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Remarks on the NBC Radio Network: "A Commitment to Order"

March 07, 1968

In the course of this year's Presidential campaign, I will be discussing with the American people many issues — what I see as the nation's needs and its strengths; it problems and its purposes; the dangers we face, and the opportunities that are ours to seize.

Tonight I would like to talk with you about the number one issue of 1968 — the number one issue in the United States — and the number one issue in the world.

This is the problem of order.

By order I mean peace at home, and peace in the world. I mean the containing of violence, whether by armies or by mobs or by individuals. I mean the essential stability, the decent regard for the rights of others, that makes life livable and progress possible.

It was more than a quarter-century ago that President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed "freedom from fear" as one of the Four Freedoms. And yet today, fear stalks our lives as never before.

There are many kinds of fear today — fear of the loss of individuality, fear of human obsolescence, fear of economic deprivation — but the central fear is the most primitive — the fear of physical violence.

We live today at a time of deep and fundamental questioning, when millions of Americans are asking whether their country can survive, and whether their world will survive. Both abroad and at home, the forces of destruction threaten our lives and our institutions.

Here at home, we have been amply warned that we face the prospect of a war-in-the-making in our own society. We have seen the gathering hate, we have heard the threats to burn and bomb and destroy. In Watts and Harlem and Detroit and Newark, we have had a foretaste of what the organizers of insurrection are planning for the summers ahead. The President's National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders now cautions that "in the summer of 1967, we have seen in our cities a chain reaction of racial violence. If we are heedless none of us shall escape the consequences."

Abroad, we have lived for a generation with the abrasive tensions of the cold war, with the threat of nuclear weapons, with the explosive instabilities of a rapid dismantling of the old colonial empires. We have fought World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the peace is still elusive. Still we live in a world in which tyranny and greed and fanaticism march behind the barrels of guns. Are we, then, to be divided forever into warring worlds?

And here at home, are we to become two nations, one black, one white, poised for irrepressible conflict?

On both counts, the answer is no. But we cannot have peace abroad by wishing for it. And we cannot heal the wounds of our nation either by blind repression or by an equally blind permissiveness.

The peace we want in our cities is not the illusory peace of an abdication of authority, and not the sullen peace of the dispirited, but the peace that springs from participation — participation in the processes of growth and change, in the excitement of the present and the promise of the future.

As they survey the prospects of our cities, some cry out in despair that all is lost, that nothing can be done, that The Fire Next Time already is licking at the window-sills. Even President Johnson said not long ago that "we will have a bad summer," and "we will have several bad summers before the deficiencies of centuries are erased."

This is not a time for Pollyannas, but neither is it a time to throw up our hands in helplessness. Violence in a free society is never inevitable — unless we accept its inevitability.

The first responsibility of leadership is to gain mastery over events, to shape the future in the image of our hopes. If the present Administration persists in its weary voice of defeatism, its tired counsels of despair, it will have abdicated this great responsibility.

We should not for a moment underestimate the threat to our safety and our stability. But neither should we underestimate the means we have of countering that threat. Above all, we should make clear to those who threaten that these means will be employed — and thus that they cannot hope to carry out their threats and get away with it.

For a generation now, America has had the chief responsibility for keeping the peace in the world. In meeting this responsibility, we have been learning the uses of power — and specifically the uses of power in preserving the peace. We have learned from our successes, and I would hope that we have learned from our failures. Those lessons are needed today at home as never before.

The first lesson is that the best time to display both power and the will to use it is before trouble starts — to make transparently clear to a potential aggressor that the price of aggression is too high, and the chances of success too slight.

A second lesson is that force alone is not enough. Force may deter a great power. But force is no answer to despair. It is no answer to those who think they have nothing to lose, whether among the hungry nations of the have-not world, or among those in our own cities nursing the grievances of centuries.

Only if we can light hope in the ghetto can we have peace in the ghetto — but that hope has to be real, and achievable, and it has to rest, not on the expectation of being given something, but on the chance to do something. It has to be the kind of hope that builds responsibility, not dependency.

