In April 1965 Lyndon Johnson gave an address at Johns Hopkins University that garnered headlines and plaudits because the president offered incentives he hoped would bring North Vietnam to the bargaining table. Indeed, for much of the next three years Joh nson would talk about negotiations while continuing to escalate the war. In retrospect, what now appears most striking about this speech, excerpted here, are the explanations given the American public about the nature of the conflict, the reasons for the U.S. involvement, and the American objectives in Vietnam. Privately, Johnson complained that "the only thing I know to do is more of the same and do it more effzciently and effectively." Did he have other alternatives? Why did he reject them?
Tonight Americans and Asians are dying for a world where each people may choose its own path to change.
This is the principle for which our ancestors fought in the valleys of Pennsylvania. It is the principle for which our sons-fight tonight in the jungles of Vietnam.
Vietnam is far away from this quiet campus. We have no territory there, nor do we seek any. The war is dirty and brutal and difficult. And some 400 young men, born into an America that is bursting with opportunity and promise, have ended their lives on Vi etnam's steaming soil.
Why must we take this painful road?
From Lyndon seines Johnson, "Peace Without Conquest," Address at Johns Hopkins University, April 6, 1965, Department of State Bulletin, April 26, 1965.
Why must this Nation hazard its ease, and its interest anti its power for the sake of a people so far away?
We fight because we must fight it' we are to live in a world where every country can shape its own destiny. And only in such a world will our own freedom be finally secure.
This kind of world will never be built by bombs or bullets. Yet the infirmities of man are such that force must often precede reason, and the waste of war, the works of' peace.
We wish that this were not so. But we must deal with the world as it is, if it is ever to be as we wish.
The world as it is in Asia is not a serene of peaceful place.
The first reality is that North Vietnam has attacked the independent nation of South Vietnam. Its object is total conquest.
Of course, some of the people of South Vietnam are participating in attack on their own government. But trained men and supplies, orders and arms, flow in a constant stream from north to<> south.
This support is the heartbeat of the war.
And it is a war a unparalleled brutality. Simple farmers are the targets of assassination and kidnapping women and Children are strangled in the night because their men are loyal to their government. And helpless villages are ravaged by sneak attacks. Lar ge scale raids are conducted on towns, and terror strikes in the heart of cities.
The confused nature of this conflict cannot mask the f'act that it is the new face of an <>Id enemy.
Over this war_and all Asia_is another reality: the deepening shadow Communist (,china. The rulers in Hanoi are urged on by ['eking. This is a regime which has destroyed freedom in 'Tibet, which has attacked India, and has been condemned by the United Nations f'or 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 pleclge to help South Vietnam defend its independence
tion to its enemies and to the terror or that must follow would be tin 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
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 lesso n of our time is that the appetite of' aggression is never satisfied. To withdraw from one battlefield
means only to prepare for tint' next. We must SUN' in southeast
Asia_as we did in Europe-in the words of the Bible: "Hitherto shalt thou collie, but no further tilt/l."
I here are those who say that all Our effort there will be futile -_ that China's power is such that it is bound to dominate all south east Asia. But there is no end to that argument until all of the nations of Asia ale swallowed up.
There are those who wonder why we have a responsibility there Well, we have it 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 whets it end ed we found ourselves with
South Vietnam who have bravely borne this brutal battle for so many years with so marry casualties.
And we do this to convince the leaders of North Vietnam_and all who seek to share their conquest_of a very 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 to peace.
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 principles, rather than t erritory 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 peaceful settlement.
Such peace demands an independent South Vietnam_securely guaranteed and able to shape its own relationships 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<
WHY WE ARE IN VIETNAM
and sacrifice We will use our power with restraint and with all the
wisdom that WC- can command
But we will use it.
This war, like most wars, is filled with terrible irony. For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger health for their a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an en d to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle....
We often say how impressive power is. But I do not find it impressive at all. The guns and the bombs, the rockets and the warships, are all symbols of human failure. They are necessary symbols. They protect what we cherish. But they are witness to human f olly.
A dam built across a great river is impressive.
In the countryside where I was born, arid where I live, I have seen the night illuminated, and the kitchens warmed, and the homes heated, where once the cheerless night and the ceaseless cold held sway. And all this happened because electricity c ame to our area along the humming win- es of the REA [Rural Electrifica- Administrative]. Electrification of the country-side, that, too, is impressive.
A rich harvest in' a hungry land is impressive.
'The sight of healthy children in a classroom is impressive.
These_not mighty arms-are the achievements which the American Nation believes to be impressive
And, if' we are steadfast, the time may come when all other nations will also find it so.
Every night before I turn out the lights to sleep I ask myself this question: Have I done everything that I earl do to unite this country? Have I done everything I can to help unite the world, to try to bring peace and hope to all the peoples of the world ? Have I done enough?
Ask yourselves that question in your homes_and in this hall tonight. Have we, each of us, all done all we could? Have we done enough?
We may well be living in the time foretold many years ago when it was said: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you that I have set before you life anti death blessing and
cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."
This generation of the world must choose: destroy or build, kill or aid, hate or understand.
We can do all these things on a scale never dreamed of before.
Well, we will choose life In so doing we will prevail over the enemies within man, and over the natural enemies of all mankind....