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Remarks at Townsville Upon Departing From Australia

October 23, 1966

Prime Minister and Mrs. Holt, Deputy Premier Chalk, Your Excellencies, Mr. Mayor, ladies and gentlemen:

It is right that my second visit to Australia should conclude in a place that holds such vivid memories for me--from my first visit here, in Townsville, in 1942.

Things are much calmer and much more peaceful here in Townsville today at the Buchanan Hotel than they were when I was here 24 years ago.

A few weeks ago your distinguished Prime Minister visited me in Washington. I had, at that luncheon in his honor, a young man who had not seen his father. He is now a teacher at West Point. The night that I spent in Australia on June 8, 1942, I slept in a double bed with a Colonel Francis Stevens.

We left here about midnight for the Three-Mile Field in Port Moresby, New Guinea. Colonel Stevens never came back and never saw his boy--but the Prime Minister came to America and did greet him.

And if Colonel Stevens could have followed us through Australia the last 3 days, could have seen the happiness on the faces of the people, could have seen them enjoying their freedom and preserving and protecting it, Colonel Stevens would have felt that he did not die in vain.

I do not know how many Australian faces I have looked into or how many Australian hands I have shaken during the last 3 1/2 days. The number does not really matter. What matters is what your faces and your hands have said to me--and what I hope that mine have said to Australia. The message is that the vast majority of the American and Australian people are together--all the way--on the battlefield and in the search for peace.

Obviously, that view is not held by everyone. There are those who feel very deeply, and certainly those who feel very vocally, that our common engagement in Vietnam is morally wrong. They have made their feelings known with equal vigor in my country, and certainly in yours.

Theirs is, I believe, the view of a minority. That does not make it mistaken; but it does require us to see it in a larger context.

Because we have put our trust in democracy, we are bound to preserve and to protect the minority's right to express its opinion, and we cannot and we must never insist that it speak its opinion in a whisper that is pleasing to us. We are bound, too, to behave towards the minority with a tolerance, courtesy, a gentleness, with ordinary respect--an obligation that falls, I think, with equal weight on the minority, too.

But it is exactly because we are democracies and because our governments are responsible to the whole people that we cannot be turned aside from policies and commitments that the great majority of our public support and for which they have made profound sacrifices--as Colonel Stevens did in this town, 24 years ago.

This is especially so where what is at stake is liberty and is freedom itself. We are in Vietnam now precisely because the great majority of our people believe in free choice for the people of the little country of Vietnam. We believe in that right of free choice; in self-determination. We believe in it so strongly that we are willing to go there and fight for it and die for it until that right is achieved and until that right is preserved and protected.

Most of our people have learned the lesson of this century that nations must not turn their backs on those whose freedom is imperiled by aggression. When they have done so--and the melancholy history of our times tells us that they have--it was not long before their own freedom faced the same mortal danger.

Thus, at home, we defend the right of the minority to dissent--and the right of the majority to insist that it be heard as well. In Vietnam, we defend the right of the minority to be heard--peacefully, at the ballot box. We defend the right of the majority to be free of persuasion by terror.

Now I leave this great people, this wonderful land, to go to Manila with your Prime Minister and other heads of state. We will meet with others who have committed their sons to the struggle to the end in Vietnam. We will, of course, review that progress. We will, of course, review the prospects for bringing it to an end. We will, of course, consider what may be done to heal the wounds of a long and a tragic war.

We know, of course, that there is so much good to be done with the resources that are now being wasted that we want very much to get ahead and transfer this conflict from the battlefield to the conference room.

I am conscious of the human tragedy and the lost opportunities every day--as the battle reports come to me every morning before I get out of bed.

Again and again and again I have said: we are ready to stop the bombing of North Vietnam; we are ready to produce a schedule for the withdrawal of our troops-whenever the other side tells us what it is prepared to do to move toward peace in Vietnam and to reciprocate the actions and the decisions that we take.

We must remember this: It takes only one side to make a war and to begin a war. It takes two sides to end a war--short of unconditional surrender. And we do not seek the unconditional surrender of those who oppose us in Vietnam, nor to destroy or change any system of government, nor to deprive any people of what is rightfully theirs. When a decision is made by the other side to seek its goals through peaceful means--not through terror, not through violence-we shall be the first to meet at the conference table.

We prefer reason to force. But until that time comes, we shall not let our men go unprotected and undefended. We shall fight for freedom in Vietnam--knowing that as we do, we fight not just for freedom and liberty in Vietnam, but we fight for freedom and liberty in Australia, in New Zealand, in Hawaii, in the United States of America, and freedom and liberty wherever men cherish it.

We believe the day will come when our neighbors in Asia and the Pacific will enjoy the liberty and the freedom that is now a part of the heritage of the people of America and the people of Australia. And behind the shield of our determination, the free expressions of mankind may continue to be heard. That is reward enough for the effort we are making.

I have come here to retrace some of the tracks that I made a quarter of a century ago. This has been a sentimental journey. The last few hours I have had many sad memories. But never in my life have I gone among a people in any land where I have been received with such open arms and with such unfailing courtesy. Never have I seen a nation where its military leaders, where its diplomatic leaders, where its industrial leaders, where its political leaders are more in line with what I think is good for the whole world as I see here in this great land of Australia.

So to Your Right Honorable Prime Minister and his gracious First Lady, Mrs. Holt, to the members of his Ministry and the Governors, the Premiers, the distinguished hosts that we have had as we have traveled across this land, to the leaders of the Opposition Party, to the boys and the girls, to one and all, Mrs. Johnson and I not only salute what we consider to be one of the great people in this universe, but we leave this land with great regret. Yet we also leave it with the hope that we may come again.

Thank you and goodby.

Note: The President spoke at 11:03 a.m. at Garbutt Royal Air Force Base, Townsville, Australia. In his opening words he referred to Harold E. Holt, Prime Minister of Australia, and his wife, Gordon W. W. Chalk, Treasurer of Queensland, and A. J. Smith, Mayor of Townsville.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at Townsville Upon Departing From Australia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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