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A speech given by one of my favorite Presidents; A strident Cold Warrior, Richard M. Nixon.
Nixon's 'Silent Majority' speech
November 3, 1969
Good evening, my fellow Americans.
Tonight I want to talk to you on a subject of deep concern to all Americans
and to many people in all parts of the world -- the war in Vietnam.
I believe that one of the reasons for the deep division about Vietnam is that
many Americans have lost confidence in what their Government has told them
about our policy. The American people cannot and should not be asked to support
a policy which involves the overriding issues of war and peace unless they know
the truth about that policy.
Tonight, therefore, I would like to answer some of the questions that I know
are on the minds of many of you listening to me. How and why did America get
involved in Vietnam in the first place? How has this administration changed
the policy of the previous administration? What has really happened in the negotiations
in Paris and on the battlefront in Vietnam? What choices do we have if we
are to end the war? What are the prospects for peace? Now, let me begin by
describing the situation I found when I was inaugurated on January 20:
The war had been going on for four years. One thousand Americans had been
killed in action. The training program for the South Vietnamese was behind schedule;
540,000 Americans were in Vietnam with no plans to reduce the number. No progress
had been made at the negotiations in Paris and the United States had not put
forth a comprehensive peace proposal. The war was causing deep division at home
and criticism from many of our friends as well as our enemies abroad.
In view of these circumstances there were some who urged that I end the war
at once by ordering the immediate withdrawal of all American forces. From a
political standpoint this would have been a popular and easy course to follow.
After all, we became involved in the war while my predecessor was in office.
I could blame the defeat which would be the result of my action on him and come
out as the peacemaker. Some put it to me quite bluntly: This was the only
way to avoid allowing Johnson's war to become Nixon's war.
But I had a greater obligation than to think only of the years of my administration
and of the next election. I had to think of the effect of my decision on the
next generation and on the future of peace and freedom in America and in the
Let us all understand that the question before us is not whether some Americans
are for peace and some Americans are against peace. The question at issue is
not whether Johnson's war becomes Nixon's war. The great question is: How can
we win America's peace?
Well, let us turn now to the fundamental issue. Why and how did the United
States become involved in Vietnam in the first place? Fifteen years ago North
Vietnam, with the logistical support of communist China and the Soviet
Union, launched a campaign to impose a communist government on South Vietnam
by instigating and supporting a revolution.
In response to the request of the Government of South Vietnam, President Eisenhower
sent economic aid and military equipment to assist the people of South Vietnam
in their efforts to prevent a communist takeover. Seven years ago, President
Kennedy sent 16,000 military personnel to Vietnam as combat advisers. Four
years ago, President Johnson sent American combat forces to South Vietnam.
Now, many believe that President Johnson's decision to send American combat
forces to South Vietnam was wrong. And many others -- I among them -- have been
strongly critical of the way the war has been conducted.
But the question facing us today is: Now that we are in the war, what is the
best way to end it?
In January I could only conclude that the precipitate withdrawal of American
forces from Vietnam would be a disaster not only for South Vietnam but for the
United States and for the cause of peace.
For the South Vietnamese, our precipitate withdrawal would inevitably allow
the Communists to repeat the massacres which followed their takeover in the
North 15 years before; They then murdered more than 50,000 people and hundreds
of thousands more died in slave labor camps.
We saw a prelude of what would happen in South Vietnam when the Communists
entered the city of Hue last year. During their brief rule there, there was
a bloody reign of terror in which 3,000 civilians were clubbed, shot to death,
and buried in mass graves.
With the sudden collapse of our support, these atrocities of Hue would become
the nightmare of the entire nation -- and particularly for the million and a
half Catholic refugees who fled to South Vietnam when the Communists took over
in the North.
For the United States, this first defeat in our nation's history would result
in a collapse of confidence in American leadership, not only in Asia but throughout
Three American presidents have recognized the great stakes involved in Vietnam
and understood what had to be done.
In 1963, President Kennedy, with his characteristic eloquence and clarity,
... we want to see a stable government there, carrying on a struggle to maintain
its national independence. We believe strongly in that. We are not going to
withdraw from that effort. In my opinion, for us to withdraw from that effort
would mean a collapse not only of South Vietnam, but Southeast Asia. So we
are going to stay there.
President Eisenhower and President Johnson expressed the same conclusion during
their terms of office.
For the future of peace, precipitate withdrawal would thus be a disaster
of immense magnitude. A nation cannot remain great if it betrays its allies
and lets down its friends. Our defeat and humiliation in South Vietnam without
question would promote recklessness in the councils of those great powers who
have not yet abandoned their goals of world conquest. This would spark violence
wherever our commitments help maintain the peace -- in the Middle East, in
Berlin, eventually even in the Western Hemisphere. Ultimately, this would
cost more lives. It would not bring peace; it would bring more war.
