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Remarks to the B'nai B'rith Convention in Washington, D.C.: "The Cradle of Civilization Must Not Be Its Grave"

September 08, 1968

Dr. Wexler, Madam President, all of the distinguished guests at the head table, including Mr. Klutznick, who was the presiding officer the last time I was here nine years ago, and all of those who are attending this great Triennial Convention:

It seems very hard for me to realize it was eleven years ago, 1957, that I addressed you before. As I stand here and as I see so many who were here then and also as I hear the eloquent words, I say "eloquent," because they were much too generous, by my friend Max Fisher, I am most grateful for his introduction and for your very warm reception.

I would like to point out at the outset that I come here knowing that this is a political year. I guess you are aware of that, too. I know, too, that earlier today one of the other contestants for the office I seek was present— not the third one, but the second one, I think.

While I would not want to prejudice your judgment on such an important decision—this is a non-partisan group as Max Fisher has pointed out— I should say that this is a very unusual time in America's history as far as the two candidates for the Presidency are concerned. This is the first time in history when two men who have served as Vice President of the United States have run for the office of President.

When I used to address organizations like this in years like this, I often used to say, after the election in 1960 that I only wish I had been a member of an organization in which the Vice President automatically became President. As a matter of fact, I think I said that in 1957. I can't say that tonight, not that I am prejudiced, of course. I just simply want to say that I have been trying to figure a way that I could get one up on my good friend Mr. Humphrey, and it occurred to me that both of us have served in the United States Senate. We are, therefore, highly aware of the rules of seniority. It is true that both of us have also served as Vice President, but he has been Vice President only four years, I was Vice President eight years. I have seniority. And so I think it is my turn.

Incidentally, when I heard about the mortgage on that building that I dedicated nine years ago, all that I can say is that in return for the very generous comments made by my friend Max Fisher, in the party which I happen to represent which I will not mention because this is a non-partisan organization, I can assure you that in all this great nation there is no man that I know who has been a more effective money-raiser, fund-raiser, than Max Fisher. Let him pay the mortgage. He can do it—after the election, however, I need it first.

Now, if I could talk to you quite seriously about the subjects that I know that are in your hearts tonight and that you would want me to discuss in the great tradition of this organization, I say in the great tradition because while this is a non-partisan organization, you are naturally interested in the great political decisions that will be made by your Government, the Government of the United States, and, consequently, you should know how a potential President of the United States, a candidate for that office, feels on those particular positions which would be of interest to you.

Naturally, I cannot discuss them all and I tried to select those that I think would be of great interest, greatest current interest at this moment for this group. I would like to tell you at the outset the direction of my remarks, the sense of them.

I am not here to make any kind of an attack on the other man who seeks this office. I respect him. We differ. I am here to present my views. I believe that my views will speak for themselves, and then after you have heard us both, of course, you will make up your own minds.

In presenting my views, what I would like to do first is to point out that this organization—and I am going to be quite candid—is known, of course, as a Jewish organization. Whenever this organization takes positions or its members take positions, there is a tendency to say, "That is a Jewish position."

For example, this organization, its members, people like my good friend Max Fisher, Dr. Wexler, others, are tremendously interested in what is going to happen to the State of Israel. There is a tendency in an election campaign when the State of Israel is discussed by a political candidate to say, well that is all politics. They are after the Jewish vote.

Then in the field of civil rights, this organization is tremendously dedicated to that great cause. It has been for 125 years. But the observer who is superficial tends to think this organization is dedicated to the cause of civil rights in terms of civil rights for Jewish people, not for all people. I happen to know differently.

I happen to know that you believe, just as Theodore Roosevelt stated, that if this country is not a good country for all of us, it is not going to be a good country for any of us, and I believe that.

I happen to know, too, that while you have a tremendous interest in the State of Israel, you also have a primary interest in the United States of America. Tonight what I would like to do, I would like to stand aside, if I might, from the B'nai B'rith organization. I would like to speak to you as I know you would want me to speak to you, as an American. I would like to speak to you about the interest that we have in the two great issues of our time: Peace abroad and peace at home.

