Peace Without Conquest
My fellow Americans:
Tonight Americans and Asians are dying for a world where
each people may choose its own path to change. This
is the principle for which our ancestors fought in the
valleys of Pennsylvania. It is the principle for which
our sons fight tonight in the jungles of Viet-Nam.
Viet-Nam is far away from this quiet campus. We have
no territory there, nor do we seek any. The war is dirty
and brutal and difficult. And some 400 young men, born
into an America that is bursting with opportunity and
promise, have ended their lives on Viet-Nam’s
Why must we take this painful road? Why must this Nation
hazard its ease, and its interest, and its power for
the sake of a people so far away?
We fight because we must fight if we are to live in
a world where every country can shape its own destiny.
And only in such a world will our own freedom be finally
secure. This kind of world will never be built by bombs
or bullets. Yet the infirmities of man are such that
force must often precede reason, and the waste of war,
the works of peace.
We wish that this were not so. But we must deal with
the world as it is, if it is ever to be as we wish.
The world as it is in Asia is not a serene or peaceful
The first reality is that North Viet-Nam has attacked
the independent nation of South Viet-Nam. Its object
is total conquest. Of course, some of the people of
South Viet-Nam are participating in attack on their
own government. But trained men and supplies, orders
and arms, flow in a constant stream from north to south.
This support is the heartbeat of the war. And it is
a war of unparalleled brutality. Simple farmers are
the targets of assassination and kidnapping. Women and
children are strangled in the night because their men
are loyal to their government. And helpless villages
are ravaged by sneak attacks. Large-scale raids are
conducted on towns, and terror strikes in the heart
The confused nature of this conflict cannot mask the
fact that it is the new face of an old enemy.
Why are these realities our concern? Why are we in Viet-Nam
We are there because we have a promise to keep. Since
1954 every American President has offered support to
the people of South Viet-Nam. We have helped to build,
and we have helped to defend. Thus, over many years,
we have made a national pledge to help South Viet-Nam
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 Viet-Nam
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
We are also there because there are great stakes in
the balance. Let no one think for a moment that retreat
from Viet-Nam 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 shalt thou come, but no further.”
There are those who say that all our effort 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 of the nations
of Asia are swallowed up.
There are those who wonder why we have a responsibility
there. Well, we have it 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 Viet-Nam,
and its freedom from attack. We want nothing for ourselves—only
that the people of South Viet-Nam 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.
From a speech by Lyndon Johnson given at 9 p.m. on April
7, 1965 in Shriver Hall Auditorium at Johns Hopkins
University, Baltimore, Md. The speech was televised...