For these reasons, I rejected the recommendation that I should end the war
by immediately withdrawing all of our forces. I chose instead to change American
policy on both the negotiating front and battlefront. In order to end a war
fought on many fronts, I initiated a pursuit for peace on many fronts. In a
television speech on May 14, in a speech before the United Nations, and on a
number of other occasions I set forth our peace proposals in great detail.
We have offered the complete withdrawal of all outside forces within one year.
We have proposed a cease-fire under international supervision.
We have offered free elections under international supervision with the Communists
participating in the organization and conduct of the elections as an organized
political force. And the Saigon Government has pledged to accept the result
of the elections.
We have not put forth our proposals on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. We have
indicated that we are willing to discuss the proposals that have been put forth
by the other side. We have declared that anything is negotiable except the right
of the people of South Vietnam to determine their own future. At the Paris
peace conference, Ambassador Lodge has demonstrated our flexibility and good
faith in 40 public meetings.
Hanoi has refused even to discuss our proposals. They demand our unconditional
acceptance of their terms, which are that we withdraw all American forces immediately
and unconditionally and that we overthrow the Government of South Vietnam as
We have not limited our peace initiatives to public forums and public statements.
I recognized, in January, that a long and bitter war like this usually cannot
be settled in a public forum. That is why in addition to the public statements
and negotiation I have explored every possible private avenue that might lead
to a settlement.
Tonight I am taking the unprecedented step of disclosing to you some of our
other initiatives for peace -- initiatives we undertook privately and secretly
because we thought we thereby might open a door which publicly would be closed.
I did not wait for my inauguration to begin my quest for peace.
Soon after my election, through an individual who is directly in contact on
a personal basis with the leaders of North Vietnam, I made two private offers
for a rapid, comprehensive settlement. Hanoi's replies called in effect for
our surrender before negotiations.
Since the Soviet Union furnishes most of the military equipment for North
Vietnam, Secretary of State Rogers, my Assistant for National Security Affairs,
Dr. Kissinger, Ambassador Lodge, and I, personally, have met on a number of
occasions with representatives of the Soviet Government to enlist their assistance
in getting meaningful negotiations started. In addition, we have had extended
discussions directed toward that same end with representatives of other governments
which have diplomatic relations with North Vietnam. None of these initiatives
have to date produced results.
In mid-July, I became convinced that it was necessary to make a major move
to break the deadlock in the Paris talks. I spoke directly in this office, where
I am now sitting, with an individual who had known Ho Chi Minh on a personal
basis for 25 years. Through him I sent a letter to Ho Chi Minh. I did this outside
of the usual diplomatic channels with the hope that with the necessity of making
statements for propaganda removed, there might be constructive progress toward
bringing the war to an end. Let me read from that letter to you now:
Dear Mr. President:
I realize that it is difficult to communicate meaningfully across the gulf
of four years of war. But precisely because of this gulf, I wanted to take this
opportunity to reaffirm in all solemnity my desire to work for a just peace.
I deeply believe that the war in Vietnam has gone on too long and delay in bringing
it to an end can benefit no one -- least of all the people of Vietnam. ... The
time has come to move forward at the conference table toward an early resolution
of this tragic war. You will find us forthcoming and open-minded in a common
effort to bring the blessings of peace to the brave people of Vietnam. Let history
record that at this critical juncture, both sides turned their face toward peace
rather than toward conflict and war.
I received Ho Chi Minh's reply on August 30, three days before his death.
It simply reiterated the public position North Vietnam had taken at Paris and
flatly rejected my initiative.
The full text of both letters is being released to the press.
In addition to the public meetings that I have referred to, Ambassador Lodge
has met with Vietnam's chief negotiator in Paris in 11 private sessions.
We have taken other significant initiatives which must remain secret to keep
open some channels of communication which may still prove to be productive.
But the effect of all the public, private and secret negotiations which have
been undertaken since the bombing halt a year ago and since this administration
came into office on January 20 can be summed up in one sentence: No progress
whatever has been made except agreement on the shape of the bargaining table.
Well now, who is at fault?
It has become clear that the obstacle in negotiating an end to the war is
not the President of the United States. It is not the South Vietnamese Government.
The obstacle is the other side's absolute refusal to show the least willingness
to join us in seeking a just peace. And it will not do so while it is convinced
that all it has to do is to wait for our next concession, and our next concession
after that one, until it gets everything it wants.
There can now be no longer any question that progress in negotiation depends
only on Hanoi's deciding to negotiate, to negotiate seriously.
I realize that this report on our efforts on the diplomatic front is discouraging
to the American people, but the American people are entitled to know the truth
-- the bad news as well as the good news -- where the lives of our young men
Now let me turn, however, to a more encouraging report on another front.
