Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in New York City Before the American Bar Association

August 12, 1964

Mr. President, Ambassador Stevenson, members of the American Bar Association:

Today I speak to you in the midst of a troubled week in a turbulent world.

Since the end of World War II, America has been found wherever freedom was under attack, or wherever world peace was threatened.

The stage has shifted many times.

The stakes have grown as man's capacity for destruction grew. But America's role has not changed. With constancy we have pursued the defense of freedom and we have prevented nuclear destruction. We have patiently labored to construct a world order in which both peace and freedom could flourish.

We have lived so long with crisis and danger that we accept, almost without division, the premise of American concern for threats to order.

Yet this is a unique responsibility--unique for America, and unique in history.

We accepted this responsibility, first, because at one time no other nation could do it. For the last 20 years, only under the shadow of our strength could friends keep their freedom and build their nation. Now that our allies have been restored to strength, they must share our responsibility in the pursuit of common purpose.

We have done this because we have, at painful cost, learned that we can no longer wait for the tides of conflict to touch our shores. Aggression and upheaval, in any part of the world, carry the seeds of destruction to our own freedom and perhaps to civilization itself.

We have done this, lastly, for a reason that is often difficult for others to understand. We have done it because it is right that we should.

Friendly cynics and fierce enemies alike often underestimate or ignore the strong thread of moral purpose which runs through the fabric of American history.

Of course, our security and welfare shape our policies. But much of the energy of our efforts has come from moral purpose.

It is right that the strong should help the weak defend their freedom.

It is right that the wealthy should help the poor emerge from their hunger.

It is right that help and understanding should flow from friendship and loyalty.

It is right that nations should be free from the coercion of others.

That these truths may coincide with interest does not make them less true.

There is another value which guides America's course. It is the deep American belief in the peaceful process of orderly settlement.

I would like this afternoon to briefly discuss two very different places where we are working at this hour for this principle--Cyprus and Viet-Nam.

The conflict in Cyprus comes from causes that are deeply rooted in the history and the circumstances of that troubled little island. We do not know the final result of that conflict. We do know the United States should not stand idly by while two of its best friends are at the edge of kicking off a big war.

Both Greece and Turkey are fellow members of the NATO Alliance. They are both courageous and dedicated members of the free world community. They have both been closely associated with us for the 17 years since the Truman Doctrine.

It is our duty to the Alliance to help prevent its disruption. It is our duty to help settle any conflict which might erupt into a wider arena. It is our duty to help avoid large-scale loss of life among the peoples of Cyprus, whose true interests really lie in peace. It is our duty to work toward the acceptance of the principle that disputes should be settled without force. For, if orderly process is not accepted among friends, it will not be possible between adversaries.

In the pursuit of these responsibilities, I have sent our Under Secretary of State to all the capitals concerned.

We invited the heads of government of Greece and Turkey to come to see me at the White House for long and serious talks.

I have sent a distinguished former Secretary of State, Mr. Acheson, to Geneva to work for peaceful agreement.

We have kept in close touch with Athens and Ankara and Nicosia by repeated personal messages from the President.

In this spirit, we have welcomed the efforts of the United Nations to arrange a cease fire.

In Viet-Nam, too, we work for world order.

For 10 years through the Eisenhower administration, the Kennedy administration, and this administration, we have had one consistent aim-observance of the 1954 agreements which guaranteed the independence of South Viet-Nam. That independence has been the consistent target of aggression and terror.

For 10 years our response to these attacks has followed a consistent pattern. First, that the South Vietnamese have the basic responsibility for the defense of their own freedom. Second, we would engage our strength and our resources to whatever extent needed to help others repel aggression.

Now, there are those who would have us depart from these tested principles. They have a variety of viewpoints. All of them, I am sure, you have heard in your local community.

Some say that we should withdraw from South Viet-Nam, that we have lost almost 200 lives there in the last 4 years, and we should come home. But the United States cannot and must not and will not turn aside and allow the freedom of a brave people to be handed over to Communist tyranny. This alternative is strategically unwise, we think, and it is morally unthinkable.

