Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to the International Platform Association Upon Receiving the Association's Annual Award

August 03, 1965

Mr. Pearson, delegates, and friends:

I am delighted that we could meet here together in the first house of our land this morning.

I am very indebted to you for this attractive silver bowl and I shall remember this occasion with a great deal of pleasure. I am sure through the years the folks that come to my little library will be reminded of your generosity and of the recognition of the International Platform Association Award.

I did have to travel until about 2:30 this morning to get back for this engagement, but I thought that the honor you would do me was great enough and the debt I felt to you was strong enough that I should be here.

Perhaps I should have come to listen instead of talk and, really, I haven't come to talk much. I did not anticipate that this would be an address. I came because Mr. Pearson, in passing the other day, asked me to his farm. And I just spent about all my life on a farm and I don't want to go back there until I have to, and I thought you would probably enjoy coming to the White House equally as much.

Your organization was founded by William Jennings Bryan, Bob LaFollette, William Howard Taft, and Paul Pearson, and I think it has a very special meaning for a former debate coach, like the one speaking to you this morning.

I only wish that my college teacher could be here to see what is happening now. Because in my first term in college, when I made the debating team as a freshman-which was slightly unusual--when I got my grade cards my teacher gave me the lowest grade I ever received in college--and in just the course that you would expect him to give it to me in. He gave me a "D" in argumentation!

We appreciate very much your coming here. Except for one of your members, as I stated, I might have come out to enjoy your air-conditioned hotel room with you today. But your former president, Drew Pearson, said that he believed in government being transacted out in the open, and if he does, why, you qualify out there in the sun this morning.

Drew, if you will pardon the expression, I predict--now I don't have an 83 percent prediction record--but I predict that some of your colleagues are going to get hot under the collar this morning out there in the sun. But I am proud to be associated with all of you on this occasion because you are the real champions of free speech. You believe in free and full discussion. You believe in the right to be heard.

President Eisenhower told me an interesting story after he returned from World War II. He said before he went out there, before he went to Europe to take command, they met at his mother's home out in Kansas. And some of his brothers were there, and his mother told him goodby, and his brothers told him goodby as he went away to war.

And he said, one day one of the Russian generals came in and complained to him about a story that an American newspaperman had written about him which he felt was not fully in keeping with the facts, and that he demanded that this newspaperman be punished, and that he be refused the privileges of a press correspondent.

President Eisenhower said he thought it over and told him to come back the next day. The next day he came back and he showed the Russian general a big scrapbook of unfair things and unkind things that had been said about him, because his plans went astray on occasion, too, and a lot of American soldiers had died.

And he said to the general, "Now let me tell you this story." He said, "lust before I came over here f met at my mother's home in Kansas with four of my brothers, and they were there to tell me goodby." And he said, "My father was a railroad man and he had married my mother as a young girl and out of this union had come these boys." And he said one of them was there and said he was a constitutional lawyer and a very conservative fellow, and nearly everything that came up he would quote the Constitution. Another one of them was a college professor--college president Milton Eisenhower of Johns Hopkins now--and, he said, he was very liberal. And he said, "Another one of my brothers is a conservative banker, and another is an engineer that is more liberal." And he said, "The fifth boy is General of the Armies."

And he said, "The real reason I'm over here, General, fighting this war is so that a railroad man can marry a little American girl and out of that union come five boys, two that are conservatives, two that are liberals, and one that is General of the Army."

That is what America stands for, and we want to keep it that way.

So, I think, that story rather well emphasizes that these are rights that we ought to keep sacred. These rights were not come by easily. They were hammered into our Bill of Rights, and they were put there by men who knew what it was to be jailed and to be beaten, and to be banished and to be ostracized for what they said or what they thought, or what they preached or what they published.

Our forefathers knew what these rights meant, and they exercised them. And we must exercise our rights, too. We must never allow ourselves to be cowed by conformity.

I don't think, from what I know about the fellow that introduced me, that he's likely to have that happen to him because I have never seen him conform very much. But all of us, collectively, must never be cowed by conformity. We must never be afraid to discuss or to challenge, or to innovate or to stimulate new ideas and new approaches.

This year, I sent to the Congress a rather novel and unique suggestion, and I must say that my prediction was wrong. It wasn't 83 percent wrong--it was 100 percent wrong. I thought the Congress would debate it 10 years before they acted on it--and we got it passed the first session. We're going to sign it this week.

