Vietnam War History
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The Vietnam War was a long, bloody
conflict that ended with the United States' first major
military upset. It had huge ramifications, nationally and
The French had occupied Indochina since
the 1800s. At the First Indochinese War, which lasted from the
late 1940s to the mid 1950s, Communist forces defeated
American-aided French troops in Vietnam. President Eisenhower,
reacting to the Communist show of might, tried to establish an
anti-Communist government just south of the 17th
parallel. A pro-American named Ngo Dinh Diem came to power. Since
he resisted the Communist movement's insurgent tendencies,
he was supported by the United States Government. Diem was also
supported by Catholics in Vietnam. However, the large
non-Christian population of Vietnam rebelled at Diem's
authoritarian manner. The U.S. began to send large amounts of
military aid to Diem's regime. This was done under the
reasoning that force was needed to protect South Vietnam, to halt
the spread of Chinese Communism, and to keep Diem in power.
By this time, anti-Diem groups had
banded together to form the Viet Cong, a group against which the
U.S. centered a major strategic policy program. The Viet Cong, by
1960, had evolved into the National Liberation Front of South
Vietnam (NLFSV.) Since guerrilla warfare, propaganda, and
recruiting were the Viet Cong's tactics, American
strategists devised "strategic hamlets," relocation
sites designed to keep Vietnamese isolated from Viet Cong
influence. However, this plan backfired as the relocated
Vietnamese became disgruntled, rebelled from the hamlets, and
eventually joined the Viet Cong in droves.
With this, American military presence in
the region increased dramatically. At the start of Kennedy's
presidency, about 2,000 American troops were in Vietnam, compared
to upwards of 15,000 by 1963. Simultaneously, more military
advisors, training, and equipment were being provided to
Diem's Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN.)
Diem was quickly becoming a strain on
American and Vietnamese strategy. So when a group of top ARVN
officers plotted to overthrow him, the U.S. gave covert
assistance. On November 1, 1963, Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh
Nhu, were killed in the coup.
Weeks later, President Kennedy was
assassinated, leaving the formidable matter in the hands of his
successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1964, two U.S. Navy vessels were
allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese boats in the Gulf of
Tonkin. In retaliation, (though critics claim it was to gain
political support) the President ordered air strikes against
North Vietnam. Johnson also gained support in Congress, which on
August 7, 1964, passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, essentially
granting the President limitless military power.
The air strikes increased, becoming more
and more frequent, and often more deadly. Bombers used napalm, a
potent jellied form of gasoline that burns long and is difficult
to extinguish. Because of the nature of guerrilla warfare, it was
difficult to distinguish between military and civilian targets,
so both were attacked. To further the strategy of peasant
isolation from Viet Cong influence, a tactic of destroying jungle
and ground cover was used. Defoliant chemicals like Agent Orange
were used to kill trees and thick brush, and napalm bombings were
implemented to clear the countryside, causing civilians to flee
to cities under U.S. and ARVN protection.
By the mid- to late 1960s, the Viet Cong
was receiving generous quantities of aid from China and the
Soviet Union. In 1968, they staged the Tet Offensive. A huge,
well-orchestrated attack was mounted at about 120 strategic
targets, including a U.S. Air Force station, 36 provincial
capitals, and even the American embassy in South Vietnam's
capital of Saigon. The Viet Cong was repelled, suffering heavy
losses, but they had made their point: The Viet Cong was able to
dominate all of Vietnam, if the U.S. was taken out of the
To many, the war was becoming unpopular
in the United States. Massive protests and peace rallies were
beginning to take place, many at major universities and colleges.
The Johnson Administration was losing its credibility with a great deal of
The military, in late 1967-early 1968,
requested 100,000 more U.S. troops, with the possibility of more
requests. President Johnson refused, and also cut back bombing
runs on North Vietnamese targets. Johnson then, in March of 1968,
announced that he would not run for reelection. Richard Nixon won
the presidential election in 1968.
Nixon was able to start peace
negotiations, which briefly satisfied the strong appetite for
peace felt by millions. The talks were held in Paris. The United
States' and Vietnam's internal problems, however, soon
dominated the talks, which lasted until 1973. By June of 1969,
the NLFSV and other rebel groups organized a Provisional
Revolutionary Government, which gained the rebels a place at the
In the fall of 1969, Nixon's
administration began to withdraw troops from Vietnam. Bombing
raids, though, were intensified.
The war had immense repercussions in the
United States. The immense amounts of military spending caused
large budget deficits, at a time when the economy was already
slowing. The problem was multiplied by a weak dollar. The Vietnam
War did not necessarily cause these problems, but it certainly
accelerated them. The peace movement was also growing, and it
eventually reached the armed forces. Protests within the rank and
file led to desertion and insubordination. Racial tensions were
also evident, since white officers led large numbers of black
soldiers from inner cities. Drug and alcohol abuse also
contributed to morale problems.
The war was soon to shift from Vietnam
to neighboring Cambodia and Laos. In a coup in March of 1970, a
Communist regime took power in Cambodia. In April of the same
year, President Nixon ordered an invasion of Cambodia, coupled
with extensive air strikes. With the invasion of Cambodia, the
North Vietnamese were forced to use more supply routes through
Laos. In February of 1971, ARVN troops invaded Laos in a
disastrous raid. The fighting lasted for 45 days, and killed or
wounded more than half of the ARVN's force.
South Vietnam's president, Nguyen
Van Thieu, continued the mistakes his predecessors had made,
banning elections, stifling free speech, and giving himself more
Through 1971 and 1972, Nixon continued
his Vietnamization plan, withdrawing troops, increasing air
attacks, and stepping up naval bombardment. To force the
Communists to accept American terms, Nixon again increased
bombing, this time on North Vietnamese towns and ports. These
bombing missions also repelled the beginning Communist invasion
of South Vietnam.
On January 27, 1973, a cease-fire was
signed in Paris by the United States, North and South Vietnam,
and the Viet Cong. Two months later, the last American forces
left Vietnam. Without U.S. intervention, however, the peace
negotiations disintegrated, and war resumed. North Vietnam began
to conquer the south. In April, President Ford asked Congress for
$722 million in aid for Vietnam. However, Congress only
appropriated $300 million. This money was mostly used to evacuate
South Vietnamese from Communist-occupied Saigon.
The war ended on April 30, 1975, with
the South Vietnamese surrender. The Communists renamed Saigon as
Ho Chi Minh City. 2.7 million Americans served in the war. 58,000
of them were killed. Another 365,000 were wounded. The South
Vietnamese lost upwards of one million soldiers, while the North
had between 500,000 and a million deaths. Scores of civilians
were killed, and 10 million became refugees. The bombs and
defoliants used in the war scarred the countryside, permanently
in some cases.
Vietnam still remains a poor country,
with over a million people fleeing the nation since 1975. It
relies heavily on Communist aid, and has hardly any economic
Why Are We in Vietnam?
Over this war and all Asia is another reality: the deepening shadow of
communist China. The rulers in Hanoi are urged on by Peking. This is a
regime which has destroyed freedom in Tibet, which has attacked India
and has been condemned by the United Nations for aggression in
Korea. It is a nation which is helping the forces of
violence in almost every continent. The contest in Vietnam
is part of a wider pattern of aggressive purposes.
Why are these realities our concern? Why are we
in South Vietnam?
We are there because we have a promise to keep.
