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Remarks to a Meeting of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.

October 16, 1972

Mrs. Hanson, and ladies and gentlemen:

I learned that Dr. Kissinger was scheduled to be your speaker this morning; I found that I had some time in my schedule and I decided to substitute for two very important reasons: One, of all the many groups I speak to and that I have spoken to, big or small, across America, there isn't one that inspires me more than you do. Two, I am here to thank you for your support and to urge you for your continued support.

I am not speaking of an election campaign, but I am speaking of support for a cause bigger than an election, a cause of an honorable peace, one that will contribute to peace in the world. And an honorable peace in this terribly difficult war in Vietnam will contribute to that kind of a peace that we all seek.

Since we last met--it is hard to realize it was a year ago--some very intensive negotiations have been underway. I shall not and cannot comment on those negotiations. One, I would not want to raise false hopes, and two, any comment when negotiations are taking place could jeopardize their success, and I know that none of you would want any chance for successful negotiations to be jeopardized.

However, I do want to tell this group some conditions that I have laid down that we will insist upon in those negotiations in seeking an honorable peace in Vietnam.

First, we shall not agree to any settlement which imposes a Communist government upon the people of South Vietnam.

And second, we shall, under no circumstances, abandon our POW's and our MIA's, wherever they are.

When I use the word "abandon," I speak quite deliberately. That means that we cannot leave their fate to the good will of the enemy. We must have some strength in ourselves. And in addition to that, we shall not betray our allies; we shall not stain the honor of the United States.

These are the conditions that we have laid down. They are reasonable conditions because we seek an honorable and reasonable peace, and we shall continue to negotiate to achieve those objectives.

Now, one other point I wish to make with regard to this terribly long war which has been a subject for discussion over recent weeks and months, and that is the attitude that I have taken with regard to amnesty for those who were draft dodgers or deserters.

My position is clear. It is criticized by some as being lacking in compassion. Let me tell you why I have taken the position that I have.

Two and a half million young Americans, when faced with the necessity of serving their country in Vietnam in war, which no one really wants--no one wants to go to war, wants to risk his life if he doesn't have to--but two and a half million young Americans, when faced with that responsibility to choose, chose to serve their country. Thousands of them died for their choice. Hundreds of them, your loved ones, are missing in action or are POW's.

And I say that when thousands of Americans died for their choice and hundreds are now POW's or missing in action for their choice, it would be the most immoral thing I could think of to give amnesty to draft dodgers and those who deserted the United States.

Your loved ones have and are paying a price for their choice, and those who deserted America will pay a price for their choice.

And now I am here also to thank you. The hardest decision I have made since becoming President of the United States was made on May 8 of this year. You will recall the circumstances. A Moscow summit was upcoming after having finished the Chinese summit. There were great hopes for an arms control agreement and other agreements that would perhaps reduce the danger of war in the world.

At that time, a massive Communist invasion took place of South Vietnam from North Vietnam. We were faced with the specter of defeat. And I had to make a choice, a choice of accepting that defeat and going to Moscow hat in hand, or of acting to prevent it. I acted.

As you recall, I made the decision to mine the harbors, to bomb military targets in North Vietnam. That decision was the right decision militarily. It has been effective. And those who predicted that it would lead to the dissolution of the summit and its failure proved to be wrong.

But let me tell you what happened immediately after that decision. It is often said that when a President makes a hard decision, the so-called opinion leaders of this country can be counted upon to stand beside him, regardless of party.

Who are the opinion leaders? Well, they are supposed to be the leaders of the media, the great editors and publishers and television commentators and the rest. They are supposed to be the presidents of our universities and the professors and the rest, those who have the educational background to understand the importance of great decisions and the necessity to stand by the President of the United States when he makes a terribly difficult and potentially unpopular decision. They are supposed to be some of our top businessmen who also have this kind of background.

Let me tell you that when that decision was made there was precious little support from any of the so-called opinion leaders of this country that I have just described.

But what was the most heartwarming thing to me was that those who had so much at stake, those who had suffered so much, the great majority of those whose husbands and loved ones are POW's or MIA's, stood by that decision, and I thank you very much for that support.

As I am sure you know, I would not have made that decision unless I thought it would contribute to our goal of achieving an honorable peace in Vietnam. I would not have made it unless I thought it would contribute to the goal that I have dedicated myself to, that I have spoken to many of you about, including to this group last year, of securing the release of our POW's and the return of our MIA's.

I know that it has been a long, long vigil for you. I know how much you have suffered. And I know how much your children have suffered, and others who are not represented here. And I know that it is difficult at such a time as this to put your trust in any person.

But at this point let me just say in conclusion, you have never been away from my thoughts and you have never been away from my prayers, and there is nothing that I want more than to bring your loved ones home and I will never let you down.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:06 a.m. in the Presidential Ballroom of the Statler-Hilton Hotel. He spoke without referring to notes.

Carole Hanson was chairman of the board of directors of the League.

On May 15, 1972, the President met with representatives of the League at the White House. The transcript of a news briefing on the meeting by Maureen A. Dunn, Sybil g. Stockdale, and Phyllis E. Galanti, of the League, was released by the White House.

Richard Nixon, Remarks to a Meeting of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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