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Remarks at Ceremonies in Macon, Georgia, Marking the 100th Anniversary of the Walter F. George School of Law and the 90th Birthday of Carl Vinson

November 18, 1973

Dr. Harris and all of the distinguished guests who are present here today on this historic occasion:

I am honored to be here for the two reasons that have been mentioned so well and so eloquently by all the speakers that have preceded me: first, because it is the 100th anniversary of a great educational institution, the Law School of Mercer University, now the Walter George Law School; and second, because it is the 90th birthday of a man who has served longer in the House of Representatives, in the Congress, than any man in our history, and one who is a legendary figure for those who did not know him, and one who is a loved figure for those like myself who had the privilege to know him.

Now, in view of the fact that those two events are being celebrated simultaneously, I expected that we would probably have a very good crowd today, and the chapel, of course, is full. However, I also know that this is Atlanta Falcon territory, and so when I was at the airport, I asked one of the people there--and there was quite a big crowd--how come they were out; why weren't they watching the football game? And they said "They are going to play tomorrow night."

Well; as you know, I am somewhat of a football buff, probably because I never made the team, even at Whittier. But I followed the Falcons, and I guess you could call them the comeback team of 1973. They lost their first three and they have won their last six, and I have been thinking I ought to have a talk with [Falcon head coach] Norm Van Brocklin and find out how they did it.

With regard to this law school, when I was speaking to Dr. Harris earlier, he said it was a small law school, and I was thinking of my own law school at Duke when I was there in the middle of the depression, and when my roommate was a boy from Macon, Georgia, Bill Perdue, who was first in our class, the highest record ever made by anybody who went to the Duke Law School, and there were only 105 in the Duke Law School total in the years '34 to '37. So in my view, the size of the law school is not what is important; it is its quality.

And Mr. Vinson has, of course, recounted what this law school has produced, in terms of 4 Senators and II Congressmen and to Governors--6 of them Governors of the State of Georgia-and 45 judges of various courts, and that is a great record for any law school, large or small.

But a law school means more, simply, than whether it produces public figures of quality. A law school means the character of the young men and the young women who go through those 3 years and then go out into public life and what they contribute. And I think Mercer, by the very fact that it has produced the public figures of such quality that I have mentioned, also over its 100 years produces that great character that affects every community, whether that lawyer is a very big man in the community or--and just as important--just a lawyer handling people's cases, rich or poor, each of them deserves honor and any law school that produces them deserves honor.

I think it is very appropriate it is named the Walter George School of Law. As Carl Vinson was speaking, I was thinking of my first days in the House of Representatives back in 1947, and I remember that usually there wasn't much attention paid to speakers--and Phil Landrum says it is the same today, they don't pay much attention. But I always remembered there were two men who, when they spoke, the chamber filled. One was Jim Wadsworth--they always came to hear him-from New York. And the other was Carl Vinson.

And the reason they came was not because these two men always agreed, although they always did agree on matters of national defense, but because they were the giants of the House in those days. There were others that were giants, but these two seem to loom above all of the rest.

And in the Senate, the law school that bears the name of Walter George also has that same distinction, because I recall in the days that I served in the United States Senate, and later presided over it, that the Senate chamber was usually empty, and for good reason. The speeches really weren't worth listening to. They were worth reading, but not worth listening to. But there were two men who filled that chamber in those days almost inevitably. One was Robert Taft and the other was Walter George, and whenever those men rose to their feet, the word would go around in the cloakrooms and through the offices, and the chamber would fill. They didn't always agree, and they were very different in their approach--Taft with his pithy, terse, sometimes, people thought, even rather brittle speech, but yet going to the heart of every question; and Walter George, with that magnificent background which comes from centuries of being taught eloquence of the great Southern statesmen.

And so, if I were in the Mercer Law School or on its faculty, I would be proud to be here, not only because it is a fine law school but because it bears the name of such a very great man who served the State of Georgia and served 'his Nation so well.

And now comes the part of my remarks that have to do with Carl Vinson. Actually, I had a very--not very long, but I thought appropriately long speech, and as the various speakers went along I began to scratch it out, because everything I wanted to say about Mr. Vinson had already been said more eloquently than I could possibly say it.