Since 1954 every American president has offered support to
the people of South Vietnam. We have helped to build, and
we have helped to defend. Thus, over many years, we have
made a national pledge to help South Vietnam defend its
And I intend to keep that promise.
To dishonor that pledge, to abandon this small and
brave nation to its enemies, and to the terror that must
follow, would be an unforgivable wrong.
We are also there to strengthen world order.
Around the globe from Berlin to Thailand are people whose
well-being rests in part on the belief that they can count
on us if they are attacked. To leave Vietnam to its fate
would shake the confidence of all these people in the value
of an American commitment and in the value of America's
word. The result would be increased unrest and instability
and even wider war.
We are also there because there are great stakes
in the balance. Let no one think for a moment that retreat
from Vietnam would bring an end to conflict. The battle
would be renewed in one country and then another. The
central lesson of our time is that the appetite of
aggression is never satisfied. To withdraw from one
battlefield means only to prepare for the next. We must say
in Southeast Asia, as we did in Europe, in the words of the
Bible: "Hitherto shall thou come, but no further."
There are those who say that all our efforts
there will be futile -- that China's power is such that it
is bound to dominate all Southeast Asia. But there is no
end to that argument until all the nations of Asia are
There are those who wonder why we have a
responsibility there. Well, we have a responsibility there
for the same reason that we have a responsibility for the
defense of Europe. World War II was fought in both Europe
and Asia and when it ended we found ourselves with continued
responsibility for the defense of freedom.
Our objective is the independence of South Vietnam
and its freedom from attack. We want nothing for
ourselves -- only that the people of South Vietnam be
allowed to guide their own country in their own way.
We will do everything necessary to reach that
objective and we will do only what is absolutely necessary.
In recent months attacks on South Vietnam were
stepped up. Thus, it became necessary for us to increase
our response and to make attacks by air. This is not a
change of purpose. It is a change in what we believe that
We do this in order to slow down aggression. We
do this to increase the confidence of the brave people of
South Vietnam who have bravely born this brutal battle for
so many years with so many casualties. And we do this to
convince the leaders of North Vietnam -- and all who seek to
share their conquest -- of a simple fact: We will not be
defeated. We will not grow tired. We will not withdraw
either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement.
We know that air attacks alone will not accomplish
all of these purposes but it is our best and prayerful
judgment that they are a necessary part of the surest road
We hope that peace will come swiftly. But that is
in the hands of others besides ourselves. And we must be
prepared for a long continued conflict. It will require
patience as well as bravery -- the will to endure as well as
the will to resist.
I wish it were possible to convince others with
words of what we now find it necessary to say with guns and
planes: armed hostility is futile -- our resources are
equal to any challenge -- because we fight for values and we
fight for principle rather than territory or colonies, our
patience and our determination are unending.
Once this is clear, then it should also be clear
that the only path for reasonable men is the path of
Such peace demands an independent South Vietnam --
securely guaranteed and able to shape its own relationship
to all others -- free from outside interference -- tied to
no alliance -- a military base for no other country.
These are the essentials of any final settlement.
We will never be second in the search for such a
peaceful settlement in Vietnam.
There may be many ways to this kind of peace: in
discussion or negotiation with the governments concerned; in
large groups or in small ones; in the reaffirmation of old
agreements or their strengthening with new ones.
We have stated this position over and over again
fifty times and more to friend and foe alike. And we remain
ready with this purpose for unconditional discussions.
And until that bright and necessary day of peace
we will try to keep conflict from spreading. We have no
desire to see thousands die in battle -- Asians or
Americans. We have no desire to devastate that which the
people of North Vietnam have built with toil and sacrifice.
We will use our power with restraint and with all the wisdom
that we can command. But we will use it.
Walter Cronkite (CBS Evening News)
February 27, 1968
"We are Mired in Stalemate" Broadcast
Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we'd like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive against the cities? I'm not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. Another standoff may be coming in the big battles expected south of the Demilitarized Zone. Khesanh could well fall, with a terrible loss in American lives, prestige and morale, and this is a tragedy of our stubbornness there; but the bastion no longer is a key to the rest of the northern regions, and it is doubtful that the American forces can be defeated across the breadth of the DMZ with any substantial loss of ground. Another standoff. On the political front, past performance gives no confidence that the Vietnamese government can cope with its problems, now compounded by the attack on the cities. It may not fall, it may hold on, but it probably won't show the dynamic qualities demanded of this young nation. Another standoff.
We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may be right, that Hanoi's winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would also require our realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations must be that -- negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms. For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer's almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.
To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.
This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.
Johnson Announces He Will Not Run for Re-Election
ood evening, my fellow Americans. Tonight I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
No other question so preoccupies our people. No other dream so absorbs the 250 million human beings who live in that part of the world. No other goal motivates American policy in Southeast Asia.
For years, representatives of our government and others have traveled the world seeking to find a basis for peace talks.
Since last September they have carried the offer that I made public at San Antonio. And that offer was this:
That the United States would stop its bombardment of North Vietnam when that would lead promptly to productive discussions-- and that we would assume that North Vietnam would not take military advantage of our restraint.
Hanoi denounced this offer, both privately and publicly. Even while the search for peace was going on, North Vietnam rushed their preparations for a savage assault on the people, the government and the allies of South Vietnam.
Their attack--during the Tet holidays--failed to achieve its principal objectives.
It did not collapse the elected government of South Vietnam or shatter its army--as the Communists had hoped. It did not produce a "general uprising" among the people of the cities, as they had predicted.
The communists were unable to maintain control of any of the more than 30 cities that they attacked, and they took very heavy casualties.
But they did compel the South Vietnamese and their allies to move certain forces from the countryside into the cities.
They caused widespread disruption and suffering. Their attacks, and the battles that followed, made refugees of half a million human beings.
The Communists may renew their attack any day. They are, it appears, trying to make 1968 the year of decision in South Vietnam-- the year that brings, if not final victory or defeat, at least a turning point in the struggle.
This much is clear: If they do mount another round of heavy attacks, they will not succeed in destroying the fighting power of South Vietnam and its allies.
But tragically, this is also clear: Many men--on both sides of the struggle will be lost. A nation that has already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again. Armies on both sides will take new casualties. And the war will go on.
There is no need for this to be so. There is no need to delay the talks that could bring an end to this long and this bloody war.
Tonight, I renew the offer I made last August: to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam. We ask that talks begin promptly, that they be serious talks on the substance of peace. We assume that during those talks Hanoi will not take advantage of our restraint.
We are prepared to move immediately toward peace through negotiations. So tonight, in the hope that this action will lead to early talks, I am taking the first step to de-escalate the conflict. We are reducing--substantially reducing--the present level of hostilities, and we are doing so unilaterally and at once.
Tonight I have ordered our aircraft and our naval vessels to make no attacks on North Vietnam except in the area north of the demilitarized zone where the continuing enemy build-up directly threatens allied forward positions and where the movement of their troops and supplies are clearly related to that threat.
The area in which we are stopping our attacks includes almost 90 percent of North Vietnam's population, and most of its territory. Thus there will be no attacks around the principal populated areas, or in the food-producing areas of North Vietnam.
Even this very limited bombing of the North could come to an early end--if our restraint is matched by restraint in Hanoi. But I cannot in good conscience stop all bombing so long as to do so would immediately and directly endanger the lives of our men and our allies. Whether a complete bombing halt becomes possible in the future will be determined by events.
