President Lyndon B. Johnson
April 7, 1965
Over this war and all Asia is another reality: the deepening shadow of communist China. The rulers in Hanoi are urged on by Peking. This is a regime which has destroyed freedom in Tibet, which has attacked India and has been condemned by the United Nations for aggression in Korea. It is a nation which is helping the forces of violence in almost every continent. The contest in Vietnam is part of a wider pattern of aggressive purposes.
Why are these realities our concern? Why are we in South Vietnam?
We are there because we have a promise to keep. Since 1954 every American president has offered support to the people of South Vietnam. We have helped to build, and we have helped to defend. Thus, over many years, we have made a national pledge to help South Vietnam defend its independence.
And I intend to keep that promise.
To dishonor that pledge, to abandon this small and brave nation to its enemies, and to the terror that must follow, would be an unforgivable wrong.
We are also there to strengthen world order. Around the globe from Berlin to Thailand are people whose well-being rests in part on the belief that they can count on us if they are attacked. To leave Vietnam to its fate would shake the confidence of all these people in the value of an American commitment and in the value of America's word. The result would be increased unrest and instability and even wider war.
We are also there because there are great stakes in the balance. Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Vietnam would bring an end to conflict. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another. The central lesson of our time is that the appetite of aggression is never satisfied. To withdraw from one battlefield means only to prepare for the next. We must say in Southeast Asia, as we did in Europe, in the words of the Bible: "Hitherto shall thou come, but no further."
There are those who say that all our efforts there will be futile -- that China's power is such that it is bound to dominate all Southeast Asia. But there is no end to that argument until all the nations of Asia are swallowed up.
There are those who wonder why we have a responsibility there. Well, we have a responsibility there for the same reason that we have a responsibility for the defense of Europe. World War II was fought in both Europe and Asia and when it ended we found ourselves with continued responsibility for the defense of freedom.
Our objective is the independence of South Vietnam and its freedom from attack. We want nothing for ourselves -- only that the people of South Vietnam be allowed to guide their own country in their own way.
We will do everything necessary to reach that objective and we will do only what is absolutely necessary.
In recent months attacks on South Vietnam were stepped up. Thus, it became necessary for us to increase our response and to make attacks by air. This is not a change of purpose. It is a change in what we believe that purpose requires.
We do this in order to slow down aggression. We do this to increase the confidence of the brave people of South Vietnam who have bravely born this brutal battle for so many years with so many casualties. And we do this to convince the leaders of North Vietnam -- and all who seek to share their conquest -- of a simple fact: We will not be defeated. We will not grow tired. We will not withdraw either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement.
We know that air attacks alone will not accomplish all of these purposes but it is our best and prayerful judgment that they are a necessary part of the surest road to peace.
We hope that peace will come swiftly. But that is in the hands of others besides ourselves. And we must be prepared for a long continued conflict. It will require patience as well as bravery -- the will to endure as well as the will to resist.
I wish it were possible to convince others with words of what we now find it necessary to say with guns and planes: armed hostility is futile -- our resources are equal to any challenge -- because we fight for values and we fight for principle rather than territory or colonies, our patience and our determination are unending.
Once this is clear, then it should also be clear that the only path for reasonable men is the path of peaceful settlement.
Such peace demands an independent South Vietnam -- securely guaranteed and able to shape its own relationship to all others -- free from outside interference -- tied to no alliance -- a military base for no other country.
These are the essentials of any final settlement.
We will never be second in the search for such a peaceful settlement in Vietnam.
There may be many ways to this kind of peace: in discussion or negotiation with the governments concerned; in large groups or in small ones; in the reaffirmation of old agreements or their strengthening with new ones.
We have stated this position over and over again fifty times and more to friend and foe alike. And we remain ready with this purpose for unconditional discussions.
And until that bright and necessary day of peace we will try to keep conflict from spreading. We have no desire to see thousands die in battle -- Asians or Americans. We have no desire to devastate that which the people of North Vietnam have built with toil and sacrifice. We will use our power with restraint and with all the wisdom that we can command. But we will use it.