At the time we launched our search for peace I recognized we might not succeed
in bringing an end to the war through negotiation. I, therefore, put into effect
another plan to bring peace -- a plan which will bring the war to an end regardless
of what happens on the negotiating front.
It is in line with a major shift in U.S. foreign policy which I described
in my press conference at Guam on July 25. Let me briefly explain what has been
described as the Nixon Doctrine -- policy which not only will help end the
war in Vietnam, but which is an essential element of our program to prevent
We Americans are a do-it-yourself people. We are an impatient people. Instead
of teaching someone else to do a job, we like to do it ourselves. And this trait
has been carried over into our foreign policy. In Korea and again in Vietnam,
the United States furnished most of the money, most of the arms, and most
of the men to help the people of those countries defend their freedom against
Before any American troops were committed to Vietnam, a leader of another
Asian country expressed this opinion to me when I was traveling in Asia as a
private citizen. He said: "When you are trying to assist another nation defend
its freedom, U.S. policy should be to help them fight the war but not to fight
the war for them."
Well, in accordance with this wise counsel, I laid down in Guam three principles
as guidelines for future American policy toward Asia:
First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments.
Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom
of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to
Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military
and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments.
But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility
of providing the manpower for its defense.
After I announced this policy, I found that the leaders of the Philippines,
Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, and other nations which might be threatened
by Communist aggression welcomed this new direction in American foreign policy.
The defense of freedom is everybody's business -- not just America's business.
And it is particularly the responsibility of the people whose freedom is threatened.
In the previous administration, we Americanized the war in Vietnam. In this
administration, we are Vietnamizing the search for peace.
The policy of the previous administration not only resulted in our assuming
the primary responsibility for fighting the war, but even more significantly
did not adequately stress the goal of strengthening the South Vietnamese so
that they could defend themselves when we left.
The Vietnamization plan was launched following Secretary Laird's visit to
Vietnam in March. Under the plan, I ordered first a substantial increase in
the training and equipment of South Vietnamese forces.
In July, on my visit to Vietnam, I changed General Abrams' orders so that
they were consistent with the objectives of our new policies. Under the new
orders, the primary mission of our troops is to enable the South Vietnamese
forces to assume the full responsibility for the security of South Vietnam.
Our air operations have been reduced by over 20 percent.
And now we have begun to see the results of this long overdue change in American
policy in Vietnam.
After five years of Americans going into Vietnam, we are finally bringing
American men home. By December 15, over 60,000 men will have been withdrawn
from South Vietnam, including 20 percent of all of our combat forces.
The South Vietnamese have continued to gain in strength. As a result they
have been able to take over combat responsibilities from our American troops.
Two other significant developments have occurred since this administration
Enemy infiltration, infiltration which is essential if they are to launch
a major attack, over the last three months is less than 20 percent of what it
was over the same period last year. Most important -- United States casualties
have declined during the last two months to the lowest point in three years.
Let me now turn to our program for the future.
We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the South
Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces, and
their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable.
This withdrawal will be made from strength and not from weakness. As South Vietnamese
forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.
I have not and do not intend to announce the timetable for our program. And
there are obvious reasons for this decision which I am sure you will understand.
As I have indicated on several occasions, the rate of withdrawal will depend
on developments on three fronts.
One of these is the progress which can be or might be made in a Paris talks.
An announcement of a fixed timetable for our withdrawal would completely remove
any incentive for the enemy to negotiate an agreement. They would simply wait
until our forces had withdrawn and then move in.
The other two factors on which we will base our withdrawal decisions are the
level of enemy activity and the progress of the training programs of the South
Vietnamese forces. And I am glad to be able to report tonight progress on both
of these fronts has been greater than we anticipated when we started the program
in June for withdrawal. As a result, our timetable for withdrawal is more optimistic
now than when we made our first estimates in June. Now, this clearly demonstrates
why it is not wise to be frozen in on a fixed timetable.
We must retain the flexibility to base each withdrawal decision on the situation
as it is at that time rather than on estimates that are no longer valid.
Along with this optimistic estimate, I must -- in all candor -- leave one
note of caution. If the level of enemy activity significantly increases we might
have to adjust our timetable accordingly.
However, I want the record to be completely clear on one point.
At the time of the bombing halt just a year ago, there was some confusion
as to whether there was an understanding on the part of the enemy that if we
stopped the bombing of North Vietnam they would stop the shelling of cities
in South Vietnam. I want to be sure that there is no misunderstanding on the
part of the enemy with regard to our withdrawal program.
We have noted the reduced level of infiltration, the reduction of our casualties,
and are basing our withdrawal decisions partially on those factors. If the level
of infiltration or our casualties increase while we are trying to scale down
the fighting, it will be the result of a conscious decision by the enemy.
Hanoi could make no greater mistake than to assume that an increase in violence
will be to its advantage. If I conclude that increased enemy action jeopardizes
our remaining forces in Vietnam, I shall not hesitate to take strong and effective
measures to deal with that situation.
