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Quotes from before, during, and after the Vietnam War


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Ho Chi Minh to the French, late 1940s

You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.

Richard M. Nixon, speech, April 16, 1954.

If in order to avoid further Communist expansion in Asia and particularly in Indo-China, if in order to avoid it we must take the risk by putting American boys in, I believe that the executive branch of the government has to take the politically unpopular position of facing up to it and doing it, and I personally would support such a decision.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954

You have a row of dominoes set up; you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is that it will go over very quickly.

John F. Kennedy, speech, New York Times, October 13, 1960.

Should I become President...I will not risk American lives...by permitting any other nation to drag us into the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time through an unwise commitment that is unwise militarily, unnecessary to our security and unsupported by our allies.

John F. Kennedy, 1961

Now we have a problem in making our power credible, and Vietnam is the place.

Barry M. Goldwater, Why Not Victory?, 1962.

Once upon a time our traditional goal in war and can anyone doubt that we are at war? - was victory. Once upon a time we were proud of our strength, our military power. Now we seem ashamed of it. Once upon a time the rest of the world looked to us for leadership. Now they look to us for a quick handout and a fence-straddling international posture.

Gen. Curtis LeMay, May 1964

Tell the Vietnamese they've got to draw in their horns or we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.

Lyndon B. Johnson, statement after Gulf of Tonkin incident, August 4, 1964.

We still seek no wider war.

Lyndon Johnson, Oct. 1964

We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.

Ronald Reagan, 1964

We are at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it has been said if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening.

Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964

This is not a jungle war, but a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity.

Ronald Reagan, interview, Fresno Bee, October 10, 1965.

It's silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home for Christmas.

Ronald Reagan, 1965

We should declare war on North Vietnam. . . .We could pave the whole country and put parking strips on it, and still be home by Christmas.

George McGovern, speech to U.S. Senate, April 25, 1967.

We seem bent upon saving the Vietnamese from Ho Chi Minh, even if we have to kill them and demolish their country to do it....I do not intend to remain silent in the face of what I regard as a policy of madness which, sooner or later, will envelop my son and American youth by the millions for years to come.

Walt W. Rostow, National Security Adviser, Dec. 1967

I see light at the end of the tunnel.

Unidentified U.S. Army major, on decision to bomb Bentre, Vietnam, February 7, 1968.

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

Lyndon B. Johnson, address to nation, March 31, 1968.

Our objective in South Vietnam has never been the annihilation of the enemy. It has been to bring about a recognition in Hanoi that its objective - taking over the South by force - could not be achieved.

Stephen Vizinczey, 1968

The war against Vietnam is only the ghastliest manifestation of what I'd call imperial provincialism, which afflicts America's whole culture - aware only of its own history, insensible to everything which isn't part of the local atmosphere.

Richard M. Nixon, 1969

Let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.

Richard Nixon, Oct. 1969

I'm not going to be the first American president to lose a war.

Sen. Frank Church, May 1970

This war has already stretched the generation gap so wide that it threatens to pull the country apart.

Dalton Trumbo, Introduction, Johnny Got His Gun, 1970.

Numbers have dehumanized us. Over breakfast coffee we read of 40,000 American dead in Vietnam. Instead of vomiting, we reach for the toast. Our morning rush through crowded streets is not to cry murder but to hit that trough before somebody else gobbles our share.

Henry Kissinger, Oct. 1972

We believe that peace is at hand.

Frances Fitzgerald, 1972

By intervening in the Vietnamese struggle the United States was attempting to fit its global strategies into a world of hillocks and hamlets, to reduce its majestic concerns for the containment of communism and the security of the Free World to a dimension where governments rose and fell as a result of arguments between two colonels' wives.

Richard Nixon in a letter to President Thieu, Jan. 1973

You have my assurance that we will respond with full force should the settlement be violated by North Vietnam.

Nguyen Van Thieu, April 1975

If the Americans do not want to support us anymore, let them go, get out! Let them forget their humanitarian promises!

Gerald Ford, April 1975

Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. These events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America's leadership in the world.

Marshall McLuhan, 1975

Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America - not on the battlefields of Vietnam.

Sign in room of U.S. airmen spraying defoliants, in William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports, 1976.

Only You Can Prevent Forests.

