|The American Presidency Project|
|• Richard Nixon|
|The President's News Conference|
|May 8, 1970|
THE PRESIDENT. Would you be seated.
PROTESTS AND THE DECISION ON CAMBODIA
[1.] Mr. Risher [Eugene V. Risher, United Press International].
Q. Mr. President, have you been surprised by the intensity of the protest against your decision to send troops into Cambodia, and will these protests affect your policy in any way?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I have not been surprised by the intensity of the protests. I realize that those who are protesting believe that this decision will expand the war, increase American casualties, and increase American involvement. Those who protest want peace. They want to reduce American casualties and they want our boys brought home.
I made the decision, however, for the very reasons that they are protesting. As far as affecting my decision is concerned-their protests I am concerned about. I am concerned because I know how deeply they feel. But I know that what I have done will accomplish the goals that they want. It will shorten this war. It will reduce American casualties. It will allow us to go forward with our withdrawal program. The 150,000 Americans that I announced for withdrawal in the next year will come home on schedule. It will, in my opinion, serve the cause of a just peace in Vietnam.
COMMUNICATION WITH THE COLLEGE
[2.] Q. Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Cormier [Frank Cormier, Associated Press].
Q. Do you believe that you can open up meaningful communications with this college-age generation, and how?
THE PRESIDENT. I would like to try as best I can to do that. It is not easy. Sometimes they, as you know, talk so loudly that it is difficult to be heard, as we have learned during the campaigns, and also during the appearances many of the Cabinet officers have made on university campuses. However, on an individual basis, I believe that it is possible to do what I have been doing, to bring representatives of the college and university communities to my office, to talk with them, to have a dialogue. I am very glad that Chancellor Heard, the chancellor of Vanderbilt, has agreed to take 2 months off from his very important responsibilities in that position to work with us in the administration to see if we cannot develop better lines of communication both to school administrators, but also to school students.
THE STUDENTS' MESSAGE
[3.] Mr. Kaplow [Herbert Kaplow, NBC News].
Q. Mr. President, what do you think the students are trying to say in this demonstration?
THE PRESIDENT. They are trying to say that they want peace. They are trying to say that they want to stop the killing. They are trying to say that they want to end the draft. They are trying to say that we ought to get out of Vietnam. I agree with everything that they are trying to accomplish.
I believe, however, that the decisions that I have made, and particularly this last terribly difficult decision of going into the Cambodian sanctuaries which were completely occupied by the enemy--I believe that that decision will serve that purpose, because you can be sure that everything that I stand for is what they want.
I would add this: I think I understand what they want. I would hope they would understand somewhat what I want. When I came to the Presidency--I did not send these men to Vietnam--there were 525,000 men there. And since I have been here, I have been working 18 or 20 hours a day, mostly on Vietnam, trying to bring these men home.
We brought home 115,000. Our casualties were the lowest in the first quarter of this year in 5 years. We are going to bring home another 150,000. And, as a result of the greater accomplishments than we expected in even the first week of the Cambodian campaign, I believe that we will have accomplished our goal of reducing American casualties and, also, of hastening the day that we can have a just peace. But above everything else, to continue the withdrawal program that they are for and that I am for.
PROGRESS OF VIETNAMIZATION
[4.] Yes, sir?
Q. On April 20th, you said Vietnamization was going so well that you could pull 150,000 American troops out of Vietnam. Then you turned around only I o days later and said that Vietnamization was so badly threatened you were sending troops into Cambodia.
Would you explain this apparent contradiction for us?
THE PRESIDENT. I explained it in my speech of April 20th, as you will recall, because then I said that Vietnamization was going so well that we could bring 150,000 out by the spring of next year, regardless of the progress in the Paris peace talks and the other criteria that I mentioned.
