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Remarks by Vice President Richard Nixon at the Meeting of the American Nationalities Committee for Nixon-Lodge, Washington Hotel, Washington, DC

September 19, 1960

Governor McKeldin, Mr. Richardson, distinguished guests and friends: It is a very great privilege for me to be here with you this morning, particularly so after that very ringing and generous introduction by my friend Ted McKeldin. I certainly do appreciate your taking the time to come from all over the U.S. to this meeting, to come here so that I can have the chance to talk to you like this - and I trust afterward perhaps to reach various groups of you, possibly individually and certainly in groups as well. I only wish that these campaign schedules weren't so full, because as I look around this room I see so many with whom I have worked in various activities, and I just wish I had the time to sit down and chat about some of those things and some of our plans for the future. But, as you know, we have to get to 50 States between now and November 8. We have about 10 under our belt up to this point. We have to go back to some that we have already visited and, believe me, to get to 50 States even with jet aircraft is quite an achievement if you try to do it in an 8-week period.

So you will, I know, understand why I am here only for the short time that I am. But I certainly do appreciate your coming and I do appreciate the fact that during the balance of the day you will be discussing these problems that are so important to the Nation and I would emphasize also, so very close to the hearts of all Americans and all of us who love freedom.

I have been thinking of those ideas that would perhaps be of greatest interest to this group. I first would like to say that I feel very humble in the presence of this group in which are so many who have led the fight for freedom through the years, long before I ever came into public life. You have led it at times when the hope was very small for ever achieving your goal, and you lead it now when the hope of achieving your ultimate goal could not be as bright as you would wish. But you have kept alive the dreams and the aspirations and the hopes of millions of people that they can be free, and for this I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I think you not only as an individual but as a representative of our Government speaking for the American people and our greatest ideals.

Another thing that impresses me about this group is that when you look over the lists and when you see all of the various nationality groups that you represent it makes one realize why America really is a great country. You know people often say when discussing the greatness of America that this greatness is due to different factors. If you were to ask the question, "Why is America a great country?" just off the cuff to various people they would give you different answers. Some would say America is a great country because it is the strongest nation in the world militarily. It is. Others might say America is the richest country, it has the highest standard of living in the world and that is, of course, another measure of greatness. And others might say America is a great country because we have the greatest resources in the world, natural resources, and I would imagine that we still have the greatest natural resources, much as we have used our resources in the 185 years of our history.

But greatness is something more than military strength, something more than productivity of factories. To the Communists that is all that greatness is, but to us greatness is something far more significant. A country is only as great and only as strong as its adherence to lasting ideals is great and strong and firm. Because I submit to you that when America was a country of only 3 million people approximately, 185 years ago, when it was weak militarily, when its agricultural economy couldn't even compare with the more industrialized economies and more developed economies in other parts of the world, that at that time America was a great country too. It was great because it stood for something. It stood for freedom and for independence for the people of this country, but it also was a symbol of hope for people everywhere who wanted freedom and independence. And what we must never forget these days is that we came into the world wanting not only to get freedom and independence for ourselves but also to stand for freedom and independence to people everywhere in the world. This is the American ideal and as long as we remember this America will continue to be called great.

Another element of greatness, of course, is in the makeup of this group.

Have you ever stopped to consider who are the American people? This is not a master race in the sense that the dictators have used, but the Americans, the people we call the Americans, come from all the nations of the world. We come from all continents, from all countries, from all races and all religions and what better evidence of it than here?

I recall talking to Mr. Herbert Hoover at the time he was working with me on the Hungarian refugee problems, trying to develop programs for the refugees. Concern was expressed at that time about changing our immigration laws to allow more refugees to come in, concern with regard to the effect on employment and unemployment in this country, concern as to how these people could be assimilated. His answer was that every wave of refugees that has come to the United States has strengthened America rather than weakened it.

This we must never forget because again we are seeing an element of the greatness, and we must always remember this in our attitudes toward our fellow Americans and in our attitudes with regard to legislation affecting the various groups within our society. We must do nothing that would weaken this element of greatness. We must do those things that strengthen it. That is why we must fight against hatred and prejudice of any kind, fight against it because it is wrong morally, fight against it because it weakens America wherever it exists in this country in any shape.

Now I come to a subject which is very close to or from the heart of every person in this room, a subject which I know has been discussed and will be discussed during the balance of this day. Mr. Khrushchev is coming to the United States along with others who represent dictatorial regimes abroad. We are going to hear a number of charges against the United States and what we stand for in the next few days. We are going to hear that the Communist leaders come here as the partisans of peace, as partisans of the people. And, as I think all of you know, one of the insidious appeals of communism is that when the Communists come, whether in Europe or in Asia or in Africa, or in Latin America, they do not come as conquerors, they do not come as dictators, but they come as people who are fighting for peace and for independence and for whatever the people in that particular country want at a particular time.

