John S. Knight

Winner of the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing, for columns about the Vietnam War

“We must never fall silent out of timidity or despair lest those who would reshape the world in our image carry us to self-destruction.”

John S. Knight, May 21, 1967

At the time of his Pulitzer Prize, John S. Knight owned and edited eight newspapers, including daily titles in Akron, Charlotte, Detroit, Miami and Tallahassee. His influence, through the editorial pages of the Knight papers, led the politicians of the day to seek his support. He endorsed Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, but became an unflinching if respectful critic as Johnson escalated U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, which Knight had opposed from the start as a misguided and unwinnable effort.

The editorials that won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize were all published in 1967, when close to half-a-million U.S. troops were in Vietnam. Knight's measured, reasoned pieces were a Main Street voice of opposition to the war, but he also defended the right of young protestors to vigorously challenge their elders. He accepted an invitation from President Johnson to travel with other journalists to Vietnam in Sep., 1967, but it reaffirmed his belief that there was no viable military solution. Another 38,000 Americans would die before most troops withdrew in 1973.

Awarded: Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing, 1968

The Pulitzer Prize awarded to John S. Knight for Editorial Writing
The nomination letter submission by Walker Stone

“His writing reflects … an overriding faith in the intelligence of the people to determine their own affairs when they are told the truth.”

Walker Stone, Editor-in-chief, Scripps-Howard newspapers

In nominating Knight for the Pulitzer, Walter Stone, editor in chief of Scripps-Howard Newspapers, noted that Knight had publicly cautioned against U.S. entanglement in Southeast Asia since 1954, when the French colonial era ended, but it was in 1967 that those views gained wider public acceptance.

"In 1967, as in previous years, Mr. Knight documented his arguments, precisely and consistently. His analyses were accurate and articulate. He championed responsible dissent, and he himself dissented in the most responsible fashion," Stone wrote.

"His criticism for failure in leadership and foresight were applied equally to leaders of both political parties. He had the courage to take unpopular positions, and he won converts by documentation and sound reasoning."

“Knight said he wanted to be known as open-minded, fair and opinionated. Nothing better demonstrates how he lived his words than his columns on Vietnam.”

Alberto Ibargüen, President, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Body of Work: The Editor’s Notebook

The editorials that won the 1968 Pulitzer personified Knight's editorial approach, said a recent column in the Akron Beacon Journal: "They were direct, unblinking and against the wind."

The Beacon Journal was the first Knight newspaper, but the editorials were published across the growing group under the heading of "The Editor's Notebook."

By the time of Knight's death in 1981, the group he built with his brother, James L. Knight, had become Knight Ridder, with 33 newspapers and 85 Pulitzers earned.


Will We Ever Learn When To Keep Out?

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Mounting War Toll Chargeable To LBJ

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Is War Inevitable? '67 Youths Doubt It

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Our 'Commitments' Open To Question

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Growing Dialogue A Welcome Change

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War, Prodigality Demand Sacrifices

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Nation Is Facing Moment Of Truth

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Much Is At Stake In Viet Election

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Views On Vietnam- Reply To Queries

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Freedom Of Speech Is A Precious Right

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Excerpts: Patriotic Dissent

March 12, 1967

In previous wars of modern times, the American people have stood united and resolute, prepared for any sacrifice they might be called upon to make.

With Vietnam, they know not what to think as the debate between hawks and doves leaves only a bitter taste from the dregs of dissatisfaction.

April 9, 1967

If the young people of today are different from those of us who accepted the gauntlet without question, it is because they dare to investigate the causes of war and examine its immorality.

Vietnam is no blithe adventure, nor is it being fought for a cause which all Americans can conscientiously defend.

So let our patriots on the home front — who have been called upon for no visible sacrifice — try to understand the feelings and emotions of our youth when they are less than enthusiastic over our professed national goals.

For theirs is a new generation which rightly challenges what their elders have done in the past.

It vigorously doubts that all wisdom resides in the statesman who piously talk of peace but send them to an Asian war to “save democracy” in the most undemocratic land.

The ineffable Fidel must be smirking at our feeble efforts to “stop Communism” much closer to home.

May 7, 1967

It is not the dissent at home which is prolonging the war.

Rather, it is the determination of the man in the White House – entrapped by pride and circumstances — to bring about a victory or at least an accommodation with honor prior to the 1968 elections.

May 21, 1967

We must never fall silent out of timidity or despair lest those who would reshape the world in our image carry us to self-destruction.

Aug. 6, 1967

Now our nation is facing the moment of truth. President Johnson is accelerating the troop buildup in Vietnam. The Great Society programs are costing far more than had been anticipated.

As an opponent of our involvement in Vietnam since 1954, I have neither enjoyed criticizing three Presidents nor accurately predicting the tragic consequences of their policies.

We cannot conquer the North Vietnamese nor the Viet Cong. Even if North Vietnam is totally bombed and a victory of sorts achieved, the United States would have to garrison the country for a long period of years.

So there is no solution in a permanent sense.

Aug. 27, 1967

My own view—for what it may be worth—is that the top correspondents in Vietnam who have covered both war and politics with great distinction have better access to the truth and are more believable than writers who rely largely upon official dispatches from Saigon.

Sep. 17, 1967

We are not stalemated in the sense of the deadlock. We have the firepower to crush Hanoi but its use would negate the limited concept of the struggle. Under present ground rules and considering the risk of bringing Red China and possibly Russia into the conflict by further escalating the war, we appear to have no workable military alternative to present procedure.

OCT. 15, 1967

One of the corrodent side effects of the Vietnam War is the rise of anti-intellectualism in the United States.

Although the right of dissent is clearly set forth in Article I of our Bill of Rights, there are those among us who would deny this right to others who view US involvement in Vietnam as a grim and unending tragedy.

Patriotism not the issue.

What escapes these and other simplicists is that the question of patriotism is not involved in open-end discussions of the Vietnam War.

The scholars and men in public life who view our involvement as futile and unnecessary are fortified in their beliefs by long and intensive studies.

We endure the witch hunters in World War I and the McCarthy era. We do not need them again.

Mr. Johnson would be better advised if he took the American people into his confidence rather than turning loose his political headhunters to attack the reputations and impugn the motives of free men in the exercise of their precious Constitutional rights.

John S. Knight Newspaperman

John Shively Knight (Oct. 26, 1894 – June 16, 1981) was a newspaper editor and publisher who founded the group that became Knight Ridder.

Jack Knight had a simple philosophy about journalism: “Get the truth and print it.” He was committed to high quality, independent journalism that served local communities and the public interest.

Knight inherited his father’s newspaper, the Akron Beacon Journal, in 1933, when the paper was struggling and the nation was in the depths of the Depression. He built it into a successful business, and in 1937 bought the Miami Herald, beginning a nationwide expansion that eventually included the Charlotte Observer, Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Macon Telegraph and San Jose Mercury News. Knight Ridder, the successor to Knight Newspapers, became the largest circulation newspaper group in the country.

He co-founded Knight Foundation with his brother, James L. Knight, who was also his partner in the newspaper business. The foundation continues his support for informed and engaged communities through programs in the arts, communities, journalism and media innovation.

Photo of John Shively Knight

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The Editor's Notebook

Will We Ever Learn When To Keep Out?

Sunday, February 5, 1967


“It is almost certain that at some stage, France will pull out of Indochina. Are we prepared to cope with such a contingency?

“The plain answer seems to be ‘No.’

“Our government lacks a coherent policy. It does not know the answer to a problem as large and involved as Indochina.”

- From the Editor’s Notebook of Feb. 21, 1954.

And again on April 4, 1954, the following comment appeared in this column: “Haven’t we learned from Korea that ‘united action’ in Asia would be little more than a phrase; that we could expect only token assistance from ‘other free nations’?

“Can’t we recognize the dangers of gradual involvement? That they inevitably lead to war?

“Members of Congress, now talking about Joe McCarthy, tax cuts and the hydrogen bomb, must be made to see the folly of engaging our land forces in the jungles of Indochina.”

At that time, some 13 years ago, these warnings went unheeded. They were dismissed by the then Secretary of Defense, Charles E. Wilson, who said that he saw no possibility that American troops would be involved and that “no such plan is even under study.”

Mr. Wilson, as has been the case with our present Secretary of Defense, proved to be a poor prophet.

