Remarks by John O'Neill, Member, Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace
I think everybody here wants peace, and I've come here to talk for peace also, but for a just and lasting peace in Southeast Asia. We-ve all heard over the past 10 years the great debates over the illegality or the legality of the war in Vietnam charges, countercharges and recriminations by both sides and I don't want to talk about that here.
I would like to speak of the best way for us to get out of Southeast Asia, of the best way for the nation to extricate itself, and I think that is the Vietnamization program of the President.
There are things that all of us here know. One is that there has never been a problem that has been solved by running away from it. A precipitous withdrawal by the United States from South Vietnam would only compound the problems of this great country and of the entire world. It would undermine our security and the security of our allies all across the free world.
Any soldier knows that one retreat only makes other retreats easier. Retreat from the problem of Vietnam by immediate withdrawal or precipitous withdrawal within a time limit would lead to a retreat from the problems of the ghettos, retreat from the problems of the frontiers of space, from the serious problems in the fields of education and unemployment, until finally we would find ourselves here in this country with no place to retreat to.
After Vietnam is over we are all going to have to live with ourselves in this country. I and many others who were in Vietnam will lose confidence in our government if it deserts its responsibility at two minutes to 12.
I served in Vietnam for almost three years. I was there at the inception of the Navy's Vietnamization program and I missed by only three months the conclusion of that program. There isn't any Navy left in Vietnam now. The unit John Kerry and I both served in is gone. It has been turned over to South Vietnam and they are doing a fine job. There were 87,000 Marines there when we were in Vietnam; there are 3,000 today. Every minute, every second, makes the Hatfield-McGovern proposal more and more obsolete. The South Vietnamese themselves make it more and more irrelevant. We didn't pull back from the Rhine River in World War II and we cannot, as a great power, retreat into isolation at this 11th hour when, after 10 years of blood, we can finally see an honest peace in front of us.
Many question whether the Thieu government is worth dying for. I suggest that is a question for the South Vietnamese themselves to decide. Our stand in the Paris peace talks is simply withdrawal of North Vietnam forces and withdrawal of American forces and let the South Vietnamese decide through free election what type of government they themselves want. Let that election be supervised by anybody Swiss, Indians, the UN, anybody.
I suggest this is a very fine country. If we precipitously withdraw from Vietnam, if we pull out of there leaving our prisoners of war behind, we will leave the heart and soul of this country there also.
All we do by precipitous withdrawal is to get a date to negotiate for the last 10 years, during which this country has been racked by hatred and distrust.
It seems to me we have had enough rhetoric on this issue. We have withdrawn one-half of the troops from Southeast Asia, and the President's promise is complete withdrawal on release of the prisoners of war.
Vietnamization has done more than all the rhetoric and demonstrations for the past 10 years.
I am proud personally of having been in Vietnam. So are most Vietnam veterans I've met in every town in this country. We didn't start this war but, under difficult circumstances, we brought it close to conclusion.
I suggest if you polled 2.5 million people all over the United States, instead of reading about 75 or 1,000 you find they are in favor of the President's Vietnam program.
Most of the Vietnam veterans have never been to Washington. They have jobs to work at, schools to attend, or maybe they are still in the armed services. I think they demonstrate each and every day throughout this country, demonstrate their love of this country, by participating in ordinary day-to-day affairs. I think this demonstration is the greatest unwritten story of our time.