|ignoring for the moment our other
treaty organizations and other friendly, capitalist countries around the
Total "Our Side"
You will note that the United States alone has
more than double the Gross National Product of the Soviet Union, and with
our allies we have more than double the GNP of the Soviet Union and its
allies (assuming China can be considered an "ally" these days). Also, remember
that our GNP has continued to climb rapidly; at the end of 1968 it was
$861 billion, and it's expected to reach $920 billion this year. Our defense
spending is up, too; excluding Vietnam, it's going up $4 billion
Look at China on this scale. Its total GNP --
for food, housing, hospitals, transportation, defense production, nuclear
weapons, the whole works -- is no more than our defense budget. And this
has to take care of the needs of an estimated 750 million people, more
than three times our population. Those who see China's great population
as a source of great strength ought to ponder those figures. In a technological
world or in a modern war sheer numbers of people may be a liability rather
than an asset.
Seeing this comparison of production and military
spending, one might ask: Just how much more security do we buy with the
next $10 billion or $20 billion added to our defense budget? Many thought
that the "mere" $50 billion we were spending on defense just before Vietnam
was too much. When Vietnam ends, wouldn't we be just about as secure with
a $60 billion budget as with one of $80 billion?
Furthermore, because any step we take toward a
higher level of defense spending most certainly will have a response in
the spending of "the enemy", it's entirely possible that we might be just
a little safer with the lower figure. And I know we'd be
in a better position to lick inflation, to deal with the crisis in our
cities, and to save our environment from destruction.
WARS AT ONCE
The truth is that we are fighting two wars at
once -- a war in Vietnam and an equally serious one here at home. (Some
would say more
serious.) And I believe that it's important to settle
them both. The home front war has now spilled out of the inner cities and
into the colleges; industrial plants may be next. I take the situation
seriously and think that we may not have seen the worst yet. Situations
can deteriorate; one should not always assume that better things are just
around the comer.
For an example, let's go back to 1965. This was
the year in which we made the major escalation in Vietnam -- and the year
in which the war at home began. Let me try to recapture the mood of America
as we entered that year.
The war in Vietnam was a fairly obvious cloud
on the horizon, but still small and still far away. We were assured that
we were winning. When a few voices were raised in criticism, they were
put in their place. Even Richard Nixon, then only a former Vice President,
endorsed the war policy; he advised President Johnson to "discipline" Democrats
As we surveyed our country in that year, we saw
|** After four years of continuous economic growth
our economy was 30% larger than it had been in 1961, and inflation was
at a postwar low.
** Taxes had been reduced by $24 billion.
|** The civil rights revolution was being won,
and many Negroes were registering to vote for the first time in their lives.
The old, rigid patterns of racial discrimination, the "White Only" signs,
the "back of the bus" arrangements, were crashing down, their legal facade
destroyed by the courts and the Congress.
** Total U.S. deaths in Vietnam stood at 267 at
the start of that year! Few Americans would have predicted or believed
that our death toll would eventually surpass the 33,000 of Korea or that
our 50,000-man commitment would eventually rise to 540,000.
And then came August 11th. As we Americans sat
down to breakfast that morning we had no way of knowing that by nightfall
an era would have ended and another begun -- that a minor incident in a
suburb of Los Angeles that afternoon would signal the start of a new and
frightening time of troubles for the United States.
August 11, 1965 marked the start of the Watts
riot, a conflagration which took the lives of 34 persons and inflicted
$35 million in property damage. It was our worst riot since the Detroit
race riot of 1943. We didn't know it then, but it was the forerunner of
dozens of big-city eruptions, destroying lives and property in most of
the nation's metropolitan centers, even including the nation's capital.
On that day Americans, already half-committed
to an Asian land war we would never win, began another and equally serious
kind of war right here at home.
I believe that Watts, Newark, Detroit, Washington,
countless instances of campus unrest, and many more of our recent difficulties
can be traced, in part, to the tragic mistakes and dislocations of Vietnam.
President Johnson was probably sincere in believing that we could finance
both a huge escalation of that war and essential domestic programs designed
to fight our "war at home." It is ironic that the same President who fathered
those programs was the one who, through miscalculation, nearly starved
them to death. Yet no one, not even a President, could know in 1965 that
Vietnam would prove so costly or that it would arouse such enormous opposition
As we survey our country today and see its many
problems, it isn't that we're in such bad shape; on the contrary, we have
never had as little poverty, incomes have never been higher, and production
has never been so abundant. Since 1960 our per-capita, after-tax income
has climbed nearly $1,000. Unemployment has been cut in half. And the number
of persons living in poverty, as officially defined, has been reduced by
a third. But these statistics don't mean much to those persons who are
still waiting for the opportunity to escape from despair.
For many the rhetoric of the war on poverty has
combined with some slight improvement in their living conditions to create
that most unstable of social circumstances -- the realization that life
can be better. As the longshoreman's philosopher, Eric Hoffer, has
said, "Discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable; when
conditions have so improved that an ideal state seems almost within reach.
A grievance is most poignant when almost redressed."
I think it's quite clear that we're dealing with
a highly volatile situation -- not just a handful of minor grievances that
will pass over. The devastation left in many of our cities is evidence
OF THE CRISIS
Why is it that we should have these difficulties
now? The highly unpopular war in Vietnam is one reason. Another is cited