The views expressed here on Southeast Asia now find support from Edwin O. Reischauer, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan and a qualified authority on the Far East.

In a recent interview, the diplomat historian asserts that “we just stumbled bit by bit into supporting French colonialism. The United States stepped into the unsound situation the French left behind them after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu.”

Mr. Reischauer, not a top echelon diplomat in 1954, said, “I had the feeling this was wrong, but nobody listened in those days. Many of us felt we should not back the revival of French colonialism in Asia. Step by step we became the major supplier of the French colonial war in Vietnam.”

In summary, Mr. Reischauer made this observation: “Let us not do this again. Let us at least think 12 years ahead and not get into any commitments in new situations of this kind.”

Good advice indeed. But is anyone listening?

Even now, as we support United Nations’ economic sanctions against Rhodesia on the preposterous assumption that this tiny nation constitutes “a threat to world peace,” the seeds of another war are being planted.

If the sanctions proved to be ineffective, the next step is resort to force. In time the public will be brainwashed into believing that Rhodesia must be crushed or Africa will erupt into total conflict.

The instability of Africa, with kings, prime ministers and generals feuding for power in a most undemocratic way, would suggest we think twice before attempting to impose our will upon Rhodesia where even the Council of Chiefs, representative body of the African tribal leaders, is supporting Prime Minister Ian D. Smith against the British government.

In fact, they have urged Mr. Smith to “stand firm like a rock,” and promised full cooperation in “working toward a constitutional system which would represent all the people of Rhodesia, black and white.”

Rhodesia has a stable government. Can the same be said of the other African nations now demanding Ian Smith’s head upon a charger?

The follies of U.S. diplomacy are such as to cause lifted eyebrows in the capitals of the world. Privately, experienced foreign diplomats expressed bewilderment as to why we go poking around looking for trouble, dissipating our resources and all for uncertain or unattainable objectives.

As Walter Lippman has said with respect to sanctions against Rhodesia: “The United Nations is attempting to do what it was never intended to do, what it should not do and what it cannot do.”

Yet the United States supports this dubious undertaking to preserve “harmony” within the United Nations.

This means that the United States can no longer guide or control all actions of the UN. So we are making our peace with the newly admitted “one man, one vote” nations of Africa in the hope of winning their future support.

Never mind principle. The votes are what we want.

When war’s devastation is ended, LBJ will have Great Society programs ready for friend and foe alike.

Our ability to pay for these paternalistic projects is never questioned. After all, aren’t we “the richest nation on earth”?

What utter nonsense this is.

Dr. Reischauer’s admonition to think ahead and avoid new commitments and impossible situations should be heeded by the President and Congress lest we be engulfed in the tide of good intentions.

For then, there would be little left to think about.

Random notes

President Johnson’s zeal for expanded welfare and higher Social Security benefits finds favor with our retired citizens. Yet the cost of these programs are truly alarming. Presently, the tax paid on the first $6,600 of yearly pay is $580.80. The employer and employee each pay half, or $290.40.

Under the proposed law, this amount will eventually rise to $745.80 under a rate of 5.65 per cent as compared with today’s 4.4 percent. When you add these hikes to Federal income taxes, state and local levies, the taxpayer is heavily burdened.

In Great Britain, the total welfare state, government welfare costs have risen by nearly 65 per cent in the last five years. Yet as U.S. News & World Report informs us, “by trying to do too much indiscriminately for everyone, the government has ended up doing too little for those who need the most help.”

By overspending on welfare, Britain is in a sorry economic plight.

The United States could go down the same dismal road.

Newspaper stories from Hanoi by Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times and Bill Baggs, editor of the Miami Daily News, have drawn unwarranted protests from readers who feel these eyewitness accounts of bomb damage in the North Vietnam capital are “hurting the war effort.”

But how, pray tell, can the truth be an obstacle to peace?

Roger Blough, chairman of United States Steel, who once got his comeuppance from President Kennedy, is at it again.

This time Mr. Blough thinks President Johnson’s proposed 6 per cent surcharge on individual and corporate taxes could have an adverse effect on the economy and the steel industry.

Possibly so, yet not at all certain. But what happens to the economy and the steel industry if we fail to check our mounting deficits?

A busted government is no treat either.

Footnote: Now that Bobby Baker has been tried and convicted, what has happened to all those skeptical people who solemnly assured us in the 1964 Presidential campaign that Lyndon Johnson’s former protege would never come to trial?

John S. Knight

The Editor's Notebook

Mounting War Toll Chargeable To LBJ

Sunday, March 12, 1967

The U.S. command in Saigon has announced the highest casualties of any week in the Vietnam war—232 dead, 1,381 wounded and four missing.

We are informed “officially” that 1,736 of the enemy were killed during the same period.

And the debate on Vietnam is, as James Reston says, “getting noisier and sillier because almost all of the principals keep arguing about the mysterious proposals and ultimatums that have never been put on the public record.”

Americans are sharply divided over Vietnam. For the United States, it is the first war of its kind. As The Economist of London says, “This kind of war is not inexplicable in the traditional categories of American foreign policy.

“It is not,” continues The Economist, “a war to end all wars, or a war for the Four Freedoms. It is a dirty little war that has fallen to the lot of the only power that is in a position to try to contain the expansion of Asian Communism.”

This “dirty little war” is now assuming the proportions of a major conflict. Gen. William C. Westmoreland reminds us that American forces in Vietnam total 417,400 and will continue to increase.

The end of the war and its outcome defy prediction.

To those of us who have long opposed the U.S. intervention in Vietnam, there is no solace to be found in our past warnings that “little wars” have a way of erupting into big ones.

The blood, the tears and the sacrifices of our gallant men in the field leave us sick at heart. We are saddened by this cruel slaughter, depressed over our inability to make the slightest contribution to our young men who are but the instruments of what we believe to be irrational foreign policy.

For who can have faith in leaders who have, since 1954, proclaimed the following:

  1. THAT our assistance to South Vietnam would merely be advisory and of a technical and training nature.

  2. THAT no American boys would ever be sent to do, as President Johnson once said, “what Asian boys should be doing for themselves.”

  3. THAT American forces would be returning to the United States by the end of 1965.

  4. THAT bombing of North Vietnam was interdicting the movement of men and supplies to South Vietnam. And, later, that these bombings had not perceptibly slowed this flow.

  5. THAT we were awaiting a close “signal” from Hanoi in reply to our peace overtures but had received no response. The fact is that the U.S. is constantly in touch with Hanoi through international diplomatic channels.

So one is forced to the conclusion that either the government has no well-defined policy, or it stands guilty of miscalculation or lying to the people, or both.

In previous wars of modern times, the American people have stood united and resolute, prepared for any sacrifice they might be called upon to make.

With Vietnam, they know not what to think as the debate between hawks and doves leaves only a bitter taste from the dregs of dissatisfaction.

In earlier years, when the Republicans might have stood together in opposition to our growing involvement, they chose to remain silent.

Only a handful of courageous Democrats, Fulbright of Arkansas, Hartke of Indiana, Morse of Oregon, McGovern of South Dakota, Gruening of Alaska, Church of Idaho, Mansfield of Montana, Young of Ohio, Clark of Pennsylvania, Gore of Tennessee and McCarthy of Minnesota, have from time to time either questioned or bluntly challenged the wisdom of our course.

Republican leadership, when it could have called President Johnson to account for doing what he said he would not do, elected to straddle the great issue of Vietnam while engaging in petty hit and run tactics for political advantage.

The Republicans cannot play this game much longer. For, in 1968, the GOP must come forward with a plan and a candidate which give the voters a real alternative to Lyndon Johnson.

As Walter Lippman has written, the issue may well be whether it is in this country’s interest to “police the world, thus entangling itself in one Vietnam after another-or whether its interest and duty are to return to the older American conception of the United States as on the whole a non-interventionist power, except where its own vital interest is clear.”

Meanwhile, many fine young men will be killed and maimed in our uncertain quest as the politicians place their careers above courage and country.

The people who recoil from this tragedy of errors are helpless. The editorialists and assorted pundits, declaiming from day to day on what should or should not be done in Vietnam, are wasting their ink.

Mr. Johnson is running this war, not Rusk, not McNamara, not the chiefs of staff, but Johnson.

