Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the 125th Anniversary Meeting of B'nai B'rith.

September 10, 1968

Dr. Wexler, my delightful friend Deputy Prime Minister Allon, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Members of the Cabinet, distinguished Members of the Congress, reverend clergy, and my fellow Americans.'

In a time of troubles, I am glad to be with those who have known trouble, and who still treasure the spirit of man.

The proverb says, "A friend loveth at all times and a brother is born for adversity."

You have been my friends, and some of you have been like brothers to me.

So in the words of the proverb, we were born for these times.

Adversity is in the air that we breathe. The tanks have rolled again in Europe. The virus of anti-Semitism threatens again to infect nations which should have learned its awful lessons a generation ago.

The road to peace in Southeast Asia is long and hard. The fires of unreasoning hostility tonight burn in the Middle East. Democracy in our own country, Mr. Prime Minister, and elsewhere, seems to be beset by the extremists of the right and the left.

Now, in such a time, it is quite fashionable to despair over our prospects. To some people the events of 1968 prove that there never can be a peaceful accommodation between nations, or between races, or, indeed, between generations.

To others, the solution lies in a radical change of 'policy. Exactly what is never quite said, except that it just must be radical.

I can assure you, my friends, that I am not in the least complacent about these events. There have been a great many charges, complaints---columnists and commentators have made observations and laid them at my door during these past 5 years, as some of you have observed. But I do not think that complacency has ever been among any of them.

But if I am not complacent, neither do I despair. For I believe that the great American people rice the adversities of 1968 far stronger, far wiser, than any people before them, including their fathers and their grandfathers.

Their strength comes from an economy that has provided more jobs, more employment, and more profit than any economy in human history. It comes also from a moral commitment to eliminate racism and injustice, and to eliminate it from the face of this earth that we live on.

Their wisdom comes from the experience of three decades which has taught them that appeasement--appeasement--does not yield peace; that they cannot be secure in this country if there is not security in other countries, if they, in their cowardice of the moment, turn their backs on free men; and they cannot protect themselves behind a wall of affluence from the tumult of a world that is raging with want and disease.

This knowledge, which all Americans have gained at a very heavy cost, is a priceless asset in meeting the adversities of today and, surely, those that lie ahead.

So tonight I want to speak to you as I spoke earlier this afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, about the quest for peace-specifically, about conditions in Eastern Europe and the Middle East that really quite threaten the peace, and also what I believe must be done to change those conditions.

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia just a few days ago has set back the course of peace. It rejects the very idea that better understanding and more human contacts-and a relaxation of tensions--can lead to more peaceful ways of coexistence on this small and yet this very dangerous planet.

We hope--and we shall strive--to make this setback a very temporary one. But I assure you that will not be easy. It will require calm determination on the part of us and on the part of all of our allies. It will also require the considered second thoughts of those who lead the Soviet Union.

These men, who bear with us the terrifying responsibility of an immense military power, must come to realize that the ideals of peaceful men and women just cannot be smashed by force. They must come to understand that peace--peace based on respect for human dignity--offers to all people, including their own people, the only real hope for security in the world.

Some leaders of Eastern Europe have sought to indict those of Jewish faith for spreading ideas of freedom among their people. Well, this is shocking, not only because it is a very thin disguise for anti-Semitism, but because it really suggests that freedom is the cause and the passion of just one people alone.

So tonight let there be no doubt in anyone's mind about who cares for freedom. Mankind itself cares.

We have worked now for more than 20 years not only to protect Western Europe, but to try to promote a peaceful understanding with the countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

It was nearly 2 years ago that I proposed a series of European initiatives. I hoped to achieve better understanding with our allies. I hoped to have more and freer exchanges with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, because only through such an improvement of the political atmosphere, as I stated then, could we ever truly hope for peace in Europe, a coming together of Germany, and a healing of the deep wounds across the entire face of Europe.

We have taken in this country a series of important steps in that direction. Last June I proposed to the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe a program of balanced and mutual force reductions. We had made somewhat similar proposals to the Soviet Union alone during the very first month that I occupied the Presidency.

Our offer threatens no legitimate interest of any state. It rests on the respect for the equal rights of all states to their territorial integrity and to their political independence.

In the discussions that we have proposed for the reduction of tension in Europe, no topic whatever would be barred from those discussions. These proposals represent the only sound approach to the problems of peace and security in Europe. All of these proposals have been rebuffed for the moment.

The leaders of the Soviet Union seem to have decided that a movement toward a humane version of communism in a small, friendly country is a threat to their security, despite the fact that the Czechs remain their ally in the Warsaw Pact.