In the case of our threatened cities, I am not making any flat predictions. But I will say this: 1968 can see a cooler summer, rather than a hotter one. I say it can for three reasons:

First, because we have been warned. The violence being threatened for this summer is more in the nature of a war than a riot. A riot, by definition is a spontaneous outburst, A war is subject to advance planning. But if those threatening war can plan, those being threatened can also plan.

The second reason I say it could be a cooler summer is this: among responsible Negro leaders, there is a growing spirit of resistance to the extremists. After all, the great, quiet majority of America's Negroes do live by the law, and do share the ideals of the society we all belong to. Yet it was their neighborhoods that were destroyed, their homes ravaged, their lives made hostage to terror. And now their voices are being heard, providing a climate once again more receptive to the common-sense Negro leadership that recognizes that the only lasting way to progress is the peaceful way.

The third reason I say that it could be a cooler summer is that this is a Presidential election year — a fact which provides a peaceful focus, a political focus, for the great challenge of combining peace with progress, and through peaceful progress bringing about a new spirit of racial reconciliation.

But we can expect a cooler summer only if we do two things, and do them both with compelling urgency.

On the one hand, we must take the warnings to heart, and prepare to meet force with force if necessary — making it abundantly clear that these preparations are made, and that retaliation against the perpetrators and the planners of violence will be swift and sure.

But on the other hand, we must move with both compassion and conviction to bring the American dream to the ghetto.

I spoke a moment ago about lessons we learned abroad that could be applied here at home. There also are lessons from our experience at home that are relevant abroad. One of these is, quite starkly and quite simply, that what happened in Watts and Detroit could happen in the world, unless we move with a sense of urgency to create among the lagging nations and peoples of the world a sense of belonging, of participation, of hope, that has been lacking in the slums of our own cities.

The world is becoming a great city ■— a city in which communication is instantaneous, and travel nearly so; a city in which civilizations centuries apart in development are suddenly side by side. It is becoming a city in which the extremes of national wealth and national poverty cannot forever co-exist in explosive proximity, without inviting upheaval — and the difference between the violence we have experienced in our cities and the violence this would invite is the difference between Molotov cocktails and the ultimate weapons of annihilation.

Another and more immediate lesson is that we dare not let the forces of violence get out of control.

All history has been a struggle between man's thrust toward violence and his yearning for peace. One measure of the advance of civilization is the degree to which peace prevails over violence.

Today, the apostles of violence are testing their doctrines — in Vietnam, in Thailand and Laos, along the border between North and South Korea, in Africa, in Latin America, where roving bands of Castro's guerrillas operate. The old violence parades today in a new uniform. Both at home and abroad, it has wrapped itself in propaganda.

At home, it may masquerade as "civil disobedience," or "freedom," and it sometimes marches under the banner of legitimate dissent.

Abroad, violence calls itself a "war of national liberation," and tries to justify terror and aggression with slogans of social revolution. But the new war is still the old imperialism.

The sloganeering of the new violence confuses many people. That's what it intends to do. But when the slogans are stripped away, it still is violence plain and simple, cruel and evil as always, destructive of freedom, destructive of progress, destructive of peace.

The war in Vietnam is a brutal war, and a terrible war, as all wars are brutal and terrible. It has cost us heavily in lives, in dollars, in hostility abroad and division at home — in part because of the Administration's failure convincingly to strip away its masquerade. But the men dying there are dying for a cause fundamental to man's hope: the cause of checking aggression, of checking violence, and of moving us one step closer along the difficult road to a lasting peace.

I have long been a vigorous critic of the conduct of that war. Our military power has been frittered away in a misguided policy of gradualism; if we had used our power quickly, we could have ended it with far less than we are now using.

The Administration's failure to inform the American people of the full costs of the war — its failure to take the people fully into its confidence on the war — has sown distrust and suspicion about the war, both here and abroad.

But even more fundamentally, the Administration has failed to understand the nature of this new kind of war. This is different from other wars, and far more complex. It is a war for people, not for territory, and it cannot be won by military means alone.