But I also warned at that time that increased enemy action in Laos, in Cambodia, as well as in Vietnam, was something that we had noted, and that if I had indicated, and if I found, that that increased enemy action would jeopardize the remaining forces who would be in Vietnam after we had withdrawn 150,000, I would take strong action to deal with it. I found that the action that the enemy had taken in Cambodia would leave the 240,000 Americans who would be there a Year from now without many combat troops to help defend them, would leave them in an untenable position. That is why I had to act.
THE POSSIBILITY OF REVOLUTION AND
[5.] Q. Mr. President, some Americans believe this country is heading for revolution, and others believe that crime and dissent and violent demonstrations are leading us to an era of repression. I wonder if you would give us your view of the state of the American society and where it is heading.
THE PRESIDENT. That would require a rather extended answer. Briefly, this country is not headed for revolution. The very fact that we do have the safety valves of the right to dissent, the very fact that the President of the United States asked the District Commissioners to waive their rule for 30 days' notice for a demonstration, and also asked that that demonstration occur not just around the Washington Monument but on the Ellipse where I could hear it--and you can hear it pretty well from there, I can assure you--that fact is an indication that when you have that kind of safety valve you are not going to have revolution which comes from repression.
The second point, with regard to repression: That is nonsense, in my opinion. I do not see that the critics of my policies, our policies, are repressed. I note from reading the press and from listening to television that criticism is very vigorous and sometimes quite personal. It has every right to be. I have no complaints about it.
PARIS PEACE TALKS
[6.] Yes, sir?
Q. One of the consequences of the Cambodian action was the fact that the other side boycotted this week's peace talks in Paris. There is some question as to whether our side will attend next week. Have you made a decision on that?
THE PRESIDENT. Our side will attend next week. We expect the talks to go forward. And at the time that we are cleaning out the enemy sanctuaries in Cambodia, we will pursue the path of peace at the negotiating table there and in a number of other forums that we are presently working on.
RESPONSE TO NORTH VIETNAMESE
[7.] Mr. Horner [Garnett D. Horner, Washington Evening Star].
Q. Mr. President, Secretary of Defense Laird said last week that if the North Vietnamese troops should move across the DMZ in force, he would recommend resumption of the bombing. What would be your reaction to such a recommendation in those circumstances?
THE PRESIDENT. I am not going to speculate as to what the North Vietnamese may do. I will only say that if the North Vietnamese did what some have suggested they might do--move a massive force of 250, 000 to 300,000 across the DMZ against our Marine Corps people who are there--I would certainly not allow those men to be massacred without using more force and more effective force against North Vietnam.
I think we have warned the leaders of North Vietnam on this point several times, and because we have warned them I do not believe they will move across the DMZ.
THE VICE PRESIDENT'S SPEECH
[8.] Mrs. Dickerson [Nancy H. Dickerson, NBC News.
Q. After you met with these eight university presidents yesterday, they indicated that you had agreed to tone down the criticism within your administration of those who disagree with you. Then tonight Vice President Agnew is quoted all over the news programs as making a speech which includes these words, "That every debate has a cadre of Jeremiahs, normally a gloomy coalition of choleric young intellectuals and tired, embittered elders." Why?
THE PRESIDENT. Mrs. Dickerson, I have studied the history of this country over the past 190 years. And, of course, the classic and the most interesting game is to try to drive a wedge between the President and the Vice President. Believe me, I had 8 years of that, and I am experienced on that point.
Now, as far as the Vice President is concerned, he will answer for anything that he has said. As far as my attempting to tone him down or my attempting to censor the Secretary of the Interior because he happens to take a different point of view, I shall not do that. I would hope that all the members of this administration would have in mind the fact, a rule that I have always had, and it is a very simple one: When the action is hot, keep the rhetoric cool.
SCHEDULE FOR WITHDRAWAL FROM
[9.] Q. Mr. President, on April 30 you announced that you, as Commander in Chief, were sending in U.S. units and South Vietnamese units into Cambodia. Do the South Vietnamese abide by the same pull-out deadline as you have laid down for the American forces?
