Iraq haunted by Vietnam


Wars: As violent resistance has grown in Iraq, a look at how another president campaigned for support of a faraway fight.

April 09, 2004|By Kathy Lally and Scott Shane

With 400 American soldiers dead in Vietnam, President Lyndon B. Johnson traveled to Baltimore 39 years ago this week to persuade Americans to support U.S. involvement in that far-off land.

His speech, delivered to an audience gathered on April 7, 1965, in Shriver Hall at the Johns Hopkins University, was called "Peace Without Conquest."

Almost from that moment, the deaths in Vietnam would grow to terrible numbers. While there had been 22 deaths in March 1965, another 60 in April and 88 in May, 235 Americans would die in October and 545 in November.

From 1964 to 1973, 47,355 Americans were killed in action and an additional 10,796 non-combat deaths were reported in Vietnam. An estimated 2 million Vietnamese died.

The day Johnson made his speech, The Sun's headline reported: "276 Viet Cong Die In 3-Day Battle," adding, in smaller type: "6 American Servicemen Also Killed."

The specter of Vietnam has haunted the debate over the war in Iraq this week, as violent resistance to U.S. and coalition troops has grown.

Of reports that the Pentagon is considering sending more U.S. soldiers, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, said: "Surely I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam in this development." Delaware Democratic Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. compared the latest developments in Iraq to the Tet offensive of 1968 in Vietnam, which helped turn U.S. opinion against the war.

But Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, called the comparison "totally false." He said Iraq was different from Vietnam because there "is desire on the part of the people of Iraq to have their own democratic government ... and we have the capability militarily and politically to prevail and we did not in Vietnam."

Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, noted that North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh said the Vietnam War was won not on the battlefield but by dividing the American public. "We must win," Smith said. "We must not have the will of the American people broken by the naysayers."

In the latest official count, 642 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq.

Kathy Lally and Scott Shane

Following are excerpts from Johnson's speech.

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 steaming soil.

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. ...

The confused nature of this conflict cannot mask the fact that it is the new face of an old enemy.

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 Viet-Nam is part of a wider pattern of aggressive purposes. ...

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. ...

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. ...

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 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.

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