The late Ernest Gruening–Nation editor in the early 1920s, former territorial Governor of Alaska and longtime senator from that state–was one of only two senators to vote against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of August 1964, which initiated the Vietnam War. In this essay from the May 5, 1969, issue, he argued for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam.
It is, and for some time has been, obvious that the most important issue facing our nation is to get out of the war in Southeast Asia. All our other issues and problems are slighted, impaired and unresolved until we halt the fighting, stop the concomitant continuing drain of blood and treasure, and turn to the long-neglected and pressing needs at home.
During his election campaign Richard Nixon told the American people that he had a plan to end the war, but did not want to disclose it for fear of interfering with the negotiations in Paris. After three months in office President Nixon gives us no indication of any formula or proposal for achieving that widely desired objective.
On the contrary, draft calls are undiminished, casualties mount and we continue, as we have for the last five years, to be winning the war only in the optimistic pronouncements of our military leaders and their supporting newspaper columnists. The President has shown a commendable restraint in not re-escalating the battlefield activity, having no doubt learned that every time our military propose just one more upmanship we get in that much deeper. But the prospect is for continued warfare.
A new approach is desperately needed, and I offer it in the fervent hope that President Nixon who, I doubt not, would like to rid his Administration of the albatross bequeathed him by President Johnson, will lay aside his preconceptions and the assumptions that have underlain our policies to date. For that purpose a review of what has happened is appropriate.
Five years ago, on March 10, 1964, I delivered the first major opposition speech on this issue made in Congress. It was entitled, “The United States Should Get Out of Vietnam.” With exhibits, it occupied 30 pages in the Congressional Record. It would have been easy for President Johnson to accept that counsel and to withdraw at that time, since no United States units had been committed to combat, and the casualties had been very few.
The opening sentence of that March 10 address was: “The mess in Vietnam was inherited by President Johnson.” That holds true for President Nixon today; he is under no more obligation than was President Johnson to perpetuate his predecessor’s policies.
That we have lost some 34,000 young Americans killed in action, several thousand more through other causes, more than a quarter of a million wounded, some horribly crippled for life, have killed tens of thousands of innocent noncombatants, created more than a million homeless refugees, sunk in excess of $125 billion unrecoverably in the Asian quagmire, and sacrificed our moral standards before the conscience of mankind, does not lessen but increases the need for an alternative course. To continue to permit our men to die in vain–as they all have died in this war–is not short of criminal.