Richard Nixon photo

Address at Graduation Exercises of the Naval Officer Candidate School, Newport, Rhode Island

March 12, 1971

Admiral Colbert, Captain Farrell, Governor Licht, Secretary DeSimone, all of the distinguished guests on the platform, the distinguished guests at this occasion, and, of course, most important of all, the members of the graduating class:

I very much appreciated the personal remarks that were made by the Admiral and also by the leader of this class. I have only one correction to make--not a very important one--but when I finished Quonset Point, I was a lieutenant, junior grade, so I started a little bit higher.

I want you to know, too, that it is a very great pleasure for me to be able to share this occasion with you, as you, the members of this class, begin your service as naval officers. I began my naval service at Quonset Point, as has been pointed out, and it has taken me 29 years to cross Narragansett Bay. But I am glad finally to be here.

This does not reflect on my training. I think I was a pretty good navigator. I just took the long way around. I do not contend that it necessarily means anything as far as your future is concerned, but it should be noted for the record that the two Presidents before me were also Navy men, and, of course, President Eisenhower first tried to go to Annapolis before he finally went to West Point. We are very honored today that his son, Ambassador Eisenhower,1 is here. He chose West Point--his first choice.

I know it is the custom to tell graduating classes that they are facing great opportunities and great obligations. Sometimes it is true and sometimes it is not true. In your case it happens to be true.

The pursuit of peace is the opportunity which lies before you, and the preservation of peace will be the special obligation of your generation. There is no greater opportunity, and there is no greater responsibility.

It may be difficult now to appreciate this fully. Our involvement in the war in Southeast Asia is drawing to an end. The next 3 years stretch before you, with the prospect of danger or boredom or both. And I know some of you will wonder about the significance of serving, about the need for it. I know that many of you resent the time taken away from the pursuit of other careers. You see these years as lost years.

I tell you, they will not be lost. Rather, I believe that nothing you do in your life will be more important than the service you give in the next 3 years. Out of the sacrifice and the bitterness and the testing of the last 10 years has come the opportunity to achieve at last what Americans all want and what we have not had in this whole century: a full generation of peace. It is for us now to seize that opportunity, to win the peace. It will be for you to keep it.

You serve in the peace forces of the world. There are those in America who question this, but the record is clear. Our power has always been used for building the peace, never for breaking it--for defending freedom, never for destroying it.

America has fought in four wars in this century. Yet, we did not seek war; we did not plan war; we did not begin war. But when it came, young Americans fought courageously.

Today, despite the terrible evidence of this century, there are those who have refused to learn the hard lessons of the history of tyranny. They would tell us, as their predecessors in other times have told us, that the appetite for aggression can be satisfied only if we are patient and that the ambitions of the aggressor are justified if only we understand them properly.

I am never surprised to see these positions held. But I am always astonished to see them held in the name of morality. We know too well what follows when nations try to buy peace at the expense of other nations. I do not believe we are prepared to take that course. What is more important: No other nation believes it either. That is why the United States of America is represented and why it is respected among the nations of the free world--not because we are rich and not because we are powerful, but, above all, because we can be trusted. We have been, we continue to be, willing to pay the price for peace. And we pay in the hard currency of deeds--not with hollow threats and empty promises.

There can be no advantage to concealing hard facts in soft words. We know that when force is rewarded, the cost of peace and the only alternative to war will be tyranny. This fact dominated the first half of this century. We are determined that it will not dominate the last half. For this reason we have accepted the necessity of war. But our purpose is peace.

Peace with freedom--so that peace may be worth having.

Peace with justice--so that peace may be worth keeping.

And peace with strength--so that peace may be preserved.

We must have strength. If all the world were free, we might have no need of arms. If all the world were just, we would have no need of valor. But as we see that the values we cherish are not cherished universally, and that there are those who feel threatened by the prospects of freedom and justice, then we must keep the strength we need to keep the values we cherish.

I know the arguments of the new isolationists. Though we cut defense spending, we can't cut it enough. Though we greatly increase domestic spending in proportion to defense spending, we can never increase it enough.

I understand those arguments, and I understand the sentiments behind them. But I understand the cost of weakness, too.

The question of what is enough is not academic. It is crucial to the survival of this Nation.

