Wednesday, March 2, 2011

From The Editor: The President's News Conference, East Room, The White House, 28 July 1965

On 28 July 1965, Clark wrote, "The President is going to speak here at midnight tonight, so will stay up to hear him.  Bet he’ll say that the situation in South Vietnam causes him 'concern,' that more US troops will be committed, and that some Reserves and National Guard will be called up.  So will take a shower and turn the radio on." 

This is what Clark heard when President Lyndon B. Johnson held his forty-seventh news conference in the East Room of the White House at 12:34 p.m. (12:34 a.m. on 29 July, Saigon time):




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 protection.
 
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 itself.
 
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 history.
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 nation.
 
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 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 intend 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 voluntary enlistments.
 
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 [Henry Cabot] Lodge is now formulating a new program to be tested upon his return to that area.
 
I have directed Secretary [of State Dean] 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 Congress.
 
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 American Nation.
 
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 [to the United Nations Arthur J.] Goldberg to go to New York today and to present immediately to Secretary General U Thant a letter from me requesting that all the resources, energy, and immense prestige of the United Nations be employed to find ways to halt aggression and to bring peace in Viet-Nam.
 
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 still 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 feed 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  [adviser to the President on Southeast Asian social and economic development and former president of the World Bank] 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 finest 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.
 
[President Johnson then announced the appointment of NBC News correspondent John Chancellor as head of the Voice of America radio broadcasting network and Abe Fortas as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.]
 
I will be glad to take your questions.
 
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?
 
THE PRESIDENT. 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 tired. 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?
 
THE PRESIDENT. 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 purposes 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 bombs.
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 proper chair.
 
Q. Mr. President, from what you have outlined as your program for now, it would seem that you feel that we can have guns and butter for the foreseeable future. Do you have any idea right now, though, that down the road a piece the American people may have to face the problem of guns or butter?
 
THE PRESIDENT. I have not the slightest doubt but whatever it is necessary to face, the American people will face. I think that all of us know that we are now in the fifteenth month of the prosperity that has been unequaled in this Nation, and I see no reason for declaring a national emergency and I rejected that course of action earlier today when I made my decision. I cannot foresee what next year, or the following year, or the following year will hold. I only know that the Americans will do whatever is necessary. At the moment we enjoy the good fortune of having an unparalleled period of prosperity with us, and this Government is going to do all it can to see it continue.
 
Q. Mr. President, does the fact that you are sending additional forces to Viet-Nam imply any change in the existing policy of relying mainly on the South Vietnamese to carry out offensive operations and using American forces to guard American installations and to act as an emergency backup?
 
THE PRESIDENT. It does not imply any change in policy whatever. It does not imply any change of objective.
 
Q. Mr. President, what are the borders of your power to conduct a war ? At what point might you have to ask Congress for a declaration?
 
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. That would depend on the circumstances. I can't pinpoint the date on the calendar, or the hour of the day. I have to ask Congress for their judgments and for their decisions almost every hour of the day. One of the principal duties of the Office of President is to maintain constant consultation. I have talked to, I guess, more than 50 Members of Congress in the last 24 hours. I have submitted myself to their questions, and the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense will meet with them tomorrow if they are ready, to answer any questions that they may need.  Up to now, we have had ample authority, excellent cooperation, a united Congress behind us, and--as near as I could tell from my meetings last night with the leaders, and from my meetings today with the distinguished chairmen of the committees and the members of both parties--we all met as Americans, united and determined to stand as one.
 
Q. Mr. President, in this connection, however, last night one of the leading Governors of the Republicans said some rather strong things. Governor [Mark] Hatfield of Oregon said the most recent escalation of action in Viet-Nam is moving all the people of the world closer to world war III, and we have no moral right to commit the world and especially our own people to world war III unilaterally or by the decision of a few experts. This seemed to imply rather strong criticism of present policies. Do you care to express any reaction?
 
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I don't interpret it that way. I think that there are dangers in escalation. I don't think I have any right to commit the whole world to world war III. I am doing everything I know how to avoid it. But retreat is not necessarily the best way to avoid it. I have outlined to you what I think is the best policy. I would hope that Governor Hatfield and the other Governors, when they understand what we are doing, and when I have a chance to submit myself to their questioning and to counsel with them, would share my view.
I know they have the same concern for the American people and the people of the world as I do. I don't believe our objectives will be very different. As a matter of fact, I asked the Governors if they could, to come here at the conclusion of their deliberations. I will have my plane go to Minneapolis tomorrow, and I believe 43 of the 48 have indicated a desire to come here. I will give them all the information I can--confidential, secret, and otherwise-because I have great respect for them, their judgments, their opinions, and their leadership. It is going to be necessary in this effort. I will also have the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense review with them all their plans, and answer any of their inquiries, and we hope resolve any doubts they might have.
 
Q. Mr. President, after the week of deliberations on Viet-Nam, how do you feel--in the context of your Office? We always hear it is the loneliest in the world.
 
THE. PRESIDENT. Nancy,  [Nancy Dickerson, NBC News correspondent] I am sorry, but because of the cameras and microphones, I didn't get your question. Raise the microphone up where I can hear, and you camera boys give her a chance.
 
Q. Mr. President, I said, after the week of deliberations on Viet-Nam, how do you feel, personally, particularly in the context we always hear that your Office is the loneliest in the world?
 
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't agree with that. I don't guess there is anyone in this country that has as much understanding and as much help, and as many experts, and as good advice, and many people of both parties trying to help them, as they are me. Of course I admit I need it more than anybody else. Nancy, I haven't been lonely the last few days--I have had lots of callers.
 
Q. Mr. President, would you be willing to permit direct negotiations with the Viet Cong forces that are in South Viet-Nam?
 
THE PRESIDENT. We have stated time and time again that we would negotiate with any government, any place, any time. The Viet Cong would have no difficulty in being represented and having their views presented if Hanoi for a moment decides she wants to cease aggression. And I would not think that would be an insurmountable problem at all. I think that could be worked out.
 
Reporters: Thank you, Mr. President.

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