Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Wilson of the United Kingdom.

February 08, 1968

Prime Minister and Mrs. Wilson, Vice President and Mrs. Humphrey, Members of the Cabinet, distinguished Members of the Congress, distinguished guests:

Let me thank you first of all for coming out on a winter's night to warm this house with friendship.

It could be said that we are gathered here to welcome a Prime Minister who has come in out of the cold.

I refer, of course, to the famous English winter-ending in July and reappearing in August.

But whatever the season, sir, there is always strength and comfort in standing beside you to field the challenges of the day. It is always a good day for any man or any nation when they can claim the British as comrades in adversity, or brothers in adventure, or as partners in advancement.

But I do not want tonight to wave either the Union Jack or the Stars and Stripes. We buried the need for that with Colonel Blimp, Yankee Doodle, and other caricatures of yesteryear. When Americans talk today of what Great Britain means to us--and means to the world in which we live--we are moved by a more meaningful English voice from the past. It was Robert Browning who spoke the truth for our time: "My sun sets to rise again."

Yes, these are difficult times for Great Britain--and they are very difficult times for the United States. Yes, we have our family differences still. And yes, Britain means as much to us as she ever meant.

--Our two nations are as close as ever.

--Our two peoples are as determined as ever to master the trials of the moment and to move on to the triumphs of the future.

That is what the Prime Minister and I have spent the day talking about. We have ranged around the world, reviewing our large responsibilities, drawing on our experiences, exchanging insights, giving and getting much of value. But we always came back to one basic and unbreakable agreement.

--We want the same things for our people.

--They will not come easily or they will not come overnight, but our people shall have them if patience and perseverance can win them.

They are the simplest things to describe-but they are the hardest to achieve:

--A peace rooted in the good, firm earth of freedom;

--A world respectful of law, given to justice, hostile only to force;

--A life without the torment of hunger, ignorance, and disease;

--A higher standard of living and more opportunity for all. It will come for us. If any man doubts it, let him look at how far the Americans and the British have come already in common purpose. Let him reflect on all that we have overcome already by sharing struggle and sacrifice.

And then let him look deeply into the well of our strength--the traditions and the character that shape us.

He will come quickly to the truth that sustains us: The American and British peoples are not short-distance crusaders. If we must tighten our belts for a time, it does not leave us breathless for the next battle. We are veteran campaigners, not amateurs and we never have been quitters. We have learned to pace ourselves--to accept temporary detours and steer around them.

I have enormous confidence, Mr. Prime Minister, in the character of my own people, in their ability to understand and master trial. I am very proud to place equal faith in your people, in their characteristic courage and fortitude. I say with them, and I say to them, using the slogan of the moment: The American people are backing Britain.

The greatness of nations, the size of their global role and influence--these laurels are not earned or held by the trappings of power alone.

Ultimately, nations can only lead and leave their mark if they have the power to attract and to instruct by example. The rank and worth of nations are decided, finally, by what pushes upward and outward from their roots--the character of citizens, the value of ideals, the quality of life, the purpose of a people.

What a magnificent opportunity for the people of Great Britain!

Character--ideals--culture--purpose. The world already knows them as unmistakably British qualities, as the benchmarks of civilized life, as standards of decency and development that surpass and survive the importance of any single epoch.

The new and struggling states of the world can gain much from these gifts of British example. The older nations can also learn from them, and can count on them for security and for progress. Britain itself will continue to build on them

--in British education, for example, where a revolution of learning and opportunity is already underway; and

--in British technology, where the native skills of an inventive and industrious people are establishing a new "workshop of the world."

Oh, there is so much, Mr. Prime Minister, that is waiting for our peoples on the road ahead.

The confidence and purpose that we show to the world will always be a reflection of our own relationship. I want it always to have the importance and to have the meaning that that great President of ours, Franklin D. Roosevelt, gave it more than a quarter of a century ago, when he welcomed King George VI to this house.

"I am persuaded," he said, "that the greatest single contribution our two countries have been enabled to make to civilization, and to the welfare of peoples throughout the world, is the example we have jointly set by our manner of conducting relations between our two nations."

It is a grand toast still. I renew its promise now, Mr. Prime Minister, by offering it as a tribute to you and to your people.

The thing our people want most tonight, Mr. Prime Minister, of course, is peace in the world. As you and I pursue it, I think we are entitled for a moment to have a little peace of mind--even a little music while we work.

The songs you will hear tonight have been challenged in some sections of the press today. When I heard that on my morning radio, I thought: "Well, there they go again, always wanting me to dance to their tune."

But I am a man who really, after all, loves harmony. I was ready to believe that Mr. Merrill and Miss Tyler were actually trying to maintain the balance of payments in their choice of songs tonight by paying you a compliment "On the Road to Mandalay," and paying me a compliment--"Oh, Bury Me not on the Lone Prairie."

I was ready to believe it until I had some Senator say to me this morning: "Well, what have they really got to sing about anyway?" I think that should settle the matter. If it doesn't, Mr. Prime Minister, I am prepared tonight to keep peace at any price. You sing "God Save the Queen," and I'll sing "God Bless America."

