Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at the Seafarers International Union Biennial Convention

November 26, 1973

President Hall, Secretary Brennan, Secretary Dent, distinguished guests, and all of the distinguished delegates to this convention:

I first express my appreciation for the very warm reception you have given me, and my appreciation to Paul Hall for his remarks. I have had many opportunities during the time I have served in this Office to meet many very distinguished people, and I can tell you that in an hour-long--I think it was a little over an hour, Paul---conversation that we had in the Oval Office, I found that this man, who has traveled the world and knows the world, has as deep, perception of world problems of anybody that I know.

He is a valuable man for any President or anyone else to know. I am proud to call him my friend, as I know he is your friend. And let the record show I can't run again, so that was meant, every word of it.

Paul Hall referred to a campaign promise that I made. Actually, it was made in Seattle, I think, Paul, and on that occasion I don't think everybody thought it meant very much because the American merchant marine and many of the members of this organization were pretty much flat on their backs, and they seemed to have not much of a future because nobody seemed to care very much about whether or not the United States should have a strong, vital merchant marine, a U.S. merchant marine.

I cared very much about that, and I made some remarks in Seattle about that, and at that time I think a few eyes were lifted, and they said, "Well, we will see." It took some time, but I am proud that on the presentation of this great model ship, the Brooklyn, that we now see the fruition of the efforts in one area. And as far as you are concerned, you have seen the fruition of the efforts that we have made to build a strong and powerful U.S. merchant marine in the kind of operations that you are now engaging in around the world, the increase of American trade, but also, that increase not at the expense of American jobs on the sea, and that, of course, is exactly what we were trying to do.

May I say also that, having spoken of the need for a strong American merchant marine, I did so because I believe in something. I believe in independence, just as you believe in independence.

I notice, for example, there is a flag at everybody's place here in this room, and some will say, "Now, why those little flags? Isn't that being a little bit jingoistic? It isn't fashionable to have flags in front of every place; you need only one, one up here."

I will tell you why I think you have those flags there, and I got this from my conversation with Paul Hall and with some of you that I have met through the years: because there is no group in America that believes more deeply in America than the members of this group and those, the 85,000 of them, that travel the seas and see all the world, and after they see all the world and come back and say, "Thank God I am an American citizen." That is why you feel that way.

Also, as I think of the reason that I made that campaign promise 5 years ago in Seattle, apart from whatever political reasons were involved--and I can assure you that the predominant reason was the one that I mentioned, my belief in the need for a strong American merchant marine as part of our overall national and international policy--as I look back to that particular time, I try to think of it in a broader scope. I think of it in terms of some of our present problems.

Some of you perhaps last night had to endure the President speaking to the Nation again, interrupting one of your favorite shows at 7 o'clock at night, which I try not to do if I can avoid it, but if the subject is important enough, then I must speak to the Nation, and in this instance I spoke about energy. I spoke 3 weeks ago about energy. And that ship is about energy because it carries oil, right?

Now, under these circumstances, therefore, I think it is appropriate for me to relate the belief of this organization in this country, your belief in independence for America, to the problem of energy that we have today. I mentioned last night some things that we could do this year to deal with the crisis that we have for this year, a crisis that was made much more difficult because of what has happened in the Mideast over the past 3 to 4 weeks. And those things, incidentally, perhaps were not very good medicine for a lot of people, but let's think about it for just a moment.

What does it really mean to the average family in America? What does it really mean in terms of suffering, real suffering, to have to put the thermostat down to 68? As a matter of fact, as I have often said, my doctor says 68 is a lot more healthy than 74. Of course, he doesn't have a sweater, or I don't have a sweater, but whatever the case might be, it apparently means that 68 degrees is not going to cause any suffering for America. It means that we are going to have to get used to that lower temperature, and we will save hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil critically needed during this year as a result of the energy crisis that has been hypoed by what has happened in the Mideast.