When the great verdict of history is handed down, he alone can be called to account.

From the horse’s mouth

Mrs. R. E. Bessant of Ishpeming, Michigan, in taking us to task for supporting Lyndon Johnson in 1964, writes, “It is no secret to anyone that Hubert Humphrey is a dyed-in-the-wool socialist.”

I am sure this will be news to Mr. Humphrey, as is shown by the following question and answer on Meet The Press of March 13, 1966.

Mr. Knight: “Mr. Vice President, as a long-time liberal with a 100 per cent ADA voting record, you have in recent years said some very kind things about business. Does this represent a change in your attitude?”

Vice President Humphrey: “Not at all. My father was a businessman. I grew up in a business family. I had business support when I was in Minneapolis as the mayor of the city. I believe in the free enterprise system. It works better than any other. As a matter of fact, I have never found anything quite equal to it.”

In politics, Mrs. Bessant, it is a common error to equate liberalism with socialism. A look at the dictionary is recommended.

John S. Knight

The Editor's Notebook

Is War Inevitable?
‘67 Youths Doubt It

Sunday, April 9, 1967

All last week the disk jockeys were playing “Over There, Over There” and “Mademoiselle from Armentiers” to remind the present generation that we fought a war 50 years ago to “end all wars.”

This was the war that nobody wanted. Americans were disinterested in the affairs of Europe with its centuries of power struggles and economic rivalry.

President Woodrow Wilson had been reelected in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of war.”

Yet the pressures for U.S. involvement began mounting. American financiers who had loaned money to the British and the French were concerned over collecting these obligations. A powerful British lobby propagandized the American people with tall tales of German atrocities. Luncheon club speakers horrified their audiences in presenting “eyewitness” accounts of the Huns cutting off the hands of helpless babes.

The war fever rose perceptibly. Even so, war might of been avoided but for the blundering German high command which sent its U boats into neutral shipping lanes. Sinking of the Lusitania and the Arabic took a large toll of American lives and inflamed American opinion.

German diplomacy was no better. On March 1, 1917, German Foreign Minister Zimmerman proposed in a coded message that Mexico join Germany in a war against the United States. U.S. Intelligence is alleged to have cracked the code. More neutral ships were torpedoed. Germany had gone too far.

So it was that on April 2, 1917, Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war to “make the world safe for democracy.”

Starting from scratch

The United States was poorly prepared for this undertaking.

As told by Miller Davis in the Miami Herald, our Army consisted of 200,000 men equipped with out-dated weapons. The Signal Corps had only 130 pilots and 55 obsolete training planes.

There were no arms in inventory. Most of the tanks and planes that were first used in France had been produced in foreign factories.

In April, 1917, the United States did not have a single complete division. When we declared war there was no draft law. Yet by war’s end, 4,355,000 Americans had been mobilized for service.

Hanson W. Baldwin, military editor of the New York Times, recalls that we did have these assets: A National Guard, elements of which were manning the Mexican border, and some regular Army units under intensified training in the abortive Mexican foray led by General of the Armies John J. “Black Jack” Pershing.

The Navy was in the best state of readiness, as it usually is. It had begun a major construction program in 1916. Establishment in 1915 of the Plattsburg training camps by Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood provided a corps of army officer material which he had anticipated would be needed.

A number of U.S. factories were tooled up for war as they had been making munitions for the Allies long before we entered the war. And the U.S. did have a National Defense Act covering the regular Army, the organized reserves, including the Reserve Officer Training Corps, and the National Guard.

Yet, as Mr. Baldwin has written, “U.S. military power in 1917 — particularly land and air power — was a dwarf compared to the gigantic establishments of Europe and Asia.

“Nevertheless,” continues Baldwin, “the United States demonstrated in World War I tremendous organizing capability, a latent strength and a prodigality of effort that were impressive by any yardstick.”

Losses were heavy

The “war to end all wars” and “make the world safe for democracy” unexpectedly ground to a halt on Nov. 11, 1918. Military experts — with good reason and not foreseeing the German collapse — thought it might well last through 1919.

The Russians, then our ally, had been defeated. The French army was mutinous. British forces were taking the brunt of the German army constantly reinforced by divisions transferred from the Eastern front.

Our own army was inexperienced. No U.S. two-star general had ever commanded a division of 28,000 men. And, as Hanson Baldwin points out, “the United States had had no experience in trench warfare since the closing battles of the Civil War.”

The price of victory? Some 126,000 Americans killed, 234,300 wounded, 4,500 prisoners or missing. Allied forces suffered 5,152,115 killed, 12,831,004 wounded, 4,121,099 prisoners or missing.

Central powers, including Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria had 3,386,200 killed, 8,388,448 wounded and 3,629,829 prisoners or missing.

Historians have said that without U.S. participation either German victory or a stalemate would have been inevitable.

So by any standards, World War I was a massive and deadly struggle.

It marked the end of isolation and the emergence of the United States as a world power through development of our vast military, financial and industrial potentials.

‘On to Berlin’

What were the thoughts of our young people back in 1917? How did they look upon and the call to the colors?

To some of my classmates at Cornell University, it was the invitation to a great adventure. To others, signing up was the thing to do. And many thought they would wait and see how they fared in the first draft of May, 1917.

I recall no instances of protest on the Cornell campus, no antiwar demonstrations, no hostility towards President Wilson and the nation’s leaders, no boil of discontent.

More than half of the older students enlisted immediately in the services of their choice, or applied for officer training camps. The absence of inquiry as to the morality of the war and justification for its causes was typical of campus thought in that relatively unsophisticated era.

I still hold memories of the youthful satisfactions derived from attaching a large “On to Berlin” sign to a troop train, singing “The Yanks Are Coming” and consorting with an exuberant gang of kids untroubled by the meaning of war.

Of course, we grew up as the harsher aspects of warfare touched our lives. Some of us had never experienced anything more rugged in life than a hard tackle or six-rounder in the gym. We soon discovered that the Army was different and particularly so as we drew nearer and nearer to the combat zones.

As in every war, many comrades fell on the fields of France. The lucky ones never forgot, as they began to think there must be a better way of composing international disputes than by force of arms.

This inability on the part of the world leaders and diplomats to find honorable accommodations rather than resorting to firepower to serve their ends has long been the great tragedy of nations.

It is never the peoples of the world who incite a country to war, but their leaders.

There are questions

If the young people of today are different from those of us who accepted the gauntlet without question, it is because they dare to investigate the causes of war and examine its immorality.

Vietnam is no blithe adventure, nor is it being fought for a cause which all Americans can conscientiously defend.

So let our patriots on the home front — who have been called upon for no visible sacrifice — try to understand the feelings and emotions of our youth when they are less than enthusiastic over our professed national goals.

For theirs is a new generation which rightly challenges what their elders have done in the past.

It vigorously doubts that all wisdom resides in the statesman who piously talk of peace but send them to an Asian war to “save democracy” in a most undemocratic land.

The ineffable Fidel must be smirking at our feeble efforts to “stop Communism” much closer to home.

John S. Knight

The Editor's Notebook

Our 'Commitments' Open To Question

Sunday, May 7, 1967

The Senate Republican Policy Committee has issued a thoughtful and presumably well-documented study on the war in Vietnam.

Understandably, it credits the Eisenhower administration with making but a “limited commitment” to the South Vietnamese in 1954 while declaring that “under the Democrats, our commitment has become open-ended.”

This partisan study faithfully chronicles the mistakes of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations with respect to our involvement in Vietnam. It has caused the Miami News to comment that “the seeds of a meaningful dissent have been sown by the Republican party in the Senate.”

True perhaps, but where were the dissenting Republicans several years ago when they could have questioned the wisdom of policies they now deplore?

Strangely silent, I submit. Did they fear being tarred as unpatriotic? Or were they coolly calculating that it was politically expedient to support the war while being highly critical of President Johnson’s “mismanagement?”

Whatever the reasons for past GOP strategy, the Republican leadership stands indicted for failing to challenge the successive steps which have brought us to our present dilemma.

Only a handful of courageous Democrats rose in the Senate to pose the searching questions which might better have been advanced by a responsible minority party.

So when the Senate Republican Policy Committee comes now to inquire what our national interests are in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and to what further lengths “are we prepared to go in support of this interest?” it is proper to ask why the Republicans have delayed so long in seeking this reappraisal.

