Vietnamization—The Great Silent Majority
November 3, 1969
Good evening, my fellow Americans:
Tonight I want to talk to you on a subject of deep concern
to all Americans and to many people in all parts of the
world - the war in Vietnam.
I believe that one of the reasons for the deep division
about Vietnam is that many Americans have lost confidence
in what their Government has told them about our policy.
The American people cannot and should not be asked to support
a policy which involves the overriding issues of war and
peace unless they know the truth about that policy.
Tonight, therefore, I would like to answer some of the
questions that I know are on the minds of many of you listening
How and why did America get involved in Vietnam in the
How has this administration changed the policy of the
What has really happened in the negotiations in Paris
and on the battlefront in Vietnam?
What choices do we have if we are to end the war?
What are the prospects for peace?
Now, let me begin by describing the situation I found
when I was inaugurated on January 20.
-The war had been going on for 4 years.
-31,000 Americans had been killed in action.
-The training program for the South Vietnamese was behind schedule.
-540,000 Americans were in Vietnam with no plans to reduce the number.
-No progress had been made at the negotiations in Paris and the United States
had not put forth a comprehensive peace proposal.
-The war was causing deep division at home and criticism from many of our friends
as well as our enemies abroad.
In view of these circumstances there were some who urged
that I end the war at once by ordering the immediate withdrawal
of all American forces.
From a political standpoint this would have been a popular
and easy course to follow. After all, we became involved
in the war while my predecessor was in office.
I could blame the defeat which would be the result of
my action on him and come out as the peacemaker. Some put
it to me quite bluntly: This was the only way to avoid
allowing Johnson's war to become Nixon's war.
But I had a greater obligation than to think only of the
years of my administration and of the next election. I
had to think of the effect of my decision on the next generation
and on the future of peace and freedom in America and in
Let us all understand that the question before us is not
whether some Americans are for peace and some Americans
are against peace. The question at issue is not whether
Johnson's war becomes Nixon's war.
The great question is: How can we win America's peace?
Well, let us turn now to the fundamental issue. Why and
how did the United States become involved in Vietnam in
the first place?
Fifteen years ago North Vietnam, with the logistical support
of Communist China and the Soviet Union, launched a campaign
to impose a Communist government on South Vietnam by instigating
and supporting a revolution.
In response to the request of the Government of South
Vietnam, President Eisenhower sent economic aid and military
equipment to assist the people of South Vietnam in their
efforts to prevent a Communist takeover. Seven years ago,
President Kennedy sent 16,000 military personnel to Vietnam
as combat advisers.
Four years ago, President Johnson sent American combat
forces to South Vietnam.
Now, many believe that President Johnson's decision to
send American combat forces to South Vietnam was wrong.
And many others - I among them - have been strongly critical
of the way the war has been conducted.
But the question facing us today is: Now that we are in
the war, what is the best way to end it?
In January I could only conclude that the precipitate
withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam would be a disaster
not only for South Vietnam but for the United States and
for the cause of peace.
For the South Vietnamese, our precipitate withdrawal would
inevitably allow the Communists to repeat the massacres
which followed their takeover in the North 15 years before.
-They then murdered more than 50,000 people
and hundreds of thousands more died in slave labor camps.
-We saw a prelude of what would happen in South Vietnam when the Communists
entered the city of Hue last year. During their brief rule there, there was
a bloody reign of terror in which 3,000 civilians were clubbed, shot to death,
and buried in mass graves.
-With the sudden collapse of our support, these atrocities of Hue would become
the nightmare of the entire nation - and particularly for the million and a
half Catholic refugees who fled to South Vietnam when the Communists took over
in the North.
For the United States, this first defeat in our Nation's
history would result in a collapse of confidence in American
leadership, not only in Asia but throughout the world.
Three American Presidents have recognized the great stakes
involved in Vietnam and understood what had to be done.
In 1963, President Kennedy,
with his characteristic eloquence and clarity, said: "...
we want to see a stable government there, carrying on
a struggle to maintain its national independence.