Our purpose in this action is to bring about a reduction in the level of violence that now exists. It is to save the lives of brave men--and to save the lives of innocent women and children. It is to permit the contending forces to move closer to a political settlement.
And tonight I call upon the United Kingdom and I call upon the Soviet Union--as co-chairmen of the Geneva conferences and as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council--to do all they can to move from the unilateral act of de-escalation that I have just announced toward genuine peace in Southeast Asia.
Now, as in the past, the United States is ready to send its representatives to any forum, at any time, to discuss the means of bringing this ugly war to an end.
I am designating one of our most distinguished Americans, Ambassador Averell Harriman, as my personal representative for such talks. In addition, I have asked Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, who returned from Moscow for consultation, to be available to join Ambassador Harriman at Geneva or any other suitable place--just as soon as Hanoi agrees to a conference.
I call upon President Ho Chi Minh to respond positively, and favorably, to this new step toward peace.
But if peace does not come now through negotiations, it will come when Hanoi understands that our common resolve is unshakable, and our common strength is invincible.
Tonight, we and the other allied nations are contributing 600,000 fighting men to assist 700,000 South Vietnamese troops in defending their little country.
Our presence there has always rested on this basic belief: The main burden of preserving their freedom must be carried out by them--by the South Vietnamese themselves.
We and our allies can only help to provide a shield behind which the people of South Vietnam can survive and can grow and develop. On their efforts--on their determinations and resourcefulness-- the outcome will ultimately depend.
That small, beleaguered nation has suffered terrible punishment for more than 20 years.
I pay tribute once again tonight to the great courage and the endurance of its people. South Vietnam supports armed forces tonight of almost 700,000 men, and I call your attention to the fact that that is the equivalent of more than 10 million in our own population. Its people maintain their firm determination to be free of domination by the North.
There has been substantial progress, I think, in building a durable government during these last three years. The South Vietnam of 1965 could not have survived the enemy's Tet offensive of 1968. The elected government of South Vietnam survived that attack--and is rapidly repairing the devastation that it wrought.
The South Vietnamese know that further efforts are going to be required to expand their own armed forces; to move back into the countryside as quickly as possible; to increase their taxes; to select the very best men they have for civil and military responsibility; to achieve a new unity within their constitutional government, and to include in the national effort all those groups who wish to preserve South Vietnam's control over its own destiny.
Last week President Thieu ordered the mobilization of 135,000 additional South Vietnamese. He plans to reach as soon as possible a total military strength of more than 800,000 men.
To achieve this, the government of South Vietnam started the drafting of 19-year-olds on March 1. On May 1, the government will begin the drafting of 18-year-olds.
Last month, 10,000 men volunteered for military service. That was two and a half times the number of volunteers during the same month last year. Since the middle of January, more than 48,000 South Vietnamese have joined the armed forces, and nearly half of them volunteered to do so.
All men in the South Vietnamese armed forces have had their tours of duty extended for the duration of the war, and reserves are now being called up for immediate active duty.
President Thieu told his people last week, and I quote:
"We must make greater efforts, we must accept more sacrifices, because as I have said many times, this is our country. The existence of our nation is at stake, and this is mainly a Vietnamese responsibility."
He warned his people that a major national effort is required to root out corruption and incompetence at all levels of government.
We applaud this evidence of determination on the part of South Vietnam. Our first priority will be to support their effort.
We shall accelerate the re-equipment of South Vietnam's armed forces in order to meet the enemy's increased firepower. And this will enable them progressively to undertake a large share of combat operations against the Communist invaders.
On many occasions I have told the American people that we would send to Vietnam those forces that are required to accomplish our mission there. So with that as our guide we have previously authorized a force level of approximately 525,000.
Some weeks ago to help meet the enemy's new offensive we sent to Vietnam about 11,000 additional Marine and airborne troops. They were deployed by air in 48 hours on an emergency basis. But the artillery and the tank and the aircraft and medical and other units that were needed to work with and support these infantry troops in combat could not then accompany them by air on that short notice.
In order that these forces may reach maximum combat effectiveness, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended to me that we should prepare to send during the next five months the support troops totaling approximately 13,500 men.
A portion of these men will be made available from our active forces. The balance will come from reserve component units, which will be called up for service.
The actions that we have taken since the beginning of the year to re- equip the South Vietnamese forces; to meet our responsibilities in Korea, as well as our responsibilities in Vietnam; to meet price increases and the cost of activating and deploying these reserve forces; to replace helicopters and provide the other military supplies we need, all of these actions are going to require additional expenditures.
The tentative estimate of those additional expenditures is $2.5 billion in this fiscal year and $2.6 billion in the next fiscal year.
These projected increases in expenditures for our national security will bring into sharper focus the nation's need for immediate action, action to protect the prosperity of the American people and to protect the strength and the stability of our American dollar.
On many occasions I have pointed out that without a tax bill or decreased expenditures, next year's deficit would again be around $20-billion. I have emphasized the need to set strict priorities in our spending. I have stressed that failure to act--and to act promptly and decisively--would raise very strong doubts throughout the world about America's willingness to keep its financial house in order.
Yet Congress has not acted. And tonight we face the sharpest financial threat in the postwar era--a threat to the dollar's role as the keystone of international trade and finance in the world.
Last week, at the monetary conference in Stockholm, the major industrial countries decided to take a big step toward creating a new international monetary asset that will strengthen the international monetary system.
And I'm very proud of the very able work done by Secretary Fowler and Chairman Martin of the Federal Reserve Board.
But to make this system work, the United States just must bring its balance of payments to--or very close to--equilibrium. We must have a responsible fiscal policy in this country.
The passage of a tax bill now, together with expenditure control that the Congress may desire and dictate, is absolutely necessary to protect this nation's security and to continue our prosperity, and to meet the needs of our people.
Now, what is at stake is seven years of unparalleled prosperity. In those seven years, the real income of the average American, after taxes, rose by almost 30 percent -- a gain as large as that of the entire preceding 19 years.
So the steps that we must take to convince the world are exactly the steps that we must take to sustain our own economic strength here at home. In the past eight months, prices and interest rates have risen because of our inaction.
We must therefore now do everything we can to move from debate to action, from talking to voting, and there is, I believe--I hope there is--in both Houses of the Congress a growing sense of urgency that this situation just must be acted upon and must be corrected.
My budget in January, we thought, was a tight one. It fully reflected our evaluation of most of the demanding needs of this nation.
But in these budgetary matters, the President does not decide alone. The Congress has the power, and the duty, to determine appropriations and taxes.
The Congress is now considering our proposals, and they are considering reductions in the budget that we submitted.
As part of a program of fiscal restraint that includes the tax surcharge, I shall approve appropriate reductions in the January budget when and if Congress so decides that that should be done.
One thing is unmistakably clear, however. Our deficit just must be reduced. Failure to act could bring on conditions that would strike hardest at those people that all of us are trying so hard to help.
So these times call for prudence in this land of plenty. And I believe tnat we have the character to provide it, and tonight I plead with the Congress and with the people to act promptly to serve the national interest and thereby serve all of our people.
Now let me give you my estimate of the chances for peace--the peace that will one day stop the bloodshed in South Vietnam. That will--all the Vietnamese people will be permitted to rebuild and develop their land. That will permit us to turn more fully to our own tasks here at home.
I cannot promise that the initiative that I have announced tonight will be completely successful in achieving peace any more than the 30 others that we have undertaken and agreed to in recent years.