In talking about those two issues, I naturally will have to be selective. In talking about the issue of peace abroad, I am going to talk about the Mideast. I will tell you why that should be discussed tonight, not because this is the B'nai B'rith, but because in terms of the potential areas of the world that could explode into a nuclear confrontation, the Mideast today presents the greatest danger.

This is not true of Vietnam. Vietnam presents many other dangers, and a current problem very difficult for all of us, as we know. But when we look at the Mideast, all of us realize that there, if the great powers come in confrontation, the possibility of an explosion on a massive basis is there before us, because the interests are so great, much greater, for example, than those involved in what is happening in Vietnam.

For that reason, anyone interested in peace, in world peace, world peace in the sense of the absence of a nuclear confrontation that could destroy civilization as we know it, must look at the Mideast today. It is the primary area at this time that could explode.

I am not predicting that it is going to explode next week, next year, two years, three years from now, but I think it is well for us to look at it in those terms. I think as we look at Mideast policy, it is well for us tonight to consider what has been right about American policy, what has been wrong about American policy, consider it not in partisan terms, but in terms, again, of what are the interests of America in peace.

Now, that brings me to my formal remarks, a major statement that I have prepared on the Mideast situation for this meeting—not, I say again, because this is a Jewish organization, but because at this time in America's history it is essential that we understand the great stakes involved there and the need for new policies to deal with the new problems.

There are four fundamental facts of life that are evident in the Mideast today:

First, the danger of war increases in direct ratio to the confidence of certain Arab leaders that they could win that war.

Second, the Soviet Union has the definite aggressive goal of extending its sphere of influence to include the Middle East, and shall I point out here that when I was here in 1957 I would not have said that? That is something new in the situation.

Third, the United States has a firm and unwavering commitment to the national existence of Israel, repeated by four Presidents, and after Inauguration Day next year, it will be repeated by another President, whichever candidate is elected President of the United States.

Fourth, the foundations for a permanent peace will be laid when hunger and disease and human misery have begun to disappear in the Arab world, and the breeding ground of bitterness and envy is removed.

America must look hard at these facts of life to determine how we can change the collision course of the nations of the Middle East and avert a confrontation of the major powers.

Let's look at these four points that I have raised quite specifically, quite directly, and reach some conclusions.

First, the danger of war increases in direct ratio to the confidence of certain Arab leaders that they could win the war. Here we face a hard fact. Since the six-day war the Soviet Union has systematically rebuilt the armed forces of the U.A.R. and of Syria. Their goal was not to restore a balance of power. Their goal was to further Soviet ambitions. To a disturbing extent they have introduced new and more sophisticated weapons. Their Middle Eastern clients are growing more confident that they could win a war of revenge and drive Israel into the sea. That is what has happened.

Now, what should we do? The free world must act to maintain a balance of power to remove the confidence of would-be aggressors. Certainly a balance of power, as we all know, is only a short-term solution, but when survival is at stake, short-term solutions are necessary.

Israel must possess sufficient military power to deter an attack. As long as the threat of Arab attack remains direct and imminent, sufficient power means the balance must be tipped in Israel's favor.

Let me explain that from a highly technical standpoint. An exact balance of power, which in any case is purely theoretical and not realistic, would run risks that potential aggressors might miscalculate and would offer them too much of a temptation.

For that reason—to provide Israel a valid self-defense—I support a policy that would give Israel a technological military margin to more than offset her hostile neighbors' numerical superiority.

I am not a military expert, and I will rely on the judgment of military experts if I hold the office which I seek. If maintaining that margin of superiority should require that the United States should supply Israel with supersonic Phantom F-4 jets, we should supply those jets so they can maintain that superiority.

Now, let us look at our second hard fact. The Soviet Union has the definite aggressive goal of extending its sphere of influence to include the Middle East. In the Middle East, in the Mediterranean, along the southern flank of NATO, we have been witnessing the advancement of Russian imperialism. This is no Communist innovation, but it the age-old Russian geopolitical goal that the Soviet leaders inherited from the Czars.

Look at the pattern. In June of 1966, as far back as that, the Warsaw Pact nations blatantly declared the incorporation of the Middle East into the Communist sphere to be one of their aims.

During the next year, they provided the weapons and unleashed a propaganda campaign that inflamed tensions and led to the six-day war which they considered only a temporary setback.