THE PRESIDENT. No, they do not. I would expect that the South Vietnamese would come out approximately at the same time that we do because when we come out our logistical support and air support will also come out with them.
I would like also to say that with response to that deadline I can give the members of the press some news with regard to the developments that have occurred. The action actually is going faster than we had anticipated. The middle of next week the first units, American units, will come out. The end of next week the second group of American units will come out. The great majority of all American units will be out by the second week of June, and all Americans of all kinds, including advisers, will be out of Cambodia by the end of June.
[10.] I will take you next, Mr. Potter [Philip Potter, Baltimore Sun]. The writing press gets a break.
Q. Mr. President, do you believe that the use of the word "bums" 1 to categorize some of those who are engaged in dissent--and I know that you meant it to apply to those who are destructive, but it has been used in a broader context--do you believe that is in keeping with your suggestion that the rhetoric should be kept cool?
1On a visit to the Pentagon on May 1, 1970, the President, during an informal conversation with one of a group of employees who had gathered in a corridor to greet him, made the following remarks which were taped by a reporter who accompanied the President to the Pentagon:
You think of those kids out there. I say "kids." I have seen them. They are the greatest.
You see these bums, you know, blowing up the campuses. Listen, the boys that are on the college campuses today are the luckiest people in the world, going to the greatest universities, and here they are burning up the books, I mean storming around about this issue--I mean you name it--get rid of the war; there will be another one.
Out there we've got kids who are just doing their duty. I have seen them. They stand tall, and they are proud. I am sure they are scared. I was when I was there. But when it really comes down to it, they stand up and, boy, you have to talk up to those men. And they are going to do fine; we've got to stand back of them.
THE PRESIDENT. I would certainly regret that my use of the word "bums" was interpreted to apply to those who dissent. All the members of this press corps know that I have for years defended the right of dissent. I have always opposed the use of violence. On university campuses the rule of reason is supposed to prevail over the rule of force. And when students on university campuses burn buildings, when they engage in violence, when they break up furniture, when they terrorize their fellow students and terrorize the faculty, then I think "bums" is perhaps too kind a word to apply to that kind of person. Those are the kind I was referring to.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN CAMBODIA
[11.] Mr. Rather [Dan Rather, CBS News]. I will get you next, Mr. Bailey.
Q. Mr. President, you mentioned that you expected the Americans to be out of Cambodia by some time in June. President Thieu was quoted as saying in an interview that he felt the North Vietnamese could reestablish their sanctuaries in Cambodia within 6 months and possibly, he was quoted as saying, within 2 or 3 months.
If that is the case, what have we accomplished in Cambodia? Was it worth the risks, and what do we do when they reestablish those sanctuaries?
THE PRESIDENT. I am planning to give a report to the Nation when our own actions are completed, toward the latter part of June. At that time, I will answer that question in full.
At the present time, I will say that it is my belief, based on what we have accomplished to date, that we have bought at least 6 months and probably 8 months of time for the training of the ARVN, the Army of South Vietnam. We have also saved, I think, hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans, as Frank Reynolds reported tonight on ABC. Rockets by the thousands and small arms ammunition by the millions have already been captured and those rockets and small arms will not be killing Americans in these next few months. And what we have also accomplished is that by buying time, it means that if the enemy does come back into those sanctuaries next time, the South Vietnamese will be strong enough and well trained enough to handle it alone.
I should point out, too, that they are handling a majority of the assignment now in terms of manpower.
SECRETARY HICKEL'S LETTER TO THE
[12.] Mr. Bailey [Charles W. Bailey 2d, Minneapolis Tribune].
Q. Sir, without asking you to censor the Secretary of the Interior, could you comment on the substantive points that he made in his letter?
THE PRESIDENT. I think the Secretary of the Interior is a man who has very strong views. He is outspoken. He is courageous. That is one of the reasons I selected him for the Cabinet, and one of the reasons that I defended him very vigorously before this press corps when he was under attack.
