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 Vietnam.
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 4 years; 31,000 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 Johnsonís war to become Nixon's
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 Johnsonís 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 conducted.
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 camps.
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, said: ". . . 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 Viet-Nam, 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
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
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
We have offered the complete withdrawal of all outside forces within
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 negotiations 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 produced results.
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 [President, Democratic Republic of Vietnam] 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 Minhís reply on August 30, 3 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 II private sessions.
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
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-a 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
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
The defense of freedom is everybody's business-not just Americaís
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
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 Abramsí 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 5 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 forces. The South Vietnamese have continued to gain in
strength. As a result they have been able to take over combat responsibilities
from our American troops.
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 3 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 2 months to the lowest point in
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 the
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
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 Program.
We have noted the reduced level of infiltration, the reduction of
our casualties, and are basing our withdrawal decisions partially on those
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 way.
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 crisis 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 Vietnam. 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 leadership.
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 your hopes,
mindful of your concerns, sustained by your prayers.
Thank you and goodnight.