Is it because their appetites are being whetted by the aroma of “meat a-cookin’” in 1968? Or to wear the mantle of statesmanship even as President Johnson appears to be losing stature?

The Republican Policy Committee, even though Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen looks askance at its report, has made a useful contribution to the debate on Vietnam notwithstanding its partisan approach.

What a pity it is that Senate Republicans did not accept the gauntlet when it was thrown down by the administration years ago.

They must, therefore, bear a goodly share of the responsibility for our growing involvement in Vietnam.

Their inaction — when the times called for courageous dissent — fell far short of the statesmanship to which they now aspire.

“The Commitment”

How often have we heard politicians intoning that hoary phrase, “we must live up to our commitments,” or “the United States always honors its commitments?”

What are our commitments in Vietnam? Who made them? And when and why?

President Johnson says we have a “moral commitment,” the same one as “the commitment made by President Eisenhower in 1954.” Secretary of State Dean Rusk assures us that it is a “binding legal commitment” as well.

Actually, three so-called “commitments” are involved. The first was the Oct. 25, 1954, Eisenhower letter to Ngo Dinh Diem, then head of the Saigon government, promising American aid “provided your government is prepared to give assurances as to the standard of performance it would be able to maintain in the event such aid is supplied.”

The second “commitment” turned on the SEATO treaty, a collective defense pact signed by the U.S., Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Pakistan and Thailand.

Our third “commitment” was the Tonkin Gulf resolution as passed by Congress in 1964.

1 — As seen in retrospect, the Eisenhower letter was not a commitment but a proposal to give economic aid to South Vietnam if certain conditions for self-help and reform were accepted. Incidentally, these terms were not met.

At no time did President Eisenhower intend to send U.S. military forces to Vietnam, a fact which he readily admits today. And as historian Henry Steele Commager has written, “even had President Eisenhower intended his letter to be a kind of commitment, it would have had no binding force; the President cannot, by private letter, commit the United States to war or quasi-war.”

2 — The SEATO “commitment” is vague and legalistic, depending upon whether the parties thereto were dealing with “aggression” or “subversion.”

The section dealing with aggression provides that whatever measures are taken “shall be immediately reported to the Security Council” of the United Nations.

This step was never taken, although a gesture was made in January of 1966 — well after the fact.

The second section under which our “commitment” is defended provides for “collective consultation” in instances of subversion. The late John Foster Dulles, architect of SEATO, so interpreted this provision.

As Sen. Walter George of the Foreign Relations Committee, said at the time, “the treaty does not call for automatic action, it calls for consultation. All that we are obligated to do is to consult together.”

Yet there was no consultation. Although Secretary Rusk talks about “the sanctity of our Pacific alliances,” only SEATO members Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines have made any contributions to the cause of South Vietnam.

France openly opposes US policy, Britain offers only sympathy, Pakistan is disenchanted. So as Commager says, “If our ‘honor’ is involved, why is not the honor of the other SEATO nations equally involved?”

The American Bar Association upholds our “commitment” in Vietnam on the ground that Article 52 of the United Nations Charter provides for regional agreements for the maintenance of international peace.

It does indeed, but such activities must be “consistent with the purposes and principles of the United Nations” and no enforcement action “shall be taken... without authorization of the Security Council.”

So the question remains: Is the United States committed to unilateral action in Vietnam under the SEATO treaty?

It is my opinion, based upon extensive study of the subject, that we are not committed either legally or morally to our present course of action.

3 — The Tonkin Gulf resolution was passed without debate after the North Vietnamese had fired torpedoes at two American destroyers. The resolution pledged support to the President of the United States, as commander-in-chief, to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

The question is now raised as to whether the North Vietnamese committed an act of aggression, since our destroyers were only 11 miles from shore in violation of the “international waters” understanding which is honored by most nations.

When North Vietnam asserted that we had violated her waters, Sen. Gaylord Nelson asked on the floor of the Senate: “The patrolling (American destroyers) was for the purpose of demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that we did not recognize the 12-mile limit?” Sen. J. W. Fulbright replied: “That was one reason given.”

As Mr. Commager has written: “If the Tonkin Gulf affair was a clear case of aggression, why is it that the other members of SEATO have not rallied to our support, as is required by the treaty? If it was a clear case of aggression, why is it that we did not choose to follow the procedure laid down by the charter and submit it to the United Nations?”

Understandably, the American people have little patience with looking backward. One might well say: “Of what value are these facts now? We’re in the war, aren’t we?”

Yes, we are in the war but we can resent being told on the hour about “our commitments” which at best are but little more than the iterations and reiterations of the President, the Secretary of State and handyman Hubert Humphrey.

As Commager says, “These assertions have in themselves no more authority than had the assertion by the Emperor’s tailors that his clothes were indeed regal.”

The other argument runs that we have a factual commitment: “We are there whether we like it or not, whether we should be there or not.”

Such honored generals as Matthew B. Ridgway, who commanded the UN Army in Korea, and James M. Gavin, once Chief of Plans, think we should not be there.

And in the political campaign of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson thought we should not escalate the conflict as is shown by this one quotation from a speech delivered on August 29 of that year:

“I have had advice to load our planes with bombs and to drop them on certain areas that I think would enlarge the war and result in committing a good many American boys to fighting a war that I think ought to be fought by the boys of Asia to protect their own land. And for that reason I haven’t chosen to enlarge the war.”

When you reread remarks such as this and recall the pretentious predictions of early victory by Defense Secretary McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor and other functionaries, the American people cannot be blamed for their uneasiness over policies which they are unable to understand.

President Johnson does not impress them as a man of candor. He has failed to take them into his confidence, to explain why we are engaged in bloody conflict for objectives which remain obscure and uncertain.

It is not the dissent at home which is prolonging the war.

Rather, it is the determination of the man in the White House – entrapped by pride and circumstances — to bring about a victory or at least an accommodation with honor prior to the 1968 elections.

As history is being written, the possibilities of a wider struggle cannot be discounted.

Nor will our involvement in Vietnam be depicted as one of the glorious eras of American statesmanship.

John S. Knight

The Editor's Notebook

Growing Dialogue A Welcome Change

Sunday, May 21, 1967

After years of non-debate on Vietnam when only the voices of the few courageous Senators were raised in protest against our policies, a dialogue is beginning to be heard.

Even as our involvement increased from day to day, the nation and the Congress preferred to believe the ludicrous claims of “success” and “early victory” by such men as Defense Secretary McNamara, Gen. Paul Harkins and President Kennedy’s personal emissary, Gen. Maxwell Taylor.

At the time, it was stated in this column that diplomatic dispatches from Saigon should be ignored since there wasn’t a word of truth in them.

Some readers thought this was rather strong language but subsequent events have shown the observation not to have been overstated.

How unfortunate it is that the wise and patient counsel of Sen. Mike Mansfield, the Democratic majority leader, was ignored by the administration he serves.

How shabby it is that the warnings of Senators Fulbright, Morse, McGovern, Gruening, McCarthy, Stephen Young and Church were interpreted as the mouthings of appeasers.

How shameful it is that the Republican leadership, wrapped in Old Glory while sniping from its folds, avoided debate on the Senate floor.

True, this is now but an inglorious chapter in the history of our involvement in Vietnam. But a nation uninformed is a nation in peril.

Recommended Reading

It is gratifying, therefore, to observe that many of our elected representatives in Congress are at last finding their tongues.

In early May, the Republican Policy Committee issued an excellent and well documented study on the war in Vietnam. Despite its partisan overtones, this assessment is remarkably objective and informative.

Yet, minority leaders Everett Dirksen and Gerald Ford immediately disassociated themselves from the report. And Sen. Bourke Hickenlooper, chairman of the policy committee, conceded that he “hadn’t even read it.”

The effect of these non-think reactions was to denigrate the study and make it less acceptable as a Republican handbook on the background of Vietnam. The most constructive document and foreign policy ever issued by the GOP certainly deserved a better fate.

But the effervescent Dirksen would rather strike a patriotic posture and cut records about “Gallant Men” than assume the mantle of responsible leadership.

It is to be hoped that citizens throughout the country will read the Republican Policy Committee’s work and absorb the information it contains. The study is recommended reading for all who wish to broaden their knowledge of how and why we became entrapped in Vietnam.

