My fellow Americans:
Not long ago I received a letter from a woman in the Midwest. She wrote:
"Dear Mr. President:
"In my humble way I am writing to you about the crisis in Viet-Nam. I have a son who is now in
Viet-Nam. My husband served in World War II. Our country was at war, but now, this time, it is
just something that I don't understand. Why?"
Well, I have tried to answer that question dozens of times and more in practically every State in
this Union. I have discussed it fully in Baltimore in April, in Washington in May, in San Francisco
in June. Let me again, now, discuss it here in the East Room of the White House.
Why must young Americans, born into a land exultant with hope and with golden promise, toil
and suffer and sometimes die in such a remote and distant place?
The answer, like the war itself, is not an easy one, but it echoes clearly from the painful lessons of
half a century. Three times in my lifetime, in two World Wars and in Korea, Americans have gone
to far lands to fight for freedom. We have learned at a terrible and a brutal cost that retreat does
not bring safety and weakness does not bring peace.
It is this lesson that has brought us to Viet-Nam. This is a different kind of war. There are no
marching armies or solemn declarations. Some citizens of South Viet-Nam at times, with
understandable grievances, have joined in the attack on their own government.
But we must not let this mask the central fact that this is really war. It is guided by North
Viet-Nam and it is spurred by Communist China. Its goal is to conquer the South, to defeat
American power, and to extend the Asiatic dominion of communism.
There are great stakes in the balance.
Most of the non-Communist nations of Asia cannot, by themselves and alone, resist the growing
might and the grasping ambition of Asian communism.
Our power, therefore, is a very vital shield. If we are driven from the field in Viet-Nam, then no
nation can ever again have the same confidence in American promise, or in American
In each land the forces of independence would be considerably weakened, and an Asia so
threatened by Communist domination would certainly imperil the security of the United States
We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else. Nor would surrender
in Viet-Nam bring peace, because we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the
appetite of aggression. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another country,
bringing with it perhaps even larger and crueler conflict, as we have learned from the lessons of
Moreover, we are in Viet-Nam to fulfill one of the most solemn pledges of the American Nation.
Three Presidents -- President Eisenhower, President Kennedy, and your present President -- over
11 years have committed themselves and have promised to help defend this small and valiant
Strengthened by that promise, the people of South Viet-Nam have fought for many long years.
Thousands of them have died. Thousands more have been crippled and scarred by war. We just
cannot now dishonor our word, or abandon our commitment, or leave those who believed in us
and who trusted us to the terror and repression and murder that would follow.
This, then, my fellow Americans, is why we are in Viet-Nam.
What are our goals in that war-strained land?
First, we intent to convince the Communists that we cannot be defeated by force of arms or by
superior power. They are not easily convinced. In recent months they have greatly increased their
fighting forces and their attacks and the number of incidents.
I have asked the Commanding General, General Westmoreland, what more he needs to meet this
mounting aggression. He has told me. We will meet his needs.
I have today ordered to Viet-Nam the Air Mobile Division and certain other forces which will
raise our fighting strength from 75,000 to 125,000 men almost immediately. Additional forces will
be needed later, and they will be sent as requested.
This will make it necessary to increase our active fighting forces by raising the monthly draft call
from 17,000 over a period of time to 35,000 per month, and for us to step up our campaign for
After this past week of deliberations, I have concluded that it is not essential to order Reserve
units into service now. If that necessity should later be indicated, I will give the matter most
careful consideration and I will give the country -- you -- an adequate notice before taking such
action, but only after full preparations.
We have also discussed with the Government of South Viet-Nam lately, the steps that we will
take to substantially increase their own effort, both on the battlefield, and toward reform and
progress in the villages. Ambassador Lodge is now formulating a new program to be tested upon
his return to that area.
I have directed Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara to be available immediately to the
Congress to review with these committees, the appropriate congressional committees, what we
plan to do in these areas. I have asked them to be able to answer the questions of any Member of
Secretary McNamara, in addition, will ask the Senate Appropriations Committee to add a limited
amount to present legislation to help meet part of this new cost until a supplemental measure is
ready and hearings can be held when the Congress assembles in January. In the meantime, we will
use the authority contained in the present Defense appropriation bill under consideration to
transfer funds in addition to the additional money that we will ask.
These steps, like our actions in the past, are carefully measured to do what must be done to bring
an end to aggression and a peaceful settlement.
We do not want an expanding struggle with consequences that no one can perceive, nor will we
bluster or bully or flaunt our power, but we will not surrender and we will not retreat.
For behind our American pledge lies the determination and resources, I believe, of all of the
Second, once the Communists know, as we know, that a violent solution is impossible, then a
peaceful solution is inevitable.
We are ready now, as we have always been, to move from the battlefield to the conference table. I
have stated publicly and many times, again and again, America's willingness to begin
unconditional discussions with any government, at any place, at any time. Fifteen efforts have
been made to start these discussions with the help of 40 nations throughout the world, but there
has been no answer.
But we are going to continue to persist, if persist we must, until death and desolation have led to
the same conference table where others could now join us at a much smaller cost.
