Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Luncheon for General Westmoreland.

April 28, 1967

LAST MONTH--at the White House Conference of the Governors of our land--we discussed the central business of us all: the welfare of the American people. We met to plan joint action on a wide variety of problems-national in scope but local in impact.

This afternoon, we have come together to discuss another vital question. I have asked to come to the White House the members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss America's readiness and America's capacity to defend freedom in the world.

The war in Vietnam reaches deep into every State and into every community and into every home in our land.

And thus I think it concerns each of us very deeply as Americans and as executives of the States and the Nation.

I asked the Nation's Governors to come here today to meet General Westmoreland and to hear his report. He has just addressed our Congress--the elected representatives of our people.

But I have asked him to speak to you as well. For the Governors have a need to know--to know what is happening and to know the facts on which we base our national decisions.

I asked you to come here for two specific reasons:

First, I need and I always welcome your opinions and your advice. We never think that Washington has a monopoly on wisdom. As long as the fighting continues in Vietnam, we have not achieved our goal--the goal of a just and honorable and workable peace. And I hope that your counsel will help us to find the way to peace.

Second, the people of our land in this hour of emergency need to understand as thoroughly as possible our national policy and our country's position in the world and in Vietnam. Through your understanding of the situation, I would say to my friends the Governors, the knowledge of our people in your States and communities, I think, can be broadened.

! do not expect every American to agree with each and every action that we who have responsibility sometimes feel that we must take. But I do deeply believe that there will be less misunderstanding if the facts are better understood.

So by giving you the fullest possible access to the facts, I hope I will serve to strengthen the confidence of our people in the course that we feel our Nation must take.

I want you, this afternoon, first, to hear from General Westmoreland. He cannot appear before each individual or each group, although all of us would like to talk with him at length. I can't get enough of his time to hear everything that I want and need to hear. But he has been closer to this war in the field--day in and day out--than any other man. And the Governors and the Senators and the Congressmen are closer to this war and to our people than any other people in this country.

When General Westmoreland has concluded, I am going to ask Secretary Rusk to discuss very briefly some of the nonmilitary elements that are so important. They are a part of our daily efforts on the ground in Vietnam and in dealing with other nations, and in our constant, vigilant search for an honorable, peaceful solution.

In introducing General Westmoreland, I want to repeat what he told me last fall when I visited him and his men in Vietnam. I wish it were possible for every Governor and every Senator and every Congressman, who have responsibilities in connection with Vietnam, to go there and see what I saw and visit our men who are there on the front.

General Westmoreland told me at Cam Ranh Bay, "Mr. President, no armed forces anywhere, at any time, commanded by any commander in chief, were up to the group that we have in Vietnam today."

One reason that these brave young men are as good as they are is because they are led in the field by an exceptional and most remarkable American.

He--as much as any man--has shaped them into a superb fighting force that does lasting credit to our people and to our flag and to our country.

And to the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the Secretaries of the Services, and to the Secretary and Under Secretary of Defense, I want to say to you that you have put gallant, superbly equipped men out there to represent us and I believe that they are performing as you would have them perform.

I now take great pleasure in presenting to you General Westmoreland.

GENERAL WESTMORELAND. Mr. President, distinguished ladies and gentlemen:

The old Chinese sage Sun Soo, who wrote about 500 years before Christ, stated that to conquer a country one must control the terrain, the economy, and the people. But if you control the people, you don't have to worry about the other two.

Now, this is what the war in Vietnam is all about--control of the people.

The Communist grand design as part of their strategy to take over emerging nations through wars of national liberation started many years ago.

Very carefully, political cells, the so-called Communist infrastructure, were installed in the populated areas.

I have here today two maps. The one on the left is a population map. You will note that the population is centered in and around Saigon to the Delta south of Saigon along the Mekong-Bassac and south along the coastal area of Central Vietnam and the northern part of the country.

These, therefore, are the productive areas, because they are the populous areas. This is where the rice is grown, the copra is harvested, the fish are caught.

This is where the enemy has recruited his guerrillas. This is where he has installed, as a matter of priority, the Communist government that blankets the country.

