In 1968, my father, running for President, addressed in a speech, the White House's proposal for a troop surge in Vietnam. Robert Kennedy had initially supported the U.S. intervention in Vietnam. Forty years later, as Congress and the White House debate the further escalation of yet another war that has already claimed the lives of an astounding 640,000 Iraqis, killed 3,256 U.S. soldiers and wounded another 50,000, his words should have special resonance to those of our political leaders who are still searching for the right course in Iraq:
"I do not want--as I believe most Americans do not want--to sell out American interests, to simply withdraw, to raise the white flag of surrender. That would be unacceptable to us as a country and as a people. But I am concerned--as I believe most Americans are concerned--that the course we are following at the present time is deeply wrong. I am concerned--as I believe most Americans are concerned--that we are acting as if no other nations existed, against the judgment and desires of neutrals and our historic allies alike. I am concerned--as I believe most Americans are concerned--that our present course will not bring victory; will not bring peace; will not stop the bloodshed; and will not advance the interests of the United States or the cause of peace in the world. I am concerned that, at the end of it all, there will only be more Americans killed; more of our treasure spilled out; and because of the bitterness and hatred on every side of this war, more hundreds of thousands of [civilians] slaughtered; so they may say, as Tacitus said of Rome: "They made a desert, and called it peace." . . .
"The reversals of the last several months have led our military to ask for more troops. This weekend, it was announced that some of them--a "moderate" increase, it was said--would soon be sent. But isn't this exactly what we have always done in the past? If we examine the history of this conflict, we find the dismal story repeated time after time. Every time--at every crisis--we have denied that anything was wrong; sent more troops; and issued more confident communiques. Every time, we have been assured that this one last step would bring victory. And every time, the predictions and promises have failed and been forgotten, and the demand has been made again for just one more step up the ladder. But all the escalations, all the last steps, have brought us no closer to success than we were before. . . . And once again the President tells us, as we have been told for twenty years, that "we are going to win"; "victory" is coming. . . . It becoming more evident with every passing day that the victories we achieve will only come at the cost of the destruction for the nation we once hoped to help. . . .
"Let us have no misunderstanding. [They] are a brutal enemy indeed. Time and time again, they have shown their willingness to sacrifice innocent civilians, to engage in torture and murder and despicable terror to achieve their ends. This is a war almost without rules or quarter. There can be no easy moral answer to this war, no one-sided condemnation of American actions. What we must ask ourselves is whether we have a right to bring so much destruction to another land, without clear and convincing evidence that this is what its people want. But that is precisely the evidence we do not have. . . .
"The war, far from being the last critical test for the United States, is in fact weakening our position in Asia and around the world, and eroding the structure of international cooperation which has directly supported our security for the past three decades. . . . All this bears directly and heavily on the question of whether more troops should now be sent--and, if more are sent, what their mission will be. We are entitled to ask--we are required to ask--how many more men, how many more lives, how much more destruction will be asked, to provide the military victory that is always just around the corner, to pour into this bottomless pit of our dreams? But this question the administration does not and cannot answer. It has no answer--none but the ever-expanding use of military force and the lives of our brave soldiers, in a conflict where military force has failed to solve anything yet. . . .
"But the costs of the war's present course far outweigh anything we can reasonably hope to gain by it, for ourselves or for the people of Vietnam. It must be ended, and it can be ended, in a peace of brave men who have fought each other with a terrible fury, each believing he and he alone was in the right. We have prayed to different gods, and the prayers of neither have been answered fully. Now, while there is still time for some of them to be partly answered, now is the time to stop. . . .
"You are the people, as President Kennedy said, who have "the least ties to the present and the greatest ties to the future." I urge you to learn the harsh facts that lurk behind the mask of official illusion with which we have concealed our true circumstances, even from ourselves. Our country is in danger: not just from foreign enemies; but above all, from our misguided policies--and what they can do to the nation that Thomas Jefferson once told us was the last, best hope of man. There is a contest on, not for the rule of America, but for the heart of America. . . . I ask you to go forth and work for new policies--work to change our direction--and thus restore our place at the point of moral leadership, in our country, in our hearts, and all around the world."