Oh, they are against all those things because they do not bring peace, they always bring turmoil. They will not bring freedom, they bring slavery. They do not bring plenty, they bring want, because all of these satellite countries they use only for the purpose of building up the strength of the Soviet Union itself and suck out the resources, both the human resources and the material resources, which the people otherwise would use for themselves.

And, of course, above all they do not bring independence, they do not bring the opposition to colonialism which they say they stand for. They impose upon the countries who are taken in by their propaganda a colonialism far more lasting and a colonialism far worse than any people ever dreamed of before.

But this is the difficulty. They talk one way very effectively but they act another. And as far as America is concerned, as far as those who stand with us in this fight for freedom are concerned, we must remember that we are fighting in effect an idea, all ideology which is aggressive, which advocates change, which advocates a better life. It is not enough for us to say that what we are doing is defending what we have got. If we simply say that America has freedom and prosperity, that we like it and we don't want anybody to change it and that we'll do anything, anything from the standpoint of making a treaty or a deal with the Soviet Union or any other country just so long as we can retain our freedom and our independence, then first of all we won't retain our freedom and our independence and secondly we would be doing something that would be a betrayal of everything that America stands for. In other words, you cannot answer a great offensive idea, an idea which is on the march and which is engaging in an offense, simply with defensive tactics.

And so America today must stand, as I said in my acceptance speech in Chicago, it must stand not just for defending what we have, not just for the status quo but we must stand for extending freedom throughout the world. To those who boldly work for and arrogantly say that they stand for the victory of communism over all the world, the only answer is to stand for the victory of freedom throughout the world. This is an American ideal, not new, but as old as the Nation is old and as old as civilization is old, because these ideas did not come full blown in America. Our great founders were well schooled in the traditions and the cultures and the philosophies of all times, and they incorporated them in our Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution. And that is why America has meant something more than military strength and economic strength and the sheer materialism that communism stands for in the world.

And so today I say to you that you meet here not just to help keep the good rights that we have in America, but to have in mind America's traditional interest in people who don't have what we have, people who want to be free.

The fact that you have spent your lives in this, believe me, is inspiring. Sometimes it is rather easy for us to forget how fortunate we are to live in freedom in America. And it is easy for us to forget that there are millions of people, some of whom we never hear of because of the Iron Curtain which cuts off information from them, who deeply want to achieve freedom and independence, people that we must not and cannot forget in our policy. I think this was first and most vividly brought to my attention when I stood on the border between Austria and Hungary and I saw young people come across, in spite of the fact that there were Communist guns there ready to shoot them down. There were workers and students, not as the Communists said they were, the enemies of the people, but people from all walks of life who love freedom, and I saw them and talked to them and have seen hundreds of them in the United States since then.

To go to a city like Detroit and have Hungarians come to me and say they are getting along fine certainly makes us realize how worthwhile our country is and how important it is that we continue to fight for the right of these people to be free.

Governor McKeldin mentioned my visit to the Soviet Union. You recall that I stopped in Poland afterward. I can never describe the feeling in my heart that day, because this was the experience that can never be forgotten. The Communist government of Poland, not wanting to have a comparison with Mr. Khrushchev's visit, did not disclose when we were arriving, or where, or the parade route. When our plane landed, I expected nobody to be on the streets. But the people were there because in a captive country the people have a way of getting the word around. And so as we traveled through the streets the number of people increased and they were shouting and cheering and throwing bouquets into the cars. And one told the press afterward that when Mr. Khrushchev came they had flowers, but this time they purchased the flowers themselves. The other time the government furnished them. "These flowers we threw and the government's flowers we kept for ourselves."

I do not need to tell this group that our problems are great. I do not need to tell this group that has the memory of Hungary still in their minds that we must achieve our goal without war. I know there are people who say, Why do we give these people any hope when we are not going to be able to wage a war in order to achieve freedom?

My answer is this: Tyrants have always underestimated the force of moral strength. America must stand always for these hopes. We must work for them at the diplomatic table, in our campaigns. This competition between ideas must take place on the other side of the Iron Curtain as well. This goal of the right of people to the government they want can be attained, and Americans must never lose sight of our ability to attain it for our friends throughout the world.

I have used my time. May I tell you again how deeply I appreciate your attention, but more I appreciate the work that you are doing, the work that you are doing for sheer idealism, not with any thought of reward. The only reward which you will have will be the reward that I have had in seeing the smiles of gratitude on the faces of people coming across the border. To see the hope in the eyes of the Poles in Warsaw is to realize that if we fight this battle we are following the tradition which has made America a great country and we help America to be true to its ideals. Thus you have helped America be true to her ideals, and I appreciate the opportunity to meet you. Thank you.

Richard Nixon, Remarks by Vice President Richard Nixon at the Meeting of the American Nationalities Committee for Nixon-Lodge, Washington Hotel, Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project