Now, the guerrilla is not enough to fully accomplish the objective of the war of national liberation. In accordance with Mao Tse-tung's theory it is necessary to organize conventional type forces. This has taken place during the last several years. Guerrillas were inducted or recruited in the populous areas. They were moved into the jungles and the mountains where training camps were clandestinely established; they were organized into companies, later battalions, later regiments, and now divisions.

I liken the guerrilla to the termites that can undermine the main beams of a wooden structure without one ever knowing about it. Once these beams have been undermined by the boring of the termites from within, the main forces, which I liken to house wreckers with crowbars, can come down and hit the fragile beams that have been weakened from the termite boring within, and the structure can be shattered.

This overpolarizes the situation, but I think it does serve to describe what has happened in South Vietnam. Now to the left there is a topographic map. I have this displayed to give you a better feel of the geography of the country.

From north to south it is the size of the State of California, but only half as wide. You will note in the lower extremities it is very flat. This is the most productive rice area in the world. It used to produce sufficient rice so it could be exported and foreign exchange could be accumulated. But the Vietcong, the enemies, economic warfare, stopped this several years ago--2 years ago. And for the last 2 years there has been no exportation of rice.

As a matter of fact, we have had to import rice in order to stabilize the economy. This was done by the Vietcong sabotage, by creating rumors of price increases, by urging the farmers to hoard, by intimidating the farmers so that they would not fully cultivate the land, by blocking the canals, by sinking barges loaded with rice as they were attempting to make their way to market.

Seventy percent of the terrain of South Vietnam is covered by jungle, brush, or savanna grass. The climate is mild. The land is productive. It is an ideal environment for the guerrilla. The jungle is not inhospitable. One can live comfortably in the jungle by clearing out the underbrush, building crude structures. And as long as one has a mosquito net, one can live healthfully.

Now, with 70 percent of the area covered by natural cover, it is very easy for the Vietcong, the enemy, to develop training camps that cannot be detected from the air. Major formations can move from one area to the other without detection.

Therefore, we not only have an elusive guerrilla working with the people, like fish swimming among the water--the people being the water but we have conventional forces, large bands of troops, that can roam in the jungle and in the mountainous areas.

The enemy is always a great digger. He bores into the ground like moles. He establishes very carefully--using women primarily for labor--underground shelters, tunnels, so as to provide protection against our bombing raids for his ammunition and his supplies. The enemy, at the present time, has approximately eight divisions in the country. Six of these are from North Vietnam.

North Vietnam has taken over, during the last year, more and more of the war burden. They have sent down North Vietnamese leadership because they do not trust the South Vietnamese who followed the ways of the Vietcong.

There is friction between the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese. When we apply military pressure and couple that with an imaginative psy-war program, we find defections in abundance.

As I pointed out in my prepared remarks before the Congress, the number of ralliers to the government's amnesty program are increasing in a very encouraging way.

Now the enemy considers Saigon as his ultimate objective. After all, this is the political and economic capital of the country. However, to get to Saigon he has established a number of intermediate objectives, the primary one of which is in the highlands. This is known as the "High Plateau." This is strategic, because it provides a stepping stone to the productive areas along the coastline. Its seizure would permit cutting the country in two. This has been the enemy's classic strategy, a strategy that has been studied by the Commanding General Staff College in Hanoi over a period of years.

Next, the enemy would like to control the productive areas along the coast where the people live and where there is plenty to eat. He wants to control these for many reasons, but one is to provide food for his main force units that are in the jungles and in the mountains.

Now, finally, the enemy, particularly in recent months, has concentrated considerable force that has moved from North Vietnam in and around the demilitarized zone and into that portion of Laos just west of the northern part of the country. We have countered this action by assuming the following strategic posture:

First, in and around Saigon is where we have our major concentration of troops, U.S. and Vietnamese. Let me say parenthetically that our U.S. troops, free world military assistance troops, and Vietnamese troops work hand in glove. This is all coordinated at the fighting level through procedures that we have worked out over a period of the last 2 years.

Next, I have concentrated a division minus a brigade, two-thirds of a division, in the highlands area in order to block any invasion of the highlands, because of the presence of approximately seven regiments along the Cambodian border, all North Vietnamese.

The Koreans that have two divisions are concentrated along the coastline from Binh Thuan Province all the way to the center of Binh Dinh Province.

