Sir Montague Burton Lecture by W. W. Rostow, The University of Leeds, Leeds, England, 23 February 1967, "The Great Transition: Tasks of the First and Second Postwar Generations"; White House Press Release, 23 February 1967.


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 666-667.


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"The postwar Communist offensive had a certain shape and rhythm. There was Stalin's thrust of 1946-51, in association with Mao, from 1949; Khrushchev's of 1958-62; finally, the offensive conducted over the past four years by Mao and those who accepted his activist doctrines and policies with respect to so-called 'wars of national liberation.'

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"At one point after another this Chinese Communist offensive in the developing world fell apart, leaving the war in Viet Nam perhaps the last major stand of Mao's doctrine of guerrilla warfare.

"There is a certain historical legitimacy in this outcome.

"For the better part of a decade, an important aspect of the struggle within the Communist movement between the Soviet Union and Communist China had focused on the appropriate method for Communist parties to seize power. The Soviet Union had argued that the transit of frontiers with arms and men should be kept to a minimum and the effort to seize power should be primarily internal. They argued that it was the essence of 'wars of national liberation' to expand Communist power without causing major confrontation with the United States and other major powers. The Chinese Communists defended a higher risk policy; but they were militarily cautious themselves. Nevertheless, they urged others to accept the risks of confrontation with United States and Western strength against which the Soviet Union warned.

"Although Hanoi's effort to take over Laos and South Viet Nam proceeded from impulses which were substantially independent of Communist China, its technique constituted an important test of whether Mao's method would work even under the optimum circumstances provided by the history of the area. As General Giap has made clear, Hanoi is conscious of this link: 'South Viet Nam is the model of the national liberation movement in our time . . . if the special warfare that the United States imperialists are testing in South Viet Nam is overcome, this means that it can be defeated everywhere in the world.'"

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"Similarly, a failure of the Vietnamese and their allies to see through the engagement to an honorable peace could destroy the emerging foundation for confidence and regional cooperation in Asia, with further adverse consequences on every continent."

"On the other hand, we are confident that what we are seeking to accomplish in Viet Nam is right and essential if we are to move successfully through the great transition.

"We are honoring a treaty which committed us to 'act to meet the common danger' in the face of 'aggression by means of armed attack' in the treaty area. And this commitment is also being honored by Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand-as well as by the remarkable action of South Korea, which was not bound by treaty in this manner.

"We are also dealing with the gross and systematic violation of an agreement, signed in 1962, which committed all parties, including Hanoi, to withdraw their military forces from Laos; to refrain from reintroducing such forces; and to refrain from using the territory of Laos for interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

"We are also encouraged by the efforts of the people of South Viet Nam to make a transition to orderly constitutional government of the kind which the people of South Korea have accomplished with such notable success since 1961.

"And we are answering, as we have had to answer on other occasions, the question: Are the word and commitment of the United States reliable? For the United States cannot be faithful to its alliances in the Atlantic and unfaithful to its alliances in the Pacific."

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"But in the perspective I have presented tonight, what is old-fashioned about Viet Nam is the effort by the leaders in Hanoi to make their lifelong dream of achieving control over Southeast Asia come to reality by the use of force.

"It is their concept of 'wars of national liberation' that is old-fashioned. It is being overtaken not merely by the resistance of the seven nations fighting there, but also by history and by increasingly pervasive attitudes of pragmatism and moderation.

"History, I deeply believe, will show in Southeast Asia, as it has displayed in many other parts of the world, that the international status quo cannot be altered by use of external force. That demonstration is costing the lives of many South Vietnamese, Americans, Koreans, Australians, and others who understand the danger to them of permitting a change in the territorial or political status quo by external violence--who cherish the right of self-determination for themselves and for others.

"If the argument I have laid before you is correct--and if we have the common will to hold together and get on with the job--the struggle in Viet Nam might be the last great confrontation of the post war era."

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