54.Richard Nixon - Cambodian Incursion Address
Americans. Ten days ago, in my report
to the nation on Vietnam, I
announced the decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the
next year. I said then
that I was making that decision despite our concern over increased
enemy activity in Laos, in Cambodia, and in
South Vietnam. And at
time I warned that if I
concluded that increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered the lives of
Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not
take strong and effective measures
to deal with that situation. Despite that warning, North Vietnam has increased its military
these areas, and particularly in Cambodia.
After full consultation with
Security Council, Ambassador Bunker, General Abrams
and my other advisors, I
have concluded that the actions of the enemy in the last
clearly endanger the lives of Americans who are in Vietnam now and would constitute an
unacceptable risk to
those who will be there after withdrawal of another 150, 000. To protect
our men who are in
Vietnam, and to guarantee the continued success of our withdrawal and
that the time has come for action.
Tonight, I shall describe the actions of the enemy, the actions I have ordered to deal with that
situation, and the reasons for my decision.
small country of seven
million people has
been a neutral nation since the
Geneva Agreement of 1954, an agreement, incidentally, which was signed by the government
of North Vietnam. American policy since then has been
to scrupulously respect
of the Cambodian people.
We have maintained a skeleton diplomatic mission of fewer than
in Cambodia’s capital, and that only since last August.
For the previous four years, from 1965 to
1969, we did not
have any diplomatic mission
whatever in Cambodia, and for the past five years we have provided
whatever and no economic assistance to Cambodia.
however, has not
respected that neutrality. For the past
five years, as
see here, North
Vietnam has occupied military sanctuaries all
along the Cambodian frontier with South
Vietnam. Some of these extend up to 20 miles into
Cambodia. The sanctuaries are in red, and as you
they are on both sides of the border.
They are used for hitandrun
attacks on American and South
Vietnamese forces in South
Vietnam. These Communistoccupied
territories contain major base camps, training sites,
logistics facilities, weapons and ammunition
factories, airstrips, and prisoner of war
And for five years neither the United States nor South
Vietnam has moved against these
enemy sanctuaries because we did not wish to
violate the territory of a neutral nation. Even
after the Vietnamese Communists began to expand these sanctuaries four weeks ago, we
counseled patience to our South Vietnamese allies and imposed restraints on our own
to our policy the enemy in the past
two weeks has stepped up his guerrilla actions,
and he is concentrating his main forces in
these sanctuaries that
see in this map, where
they are building up to
massive attacks on our forces and those of South
Vietnam in the last two weeks has stripped away all pretense of respecting the
sovereignty or the neutrality of Cambodia. Thousands of their soldiers are invading the
country from the sanctuaries. They are encircling the capital of Pnompenh. Coming from these
sanctuaries, as you see here, they had
moved into Cambodia and are encircling the capital.
Cambodia, as a result of this, has sent out a call to
the United States, to a number of other
nations, for assistance. Because if this enemy effort succeeds, Cambodia would become a vast
enemy staging area and a springboard for attacks on South
Vietnam along 600 miles of
frontier: a refuge where enemy troops could return from combat without
fear of retaliation.
Vietnamese men and supplies could then
be poured into that country, jeopardizing not
only the lives of our own men but
the people of South
Vietnam as well.
Now confronted with this situation we had
First, we can do nothing.
the ultimate result of that course of action is clear.
indulge in wishful thinking,
the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam after our next
withdrawal of 150,000 would be gravely threatened.
the map again.
Here is South
Here is North Vietnam. North
Vietnam already occupies this part of
Laos. If North Vietnam also occupied this whole
band in Cambodia, or the entire country, it
would mean that
Vietnam was completely outflanked and the forces of Americans in
this area as well as the South
Vietnamese would be in an
untenable military position.