Let's talk just a minute about driving. Now, I don't drive a car. As a matter of fact, I haven't driven a car since I became President. The Secret Service doesn't trust my driving. They say they have got to drive. I don't trust their driving, but that is all right. In any event, they drive the car, I sit in the back seat, and I must admit that sometimes we have gone well over 50. In California, on the freeways--and there are some Californians here; Paul, you know California-it is 70 miles an hour, right?--and most people go 80. So under the circumstances-well, 5 or 10 above the speed limit; shall we say 75?

But now I have called upon all of the American people to drive their cars at 50 miles per hour. Now, what is that going to mean? It means it is going to take a little longer to get where you are going to go, a little longer to get to work, a little longer to get to the ball game, a little longer to get to church, maybe a little longer to make the trip to see your mother-in-law--maybe that wasn't a good idea; you wouldn't mind taking a little longer.

But on the other hand, in terms of what it means in other respects, let's look at the plus side. Going at 50 miles an hour means that you are going to be much safer, because all of the studies that have been made by those that are interested in traffic safety indicate that if you reduce the speed limit by 5 miles an hour or 10 miles an hour, the chance for accidents goes down by almost geometrical proportions.

Second, it means, of course, that we are going to save hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil, because if you go at 50 rather than at 70, it means that we are going to operate in a more efficient way.

We can speak, of course, of the other things that I requested the American people to join in on a voluntary basis, and once we get legislation it will be necessary to make some of these things compulsory, but as we think of driving 50 miles an hour, as we think of bringing the thermostats down to 68 degrees, as we think, for example, of not having our ornamental lights on outside, I don't know that that is going to hurt anybody. It is not going to be as pretty. If you come home a little late, around 2 or 3 in the morning, you may get in the wrong door, but who knows, there might be somebody interesting behind that door. [Laughter] So under the circumstances, to have the ornamental lights cut down across this country, except of course, where they are used to designate a place of business, I don't think is going to cost us much in terms of suffering, and it is going to mean a great deal in terms of seeing to it that people in New England, where the real, the greatest part of the crisis is, are not going to be cold this winter. It will mean that all over this country we are going to have the chance to live perhaps in cooler rooms, drive a little slower, not so many ornamental lights, and frankly, perhaps live a little better, even though it is a little different than what we have lived previously.

Now, of course, having mentioned these things, I know that to many in this audience-and I can tell from looking at you that many of you served, as I did, in World War II--think back to World War II, rationing, all that we went through, and say, "What are we going to do? Are we going to go back to the days when America didn't have enough of anything, not enough gasoline, not enough meat, not enough of this and that and the other thing?" And the answer is, our goal is not to go back; our goal is to go forward.

But we have a temporary problem, a problem that is going to exist for this year, perhaps somewhat longer--we trust, not much longer, depending upon what happens in the international scene--and therefore, we have got to deal with that problem. But long-term, let me tell you the goal, and here we get back to what I said at the outset of my remarks.

You believe in independence. You live independence. That is why you want an American merchant marine. That is why you say that we want some of our products carried in American bottoms, and certainly we want enough of them carried so that we will always have a substantial, strong American merchant marine which meant so much to us during World War II.

Paul has been very kind in referring to the fact that for the first time in 12 years, America is at peace with all nations in the world, that all of our prisoners of war are home, that no more at this particular time do we find casualties running 100, 200, 300 a week, and that is, of course, an achievement. And we are trying to build a structure of peace in the world by dealing with some people that particularly the Seafarers have some strong ideological convictions against, as I do--the Communist nations. We are trying to deal with them, not because we like their system, because we would rather talk with those that lead their system rather than fight with those that lead their system.

That is what our policy is about, and that policy, we think, can work if we are sure that we deal with them in a pragmatic, effective way. But as we look at that situation, nevertheless, apart from war, there is always the possibility of that area of conflict which is just below a war that involves the United States.

