Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)

President Nixon said again that the United States must not permit North Vietnam to take over South Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson had said the same thing when he was president.

Many Americans had accepted the war, but as it continued, and as more Americans died in Vietnam, public opinion changed.

In nineteen sixty-five, sixty-one percent of those questioned said they approved of the war. By nineteen seventy-one, sixty-one percent said they did not approve of it.

The official peace talks in Paris offered little hope of a negotiated settlement. Over a period of several years, each side made proposals, only to have the other side reject them.

President Nixon wanted to address the public's anger over the war. So he announced that Henry Kissinger had held twelve secret meetings with North Vietnamese officials. But those secret meetings made no more progress than the official talks.

In late March nineteen seventy-two, North Vietnam launched a major offensive. In May, Nixon ordered increased bombing against roads and railways in the north. By the end of August, the communist offensive had been stopped. Yet many lives had been lost. The pressure to withdraw American forces grew stronger.

For the next five months, the Nixon administration continued a policy of official talks, secret meetings and increased military action. Finally, the president announced that an agreement had been reached at the peace talks in Paris. There would be a ceasefire, and negotiators from the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the Viet Cong would sign the agreement.

Under the terms of the agreement, all American and allied forces would withdraw from South Vietnam. The north and south would be free to settle their conflict without interference from other countries.

President Nixon announced the news from the White House.

RICHARD NIXON: "At twelve-thirty Paris time today, January twenty-three, nineteen-seventy-three, the agreement on ending the war and restoring peace in Vietnam was initialed by Dr. Henry Kissinger on behalf of the United States and special adviser Le Duc Tho on behalf of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The agreement will be formally signed by the parties participating in the Paris conference on Vietnam on January twenty seven, nineteen-seventy-three, at the international conference center in Paris. ... The United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam express the hope that this agreement will insure stable peace in Vietnam and contribute to the preservation of lasting peace in Indochina and Southeast Asia."

Yet the fighting continued -- and would continue even after Nixon resigned from office in nineteen seventy-four.

(SOUND) Fall of Saigon: Automatic weapons fire

April thirtieth, nineteen seventy-five, marked the fall of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital, after the withdrawal of American troops. The North Vietnamese had planned a two-year campaign to take Saigon; it would take them just fifty-five days.

(MUSIC Transition)

Another foreign policy issue for the Nixon administration was China. Here was Nixon's chance to shine as a statesman.

Communists took power in China in nineteen forty-nine. The United States, however, did not recognize the Communist Party government on the mainland. Instead, it recognized the Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan.

In the early nineteen seventies, the Nixon administration began trying to improve relations. It eased restrictions on travel to China. And it supported a visit to China by the United States table-tennis team -- so-called "ping-pong diplomacy."

Then President Nixon made a surprise announcement. He himself would visit China.

(MUSIC)

The historic event took place in February nineteen seventy-two. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and Party Chairman Mao Zedong greeted the American president. Nixon and Zhou held talks that opened new possibilities for trade. The next year, Nixon sent a representative to open a diplomatic office in Beijing. After more than twenty years, the two countries were communicating again.

They would not establish full relations, however, until nineteen seventy-nine, when the United States stopped recognizing Taiwan.

Many Americans were happy at the easing of tensions with China, even as the Cold War with the Soviet Union continued.

(MUSIC)

Many were proud to see their president standing at the Great Wall of China. Historians would later it call it the greatest moment in the presidency of Richard Nixon.

In fact, Nixon might have been remembered as one of America's greatest presidents, if not for a break-in at Democratic Party headquarters. It led to a history-changing series of events that came to be known as Watergate.

That will be our story next week.

(MUSIC)

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

This was program #218.

共和党籍美国总统尼克松1969年走马上任。在外交上,尼克松面临的最棘手的问题是仍在继续的越战。竞选期间,尼克松曾保证要设法结束越战。关键是怎样结束。一部分美国人主张立即撤军,让美军将士回家,另外一部分美国人则认为,美国应该不惜一切代价打赢这场战争,扩大地面战争的规模,甚至动用核武器。

撤军就意味着放弃南越不管,让他们单枪匹马对付北越的共产力量。而美国参加越战的初衷,就是不想让南越落入共产主义阵营。另一方面,扩大战局也没有那么简单,1969年时,越战阵亡的美军将士人数就已经超过韩战了。

对尼克松来说,越战是一次严峻考验。如果失败,他的总统生涯就会跟前任约翰逊总统有一样的结局,约翰逊就是因为自己的越战政策失去了公众和政界的支持,才决定不参选连任的。

每个总统身边都有出谋划策的人。尼克松最重要的智囊是亨利.基辛格。基辛格是外交事务专家,后来曾任尼克松的国务卿。尼克松和基辛格为结束越战尝试了很多办法,花了好几年才终于脱身。

美国在外交和军事上双管齐下。巴黎举行和谈的同时,尼克松政府也在巴黎举行秘密和谈。他们从越南撤回了一部分兵力,但同时又秘密派兵前往柬埔寨,并开始轰炸老挝。约翰逊几年前下令停止的对北越的空袭,也在尼克松任期内重新开始。