Our second choice is to provide massive military assistance to Cambodia itself. Now
unfortunately, while we deeply sympathize with
the plight of seven million Cambodians whose
country has been
massive amounts of military assistance could not be rapidly and
effectively utilized by this small Cambodian
the immediate trap. With other
nations we shall do our best
to provide the small arms and other equipment which
Cambodian Army of 40,000 needs and can use for its defense. But
the aid we will provide will
be limited for the purpose of enabling Cambodia to defend its neutrality and not for the
purpose of making it an active belligerent on one side or the other.
Our third choice is to go to the heart of the trouble.
And that means cleaning out
Vietnamese and Vietcong occupied territories, these sanctuaries which
serve as bases for
attacks on both Cambodia and American and South
Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.
Some of these, incidentally, are as close to
Saigon as Baltimore is to
Washington. This one,
for example, is called the Parrot’s Beak. It’s only 33 miles from Saigon.
Now faced with
these three options, this is the decision I
have made. In
armed forces of South Vietnam, attacks are being launched this week to clean out
enemy sanctuaries on the CambodianVietnam
border. A major responsibility for the ground
operations is being assumed by South Vietnamese forces.
the attacks in several areas,
including the parrot’s beak that I
referred to a
moment ago, are exclusively South
Vietnamese ground operations, under South
command, with the United States providing air and logistical support. There is one area
however, immediately above the parrot’s beak where I
have concluded that a combined
American and South Vietnamese operation is necessary.
Tonight, American and South
Vietnamese units will attack the headquarters for the entire
Communist military operation
Vietnam. This key control center has been occupied by
Vietnamese and Vietcong for five years in blatant violation of Cambodia’s neutrality.
This is not an invasion of Cambodia. The areas in which
these attacks will be launched are
completely occupied and controlled by North
Vietnamese forces. Our purpose is
the areas. Once enemy forces are driven out of
these sanctuaries, and once their military
supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.
These actions are in no way directed to
the security interests of any nation. Any government
that chooses to
use these actions as a pretext for harming relations with the United States will
be doing so on
responsibility and on
its own initiative, and we will draw
And now, let me give you
the reasons for my decision. A majority of the American people, a
majority of you
me are for the withdrawal of our forces from Vietnam. The action I
have taken tonight is indispensable for the continuing success of that withdrawal program. A
majority of the American people want to end this war rather than to
have it drag on
interminably. The action I
serve that purpose. A
majority of the
American people want to
keep the casualties of our brave men in Vietnam at an absolute
minimum. The action I
is essential if we are to accomplish that goal.
We take this action
not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia, but
purpose of ending the war in Vietnam, and winning the just peace we all desire.
We have made, we will continue to
make every possible effort to
end this war through
the conference table rather than
more fighting in the battlefield.
Let’s look again at
We stopped the bombing of North
have cut air operations by over 20 per cent.
We’ve announced the withdrawal of over 250, 000 of our men. We’ve offered to withdraw all
of our men
if they will withdraw theirs. We’ve offered to
issues with only one
condition: and that
is that the future of South
Vietnam be determined,
not by North Vietnam,
and not by the United States, but by the people of South Vietnam themselves.
The answer of the enemy has been
the conference table, belligerence at
Hanoi, massive military aggression
in Laos and Cambodia and steppedup
attacks in South
Vietnam designed to
This attitude has become intolerable.
to this threat to American lives merely by plaintive, diplomatic protests.
If we did,
the credibility of the United States would be destroyed in every area of the world
where only the power of the United States deters aggression.
Tonight, I again warn
Vietnamese that if they continue to escalate the fighting when
the United States is withdrawing its forces, I shall
my responsibility as commander in
chief of our armed forces to
take the action
consider necessary to defend the security of our
The action I
have announced tonight puts the leaders of North Vietnam on notice that we will
be patient in working for peace.
We will be conciliatory at
the conference table.