It was a rent supplement that provides that when a fellow pays 25 percent of his rent--if he makes $200 a month and he pays $50 for rent, then the Government, if his rent is $60, can pay $10 of that $60. He pays $50 and the Government pays $10. If the Government paid $10 a month, that would be $120 a year, and that would be a lot cheaper than building big public housing that would cost $34,000 for him to live in. And it takes care of many more hundreds of thousands of families at less cost.

Now, we hope that it works out. We're going to try. But it is a new idea. And new ideas like that--at times passed in some States--just couldn't be suggested if they didn't conform. And in some places in the world today they can't be suggested.

It was not too many years ago that a Midwestern newspaper circulated a petition at a Fourth of July rally. Now what do you think that petition contained? This is an interesting story. That petition was composed of extracts from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. And every member but two in the entire crowd refused to sign it because they said it was too radical and they were too cowed to think for themselves.

So, free speech, free press, free religion, the right of free assembly, yes, the right of petition, the right to buy ads and to have teachins, and sit-ins, and parades and marches and demonstrations--well, they are still radical ideas. And so are secret ballots, and so are free elections, and so is the principle of equal dignity, and so is the principle of equal rights for all the sons and daughters of man.

But all of these things are what America stands for, and all of these things are what you and all other Americans need to stand up for today.

Now, it is a new idea, and a somewhat radical one, that the people of small nations have a right to live in peace without fear of their neighbors.

Today, the most difficult problem that confronts your President is how to keep an agreement that I did not initiate--I inherited it--but an agreement to help a small nation remain independent, free of aggression-the nation of South Viet-Nam. Now, in 1954 we agreed to that. We signed a solemn treaty, just as binding a contract as a sovereign nation can enter into, and it said we will help you to remain independent, free of aggression.

Now, I don't hear any people worrying much about this word aggression. They talk about the bombs. They talk about intervention. They talk about fighting a war in rice paddies. They talk about what sacrifices we are required to make. But during all of our history we have died in order to keep our contracts, in order to protect human beings.

The point I want to make is why--oh, why--oh, why don't people concern themselves sometimes with a country that is trying to maintain her independence from aggression, that is being invaded, that is trying not to be swallowed up, that is trying not to have an ideology imposed upon her?

Now, we saw it happen in Greece, we saw it happen in Turkey, and we saw it happen in Iran. We have seen it happen in other places in the world. And America has come and said, "We believe in a choice, in the right of people themselves to choose, and we have agreed to help you resist aggression."

Now, my problem is how to help them resist aggression and keep them from being swallowed up, and still have peace in the world. If I resist them, if I deter them, if we keep our commitment that the Senate made in the treaty, 82 to 1, that three Presidents have made--President Eisenhower, President Kennedy, and the present President-then the people say, "Well, you should come on home. What happens there doesn't matter." If you stay there, there are some that say, "You ought to get it over with in a hurry."

So, some want to go and blow up everything. Some want to come and blow up nothing, and leave and get out, and forget them. We are trying to do the reasonable thing to see that power and brute force and aggression are not going to prevail. You can't do this thing by force. Now, let's sit down and reason it out, and let's try to allow these people a choice. That is what I'm trying so hard to do, and that is what I need your help on.

We don't want war with anyone. In 20 months we have agreed to 15 different approaches to try to bring peace, and each one of them has been turned down by the other side.

I was reminded this morning of something last week--I did not count it up-that said I left nine ways open to sit down and reason our problems out, to use words instead of guns, to use logic instead of bombs. But you can't have an agreement with just one man. You can't do it by yourself. We have said, "We will go anywhere, talk to any government at any time, and if you will just name the place we'll be in the right chair."

Now, I don't know what else you can do, how much further you can go. With the help of the Secretary of State, Ambassador Goldberg, and our diplomats around the world, we are going to do everything we can with our left hand to negotiate an agreement that will allow people to breathe free independently, independent of any ideology of ours or of anyone else--give them the right of choice. And if we do that we'll come home tomorrow.

We don't want an inch of territory. We don't want a single base. We don't want anything except to help those people do what we agreed to do. And this is an idea that we cherish and we champion, and that all through the years we have been willing to die to uphold for ourselves, and for other people throughout the world.

There are 114 nations in the United Nations and all the big powers can be counted on one hand. Now, if this little nation goes down the drain and can't maintain her independence, ask yourselves, what is going to happen to all the other little nations? So somebody must stand there and try to help the little nations protect themselves from the nations who would provoke aggression.