Because of its failure of understanding, the Administration has failed to press those non-military measures — diplomatic, economic, psychological, political — that could have vastly increased the effectiveness of the military effort. It has failed to use diplomacy effectively with the Soviet Union, to enlist the Soviets on the side of peace. It has failed to do enough to enlist the South Vietnamese fully in their struggle — enough to train their military, and enough to give their people the hope, the stake in the future, the spirit of independence, that are needed if they are to have something to fight for, as well as against.

Only when our political, economic and diplomatic efforts are given a priority equal to our military effort will this war be brought to a successful conclusion.

Only this way can we get the negotiated end of the war that we want — not a military victory in the conventional sense, not unconditional surrender by the other side, but a durable peace in which the right of self-determination of the South Vietnamese people is respected by all nations, including North Vietnam.

I think that with different policies the war could have been ended before this. I think that with new policies it could be ended sooner — though not as quickly or as cheaply as if those policies had been adopted when they should have been.

It is essential that we end this war, and end it quickly. But it is essential that we end it in such a way that we win the peace. And just as the cause we are fighting for is larger than Vietnam, the peace we must be concerned with is larger than Vietnam. The peace we must be concerned with is peace in the Pacific for the balance of this century. But Vietnam alone will not secure that peace. It requires a preventive diplomacy, designed to concert the rapidly growing strengths of the Asian nations themselves.

We are a nation of 200 million people, powerful and rich. But there are more than 2 billion people in the free world. In Korea, the United States furnished most of the arms, most of the money — and most of the men. In Vietnam, the United States is furnishing most of the arms, most of the money — and most of the men.

As we look to the future, we must establish conditions in which, when others are threatened, we help if needed — but we help them fight the war for themselves, rather than fighting the war for them. This means that the other nations in the path of potential aggression must prepare to take their own measures, both individually and collectively, to contain the aggressor. They must not be allowed to suppose that they can continue indefinitely to count on the United States for go-it alone protection.

This is not a retreat from responsibility, and not a new isolationism. It recognizes three fundamental facts:

First, that the job of keeping the peace is too large for the United States alone;

Second, that among nations as among individuals, self-reliance is the foundation of pride and the cornerstone of progress;

And, third, that by establishing new collective security systems, the total effective strength of the free world will be increased, and thus the communist powers' temptation to launch new wars will be reduced.

We as a nation must still do our share, but others must do their share, too. In the long run, peace can be maintained only if the responsibility for maintaining it is shared.

What then are the prospects, both at home and abroad?

Are we doomed to live with an ever more terrible violence? Are the bitter agonies of these wars of the past and the present — the war in Vietnam, and the war in our cities — to be magnified? Or is it possible that finally, after three foreign wars in a generation, and after the battles that have set our cities aflame and seared the soul of the nation, we can move on now to a peace of understanding abroad and a peace of reconciliation at home?

I say it is possible. It is not only possible, but imperative. But we live in a world of hard facts and harsh realities, and these make firmness and fortitude necessary.

Eventually, we can and must look forward to the day when the Communist powers will abandon the pursuit of their ambitions by military means.

We can and must do all in our power to enlist them, too, on the side of peace and not on the side of war. I am convinced that in the term of the next President substantial progress on this front will be possible. But it will only be possible if we persuade them, first, that aggression does not pay — that just as they finally learned in Korea that they could not expand by the old- style war, they must be shown in Vietnam that they cannot achieve their goals by the new-style war.

The war in Vietnam is not a war to end war. But it is a war to make a larger peace possible. Only if this war is ended in a way that promotes that larger peace, will the cost be justified.

If we are to achieve a peace of reconciliation here at home, there is one thing we must make crystal clear.

We increasingly hear angry cries that ours is an unjust society, that the whole "power structure," the whole social and economic and political structure, is evil and ought to be destroyed. Whether the cry comes from extremists in the Black Power Movement, or from the far fringe of the New Left, the message is still one of intolerance and hate, and it still is wrong.

These mounting threats of violence come when there has never been less cause for violence, and never less excuse for rebellion. Never have we been so close to the achievement of a just and abundant society, in which the age-old wants of man are met and the age-old grievances of the disinherited set right.

There are injustices. There are inequities. But there also is a massive popular will to correct those inequities and right those injustices.

Equally important, we have the means to correct them in peaceful and orderly fashion. America was born in revolution. But the architects of the new nation saw clearly that if the society was to be secure, the means of peaceful change had to be provided. They built into our structure what the colonies had rebelled for lack of: a system by which the people of America could be masters of their own destinies, in which all could be heard, and the power of persuasion substituted for the power of arms as a means of bringing about progress and change.

This points up a major deficiency in emphasis in the recent report of the President's riot commission — its tendency to lay the blame for the riots on everyone except the rioters.

Among the causes of the riots the commission noted that "frustrated hopes are the residue of the unfulfilled expectations aroused by the great judicial and legislative victories of the civil rights movement and the dramatic struggle for equal rights in the South."

It might also have included the inflated rhetoric of the War on Poverty, which added to the dangerous expectation that the evils of centuries could be overcome overnight.

One thing worse than not keeping a promise is making a promise that cannot be kept.

The commission rightly sounded a note of urgency, and it rightly pictured the task ahead in the cities' slums as massive.

But it would be unrealistic to raise hopes that the vast programs the commission proposed might all be done at once.

And it would also be a disservice to suggest to the dwellers in those slums that they need only wait for Federal housing, Federal jobs, a Federally guaranteed income.

Jobs, housing — all the things of the better life — will come, ultimately, when two things happen: when private enterprise gets into the ghetto, and when the people in the ghetto get into private enterprise — as workers, as managers, as owners.

We can and must make far greater progress than we have, but we can only do so by a far greater enlistment of private enterprise in rebuilding the cities, in providing the jobs, in constructing the housing.

During the course of this campaign I will be recommending programs to move us toward this goal.

More than almost any of the great issues facing America today the tortured problem of race requires a careful balance and a clear perspective. Much that is desirable, much that is urgent, takes time to achieve.

America still is going through an agony of transition.

It takes time for old myths to give way to new awareness.

It takes time to erase the old stereotypes.

But the point is that we are moving forward, and moving rapidly, toward what the riot commission refers to as a "single society" — one nation, one people, one common ideal, in which each person is measured as an individual, and in which legal rights are fleshed out with actual opportunities.

We must do more. But if progress is to be made, the first essential now is order.

The riots shook the nation to a new awareness of how deep were Negro resentments, how explosive the grievances long suppressed. But that lesson has been learned. And those who now cry "burn" tempt a new conflagration that could engulf not only the cities, but all the racial progress made in these troubled years.

Excesses on one side bring excesses on the other; we could too readily be drawn into a spiral of violence and vengeance. We can ill afford the destruction of our cities; we could even less afford the ravaging of our society.

We cannot be complacent about our country's faults, but neither should we be apologetic about its strengths.

What began in rebellion nearly 200 years ago has become a peaceful revolution and a permanent revolution — a revolution that has transformed the world, and that has stood for these two centuries as a beacon for man's aspirations and a symbol of his liberties.

This permanent revolution is not yet finished. Lincoln freed the slaves. Our uncompleted task is to free the Negro. Franklin Roosevelt promulgated the old, negative freedoms from. Our uncompleted task is to make real the new, positive freedoms to.

The architects of our country provided the means for peaceful change. Our uncompleted task is to damp the fires of violent change, to cement our mastery of the pace of change, and to make the most of our opportunity for constructive change.

Change is the essence of progress. But there can be no progress without order, no freedom without order, no justice without order.

And so our first commitment as a nation, in this time of crisis and questioning, must be a commitment to order.

This is the commitment that makes all else possible. This is the commitment that is needed if our unfinished agenda is to be finished, and the American Resolution — the permanent peaceful revolution — is to fulfill its promise to mankind.

APP NOTE: From section one of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "The American System in a Time of Change".

Richard Nixon, Remarks on the NBC Radio Network: "A Commitment to Order" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/326735

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