Senator Robert Kennedy's Statement on the Vietnam War, February 8, 1968.
Our enemy, savagely striking at will across all of South Vietnam, has finally shattered the mask of official illusion with which we have concealed our true circumstances, even from ourselves. But a short time ago we were serene in our reports and predictions of progress.
The Vietcong will probably withdraw from the cities, as they were forced to withdraw from the American Embassy. Thousands of them will be dead.
But they will, nevertheless, have demonstrated that no part or person of South Vietnam is secure from their attacks: neither district capitals nor American bases, neither the peasant in his rice paddy nor the commanding general of our own great forces.
No one can predict the exact shape or outcome of the battles now in progress, in Saigon or at Khesanh. Let us pray that we will succeed at the lowest possible cost to our young men.
But whatever their outcome, the events of the last two weeks have taught us something. For the sake of those young Americans who are fighting today, if for no other reason, the time has come to take a new look at the war in Vietnam; not by cursing the past but by using it to illuminate the future.
And the first and necessary step is to face the facts. It is to seek out the austere and painful reality of Vietnam, freed from wishful thinking, false hopes and sentimental dreams. It is to rid ourselves of the "good company," of these illusions which have lured us into the deepening swamp of Vietnam.
We must, first of all, rid ourselves of the illusion that the events of the past two weeks represent some sort of victory. That is not so.
It is said the Vietcong will not be able to hold the cities. This is probably true. But they have demonstrated despite all our reports of progress, of government strength and enemy weakness, that half a million American soldiers with 700,000 Vietnamese allies, with total command of the air, total command of the sea, backed by huge resources and the most modern weapons, are unable to secure even a single city from the attacks on an enemy whose total strength is about 250,000
For years we have been told that the measure of our success and progress in Vietnam was increasing security and control for the population. Now we have seen that none of the population is secure and no area is under sure control.
Four years ago when we only had about 30,000 troops in Vietnam, the Vietcong were unable to mount the assaults on cities they have now conducted against our enormous forces. At one time a suggestion that we protect enclaves was derided. Now there are no protected enclaves.
This has not happened because our men are not brave or effective, because they are. It is because we have misconceived the nature of the war: It is because we have sought to resolve by military might a conflict whose issue depends upon the will and conviction of the South Vietnamese people. It is like sending a lion to halt an epidemic of jungle rot
Unable to defeat our enemy or break his willat least without a huge, long and even more costly effortwe must actively seek a peaceful settlement. We can no longer harden our terms every time Hanoi indicates it may be prepared to negotiate; and we must be willing to foresee a settlement which will give the Vietcong a chance to participate in the political life of the country.
These are some of the illusions which may be discarded if the events of last week are to prove not simply a tragedy, but a lesson: a lesson which carries with it some basic truths.
First, that a total military victory is not within sight or around the corner; that, in fact, it is probably beyond our grasp; and that the effort to win such a victory will only result in the further slaughter of thousands of innocent and helpless peoplea slaughter which will forever rest on our national conscience.
Second, that the pursuit of such a victory is not necessary to our national interest, and is even damaging to that interest.
Third, that the progress we have claimed toward increasing our control over the country and security of the population is largely illusory.
Fourth, that the central battle in this war cannot be measured by body count or bomb damage, but by the extent to which the people of South Vietnam act on a sense of common purpose and hope with those that govern them.
Fifth, that the current regime in Saigon is unwilling or incapable of being an effective ally in the war against the Communists.
Sixth, that a political compromise is not just the best path to peace, but the only path, and we must show as much willingness to risk some of our prestige for peace as to risk the lives of young men in war.
Seventh, that the escalation policy in Vietnam, far from strengthening and consolidating international resistance to aggression, is injuring our country through the world, reducing faith of other peoples in our wisdom and purpose and weakening the world's resolve to stand together for freedom and peace.
Eight, that the best way to save our most precious stake in Vietnamthe lives of our soldiersis to stop the enlargement of the war, and that the best way to end casualties is to end the war.
Ninth, that our nation must be told the truth about this war, in all its terrible reality, both because it is rightand because only in this way can any Administration rally the public confidence and unity for the shadowed days which lie ahead