尼克松上任头八个月,没有做出任何重大的政策变动。1969年10月,他才下令撤回六万美军。并下令美军指挥官将大部分作战任务交给南越方面。尼克松说,他这样做是为了加快和谈的进程。

撤军是美国民众希望看到的,但是部分撤军又让很多人感到不满。1969年秋天美国出现了大规模反战抗议,11月15号首都华盛顿也发生了几十万人的示威游行。尼克松试图向美国民众解释,他为什么没有下令全部撤军,按他的话说,"这样做不是最简单的做法,但却是正确的做法。"

1970年春天,美国和南越部队进攻柬埔寨。尼克松就这一行动向美国民众做出解释说:"那里的重要控制中心已经被北越和越共控制了五年,公然违背柬埔寨的中立地位。这次行动不是侵略柬埔寨,行动领域都是北越部队控制的地带,一旦将他们赶出这些避难处,一旦他们的军事供给被彻底摧毁,我们马上撤军。"

1971年初,尼克松政府决定为南越进攻老挝提供空中和炮火支持,目的是阻止军用供给途经老挝进入北越。南越部队摧毁了敌军的很多武器,但自身也损失惨重,很多架美军战斗机被击落。六个星期后,南越部队就被迫撤退了。

美国国会很多议员都感到气愤。他们说,入侵老挝是一系列失败中的又一次。尼克松政府一直说,美国正在打赢这场战争,但是国会里的反对派民主党议员指出,政府在撒谎,美国民众的批评声浪也不断提高。全国各地抗议示威不断,包括大学校园。

1970年5月4日,国民警卫队在俄亥俄州的肯特州立大学学生抗议活动中开枪打死了四个学生,歌手尼尔.扬还专门为这件事写过歌。

尼克松总统再次强调,美国不能允许北越吞噬南越,他的前任约翰逊总统也曾说过同样的话。很多美国人一度接受了这场战争,但是随着战争的继续,随着美军官兵阵亡人数的增加,公众舆论发生了变化。1965年时,百分之61的受访者支持越战,到1971年时,已经有百分之61的受访者反对越战了。

法国巴黎举行的和谈毫无进展,几年来,任何一方提出议案,往往立即就会遭到另一方的拒绝。尼克松总统为了安抚民众的不满情绪,告诉大家,基辛格私下里跟北越官员已经举行了12次秘密会谈,但是这些秘密会谈也没有取得任何进展。

1972年3月底,北越发起猛烈进攻。5月,尼克松下令加强对北越道路和铁路的轰炸。到8月底的时候,北越停止进攻,但是这次行动造成了大量人员伤亡,美国国内要求撤军的压力倍增。

在接下来的五个月里,尼克松政府继续执行官方会谈,私下接触和加大军事打击力度的综合策略。最后,尼克松宣布,巴黎和谈终于达成了停火协议,美国、南越、北越和越共代表都在协议上签了字。

根据协议,美国和所有盟军部队撤出南越,北越和南越在不受其他国家干预的情况下自行解决分歧,尼克松在白宫宣布这一消息时说:"1973年1月23日,巴黎时间12点30分,基辛格代表美国,黎德寿代表越南民主共和国,提出了一项结束战争,在越南重建和平的协议。参加巴黎会议的各方将于1973年1月27日在巴黎国际会议中心签署这份协议。美国和越南民主共和国都表示,希望这份协议能保证越南稳定和平,有利于印度支那和东南亚实现持久和平。"

然而,战斗还在继续,而且要一直继续到尼克松1974年辞职以后。美军撤离后,1975年4月30日南越首都西贡失陷。北越为了攻陷西贡,原本准备打两年的仗,没想到短短55天就结束了战斗。

尼克松任期内另一个重要外交议题是中国,中国问题让尼克松作为外交家大放光彩。中国共产党1949年夺取政权,但是美国政府一直没有承认大陆共产党政权的合法化,在外交上继续承认台湾的国民党政权。

70年代初期,尼克松政府开始努力改善跟中国大陆共产党政权的关系,先是放松了去中国旅行的限制,并支持美国乒乓球队到中国去访问,有了后来着名的"乒乓外交"。随后,尼克松意外地宣布准备访华。

尼克松访华这一历史事件发生在1972年2月,中国国家总理周恩来和党主席毛泽东接见了尼克松。尼克松跟周恩来的会谈,为两国贸易打开了大门。次年,尼克松又派特使,在北京开设了外交办事处,经过20多年后,两国终于又恢复了沟通的渠道。中美正式建交还要等到美国不再承认台湾的1979年。虽然当时美国跟苏联的冷战还在继续,但是很多美国人对美国跟中国关系的缓和还是感到很高兴。

很多美国人看到自己的总统站在中国长城上都感到很骄傲。历史学家后来认为,这是尼克松当总统期间,最为辉煌的一刻。事实上,如果不是后来发生了水门事件的话,尼克松本可能成为美国历史上最伟大的总统之一。

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