I am referring to the crisis in the Mideast. There are other crises that could develop--in Latin America, other parts of the world--and the point that I make is that it is essential in terms of independence that the United States be, as a nation, independent of any other nation in every area that it counts, and let me put it first in terms of your area.

I am for a strong American merchant marine because if the United States, wherever there is a crisis, is going to be dependent on some other country, no matter how friendly it may appear to be at the moment, as our lifeline, then we had better watch out. Let's always be dependent on the United States of America whenever we have that kind of a crisis.

Now, energy is not so easy to understand. Oh, you all can understand it, but to the average person, he can understand that ship, perhaps, and he can say, "Well, it is going to be our ship carrying our flag, or it is going to be another ship carrying another flag, so let's have the American flag wherever we can, or at least enough of those American flags so if we have a crisis, we don't have to depend on anybody else."

But let's think of what is in that ship-oil. What does that oil do? It provides the energy which makes our jobs. It provides the energy which heats our homes. It provides the energy which lights this room. I am even for television lights, believe it or not, and it provides the energy for that. It provides the energy that moves us from place to place, that transports us, and therefore, we have to have that energy.

And so, I would say that there is no group in America that understands independence more and believes in it more than the Seafarers Union. You believe in it because you realize that the United States should never have a situation where we are dependent upon any other country for our lifeline, in effect. The same is true of energy.

The problem is: How can the United States get into the position where we are self-sufficient in energy? Because you all know, we import oil; we import other products which help us meet our energy needs, because there are only 7 percent of the people of the world living in the United States, and we use 30 percent of all the energy, in the United States. That isn't bad; that is good. That means that we are the richest, strongest people in the world and that we have the highest standard of living in the world. That is why we need so much energy, and may it always be that way.

But as we consider that fact, let us remember that we should set as a goal-and this is the goal that I set 3 weeks ago and repeated again last night--independence and self-sufficiency for the United States in energy.

Let me tell you what it is. By the year 1980, if we go forward in the development of our coal resources, of our shale oil resources, of our nuclear power resources, of our natural gas resources, and of course, of our available oil resources in Alaska and in the continental United States, if we go forward as we can and should go forward, by the year 1980, then the United States, if it wishes and if it becomes necessary, can provide all the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, to light our homes, and to provide our transportation. Project Independence 1980, that is what I ask the Americans in this audience who believe so much in independence for your particular group, and for what you are doing, to enlist in today.

Let me say that on that particular project, it can be very exciting, because there will be a fallout from it. As we develop our nuclear power and our new uses for coal and all the rest, we are going to find that it is going to provide more jobs; it is going to provide more opportunities; it is going to provide breakthroughs in science that we had never though? were possible before, just as was the case when we made the breakthrough in terms of the Manhattan Project, when we made the breakthrough in space.

Let me put it quite bluntly: Going to the Moon was a great project, the Manhattan Project was a great project, becoming self-sufficient in energy is a great project. It is a great goal. It can be achieved, and with your help--with your help we can achieve it. And it is that goal that I spoke to last night, and that I speak to you again about today. And I speak to it in the language that this audience, I would say as much as any audience in America, believes in. You believe in independence. You believe in a strong, self-sufficient America. Now let me just put this in perspective for one moment.

After I had made my talk last night, I had a conversation with one individual who said, "You know, what you said sounded a little isolationist. We are going to be self-sufficient in energy, so you are going to be self-sufficient in other areas as well, and that means we are not going to deal with other parts of the world." And of course, if that is what we are talking about, that is not good news for Paul Hall, that is not good news for you, because, of course, your business is moving the cargoes around 'the world.

I don't mean that at all. The United States will always continue to play its part in the world, but the United States will never be dependent on any other part of the world whenever there is a crisis. That is all there is to it. So, we are going to play our part in the world. It will mean we will continue, as times go on, to trade with other nations and that will expand. We will continue to use their energy sources whenever they are at the right price and so forth, and that will expand. But we want to be in a position so that nobody can cut our lifeline. That is what we are talking about. Nobody can cut America's lifeline.