Remove Hanoi’s Doubt

Meanwhile, 16 Senators who from time to time have opposed President Johnson’s Vietnam policies, issued a warning to the government of North Vietnam that they “remain steadfastly opposed to any unilateral withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam.”

This group, headed by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho and including Republicans John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky and Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon, said their dissent on Vietnam had been interpreted in administration circles as leaving a false impression that the United States did not have the will to persist with the war.

Their statement was intended to remove any such doubt about American resolve and to urge North Vietnam to seek a negotiated peace. Sen. Church conceded that public opinion appears to favor a tougher war policy and that some of his dissenting colleagues are reported to be in political trouble.

Realistically, these Senators know the hour is too late for a pull-out in Vietnam even as they “share the conviction that the tragic war should be ended by negotiation of a mutually acceptable settlement.”

As Sen. Church has said: “The catastrophe of a limitless war in Vietnam must be fully assessed while there is still time. It could only bring unprecedented suffering and sorrow — a bloodbath without equal in human history. With the stakes mortally high, we must not permit the stifling of dissent in the United States. We must not fall silent out of timidity or despair, whatever the political retribution. The debate must go on.”

Splendid words, these, and much to be admired. As historian Henry Steele Commager has written: “It was not thought unpatriotic for President Johnson to demonstrate against war in Vietnam in 1964; what has changed ... is not the law or the principle, but presidential policy, and it is not unpatriotic to fail to change when the President changes his policy.”

Ho is overconfident

What effect the statement of American resolution by Church and 15 other Senators will have upon the wily Ho Chi Minh is unpredictable.

The myth persists that dissent at home over the war is strengthening Ho Chi Minh’s will to resist; the North Vietnamese leader may be misreading our intentions.

Yet we are also reliably informed by European journalists (non-Communists) who have visited Ho and know him well that we are facing a shrewd, sophisticated adversary who is not being influenced but in the slightest by anti-war demonstrations in the United States.

Ho Chi Minh, they say, believes only that he can keep up the struggle indefinitely and that in time — years away perhaps — he or his successors will control Vietnam.

Conceivably, Ho derives too much confidence from his humiliating defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu. He should realize that the United States will never fail to support her men in the field as did the French government in the early 50s.

LBJ Invites Dissent

Yet we must face the sobering fact that the South Vietnamese, after 10 years of war, control less than half of the land area in their own country as is shown by the map in the May 22 issue of U.S. News & World Report which is reprinted here.

What began as a war to be waged by South Vietnam is now a total U.S. war, encompassing both the military and the pacification efforts.

Since this is precisely the course which President Johnson opposed in the 1964 presidential campaign, who invited the dissent to which he now so strongly objects?

The United States stands over-committed, straining to fulfill the needs in Vietnam even as we are pledged to defend Western Europe, sustain South Korea and meet the rising challenges in the Middle East.

All of this could reasonably have been foreseen and yet we stand bogged down in Southeast Asia as war clouds hover over much of the world.

So, as Sen. Church maintains, the debate must go on.

We must never fall silent out of timidity or despair lest those who would reshape the world in our image carry us to self-destruction.

John S. Knight

The Editor's Notebook

War, Prodigality Demand Sacrifices

Sunday, July 2, 1967

The most annoying phrase in the English language is “I told you so.”

No one enjoys being reminded of past mistakes, or of failing to heed advice which, if taken, could have avoided deep trouble.

Even so, this chronicler cannot resist the urge to pick up a few paragraphs from The Editor’s Notebook which appeared on the Sunday after the Fourth of July in 1957 — ten years ago.

“The strain on America’s capitalistic, or profit and loss, system comes from two sources:

“1 — Big government spending, and

“2 — The wage-price cycle.

“The President has said there must be statesmanlike action by business and labor to combat inflation or ‘we are lost.’

“Yet the government, which could set the example for economy, constantly increases its commitments and thereby its costs.

“Every proposed union contract is loaded with wage hikes and innumerable fringe benefits. The employer, with a gun pointed at his head, usually agrees to most of the demands and passes the cost along to the consumer.

“So everybody gets hooked, including the union members and their families.

“Two world wars have failed to bring lasting peace. We are pledged to fight on a score of fronts in case of aggression.

“Yet it is not only the force of arms that could spell disaster, but decay from within.”

These observations, mind you, were made during the Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Now, 10 years later, the problems of 1957 are vastly more troublesome. We no longer have creeping inflation. Inflation is on the gallop.

The economy suffers from nationwide strikes and work stoppages.

Consumer prices are rising at an alarming rate. Business earnings, bolstered for years by a false prosperity, have generally been declining during the last six months.

Taxation, at state and local levels, rises every year as officials seek new ways to extract additional revenues for needs which continue to mount.

And higher federal income taxes are in prospect to help pay for the war in Vietnam — about $2 billion a month — and cover overly optimistic miscalculations in the national budget.

The chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and Gardner Ackley, chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, both state that the record $18 billion federal deficit could lead to massive inflation.

As I have so often stated, all of this fiscal confusion was reasonably predictable, the Great Society’s choral renditions on how to spend more than you have and still get rich notwithstanding.

In assessing the responsibility for unhappy plight, these factors are as visible as the anatomy of a fat- legged female in a mini skirt:

1 — President Johnson’s decision to escalate an unconscionable war in Vietnam where nearly 500,000 young Americans are now bogged down in a bloody conflict with no end in sight.

2 — The President’s lack of prescience in not asking for higher federal revenues some 18 months ago when this course was clearly indicated.

3 — Lack of restraint in statesmanship and labor relations; complete disregard of governmental guidelines in settlement of labor disputes.

4 — Ever higher government spending for social programs, together with creation of new and non-essential projects even as the Vietnam war is taxing our resources.

5 — Increasing public demands for more and more services, often inspired by the commonly accepted misconception that the federal government “pays for all of this.”

6 — Strikes of schoolteachers, police, firemen, maintenance and welfare workers — all clamoring for higher pay without recourse to normal procedures.

7 — The false assumptions by a majority of the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures that since the United States “is the richest country in the world, we can afford anything.”

8 — The vast outflow of foreign aid — much of it in military hardware — which is draining our once ample gold supply far below prudent limits.

Yet it is you — not the Federal government — who pays for “all of this.” The government has no financial resources other than your taxes. It creates no wealth. It simply spends your money. And how!

The early purpose of the federal taxation was to defray the running expenses of government. It is now being used to change our social structure, to reform and instruct the people, to take from the thrifty and give to the non-productive elements of our society.

As the Wall Street Journal says so cogently: “The notion of a literal equality has been persistently preached by the politicians and would be opinion molders throughout this generation. The productive citizens are regularly berated, seemingly precisely for their attainments, while the unproductive are made into paragons of virtue.”

This is not to say we should neglect the needy, the ill, our veterans or the elderly. But one might wish for better management of these endeavors and the accompanying satisfaction of knowing that your money is being expended efficiently for worthy causes and not to reward chronic idlers.

Our government’s prodigality has finally brought its “new school” economists to the belated admission that higher taxes must be imposed.

Yet when I, among others, urged this course upon the President a year ago, he replied that I was not only wrong but underinformed.

It was quite apparent almost two years ago what should be done. The President might have foreseen that the economy could not sustain the vast cost of the war in Vietnam and proliferation of administration programs without recourse to new revenues.

When he had a change of heart last January and proposed a 6 per cent surcharge on all incomes, he encountered nothing but solid opposition.

The cry went up from labor, business and political leaders, “It is much too late, the economy will be adversely affected.”

It was indeed late, but not too late to take the exact steps which are now being recommended. Yet the President chose to stall and delay as public opinion went against him.

He now faces the moment of truth. Wars and huge domestic spending cost money, vast sums which Washington doesn’t have.

No longer can the administration duck the issue by trying new fiscal gimmicks and hoping wistfully that the war will soon be ended.

The President keeps advising us that Americans should count their blessings as the best-paid, best-fed and best educated people on earth.

We are likewise a spoiled, pleasure-bent society which has made no sacrifices whatsoever while our gallant men are suffering and dying in Southeast Asia.

If the President were less politically motivated and considerably more candid with the people, he would take them into his confidence and speak the truth.

