January 12, 1966 – One year after describing his Great Society (see January 4), Lyndon Johnson delivers another State of the Union Address where he outlines American involvement in this tiny Asian nation:
“For tonight, as so many nights before, young Americans struggle and young Americans die in a distant land.
Tonight, as so many nights before, the American Nation is asked to sacrifice the blood of its children and the fruits of its labor for the love of its freedom……
Not too many years ago Vietnam was a peaceful, if troubled, land. In the North was an independent Communist government. In the South a people struggled to build a nation, with the friendly help of the United States……
As the assault mounted, our choice gradually became clear. We could leave, abandoning South Vietnam to its attackers and to certain conquest, or we could stay and fight beside the people of South Vietnam. We stayed.
And we will stay until aggression has stopped.
We will stay because a just nation cannot leave to the cruelties of its enemies a people who have staked their lives and independence on America’s solemn pledge–a pledge which has grown through the commitments of three American Presidents.
We will stay because in Asia and around the world are countries whose independence rests, in large measure, on confidence in America’s word and in America’s protection. To yield to force in Vietnam would weaken that confidence, would undermine the independence of many lands, and would whet the appetite of aggression. We would have to fight in one land, and then we would have to fight in another–or abandon much of Asia to the domination of Communists.
And we do not intend to abandon Asia to conquest.
Last year the nature of the war in Vietnam changed again. Swiftly increasing numbers of armed men from the North crossed the borders to join forces that were already in the South. Attack and terror increased, spurred and encouraged by the belief that the United States lacked the will to continue and that their victory was near.
Despite our desire to limit conflict, it was necessary to act: to hold back the mounting aggression, to give courage to the people of the South, and to make our firmness clear to the North. Thus. we began limited air action against military targets in North Vietnam. We increased our fighting force to its present strength tonight of 190,000 men…..”
By the end of the year over 389,000 U.S. troops served in Vietnam.
The Great Society would never materialize. It too was a victim of Vietnam.