And now, President Hall, if I could close on one personal note. After my remarks here, in our talk in the Oval Office, people said, "Why didn't you become a sailor?" Because I love to--my best subject in grammar school, high school, was what we called then geography. I think they call it social studies or something like that today. And I was pretty good at it.

I loved the world, and I loved to think of places far away. Madagascar, that is the only place I haven't been. But I saw that island off the coast of Africa, and I said, "Some day I want to go to Madagascar," and I wrote a paper in grammar school about Madagascar.

What I am simply saying is this: that I have an interest, as you have an interest, in seeing the great world that we live in, and as a matter of fact, if I were much younger, I would be a volunteer to go to Mars or some of those other places. I must say, they won't take me, but I would go if they would allow it. I have already applied. They have already turned me down.

Why, then, didn't I become a sailor? And now I have a confession to make. I get seasick. Or I should say, I did get seasick, and I asked Paul one day, I said, "Do sailors get seasick?" He said, "Almost all of them do sometimes if the weather is rough enough."

I can't believe that, because I have seen these motion pictures, you know, the old sailing rigs rocking and the man standing on the deck and he is standing there, somebody is leaning over the side, but the captain is standing there, sort of grinning at him, so apparently captains never can get seasick.

I wondered, however, why it was that in later years--and I have done a little traveling by boat, not in very heavy seas, but sometimes when there has been a pretty good storm off the coasts of Florida and California--I have wondered why I have never been seasick or airsick for the last 15 years--I think it goes back about that far--and that allows me 'to tell you a little story.

The last time that I had an extended conversation with Winston Churchill was in the year 1958 when I visited him in London. And he loved to talk about the sea. He loved the sea. When he went to Marrakech and other places that he liked to go, rather than flying, he would usually take a ship if he could. And I said, "Mr. Prime Minister"--of course he was not Prime Minister then, but once a Prime Minister, he, of course, is always called that--and I said, "Mr. Prime Minister, don't you ever get seasick?" He said, "No," and I said, "Well, the reason I don't ever go by ship is that I found that when I was in the Navy 30 years ago that I got very seasick, and I decided from then on I would try some other method of travel."

He said, "Young man"--at that time I was 45--but he said, "Young man, let me tell you something. As you get older, you will outgrow it."

And he was right. As I become older, however rough the seas are, I don't get seasick, however rough they are.

And in any event, as Paul Hall has already indicated, or at least implied, it is the captain's job to bring that ship into port, and I can assure you that you don't need to worry about my getting seasick or jumping ship. I am going to stay at that helm until we bring it into port.

Thank you.

[At this point, Paul Hall, president of the Seafarers International Union of North America, introduced several of the Administration officials present at the convention, including Peter J. Brennan, Secretary of Labor, Frederick B. Dent, Secretary of Commerce, and Robert J. Blackwell, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Maritime Affairs. Noting the presence of Helen Delich Bentley, Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, the President resumed speaking.]

Well, Paul, just before I leave I want to repeat to you something I said the other day about Helen Bentley. I know that for this group of, shall we say, stouthearted men, and strong men, and the rest, you wonder why did this fellow appoint a woman as head of the Maritime Commission, the first woman ever to be the head of one of these Federal administrative bodies.

And as a matter of fact, one Senator who was pushing some other, not woman, but fellow--I think he was a fellow--but anyway, came up to me and said, "You can't appoint Helen Bentley, you know she swears like a man." And my response to him was this: I said, "You are wrong, Senator, she swears like a lady, and that is a lot stronger."

Note: The President spoke at 10:40 a.m. in the Congressional Room at the Statler-Hilton Hotel.

Prior to the President's remarks, Union President Hall presented him with a model of the TT Brooklyn, the largest merchant ship built in the United States up to that time.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Seafarers International Union Biennial Convention Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives