Landmark Speeches on the Vietnam War

Landmark Speeches on the Vietnam War

Landmark Speeches on the Vietnam War

Landmark Speeches on the Vietnam War


Beginning more than sixty years ago, speechmaking supported the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam. Rhetoric helped send more than a half-million troops to defend the Vietnamese government the United States had yet sponsored; that policy led to dissent, and ultimately, Congress forcing the executive branch to terminate U.S. involvement.

The fourteen key speeches collected in this volume, from Ho Chi Minh's "Declaration of the Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam" in 1945 to John Kerry's "Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee" in 1971, express the entire range of positions on the war, which contributed to the political and societal developments that ordained its course and outcome. They span the most volatile years of that period, framed in the words that shaped an era.

These speeches include: Ho Chi Minh: "Declaration of Independence," September 2, 1945 John F. Kennedy: "America's Stake in Vietnam," June 1, 1956 Michael J. Mansfield: "Interests and Policies in Southeast Asia," June 10, 1962 Lyndon B. Johnson: "Peace Without Conquest," April 7, 1965 Paul Potter: "Speech to the March on Washington," April 17, 1965 George Aiken: "Vietnam Analysis--Present and Future," October 19, 1966 Robert F. Kennedy: "On Viet Nam," March 2, 1967 Martin Luther King Jr.: "Beyond Vietnam," April 4, 1967 Gen. William C. Westmoreland: "Vietnam: The Situation Today," April 28, 1967 Walter Cronkite: "We Are Mired in Stalemate," February 27, 1968 Lyndon B. Johnson: "The President's Address to the Nation," March 31, 1968 Richard M. Nixon: "Address to the Nation," November 3, 1969 and April 30, 1970 John Kerry: "Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," April 22, 1971


It has been more than sixty years since the United States became interested in Vietnam and more than thirty since America’s first serious attempt at nation building ended in failure; the speeches in this volume span the first twenty-five years of that period. Speechmaking contributed to the United States committing to South Vietnam, and when that nation seemed unable to stand on its own, rhetoric helped send more than half a million troops to defend the government the United States had created. That policy led to dissent and ultimately it led Congress to force the executive branch to terminate U.S. involvement. Speeches contributed to all of this: “Foreign policy is essentially a rhetorical process, one in which words compete with other words for supremacy. Once accepted as facts or definitions or controlling theses, these words guide actions and constrain options. As rhetoric changes, so too does policy.”

Pres. Franklin Roosevelt had initially opposed allowing Indochina (then the French colonies of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam) to be returned to France at the end of World War II, but Vice Pres. Harry Truman did not share Roosevelt’s anticolonial views. Even after Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnamese independence in September 1945, President Truman decided to aid France in reasserting its control over Indochina. By 1950, with the United States bogged down in the Korean conflict, this aid became overt.

Dwight Eisenhower won the 1952 election with his pledge to end the war in Korea, but he had no intention of changing Truman’s support for the French in Indochina; indeed, he wanted to “strengthen” it. The first stirrings of congressional dissent came in the summer of 1953; Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) despised French . . .

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