Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation's Christmas Tree

December 17, 1965

Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Vice President, my fellow countrymen:

Once again it is Christmas.

Once again that time has come when the heart of man opens to the holiness of life.

Once again we tell the ancient story of a baby, born into poverty and persecution, whose destiny it was to lift the iron burden of despair from his fellow men.

In the 20 centuries that have transpired since the sacred moment of His birth, mankind has never been wholly free of the scourge of war and the ravages of disease, illiteracy, and hunger. Yet the star of Bethlehem burns in our hearts on this December evening with a warmth that is not diminished by the years or discouraged by our failures.

It reminds us that our first and most compelling task is peace.

As in other Christmas seasons in the past, our celebration this year is tempered by the absence of brave men from their homes and from their loved ones.

We would not have it so. We have not sought the combat in which they are engaged. We have hungered for not one foot of another's territory, nor for the life of a single adversary. Our sons patrol the hills of Viet-Nam at this hour because we have learned that though men cry "Peace, peace," there is no peace to be gained ever by yielding to aggression.

That lesson has been learned by a hundred generations. The guarantors of peace on earth have been those prepared to make sacrifices in its behalf.

On this platform with me this evening is the very distinguished and very great Prime Minister of Great Britain. He speaks for a people who have made such sacrifices in behalf of peace. On the battlefield and at the conference table, his countrymen have fought and have labored to create a just peace among the nations.

The distinguished Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and I have spoken of this task this afternoon. We have spoken not only of the security of mankind, but of the countless opportunities for cooperation that are the true works of peace.

He has told me that his Government will renew the quest for peace as cochairman of the Geneva Conference. I have told him that any new way he can find to peace will have a ready response from the United States.

We know too that peace is not merely the absence of war. It is that climate in which man may be liberated from the hopelessness that imprisons his spirit.

In this strong and prosperous land, there are many that are still trapped in that prison where hope seems but a dream. We shall never rest until that dream becomes a reality.

But hope cannot be our province alone. For we shall never know peace in a world where a minority prospers and the vast majority is condemned to starvation and ignorance. This evening, inspired once more by Him who brought comfort and courage to the oppressed, we offer our hand to those who seek a new life for their people.

Above all things, we dedicate ourselves to the search for a just settlement of disputes between nations. We declare once more our desire to discuss an honorable peace in Viet-Nam. We know that nothing is to be gained by a further delay in talking. Our poet Emerson once said that "the god of victory is one-handed--but peace gives victory to both sides."

So in the name of a people who seek peace for their brothers on this earth--"that we may be the children of our Father which is in heaven; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust"--I turn on the lights of this tree, and pray that the Spirit that we revere this evening may illuminate the heart of every man on earth.

Note: The President spoke at 5:19 p.m. just before lighting the National Community Christmas Tree at the 12th annual Pageant of Peace ceremonies on the Ellipse near the White House. In his opening words he referred to Prime Minister Harold Wilson of the United Kingdom and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Lighting of the Nation's Christmas Tree Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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