The truth being that the nation is overcommitted, our resources strained, the treasury bare, inflation out of hand and each of us must be prepared for an uncertain future of war, higher taxes and personal sacrifices for an indeterminate period.

But what politicians would utter these unpopular thoughts?

A Winston Churchill, of course, but no other illustrious name in this generation of political leaders comes to mind.

John S. Knight

The Editor's Notebook

Nation Is Facing Moment Of Truth

Sunday, August 6, 1967

In a recent column from Washington, editor Bill Baggs of the Miami News observed: “Here, in the middle of the Summer, Washington is perspiring and has the fidgets. The politicians look out at the country and they can’t see anything that seems to be going right.”

No doubt about that, sir. The war in Vietnam is not going well, the nation is torn by civil disturbances, the Great Society isn’t solving all social ills and the U.S. Treasury needs more spending money.

As editor Baggs says, the despondency in Washington has reached the point where newspapers are being scolded by Sen. Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania for publishing all the bad news about the riots, the inevitable tax increase and all of the dreary parts of the Vietnam war.

The Senator should heed the Biblical injunction, “Physician, heal thyself.” For what segment of our society—if not the politicians—is to be held accountable for the mess in which we find ourselves?

While conceding that there are many able and conscientious men and women in public life who dare to dissent from the commonly accepted view, our nation is governed by the collective wisdom—if we may call it that—of our President and Congress.

Senate subservient

Thus it is that this nation blundered into the Vietnam war, a tragedy unparalleled in our history.

Thus it is that the President and Congress, in their zeal to implement the landmark decisions of the Supreme Court on civil rights, consistently promised more to the Negroes than was immediately deliverable.

Thus it is that a revolutionary process was set in motion by the demagoguery of political phrasemakers seeking acclaim and votes from a rising minority.

Thus it is that the Senate, as stated by Sen. J. William Fulbright, has abdicated its vital role in the field of foreign policy and has been largely subservient to the President’s wishes.

Thus it is that the Congress has expanded social welfare well beyond the bounds of a prudent fiscal policy and intends to increase the services now being provided.

Thus it is that when higher taxes were indicated nearly two years ago, the President and the Congress declined to act. Our gold reserves continue to fall as we undertake new commitments abroad.

Now our nation is facing the moment of truth. President Johnson is accelerating the troop buildup in Vietnam. The Great Society programs are costing far more than had been anticipated. All government estimates of expense are virtually worthless. The size of government deficits is conceals by the gimmick of selling some $4 billion in “participation certificates” to public investors.

Resentment on the rise?

A great howl of protest will be heard over the President’s proposal to impose a 10 per cent surcharge on individual and corporate income taxes. Yet the money is needed to support the war and pay for Mr. Johnson’s programs.

The administration’s error lies in not having asked for higher taxes 18 months ago when the economy was surging ahead and inflationary trends were clearly apparent.

To put it generously, Mr. Johnson and the leaders of both parties in the Congress failed to perceive the need at that time. Or did no one have the courage to act for fear of political consequences?

In assessing our present predicament, the politicians from the President down, must bear the responsibility.

The people are virtually helpless. To be sure, the voters can unseat a Senator here and a congressman there, but as the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Yet public indifference, lulled by years of inflated prosperity, may undergo a change by 1968 as rising protests against war, taxes and mismanagement of public business foretell the hour of resentment and discontent.

Letter box

A Miami businessman writes as follows: “My friends and I are greatly disturbed by your criticism of President Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam problem. None of us has any idea of a good solution.

“You know how much we enjoy your ‘Notebook.’ We would like to suggest a ‘Notebook’ column of your thoughts as to the solution of this tragic situation.”

In reply, I must be brutally frank in saying there can be no “good solution.” If there were, I feel sure President Johnson would have thought of it a long time ago.

The war, as presently conducted, could drag on for years. We are not winning despite President Johnson’s statement on July 13 of this year that he was “generally pleased with the progress we have made militarily.”

On the other hand, if we go “all out to win” by bombing Hanoi and Haiphong into rubble—as many people have suggested—the risk of bringing Red China or Russia or both into the war is indeed very real.

The civilized world could not survive a third world war fought with nuclear weapons.

As an opponent of our involvement in Vietnam since 1954, I have neither enjoyed criticizing three Presidents nor accurately predicting the tragic consequences of their policies.

Since 1963, the American people have been deluded by our government with such nonsense as the following:

“The momentum of the Communist drive has been stopped. The South Vietnamese themselves are fighting their own battle, fighting well.” Dean Rusk, Feb. 13, 1963.

“Secretary McNamara and Gen. Taylor reported their judgment that the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 1965, although there may be a continuing requirement for a limited number of U.S. training personnel.”—White House statement, Oct. 2, 1963.

“I am hopeful we can bring back additional numbers of men. I say this because I personally believe this is a war the Vietnamese must fight…I don’t believe we can take on the combat task for them.”—Robert McNamara, Feb. 3, 1964.

Other examples of similar misjudgments run into the pages, and are available upon request. Let it merely be said that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were not well advised as to true conditions in Vietnam.

Our allies fail us

It is the commonly accepted theme that we are fighting to repel Communist aggression; that it constitutes a threat to all of Southeast Asia and to the free world.

If this be so, then our reputed allies should join in the effort. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, formed in 1954, includes Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Of these nations, France and Pakistan are disenchanted, the British lion is toothless, Australia and New Zealand have supplied less than 6,000 men, Thailand is a staunch ally and token support has come from the Philippines.

Japan, the mightiest pro-Western power in Asia, wants no part of the Vietnam war. Premier Sato has said the United States should stop the bombing of North Vietnam. World opinion is almost universally opposed to what we are doing.

Since it is evident that our military tactics are not about to bring the North Vietnamese to the conference table, President Johnson might summon a conference of those nations which profess to be on our side and say quite plainly:

“Gentlemen, we have been carrying the brunt of this war—almost quite alone. If you are convinced that the Communists must be defeated, we shall need your help. We are not prepared to go it alone forever. What is your answer?”

In the likely event that no strong support is forthcoming, the President must then consider the alternatives of total war, continuing to fight a holding action without victory or pull out.

We cannot conquer the North Vietnamese nor the Viet Cong. Even if North Vietnam is totally bombed and a victory of sorts achieved, the United States would have to garrison the country for a long period of years.

So there is no solution in a permanent sense. Unless, of course, a new South Vietnamese government to be elected might decide the Americans should go home.

This is not beyond the realm of possibility. In the long run the Asians will shape their own destiny and the white man’s military presence will no longer be tolerated.”

John S. Knight

The Editor's Notebook

Much Is At Stake In Viet Election

Sunday, August 27, 1967

When the South Vietnamese go to the polls on Sept. 3 to choose a President, Vice President and members of Congress, the man most interested in the outcome will be Lyndon B. Johnson.

As Jack Anderson has said, the principal purpose of the elections, in LBJ’s view, is to legitimize the South Vietnamese government. Keyes Beech of the Chicago Daily News says it is the American hope that a free election will remove the stigma of a military dictatorship and make the regime generally more acceptable to lovers of democracy at home and abroad.

Should the election be a mockery, a voting fiasco, a perversion of South Vietnam’s widely heralded acceptance of democracy, the Americans may well emerge as the real losers. Or, as Beech has put it, “looking like bigger fools than some people thought they were for starting the whole thing in the first place.”

President Johnson, even while stepping up the bombing against the North, is known to believe that ultimately the South Vietnamese must run their own country. And that the North and South Vietnamese who are blood brothers but stand apart in a sanguinary civil war can in time resolve their differences.

This is a very appealing concept, both to the President, the American people and our uneasy but not very helpful allies.

U.S. Stands Alone

Mr. Johnson knows well that the war in Vietnam is unpopular both at home and abroad. The American people, who read of bribery, corruption and graft in the Saigon regime, cannot understand why the lives of our young men are being sacrificed to keep unscrupulous South Vietnamese politicians in power.

Member nations of SEATO, an organization formed by the late John Foster Dulles to resist aggression in Southeast Asia, have given our efforts but token support. West German Chancellor Kurt Keisinger, unlike his predecessor, Ludwig Erhard, has declined to lend even his moral support to the United States in Vietnam.

