LBJ - Honolulu Conference - Faulty assumptions and naiveté.

LBJ – Honolulu Declaration – Looking For A Solution To Vietnam – February 8, 1966

LBJ – Honolulu Conference – Faulty assumptions and naiveté.

ABC Radio News Special – The Honolulu – Declaration – February 8, 1966 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

The Declaration of Honolulu, 1966 was a communiqué and diplomatic proclamation acceded by foreign diplomats representing the Republic of Vietnam and the United States. The declaration asserted pro-democracy principles for South Vietnam while combating external aggression and insurgency by Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The goals outlined at the conference were a cornerstone to US policy in Vietnam until 1969 when the incoming Nixon administration changed policies towards Vietnam.

In order to shore up American support for the war, which President Johnson felt to be wavering, the main theme of the conference was that the war was to promote the social and economic development of South Vietnam. The war was presented as virtually an extension of Johnson’s Great Society program to end poverty in the United States. Little of any substance was discussed and instead the conference was almost an infomercial for the Vietnam war. The conference had no agenda or even much preparation, and for the most part consisted of speeches designed to win over American public opinion. The key note speech was delivered by Kỳ in English, was written by his American advisers, where he called for a “social revolution” in South Vietnam that would ensure everyone in South Vietnam “respect and dignity, and a chance for himself and his children to live an atmosphere where all is not disappointment, despair and dejection”. Afterwards, Johnson, who was unaware that the speech had been written by American officials, told Kỳ: “Boy, you speak just like an American”. Johnson in his speech called for a relentless drive to eradicate the Viet Cong, saying in his Texas twang that he wanted “coonskins on the wall”. Johnson’s phrase “coonskins on the wall” confused the South Vietnamese and several South Vietnamese officials asked Bùi Diễm, the ambassador in Washington: “On ay noi cai gi the?” (“Just what is the gentleman talking about?”).

By contrast, the Defense Secretary Robert McNamara during an “off-the-record” chat with a group of journalists at the conference spoke about the war in very jaded terms. McNamara stated his view that Operation Rolling Thunder (the American bombing offensive against North Vietnam), was a failure. McNamara commented that North Vietnam was a backward Third World country that did not have the same advanced industrial infrastructure of First World nations, making the bombing offensive useless as he expressed his view that North Vietnam would never be “bombed into submission”. McNamara concluded that “No amount of bombing can end the war”.

Here is an ABC Radio News special on that just-concluded conference, as it was broadcast on February 8, 1966.

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