Since June of 1967 the Mediterranean complement of Soviet ships has more than quadrupled from 11 to nearly 50 ships, and for the first time in 60 years, the Soviets have moved a fleet into the Persian Gulf which extends into the heart of West Asia.

Since the takeover of Czechoslovakia, the Soviets—and this is a very significant point—have stepped up their anti-Semitic propaganda, concocting a "Zionist plot" in Prague. Why? To win the support in the Middle East.

Now, that is the fact. These are the clear-cut moves of a superpower seeking domination. Confronted with this diplomatic and military policy and expansionism on the part of the Soviets, I believe that the American response has been uncertain and ineffectual. We can hardly ignore the fact that during the past five years of active Soviet penetration, the United States Government has at times seemed to hide its head in the sands of the Middle East. The Administration has failed to come to diplomatic grips with the scope and seriousness of the Soviet threat.

Now, what do we do? Short-range, we must counter the military buildup, as I have indicated. We must take the initiative for near-term settlements. Looking ahead, we must deal directly with the Soviets diplomatically on the subject of the Middle East.

Without belligerence but with complete firmness, we have to make it crystal clear that the stake of the free world in the Middle East is great. We must impress upon the Soviets the full extent of our determination. Then, and only then, will we cause them to re-examine their own policy to avoid a collision course.

Some may call this a hard line. But I insist that when you are confronted with a potential aggressive power, the most important thing to remember is that he must not miscalculate. So let him know in advance that we have a great interest. That is why we must speak firmly.

Now, let's look at the third fact of life in the Middle East. The United States has a firm and unwavering commitment to the national existence of Israel.

I think most of us are aware in this room of some of the reasons for that commitment. America supports Israel because we believe in self- determination of nations. We support Israel because we oppose aggression in every form. We support Israel because it is threatened by Soviet imperialism, and we support Israel because its example offers long-range hope in the Middle East. What they have done there offers hope of what could happen elsewhere.

There is another reason that goes beyond diplomacy. Americans admire a people who can scratch a desert and produce a garden. The Israelis have shown qualities that Americans identify with: guts, patriotism, idealism, a passion for freedom. I have seen it. I know. I believe that.

So we can justify our firm support on the basis of principle, but there is also this human element involved as well. All these reasons taken together add up to why we are not about to abandon Israel. America's word is good. It has cost us enough to prove that. We recognize Israel's predicament. One fact is this: Israel's enemies can afford to fight a war and lose. They can come back to fight again. But Israel cannot afford to lose even once. America knows that and America is determined that Israel is here in the family of nations to stay.

Now we come to the positive side, the fourth fact of life, the foundations for a permanent peace will be laid when hunger and disease and human misery have begun to disappear from the Arab world.

Some Arab leaders equate America's support of Israel as being against them. That is absolutely untrue. The United States should work with every nation in the Middle East willing to live in peace with its neighbors in a far-reaching development program.

The imaginative Eisenhower Plan to bring water—and thus food and employment to the Middle East—is one such proposal. This plan would provide atomic plants for the desalting of seawater, water so desperately needed to irrigate deserts. The first of these plants would produce as much fresh water as the Jordan River system does today. It would open a new life to hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees. We must explore every avenue to turn the arms race into a race for development.

Right now, the United States must take the lead in forming an acceptable settlement in the Middle East.

Listen to the terms: Included in those terms should be solid guarantees that the currently occupied territories will never again be used as a basis of aggression and sanctuary for terrorism.

Access for the ships of all nations through the re-opened Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran should be guaranteed.

The settlement should include recognition of Israeli sovereignty, its right to exist in peace and an end to the state of belligerency.

It is my view that for Israel to take formal and final possession of the occupied territories would be a grave mistake. At the same time it is not realistic to expect Israel to surrender vital bargaining counters in the absence of a genuine peace and effective guarantees, and that is what this is all about. I recognize, as all of you recognize in this room that to find a just peace in an area of the world that has only known armed truces and three major and bitter wars in a generation is not an easy task. But the United States is not without diplomatic and economic resources, and its private and public men are not without cogent ideas to get directly at the underlying problems of refugees and water.

We should thwart the temptation for aggression by helping Israel maintain a defense, we should engage in some direct hard negotiation, hard and fair, with the Soviet Union, to remove one underlying cause of the tension.