This is not a threat. This is a statement of policy, which as commander in
chief of our armed forces, I am making in meeting my responsibility for the
protection of American fighting men wherever they may be.
My fellow Americans, I am sure you can recognize from what I have said that
we really only have two choices open to us if we want to end this war.
I can order an immediate, precipitate withdrawal of all Americans from Vietnam
without regard to the effects of that action. Or we can persist in our search
for a just peace through a negotiated settlement if possible, or through continued
implementation of our plan for Vietnamization if necessary, a plan in which
we will withdraw all of our forces from Vietnam on a schedule in accordance
with our program, as the South Vietnamese become strong enough to defend their
I have chosen this second course. It is not the easy way. It is the right
It is a plan which will end the war and serve the cause of peace -- not just
in Vietnam but in the Pacific and in the world.
In speaking of the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal, I mentioned that
our allies would lose confidence in America.
Far more dangerous, we would lose confidence in ourselves. Oh, the immediate
reaction would be a sense of relief that our men were coming home. But as we
saw the consequences of what we had done, inevitable remorse and divisive recrimination
would scar our spirit as a people.
We have faced other crises in our history and have become stronger by rejecting
the easy way out and taking the right way in meeting our challenges. Our greatness
as a nation has been our capacity to do what had to be done when we knew our
course was right.
I recognize that some of my fellow citizens disagree with the plan for peace
I have chosen. Honest and patriotic Americans have reached different conclusions
as to how peace should be achieved.
In San Francisco a few weeks ago, I saw demonstrators carrying signs reading:
"Lose in Vietnam, bring the boys home."
Well, one of the strengths of our free society is that any American has a
right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view. But as president
of the United States, I would be untrue to my oath of office if I allowed
the policy of this nation to be dictated by the minority who hold that point
of view and who try to impose it on the nation by mounting demonstrations in
For almost 200 years, the policy of this nation has been made under our Constitution
by those leaders in the Congress and the White House elected by all of the
people. If a vocal minority, however fervent its cause, prevails over reason
and the will of the majority, this nation has no future as a free society.
And now I would like to address a word, if I may, to the young people of this
nation who are particularly concerned, and I understand why they are concerned,
about this war.
I respect your idealism. I share your concern for peace. I want peace as
much as you do. There are powerful personal reasons I want to end this war.
This week I will have to sign 83 letters to mothers, fathers, wives and
loved ones of men who have given their lives for America in Vietnam. It
is very little satisfaction to me that this is only one-third as many letters
as I signed the first week in office. There is nothing I want more than to see
the day come when I do not have to write any of those letters.
I want to end the war to save the lives of those brave young men in Vietnam.
But I want to end it in a way which will increase the chance that their younger
brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam someplace
in the world.
And I want to end the war for another reason. I want to end it so that the
energy and dedication of you, our young people, now too often directed into
bitter hatred against those responsible for the war, can be turned to the great
challenges of peace, a better life for all Americans, a better life for all
people on this Earth.
I have chosen a plan for peace. I believe it will succeed. If it does succeed,
what the critics say now won't matter. If it does not succeed, anything I say
then won't matter.
I know it may not be fashionable to speak of patriotism or national destiny
these days. But I feel it is appropriate to do so on this occasion.
Two hundred years ago this nation was weak and poor. But even then, America
was the hope of millions in the world. Today we have become the strongest and
richest nation in the world. And the wheel of destiny has turned so that any
hope the world has for the survival of peace and freedom will be determined
by whether the American people have the moral stamina and the courage to meet
the challenge of free world leadership.
Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in
the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes
for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces
And so tonight -- to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans
-- I ask for your support.
I pledged in my campaign for the presidency to end the war in a way that we
could win the peace. I have initiated a plan of action which will enable me
to keep that pledge.
The more support I can have from the American people, the sooner that pledge
can be redeemed; for the more divided we are at home, the less likely the enemy
is to negotiate at Paris.
Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against defeat. Because
let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States.
Only Americans can do that.
Fifty years ago, in this room and at this very desk, President Woodrow Wilson
spoke words which caught the imagination of a war-weary world. He said: "This
is the war to end war." His dream for peace after World War I was shattered
on the hard realities of great power politics, and Woodrow Wilson died a broken
Tonight I do not tell you that the war in Vietnam is the war to end wars.
But I do say this: I have initiated a plan which will end this war in a way
that will bring us closer to that great goal to which Woodrow Wilson and every
American president in our history has been dedicated -- the goal of a just and
As president I hold the responsibility for choosing the best path to that
goal and then leading the nation along it. I pledge to you tonight that I shall
meet this responsibility with all of the strength and wisdom I can command in
accordance with our hopes, mindful of your concerns, sustained by your prayers.
Thank you and good night.