Walter Cronkite: ‘We Are Mired in Stalemate,’ 1968

When I watched Walter Cronkite’s heroic commentary in early 1968, I thought the country might finally have turned around on the Vietnam War. But Cronkite was ahead of the curve on Vietnam, and the US remained there for another seven years, costing the lives of tens of thousands more Americans and millions more Southeast Asians.

After Cronkite’s broadcast, President Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Several weeks later, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection.

Walter Cronkite died today at the age of 92. His 1968 words should be read again:

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, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet 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. Khesanh 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.

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.

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.

21 thoughts on “Walter Cronkite: ‘We Are Mired in Stalemate,’ 1968”

  1. Afghanistan, Iraqi, Pakistan and other Liberation armies will defeat the Nazi Anglo-American Terrorist Organization in it's quest to enslave and dominate over Humanity. Desire to be free always wins.

  2. Yes it's an interesting parrallel. But it's also interesting how this speach doomed LBJ and ushered in Nixon, yet another anti-war President who simply had to escalate to end the war. These people are all bought and paid for shills and the most trusted man in America should be the villiage idiot at least you know where you stand with him (or her).


  3. I just want to add some concern regarding the 'most trusted man in America'
    During the last war in former Yugoslavia, as retired person, he joined the
    anti-Serb hysteria i one of his interviews. So goes my trust in his integrity.
    Rad Vuckov

  4. 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 a failed colonial power who murdered millions of people in a desperate attempt to avoid admitting defeat.


  5. As insipid as Cronkite was, I'm still waiting for day that one of his contemporary successors makes a similar "we are mired in stalemate" statement about Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan on a major national "news" network. Since the news media are today wholly owned and completely controlled by the State and its corporate proxies, such an utterance is about as likely to be forthcoming as Osama bin Laden making a public declaration of his conversion to fundamentalist Christianity.

    1. It'll be a cold day in hell thats for sure. You have to go overseas to read or SEE anything that disturbs the Stepfordian experiment played out daily on the American public. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear already use their faculties to seek out the truth. Only the terminally disinterested, which is to say a vast swath of the "booboisie", march lock step to the mainstream medias pied pipers.

  6. Talking heads on the boob tube are merely highly paid actors at the behest of large corporate interests. Wedging supposedly "serious" moments in between non-stop sensory barrages of advertising and brain damaged "entertainment" is no sign of sincerity. Why believe anything these clowns say?

  7. I would have had a lot more respect for Cronkite if he had come out against the Vietnam intervention in 1965 then in 1968. I suspect he was motivated by self-interest. In 1965 few Americans would have supported such a stance but it was clear by 1968 that the winds had shifted. Cronkite was simply responding to this change. Stepping on toes isn't good for your career in the media.

    1. Unlike today where commentary is interwoven and confused with news, there WERE actually different standards for what were termed the news shows of the day. The MOST important difference was that the nightly news programs were not expected to generate income for the networks. The rest of the station's programming was expected to fund the news programs. Back in the day, all the major news networks also had foreign correspondents. While it is impossible to totally remove all human biases from the reporting of anything (decisions have to be made what and whom to feature in a report), they were better by a longshot back then at meeting journalistic standards than networks today. As an acknowledgement of that, most networks will remove the word "news" from a show that heavily features commentary, particularly by the anchors–whom the shows are usually named after now. The glaring exception is FOX. That they have the audacity to use the word "News" in their title is an insult to any news broadcaster. But then, once the networks got the idea that news could generate income–and forced the news departments to "pay their own way", it did not take long for the lines to be seriously blurred from what needed to be reported on and what the public wanted to indulge in. We are the worse for it. In knowing that he was crossing that line, Walter Cronkite's segment on Vietnam was saved for the end of that show and identified as his own conclusions which he felt compelled to make. In recent times, CNN started with the intent of doing classic news reporting. Alas, the profit drive has led them away from that. That the ownership of major public media is consolidated in the hands of so few should be of grave concern to everyone. At least it is much easier now to get access to other points of view, and reporting of events, through media available online. I alwats opt for non-profit ones where I can. I still admire Walter Cronkite, and feel he had an exceptional commitment to journalistic standards in the reporting of the news.

  8. Afghanistan, Iraqi, Pakistan and other Liberation armies will defeat the Nazi Anglo-American Terrorist Organization in it's quest to enslave and dominate over Humanity. Desire to be free always wins.

  9. It has been said that in this book which is about this book a person should seek the knowledge and education about the Holy Quran and also convey the teachings of this Holy Book to the other people.

Comments are closed.