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.
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.