As the Vietnam war dragged on and casualty figures kept rising, public opinion was slowly turning against our escalation, and even those in the Military were questioning our methods and our reasons. Secretary of State Dean Rusk was facing growing opposition from the rest of the world, with even threats from French President DeGaulle to withdraw its forces from the NATO military command and order all U.S. Military forces to leave France.
In January 1966, American forces began search-and-destroy operations in Vietnam. This Press Conference, given on January 21, 1966, found Rusk justifying the move:
Q: “Mr. Secretary, the Secretary General of the United Nations indicated yesterday that a concrete proposal which would bring the National Liberation Front into a post-war liberation government might spur the peace negotiations, what is your reaction to that?
Dean Rusk: Well I think that, our view is that the government of South Vietnam is a matter which should be determined by the people of South Vietnam themselves. We ourselves have supported and continue to support the idea of free elections in which the South Vietnamese people can make these decisions, rather than have these decisions made for them by imposition from the outside. What is needed here is a proposal from Hanoi looking toward peace. The simple issue is the apparent determination of Hanoi to impose a political solution upon South Vietnam by force. If they abandon that determination, if they themselves adopt another policy, then many things could fall into line and peace could be established; but that’s the heart of the matter, that’s the central issue. And almost all of the other aspects are incidental to that central point.
Q: Are you ready to resume the bombing?
Dean Rusk: Well I think you would not want me, or perhaps I should say you would not expect me to go into questions about future military policy or military action”.
Here is that complete Press conference, as given on Friday, January 21, 1966 from the State Department.