Richard Nixon photo

Remarks to a National Cancer Conference in Los Angeles, California

September 28, 1972

Dr. Rauscher, Dr. Letton, Dr. Clark, all the distinguished ladies and gentlemen attending this conference :

I very much, of course, appreciate the award that has just been presented, but I think it should be presented to you, each of you, who have been in the forefront in this battle for so many years. You are, after all, the frontline soldiers in the fight against cancer.

The Government, which I represent in this particular capacity, can help to provide the resources, but you are the ones who do the work. I know that biomedical research and treatment is a notoriously uncertain enterprise. I know that when we talk about a cure for cancer, that it is not some simplistic answer that you find, that there are many, many approaches that are being tried at different times and many areas in which movement may occur.

No one can control or even predict how fast this program is going to go. But we can control--and this is the reason that I am here--we can control our own contribution to the progress of the program. We can be sure this progress is not delayed because of too few resources or too much red tape, for we know this: Cancer is a scourge we must fight. That fight deserves, from all of us, all the money, all the resources, and all the ingenuity that are required to win it.

That is why, in my State of the Union Address, January 1971, I called for a total national commitment to the anti-cancer crusade. That is why we followed up on that call for action. As you know, in the last 2 years we have more than doubled the Federal budget for cancer, to over $450 million. We have converted the facilities at Fort Detrick from research on biological weapons to cancer research, and the National Cancer Institute has been strengthened and streamlined, made directly accountable to the President. We have established the new National Cancer Advisory Board, the President's Cancer Panel, to help us coordinate our resources in the Government, and to the extent we possibly can, to strip away that inevitable red tape.

But all the money and all the organization in the world--and we have the money and we have lots of organization in Government-but all of it, by themselves, will not win this fight. I know that and all of you know that. Whether we win it or not, and when we win it, depends on you, the doctors, the scientists, the volunteers who support them all across America and all around the world.

What governments can do is to help mobilize not only this Nation's but the world's best brains wherever they exist, and to insure that they have the chance to make their full contribution to this cause, because it often occurs to me, as I travel to various countries around the world--to Africa and Asia and Latin America, to the People's Republic of China, to the Soviet Union--that no one knows where we are going to find that one individual who may make a breakthrough in this field. It might be a woman out studying in a great university in Europe. It might be a young boy who sits in a schoolroom in Asia, or perhaps in the People's Republic of China. It could be an American doctor, a Russian biologist, a Chinese chemist, or maybe the breakthrough will come through from an African or Latin American scientist, or it might come from someone sitting in this room.

But perhaps more likely, from what I have learned in my rather brief acquaintance with the intricacy of this problem, there will not be any single cure, it will not come suddenly. It may be that many people will each contribute partial cures-progress for various forms of this dread disease. But whenever and wherever the answers come, what they are going to represent is the final steps of a long journey, a journey that many of you in this room have been on for many, many years. And those who took all the other steps, the first very difficult early steps when government did not provide as much support, when it was harder to get the volunteers to put up the money that was necessary, those of you who took those steps, who carried the fight then, when it was difficult, you are going to deserve the credit when the victory finally comes.

It is somewhat like the relays that we watched in the Olympics. One runner would break the tape. He was the winner, but all four stood there to receive the victory gold medal. Scientific progress is like a vast relay race in which thousands of men and women in every part of the world carry the baton for a distance before they pass it on, pass it on from one to another, from one generation to another, until finally they break the tape; the race is won.

That is why the agreement we signed in Moscow last May to cooperate with the Soviet Union in medical research can be so important. When most people think of the Moscow summit and the many agreements that were signed there in the field of cooperation in space and trade, medical research, et cetera, there is a tendency naturally to put first on the list of importance, and naturally this should be the case, the agreement to limit strategic nuclear arms.

I sincerely hope that what is called the SALT agreement will be remembered as a great turning point in the control and limitation of nuclear arms, and perhaps eventually in their reduction and thereby in reducing the risk of war in the world. But it may well be 20, 40, maybe 100 years from now that another moment in Moscow will be remembered with that moment when Mr. Brezhnev and I signed the nuclear arms control agreement, for our agreement to cooperate in the field of medicine could mark another great turning point in the struggle against disease.

It is like drug abuse, or hijacking, terrorism. Cancer is not just a national, it is an international menace, and we must confront it with an international alliance. The barriers between nations are very great. They are very great, for example, from a philosophical standpoint, despite the visits that we have taken between the People's Republic of China and the United States, between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The fact that the leaders of the two nations meet, that we have days of conversations, and that we reach agreement, does not mean that those deep philosophical differences have basically changed. They have not. They probably will not.

What we have tried to do, of course, is to find a way to have disagreements without fighting about those disagreements, and what we have tried to do also is to find areas where we can agree and where we can cooperate.

In fighting disease, I have found that both in my conversations with Premier Chou En-lai and my conversations with Mr. Brezhnev, Kosygin, Podgorny, and their colleagues, that this was one area where there was no question of the desire to work together, to cooperate. It, of course, will not be easy.

