The following remarks were made at a dinner for Senator Eugene McCarthy, in Newark, New Jersey, February 29, 1968.
It is now several years that our country has been heavily involved in the war in Vietnam. During most of this time, it has been inescapably evident that the entire venture was in several ways grievously unsound. It was unsound in the first place because it was devoid of a plausible, coherent, and realistic object. The regime in South Vietnam has been throughout too weak, too timid, too selfish, too uninspiring, to form a suitable or promising object of our support. And even if this regime had been a most vigorous and effective one, we would still be faced with the fact that the methods to which we have found ourselves driven, in the effort to crush by purely military means an elusive and disguised adversary, have been so destructive of civilian life, even in South Vietnam itself, that no conceivable political outcome could justify the attendant suffering and destruction.
And that’s not the only way this effort has been unsound. It has also been unsound in its relation to our own world responsibilities and to our responsibilities here at home. It has represented a grievous disbalance of our world policy. It has riveted an undue amount of our attention and resources to a single secondary theater of world events. It has left us poorly prepared, if not helpless, to meet other crises that might occur simultaneously elsewhere in the world. And finally, it has proceeded at the cost of the successful development of our life here in this country. It has distracted us and hampered us in our effort to come to grips with domestic problems of such gravity as to cry out, as we all know, for the concentrated, first-priority attention of both our government and our public.
These are indeed grievous drawbacks to any sort of military effort. They were all clearly visible a long time ago. It did not take the agony and the grievous human losses of these past two to three years to make them evident to anyone who wanted to see.
Nevertheless, in the face of all these elements of unsoundness, the Administration, as we also know, has pushed stubbornly ahead with the prosecution of this military effort, steadily increasing the degree of our commitment, rendering any peaceful liquidation of the conflict steadily more difficult, burning one bridge after another behind itself and ourselves, cutting off one after the other of the possible paths of retreat. It has done this in the face of a long series of pleas and warnings from wise and experienced people in many walks of our own life. It has done it despite the clearly expressed misgivings of a great many of our friends and allies throughout the world. It has done it in disregard of the friendly suggestions and recommendations of the greatest political and spiritual leaders of the world community. It has acted as though it had…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.