"We believe strongly
in 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 Vietnam, but Southeast
Asia. So we are going to stay there."
President Eisenhower and President Johnson expressed the
same conclusion during their terms of office.
For the future of peace, precipitate withdrawal would
thus be a disaster of immense magnitude.
-A nation cannot remain great if it betrays
its allies and lets down its friends.
-Our defeat and humiliation in South Vietnam without question would promote
recklessness in the councils of those great powers who have not yet abandoned
their goals of world conquest.
-This would spark violence wherever our commitments help maintain the peace
- in the Middle East, in Berlin, eventually even in the Western Hemisphere.
Ultimately, this would cost more lives.
It would not bring peace; it would bring more war.
For these reasons, I rejected the recommendation that
I should end the war by immediately withdrawing all of
our forces. I chose instead to change American policy on
both the negotiating front and battlefront.
In order to end a war fought on many fronts, I initiated
a pursuit for peace on many fronts.
In a television speech on May 14, in a speech before the
United Nations, and on a number of other occasions I set
forth our peace proposals in great detail.
-We have offered the complete withdrawal
of all outside forces within 1 year.
-We have proposed a cease-fire under international supervision.
-We have offered free elections under international supervision with the Communists
participating in the organization and conduct of the elections as an organized
political force. And the Saigon Government has pledged to accept the result
of the elections.
We have not put forth our proposals on a take-it-or-leave-it
basis. We have indicated that we are willing to discuss
the proposals that have been put forth by the other side.
We have declared that anything is negotiable except the
right of the people of South Vietnam to determine their
own future. At the Paris peace conference, Ambassador Lodge
has demonstrated our flexibility and good faith in 40 public
Hanoi has refused even to discuss our proposals. They
demand our unconditional acceptance of their terms, which
are that we withdraw all American forces immediately and
unconditionally and that we overthrow the Government of
South Vietnam as we leave.
We have not limited our peace initiatives to public forums
and public statements. I recognized, in January, that a
long and bitter war like this usually cannot be settled
in a public forum. That is why in addition to the public
statements and negotiations I have explored every possible
private avenue that might lead to a settlement.
Tonight I am taking the unprecedented step of disclosing
to you some of our other initiatives for peace - initiatives
we undertook privately and secretly because we thought
we thereby might open a door which publicly would be closed.
I did not wait for my inauguration to begin my quest for
-Soon after my election, through an individual
who is directly in contact on a personal basis with the
leaders of North Vietnam, I made two private offers for
a rapid, comprehensive settlement. Hanoi's replies called
in effect for our surrender before negotiations.
-Since the Soviet Union furnishes most of the military equipment for North
Vietnam, Secretary of State Rogers, my Assistant for National Security Affairs,
Dr. Kissinger, Ambassador Lodge, and I, personally, have met on a number of
occasions with representatives of the Soviet Government to enlist their assistance
in getting meaningful negotiations started. In addition, we have had extended
discussions directed toward that same end with representatives of other governments
which have diplomatic relations with North Vietnam. None of these initiatives
have to date produced results.
-In mid-July, I became convinced that it was necessary to make a major move
to break the deadlock in the Paris talks. I spoke directly in this office,
where I am now sitting, with an individual who had known Ho Chi Minh [President,
Democratic Republic of Vietnam on a personal basis for 25 years. Through him
I sent a letter to Ho Chi Minh.
I did this outside of the usual diplomatic channels with
the hope that with the necessity of making statements for
propaganda removed, there might be constructive progress
toward bringing the war to an end. Let me read from that
letter to you now.
Dear Mr. President
I realize that it is difficult to communicate meaningfully
across the gulf of four years of war. But precisely because
of this gulf, I wanted to take this opportunity to reaffirm
in all solemnity my desire to work for a just peace. I
deeply believe that the war in Vietnam has gone on too
long and delay in bringing it to an end can benefit no
one - least of all the people of Vietnam....
The time has come to move forward at the conference table
toward an early resolution of this tragic war. You will
find us forthcoming and open-minded in a common effort
to bring the blessings of peace to the brave people of
Vietnam. Let history record that at this critical juncture,
both sides turned their face toward peace rather than toward
conflict and war.
I received Ho Chi Minh's reply on August 30, 3 days before
his death. It simply reiterated the public position North
Vietnam had taken at Paris and flatly rejected my initiative.
The full text of both letters is being released to the
-In addition to the public meetings that
I have referred to, Ambassador Lodge has met with Vietnam's
chief negotiator in Paris in 11 private sessions.
-We have taken other significant initiatives which must remain secret to keep
open some channels of communication which may still prove to be productive.
But the effect of all the public, private, and secret
negotiations which have been undertaken since the bombing
halt a year ago and since this administration came into
office on January 20, can be summed up in one sentence:
No progress whatever has been made except agreement on
the shape of the bargaining table.
Well now, who is at fault?
It has become clear that the obstacle in negotiating an
end to the war is not the President of the United States.
It is not the South Vietnamese Government.
The obstacle is the other side's absolute refusal to show
the least willingness to join us in seeking a just peace.
And it will not do so while it is convinced that all it
has to do is to wait for our next concession, and our next
concession after that one, until it gets everything it
There can now be no longer any question that progress
in negotiation depends only on Hanoi's deciding to negotiate,
to negotiate seriously.
I realize that this report on our efforts on the diplomatic
front is discouraging to the American people, but the American
people are entitled to know the truth - the bad news as
well as the good news - where the lives of our young men
Now let me turn, however, to a more encouraging report
on another front.
At the time we launched our search for peace I recognized
we might not succeed in bringing an end to the war through
negotiation. I, therefore, put into effect another plan
to bring peace - a plan which will bring the war to an
end regardless of what happens on the negotiating front.
It is in line with a major shift in U.S. foreign policy
which I described in my press conference at Guam on July
25. Let me briefly explain what has been described as the
Nixon Doctrine - a policy which not only will help end
the war in Vietnam, but which is an essential element of
our program to prevent future Vietnams.
We Americans are a do-it-yourself people. We are an impatient
people. Instead of teaching someone else to do a job, we
like to do it ourselves. And this trait has been carried
over into our foreign policy.
In Korea and again in Vietnam, the United States furnished
most of the money, most of the arms, and most of the men
to help the people of those countries defend their freedom
against Communist aggression.
Before any American
troops were committed to Vietnam, a leader of another
Asian country expressed this opinion to me when I was
traveling in Asia as a private citizen. He said: "When
you are trying to assist another nation defend its freedom,
U.S. policy should be to help them fight the war but
not to fight the war for them."
Well, in accordance with this wise counsel, I laid down
in Guam three principles as guidelines for future American
policy toward Asia:
-First, the United States will keep all
of its treaty commitments.
-Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom
of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital
to our security.
-Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military
and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments.
But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility
of providing the manpower for its defense.
After I announced this policy, I found that the leaders
of the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, and
other nations which might be threatened by Communist aggression,
welcomed this new direction in American foreign policy.
The defense of freedom is everybody's business not just
And it is particularly the responsibility of the people
whose freedom is threatened.
In the previous administration, we Americanized the war
in Vietnam. In this administration, we are Vietnamizing
the search for peace.
The policy of the previous administration not only resulted
in our assuming the primary responsibility for fighting
the war, but even more significantly did not adequately
stress the goal of strengthening the South Vietnamese so
that they could defend themselves when we left.
The Vietnamization plan was launched following Secretary
Laird's visit to Vietnam in March. Under the plan, I ordered
first a substantial increase in the training and equipment
of South Vietnamese forces.
In July, on my visit to Vietnam, I changed General Abrams'
orders so that they were consistent with the objectives
of our new policies. Under the new orders, the primary
mission of our troops is to enable the South Vietnamese
forces to assume the full responsibility for the security
of South Vietnam.