Many in this room have gone to the Soviet Union. You know the differences in language and the differences in background and so forth that are involved. Very few of you have had the opportunity to go to the People's Republic of China. But we do know that both there and in the Soviet Union there are people of ability. There are Russian scientists and Russian doctors who are able people. There are Chinese scientists and Chinese doctors-one-fourth of the people of the world, after all, live there--they are able people. The ability of those people there to cooperate with doctors here and in other free nations, this, of course, can have an enormous effect.

Perhaps this fight against cancer, against disease, can help to teach the world that despite immense differences between cultures and values and political systems, nations must work together and can work together to meet their common needs and fight their common enemies.

Those who join hands against disease help advance the day when nations may no longer raise their hands against each other.

I mentioned the laboratories at Fort Detrick. It seems to me that this is one of the great symbols of our progress toward the use of our resources for peaceful purposes. I am sure some of you have been there. But as I think of it here this morning, I think of the past, the present, and then what could take place in the future. For years some of the most sophisticated scientific facilities on the face of our planet were there. They employed the best minds that we could find in the scientific community, and they were used for research on biological warfare, perfecting the instruments of death. It was a top secret installation, totally isolated. As a matter of fact, even though I had been a Congressman and Senator, Vice President of the United States, I had never seen it until I went there after it had changed its character.

Now it has been converted, as you know, into a laboratory for research on cancer, dedicated to the preservation, not the destruction, of life.

I remember my visit. It was just one year ago.1 I remember saying on that day that Fort Detrick should now be thrown open, not only to scientists and doctors from the United States but from all over the world. Last month, as a part of our new cooperation in medicine, the Russian Minister of Health, a great heart surgeon incidentally, came to the United States. One of the places he visited was Fort Detrick. That shows how the world has changed in this last year. It shows it most, it seems to me, effectively, because no one could even think of the possibility of anyone from the Soviet Union going to this top secret installation in past years. But there he stood, in a place that just a few years earlier had been the symbol of a closed world, a world of suspicion and confrontation and a place where some of the best minds of our Nation had prepared for a possible war against his nation or some other nation.

Now he stood there, this man from the Soviet Union. This place has become a symbol of an open world, a world of cooperation and trust, at least in this particular area. It had become a meeting ground where the best minds from every nation can work together to save life anywhere on earth.

We have a long way to go, but our goal is clear. For me its symbol is Fort Detrick, Maryland, welcoming the Soviet Minister of Health. This is the kind of world we want to leave to our children. We want it to be a better world. We want it to be a more peaceful world. Let us hope that it may be a world in which the genius that split the atom, the genius that took men to the moon, is turned not to the conquest of other peoples, but to cooperation in the conquest of cancer and the other common diseases which afflict mankind.

I would not want to leave an impression from the remarks that I have made that in this very intricate field of foreign policy that we are going to expect instant cooperation in all areas. As I emphasized a few moments ago, the philosophical differences, the fact that nations have different interests, are there now, and they will last for years to come.

But I do suggest here this morning that a beginning is occurring. We now have a dialogue with the leaders of one-fourth of the people of this earth where we had nothing but angry isolation on both sides for over 20 years. From confrontation we have moved to negotiation and then cooperation with the leaders of the Soviet Union, and particularly with some of them in their scientific endeavors where previously we have not had that opportunity. This indicates the kind of a world we can build. It also indicates how much counts on you.

I would simply conclude with this final thought. When we think of arms control, when we think of wars and the lives that they take, one statistic brings home how important your battle is, how important you are as the frontline soldiers in this battle. I understand that each year in the United States more people die of cancer than were killed in action in all of World War II.

So, as you begin this conference, as you work in this conference, as you have in years past when you have met, let me say it may not get the headlines of a great international conference which deals with the problems of resolving differences in arms control, et cetera. But I know and you know that there is no battle that is more important than the one you are waging, and our best wishes go with you as well as the resources that the Government can provide.

Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, before we fly back to Washington, I just want to say one thing with regard to the Nixon family and its contribution to this particular cause. This is the first chance I have had since I signed this legislation--except for the meeting that we had in the signing ceremony in the White House which some of you attended--this is the first chance I have had to attend a meeting of this sort where the National Cancer Institute and other organizations are joined together.

I am very proud to say that as far as the members of our family are concerned, that my wife, Mrs. Nixon, my daughter Julie, my daughter Tricia, in the past 3 months--I have not looked back beyond that, but I had the record checked-- across the country have appeared at various times before 12 different meetings and dinners and so forth, in the field of cancer. This shows that our family is with you, as well as the President in his official capacity.

Thank you.

1 See 1971 volume, Item 334.

Note: The President spoke at 10:28 a.m. in the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel where he was presented with a distinguished service award by the American Cancer Society.

The conference, jointly sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, was attended by more than 1,500 physicians, including cancer specialists and general practitioners.

Frank J. Rauscher was Director of the National Cancer Institute; Dr. A. Hamblin Letton was president of the American Cancer Society; and Dr. R. Lee Clark, president and professor of surgery of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston, was chairman of the program committee for the conference.

The President spoke from a prepared text. On the same day, the White House released an advance text of his remarks and a fact sheet on the "Conquest of Cancer" program.

Richard Nixon, Remarks to a National Cancer Conference in Los Angeles, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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