We should assert some leadership in bringing about talks with the moderate Arab leaders and then with the militants, and we should open up vistas of growth and development that can gradually end the bitterness and envy that exist. This is an ambitious task, but the only way to succeed or even partially to succeed is to make the effort.

Any future Mideast war could bring together in a sudden collision not only the nations of the Mideast but the great powers of the East and West. We must not allow the cradle of civilization to become its grave. That is what is at stake in the Mideast.

Let me turn from the subject of peace abroad, of which the Mideast is such an important part. It is an example, of course, of the type of diplomacy we need all over the world in these critical flashpoints—-Let us turn from the subject of peace abroad to the equally important subject of peace at home.

One thing that we must all recognize in this room is that the United States of America, which is destined, whether we want it or not, to lead the forces of peace and freedom abroad in this last third of the century—we are not going to be respected, we are not going to be able to fulfill the mission of bringing peace abroad unless we can demonstrate that we can keep the peace at home.

So we look at the United States today in this year 1968. We see problems that deeply concern us, concern us as Americans. We see the rise in crime, we see the riots in our cities, we see the problems in the ghettos, the problems in the universities.

We understand as we look at these problems that they are not partisan problems. They are ones that are not going to be solved only by laws or programs. They are ones that are going to take a commitment by a people, a people who will recognize that we need the best efforts of all of the American people if we are to have now an era of reconciliation after an era of revolution.

Here I want to talk bluntly about another subject that will be before you, has been before you, and will be before this nation in the months ahead. Often you hear it said that when an individual comes before an audience and talks about the necessity for order, or law and order, that that is simply a code word for racism.

The answer on the other side, of course, is that rather than talking about order, we should talk about progress. Let me give you my view. We need both because order without progress is tyranny. You cannot have order without progress in a free society. Eventually there will be an explosion.

But there is another side to that coin. Progress without order is anarchy. You cannot have progress with disorder. You look back to the history of this country. We were born in revolution, but what we must recognize is that our Founding Fathers had the genius to set up a system of government which provided a method for peacefully changing what we do not like about our country.

In a country which provides a method for peaceful change, there is no cause in my view that justifies lawlessness or violence. This we must understand in the United States of America. That is the "order" side of the equation.

Let's look at the progress side of the equation. We can talk about the necessities for law and order, we can pass laws, we can have better police and more police, but if the people who live in some of the great cities of our country have no hope, they have nothing to lose, they will explode. So progress is essential.

We must light the lamp of hope in millions of homes tonight in which there is no hope. This is what we must do. Again, this is not Republican talk or Democratic talk. It is what we Americans have always believed. It is the American dream.

For virtually everybody in this room the American dream has come true. We have had an equal chance. We have moved up. But for millions the American dream is a nightmare. There is no chance. You have heard this said before.

The question then is not the objective. The question is the means. Here I believe it is essential that the United States move toward new means and on a new road. I do not mean that Government cannot play a great role, but I do say that when you say that the answer to the problems of our cities is simply to pour billions of dollars more into programs for Government jobs and Government houses and Government welfare, what we are doing is to go down a road which we have been proceeding down and which has not brought us to the destination that we want to go to.

What we must recognize is that Government has its role to play, but if you are going to have progress, if you are going to rebuild the cities of America, if you are going to provide the jobs and the training for jobs that you need to be provided for those that do not have that kind of training, the great instrument of progress in America is private enterprise rather than government enterprise.

We must enlist private enterprise in the job of rebuilding America. That is why—and I will not spell them out tonight—I have emphasized and will continue to emphasize the necessity for a new approach: Government playing its great role where private enterprise cannot do it, education and the like—but private enterprise having a tax credit to train the unemployed for real jobs that will be there rather than jobs that will not be there; private enterprise having a tax credit to bring private housing into the cities and into the ghettoes so that people can have the pride of owning their houses with all that that means in pride and dignity and self-respect; private enterprise receiving again tax credit and incentives in other ways not only to train the unemployed for jobs but to give people, black Americans, Mexican Americans, others who have not had that equal chance, give them a chance to become owners and managers, to have a piece of the action, because—let me be quite direct—Government can provide a job for a man, it can provide housing for a man, it can provide clothing for a man and shelter for a man, but Government cannot provide dignity and pride and self-respect. That will only come when people get that ownership, a piece of the action in America.