But it is our fervent hope that North Vietnam, after years of fighting that has left the issue unresolved, will now cease its efforts to achieve a military victory and will join with us in moving toward the peace table.
And there may come a time when South Vietnamese--on bolh sides-- are able to work out a way to settle their own differences by free political choice rather than by war.
As Hanoi considers its course, it should be in no doubt of our intentions. It must not miscalculate the pressures within our democracy in this election year. We have no intention of widening this war. But the United States will never accept a fake solution to this long and arduous struggle and call it peace.
No one can foretell the precise terms of an eventual settlement.
Our objective in South Vietnam has never been the annihilation of the enemy. It has been to bring about a recognition in Hanoi that its objective--taking over the South by force--could not be achieved.
We think that peace can be based on the Geneva accords of 1954, under political conditions that permit the South Vietnamese--all the South Vietnamese--to chart their course free of any outside domination or interferences, from us or from anyone else.
So tonight I reaffirm the pledge that we made at Manila: that we are prepared to withdraw our forces from South Vietnam as the other side withdraws its forces to the North, stops the infiltration, and the level of violence thus subsides.
Our goal of peace and self-determination in Vietnam is directly related to the future of all of Southeast Asia, where much has happened to inspire confidence during the past 10 years. And we have done all that we knew how to do to contribute and to help build that confidence.
A number of nations have shown what can be accomplished under conditions of security. Since 1966, Indonesia, the fifth largest nation in all the world, with a population of more than 100 million people, has had a government that's dedicated to peace with its neighbors and improved conditions for its own people.
Political and economic cooperation between nations has grown rapidly.
And I think every American can take a great deal of pride in the role that we have played in bringing this about in Southeast Asia. We can rightly judge--as responsible Southeast Asians themselves do--that the progress of the past three years would have been far less likely, if not completely impossible, if America's sons and others had not made their stand in Vietnam.
At Johns Hopkins University about three years ago, I announced that the United States would take part in the great work of developing Southeast Asia, including the Mekong valley, for all the people of that region. Our determination to help build a better land--a better land for men on both sides of the present conflict--has not diminished in the least. Indeed, the ravages of war, I think, have made it more urgent than ever.
So I repeat on behalf of the United States again tonight what I said at Johns Hopkins--that North Vietnam could take its place in this common effort just as soon as peace comes.
Over time, a wider framework of peace and security in Southeast Asia may become possible. The new cooperation of the nations of the area could be a foundation stone. Certainly friendship with the nations of such a Southeast Asia is what the United States seeks-- and that is all that the United States seeks.
One day, my fellow citizens, there will be peace in Southeast Asia. It will come because the people of Southeast Asia want it--those whose armies are at war tonight; those who, though threatened, have thus far been spared.
Peace will come because Asians were willing to work for it and to sacrifice for it--and to die by the thousands for it.
But let it never be forgotten: peace will come also because America sent her sons to help secure it.
It has not been easy--far from it. During the past four and a half years, it has been my fate and my responsibility to be Commander in Chief. I have lived daily and nightly with the cost of this war. I know the pain that it has inflicted. I know perhaps better than anyone the misgivings it has aroused.
And throughout this entire long period I have been sustained by a single principle: that what we are doing now in Vietnam is vital not only to the security of Southeast Asia but it is vital to the security of every American.
Surely, we have treaties which we must respect. Surely, we have commitments that we are going to keep. Resolutions of the Congress testify to the need to resist aggression in the world and in Southeast Asia.
But the heart of our involvement in South Vietnam under three different Presidents, three separate Administrations, has always been America's own security.
And the larger purpose of our involvement has always been to help the nations of Southeast Asia become independent, and stand alone as self-sustaining members of a great world community, at peace with themselves, at peace with all others. And with such a nation our country--and the world-- will be far more secure than it is tonight.
I believe that a peaceful Asia is far nearer to reality because of what America has done in Vietnam. I believe that the men who endure the dangers of battle there, fighting there for us tonight, are helping the entire world avoid far greater conflicts, far wider wars, far more destruction, than this one.
The peace that will bring them home someday will come. Tonight, I have offered the first in what I hope will be a series of mutual moves toward peace.
I pray that it will not be rejected by the leaders of North Vietnam. I pray that they will accept it as a means by which the sacrifices of their own people may be ended. And I ask your help and your support, my fellow citizens, for this effort to reach across the battlefield toward an early peace.
Yet, I believe that we must always be mindful of this one thing-- whatever the trials and the tests ahead, the ultimate strength of our country and our cause will lie, not in powerful weapons or infinite resources or boundless wealth, but will lie in the unity of our people.
Finally, my fellow Americans, let me say this:
Of those to whom much is given much is asked. I cannot say--and no man could say--that no more will be asked of us. Yet I believe that now, no less than when the decade began, this generation of Americans is willing to pay the price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival, and the success, of liberty.
Since those words were spoken by John F. Kennedy, the people of America have kept that compact with mankind's noblest cause. And we shall continue to keep it.
This I believe very deeply. Throughout my entire public career I have followed the personal philosophy that I am a free man, an American, a public servant and a member of my party--in that order--always and only.
For 37 years in the service of our nation, first as a congressman, as a senator and as vice president, and now as your president, I have put the unity of the people first, I have put it ahead of any divisive partisanship. And in these times, as in times before, it is true that a house divided against itself by the spirit of faction, of party, of region, of religion, of race, is a house that cannot stand.
There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight. And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril of the progress of the American people and the hope and the prospect of peace for all peoples, so I would ask all Americans whatever their personal interest or concern to guard against divisiveness and all of its ugly consequences.
Fifty-two months and ten days ago, in a moment of tragedy and trauma, the duties of this office fell upon me.
I asked then for your help, and God's that we might continue America on its course binding up our wounds, healing our history, moving forward in new unity to clear the American agenda and to keep the American commitment for all of our people.
United we have kept that commitment. And united we have enlarged that commitment. And through all time to come I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement.
Our reward will come in the life of freedom and peace and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead.
What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion and distrust and selfishness and politics among any of our people. And believing this as I do I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.
With American sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office-- the presidency of your country.
Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.
But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong and a confident and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honorable peace; and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause, whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require.
Thank you for listening. Good night and God bless all of you.
Nixon's 'Silent Majority' speech
A year after he was elected, on November 3, 1969,
President Nixon gave the following address on the
situation in Vietnam. The war was unpopular and
seemed pointless to many. Protests were rampant,
so in this speech Nixon defended his decision to
keep U.S. forces in Vietnam and explained why
negotiations had failed so far.
Good evening, my fellow Americans.
Tonight I want to talk to you on a subject of deep concern to all
Americans and to many people in all parts of the world -- the war in
I believe that one of the reasons for the deep division about Vietnam is
that many Americans have lost confidence in what their Government has
told them about our policy. The American people cannot and should not
be asked to support a policy which involves the overriding issues of war
and peace unless they know the truth about that policy.
Tonight, therefore, I would like to answer some of the questions that I
know are on the minds of many of you listening to me. How and why did
America get involved in Vietnam in the first place? How has this
administration changed the policy of the previous administration? What
has really happened in the negotiations in Paris and on the battlefront in
Vietnam? What choices do we have if we are to end the war? What are
the prospects for peace? Now, let me begin by describing the situation I
found when I was inaugurated on January 20:
The war had been going on for four years. One thousand Americans had
been killed in action. The training program for the South Vietnamese was
behind schedule; 540,000 Americans were in Vietnam with no plans to
reduce the number. No progress had been made at the negotiations in
Paris and the United States had not put forth a comprehensive peace
proposal. The war was causing deep division at home and criticism from
many of our friends as well as our enemies abroad.