But we will
not be humiliated.
not be defeated.
not allow American men, by the thousands, to be killed by an enemy from privileged
The time came long ago
to end this war through peaceful
negotiations. We stand ready for
those negotiations. We’ve made
many of which must remain
secret. I say
tonight all the offers and approaches made previously remain on
the conference table
whenever Hanoi is ready to negotiate seriously. But
if the enemy response to our most
conciliatory offers for peaceful negotiation continues to be to
increase its attacks and
humiliate and defeat
us, we shall react accordingly.
Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless
attacks on all the great institutions which
created by free civilizations in
500 years. Even
the United States, great universities are being systematically
nations all over the world find themselves under attack from within and from without.
If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful
United States of America
like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of
totalitarianism and anarchy will
nations and free institutions throughout the world.
is not our power, but our will and character that is being tested tonight.
The question all
Americans must ask and answer tonight is this: Does the richest and
the history of the world have the character to meet a direct challenge by a
rejects every effort to win a just peace, ignores our warning, tramples on solemn
agreements, violates the neutrality of an
unarmed people, and uses our prisoners as
hostages? If we fail to
this challenge, all other nations will be on notice that despite its
overwhelming power the United States when a real crisis comes will be found wanting.
During my campaign for the Presidency, I pledged to bring Americans home form Vietnam.
They are coming home. I promised to end this war. I shall keep that promise. I promised to
win a just peace.
keep that promise. We
shall avoid a wider war, but we are also
determined to put an end to this war.
this room, Woodrow
Wilson made the great decisions which
led to victory in World
the decisions which
led to our victory in
World War II. Dwight D.
Eisenhower made decisions which ended
the war in Korea and avoided war in
the Middle East.
John F. Kennedy, in his finest
hour, made the great decision which removed Soviet
missiles from Cuba and the western hemisphere.
I have noted that
there’s been a great deal of discussion with regard to this decision
have made. And I should point out
it is in the same magnitude as these
have just mentioned.
those decisions and this decision, there is a
difference that is very fundamental. In
those decisions the American people were not assailed
by counsels of doubt and defeat
from some of the most widely known opinion
leaders of the
I have noted, for example,
that a Republican
Senator has said that
this action I have taken
my party has lost all chance of winning the November elections. And others are
saying today that
this move against
enemy sanctuaries will make me a oneterm
No one is more aware than I am of the political
consequences of the action
have taken. It is
take the easy political path, to blame this war on previous Administrations, and to
bring all of our men
home immediately regardless
of the consequences, even
would mean defeat for the United States. to desert
South Vietnamese people who
us. to expose them to
the same slaughter and savagery which
leaders of North Vietnam inflicted on hundreds of thousands of North Vietnamese who chose
the Communists took over North
Vietnam in 1954.
To get peace at any price now, even though
I know that a peace of humiliation
for the United
States would lead to a bigger war or surrender later. I
have rejected all political considerations
in making this decision. Whether my party gains in November is
compared to the lives
of 400,000 brave Americans fighting for our country and for the cause of peace and freedom
may be a oneterm
President is insignificant compared to whether by our failure to
in this crisis the United States proves itself to be unworthy to
the forces of freedom in
this critical period in world history.
I would rather be a oneterm
president and do
what I believe was right than to
be a twoterm
President at the cost of seeing America become a secondrate
power and to see this nation
accept the first defeat in its proud 190year
I realize in this war there are honest, deep differences in this country about whether we
should have become involved. that
there are differences to
the war should have been
I announce tonight
transcends those differences, for the lives of American
men are involved. The opportunity for 150,000 Americans to come home in the next
months is involved.
The future of 18million
people in South
Vietnam and 7 million people in
Cambodia is involved. The possibility of winning a just peace in
Vietnam and in the Pacific is at
is customary to conclude a speech
from the White House by asking support for the
President of the United States. Tonight, I depart from that precedent. What I ask is far more
important. I ask for your support for our brave men fighting tonight halfway around the world,
for territory, not for glory, but
their younger brothers and their sons and your sons
can have a chance to grow
up in a world of peace, and freedom, and justice.
Thank you, and good night.