Quotations: From Gulf of Tonkin to Tet Offensive

This selection of Vietnam War quotations spans the period between the Gulf of Tonkin incident and US military action (1964) and the Tet Offensive (1968). It contains statements and remarks about the Vietnam conflict by notable political figures, military commanders, contemporaries and historians. These quotations have been researched, selected and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest a quotation for this collection, please contact us.

“The overall situation in South Vietnam is extremely fragile. In the countryside the Viet Cong’s level of control and military buildup is significant. General Khanh is still having difficulties with the civilian population and does not have the complete loyalty of his own army.”
Central Intelligence Agency memorandum, May 1964

“The situation in South Vietnam has continued to deteriorate. A new couple led by disgruntled ARVN officers could occur at any time. South Vietnam is almost leaderless… There are strong signs that the Viet Cong has played a major role in promoting civil disorder through the countryside and especially in Saigon.”
CIA memorandum, October 1964

“In Asia, we face an ambitious and aggressive China but we have the will and we have the strength to help our Asian friends resist that ambition. Sometimes our folks get a little impatient. Sometimes they rattle their rockets and they bluff about their bombs. But we are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”
Lyndon Johnson, US president, October 1964

“I believe we could and should have withdrawn from South Vietnam, either in late 1963 amid the turmoil following Diem’s assassination, or in late 1964 or early 1965 in the face of increasing political and military weakness in South Vietnam. We misjudged the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries (in this case, North Vietnam and the Viet Cong…) and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions… We totally misjudged the political forces within [Vietnam].”
Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defence, writing in 1995

“Our general view is very well known… Somebody is trying to take over by force a country to which we have a commitment. It should not surprise anyone to suppose that it is an elementary part of our view that that effort should stop.”
Dean Rusk, US Secretary of State, 1965

“The communist leaders in Moscow, Peking and Hanoi must fully understand that the United States considers the freedom of South Vietnam vital to our interests. And they must know that we are not bluffing in our determination to defend those interests.”
Gerald Ford, US House of Representatives minority leader, July 1965

“I have asked the commanding general, General Westmoreland, what more he needs to meet this mounting aggression. He has told me. And we will meet his needs. We cannot be defeated by force of arms. We will stand in Vietnam.”
Lyndon Johnson, July 1965

“We should declare war on North Vietnam. . . .We could pave
the whole country and put parking strips on it and still be
home by Christmas.”
Ronald Reagan, US politician, 1965

“Men [in Vietnam] are dying, men named Fernandez and Zajac and Zelinko and Mariano and McCormick. Neither the enemy who killed them nor the people whose independence they have fought to save ever asked them where they or their parents came from. They were all Americans. It was for free men and for America that they gave their all, they gave their lives and selves.”
Lyndon Johnson, speaking on immigration, October 1965

“I am absolutely certain that, whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing.”
General  William Westmoreland, November 1967

“There has been progress on every front in Vietnam. Military, substantial progress. Politically, very significant progress… There is no military stalemate. There is no pacification stalemate.”
Hubert Humphrey, US vice president, November 1967

“Khe Sanh was not that important to us… It was the focus of attention in the United States because their prestige was at stake, but to us it was part of the greater battle that would begin after Tet. It was only a diversion, but one to be exploited if we could cause many casualties and win a big victory.”
Vo Nguyen Giap on the Battle of Khe Sanh

“[The Tet Offensive was to] take advantage of a time that the American imperialists were confronted with a situation in which both advance and retreat are difficult, at a time when the United States was about to elect a president… We needed to inflict a decisive blow, to win a great victory, to create a great leap forward in the strategic situation.”
Tran Van Tra, NVA general, writing in 1978

“Our Tet plans required absolute secrecy and all soldiers took an oath of silence. Therefore when fighting began, our supporters did not know what to do. Most were afraid and confused and did nothing. They did not know about the Tet Offensive beforehand.”
Tran Van Tra,  writing in 1978

“[The Tet Offensive] failed because we underestimated our enemies and overestimated ourselves. We set goals which we realistically could not achieve.”
Tran Van Tra, writing in 1978

“I must confess, the VC [Viet Cong] surprised us with their attack. It was surprisingly well coordinated, surprisingly impressive and launched with a surprising amount of audacity.”
John Chasson, US brigadier general on the Tet Offensive, February 1968

“We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds… For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in stalemate.”
Walter Cronkite, American news anchor, February 1968

“To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy’s intentions, in case this is indeed his last gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honourable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”
Walter Cronkite, February 1968

“If I have lost Walter Cronkite [then] I have lost Mister Average Citizen.”
Lyndon Johnson, February 1968

“Today the President has before him a request for another 200,000 men… All that would be changed would be the capacity for destruction… Laying aside all other arguments, the time is at hand when we must decide whether it is futile to destroy Vietnam in the effort to save it.”
Frank McGee, American news reporter, February 1968

“The country we are trying to save is being subjected to enormous damage. Perhaps the country we are trying to save is relying on the United States too much. When we look ahead, we find that we may actually be denigrating their ability to take over their own country rather than contributing to their ability to do it.”
Clark M. Clifford, advisor to President Lyndon Johnson, March 1968

“The reality of the 1968 Tet offensive was that Hanoi had taken a big gamble and had lost on the battlefield… Our powerful air force and navy air resources were poised and ready. We could have flattened every war-making facility in North Vietnam. But the hand-wringers had centre stage, the anti-war elements were in full cry. The most powerful country in the world did not have the willpower needed to meet the situation.”
Ulysses S. Sharp, US admiral and Pacific Fleet commander, writing in 1969

“Yes, I think I would beat him [Richard Nixon]. But it would be too close for me to be able to govern. The nation would be polarised. Besides, the presidency isn’t fun anymore. Everything has turned mean. No matter what I accomplish, the damn war infects everything.”
Lyndon Johnson, 1968

“I knew from the start that I was bound to be crucified either way I moved. If I left the woman I really loved – the Great Society – to get involved with that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home… But if I left the war and let the communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward and my nation would be seen as an appeaser, and we would find it impossible to accomplish anything for anybody anywhere on the entire globe.”
Lyndon Johnson, reflecting on his presidency, 1971