That is why I think that now we need to enlist the great private community of the United States, this great engine of progress, in the unfinished business of America, rebuilding the cities of America and also in the unfinished business of poverty in rural America.

Then, finally, one other area which is particularly appropriate to mention before this organization. I refer to the fact that apart from what private enterprise may do, do for profit as private enterprise must operate from profit, what we have is an engine for progress in this country, and a third dimension, an extra dimension, which deTocqueville pointed out 100 years ago when he traveled over the young America at that time was unique among the nations of the world, and that is what Americans do in their volunteer capacities. There are thousands of organizations across the country like B'nai B'rith, organizations of people who in terms of heart, in terms of dedication, in terms of devotion, help less fortunate people in a way that money cannot buy.

We need more of that. I simply want to say that as I talk to this organization, I am aware of the fact, and I get back to my original theme, that your interests are far beyond the Jewish community, that your interests extend to good causes in all of the cities in which you live, and I would say that as I look to the future of America that the next President of the United States can call upon the Congress to enact laws and he can call upon the Congress to appropriate money, and he can call upon the Congress to provide tax credits to private industry, but if we are going to have the true reconciliation, if we are going to have the true progress that we need, we need a total commitment from the whole American community.

That is why it is so important that organizations like this one with a heart recognize how much they can contribute to bringing the reconciliation which is so deeply needed in America.

Could I be permitted to put this as I conclude in the semantics of religion? The Christians, most Catholics and most Protestants, in referring to the kind of voluntary activity that I have just described, used the word "charity," a great word.

The Quakers, my Quaker mother, my Quaker grandmother, used the word "concern." I recall my mother and my grandmother saying, "I have a concern for peace. I have a concern for this person or that person. There must have a concern for someone who is less fortunate than thee.

When I was ten years ago in St. Louis dedicating a building, a friend of mine, Sam Krupnick—it happened to be a Jewish building—told me that the Hebrew word which was similar to these two words was "seddukah." I said, "What does it mean?"

He thought a moment, and said, "It means 'Do justly.' " Do justly not because the law requires it, not because your religion requires it, but because this is what every man owes to his fellowman.

As I stand before this group tonight, I think there is no greater message that could emanate from this triennial convention of B'nai B'rith than ac- cross this land of ours for Americans to get the message "Seddukah"—Do justly, because if we feel that in our hearts, then we are going to be able to make progress in these very difficult times in which we live.

Finally, since I began in discussing the problems of peace abroad and have finished by talking about the problems of peace at home, it would seem to me that it would be only appropriate since I understand 45 other nations are represented here today to tell our friends from abroad what I think is America's foreign policy objective, whether it is Vietnam, whether it is in the Mideast, whether it is in Europe or any place in the world.

In the last third of this century, whether peace or freedom does survive will depend upon the leadership of the United States of America. The question arises, What does the United States want? On this score we are different from the powers that preceded us. This is no reflection on them because that was a different time.

We do not seek colonies. We do not seek economic concessions. We seek only the right to live in peace with other nations. We do not try to impose our system upon them. We like our system but we recognize that for some other countries it may not work. We want each of them to select his own system, and we want our ideas to travel on their own power and not on the power of our arms. That is the American ideal.

I think I can best put it in terms of one of the shortest and one of the greatest speeches ever made in the English language. It was 150 years ago at a happier time in Britain's history, right after Nelson's great victory at Trafalgar. A great dinner was held in London's Guild Hall. William Pitt, the Prime Minister, was toasted at that dinner as the savior of Europe. He rose to his feet, he answered the toast. Listen to his words.

"I return you many thanks for the honor you have done me, but Europe will not be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions and will, I trust, save Europe by her example."

I would say to you tonight, looking at America and its role in the world, the world will not be saved by any single man, but America can save herself by her exertions and will, I trust, save the cause of peace and freedom in the world by her example.

APP NOTE: From section six of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "Quest for Peace".

Richard Nixon, Remarks to the B'nai B'rith Convention in Washington, D.C.: "The Cradle of Civilization Must Not Be Its Grave" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project