So we stand virtually alone in a war of attrition while risking every day the possibility that an errant bomb may involve us in a wider conflict with Red China or Russia.

These matters weigh heavily upon the President, as indeed they should. His fervent hope is that a reconstituted government in South Vietnam, elected by democratic processes, will in some measure provide that strife-torn nation with a more acceptable image and thus pave the way for negotiations with Hanoi.

Mr. Johnson has warned that we must not expect too much of the South Vietnam election process. Years of war, exploitation and a century of colonial domination suggest, as Tom Wicker of the New York Times has paraphrased the President’s admonition, “only a toddling step toward popular government ... and a model democracy would be too much to ask.”

Writers Are Skeptics

The main question which arises from South Vietnam’s forthcoming elections is whether they will indeed be significant.

Here are some opinions from respected journalists and correspondents who have lived with the Vietnam situation for many years:

1—“Not content with virtually assuring a military victory at the polls by combining the two most powerful generals on one slate and by removing the names of the most serious challengers from the ballot, the junta has now let it be known that it is forming a ‘military affairs committee’ which would continue to direct national policy no matter who gets the most votes next month.” – NEW YORK TIMES.

2—“The electoral process in South Vietnam has been further endangered by an obvious power play on the part of the ruling military junta. If democracy emerges, it will be nothing short of a miracle.”—DETROIT FREE PRESS.

3—“There isn’t a single political party in South Vietnam that can claim more than 3,000 members. The country is cursed by more than factions. Its curse is fragmentation. The Cao Dais are split. The Buddhists are split. Even the Catholics are split.

“The people have never known anything but autocratic rule. The vast majority of them are still illiterate. There are only 1,000 doctors for more than 15 million people, and most of these are in the army.”—KEYES BEECH, CHICAGO DAILY NEWS.

4—Premier Nguyen Cao Ky, who is running for vice-president on the military ticket, has said he will overthrow any President “who doesn’t live up to the aspirations of the South Vietnamese people.”—R.W. APPLE JR., NEW YORK TIMES.

Another View

But Ralph McGill of The Atlanta Constitution takes a different view. Mr. McGill, whose nationally syndicated column usually holds a good opinion of the Johnson administration, says that “our own political history is filled with the names of bosses and corruption. The corrupt manipulation of President Grant was one of the major examples.”

McGill continues: “Against such a background, to have the Vietnam peace cult lobby and the Senators and Congressmen holding up pious hands and demanding that Vietnam give us pure, clean democracy in its first election is enough to make a buzzard gag.”

And Bruce Biossat, Washington correspondent of the Newspaper Enterprise Assn., derides those who think “we should get out of Vietnam if the Sept. 3 election is not run off according to our taste.” Biossat adds, “our avowed purpose is to preserve South Vietnam’s independence. This means its freedom from the irreversible course of Communism but not its freedom from all other error.”

My own view—for what it may be worth—is that the top correspondents in Vietnam who have covered both war and politics with great distinction have better access to the truth and are more believable than writers who rely largely upon official dispatches from Saigon.

Free to tell all

On Monday next, a delegation appointed by President Johnson will leave for South Vietnam to “observe” the Sept. 3 elections.

The group includes members of the clergy, labor leaders, governors, senators, mayors, Whitney M. Young of the Urban League and two or three newspapermen.

How meaningful this procedure may be is impossible to predict. But as Sen. Majority Leader Mike Mansfield has commented, “It’s a good idea to get a cross section of the American people to go out there as observers.”

Hopefully, individual members of the delegation will be able to visit the countryside, talk with the people and not be confined to Saigon and discussions with officialdom.

I accepted the President’s invitation with the understanding that I would be free to write and comment as I chose and not be bound by “off the record” confidences designed to lull the unsuspecting reporter.

The Man in Charge, who knows I am no supporter of his Vietnam policy, said in effect I could write what I “damn well pleased” and that was good enough for me.

More anon.

John S. Knight

The Editor's Notebook

Views On Vietnam Reply To Queries

Sunday, September 17, 1967

Upon returning from a 23,000-mile journey to, from and around South Vietnam as a member of the President’s commission on elections, the deluge of questions posed by readers of this column suggests a press conference in print.

Topping all other queries — and no ducking, please — is this one: “You have been a persistent critic of our involvement in Vietnam for many years. Have you changed your mind since visiting Vietnam?”

My answer is a flat “No.”

As they warned on April 25, 1954, “the United States is headed toward another war through the pattern of gradual involvement. Intervention in the Indochina would find us fighting another dead end war with virtually no support from our Allies. And military victories alone will not resolve the situation in Southeast Asia.”

Now, 13 years later, 465,000 U.S. servicemen are in Vietnam, 13,129 American boys have been killed in combat and 81,669 wounded by the enemy.

The war itself, with only token participation from SEATO allies, has been described as “a limited war for limited objectives.” In a word, this means we will defend South Vietnam against aggression but have no plans for “total victory” over North Vietnam.

So we are paying a tragically high price in men and resources for what may prove to be an unattainable objective.

Question No. 2, spoken both in jest and all seriousness asks: “Have you, like George Romney, been brainwashed by the military and the State Department?”

Again the answer is “No.” Had George been an experienced observer two years ago, he would have recognized the usual VIP treatment in Vietnam for what it is — a fair but skillful presentation of facts upholding the administration’s position.

Searching questions are in order at these briefings and each individual must make his own judgments on the answers which are given. Obviously, Gov. Romney was free from doubt in 1965.

Q. — “Do the US military commanders in South Vietnam agree with the Johnson-McNamara policy of specifying ‘off-limits’ targets in North Vietnam?”

A. — Publicly yes, privately no. Most of them would like to close the port of Haiphong and bomb SAM sites and airfields from which Russian-built Migs attack our planes.

Q. — “How would you describe the type of war we are fighting?”

A. — A limited war which contemplates no invasion of North Vietnam. It is designed to convince Hanoi that the Communists cannot win and thereby bring Ho Chi Minh to peace discussions.

Except for the bombing of North Vietnam, we are essentially in a defensive posture resembling an enlarged “enclave” theory proposed by retired Lt. Gen. James M. Gavin several years ago.

Q. — “What do you think of the strategy? Are we in a stalemated war?”

A. — We are not stalemated in the sense of the deadlock. We have the firepower to crush Hanoi but its use would negate the limited concept of the struggle. Under present ground rules and considering the risk of bringing Red China and possibly Russia into the conflict by further escalating the war, we appear to have no workable military alternative to present procedure.

Q. — “Why not all-out war to win?”

A. — Well-grounded fear of a larger war with Red China or Russia or both, and the recognition that military triumphs alone will not bring lasting peace to Vietnam.

Q. — “Would you favor unilateral pull-out from Vietnam?”

A. — Not at this time. We are too deeply committed and have sacrificed too much to yield our present military advantages. This course would present an easy victory to Ho Chi Minh.

Q. — “What, then, is the solution?”

A. — There may be no permanent “solution” as Americans consider the term. Best hope is that the recent elections in South Vietnam and those to follow will produce stable regimes having the confidence of the South Vietnamese people.

It is reported that President Johnson approves of peace negotiations being started by newly-elected President Thieu. In time, possibly and only possibly, the United States might be invited to leave.

Q. — “Why was President Johnson so interested in the recent South Vietnam elections?”

A. — The beginnings of democracy in South Vietnam, after years of oppressive rule, have strengthened his hand at the peace table.

Q. — “It is known that Generals Thieu and Ky have long been rivals for power. Can they now work together for the good of the country?”

A. — Extremely doubtful unless Vice President Ky changes his temperament and holds his tongue. Thieu plans an infusion of civilian talent into his administration; will strive mightily to curb the hitherto irrepressible Ky.

Q. — “What is the significance of strong Catholic representation in the newly elected Senate of South Vietnam?”

A. — Unclear at this time. Some were supporters of the late President Ngo Dinh Diem, others opposed him.

Q. — “Did Generals Thieu and Ky exert much influence in the elections?”

A. — Yes, they passed the word through the military chain of command to deliver a maximum vote for the Thieu-Ky ticket.

Yet they polled only 34.8 percent of the vote and of the 11 senatorial slates favored by Ky, only one was elected. Thieu plumped for two senatorial slates and both lost.

In the previous two presidential “elections,” Ngo Dinh Diem won by 98 percent and 88 percent — both classic examples of dictated vote rigging.