Some others are eager to enlarge the conflict. They call upon us to supply American boys to do the job that Asian boys should do. They ask us to take reckless action which might risk the lives of millions and engulf much of Asia and certainly threaten the peace of the entire world. Moreover, such action would offer no solution at all to the real problem of Viet-Nam. America can and America will meet any wider challenge from others, but our aim in Viet-Nam, as in the rest of the world, is to help restore the peace and to reestablish a decent order.

The course that we have chosen will require wisdom and endurance. But let no one doubt for a moment that we have the resources and we have the will to follow this course as long as it may take. No one should think for a moment that we will be worn down, nor will we be driven out, and we will not be provoked into rashness. But we will continue to meet aggression with firmness and unprovoked attack with measured reply.

That is the meaning of the prompt reaction of our destroyers to unprovoked attack. That is the meaning of the positive reply of our aircraft to a repetition of that attack. That is the meaning of the resolution passed by your Congress with 502 votes in favor and only 2 opposed. That is the meaning of the national unity that we have shown to all the world last week.

There is another consideration wherever the forces of freedom are engaged. No one who commands the power of nuclear weapons can escape his responsibility for the life of our people and the life of your children.

It has never been the policy of any American President to sympathetically or systematically place in hazard the life of this Nation by threatening nuclear war. No American President has ever pursued so irresponsible a course. Our firmness at moments of crisis has always been matched by restraint--our determination by care. It was so under President Truman at Berlin, under President Eisenhower in the Formosa Straits, under President Kennedy in the Cuba missile crisis. And I pledge you that it will be so as long as I am your President.

In Viet-Nam, in Cyprus, and in every continent, in a hundred different ways America's efforts are directed toward world order. Only when all nations are willing to accept peaceful procedures as an alternative to forceful settlement will the peace of our world be secure.

While we work for peaceful process among nations, we must also maintain law and order among our own citizens.

No person whatever his grievance can be allowed to attack the right of every American to be secure in his home, his shop, and in his streets. We will not permit any part of America to become a jungle, where the weak are the prey of the strong and the many.

Such acts must be stopped and punished, whether they occur in Mississippi or in the State of New York. Under our Constitution, the local authorities have the central responsibility for civil peace. There is no place in our Federal system for a national police force. But where help is needed, or Federal law is violated, we shall be there. We will work together to punish all such lawbreakers, wherever they may be, whether they are hooded night-riders on our highways, or whether they are hoodlums in the city streets or parks.

Fulfillment of rights and prevention of disorder goes hand in hand.

Resort to violence blocks the path toward racial justice.

The denial of rights invites increased disorder and violence.

Those who would hold back progress toward equality and, at the same time, promise racial peace are deluding themselves and deluding the people. Orderly progress, exact enforcement of law, are the only path to an end of racial strife.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed more than 100 years ago. But as we all know, emancipation was a proclamation and not a fact. After a century of wanting and waiting, a compassionate and comprehensive law came into being. It was passed by more than two-thirds of all the Members of both parties of the Congress under the leadership of both Republican and Democratic leader sponsorship. This is a Government of laws and not men. The Congress has passed the law, the President has signed the law, and the President will enforce the law.

I believe that our citizens will and must observe it. Neither demonstrations in the streets nor violence in the night can or will restrain us from seeing to it that laws rightly passed will be justly observed. That is the path along which I intend to lead this Nation.

And I am convinced that the same dedication to legal order, which will keep the peace in this land, will bring us nearer to peace among all lands.

I have hopes, despite crisis and conflict, that that day may be coming nearer.

It was 19 years ago--19 years ago this month--that President Truman announced: "The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed."

When he heard the news Albert Einstein exclaimed: "The world is not yet ready."

But unprepared or not, the reality was there and we have struggled together to master it.

Today, as we meet in freedom here, freedom is much stronger. For despite the difficulty and the danger, no nation--no single nation--has fallen to communism since Cuba in 1959. War has been prevented. Danger has been receding. If we can continue that course, the future will perhaps some day say of us: "They became the masters and not the victims of the age."

Note: The President spoke early in the afternoon at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. In his opening words he referred to Walter E. Craig, president of the American Bar Association, and Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, U.S. Representative to the United Nations. Later he referred to George W. Ball, Under Secretary of State, and Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in New York City Before the American Bar Association Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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