If we have the most extensive urban renewal programs, the most far-reaching medical care programs, the finest highways, the most comprehensive educational assistance efforts, the most effective antipoverty programs--if we have all this and more, and if we have it all at the expense of our ability to defend ourselves, then we would soon enjoy none of the fruits of our efforts, and the only peace we would know would be that terrible peace imposed upon those who are the victims of their own lack of vigilance.

And so today we will look to the possibilities of the future with a careful regard for the realities of the present and the lessons of the past.

As you serve in our peace forces, you can be proud of this great fact: We Americans firmly believe in what we are and in what we have. But we do not choose to go the way of those ancient crusaders who sought to civilize the world one grave at a time. We do not seek power as an end in itself. We seek power adequate to our purpose, and our purpose is peace.

I have no illusions about the difficulty of achieving that purpose. I do not believe that peace will suddenly descend upon us like the answer to a prayer. I do not believe we should confuse the things we can expect from God with the things God may expect from us. Rather, we have to build peace, you and I together. We have to do it with our own hands because there is no other way. And we have to do it with our own brains and our own courage and our own faith.

I do not believe it will be done otherwise. But neither do I despair of its being done, because I believe you will do the job, and not only you here in uniform but your generation.

I remember very clearly an address President Eisenhower made in March of 1960 to a White House Conference on Children and Youth. He said, "our children understand, as we did not in our own youthful days, the need--now approaching the absolute---for peace with justice .... among the things we teach to the young are such truths as the transcendent value of the individual and the dignity of all people, the futility and stupidity of war, its destructiveness of life and its degradation of human values."

In a decade of war since that time, the children he was talking about have grown up. Some of you are here today. As the years have passed and I have watched your generation, I have understood the wisdom of his words. The man the French called the peace general had a vision of "the peace generation," and it has come to pass. You will be that generation.

As you take up your responsibilities today, as you begin the great work before you, I want to remind you that you are not alone, that people of other nations have served bravely and do so today in behalf of a lasting peace. We are not the only nation that desires the end of war. We are the most powerful nation, but gallant people around the globe share our faith that the world is moving in the way of peace with freedom and with justice for all. Some of them are here today. I want to salute those members of the naval forces of the Republic of Vietnam who are here today.

I have known their country. I have known their struggle for almost 20 years. I have visited Vietnam seven times. I have seen firsthand the courage of the Vietnamese people, their endurance, their sacrifice, their will to be free.

The rights we have learned to take for granted, they are still fighting for.

War has been the condition of man from the dawn of history. Some have said that wars are made by something ignorant in the human heart. If this is so, then perhaps peace will come through something splendid in the human soul. Perhaps man will learn not to answer what is primeval in his blood, but rather to heed what is divine in his humanity.

However it may come, it is certain that peace and the greedy ambitions of governments cannot survive in the same world. But I believe it is the ambition of governments that is going to fail, because from having seen the world, almost all the world, I know the people of the world want peace.

Through time they have watched the harvest of the plowshare rot in the fields and on the vines while they have reaped the harvest of the sword. It would be difficult to suppose that God created man for this end, and difficult to doubt the wisdom of the Prophet, that "the work of righteousness shall be peace .... "

So we have dreamed no small dream. We have set ourselves no easy task. We seek to do the work of righteousness. In that work the years you give will not be lost. They will be redeemed along with the hopes of humanity.

I join all of you in congratulating those who graduated with distinction, and I join all of you, too, in congratulating all of those who are graduating today. For whatever it is worth from a personal standpoint, I did not graduate with distinction from Quonset.

Note: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. to the graduating class which included his son-in-law, Dwight David Eisenhower II.

In his opening words, the President referred to Vice Adm. Richard G. Colbert, President, Naval War College, and Capt. Eugene H. Farrell, Commander, Officer Candidate School, Newport, R.I.; Gov. Frank Licht of Rhode Island; and Herbert F. DeSimone, Assistant Secretary for Environment and Urban Systems, Department of Transportation.

An advance text of the President's remarks was released on the same day.

1 John S. D. Eisenhower, Ambassador to Belgium 1969-71.

Richard Nixon, Address at Graduation Exercises of the Naval Officer Candidate School, Newport, Rhode Island Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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