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Final Words: Cronkite's Vietnam Commentary

GUY RAZ, host:

Parting words tonight from the late Walter Cronkite. On February 27th, 1968 during a CBS News Special Report, Cronkite did something that changed America's perception of the Vietnam War.

Mr. WALTER CRONKITE (Anchorman): I wrote a three-minute closing for the program, which seemingly, without reluctance, our stern and uncompromisingly fair news president Dick Salant approved.

(Soundbite of TV program, "CBS Evening News")

Mr. CRONKITE: (Reading) 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.

Then, with as much restraint as I could, I turned to our own leaders whose idea of negotiation seemed frozen in memories of General McArthur's encounter with the Japanese aboard the Battleship Missouri.

We've been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders...

(Soundbite of TV program, "CBS Evening News")

(Reading) Both in Vietnam and Washington to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. For it seems now more certain than ever, that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. 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 say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, if 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.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: And for this evening, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz. Have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.