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Behind the President's massive thrust for peace lay a long and frustrating history. For ten years, under three Presidents, the war in Viet Nam had dragged on, ever more menacing to the security of South Viet Nam, ever more increasing the U.S. commitment of men and materiel, of blood and treasure. Over the years, every other type of regularand irregulardiplomatic approach to Hanoi had been triedand had failed. In the last year alone, more than 200 private contacts had been initiated. Not one had produced a perceptible nod from the other side. The President and his aides have made dozens of speeches, talked to hundreds of world leaders and officials. Neither the bombing, the surging U.S. buildup in the past six months, nor the success of the American fighting man against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars had seemed to produce the faintest waver in Communist intent.
Johnson was convinced he could carry the American people with him, whatever sacrifice Viet Nam might require and public-opinion polls bore him out. Still, the pressures from home and abroad mounted with the very lack of successful contacts with the enemyand, above all, as the U.S. commitment of men began to burgeon. The confusion was unnecessary, but it was undeniably true that leaders both in the U.S. and in foreign lands had begun to lose sight of precisely what the U.S. wanted in Viet Nam, and why America was there. The peace offensive contained the answer.
The Sticking Point. Everywhere the U.S. missionaries went, they presented a 14-point itemization of what the U.S. considered the essential elements in any peace settlement in Viet Nam. Penciled by Dean Rusk, they were, in effect, the U.S. conditions to Hanoi and Peking for ending the bloody war before it escalated furtherand a rationale for the rest of the world.
As Goldberg summarized the 14 points, the U.S. was ready for "discussions or negotiations without any prior conditions whatsoever." The first order of business of any talks: a ceasefire. America is prepared to withdraw its forces from South Viet Nam, and wants no continuing military bases thereprovided that the day comes when the nation "is in a position to determine its own future without external interference." That means, says the U.S., that the South Vietnamese be free to determine their own future through democratic processes. And that reunification of the two Viet Nams be decided by the free decision of the two peoples.
They were not without the ambiguities inevitable in the delicate and maddeningly complex problems of a war that is as political as it is military. But taken together, they spelled out in total clarity the gut issue in Viet Nam: that North Viet Nam must stop its aggressions on and subversion of South Viet Nam. The U.S. asked no morebut would accept no less.