I have spoken many times of our objectives in Viet-Nam. So has the Government of South
Viet-Nam. Hanoi has set forth its own proposals. We are ready to discuss their proposals and our
proposals and any proposals of any government whose people may be affected, for we fear the
meeting room no more than we fear the battlefield.
In this pursuit we welcome and we ask for the concern and the assistance of any nation and all
nations. If the United Nations and its officials or any one of its 114 members can by deed or word,
private initiative or public action, bring us nearer an honorable peace, then they will have the
support and the gratitude of the United States of America.
I have directed Ambassador Goldberg to go to New York today and to present immediately to
Secretary General U Thant a letter from me requesting that all the resource, energy, and immense
prestige of the United Nations be employed to find ways to halt aggression and to bring peace in
I made a similar request at San Francisco a few weeks ago, because we do not seek the
destruction of any government, nor do we covet a foot of any territory. But we insist and we will
always insist that the people of South Viet-Nam shall have the right of choice, the right to shape
their own destiny in free elections in the South or throughout all Viet-Nam under international
supervision, and they shall not have any government imposed upon them by force and terror so
long as we can prevent it.
This was the purpose of the 1954 agreements which the Communists have now cruelly shattered.
If the machinery of those agreements was tragically weak, its purposes shall guide our action. As
battle rages, we will continue as best we can to help the good people of South Viet-Nam enrich
the condition of their life, to feet the hungry and to tend the sick, and teach the young, and shelter
the homeless, and to help the farmer to increase his crops, and the worker to find a job.
It is an ancient but still terrible irony that while many leaders of men create division in pursuit of
grand ambitions, the children of man are really united in the simple, elusive desire for a life of
fruitful and rewarding toil.
As I said at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, I hope that one day we can help all the people of Asia
toward that desire. Eugene Black has made great progress since my appearance in Baltimore in
that direction--not as the price of peace, for we are ready always to bear a more painful cost, but
rather as a part of our obligations of justice toward our fellow man.
Let me also add now a personal note. I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth, our
fine young men, into battle. I have spoken to you today of the divisions and the forces and the
battalions and the units, but I know them all, every one. I have seen them in a thousand streets, of
a hundred towns, in every State in this Union--working and laughing and building, and filled with
hope and life. I think I know, too, how their mothers weep and how their families sorrow.
This is the most agonizing and the most painful duty of your President. There is something else,
too. When I was young, poverty was so common that we didn't know it had a name. An education
was something that you had to fight for, and water was really life itself. I have now been in public
life 35 years, more than three decades, and in each of those 35 years I have seen good men, and
wise leaders, struggle to bring the blessings of this land to all of our people.
And now I am the President. It is now my opportunity to help every child get an education, to
help every Negro and every American citizen have an equal opportunity, to have every family get
a decent home, and to help bring healing to the sick and dignity to the old.
As I have said before, that is what I have lived for, that is what I have wanted all my life since I
was a little boy, and I do not want to see all those hopes and all those dreams of so many people
for so many years now drowned in the wasteful ravages of cruel wars. I am going to do all I can
do to see that that never happens.
But I also know, as a realistic public servant that as long as there are men who hate and destroy,
we must have the courage to resist, or we will see it all, all that we have built, all that we hope to
build, all of our dreams for freedom -- all, all will be swept away on the flood of conquest.
So, too, this shall not happen. We will stand in Viet-Nam... I will be glad to take your questions
now for a period.
Q. Mr. President, in the light of the decisions on Viet-Nam which you have just
announced, is the United States prepared with additional plans should North Viet-Nam escalate its
military effort, and how do you anticipate that the Chinese Communists will react to what you
have announced today?
LBJ: I do not want to speculate on the reactions of other people. This Nation is
prepared, and will always be prepared, to protect its national interest.
Q. Mr. President, you have never talked about a timetable in connection with Viet-Nam.
You have said, and you repeated today, that the United States will not be defeated, will not grow
Donald Johnson, National Commander of the American Legion, went over to Viet-Nam in the
spring and later called on you. He told White House reporters that he could imagine the war over
there going on for 5, 6, or 7 years. Have you thought of that possibility, sir? And do you think the
American people ought to think of that possibility?
LBJ: Yes, I think the American people ought to understand that there is no quick
solution to the problem that we face there. I would not want to prophesy or predict whether it
would be a matter of months or years or decades. I do not know that we had any accurate
timetable on how long it would take to bring victory in World War I. I don't think anyone really
knew whether it would be 2 years or 4 years or 6 years, to meet with success in World War II. I
do think our cause is just. I do think our purpose and objectives are beyond any question.
I do believe that America will stand united behind her men that are there. I plan, as long as I am
President, to see that our forces are strong enough to protect our national interest, our right hand
constantly protecting that interest with our military, and that our diplomatic and political
negotiations are constantly attempting to find some solution that would substitute words for
As I have said so many times, if anyone questions our good faith and will ask us to meet them to
try to reason this matter out, they will find us at the appointed place, at the appointed time, in the
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