Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's Prologue and Epilogue to "This America."

October 03, 1966



Neither words nor pictures can freeze America on a printed page. It was a different country only a moment before these pictures were taken; and a moment later it had changed again. We have only an instant's sight, a brief illumination, of a country which is not so much a place as a process. It is this fact of swift and transforming change which is the experience of modern life--and the source of the American dilemma.

All ages and places have known change. Yet even during those historic times when profound movements were in progress--the end of feudalism, the beginning of nationhood--the average man lived with the expectation that the basic condition of life and the world would be much the same for him from birth until death, and also for his children. Today that comforting security is gone. We are the first generation to know with certainty that life will be different for our children, and even for ourselves, in a few years' time.

Can we accept and welcome the fruits of change while mastering its darker consequences? We become an increasingly urban nation, yet our cities swell to bursting under the pressures of this growth. We want industry and automobiles, yet their products are poisoning the waters of the land and the air we breathe. We demand new machinery to lessen the burdens of labor, yet we must find useful work for increasing numbers.

We welcome the knowledge which takes us on ever farther journeys into space, on ever deeper probes into the process of life itself; yet our educational system creaks under the strain of equipping our young for such a world. On almost every front of human activity the change which enlarges our horizon also menaces our well-being.

There is a second face to our dilemma at once more subtle and more dangerous. Change not only puts up buildings, builds computers, and sends men into space; it also tears down institutions and values and beliefs.

The community--the place where each individual knows his neighbors and has a sense of his own belonging--is being eroded as our cities grow larger and more impersonal. The growing gap between the common experience of the generations threatens the family. The complexity of machines and the enormity of our society leave the individual frustrated in the presence of forces he feels far too weak to master or even influence. Can we preserve old values amid the constant search for the new?

I believe that a great society can master its dilemmas. It begins with the ancient ideal that each citizen must have an equal chance to share the abundance man has created. It is committed to striking racial injustice from the pages of American life and remedying the results of this enormous wrong. It seeks to lift those who have been buried in poverty because of lack of education, or bad health, or blighted environment. It offers the chance to work and live the decent life which a rich and just country owes to all its people.

But the quest for equality does not set the bounds of our task. We will not succeed if every American has his fair share of polluted air or crowded cities or congested schools. It will not be enough to allow everyone an equal chance to be afraid in his streets, or feel frustration at his own insignificance, or be a stranger to other men.

I know that government cannot resolve all these problems. It cannot make men happy or bring them spiritual fulfillment. But it can attempt to remedy the public failures which are at the root of so many of these human ills.

All our domestic programs and policies converge on a common set of aims: to enrich the quality of American life; to provide a living place which liberates rather than constricts the human spirit; to give each of us the opportunity to stretch his talents; and to permit all to share in the enterprise of our society.

A nation is not great simply because it is large or wealthy or powerful. The entire population of ancient Athens could be tucked away in a corner of a large American city, yet its achievements have illumined the life of man for thousands of years. The measure of our own success will be the extent to which we free our people to realize what their imagination and energy can achieve.

The rest is up to them. And if they are a great people, as I believe they are, we will have a great society.



I have spoken and written of her problems and her promise. I believe that our destiny as a nation depends upon how well we fulfill the pledges to ourselves: the pledge of freedom, of equality, of a more decent life for all.

What we accomplish around the world will be shaped in large part by what we are and what we become at home. Neither high ideals nor great wealth nor military might will profit us much if we are powerless to solve the problems of our own land.

But we would be shortsighted to confine our vision to this nation's shorelines. The blessings we count at home cannot be cultivated in isolation from the worldwide yearnings of men. An America rich and strong beyond description, yet living in a hostile and despairing world, would be neither safe nor free.

Today the citizens of many nations walk in the shadow of misery. Half the world's adults have never been to school. More than half the world's people are hungry or malnourished. In the developing nations, thousands die daily of cholera, smallpox, malaria and yellow fever--diseases that can be controlled or prevented. Across the world, millions of questioning eyes are turned upon us. What answers can we give?

We mean to show that our dream of a great society does not stop at the water's edge, that it is not just an American dream. All are welcome to share in it and all are invited to contribute to it. The most urgent work of our times--the most urgent work of all time--is to give that dream reality.

The course we follow today traces directly over the two decades since the Second World War. We emerged from that conflict with the sure knowledge that our fate was bound up with the fate of all. Men could no longer content themselves in pursuing narrowly national goals. Men must join in the common pursuit of freedom and fulfillment.

In that pursuit, we have helped Western Europe rebuild, aided Greece and Turkey, come to the defense of Berlin, resisted aggression in Korea and South Vietnam. In that pursuit, we have helped new nations toward independence, extended the brotherly hand of the Peace Corps, and carried forward the largest program of economic assistance in the history of mankind.

Today, we follow five continuing principles in our policy:

The first principle is to employ our power purposefully, although always with great restraint. In a world where violence remains the prime policy of some, we as surely shape the future when we withdraw as when we stand firm before the aggressor. We can best measure the success of this principle by a simple proposition: not a single country where we have helped mount a major effort to resist aggression today has a government servile to outside interests. The second principle is to control, to reduce, and ultimately to eliminate the modern engines of destruction. We must not despair or grow cynical at man's efforts to become master of his own fearsome devices. We must push on to harness atomic power as a force for creation rather than destruction.

The third principle is to support those associations of nations which reflect the opportunities and necessities of the modern world. By strengthening the common defense, by stimulating commerce, by confirming old ties and setting new hopes, these associations serve the cause of orderly progress.

A fourth important principle is to encourage the right of each people to govern themselves and shape their own institutions. Today the urge toward independence is perhaps the strongest force in our world. A peaceful world order will be possible only when each country walks the way it has chosen for itself.

A final, enduring strand of our policy as a nation is to help improve the life of man. From the Marshall Plan to now that policy has rested upon the claims of compassion and common sense--and on the certain knowledge that only people with rising faith in the future will build secure and peaceful lands. Not only compassion, but our vital self-interest compels us to play a leading role in a worldwide campaign against hunger, disease, and ignorance.

Half a century ago, William James declared that mankind must seek a "moral equivalent of war." Today the search continues, more urgent than ever before in history. Ours is the great opportunity to challenge all nations, friend and foe alike, to join this battle. We can generate growing light in our universe, or we can allow the darkness to gather. To spread the light, to enlarge man's inner and outer liberty, to promote the peace and well-being of our people and all people--these are the ambitions of my years in office.

They are the enduring purpose, I believe, of this America.

Note: "This America" consists of excerpts from the president's speeches and messages with accompanying photographs. The White House release containing the text of the President's Prologue and Epilogue states that the book, published by Random House, was the editorial creation of Jerry Mason, editor of the award-winning "Family of Man." Mr. Mason chose excerpts from the President's words, the release continues, "to serve as a shooting script" for the photographer, Ken Heyman, who spent nearly 6 months traveling throughout the United States in search of suitable pictures.

Mr. Heyman's 5-year-old daughter Jennifer presented the first copy of the book to the President on October 3.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's Prologue and Epilogue to "This America." Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives