Remarks by President Johnson to the National Legislative Conference at San Antonio, Texas on September 29, 1967; "Answering Aggression in Viet-Nam," Department of State Publication 8305, East Asian and Pacific, Series 167, Released October 1967.


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 671-678.


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"Viet-Nam is also the scene of a powerful aggression that is spurred by an appetite for conquest.

"It is the arena where Communist expansionism is most aggressively at work in the world today--where it is crossing international frontiers in violation of international agreements; where it is killing and kidnaping; where it is ruthlessly attempting to bend free people to its will.

"Into this mixture of subversion and war, of terror and hope, America has entered--with its material power and with its moral commitment.

"Why?

"Why should three Presidents and the elected representatives of our people have chosen to defend this Asian nation more than 10,000 miles from American shores?

"We cherish freedom--yes. We cherish self-determination for all people--yes. We abhor the political murder of any state by another and the bodily murder of any people by gangsters of whatever ideology. And for 27 years--since the days of lend-lease--we have sought to strengthen free people against domination by aggressive foreign powers.

"But the key to all we have done is really our own security. At times of crisis, before asking Americans to fight and die to resist aggression in a foreign land, every American President has finally had to answer this question:

"Is the aggression a threat not only to the immediate victim but to the United States of America and to the peace and security of the entire world of which we in America are a very vital part?

"That is the question which Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had to answer in facing the issue in Viet-Nam.

"That is the question that the Senate of the United States answered by a vote of 82 to 1 when it ratified and approved the SEATO treaty in 1955, and to which the members of the United States Congress responded in a resolution that it passed in 1964 by a vote of 504 to 2:

". . . . the United States is, therefore, prepared, as the President determines, to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.'

"Those who tell us now that we should abandon our commitment, that securing South Viet-Nam from armed domination is not worth the price we are paying, must also answer this question. And the test they must meet is this: What would be the consequence of letting armed aggression against South Viet-Nam succeed? What would follow in the time ahead? What kind of world are they prepared to live in 5 months or 5 years from tonight?

THREAT TO SOUTHEAST ASIA

"For those who have borne the responsibility for decision during these past 10 years, the stakes to us have seemed clear--and have seemed high.

"President Dwight Eisenhower said in 1959:

'Strategically South Viet-Nam's capture by the Communists would bring their power several hundred miles into a hitherto free region. The remaining countries in Southeast Asia would be menaced by a great flanking movement. The freedom of 12 million people would be lost immediately and that of 150 million in adjacent lands would be seriously endangered. The loss of South Viet-Nam would set in motion a crumbling process that could, as it progressed, have grave consequences for us and for freedom.'

"And President John F. Kennedy said in 1962:

'. . . withdrawal in the case of Viet-Nam and in the case of Thailand might mean a collapse of the entire area.'

"A year later, he reaffirmed 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.'

"This is not simply an American viewpoint, I would have you legislative leaders know. I am going to call the roll now of those who live in that part of the world--in the great arc of Asian and Pacific nations--and who bear the responsibility for leading their people and the responsibility for the fate of their people.

"The President of the Philippines had this to say:

'Viet-Nam is the focus of attention now. . . . It may happen to Thailand or the Philippines, or anywhere, wherever there is misery, disease, ignorance.. . . . For you to renounce your position of leadership in Asia is to allow the Red Chinese to gobble up all of Asia.'

"The Foreign Minister of Thailand said:

'[The American] decision will go down in history as the move that prevented the world from having to face another major conflagration.'

"The Prime Minister of Australia said:

'We are there because while Communist aggression persists the whole of Southeast Asia is threatened.'

"President Park of Korea said:

'For the first time in our history, we decided to dispatch our combat troops overseas . . . because in our belief any aggression against the Republic of VietNam represented a direct and grave menace against the security and peace of free Asia, and therefore directly jeopardized the very security and freedom of our own people.'

"The Prime Minister of Malaysia warned his people that if the United States pulled out of South Viet-Nam, it would go to the Communists, and after that, it would only be a matter of time until they moved against neighboring states.

"The Prime Minister of New Zealand said:

'We can thank God that America at least regards aggression in Asia with the same concern as it regards aggression in Europe-and is prepared to back up its concern with action.'

"The Prime Minister of Singapore said:

'I feel the fate of Asia--South and Southeast Asia--will be decided in the next few years by what happens out in Viet-Nam.'

"I cannot tell you tonight as your President--with certainty--that a Communist conquest of South Viet-Nam would be followed by a Communist conquest of Southeast Asia. But I do know there are North Vietnamese troops in Laos. I do know that there are North Vietnamese-trained guerrillas tonight in northeast Thailand. I do know that there are Communist-supported guerrilla forces operating in Burma. And a Communist coup was barely averted in Indonesia, the fifth largest nation in the world.

"So your American President cannot tell you--with certainty--that a Southeast Asia dominated by Communist power would bring a third world war much closer to terrible reality. One could hope that this would not be so.

"But all that we have learned in this tragic century strongly suggest to me that it would be so. As President of the United States, I am not prepared to gamble on the chance that it is not so. I am not prepared to risk the security--indeed, the survival--of this American Nation on mere hope and wishful thinking. I am convinced that by seeing this struggle through now we are greatly reducing the chances of a much larger war--perhaps a nuclear war. I would rather stand in Viet-Nam in our time, and by meeting this danger now and facing up to it, thereby reduce the danger for our children and for our grandchildren."

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