Walter Cronkite Speaks Out against Vietnam, February 27, 1968
Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.
- Use this primary source with the Students and the Anti-War Movement Narrative; the Protests at the University of California, Berkeley Decision Point; and Free Speech and the Student Anti-War Movement Decision Point to discuss the public dissent of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.
During the 1960s and 1970s, television was one of primary ways people received their news. Newspapers circulated widely and radios still offered newscasts, but many Americans wanted to watch while they listened to their news. During this time, Walter Cronkite was the standard bearer on CBS news. He covered many historic events and, during his career, he became one of the most trusted people on television. The war in Vietnam seemed to be dragging on and Cronkite wanted to go to Vietnam and see for himself what the war was truly about. After his visit, he came home and shared his personal commentary on the situation. This aired on February 27, 1968.
- Who spoke these words and when?
- Briefly explain the context for this newscast.
|speculative(adj): based on conjecture; guesswork
bastion(n): a fortified place
|Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we’d like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, and subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tat offensive against the cities? I’m not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. Another standoff may be coming in the big battles expected south of the Demilitarized Zone. Kherson could well fall, with a terrible loss in American lives, prestige and morale, and this is a tragedy of our stubbornness there; but the bastion no longer is a key to the rest of the northern regions, and it is doubtful that the American forces can be defeated across the breadth of the DMZ with any substantial loss of ground. Another standoff.|
|On the political front, past performance gives no confidence that the Vietnamese government can cope with its problems, now compounded by the attack on the cities. It may not fall, it may hold on, but it probably won’t show the dynamic qualities demanded of this young nation. Another standoff.|
|Hanoi: the capital of North Vietnam
attrition(n): a reduction or decrease in numbers, size, or strength
|We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may be right, that Hanoi’s winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would also require our realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations must be that––negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms. For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer’s almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.|
|mired(adj): entangled||To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy’s intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.|
|This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.|
- According to the newscast, what was the current situation in Vietnam?
- Why was there a lack of confidence in the Vietnamese government? Why was this a problem?
- Why did Cronkite express disappointment in American leaders?
- Which side had the most to gain from negotiations? Why?
- What was at stake in this fight, according to Cronkite?
- Why did Cronkite believe the war had become a stalemate?
- Why couldn’t the United States negotiate as victors? Explain.
Historical Reasoning Questions
- How did the American people respond to this opinion? Why?
- Consider the power the press has in shaping public opinion about war. Do you think it is good to have the media giving constant reports about a war instead of the military or government? Explain your reasoning.
Walter Cronkite report from Vietnam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nn4w-ud-TyE