Q. — “What is the meaning of the surprisingly large vote given to Truong Dinh Dzu?”

A. — It reflected the yearnings of South Vietnamese people for peace after years of war, frustration and uncertain leadership.

Rotarian Dzu, the peace candidate who selected a white dove as his emblem, is a fiery orator, something of a demagogue and has engaged in questionable legal practices. Some time ago he was removed from the U.S. Embassy’s list of “approved” lawyers.

Most South Vietnamese desire only to live in peace and security. To them, Dzu represented some hope for the future.

Q. — “You say the elections seemed reasonably fair and honest. Weren’t Au Truong Thanh, former minister of economics and retired Gen. Duong Van Minh denied the right to run against Thieu and Ky?”

A. — Elections laws bar anyone who has “worked directly for communism or procommunist neutralism.” This was the charge made against Thanh. In “Big” Minh’s case, his vice-presidential running mate once held French citizenship whereas the laws provide that “candidates must have had Vietnamese citizenship since birth.”

Q. — “Did Thieu and Ky influence consideration of the election laws?”

A. — Very likely.

Q. — “Do they have a free press, as we understand it, in South Vietnam?”

A. — No. The state “respects freedom of thought, speech, press and publishing so long as it does not harm personal honor, national security or good morals.”

Three of Saigon’s 23 Vietnamese language newspapers have been closed by the government since last July. The Vietnam Guardian, an English-language newspaper was suspended last December. Appeals by the Guardian’s publisher have gone unanswered.

Q. — “What about the morale of U.S. men in service?”

A. — Very high. And principally because of the provision of one year’s service in Vietnam.

Q. — “How is the pacification program progressing?”

A. — Very slowly. It will be a long and arduous job.

Q. — “What about fighting qualities of the South Vietnam army?”

A. — Uncertain and wavering but with some creditable performances.

Q. — “What do our men in combat think of the ARVN units, their South Vietnamese counterparts?”

A. — Not much.

Q. — “What are your impressions of our military command in Vietnam and corresponding State Department personnel?”

A. — Very favorable. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker is a diplomat of long experience in Argentina, India and the Dominican Republic. He has dignity, ability and a quality I call “presence.”

The military, from Gen. Westmoreland, is first rate, but chafing under present restrictions on conduct of the war and what they consider to be “unfair press criticism” from The New York Times and a few other newspapers.

Q. — “Would you entrust full conduct of the war to the military or give it to Defense Secretary McNamara?”

A. — To neither in this delicate situation. The President, as commander-in-chief, has and must assume full responsibility.

Q. — “Having supported Lyndon Johnson in 1964, would you do so again?”

A. — Very doubtful, although the Republicans have a positive genius for fuzzing up the issues and picking the wrong man.

So let’s just say there will be time enough to make a choice in the fall of 1968 as we view “a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ into mock — when the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.”

John S. Knight

The Editor's Notebook

Freedom Of Speech Is A Precious Right

Sunday, Octopus 15, 1967

One of the corrodent side effects of the Vietnam War is the rise of anti-intellectualism in the United States.

Although the right of dissent is clearly set forth in Article I of our Bill of Rights, there are those among us who would deny this right to others who view U.S. involvement in Vietnam as a grim and unending tragedy.

One such is Speaker John W. McCormack who has charged in the House of Representatives that critics of the administration’s Vietnam policies are giving comfort to North Vietnam. “If I was one of those,” shouted the Speaker, “my conscience would disturb me the rest of my life.”

Another important personage highly critical of freedom of expression is Archbishop Robert Lucey of San Antonio, Texas. Upon returning from Vietnam, the archbishop said “the American people are not getting a true picture of the war. The press has an opportunity to kill once and for all the impression that a stalemate exists. There hasn’t been any stalemate for a long time.”

Continuing in this vein, Archbishop Lucey declared “there ought to be a way to stop people who talk through their hats or their birettas on these matters.”

Thus the archbishop qualified himself both as a military authority and a censor of public expression. As one of his traveling companions to Vietnam, I gained the disturbing impression that Archbishop Lucey had formulated his conclusions before we left the runway at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington.

Dirksen, Goldwater, too

What these and other prominent citizens of similar persuasions are saying is that all who disagree with Lyndon Johnson’s conduct of the war should shut up. This is being as illiberal in thought as a newspaper editorial advising people to stay away from a George Wallace rally because the editor doesn’t approve of the Alabamian’s views.

Sen. Everett Dirksen, proliferative phrasemaker of the Republican party, steadfastly defends the administration’s war policies.

Dirksen said recently in attempting to paraphrase the great Winston Churchill that he “was not made a Senator to preside over the liquidation of the holy fabric of freedom.” He was alluding to his belief that the dissidents were carrying their criticism of President Johnson beyond “due bounds.”

And even Barry Goldwater is disturbed by the failure of many Americans to stand behind President Johnson in his conduct of the Vietnam war. To a University of North Carolina student assembly, the 1964 GOP presidential candidate declared: “He is my president and I want him to be as well off as he can be. Dissent we can take care of next November.”

Patriotism not the issue

What escapes these and other simplicists is that the question of patriotism is not involved in open-end discussions of the Vietnam war.

The scholars and men in public life who view our involvement as futile and unnecessary are fortified in their beliefs by long and intensive studies.

Edwin O. Reischauer, former ambassador to Japan, gives warning that “if we are to avoid more national catastrophes like that in Vietnam, we must devote a great deal more attention and careful thought to our relations with the half of the world’s population that lives in Asia.”

The doubtful legalities of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization — so often discussed in this column — were never questioned by the men who now condemn those who did.

This widely heralded “commitment” provides, that in case of aggression by armed attack, each SEATO power is “to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes” and, in case of subversion, to “consult” with other signatories “in order to agree on the measures to be taken for common defense.”

Our SEATO allies have never been able to agree on the treaty’s vague language and have largely gone their respective ways. SEATO can in no way be compared to NATO which provides that an attack upon one nation is an attack upon all.

Yet the President and Secretary Rusk talk solemnly of our “SEATO commitment” and attempt to make President Eisenhower’s aid to Vietnam — conditioned upon internal reforms which were never carried out — appear as the original commitment.

The Eisenhower October, 1954 letter to Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem explicitly stated that “the government of the United States expects that this aid will be met by performance on the part of the government of Vietnam in undertaking needed reforms.”

When President Johnson refers to his predecessors as being in support of what he is now doing, he forgets that in September of 1963, the late President Kennedy said: “In the final analysis, it’s their war. They’re the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can send our men out there as advisers that they have to win it.”

Today, there is no competent observer of the Vietnam scene who believes that the South Vietnamese without the weight of our military power could stand off the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese forces for more than a few weeks.

And to think, as Reischauer has written, “the best our valiant men can hope to achieve is worse than what we could have had, virtually for nothing, if we had only had enough interest in Vietnam and in Asia to study in advance the problems we faced there.”

Hacks followed blindly

It is the history of our step-by-step involvement which the McCormacks, Luceys, Dirksens and the Goldwaters choose to ignore as they prate about patriotism and supporting the President.

Yet when these important questions were first raised by the Fulbrights and a small band of dissenting Democratic Senators, Mr. Dirksen’s political party stood mute.

Nor was it the McCormacks and other party hacks — blindly following administration policies — who were the true patriots in those fated hours but the dissidents who foresaw the dire consequences of those policies.

With a presidential election in the offing and Mr. Johnson in trouble, the word has been passed to the party faithful to make a show of unity by deriding any who dare to dissent. Sen. Jay. W. Fulbright of Arkansas, whose televised hearings on the war and its implications did so much to inform the American people, is the main object of their scorn.

But, as the Senator so aptly observed in his reply to Dirksen’s lament over “liquidating the fabric of freedom,” this endless and unsuccessful war “is not strengthening freedom in our country.”

“Rather,” the Senator said, “it has given rise to an unhealthy atmosphere of suspicion and recrimination both within the government and in the country at large.”

We endure the witch hunters in World War I and the McCarthy era. We do not need them again.

Mr. Johnson would be better advised if he took the American people into his confidence rather than turning loose his political headhunters to attack the reputations and impugn the motives of free men in the exercise of their precious Constitutional rights.

John S. Knight