But there is one thing that was not said. A great deal of attention has been paid to the fact that Carl Vinson was a man who stood for strong national defense. He was Mr. Armed Services, he was Mr. Navy, he was Mr. American, he was Mr. Congressman.

He was all of those things, but the emphasis on his life was primarily that of strength, military strength. He must not be just remembered and thought of that way, because Carl Vinson was a broad-gauged man.

There are men in the House and the Senate who think solely in terms of strength by itself is enough; if America is strong enough, we don't have to worry about our diplomacy, and we don't have to worry about what we have in the way of national character. It is that military strength that we need that will keep the peace and perhaps win the wars.

But a young Congressman came to the House of Representatives as the youngest Member of the Congress when he came, 30 years of age, Carl Vinson of Georgia.

In his first speech, listen to what he said: "I devoutly hope that the casting of every gun and the building of every ship will be done with a prayer for the peace of America. I have at heart no sectional nor political interest but only the Republic's safety."

In those few words we capture the life of this very great man. "I have," he says, "at heart no sectional nor political interest." He served eight Presidents, four of them Republicans, four of them Democrats. He had the confidence of every one of them, and he served each one of them as loyally whether they were of his party or the other. And it is that kind of service, which puts America above party, that he represents and that America can always use today.

And then, "the building of every ship, the casting of every gun will be done with a prayer for the peace of America." I thought as he was speaking that we could be thankful for a lot of things today, thankful for the fact that our young men, for the first time in 25 years, are not being drafted for the armed services. They can make 'the choice, and we hope many will, to serve their country in peacetime as volunteers.

We can be thankful that for the first time in 12 years, America is at peace with every nation in the world; that for the first time in 8 years, all of our prisoners of war are home; and that we are beginning to make progress, we believe, toward building a structure of peace that is not just limited to Southeast Asia and Vietnam, an important but not critical part of the world, not just the Mideast, which is a very important and possibly a more critical part of the world than Vietnam, and not just Europe, which is important and potentially an area where confrontation would lead to the disaster that all of us are trying to avoid, but to build the kind of a peace in the world which will cover all the world.

I have always felt that it was wrong to be Asia first, or Europe first. I have always thought it wrong to think just of our own Nation, except as it related to our living in the whole world.

The world has become very small in those years that Carl Vinson has served in the Congress of the United States. The world has become much smaller in the years when he first advocated the two ocean navy. Today, whether it is halfway around the world to the People's Republic of China in Peking, or a third of the way around the world to the Kremlin in Moscow, or wherever we go, we must realize that there cannot be real peace in the world unless there is developed a structure of peace which covers not only the small nations but particularly the great powers that have the key to peace or to war in their hands. And that is what strength is all about.

I know that many think that when the President of the United States or Herman Talmadge, on this platform, or Eddie Hebert out there in this audience, or Phil Landrum, or Carl Vinson, any of us, talk about a strong America, and let's not be number two, there is the thought that that is jingoism.

Who cares whether we are number one in arms? I will tell you who care: people in every small and weak nation in the world. Because without America and its strength, no small nation would have a chance to survive today. That is what it is all about.

I am not suggesting that America should be the world's policeman.

I am not suggesting that whenever there is a problem, as there was in Korea and then in Vietnam, that America is the nation that must go to the rescue of these small nations. I am only saying this: that in a world where there is nuclear power, and in a world where there are super powers--two in existence and one coming along very fast, the People's Republic of China--we must not leave the position of leadership to other nations without having the balance that is needed, so that they will see that their interest will be served by not using that enormous power that they have, either for the purpose of conquest without war, or even with war itself.

I am not suggesting here that Mr. Brezhnev wants war, or that Mr. Mao Tse-tung or Mr. Chou En-lai wants war. I am only saying this: that reading the pages of history, when a vacuum is left and when there is a great power with no other power to balance it, then a very dangerous situation develops in terms of the threat to the peace of the world.