In view of these circumstances there were some who urged that I end
the war at once by ordering the immediate withdrawal of all American
forces. From a political standpoint this would have been a popular and
easy course to follow. After all, we became involved in the war while my
predecessor was in office. I could blame the defeat which would be the
result of my action on him and come out as the peacemaker. Some put it
to me quite bluntly: This was the only way to avoid allowing Johnson's
war to become Nixon's war.
But I had a greater obligation than to think only of the years of my
administration and of the next election. I had to think of the effect of my
decision on the next generation and on the future of peace and freedom
in America and in the world.
Let us all understand that the question before us is not whether some
Americans are for peace and some Americans are against peace. The
question at issue is not whether Johnson's war becomes Nixon's war.
The great question is: How can we win America's peace?
Well, let us turn now to the fundamental issue. Why and how did the
United States become involved in Vietnam in the first place? Fifteen
years ago North Vietnam, with the logistical support of communist China
and the Soviet Union, launched a campaign to impose a communist
government on South Vietnam by instigating and supporting a revolution.
In response to the request of the Government of South Vietnam,
President Eisenhower sent economic aid and military equipment to
assist the people of South Vietnam in their efforts to prevent a
communist takeover. Seven years ago, President Kennedy sent 16,000
military personnel to Vietnam as combat advisers. Four years ago,
President Johnson sent American combat forces to South Vietnam.
Now, many believe that President Johnson's decision to send American
combat forces to South Vietnam was wrong. And many others -- I among
them -- have been strongly critical of the way the war has been
But the question facing us today is: Now that we are in the war, what is
the best way to end it?
In January I could only conclude that the precipitate withdrawal of
American forces from Vietnam would be a disaster not only for South
Vietnam but for the United States and for the cause of peace.
For the South Vietnamese, our precipitate withdrawal would inevitably
allow the Communists to repeat the massacres which followed their
takeover in the North 15 years before; They then murdered more than
50,000 people and hundreds of thousands more died in slave labor
We saw a prelude of what would happen in South Vietnam when the
Communists entered the city of Hue last year. During their brief rule
there, there was a bloody reign of terror in which 3,000 civilians were
clubbed, shot to death, and buried in mass graves.
With the sudden collapse of our support, these atrocities of Hue would
become the nightmare of the entire nation -- and particularly for the
million and a half Catholic refugees who fled to South Vietnam when the
Communists took over in the North.
For the United States, this first defeat in our nation's history would result
in a collapse of confidence in American leadership, not only in Asia but
throughout the world.
Three American presidents have recognized the great stakes involved in
Vietnam and understood what had to be done.
In 1963, President Kennedy, with his characteristic eloquence and clarity,
"... we want to see a stable government there, carrying on a struggle to
maintain its national independence. We believe strongly in that. We are
not going to withdraw from that effort. In my opinion, for us to withdraw
from that effort would mean a collapse not only of South Vietnam, but
Southeast Asia. So we are going to stay there."
President Eisenhower and President Johnson expressed the same
conclusion during their terms of office.
For the future of peace, precipitate withdrawal would thus be a disaster
of immense magnitude. A nation cannot remain great if it betrays its
allies and lets down its friends. Our defeat and humiliation in South
Vietnam without question would promote recklessness in the councils of
those great powers who have not yet abandoned their goals of world
conquest. This would spark violence wherever our commitments help
maintain the peace -- in the Middle East, in Berlin, eventually even in the
Western Hemisphere. Ultimately, this would cost more lives. It would not
bring peace; it would bring more war.
For these reasons, I rejected the recommendation that I should end the
war by immediately withdrawing all of our forces. I chose instead to
change American policy on both the negotiating front and battlefront. In
order to end a war fought on many fronts, I initiated a pursuit for peace on
many fronts. In a television speech on May 14, in a speech before the
United Nations, and on a number of other occasions I set forth our peace
proposals in great detail.
We have offered the complete withdrawal of all outside forces within one
We have proposed a cease-fire under international supervision.
We have offered free elections under international supervision with the
Communists participating in the organization and conduct of the
elections as an organized political force. And the Saigon Government
has pledged to accept the result of the elections.
We have not put forth our proposals on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. We
have indicated that we are willing to discuss the proposals that have
been put forth by the other side. We have declared that anything is
negotiable except the right of the people of South Vietnam to determine
their own future. At the Paris peace conference, Ambassador Lodge has
demonstrated our flexibility and good faith in 40 public meetings.
Hanoi has refused even to discuss our proposals. They demand our
unconditional acceptance of their terms, which are that we withdraw all
American forces immediately and unconditionally and that we overthrow
the Government of South Vietnam as we leave.
We have not limited our peace initiatives to public forums and public
statements. I recognized, in January, that a long and bitter war like this
usually cannot be settled in a public forum. That is why in addition to the
public statements and negotiation I have explored every possible private
avenue that might lead to a settlement.
Tonight I am taking the unprecedented step of disclosing to you some of
our other initiatives for peace -- initiatives we undertook privately and
secretly because we thought we thereby might open a door which
publicly would be closed.
I did not wait for my inauguration to begin my quest for peace.
Soon after my election, through an individual who is directly in contact on
a personal basis with the leaders of North Vietnam, I made two private
offers for a rapid, comprehensive settlement. Hanoi's replies called in
effect for our surrender before negotiations.
Since the Soviet Union furnishes most of the military equipment for North
Vietnam, Secretary of State Rogers, my Assistant for National Security
Affairs, Dr. Kissinger, Ambassador Lodge, and I, personally, have met on
a number of occasions with representatives of the Soviet Government to
enlist their assistance in getting meaningful negotiations started. In
addition, we have had extended discussions directed toward that same
end with representatives of other governments which have diplomatic
relations with North Vietnam. None of these initiatives have to date
In mid-July, I became convinced that it was necessary to make a major
move to break the deadlock in the Paris talks. I spoke directly in this
office, where I am now sitting, with an individual who had known Ho Chi
Minh on a personal basis for 25 years. Through him I sent a letter to Ho
Chi Minh. I did this outside of the usual diplomatic channels with the
hope that with the necessity of making statements for propaganda
removed, there might be constructive progress toward bringing the war
to an end. Let me read from that letter to you now:
Dear Mr. President:
I realize that it is difficult to communicate meaningfully across the gulf of
four years of war. But precisely because of this gulf, I wanted to take this
opportunity to reaffirm in all solemnity my desire to work for a just peace.
I deeply believe that the war in Vietnam has gone on too long and delay
in bringing it to an end can benefit no one -- least of all the people of
Vietnam. ... The time has come to move forward at the conference table
toward an early resolution of this tragic war. You will find us forthcoming
and open-minded in a common effort to bring the blessings of peace to
the brave people of Vietnam. Let history record that at this critical
juncture, both sides turned their face toward peace rather than toward
conflict and war.
I received Ho Chi Minh's reply on August 30, three days before his death.
It simply reiterated the public position North Vietnam had taken at Paris
and flatly rejected my initiative.
The full text of both letters is being released to the press.
