Secretary Rusk's Address, "The Stake in Viet-Nam," Before the Economic Club of New York, at New York, April 22, 1963

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 819-821

Secretary Rusk's Address Before the Economic Club of New York, at New York, April 22, 1963, "The Stake in Viet-Nam," Department of State Bulletin, May 13, 1963, p. 727:

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"Viet-Nam is a narrow strip along the South China Sea, nearly as large as California, with a population of some 30 million people-about 16 million in the North and 14 million in the South.

"With Cambodia and Laos, Viet-Nam formed what was formerly known as French Indochina. During the Second World War, the Vichy regime yielded control of French Indochina to the Japanese. In the spring of 1945 the Japanese proclaimed the independence of Viet-Nam. And in August of that year they permitted the Communist-oriented Viet Minh to seize rule.

"In the Indian subcontinent and in Burma and the Philippines, Western countries recognized at war's end that national demands for independence would have to be met promptly. But this was not the case with Indochina. Instead, we ourselves were somewhat at a loss for a policy with regard to that particular part of the world. So our people in charge of war plans in 1944 sent a colonel out there who sent a cable back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying 'Request policy guidance on American policy toward Indochina, because we are beginning to get military access to that country and we need direction.'

"Well, there ensued a vast silence which lasted for months. We sent staff officers back to try to find the answer. We sent cables out there, and after about 6 months the reply came and it said, 'When asked by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a statement of American policy toward Indochina, the President'--that was President Roosevelt--'replied, I don't want to hear any more about Indochina.'

"Well, now the result of no significant Allied policy at that point was that the French did return and take over where they left off at the time of the Japanese occupation, and they encountered therefore a militant resistance movement. For 8 years, with material help from the United States, they sought to pacify the country. At the same time they granted increasing autonomy to non-Communist Vietnamese. But the Viet Minh, reforms in Japan and on Taiwan, was pressed forward--123,000 heads of families became small landowners. A comprehensive system of agricultural credit was set up. Thousands of Vietnamese were moved into the highlands to raise industrial crops. Rubber production rose, and new plantings of better varieties promised still higher production for the future. Sugar production doubled in 1958. South Viet-Nam was soon producing enough rice to resume exports on a rising scale. Various small industries were established. Textile production rose from near zero to near self-sufficiency. Electric power nearly doubled. Per capita national income rose by 20 percent.

"Thousands of new schools were built. Between 1956 and 1960, enrollment in the elementary schools rose from 400,000 to 1,500,000. The expansion of health facilities included new hospitals and 3,500 village health stations. Rail transportation was restored. Roads were repaired and improved, and three new major highways were built.

"The Communists were not completely eliminated--especially along the land and sea frontiers, where they could be supplied--but most of South Viet-Nam became, for a period, safe for travel.

"Although North Viet-Nam inherited most of the industry of Viet-Nam, and although its population is larger, it fell rapidly behind South Viet-Nam in food production, the number of children in school, and in standards of living. While per capita food production rose 20 percent in the South, it fell 10 percent in the North.

"This was competition which the Communists apparently could not endure. Very likely it was one of the reasons why they decided in 1959 to renew their assault on South Viet-Nam. And in 1960 the Lao Dong Party-that is, the Communist Party-ordered the 'liberation' of South Viet-Nam.

"According to Communist propaganda, the war in South Viet-Nam is a civil war, a local uprising. The truth is that it is an aggression organized, directed, and partly supplied from North Viet-Nam. It is conducted by hardened Communist political organizers and guerrilla leaders trained in North Viet-Nam, who, upon their arrival in the South, recruit local assistance. This has been done in a variety of ways, including terror and assassination. Schoolteachers, health workers, malaria eradication teams, local officials loyal to the Republic--these were the first targets of the assassins. But many ordinary villagers who refused to cooperate with the Communist guerrillas likewise have been ruthlessly killed.

Strategic Importance of South Viet-Nam

"This assault on South Viet-Nam was a major Communist enterprise, carefully and elaborately prepared, heavily staffed, and relentlessly pursued. It made headway. In 1961 President Diem appealed for further assistance and President Kennedy responded promptly and affirmatively.

"The strategic importance of South Viet-Nam is plain. It controls the mouth of the Mekong River, the main artery of Southeast Asia. The loss of South VietNam would put the remaining states of Southeast Asia in mortal danger.

"But there are larger reasons why the defense of South Viet-Nam is vital to us and to the whole free world. We cannot be indifferent to the fate of 14 million people who have fought hard against communism-including nearly 1 million who fled their former homes to avoid living under Communist tyranny. Since we went to the aid of Greece and Turkey 16 years ago, it has been the attitude of the United States to assist peoples who resist Communist aggression. We have seen this form of attack fail in Burma, Malaya, and the Philippines. The South Vietnamese are determined to win their battle, and they deserve our help.

"Critics have complained that South Viet-Nam is not a full constitutional democracy and that our aid has been subject to waste and mismanagement. Let us be clear that these criticisms are not merely alibis for inaction. For in passing judgement, let us recall that we are talking about a nation which has been responsible for its own affairs for less than a decade, about a people who have had no peace since 1941 and little experience in direct participation in political affairs. Their four national elections, their thousands of elected hamlet councils, and their forthcoming village council elections show steady movement toward a constitutional system resting upon popular consent."

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