A War That Is Finished

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One Of Fords Public Speeches Intended To Make Light Huge American Losses In Vietnam And Move Forward

 

This speech was given by President Ford amid the international turmoil surrounding the end of the Vietnam War in April 1975. On the very day the President gave this speech, 100,000 North Vietnamese soldiers were advancing toward Saigon, South Vietnam’s capital. Meanwhile, leaders from around the world, and the North Vietnamese themselves, waited to see how the United States would react to the pending collapse of South Vietnam, which the U.S. had fought hard to preserve.

The answer came from President Ford during this speech in which he declared the conflict “a war that is finished as far as America is concerned,” and urged the young Americans in his audience at Tulane University to look toward the future instead.

A week later, Saigon fell and South Vietnam surrendered to the North Vietnamese. Vietnam was thus unified under a Communist regime that remains in power today.

Listen to the entire speech

Each time that I have been privileged to visit

Tulane, I have come away newly impressed with the intense application of the student body to the great issues of our time, and I am pleased tonight to observe that your interest hasn’t changed one bit.

As we came into the building tonight, I passed a student who looked up from his book and said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins but with a single step.” To indicate my interest in him, I asked, “Are you trying to figure out how to get your goal in life?” He said, “No, I am trying to figure out how to get to the Super Dome in September.” [Laughter] Well, I don’t think there is any doubt in my mind that all of you will get to the Super Dome. Of course, I hope it is to see the Green Wave [Tulane University] have their very best season on the gridiron. I have sort of a feeling that you wouldn’t mind making this another year in which you put the Tigers [Louisiana State University] in your tank.

When I had the privilege of speaking here in 1968 at your “Directions ’68″ forum, I had no idea that my own career and our entire Nation would move so soon in another direction. And I say again, I am extremely proud to be invited back.

I am impressed, as I undoubtedly said before — but I would reiterate it tonight — by Tulane’s unique distinction as the only American university to be converted from State sponsorship to private status. And I am also impressed by the Tulane graduates who serve in the United States Congress: Bennett Johnston, Lindy Boggs, Dave Treen.

Eddie Hebert, when I asked him the question whether he was or not, and he said he got a special degree: Dropout ’28. [Laughter]

But I think the fact that you have these three outstanding graduates testifies to the academic excellence and the inspiration of this historic university, rooted in the past with its eyes on the future.

Just as Tulane has made a great transition from the past to the future, so has New Orleans, the legendary city that has made such a unique contribution to our great America. New Orleans is more, as I see it, than weathered bricks and cast-iron balconies. It is a state of mind, a melting pot that represents the very, very best of America’s evolution, an example of retention of a very special culture in a progressive environment of modern change.

On January 8, 1815, a monumental American victory was achieved here — the Battle of New Orleans. Louisiana had been a State for less than three years, but outnumbered Americans innovated, outnumbered Americans used the tactics of the frontier to defeat a veteran British force trained in the strategy of the Napoleonic wars.

We as a nation had suffered humiliation and a measure of defeat in the War of 1812. Our National Capital in Washington had been captured and burned. So, the illustrious victory in the Battle of New Orleans was a powerful restorative to our national pride.

Yet, the victory at New Orleans actually took place two weeks after the signing of the armistice in Europe. Thousands died although a peace had been negotiated. The combatants had not gotten the word. Yet, the epic struggle nevertheless restored America’s pride.

Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned. As I see it, the time has come to look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the Nation’s wounds, and to restore its health and its optimistic self-confidence.

In New Orleans, a great battle was fought after a war was over. In New Orleans tonight, we can begin a great national reconciliation. The first engagement must be with the problems of today, but just as importantly, the problems of the future. That is why I think it is so appropriate that I find myself tonight at a university which addresses itself to preparing young people for the challenge of tomorrow.

I ask that we stop refighting the battles and the recriminations of the past. I ask that we look now at what is right with America, at our possibilities and our potentialities for change and growth and achievement and sharing. I ask that we accept the responsibilities of leadership as a good neighbor to all peoples and the enemy of none. I ask that we strive to become, in the finest American tradition, something more tomorrow than we are today.

Instead of my addressing the image of America, I prefer to consider the reality of America. It is true that we have launched our Bicentennial celebration without having achieved human perfection, but we have attained a very remarkable self-governed society that possesses the flexibility and the dynamism to grow and undertake an entirely new agenda, an agenda for America’s third century.

So, I ask you to join me in helping to write that agenda. I am as determined as a President can be to seek national rediscovery of the belief in ourselves that characterized the most creative periods in our Nation’s history. The greatest challenge of creativity, as I see it, lies ahead.

We, of course, are saddened indeed by the events in Indochina. But these events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America’s leadership in the world.

Let me put it this way, if I might. Some tend to feel that if we do not succeed in everything everywhere, then we have succeeded in nothing anywhere. I reject categorically such polaris

ed thinking. We can and we should help others to help themselves. But the fate of responsible men and women everywhere, in the final decision, rests in their own hands, not in ours.

To Be Cont’d