Our air operations have been reduced by over 20 percent.
And now we have begun to see the results of this long
overdue change in American policy in Vietnam.
-After 5 years of Americans going into Vietnam,
we are finally bringing American men home. By December
15, over 60,000 men will have been withdrawn from South
Vietnam - including 20 percent of all of our combat forces.
-The South Vietnamese have continued to gain in strength. As a result they
have been able to take over combat responsibilities from our American troops.
Two other significant developments have occurred since
this administration took once.
-Enemy infiltration, infiltration which
is essential if they are to launch a major attack, over
the last 3 months is less than 20 percent of what it was
over the same period last year.
-Most important - United States casualties have declined during the last 2
months to the lowest point in 3 years.
Let me now turn to our program for the future.
We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation
with the South Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of
all U.S. combat ground forces, and their replacement by
South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable.
This withdrawal will be made from strength and not from
weakness. As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the
rate of American withdrawal can become greater.
I have not and do not intend to announce the timetable
for our program. And there are obvious reasons for this
decision which I am sure you will understand. As I have
indicated on several occasions, the rate of withdrawal
will depend on developments on three fronts.
One of these is the progress which can be or might be
made in the Paris talks. An announcement of a fixed timetable
for our withdrawal would completely remove any incentive
for the enemy to negotiate an agreement. They would simply
wait until our forces had withdrawn and then move in.
The other two factors on which we will base our withdrawal
decisions are the level of enemy activity and the progress
of the training programs of the South Vietnamese forces.
And I am glad to be able to report tonight progress on
both of these fronts has been greater than we anticipated
when we started the program in June for withdrawal. As
a result, our timetable for withdrawal is more optimistic
now than when we made our first estimates in June. Now,
this clearly demonstrates why it is not wise to be frozen
in on a fixed timetable.
We must retain the flexibility to base each withdrawal
decision on the situation as it is at that time rather
than on estimates that are no longer valid. Along with
this optimistic estimate, I must - in all candor - leave
one note of caution.
If the level of enemy activity significantly increases
we might have to adjust our timetable accordingly.
However, I want the record to be completely clear on one
point. At the time of the bombing halt just a year ago,
there was some confusion as to whether there was an understanding
on the part of the enemy that if we stopped the bombing
of North Vietnam they would stop the shelling of cities
in South Vietnam. I want to be sure that there is no misunderstanding
on the part of the enemy with regard to our withdrawal
We have noted the reduced level of infiltration, the reduction
of our casualties, and are basing our withdrawal decisions
partially on those factors.
If the level of infiltration or our casualties increase
while we are trying to scale down the fighting, it will
be the result of a conscious decision by the enemy.
Hanoi could make no greater mistake than to assume that
an increase in violence will be to its advantage. If I
conclude that increased enemy action jeopardizes our remaining
forces in Vietnam, I shall not hesitate to take strong
and effective measures to deal with that situation.
This is not a threat. This is a statement of policy, which
as Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces, I am making
in meeting my responsibility for the protection of American
fighting men wherever they may be.
My fellow Americans, I am sure you can recognize from
what I have said that we really only have two choices open
to us if we want to end this war.
-I can order an immediate, precipitate withdrawal
of all Americans from Vietnam without regard to the effects
of that action.
-Or we can persist in our search for a just peace through a negotiated settlement
if possible, or through continued implementation of our plan for Vietnamization
if necessary - a plan in which we will withdraw all of our forces from Vietnam
on a schedule in accordance with our program, as the South Vietnamese become
strong enough to defend their own freedom.
I have chosen this second course.
It is not the easy way.
It is the right way.
It is a plan which will end the war and serve the cause
of peace - not just in Vietnam but in the Pacific and in
In speaking of the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal,
I mentioned that our allies would lose confidence in America.
Far more dangerous, we would lose confidence in ourselves.