So new military and political risks have now arisen from this aggressive act which demand ever closer cooperation among the Western allies. For our part, I made it unmistakably clear that the use of force, and the threat of force, will not be tolerated in areas of our common responsibility like Berlin, because the use of force generates fears and stimulates passions whose consequences no man can predict or control.

As I said the other day in San Antonio, let no one unleash the dogs of war. Europe has suffered enough---enough in this century.

The Soviet Union tonight can still return to the only road that really can lead to peace and security for us all. That is the road of reducing tension, of enlarging the area of understanding and agreement. It can still change--if not undo--what it has done in Czechoslovakia. It can still act there and can act elsewhere with the prudence and the confidence which characterize the conduct of any great nation--because it is never too late to choose the path of reason.

Every man of sanity will hope that the Soviets will act now before some new turn of events throws the world back to the grim confrontations of Mr. Stalin's time.

Now let me turn to the Middle East. That is an area of deep national interest to the American people, to all of our people, for the safety and the future of small nations are not the concern of one group of citizens alone.

To you tonight, I assure you they concern all Americans.

Our society is illuminated by the spiritual insights of the Hebrew prophets. America and Israel have a common love of human freedom, and they have a common faith in a democratic way of life.

It is quite natural that American Jews should feel particularly involved with Israel's destiny. That small land in the eastern Mediterranean saw the birth of your faith and your people thousands and thousands of years ago. Down through the centuries, through dispersion and through very grievous trials, your forefathers clung to their Jewish identity and clung to their ties with the land of Israel.

As the prophet Isaiah foretold--"And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and He shall assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from all the four corners of the earth." History knows no more moving example of persistence against the cruelest odds.

But conflict has surrounded the modern state of Israel since its very beginning. It is now more than a year that has passed since the 6-day war between Israel and its neighbors--a tragic and an unnecessary war which we tried in every way we could to prevent. That war was the third round of major hostilities in the Middle East since the United Nations established Israel just 21 years ago-the third round--and it just must be the last round.

From the day that war broke out, our policy, the policy of this Government, has been to work in every capital, to labor in the United Nations, to convert the armistice arrangements of 1949 into a stable and agreed regime of peace. The time has come for real peace in the area--a peace of justice and reconciliation, not a cease-fire, not a temporary truce, not a renewal of the fragile armistice. No day has passed since then without our taking active steps to try to achieve this end.

The atmosphere of fear and mutual suspicion has made communication between the two sides extremely difficult. In this setting, the plans of reasonable men, both Arabs and Israelis, have been frustrated. Despite the patient and perceptive efforts of Ambassador Jarring, little real progress toward peace has been made.

I am convinced that a just and a dignified peace, a peace fair to the rightful interests of both sides, is possible. Without it, the people of the Middle East cannot shape their own destinies, because outsiders are going to exploit their rivalries, and their energies and abilities will be diverted to warfare instead of welfare. That just should not happen.

No nation that has been part of the tragic drama of these past 20 years is totally without blame. Violence and counterviolence have absorbed the energy of all the 'parties. The process of peacemaking cannot be further delayed without danger and without peril. The United Nations Security Council resolution of last November laid down the principles of a just and a lasting peace.

But I would remind the world tonight that that resolution is not self-executing. It created a framework within which men of good will ought to be able to arrive at a reasonable settlement.

For its part, the United States of America has fully supported the efforts of the United Nations representative, Ambassador Jarring, and we shall continue to do so. But it is the parties themselves who must make the major effort to begin seriously this much needed peacemaking process.

One fact is sure: The process of peacemaking will not begin until the leaders of the Middle East begin exchanging views on the hard issues through some agreed procedure which could permit active discussions to be pursued. Otherwise, no progress toward peace will be made.

In recent weeks, some progress in this direction, I think, has been achieved. So tonight I appeal and I urge the leaders of the Middle East to try to maintain and to accelerate their dialogue. I urge them to put their views out on the table, to begin talking the substance of peace.

Many channels are open. How the talking is done at the outset is not very important tonight. But we just must not lose whatever momentum exists for peace. And, in the end, those who must live together must, in the words of Isaiah, learn to reason together.

The position of the United States rests on the principles of peace that I outlined on June 19, 1967. That statement remains the foundation of American policy.

First, it remains crucial that each nation's right to live be recognized. Arab governments must convince Israel and the world community that they have abandoned the idea of destroying Israel. But equally, Israel must persuade its Arab neighbors and the world community that Israel has no expansionist designs on their territory.

We are not here to judge whose fears are right or whose are wrong. Right or wrong, fear is the first obstacle to any peacemaking. Each side must do its share to overcome it. A major step in this direction would be for each party to issue promptly a clear, unqualified public assurance that it is now ready to commit itself to recognize the right of each of its neighbors to national life.