In addition to the public meetings that I have referred to, Ambassador
Lodge has met with Vietnam's chief negotiator in Paris in 11 private
We have taken other significant initiatives which must remain secret to
keep open some channels of communication which may still prove to be
But the effect of all the public, private and secret negotiations which have
been undertaken since the bombing halt a year ago and since this
administration came into office on January 20 can be summed up in one
sentence: No progress whatever has been made except agreement on
the shape of the bargaining table.
Well now, who is at fault?
It has become clear that the obstacle in negotiating an end to the war is
not the President of the United States. It is not the South Vietnamese
The obstacle is the other side's absolute refusal to show the least
willingness to join us in seeking a just peace. And it will not do so while
it is convinced that all it has to do is to wait for our next concession, and
our next concession after that one, until it gets everything it wants.
There can now be no longer any question that progress in negotiation
depends only on Hanoi's deciding to negotiate, to negotiate seriously.
I realize that this report on our efforts on the diplomatic front is
discouraging to the American people, but the American people are
entitled to know the truth -- the bad news as well as the good news --
where the lives of our young men are involved.
Now let me turn, however, to a more encouraging report on another front.
At the time we launched our search for peace I recognized we might not
succeed in bringing an end to the war through negotiation. I, therefore,
put into effect another plan to bring peace -- a plan which will bring the
war to an end regardless of what happens on the negotiating front.
It is in line with a major shift in U.S. foreign policy which I described in my
press conference at Guam on July 25. Let me briefly explain what has
been described as the Nixon Doctrine -- policy which not only will help
end the war in Vietnam, but which is an essential element of our
program to prevent future Vietnams.
We Americans are a do-it-yourself people. We are an impatient people.
Instead of teaching someone else to do a job, we like to do it ourselves.
And this trait has been carried over into our foreign policy. In Korea and
again in Vietnam, the United States furnished most of the money, most
of the arms, and most of the men to help the people of those countries
defend their freedom against Communist aggression.
Before any American troops were committed to Vietnam, a leader of
another Asian country expressed this opinion to me when I was traveling
in Asia as a private citizen. He said: "When you are trying to assist
another nation defend its freedom, U.S. policy should be to help them
fight the war but not to fight the war for them."
Well, in accordance with this wise counsel, I laid down in Guam three
principles as guidelines for future American policy toward Asia:
First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments.
Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the
freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we
consider vital to our security.
Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish
military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with
our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly
threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the
manpower for its defense.
After I announced this policy, I found that the leaders of the Philippines,
Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, and other nations which might be
threatened by Communist aggression welcomed this new direction in
American foreign policy.
The defense of freedom is everybody's business -- not just America's
business. And it is particularly the responsibility of the people whose
freedom is threatened. In the previous administration, we Americanized
the war in Vietnam. In this administration, we are Vietnamizing the
search for peace.
The policy of the previous administration not only resulted in our
assuming the primary responsibility for fighting the war, but even more
significantly did not adequately stress the goal of strengthening the
South Vietnamese so that they could defend themselves when we left.
The Vietnamization plan was launched following Secretary Laird's visit to
Vietnam in March. Under the plan, I ordered first a substantial increase in
the training and equipment of South Vietnamese forces.
In July, on my visit to Vietnam, I changed General Abrams' orders so that
they were consistent with the objectives of our new policies. Under the
new orders, the primary mission of our troops is to enable the South
Vietnamese forces to assume the full responsibility for the security of
Our air operations have been reduced by over 20 percent.
And now we have begun to see the results of this long overdue change
in American policy in Vietnam.
After five years of Americans going into Vietnam, we are finally bringing
American men home. By December 15, over 60,000 men will have been
withdrawn from South Vietnam, including 20 percent of all of our combat
The South Vietnamese have continued to gain in strength. As a result
they have been able to take over combat responsibilities from our
Two other significant developments have occurred since this
administration took office.
Enemy infiltration, infiltration which is essential if they are to launch a
major attack, over the last three months is less than 20 percent of what it
was over the same period last year. Most important -- United States
casualties have declined during the last two months to the lowest point
in three years.
Let me now turn to our program for the future.
We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with
the South Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat
ground forces, and their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an
orderly scheduled timetable. This withdrawal will be made from strength
and not from weakness. As South Vietnamese forces become stronger,
the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.
I have not and do not intend to announce the timetable for our program.
And there are obvious reasons for this decision which I am sure you will
understand. As I have indicated on several occasions, the rate of
withdrawal will depend on developments on three fronts.
One of these is the progress which can be or might be made in a Paris
talks. An announcement of a fixed timetable for our withdrawal would
completely remove any incentive for the enemy to negotiate an
agreement. They would simply wait until our forces had withdrawn and
then move in.
The other two factors on which we will base our withdrawal decisions
are the level of enemy activity and the progress of the training programs
of the South Vietnamese forces. And I am glad to be able to report tonight
progress on both of these fronts has been greater than we anticipated
when we started the program in June for withdrawal. As a result, our
timetable for withdrawal is more optimistic now than when we made our
first estimates in June. Now, this clearly demonstrates why it is not wise
to be frozen in on a fixed timetable.
We must retain the flexibility to base each withdrawal decision on the
situation as it is at that time rather than on estimates that are no longer
Along with this optimistic estimate, I must -- in all candor -- leave one
note of caution. If the level of enemy activity significantly increases we
might have to adjust our timetable accordingly.
However, I want the record to be completely clear on one point.
At the time of the bombing halt just a year ago, there was some
confusion as to whether there was an understanding on the part of the
enemy that if we stopped the bombing of North Vietnam they would stop
the shelling of cities in South Vietnam. I want to be sure that there is no
misunderstanding on the part of the enemy with regard to our withdrawal
We have noted the reduced level of infiltration, the reduction of our
casualties, and are basing our withdrawal decisions partially on those
factors. If the level of infiltration or our casualties increase while we are
trying to scale down the fighting, it will be the result of a conscious
decision by the enemy.
Hanoi could make no greater mistake than to assume that an increase
in violence will be to its advantage. If I conclude that increased enemy
action jeopardizes our remaining forces in Vietnam, I shall not hesitate to
take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation.
This is not a threat. This is a statement of policy, which as commander in
chief of our armed forces, I am making in meeting my responsibility for
the protection of American fighting men wherever they may be.
My fellow Americans, I am sure you can recognize from what I have said
that we really only have two choices open to us if we want to end this war.
I can order an immediate, precipitate withdrawal of all Americans from
Vietnam without regard to the effects of that action. Or we can persist in
our search for a just peace through a negotiated settlement if possible,
or through continued implementation of our plan for Vietnamization if
necessary, a plan in which we will withdraw all of our forces from
Vietnam on a schedule in accordance with our program, as the South
Vietnamese become strong enough to defend their own freedom.
I have chosen this second course. It is not the easy way. It is the right
It is a plan which will end the war and serve the cause of peace -- not just
in Vietnam but in the Pacific and in the world.
In speaking of the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal, I
mentioned that our allies would lose confidence in America.
Far more dangerous, we would lose confidence in ourselves. Oh, the
immediate reaction would be a sense of relief that our men were coming
home. But as we saw the consequences of what we had done, inevitable
remorse and divisive recrimination would scar our spirit as a people.
We have faced other crises in our history and have become stronger by
rejecting the easy way out and taking the right way in meeting our
challenges. Our greatness as a nation has been our capacity to do what
had to be done when we knew our course was right.
I recognize that some of my fellow citizens disagree with the plan for
peace I have chosen. Honest and patriotic Americans have reached
different conclusions as to how peace should be achieved.
