From the remarks of Ernest Gruening, on the floor of the Senate, March 10, 1964. This was the first full-length speech delivered in Congress criticizing the US military involvement in Vietnam. (Congressional Record, vol. 110, pp. 4831-5). Gruening received several private compliments from colleagues after the speech, but only two other senators (Oregon's Wayne Morse and Louisiana's Allen Ellender) endorsed his conclusions.

Senator Gruening

Mr. GRUENING: The mess in Vietnam was inherited by President Johnson . . . The roots of the present dilemma of the United States reach back to 1955 and to the years of condoning corruption, misrule, and repression. Diem lost whatever support he had from the people through the use of US money and US arms.

Where do we turn now for our solution in South Vietnam?

The United States must start with one basic truth which should be constantly reiterated: the fight in South Vietnam can be won only by the South Vietnamese. Even if the United States would or could, the fight in South Vietnam cannot be won by making of that country a colony of the United States. The French tried and failed, even though they used a quarter of a million troops.

The question is this: after 20 bloody years of conflict, have the people of South Vietnam and the Government of South Vietnam the will and the capacity to fight to win? Putting it in other terms, Mr. President, has the present Government of South Vietnam the ability and the stability to wage the fight or is it obliged to look over its shoulder constantly in fear of another coup?

If there is no heart to fight in the people of South Vietnam, the sooner we face that fact the better off we shall be. Since a victory in South Vietnam can come only through a victory by the South Vietnamese themselves, if the people and the government do not want to continue to fight in a manner conductive to victory, it is contrary to the best interests of the United States to remain there.

Some urge stepped-up military activity on the part of the United States, including carrying the war to North Vietnam. Even disregarding--which we should not--the grave possibility of drawing Red China into the fray in a Korean-type engagement, there are serious drawbacks to such a course of action. The first is the unwillingness of the South Vietnamese to follow such a course or action., The second, of course, is the fact that this is not solely an engagement between South and North Vietnamese. South Vietnamese are fighting South Vietnamese in a country divided within itself . . .

In no area of our foreign policy is a reassessment of our foreign policy needed than with respect to the policy we are pursuing in Vietnam.

The United States should no longer permit the dead hand of past mistakes to guide the course of our future actions in South Vietnam.

President Johnson, by virtue of the fact that his control of US foreign policy is so recent, is in the best position to make the reassessment of our foreign policy suggested by Senator Mansfield and not permit himself to be bound by a past made by his predecessors. The domino theory is not President Johnson's--it is a theory advanced by Secretary of State Dulles during the Eisenhower administration and, as in the case of Cambodia, already proven fallacious . . .

Had advice [to withdraw] been heeded 200 precious American lives would not have been lost. These are far more important than the billions of dollars we have now wasted in seeking vainly in this remote jungle to shore up corrupt dynasts or their self-imposed successors and a people that has conclusively demonstrated that it has no will to save itself.

I consider the life of one American worth more than this putrid mess., I consider that every additional life that is sacrificed in this forlorn venture a tragedy. Some day--not distant--if this sacrificing continues, it will be denounced as a crime.

I would ask any colleagues and indeed American fathers and mothers this question: "If your son is sent to Vietnam and is killed there, would you feel that he had died for our country?"

I can answer that question for myself. I would feel very definitely that he had not died for our country, but had been mistakenly sacrificed in behalf of an inherited folly.

Let us do a little hard rethinking. Must the US be expected to jump into every fracas all over the world, to go it alone, at the cost of our youngsters' lives, and stay in blindly and stubbornly when a decade of bitter experience has sown us that the expenditure of blood and treasure has resulted in failure?

Shall we not, if taught anything by this tragic experience, consider that of the three alternatives: First, to continue this bloody and wanton stalemate; second, to go "all out" for a full-scale invasion and the certain sacrifice of far more lives and scarcely less doubtful outcome; or, third, to pull out with the knowledge that the game wasn't worth the candle.

This last is the best of these choices.

In the event of determining on that last and least happy alternative, we shall no doubt be told that the United States will lose face in Asia.

I doubt whether we shall lose face, whatever that may mean. But if it be interpreted by some whose opinion should give us small concern, I say better to lose face than to lose the life of another American boy, or a score, or another 200 of them, doomed in varying numbers as long as we stay on . . .

Would South Vietnam go Communist if we get out? Probably, but it will doubtless do so in any event. What would the loss of a million men, or 2 million, or 5 million matter to the jam-packed nation of 700 million that is mainland China? Their lives mean nothing to their own bloody rules who have liquidated vast numbers of their own. But our own American boys' lives would mean everything to our own Government and people if sacrificed in a cause in which we should never have engaged.

Of course, it is a source of regret whenever a new political entity appears to be falling behind the Iron or Bamboo Curtain. But why should we persist in seeking to prevent the inevitable, in impossible terrain, for a people who care not, in the most distant spot on the globe? It makes no sense.

Moreover, there is considerable question whether South Vietnam, even if overrun by the indigenous Vietcong, will not constitute another problem for Beijing as it was for the French, as it has been for the United States. It might well prove an aggravation of Red China's considerable internal troubles.

But surely we have no business there, if indeed we ever had . . .

I urge the President to take steps to disengage the United States immediately from this engagement.

All our military should immediately be relieved of combat assignments. All military dependents should be returned home at once. A return of the troops to our own shores should begin.

This is a fight which is not our fight into which we should not have gotten in the first place. The time to get out is now before the further loss of American lives.

Let us get out of Vietnam on as good terms as possible--but let us get out.