Let us now drink to lasting harmony between the best of friends--the British and the American peoples.

Ladies and gentlemen, Her Majesty, The Queen.

Note: The President spoke at 10:27 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. During his remarks he referred to Robert Merrill and Veronica Tyler, stars of the Metropolitan Opera. Prime Minister Harold Wilson responded as follows:

Mr. President, Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Humphrey, distinguished Cabinet officers, Your Excellencies, distinguished Senators, Congressmen, and friends:

It is my privilege, Mr. President, to rise and propose your health. On behalf of my colleagues, may I thank you for your kind hospitality to us this evening and for enabling us to meet this distinguished gathering of American citizens.

In particular, I should like to thank you for what you have said and the way in which you have said it.

It was one of the most moving speeches I think any of us has ever listened to.

You referred to the difficult times through which the United States, Britain, and the world are moving. You set out in words which all of us would endorse, your conception of the hopes and aspirations for our people-yours and, indeed, ours.

We welcomed everything you have said to us tonight. You referred to the days of Anglo-American relationships, the days of your great master and tutor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But I make bold to claim that relations between our two countries today, in 1968, in the years when you and I have been meeting, are no less close and no less intimate than they were in those perilous wartime days of the Anglo-American alliance.

I was particularly moved to hear you endorsing the slogan of backing Britain. Mr. President, the acoustics in this room are always a little dubious. Last year I dispensed with this machine and relied on my own voice. From this distance, I thought what you were saying was not backing Britain, but "buying British." I hope the acoustics will not blame me for it.

Mr. President, our talks this morning and this afternoon, as always, have been informal, friendly, and, above all, to the point. This meeting was arranged some time ago. We couldn't know the exact developments that we should be discussing in each part of the world where our talks today have led us.

What I particularly appreciate is that at this time we have been able to have such a thorough and wide discussion of the whole world scene. Inevitably, at this time--and I think this has been true of almost every discussion we have had together in the last 3 or 4 years--and true also of the contacts that we are able to maintain in between meetings--a great part of our discussion has related today to the situation of Vietnam.

I make no apology for the fact that on what should be a happy occasion, I want to devote most of my time this evening to referring to that situation, because the events of the last 10 days have brought home to millions of people far from the conflict, within our own countries, the indescribable horror and agony this war is bringing to a people for whom peace has been a stranger for a generation.

But the scenes of outrage that we have seen on our television screen can beget dangerous counsel. It can beget impatient and exasperated demands to hit back, to escalate in ways which would widen and not end that war.

The responsibility of power, Mr. President, as you know, means not only loneliness in a democracy, it means facing demands for punitive action whenever national "interests" are outraged. The hardest part of statesmanship is to show restraint in the face of that exasperation.

All those understandable demands for actions which are immediately satisfying could have incalculable effects, effects, indeed, on the whole world. That is why, Mr. President, your administration's attitude following the Pueblo incident is one which will earn tributes from reasoning men everywhere and, indeed, from history.

You referred just now, Mr. President, to the musical entertainment. When I read your press this morning, and I always believe everything I read in the American press, I said: "I hope they won't change the program for me. These are my favorite tunes,"

"Mandalay"--I don't know why anyone thought that was embarrassing. We got out of Mandalay 20 years ago.

But if we are going to go back to Rudyard Kipling--and some of us are trying now to escape from him--I think one of the greatest phrases he used--which must have rung many times in your ears, Mr. President, when you talked about the hard and difficult times, and the misunderstandings of the things that statesmen have to do from time to time--was when Kipling, in his famous poem, said--and when things are really tough, one should either re-read that poem or read what Lincoln said when he was up against it--"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same."--once we can recognize that, it makes us a little more detached about some of the things we have to do.

Mr. President, the problem of Vietnam, as you have always recognized, can never be settled on a durable and just basis by an imposed military solution. Indeed, the events of these past days have underlined yet again that there can be no purely military solution to this problem; that there can be no solution before men meet around the conference table, determined to get peace.

I have said a hundred times that this problem will never be solved by a military solution, which I see as one of the lessons of the last few days--a determined resistance to see that a military solution is not imposed on the people of Vietnam.

I am frequently urged, as the means to peace, to dissociate the British Government from American action, and, in particular, to call for the unconditional ending of all the bombing.

Mr. President, I have said this a hundred times, too, in my own country, in Western Europe, in the Kremlin, that if I felt that by doing this I could ensure that this war ended one day earlier, or that it would ensure that peace, when achieved, was one degree more durable, one degree more just, I would do what I am urged and dissociate.

I have not done so, and I am going to say why. Over the past 3 years, Mr. President as you know, as the Secretary knows, I have been in the position to know a good deal about the history of negotiations and consultations, and contacts and discussions, aimed at getting away from the battleground and getting around the conference table,

I recall our talks here in Washington at the time of your Baltimore speech, now nearly 3 years ago.