In San Francisco a few weeks ago, I saw demonstrators carrying signs
reading: "Lose in Vietnam, bring the boys home."
Well, one of the strengths of our free society is that any American has a
right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view. But as
president of the United States, I would be untrue to my oath of office if I
allowed the policy of this nation to be dictated by the minority who hold
that point of view and who try to impose it on the nation by mounting
demonstrations in the street.
For almost 200 years, the policy of this nation has been made under our
Constitution by those leaders in the Congress and the White House
elected by all of the people. If a vocal minority, however fervent its cause,
prevails over reason and the will of the majority, this nation has no future
as a free society.
And now I would like to address a word, if I may, to the young people of
this nation who are particularly concerned, and I understand why they are
concerned, about this war.
I respect your idealism. I share your concern for peace. I want peace as
much as you do. There are powerful personal reasons I want to end this
war. This week I will have to sign 83 letters to mothers, fathers, wives
and loved ones of men who have given their lives for America in Vietnam.
It is very little satisfaction to me that this is only one-third as many letters
as I signed the first week in office. There is nothing I want more than to
see the day come when I do not have to write any of those letters.
I want to end the war to save the lives of those brave young men in
But I want to end it in a way which will increase the chance that their
younger brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future
Vietnam someplace in the world.
And I want to end the war for another reason. I want to end it so that the
energy and dedication of you, our young people, now too often directed
into bitter hatred against those responsible for the war, can be turned to
the great challenges of peace, a better life for all Americans, a better life
for all people on this Earth.
I have chosen a plan for peace. I believe it will succeed. If it does
succeed, what the critics say now won't matter. If it does not succeed,
anything I say then won't matter.
I know it may not be fashionable to speak of patriotism or national
destiny these days. But I feel it is appropriate to do so on this occasion.
Two hundred years ago this nation was weak and poor. But even then,
America was the hope of millions in the world. Today we have become
the strongest and richest nation in the world. And the wheel of destiny
has turned so that any hope the world has for the survival of peace and
freedom will be determined by whether the American people have the
moral stamina and the courage to meet the challenge of free world
Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful
nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed
the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be
suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.
And so tonight -- to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans --
I ask for your support.
I pledged in my campaign for the presidency to end the war in a way that
we could win the peace. I have initiated a plan of action which will enable
me to keep that pledge.
The more support I can have from the American people, the sooner that
pledge can be redeemed; for the more divided we are at home, the less
likely the enemy is to negotiate at Paris.
Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against defeat.
Because let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the
United States. Only Americans can do that.
Fifty years ago, in this room and at this very desk, President Woodrow
Wilson spoke words which caught the imagination of a war-weary world.
He said: "This is the war to end war." His dream for peace after World
War I was shattered on the hard realities of great power politics, and
Woodrow Wilson died a broken man.
Tonight I do not tell you that the war in Vietnam is the war to end wars.
But I do say this: I have initiated a plan which will end this war in a way
that will bring us closer to that great goal to which Woodrow Wilson and
every American president in our history has been dedicated -- the goal of
a just and lasting peace.
As president I hold the responsibility for choosing the best path to that
goal and then leading the nation along it. I pledge to you tonight that I
shall meet this responsibility with all of the strength and wisdom I can
command in accordance with our hopes, mindful of your concerns,
sustained by your prayers.
Thank you and good night.
John F. Kerry
April 23, 1971
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Statement to the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations
I would like to talk on behalf of all those veterans and say that several months ago in Detroit we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged, and many very highly decorated, veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit - the emotions in the room and the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.
They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
We call this investigation the Winter Soldier Investigation. The term Winter Soldier is a play on words of Thomas Paine's in 1776 when he spoke of the Sunshine Patriots and summertime soldiers who deserted at Valley Forge because the going was rough.
We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country, we could be quiet, we could hold our silence, we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, not the reds, but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out....
In our opinion and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.
We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.
We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Viet Cong, North Vietnamese or American.
We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how monies from American taxes were used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by the flag, and blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs and search and destroy missions, as well as by Viet Cong terrorism - and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.
We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of orientals.
We watched the United States falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification of body counts. We listened while month after month we were told the back of the enemy was about to break. We fought using weapons against "oriental human beings." We fought using weapons against those people which I do not believe this country would dream of using were we fighting in the European theater. We watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill has to be taken, and after losing one platoon or two platoons they marched away to leave the hill for reoccupation by the North Vietnamese. We watched pride allow the most unimportant battles to be blown into extravaganzas, because we couldn't lose, and we couldn't retreat, and because it didn't matter how many American bodies were lost to prove that point, and so there were Hamburger Hills and Khe Sanhs and Hill 81s and Fire Base 6s, and so many others.
Now we are told that the men who fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost so that we can exercise the incredible arrogance of Vietnamizing the Vietnamese.
Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn't have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can't say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won't be, and these are his words, "the first President to lose a war."
We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?....We are here in Washington to say that the problem of this war is not just a question of war and diplomacy. It is part and parcel of everything that we are trying as human beings to communicate to people in this country - the question of racism which is rampant in the military, and so many other questions such as the use of weapons; the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage at the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war when we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions; in the use of free fire zones, harassment interdiction fire, search and destroy missions, the bombings, the torture of prisoners, all accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam. That is what we are trying to say. It is part and parcel of everything.
An American Indian friend of mine who lives in the Indian Nation of Alcatraz put it to me very succinctly. He told me how as a boy on an Indian reservation he had watched television and he used to cheer the cowboys when they came in and shot the Indians, and then suddenly one day he stopped in Vietnam and he said, "my God, I am doing to these people the very same thing that was done to my people," and he stopped. And that is what we are trying to say, that we think this thing has to end.
We are here to ask, and we are here to ask vehemently, where are the leaders of our country? Where is the leadership? We're here to ask where are McNamara, Rostow, Bundy, Gilpatrick, and so many others? Where are they now that we, the men they sent off to war, have returned? These are the commanders who have deserted their troops. And there is no more serious crime in the laws of war. The Army says they never leave their wounded. The marines say they never even leave their dead. These men have left all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude. They've left the real stuff of their reputations bleaching behind them in the sun in this country....
We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped away their memories of us. But all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission - to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and fear that have driven this country these last ten years and more. And more. And so when thirty years from now our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say "Vietnam" and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.
This text is made available by the Sixties Project,
sponsored by Viet Nam Generation Inc. and the Institute of
Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia
at Charlottesville. The Sixties Project is a collective of humanities
scholars working together on the Internet to use electronic resources
to provide routes of collaboration and make available primary and
secondary sources for researchers, students, teachers, writers
and librarians interested in the 1960s.
'Peace With Honor'
Announcement of the End of the Vietnam War
This is the text of President Nixon's radio and television broadcast announcing the initialing of the Paris 'Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam'.
Good evening. I have asked for this radio and television time tonight for the purpose of announcing that we today have concluded an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia.
The following statement is being issued at this moment in Washington and Hanoi:
"At 12:30 Paris time today [Tuesday], January 23, 1973, 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 27, 1973, at the International Conference Center in Paris.
The cease-fire will take effect at 2400 Greenwich Mean Time, January 27, 1973. 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."
That concludes the formal statement.
Throughout the years of negotiations, we have insisted on peace with honor. In my addresses to the Nation from this room of January 25 and May 8,  I set forth the goals that we considered essential for peace with honor.
In the settlement that has now been agreed to, all the conditions that I laid down then have been met. A cease-fire, internationally supervised, will begin at 7 p.m., this Saturday, January 27, Washington time. Within 60 days from this Saturday, all Americans held prisoners of war throughout Indochina will be released. There will be the fullest possible accounting for all of those who are missing in action.
During the same 60-day period, all American forces will be withdrawn from South Vietnam.
The people of South Vietnam have been guaranteed the right to determine their own future, without outside interference.
By joint agreement, the full text of the agreement and the protocols to carry it out, will be issued tomorrow.
Throughout these negotiations we have been in the closest consultation with President Thieu and other representatives of the Republic of Vietnam. This settlement meets the goals and has the full support of President Thieu and the Government of the Republic of Vietnam, as well as that of our other allies who are affected.
The United States will continue to recognize the Government of the Republic of Vietnam as the sole legitimate government of South Vietnam.
We shall continue to aid South Vietnam within the terms of the agreement and we shall support efforts by the people of South Vietnam to settle their problems peacefully among themselves.
We must recognize that ending the war is only the first step toward building the peace. All parties must now see to it that this is a peace that lasts, and also a peace that heals, and a peace that not only ends the war in Southeast Asia, but contributes to the prospects of peace in the whole world.
This will mean that the terms of the agreement must be scrupulously adhered to. We shall do everything the agreement requires of us and we shall expect the other parties to do everything it requires of them. We shall also expect other interested nations to help insure that the agreement is carried out and peace is maintained.
As this long and very difficult war ends, I would like to address a few special words to each of those who have been parties in the conflict.
First, to the people and Government of South Vietnam: By your courage, by your sacrifice, you have won the precious right to determine your own future and you have developed the strength to defend that right. We look forward to working with you in the future, friends in peace as we have been allies in war.
To the leaders of North Vietnam: As we have ended the war through negotiations, let us now build a peace of reconciliation. For our part; we are prepared to make a major effort to help achieve that goal. But just as reciprocity was needed to end the war, so, too, will it be needed to build and strengthen the peace.
To the other major powers that have been involved even indirectly: Now is the time for mutual restraint so that the peace we have achieved can last.
And finally, to all of you who are listening, the American people: Your steadfastness in supporting our insistence on peace with honor has made peace with honor possible. I know that you would not have wanted that peace jeopardized. With our secret negotiations at the sensitive stage they were in during this recent period, for me to have discussed publicly our efforts to secure peace would not only have violated our understanding with North Vietnam, it would have seriously harmed and possibly destroyed the chances for peace. Therefore, I know that you now can understand why, during these past several weeks, I have not made any public statements about those efforts.
The important thing was not to talk about peace, but to get peace and to get the right kind of peace. This we have done.
Now that we have achieved an honorable agreement, let us be proud that America did not settle for a peace that would have betrayed our allies, that would have abandoned our prisoners of war, or that would have ended the war for us but would have continued the war for the 50 million people of Indochina. Let us be proud of the 2 1/2 million young Americans who served in Vietnam, who served with honor and distinction in one of the most selfless enterprises in the history of nations. And let us be proud of those who sacrificed, who gave their lives so that the people of South Vietnam might live in freedom and so that the world might live in peace.
In particular, I would like to say a word to some of the bravest people I have ever met-the wives, the children, the families of our prisoners of war and the missing in action. When others called on us to settle on any terms, you had the courage to stand for the right kind of peace so that those who died and those who suffered would not have died and suffered in vain, and so that, where this generation knew war, the next generation would know peace. Nothing means more to me at this moment than the fact that your long vigil is coming to an end.
Just yesterday, a great American, who once occupied this office, died. In his life President [Lyndon B.] Johnson endured the vilification of those who sought to portray him as a man of war. But there was nothing he cared about more deeply than achieving a lasting peace in the world.
I remember the last time I talked with him. It was just the day after New Year's. He spoke then of his concern with bringing peace, with making it the right kind of peace, and I was grateful that he once again expressed his support for my efforts to gain such a peace. No one would have welcomed this peace more than he.
And I know he would join me in asking for those who died and for those who live, let us consecrate this moment by resolving together to make the peace we have achieved a peace that will last.
Thank you and good evening.
|| Howard Kleinberg
| || |
"LBJ Tapes Pour Salt on Still-Unhealed Wounds of Vietnam War"
February 27, 1997
Source: Cox Newspapers
Republished with the permission of Howard Kleinberg and Cox News Service, © 1997 Cox Newspapers
First, we had Robert McNamara's retrospective confession, in a 1995
book, that winning the Vietnam War he ran as secretary of defense for
President Lyndon Johnson was "impossible, short of genocidal
Now, we have the release, after more than 30 years, of audiotapes of
Johnson's own anguish, including a telephone conversation with McGeorge
Bundy, his national security adviser, in which Johnson says, "I don't
think [Vietnam] is worth fighting for, and I don't think we can get
In McNamara's book, "In Retrospect," the former Cabinet officer
exhibits the same trepidation. Yet he both called for, and prepared,
itineraries for the escalation of hostilities.
For the more than 58,000 Americans who died in that futile endeavor,
for the more than 150,000 who were wounded and for the millions of other
Americans who were forever scarred by the divisiveness of that
disputatious war, the not-so-surprising revelations rekindle a
bitterness that has no closure.
Why, when report after report enumerated the pointlessness of
continuation, did Johnson escalate the war?
It can be found in a single sentence uttered by Johnson over the
phone on May 27, 1964, to Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, chairman of
the Senate Armed Services Committee: "They'd impeach a president,
though, that would run out, wouldn't they?"
It was ego. He didn't want to be the first president who lost, or
fled, a war.
Consequently, he placed our younger generation in harm's way and
turned American against American on the home front. While privately
expressing his doubts about the value of increasing our presence in
Vietnam, he and his staff were drawing up plans to do just that.
It is interesting to piece together what the tapes reveal Johnson
was saying to others with what McNamara details in his book about was
happening in the Oval Office at the same time.
Johnson made his calls of consternation one day after McNamara and
others of his inner circle met with the president with a draft of a
congressional resolution they'd prepared that would let the president
escalate the war. It was, McNamara wrote later, the genesis of what
would become the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.
McNamara says it was Johnson's idea "to prepare an integrated
political-military plan for graduated action against North Vietnam."
Meanwhile, the president was playing both ends, calling old
congressional friends and advisers, giving them that "it is with a heavy
heart" routine for which he was so well known but all the time plotting
to commit the United States to yet another war against communism in
Asia, thus disregarding the words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who in a
1952 reference to our involvement in Korea, said, "It is fatal to enter
any war without the will to win it."
Vietnam is an American lesion that never has healed, and probably
never will. Many of the young who avoided it, including Bill Clinton,
are forever hounded by an image of cowardice. Those who answered the
call of our country still feel unappreciated and betrayed by the
anti-war American public. Those who died left us with a haunting wall of
memory as a physical heirloom, and infinite anguish over their loss.
"What the hell is Vietnam worth to me?" Johnson cried out to Sen.
Russell in the recently released tapes. "What the hell is Laos worth to
me? What is it worth to the country?"
Yeah, what the hell was it worth?
That the president and his defense secretary were so apprehensive
about the prosecution of that war, yet led us audaciously into it,
offers no solace to those who supported and those who opposed our
participation. It only adds to the anguish.