Michael Herr, Dispatches, 1977

Some people just wanted to blow it all to ****, animal, vegetable and mineral. They wanted a Vietnam they could fit into their car ashtrays.

Michael Herr, 1977

Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods.

Henry Kissinger, White House Years, 1979.

Psychologists or sociologists may explain some day what it is about that distant monochromatic land, of green mountains and fields merging with an azure sea, that for millennia has acted as a magnet for foreigners who sought glory there and found frustration, who believed that in its rice fields and jungles some principle was to be established and entered them only to recede in disillusion.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, 1979

Vietnam presumably taught us that the United States could not serve as the world's policeman; it should also have taught us the dangers of trying to be the world's midwife to democracy when the birth is scheduled to take place under conditions of guerrilla war.

Henry Kissinger, 1979

Some of the critics viewed Vietnam as a morality play in which the wicked must be punished before the final curtain and where any attempt to salvage self-respect from the outcome compounded the wrong. I viewed it as a genuine tragedy. No one had a monopoly on anguish.

Ronald Reagan, Oct. 1980

It's time that we recognized that ours was in truth a noble cause.

John Muir, in Al Santoli, Everything We Had: An Oral History of the Vietnam War, 1981.

We did a fine job there. If it happened in World War II, they still would be telling stories about it. But it happened in Vietnam, so nobody knows about it. They don't even tell recruits about it today. Marines don't talk about Vietnam. We lost. They never talk about losing. So it's just wiped out, all of that's off the slate, it doesn't count. It makes you a little bitter.

Philip Caputo, 1982

There is the guilt all soldiers feel for having broken the taboo against killing, a guilt as old as war itself. Add to this the soldier's sense of shame for having fought in actions that resulted, indirectly or directly, in the deaths of civilians. Then pile on top of that an attitude of social opprobrium, an attitude that made the fighting man feel personally morally responsible for the war, and you get your proverbial walking time bomb.

Myra MacPherson, 1984

Above all, Vietnam was a war that asked everything of a few and nothing of most in America.

Richard Van de Geer, letter to friend before he was killed, May 15, 1975, officially last American to die in Vietnam War, Time, April 15, 1985.

I can envision a small cottage somewhere, with a lot of writing paper, and a dog, and a fireplace and maybe enough money to give myself some Irish coffee now and then and entertain my two friends.

James Fenton, 1985

Saigon was an addicted city, and we were the drug: the corruption of children, the mutilation of young men, the prostitution of women, the humiliation of the old, the division of the family, the division of the country - it had all been done in our name... The French city ... had represented the opium stage of the addiction. With the Americans had begun the heroin phase.

Richard M. Nixon, 1985

No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.

Jean Baudrillard, 1986

The war was won on both sides: by the Vietnamese on the ground, by the Americans in the electronic mental space. And if the one side won an ideological and political victory, the other made Apocalypse Now and that has gone right around the world.

Martha Gellhorn, 1986

America has made no reparation to the Vietnamese, nothing. We are the richest people in the world and they are among the poorest. We savaged them, though they had never hurt us, and we cannot find it in our hearts, our honor, to give them help - because the government of Vietnam is Communist. And perhaps because they won.

Benjamin Spock, 1988

I was proud of the youths who opposed the war in Vietnam because they were my babies.

Michael Herr, 1989

All the wrong people remember Vietnam. I think all the people who remember it should forget it, and all the people who forgot it should remember it.

Robert S. McNamara, In Retrospect, 1995

One reason the Kennedy and Johnson administrations failed to take an orderly, rational approach to the basic questions underlying Vietnam was the staggering variety and complexity of other issues we faced. Simply put, we faced a blizzard of problems, there were only twenty-four hours in a day, and we often did not have time to think straight.

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j_i_f (1/24/2008)
Meh... I generally don't care about any politicians, but I do tend to prefer one with the capacity to change his mind, and/or admit his mistake over the one who will deny to his death having made a mistake at all...

How do we really know if someone actually changed their mind or if they are just going with what is popular at the present time

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Well, when the information available changes, it's appropriate to change one's mind.

For instance, when our executive branch says our foreign intelligence is aware of WMDs in Iraq, it's much more feasible to vote in support for the war than later, when it becomes apparent that our intelligence detected no such threat.

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