As you well know, the Third Marine Amphibious Force is concentrated in the five northern provinces. Recently I have constituted out of bits and pieces, a professional division which is now known as Task Force Oregon that has moved to Quang Ngai Province in order to relieve Marines so they could move farther north to confront this buildup of North Vietnamese troops.

Now, the guerrillas and the main force units work hand in glove. They are a team. The guerrilla can accomplish very little without the main force, if victory is the objective.

On the other hand, the main forces need the guerrillas as eyes and ears, as guides, as scouts, as intelligence agents, as procurers of food. And this speculation that you frequently see in the press--that the enemy is going to abandon his main forces--is contrary to the Communist doctrine and I don't believe will ever take place. He may withdraw temporarily, but only in order to reequip himself and to retrain because the main forces, the conventional forces, using the guerrillas as guides and intelligence agents, are the force of decision.

How does the enemy supply himself? Some by sea, but became of the excellent job done by our U.S. Navy coastal surveillance force we believe he is getting very little in by sea, although he is getting some. We have sunk a number of steel-hulled trawlers loaded with arms and ammunition. His main supply route is down through the so-called Laos Panhandle, southern Laos, and this is demonstrated gravely by the red arrows. This is a well-developed Communist team.

Although his means are somewhat primitive his organization is sophisticated. During the dry weather period he can move trucks down through the area and he sends his engineers in advance in order to prepare these routes. This is now going on, because the weather is currently good in the panhandle area.

A year ago, the mastermind of the Hanoi directed war put forth seven 'points which I consider a very intelligent assessment of our problems. I refer to General Giap, the hero of Dien Bien Phu and the number one military man in the Communist hierarchy in Hanoi. Giap made the forecast that the U.S. would not be able to put sufficient troops into South Vietnam to achieve our objectives.

Of course, he has been proven wrong in this regard and this also implies a skepticism that we could provide the logistic apparatus and the logistic bases to support our troops and definitely he has been proven wrong in that regard.

Second, U.S. forces will antagonize Vietnamese 'people as time goes on. Now this was definitely a hazard.

General Taylor, who was Ambassador to Saigon, as you well know, and myself talked for hours and hours about the risks involved in this connection. If our American forces had indeed antagonized the people and the people had turned against them we would have been lost from the very beginning. This has not happened, because of a very carefully worked out indoctrination program.

We find that our troops get along very well with the Vietnamese. The troops understand the importance of their relationship with the peasants and all Vietnamese. They understand the importance of discipline. And we have professional commanders who enforce discipline. Each individual that comes into the Command receives a little card that sets forth nine 'points of conduct and the relationship of the American serviceman to the Vietnamese.

So Giap, as of now, has been proven wrong in this regard.

Number four, increased pressure on the United States by nations of the world to find a solution.

Now, being a military man and not a political man, I will let you pass judgment on this particular forecast by Giap and how effective it has been.

Number five, pressure against the war is growing in the United States. Again, I defer to your judgment in this regard. It is the central consideration.

Morale of South Vietnamese forces will decline as U.S. forces take over more of the fighting. Again, this was a legitimate concern 2 years ago and discussed at great length between Ambassador Taylor and myself and frequently with Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara. The morale of the South Vietnamese forces is better than ever. They are improving the quality of their force and they are fighting better than they did 2 years ago. Because they now see some hope. And we are in a position to give them much better support than ever before.

Neither U.S. nor South Vietnamese troops will be sufficiently indoctrinated on what they are fighting for. We have given this a matter of primary emphasis. And this is no longer a matter of concern to me.

Finally, Giap made the forecast that U.S. weapons and equipment will not be suited for this kind of war, nor for the geography and climate of South Vietnam. Our military organizations, our weapons have been fully adaptable to this climate and terrain. And backed by a very, very strong logistic system we can fight anywhere in the country that we choose. Although, in some of the remote areas, in the mountains, and along the borders, it poses a considerable problem.

So General Giap is obviously a very discerning individual and I thought you would be interested in seeing our problems through his eyes and what was actually involved during the past 2 years.

Now, I don't wish to add any levity to this occasion which is a serious one, but I do have three very brief, amusing stories which I tell because I think they subtly put over some of the problems and dramatize these problems.

