Guided Readings: American Foreign Policy in the 1970s

Reading 1

Why are we in South Vietnam? We are there because we have a promise to keep. Since 1954 every American President has offered support to the people of South Vietnam. . . . We have made a national pledge to help South Vietnam defend its independence.

And I intend to keep our promise. . . .

We are also there to strengthen world order. Around the globe, from Berlin to Thailand, are people whose well-being rests, in part, on the belief that they can count on us if they are attacked. To leave Vietnam to its fate would shake the confidence of all these people in the value of American commitment, the value of America's word. The result would be increased unrest and instability, and even wider war.

We are also there because there are great stakes in the balance. Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Vietnam would being an end to conflict. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another. The central lesson of our time is that the appetite of aggression is never satisfied.

—President Lyndon B. Johnson defends the American role in Vietnam, 1965

Reading 2

Through the 1950s and on into the 1960s our national security was coupled with a sense of national unity and purpose. But that changed. The Soviet Union has now forged ahead in producing nuclear and conventional weapons. . . . Let us not be satisfied with a foreign policy whose principal accomplishment seems to be our acquisition of the right to sell Pepsi-Cola in Siberia. It is time that we, the people of the United States, demand a policy that puts our own nation's interests as the first priority. . . . Our foreign policy in recent years seems to be a matter of placating potential adversaries. Does our government fear that the American people lack willpower?

—Ronald Reagan, 1976

Reading 3


Our commitment to human rights must be absolute. . . .

Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a clearcut preference for those societies, which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights.

—President Jimmy Carter, Inaugural Address, 1977