Now, the United States' strength rests not on our missiles. Our strength rests not on our men. Our strength rests not on our money, or our means. Our strength rests on the might of the ideas and the ideals which give America her meaning.

We hope, and we envision, and we plan, and we pray for the day when every child born in the world can have all the education that he or she can take; that they will be protected in their body and their mind from disease; that they will have a chance to rise out of the poverty that enslaves them and subjugates them; that under leadership of man they can throw off the yokes of the ancient enemies of mankind.

Now, America wins the wars that she undertakes. Make no mistake about it. And we have declared war on ignorance and illiteracy, we have declared war on poverty, we have declared war on disease, and we have declared war on tyranny and aggression. We not only stand for these things but we are willing to stand up and die for these things.

We have been talking about them a long time in this country, but we are doing something about them today. This Congress has passed an education bill that is revolutionary, so comprehensive that in our fondest dreams we did not think that we could realize it this soon--$1.2 billion for elementary children.

This Congress this week will pass a voting rights bill that will give every American, regardless of his economic status, or where he lives, or what kind of a dress or suit he wears, or what his color is, or what his religion is-he will have that right that every free American ought to have of a secret ballot and to go and vote for his official, and it will be guaranteed to him by the United States flag in every precinct in this land.

This week we're going to have the most comprehensive housing bill in 50 years, to try to permit every person to have a roof over the head of his wife and his children.

Last week I sat down with that great humanitarian, Harry Truman, 81 years old, in Independence, Missouri. And with tears in his eyes, I saw his dream of 20 years ago come true when we signed the Medicare bill that not only provided hospital care and nurses' care and nurse home care and medicine, but also provided for doctors' bills that could be paid; and no longer made it necessary for a mother and a father, in the twilight of their career, to write their nephew or their niece or their son or their daughter and say, please come, send me some money so I won't starve, or so I can go to the doctor.

So, in the words of James Whitcomb Riley:

"Those days are gone and forgot,
The bridge of the railroad
Now crosses that spot;
And the old diving logs
Lay sunk and forgot."

Yes, education, poverty, housing, medical care, higher education, vocational education-all these things are just as necessary now as the three R's were when I was a child.

We cannot survive as leaders of this world, we cannot be first in the world if we are second in education, or health, or freedom. You have sent to Washington the best Congress I have ever seen. They have turned out more work on more far-reaching measures for more people. We have always had a Congress that could pass a bill for a few people if enough power got behind it-but these are for all the people.

I am so grateful that we have organizations such as yours upholding and encouraging free and unfettered debate that really supplies us the greatest source of our strength.

In these days we are all more responsible in what we say than Americans used to be. I remember one public figure once described another public man as, and I quote, "a mushtoed, spotted traitor to the Constitution and a political turkey buzzard."

Now, sometimes they try to get me involved in personalities. But we don't need name-calling and we don't need slander and we don't need libels and we don't need labels. You really don't gain much by getting into personalities and talking about a man or his wife or his dogs on a personal basis.

This is a great age. This is an age of knowledge. This is an age of ideas. And we don't respect ourselves unless we respect ideas and ideals. That is what makes our democracy live.

I want you to know that that is the first interest, that is the primary interest, that is the basic interest of all--all who live or work in that house, because that house is the house of all the American people, rich and poor, wise and learned, ignorant and illiterate.

If we have our way, and if we are successful, and if the American people will heed our call, the day will come in this century when we will have won our wars--wars against poverty and illiteracy, ignorance and disease. Then think about what a great and happy land it will be when all Americans are free and when all have equal rights and all have equal privileges, and there is no discrimination because of bank accounts or churches or voter restrictions or color or sex.

That is the kind of an America we look forward to,

Of course, we want to beautify it and plant some flowers--Mrs, Johnson does all along the way--but that is "America the Beautiful."

I hope that you of the IPA will go out into the hinterland and rouse the masses and blow the bugles and tell them that the hour has arrived and their day is here; that we are on the march against the ancient enemies and we are going to be successful.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:40 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White House before 200 members of the International Platform Association, a group of lecturers and speakers devoted to improving the quality of public speaking. In his opening words he referred to Drew Pearson, newspaper correspondent and columnist and former president of the association.

During his remarks the President referred to, among others, Paul Pearson, father of Drew Pearson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and Arthur J. Goldberg, U.S. Representative to the United Nations.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to the International Platform Association Upon Receiving the Association's Annual Award Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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