And looking at the United States and all of the criticism we have taken for our role in Korea and then in Vietnam, and even in other times, we can be thankful for this: Our young men have gone abroad in four wars. They have fought bravely. They have died. But we have never gone in terms of conquest. We have never gone to seek territory. We have never gone to break the peace. We have always gone to keep the peace. We have never gone to destroy freedom. We have always gone to defend freedom.

Mistakes, yes, we have made; perhaps in the conduct of the wars, perhaps in the conduct of foreign policy before they ever came about. But we can be proud that the United States in this century is a nation that is dedicated to peace, and that the world needs as a strong, powerful nation, because we do stand for peace and will work for peace whenever the case ever arises.

Looking ahead to the year 2000, and it is very difficult to look much beyond that, but I think there is a better chance than there has been since World War II that because the relationships which Carl Vinson has spoken to, that we have established with countries with whom we have nothing in common as far as ideology is concerned--in fact, we differ completely with Chou En-lai, Mao Tse-tung, Mr. Brezhnev, Podgorny and their colleagues---but because of the initiatives we have taken, we may be establishing the pattern which will mean that the great powers will recognize that the risk of war is too great for them to engage in adventurism in any part of the world, and that the benefits of peace, on the other side, are so much greater that we should use our strength for peace rather than for war.

Let me say just one personal note. I am known as an anti-Communist, and I earned that, and I suppose most of the people in this audience would say, well, I am against the Communists. But let me say, I know the Russian people. They are strong. They are vigorous. They are fine people. I know the Chinese people. And whether they are on Mainland China or Taiwan or in Bangkok, where there are a couple million of them, or in Manila, where there are a million, they are sophisticated, with layer on layer of history behind them, and also with an ability to give much to the world. And I want a world--I want a world for these young people that we have heard outside a few moments ago in which not only they won't have to be drafted, not only they won't have to go to war, but a world in which they can work with their young colleagues in Russia, in China, in Latin America, in Africa, to find the answer to such critical questions as how do we avoid cancer; to find the answer to such critical questions that we are faced with in the field of energy and all of that; the answer to how we can work together to make the world's environment better.

! am not suggesting that it is going to be easy, and I am not suggesting that because we settled the Mideast conflict, momentarily at least, that we can expect that people who have hated each other for thousands of years are now going to start to love each other. But I do know this: With the kind of power that we have, with the kind of power that exists in other nations across this globe and can exist in others, it is essential, if civilization survives, that America remain strong enough that our voice will be respected so that we can play a peacekeeping role, because a war is unthinkable in the present context in which we presently live.

And that brings me now to Carl Vinson again. He was for strength always in his life, and America can be thankful that because of what he stood for, we were strong enough to have handled World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, with military strength that was necessary; to have handled the recent airlift which avoided what could have been a very difficult situation in the Mideast and helped to avoid an American involvement in the Middle East. All of these things he contributed to.

And a monument must be built to this man, must be left to him. We build part of it today with this ceremony when we honor him and the great law school, the Walter George Law School.

He would not want a monument built for himself to be there in Washington. I don't know, I have never seen him on a horse, I don't know how he would look on that kind of a monument.

But next to his country, and next to his State of Georgia, Carl Vinson loved the Navy most. And so, I have an announcement to make today. I have discussed with Chairman John Stennis of the Armed Services Committee of the Senate, and Congressman Ed Hebert--the Congressman from Louisiana, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee of the House--and their counterparts, a proposal, and they have given me permission, because we must do this thing jointly, to make this announcement today.

As you know, we have just begun to develop nuclear carriers. The first one was named the Eisenhower, the second one was named the Nirnitz, the great naval commander of World War II. The third is just beginning, and it will be named the Carl M. Vinson.

Note: The President spoke at 3:14 p.m. in Willingham Chapel at Mercer University.

On the same day, the White House released a fact sheet on the U.S.S. Vinson.

Dr. Rufus Carrollton Harris was president of Mercer University.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at Ceremonies in Macon, Georgia, Marking the 100th Anniversary of the Walter F. George School of Law and the 90th Birthday of Carl Vinson Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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