As far as his views are concerned, I will, of course, be interested in his advice. I might say, too, that I hope he gives some advice to the Postmaster General. That was the fastest mail delivery I have had since I have been in the White House. [Laughter]
REASONS FOR THE CAMBODIAN ACTION
[13.] Mr. Scali [John A. Scali, ABC News].
Q. Mr. President, how do you answer the criticism that the justification that you give for going into the Cambodian sanctuaries is hauntingly similar to the reasons that President Lyndon Johnson gave as he moved step by step up the ladder of escalation? He wanted peace, too, sir.
THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Scali, President Johnson did want peace, and, if I may use the vernacular, he has taken a bad rap from those who say that he wanted war.
However, the difference is that he did move step by step. This action is a decisive move, and this action also puts the enemy on warning that if it escalates while we are trying to deescalate, we will move decisively and not step by step.
WILL THE WAR PROVE WORTHWHILE?
[14.] Mr. Healy [Paul F. Healy, New York Daily News].
Q. Mr. President, this war was well underway before you came in, as you just said. Now, considering the toll in lives and in everything else that is happening now, do you think this war has proved to be worthwhile?
THE PRESIDENT. It is rather a moot question, Mr. Healy, as to whether it will prove to have been worthwhile. As Commander in Chief, I have found for 525,000 Americans it has been my responsibility to do everything I could to protect their lives and to get them home as quickly as I can. And we have succeeded pretty well. We brought 115,000 home. We are going to bring another 150,000, and this action will assure the continued success of that program.
However, looking at the whole of Southeast Asia, looking at the fact that we have lost lives there, I would say that only history will record whether it was worthwhile.
I do know this: Now that America is there, if we do what many of our very sincere critics think we should do, if we withdraw from Vietnam and allow the enemy to come into Vietnam and massacre the civilians there by the millions, as they would--if we do that, let me say that America is finished insofar as the peacekeeper in the Asian world is concerned.
POLICE AND NATIONAL GUARD CONDUCT
[15.] Q. Mr. President, in the light of the Kent State University incident, could you tell us what, in your judgment, is the proper action and conduct for a police force or a National Guard force when ordered to clear the campus area and faced with a crowd throwing rocks?
THE PRESIDENT. We think we have done a rather good job here in Washington in that respect. As you note, we handled the two demonstrations, October 15 and November 15 of last year, without any significant casualties, and that took a lot of doing because there were some pretty rough people involved--a few were rough; most of them were very peaceful.
I would hope that the experience that we have had in that respect could be shared by the National Guards, which, of course, are not under Federal control but under State control.
Now, what I say is not to be interpreted as a criticism in advance of my getting the facts of the National Guard at Kent State. I want to know what the facts are. I have asked for the facts. When I get them, I will have something to say about it. But I do know when you do have a situation of a crowd throwing rocks and the National Guard is called in, that there is always the chance that it will escalate into the kind of a tragedy that happened at Kent State.
If there is one thing I am personally committed to, it is this: I saw the pictures of those four youngsters in the Evening Star the day after that tragedy, and I vowed then that we were going to find methods that would be more effective to deal with these problems of violence, methods that would deal with those who would use force and violence and endanger others, but, at the same time, would not take the lives of innocent people.
[16.] Q. After the American troops are removed from Cambodia, there may still be a question as to the future of Cambodia's ability to exist as a neutralist country.
What is your policy toward Cambodia's future?
THE PRESIDENT. The United States is, of course, interested in the future of Cambodia, and the future of Laos, both of which, of course, as you know, are neutral countries. However, the United States, as I indicated in what is called the Guam or Nixon Doctrine, cannot take the responsibility and should not take the responsibility in the future to send American men in to defend .the neutrality of countries that are unable to defend themselves.