Some months ago I was out visiting a small district town isolated in the Delta. There was a young Army captain there who was the adviser to the Vietnamese district chief. We were about to walk down this road and somebody looked over to the right and there were 200 Vietnamese males in black pajamas.

An individual with me asked this young captain, "Are those Vietcong?" He said, "I don't know, but as we walk by, if they shoot they are Vietcong, if they salute they are friendly."

The next story concerns a young man, 35 years old, in Hanoi. He was inducted into the service. He was too old to fight because a man 35 in Vietnam is an elderly man. He is beyond middle age. So he was made into a porter. He had a weak mind and a strong back.

He marched for 2 days south of Hanoi. He moved into an ammunition depot in the jungle, one we had not picked up and therefore had not bombed. They strapped two 82 millimeter mortar rounds to his back.

For the next 6 weeks he walked to the southern part of Vietnam through Laos and finally down to Zone C which is just north of Saigon, a very thick jungle area. There hidden in the jungle was a large ammunition depot.

So after walking for many, many weeks he told the checker who was cataloging the ammunition, "I have just arrived from North Vietnam with two rounds of 82 millimeter mortar." The checker didn't even look up. He said, "Lay them over there and go back and pick up two more."

This demonstrates the extremes that these people will go to using primitive transportation methods, porters, bicycles, and trucks when they can. When trucks cannot be used they will use other means.

On Operation Cedar Falls that we ran several months ago we moved into a well established Vietcong base area that the enemy had been constructing over a period of 20 years.

You read in the paper about the number of ammunition dumps and rice caches, hospitals, and headquarters installations that we uncovered. We had to displace a number of refugees from the area, which was done with great care. They were well provided


Last week, I heard that two of the families had decided to leave the refugee camp. It is not a concentration camp, so they could leave at their choosing and these two families did. ' They went back to their former area.

They were only gone 2 days. They returned to the refugee camp. When asked why, they stated that they missed seeing "Gunsmoke" on TV. We have an Armed Forces Radio and TV set set up--although embryonic--in Vietnam.

This is a dramatic means of communication and I think will have a dramatic impact on the people of the country in due time. Because one of their problems is that of communications.

Mr. President, this has been a very brief report. I have tried to give to your guests a flavor of the war which hopefully will complement my more formal remarks earlier today.

THE PRESIDENT. Few men have served this Nation longer as Secretary of State and none have ever served it better, Dean Rusk.

SECRETARY RUSK. Mr. President, distinguished Governors, and Members of the Congress:

My remarks will be very brief, indeed. Shortly after he became President, President Johnson called in Secretary McNamara and me. He said to Secretary McNamara, "Your mission is to ensure that North Vietnam does not seize South Vietnam by force." And he said to me, "Your mission is to bring about a peaceful settlement of this situation at the earliest possible moment."

I want to report to you on that part of the mission. It will be a modest report, because it is painfully obvious that I have not been able to achieve my objective as well as Secretary McNamara, General Westmoreland, and our gallant men in Vietnam have been achieving theirs.

But you should know that your President has spent at least as much time on the search for peace as he has on the problems of waging the war.

You should know that at least half of the governments of the world have themselves, of those capitals with whom we do not have relations, such as Hanoi and Peking, and most of them over and over again.

You should know that at least half of the governments of the world have themselves, either singly or in groups, taken initiatives to try to bring about a peace in Southeast Asia.

If I could have your concentrated attention for just 2 minutes, I should like to remind you of the proposals which we and other governments have made pointing toward peace in Southeast Asia during the past 2 to 3 years.

I will only refer to them by name, because each one of them covers a chapter of history. But you should know about these 28 suggestions and proposals which have been made.

As I read them over very briefly, bear in mind that on each one of these we have said yes, and on each one of these Hanoi has said no:

--A reconvening of the Geneva conference of 1954 and a return to the agreements of 1954.

--A reconvening of the Geneva conference of 1962 on Laos and a return to the agreements of 1962.

--A conference on Cambodia.

--An all-Asian peace conference.

--A special effort by the two cochairmen, Britain and the Soviet Union, to approach the two sides for a peaceful settlement.

--A special effort by the ICC--India, Canada, Poland--to probe the two sides for a peaceful settlement.

