President Johnson's Address to the Nation, 3/31/68. WHCA VTR 242.Happy Scribe's Favorites
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- 26 Oct 2020
Good evening, my fellow Americans, tonight I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. No other question so preoccupies our people. No other dream. So absorbs the two hundred and fifty million human beings who live in that part of the world. No other goal motivates American policy in Southeast Asia. For years, representatives of our governments and others have traveled the world seeking to find a basis for peace talks since last September. They have carried the offer that I made public at San Antonio, and that offer was theirs that the United States would stop its bombardment of North Vietnam when that would lead promptly to productive discussions, and that we would assume that North Vietnam would not take military advantage of our restraint.
Hanoi denounced this offer both privately and publicly, even while the search for peace was going on, North Vietnam rushed their preparations for a savage assault on the people, the government and the allies of South Vietnam there attacked during the Tet holidays. Failed to achieve its principal objective. It did not collapse the elected government of South Vietnam or shatter its army as the communists had hoped, it did not produce a general uprising among the people of the cities as they had predicted.
The communists were unable to maintain control of any of the more than 30 cities that they attacked, and they took very heavy casualties. But they did compel the South Vietnamese and their allies to move certain forces from the countryside into the cities. They caused widespread disruption and suffering their attacks and the battles that followed made refugees of half a million human beings. The communists may renew their attack any day. They are, it appears, trying to make 1968 the year of decision in South Vietnam, the year that brings, if not final, victory or defeat at least a turning point in the struggle.
This much is clear, if they do mount another round of heavy attacks, they will not succeed in destroying the fighting power of South Vietnam and its allies. But tragically, this is also clear. Many men on both sides of the struggle will be lost. A nation that has already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again, armies on both sides will take new casualties and the war will go on. There is no need for this to be so.
There is no need to delay the talks that could bring an end to this long in this bloody war. Tonight, I renew the offer I made last August to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam. We ask that talks begin promptly, that they be serious talks on the substance of peace. We assume that during those talks and I will not take advantage of our restraint, we are prepared to move immediately toward peace through negotiations. So tonight, in the hope that this action will lead to early talks, I am taking the first step to de-escalate the conflict.
We are reducing, substantially reducing the present level of hostilities and we are doing so unilaterally and at once. Tonight, I have ordered our aircraft and our naval vessels to make no attacks on North Vietnam except in the area north of the demilitarized zone, where the continuing enemy buildup directly threatens allied forward positions and where the movement of their troops and supplies are clearly related to that threat. The area in which we are stopping our attacks includes almost 90 percent of North Vietnam's population and most of its territory.
Thus, there will be no attacks around the principal. Populated areas are in the food producing areas of North Vietnam. Even this very limited bombing of the North could come to an early end if our restraint is matched by restraint in Hanoi. But I cannot in good conscience stop all bombings so long as to do so would immediately and directly endanger the lives of our men and our allies, whether a complete bombing halt becomes possible in the future will be determined by events.
Our purpose in this action is to bring about a reduction in the level of violence that now exists. It is to save the lives of brave men and to save the lives of innocent women and children. It is to permit the contending forces. To move closer to a political settlement. And tonight, I call upon the United Kingdom and I call upon the Soviet Union as co-chairman of the Geneva conferences and as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to do all they can to move from the unilateral act of de-escalation that I have just announced toward genuine peace in Southeast Asia.
Now, as in the past, the United States is ready to send its representatives to any forum at any time to discuss the means of bringing this ugly war to an end. I am designating one of our most distinguished Americans, Ambassador Averell Harriman, as my personal representative for such talks. In addition, I have asked Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, who returned from Moscow for consultation to be available to join Ambassador Harriman at Geneva, are any other suitable place. Just as soon.
As Hanoi agrees to a conference. I call upon President Ho Chi Minh. To respond positively and favorably to this new step. Toward peace. But if peace does not come now through negotiations, it will come when I know, I understand that our common resolve is unshakable. And our common strength. Is invincible. Tonight, we and the other allied nations are contributing six hundred thousand fighting men to assist seven hundred thousand South Vietnamese troops. In defending their little country, our presence there has always rested on this basic belief, the main burden of preserving their freedom must be carried out by them, by the South Vietnamese themselves.
We and our allies can only help to provide a shield behind which the people of South Vietnam can survive and can grow and develop. On their efforts, on their determination and resourcefulness. The outcome will alter the.