I recall the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference over 2 1/2 years ago when 20 Commonwealth heads of government from Asia and Africa, from the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Australia, Europe, and America, of widely differing views and widely differing loyalties over Vietnam, all of them, called for a cessation of the bombing, and, in return, a cessation of infiltration by the North Vietnamese Army into South Vietnam.

I recall a hundred proposals to our fellow Geneva cochairman to activate the Geneva Conference or any other forum to get the parties around the table.

I recall meetings and discussions in Washington, in London, in New York, in Moscow, and innumerable less formal consultations, with anyone and everyone who could help find the road to peace.

And all of these have failed--failed so far--to find a solution.

But it doesn't mean we were wrong--all of us here--to try and to go on trying.

I believe, and this is true even today against the differing background of all that is now happening on the battlefield, that the road to peace was fairly charted, not for the first time, but with greater and more meaningful clarity at San Antonio last September.

A fortnight ago I was in the Kremlin and in many hours of discussion with the Soviet leaders I sought to spell out what San Antonio and what subsequent elucidations of San Antonio meant.

I believe the Soviet leaders now know, if they did not understand before, that what that formula means is that the United States would be prepared to stop the bombing given an assurance that prompt and productive discussions will start, and that this action will not be exploited to create a new situation of military advantage which would delay a political settlement.

It was, Mr. President, as you know, our purpose in Moscow to show that once the surrounding misunderstandings have been removed, this approach could be reconciled with the conditions laid down by the DRV [Democratic Republic of Vietnam] Foreign Minister, Mr. Trinh, on December 29th.

What I am saying now, interpreting, and I think you will agree I am interpreting correctly the San Antonio formula, really answers his latest speech this week which has been printed today.

There have been some, not only in Moscow, as I learned, who would believe that San Antonio meant that the United States were insisting, in advance, as a precondition, on a given outcome to the talks as a condition to stopping the bombing.

We believe that this reconciliation is possible once it is clear that all that is needed to start negotiations is assurance that the talks will begin promptly, and that they will be meaningful and directed in good faith to a peaceful settlement.

Given, therefore, good faith, we--all of us-America, the Soviet Union--we, ourselves, are to ask now whether the events of these past 10 days mean that there is not, that there cannot be, that good faith.

Whatever the discouragement of these past 10 days, all of us, Mr. President, feel for you in this conflict. I do not take that view, because, as I have said, this problem cannot be settled by a purely military solution. Negotiations for a political settlement will have to come. Every day that the start of those negotiations is delayed means more suffering.

This is not the time to attempt to set out what the provisions of such a settlement should be. But statesmen from many countries, differing deeply in their attitudes to the Vietnamese problem, have each in their own words stressed that the basic principle involved in that settlement is the right of the peoples of that area to determine their own future through democratic and constitutional processes--words, Mr. President, I am quoting from yourself.

Once willingness is shown to enter into prompt and productive discussions, we in Britain in our capacities as Geneva cochairman, or in any other appropriate way will play our full part in helping the parties to reach agreement. And with the political settlement will come the enormous task of repairing the damage, of embarking on the great era, the great challenge, of economic and social reconstruction in that area.

Mr. President, the noises of battle, the noises of controversy, too, in all our countries, have perhaps caused many to forget your own proposals on the theme of economic reconstruction in Vietnam which I read in your speech at Baltimore now nearly 3 years ago. It may have been forgotten, but once again it will become, I hope soon, a reality.

I feel it right to add that within the resources we could make available we shall be ready to play our part.

It may be, Mr. President, that tonight in my speech of thanks and appreciation to you I have been striking--as indeed you, yourself, said--something of a somber note because of the circumstances in which we meet--somber but at the same time hopeful--hopeful because at the same time determined.

As you have said, when we have pursued a common aim, however dark the background against which we have been operating, that common aim, that hope and that determination have set an example to the world.

The problems with which so many of us here tonight are concerned, the problems we have dealt with in our wide-ranging talks earlier today, have not been confined even to the compelling and urgent problem brought about by the tragedy of Vietnam. We have discussed problems of Europe, of the Middle East, the problems of the developing world, problems of nuclear disarmament, the challenge of making a reality of the authority of the United Nations.

And all of these have proved again today, as in all of our continuing discussions and exchanges over these past years, to have their own urgencies and their own priorities.

But in a wider sense we are trying, together, to face challenges on a world scale, the challenge of a world increasingly dominated by the explosion of race and color.

Mr. President, whatever they say, neither you nor we have any need to apologize about our reaction to the challenge of race and difficulty; the challenge on a world scale of the population explosion; the challenge of the problems acute for advanced countries and for developing countries alike; the problem of freer movement of trade and freedom from the throes of outmoded international financial practices and international financial doctrines--may I add, and the worship of the Golden Calf.

It is therefore, Mr. President, in the confidence that together--we, the United States and Britain, our friends and partners in the Commonwealth, in Europe, in the United Nations--the years ahead will bring for us a new and fresh spirit to the attack on these problems-it is in that spirit and in that confidence that I have the pleasure now of proposing the health of the President of the United States of America.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Wilson of the United Kingdom. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/236345

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