In this area, what we have to do is to go down the diplomatic trail, and that is why we are exploring with the Soviet Union--with not too much success to date, but we are going to continue to explore it--with Great Britain, with the Asian countries that are meeting in Djakarta,2 and through every possible channel, methods through which the neutrality of countries like Cambodia and Laos, who cannot possibly defend them. selves--to see that that neutrality is guaranteed without having the intervention of foreign forces.
2The Djakarta Conference of Foreign Ministers, representing 11 countries, met on May 16 and 17, 1970.
PROGRESS TOWARD GOALS
[17.] Q. Mr. President, in your Inaugural Address, you said that one of your goals was to bring us together in America. You said that you wanted to move us in international terms from an era of confrontation to an era of negotiation. You said you wanted to bring peace to Vietnam. During the past 2 weeks, it seems that we are farther than ever from those goals. How do you account for this apparent failure?
THE PRESIDENT. Don't judge us too quickly. When it comes to negotiation, I would suggest that you recognize the fact that some very important talks are going forward on arms limitation with the Soviet Union. We are still far apart. But I will predict now that there will be an agreement. When that agreement comes, it will have great significance. I say that having in mind the fact that we are far apart from the Soviet Union in our policy toward Southeast Asia, in our policy toward the Mideast; but I say that where the problems of arms is concerned, here is where our interests are together. The Soviet Union has just as great an interest as we have in seeing that there is some limitation on nuclear arms.
THE MIDDLE EAST
[18.] Q. Mr. President, have you made any judgement yet on the sale of jets to Israel? And how do you view the situation in the Middle East at the moment?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, the situation has become ominous due to the fact that reports have been received with regard to Soviet pilots being interjected into the U.A.R. Air Force, not in a combat but in some other role. We are watching these reports very closely. If those reports prove to be true, and if that continues to escalate, this will dramatically shift the balance of power, and it would make it necessary for the United States to reevaluate its decision with regard to the sale of jets to Israel.
We have made it very clear--and this is in the interest of peace in that area--that the balance of power must not be changed and we will keep that commitment.
PARIS TALKS AND CONSIDERATION OF A
[19.] Q. Mr. President, is the United States prepared to pursue with equal fervor in Paris negotiations to find a political settlement of this war, including the possibility of discussing with the other side a coalition government?
THE PRESIDENT. We are prepared to seek not only in Paris but in any other forum a political settlement of this war. We are not prepared, however, to seek any settlement in which we or anyone else imposes upon the people of South Vietnam a government that they do not choose. If the people of South Vietnam choose a coalition government, if they choose to change the leaders they presently have, that is a decision we will accept. President Thieu has indicated he will accept it. But we do not intend to impose at the conference table on the people of South Vietnam a government they do not choose.
[20.] Q. Mr. President, on a domestic subject, the economy, sir, unemployment is up, the stock market is down, things look generally discouraging. Do you have any views on that, and do you have any plans?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Unemployment reached the point of 4.8, I noticed, this last month. In order to keep it in perspective, it should be noted that in 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1965 the average unemployment was 5.7; 5.7 is too high; 4.8, I think, is also too high. But the unemployment we presently have is the result of the cooling of the economy and our fight against inflation.
We believe, however, that, as we look to the balance of the year, that we will begin to see a moving up in our gross national product in the last of the second quarter and throughout the third and fourth quarters. I believe that by the end of the year we will have passed the trillion dollar mark in terms of GNP. I believe that the year 1970 will be a good year economically, a year in which unemployment, we hope, can be kept below the average that we had in the early sixties, which was much too high.
THE CAMBODIAN DECISION
[21.] Q. Mr. President, did Secretary of State Rogers oppose your decision to go into Cambodia or did Dr. Kissinger oppose it?
THE PRESIDENT. Every one of my advisers, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, Dr. Kissinger, Director Helms, raised questions about the decision, and, believe me, I raised the most questions, because I knew the stakes that were involved, I knew the division that would be caused in this country. I knew also the problems internationally. I knew the military risks. And then after hearing all of their advice, I made the decision. Decisions, of course, are not made by vote in the National Security Council or in the Cabinet. They are made by the President with the advice of those, and I made this decision. I take the responsibility for it. I believe it was the right decision. I believe it will work out. If it doesn't, then I am to blame. They are not
ADMINISTRATION DISCOURSE WITH
[22.] Mr. Morgan [Edward P. Morgan, ABC News].
Q. Volumes have been written about the loneliness of the Presidency. You, yourself, have said that you were not going to get trapped into an isolation as President. Have you, particularly in recent days, felt isolated? And if you have not, could you explain to us why it was not until yesterday that you, whose voice means more than anybody else's in the administration, whether it be Mr. Agnew or Mr. Hickel, waited until yesterday to tell the educators that the administration was lowering--was modifying its discourse with the dissenters?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, first let us understand what I told the educators. The educators came in to discuss their problems, and since they are all presidents I felt a community of interest with them.
I indicated to them that I didn't want to make their job any harder for them and I would appreciate it if they wouldn't make my job any harder for me in their own activities.
Let me say that in terms, however, of the Vice President, in terms of what I told the educators, I did not indicate to them that I was going to muzzle the Vice President, that I was going to censor him.
I believe that the Vice President, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of HEW, everybody in this administration, should have the right, after considering all the factors, to speak out and express his views. This is an open administration. It will continue to be.
I also think that people should have the right to speak out as they do in the House, in the Senate, in the media, and in the universities. The only difference is that, of all these people--and I refer particularly to some of my lively critics in the House and Senate--they have the luxury of criticism.
I was once a Senator and a House Member; I thought back to this when I called Harry Truman today and wished him well on his 86th birthday, to some of the rather rugged criticisms that I directed in his direction.
They have the luxury of criticism because they can criticize and if it doesn't work out then they can gloat over it, or if it does work out, the criticism will be forgotten.
I don't have that luxury. As Commander in Chief, I, alone, am responsible for the lives of 425,000 or 430,000 Americans in Vietnam. That is what I have been thinking about. And the decision that I made on Cambodia will save those lives. It will bring the peace that we all want, in my opinion. I could be wrong, but if I am wrong, I am responsible and nobody else.
TROOP WITHDRAWALS FROM VIETNAM
[23.] Q. Mr. President, early in the news conference, in saying that the troop withdrawals would continue, you said that a year from now there would be 240,000 American soldiers in Vietnam.
THE PRESIDENT. Don't told me to the exact figure. I haven't--
Q. That is 185,000 less. Are you announcing a larger withdrawal tonight?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I wasn't. What I was indicating was a range. But don't get the impression that we might not get that low also, because you understand we are going to go forward on the negotiating track at this time, and I am not among those who have given up on that track. I still think there is a possibility of progress there.
POSSIBILITY OF MEETING WITH
[24.] Q. Mr. President, will you see my of the demonstrators tomorrow in the White House? Will you talk with them?
THE PRESIDENT. If arrangements are made by my staff so that they can come in to see me, I will be glad to. I talk to great numbers of people. I will be here all day long. As a matter of fact, I will be here tonight and tomorrow as well. But sometimes it is quite difficult to arrange which groups should come in. I know members of my staff will go out to see them. I have asked all the younger members of my staff to talk to the demonstrators and try to get their views, as we did on November 15 and October 15. I will be glad to see them if some of them are available.
Frank Cormier, Associated Press: Thank you, Mr. President.
MEMORIAL TRIBUTE TO MERRIMAN SMITH,
[25.] THE PRESIDENT. Could I ask the members of the press to wait one moment.
For 26 years a member of this press corps did just what Frank Cormier did then. He was known as the man who said "Thank you, Mr. President."
Three weeks ago he met a tragic death and, as we close this conference, I would like to suggest that we all stand for a moment in memory of Merriman Smith. [Moment of silence]
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you.
|Citation: Richard Nixon: "The President's News Conference", May 8, 1970. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=2496.|
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