On 31 March 1968, US President Lyndon B. Johnson announced a partial halt of bombing missions over North Vietnam and proposed initiating peace talks in a televised speech to the nation. Towards the end of the speech, President Johnson also renounced his plan to run for re-election at the end of his term in office. The announcement came just under a week after Johnson met with a group of informal advisors – dubbed “The Wise Men”. In the words of Dean Acheson (former secretary of state under Harry Truman), who summed up the recommendations of the Wise Men, “we can no longer do the job we set out to do in the time we have left, and we must begin to take steps to disengage.”
In his speech, President Johnson highlighted the need for both sides to begin negotiations over the war. He declared:
“… the United States would stop its bombardment of North Vietnam when that would lead promptly to productive discussions, and that we would assume that North Vietnam would not take military advantage of our restraint.”
Excerpt from President Johnson’s Address to the Nation, 3/31/68. MP600, (01:28)
President Johnson ended the address with: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”
The speech has been remembered as a noticeable high-point in Johnson’s tenure as President for its firm and oratorical delivery. For many of the US public, Johnson’s intention to de-escalate the war was a refreshing change to increasing troop build-up in Vietnam, increased bombing raids that left countless civilians maimed or dead, increasingly bloody battles to the point of macabre cover-ups and a general anger at his administration that seemed so hell-bent on sinking deeper into a pointless, rather unwinnable, war.
No doubt, however, that Johnson made his speech with political gain in mind as well as for personal favour. Even though he finished the address by revealing he would not stand for re-election, his decision for a bombing halt was made with the November elections that year in mind. With Richard Nixon as the strongest Republican party challenger to the presidency, Johnson needed to consider whether the bombing halt decision would benefit Hubert Humphrey (strongest Democratic challenger and from the same party as Lyndon Johnson) or put him at a disadvantage.