--A role for the U.N., the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Secretary-General. The answer, "It is not the business of the United Nations."

--Talks through intermediaries, either single or as a group.

--Direct talks either with the Government of South Vietnam or with the United States.

--An exchange of prisoners of war.

--The supervision of the treatment of prisoners by the International Red Cross.

--Demilitarize the DMZ.

--Or widen and demilitarize the DMZ as we have just recently proposed.

--The interposition of international forces between the combatants.

--The mutual withdrawal of foreign forces including the forces of North Vietnam from South Vietnam.

--Assistance to Cambodia to assure its neutrality and territory.

--The cessation of bombing linked with the stop of infiltration.

--A cessation of the augmentation of U.S. forces.

--Three suspensions of bombings in order to permit serious talks brushed aside as an ultimatum by the other side.

--The discussion of Hanoi's four points along with whatever points others might raise, such as Saigon's four points and our own 14 points.

--Or discussion of an agreed four points as a basis for negotiation.

--A willingness to find the means to have the views of the Liberation Front heard in peace discussions.

--Negotiations without conditions, negotiations about conditions, or private discussions about a final settlement.

--If peace, then the inclusion of North Vietnam in a large development program for all of Southeast Asia, including North Vietnam.

--The Government of South Vietnam to be determined by free elections among the people of South Vietnam.

--The question of reunification to be determined by free elections among the peoples of both South Vietnam and North Vietnam.

--Reconciliation with the Vietcong and readmission of its members to the body politic of South Vietnam.

--And South Vietnam's ability to be neutral in the future, if it so chooses.

Twenty-eight proposals. Twenty-eight yes. Twenty-eight no.

Now, my reaction to this effort is personal and private. It is that surely among these 28 bottles we ought to be able to find a prescription which would move us at least a small step toward peace.

But the 28 yes and the 28 no have something to do with moral judgments about the issues involved in this situation, that the yeses and the noes disclose something about the motivations of the two sides, and who is interested in peace and who is determined to seize a neighbor by force.

There may be those who will say, "Well, obviously you have not succeeded because you have not offered them enough." It is quite clear we have not offered them South Vietnam. And we could have peace tomorrow on that basis.

It is also clear that we have not been able to accept the central proposal of North Vietnam during the past several months and that is: That we guarantee that we will undertake a permanent and unconditional cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam without any indication on their side that there will be any change in the level of violence in South Vietnam. And that under those conditions there may be some talks.

Incidentally, I think many of you don't know this, we understood from third parties under those conditions there might be some talks in 3 to 4 weeks after we pledge ourselves to a permanent and unconditional cessation of the bombing.

But when we ask, "Are those three or four divisions in the DMZ going to attack our Marines just 2 miles away?" we can't get anyone to whisper to us that that won't happen. We can't get anyone to tell us that there won't be tens of thousands of tons and thousands of men moved south immediately upon the cessation of our bombing, and while the talks are going on.

And you will recall that we took more casualties in Korea after the talks started than we did before the talks started. Surely we can test that proposition that they have made by turning it around. If we were to say that we would negotiate only if all of the violence in South Vietnam is stopped while we continue our bombing of North Vietnam, the whole world would say that we are immoral and insane.

Now, why is it that what is immoral and insane for us is reasonable when put forward by the other side? Because that is exactly the proposition they are making to us.

I want you to know that the publication of the letters between President Johnson and Ho Chi Minh, by Ho Chi Minh, by no means ended our search for peace.

Almost never a day goes by without a probe somewhere through some means to find out whether there might not be some change of view on any one of these 28 points that I mentioned--any one of them. And that effort will continue.

But it takes two to make a peace--unless we are prepared to surrender.

I am very regretful, ladies and gentlemen, to give you my concluding remark, because the President has told me to do my level best to bring this to a peaceful conclusion as soon as possible. But looking at this, this Friday afternoon, I would have to say to you that the best persuaders that we have at the moment are the gallant men under General Westmoreland in Vietnam.

But we shall be alert to see whether that persuasion causes them at any moment to change their views on any of these points which might lead us toward a peaceful conclusion, and our efforts will not be stopped at all in that process.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:55 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. See also Item 196.

As printed above, this item follows the text released by the White House Press Office.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Luncheon for General Westmoreland. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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