Second, the political independence and territorial integrity of all the states in the area must be assured.

We are not the ones to say where other nations should draw lines between them that will assure each the greatest security. It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of June 4, 1967, will not bring peace. There must be secure, and there must be recognized, borders.

Some such lines must be agreed to by the neighbors involved as part of the transition from armistice to peace.

At the same time, it should be equally clear that boundaries cannot and should not reflect the weight of conquest. Each change must have a reason which each side, in honest negotiation, can accept as a part of a just compromise.

Third, it is more certain than ever that Jerusalem is a critical issue of any peace settlement. No one wishes to see the Holy City again divided by barbed wire and by machine-guns. I therefore tonight urge and appeal to the parties to stretch their imaginations so that their interests and all the world's interest in Jerusalem, can be taken fully into account in any final settlement.

Fourth, the number of refugees is still increasing. The June war added some 200,000 refugees to those already displaced by the 1948 war. They face a bleak prospect as the winter approaches. We share a very deep concern for these refugees. Their plight is a symbol in the minds of the Arab peoples. In their eyes, it is a symbol of a wrong that must be made right before 20 years of war can end. And that fact must be dealt with in reaching a condition of peace.

All nations who are able, including Israel and her Arab neighbors, should participate directly and wholeheartedly in a massive program to assure these people a better and a more stable future.

Fifth, maritime rights must be respected. Their violation led to war in 1967. Respect for those rights is not only a legal consequence of peace, it is a symbolic recognition that all nations in the Middle East enjoy equal treatment before the law.

And no enduring peace settlement is possible until the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran are open to the ships of all nations and their right of passage is effectively guaranteed.

Sixth, the arms race continues. We have exercised restraint while recognizing the legitimate needs of friendly governments. But we have no intention of allowing the balance of forces in the area to ever become an incentive for war.

We continue to hope that our restraint will be matched by the restraint of others, though I must observe that has been lacking since the end of the June war.

We have proposed, and I reiterate again tonight, the urgent need now for an international understanding on arms limitation for this region of the world.

The American interest in the Middle East is definite, is clear. There just must be a just peace in that region, and soon. Time is not on the side of peace.

Now, my friends, I know that these two areas of the world are of very great concern to you as they are to me. Many of you have roots in Europe from which you or your forebears came in order to enrich the quality of life here in America. Most, if not all of you, have very deep ties with the land and with the people of Israel, as I do, for my Christian faith sprang from yours.

The Bible stories are woven into my childhood memories as the gallant struggle of modern Jews to be free of persecution is also woven into our souls.

I think it is tragic that in our time Eastern Europe and the Middle East have been subjected to military aggression--and I must speak frankly--military aggression. And that tragedy is just as real in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia is a part of the world with which few Americans have any family ties. Most of you have none there. But its freedom is as dear and as cherished and as vital, not only to America's security, but to the 200 million poor humans who live there and who do not believe in Communist conquest any more than you do.

American policy there, as in other parts of the world, has been to resist the dark tide of violence and totalitarian rule. We have tried to encourage in all three areas the rule of reason, of forbearance, because we believe that that alone can provide ultimately the conditions of lasting peace.

We have acted in the belief that there is no such thing as harmless aggression--no such thing as harmless aggression anywhere, anytime--that because a nation was small, and thousands of miles away, it did not make its plight any less urgent or any less demanding of American concern.

I want you to know that we seek a world where neighbors are at each other's side and not at each other's throat. We seek no dominion except that of the free, independent human spirit, and we want to help everybody in that quest.

In such a world, the people of Eastern Europe tonight, the people of little Israel, the people of her Arab neighbors, the people of South and North Vietnam, the people of India, Pakistan, Africa, and Latin America can live without fear, and so can we.

In a time of adversity, let us all work to secure such a world--secure it bravely and resolutely with compassion for those who are also our brothers on this earth. And, my dear friends, let us work with our heads instead of our passions and our emotions.

Let us work with our sense of justice, instead of our sense of bigotry.

And after 5,000 years or more, I believe most of you here know what I mean.

May it be said of each of us, in the ancient Hebrew words: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that proclaimeth peace, that publishes salvation."

God be with you. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:40 p.m. at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington. In his opening words he referred to Dr. William A. Wexler, president of B'nai B'rith, and Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister of Israel. During his remarks he referred to Gunnar Jarring, Swedish Ambassador to the Soviet Union and United Nations mediator in the Middle East dispute.

On June 19, 1967, the President addressed the Foreign Policy Conference for Educators at the Department of State. See 1967 volume, this series, Book I, Item 272.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the 125th Anniversary Meeting of B'nai B'rith. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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