Oh, the immediate reaction would be a sense of relief that
our men were coming home. But as we saw the consequences
of what we had done, inevitable remorse and divisive recrimination
would scar our spirit as a people.
We have faced other crises in our history and have become
stronger by rejecting the easy way out and taking the right
way in meeting our challenges. Our greatness as a nation
has been our capacity to do what had to be done when we
knew our course was right.
I recognize that some of my fellow citizens disagree with
the plan for peace I have chosen. Honest and patriotic
Americans have reached different conclusions as to how
peace should be achieved.
In San Francisco a few
weeks ago, I saw demonstrators carrying signs reading: "Lose
in Vietnam, bring the boys home."
Well, one of the strengths of our free society is that
any American has a right to reach that conclusion and to
advocate that point of view. But as President of the United
States, I would be untrue to my oath of office if I allowed
the policy of this Nation to be dictated by the minority
who hold that point of view and who try to impose it on
the Nation by mounting demonstrations in the street.
For almost 200 years, the policy of this Nation has been
made under our Constitution by those leaders in the Congress
and the White House elected by all of the people. If a
vocal minority, however fervent its cause, prevails over
reason and the will of the majority, this Nation has no
future as a free society.
And now I would like to address a word, if I may, to the
young people of this Nation who are particularly concerned,
and I understand why they are concerned, about this war.
I respect your idealism.
I share your concern for peace.
I want peace as much as you do.
There are powerful personal reasons I want to end this
war. This week I will have to sign 83 letters to mothers,
fathers, wives, and loved ones of men who have given their
lives for America in Vietnam. It is very little satisfaction
to me that this is only one-third as many letters as I
signed the first week in office. There is nothing I want
more than to see the day come when I do not have to write
any of those letters.
-I want to end the war to save the lives
of those brave young men in Vietnam.
-But I want to end it in a way which will increase the chance that their younger
brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam someplace
in the world.
-And I want to end the war for another reason. I want to end it so that the
energy and dedication of you, our young people, now too often directed into
bitter hatred against those responsible for the war, can be turned to the great
challenges of peace, a better life for all Americans, a better life for all
people on this earth.
I have chosen a plan for peace. I believe it will succeed.
If it does succeed, what the critics say now won't matter.
If it does not succeed, anything I say then won't matter.
I know it may not be fashionable to speak of patriotism
or national destiny these days. But I feel it is appropriate
to do so on this occasion.
Two hundred years ago this Nation was weak and poor. But
even then, America was the hope of millions in the world.
Today we have become the strongest and richest nation in
the world. And the wheel of destiny has turned so that
any hope the world has for the survival of peace and freedom
will be determined by whether the American people have
the moral stamina and the courage to meet the challenge
of free world leadership.
Let historians not record that when America was the most
powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side
of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom
of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of
And so tonight - to you, the great silent majority of
my fellow Americans - l ask for your support.
I pledged in my campaign for the Presidency to end the
war in a way that we could win the peace. I have initiated
a plan of action which will enable me to keep that pledge.
The more support I can have from the American people,
the sooner that pledge can be redeemed, for the more divided
we are at home, the less likely the enemy is to negotiate
Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against
defeat. Because let us understand: North Vietnam cannot
defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can
Fifty years ago, in
this room and at this very desk, President Woodrow Wilson
spoke words which caught the imagination of a war-weary
world. He said: "This is the war to
end war." His dream for peace after World War I was
shattered on the hard realities of great power politics
and Woodrow Wilson died a broken man. Tonight I do not
tell you that the war in Vietnam is the war to end wars.
But I do say this: I have initiated a plan which will end
this war in a way that will bring us closer to that great
goal to which Woodrow Wilson and every American President
in our history has been dedicated - the goal of a just
and lasting peace.
As President I hold the responsibility for choosing the
best path to that goal and then leading the Nation along
I pledge to you tonight that I shall meet this responsibility
with all of the strength and wisdom I can command in accordance
with your hopes, mindful of your concerns, sustained by
Thank you and goodnight.