Richard Nixon photo

Speech by the Vice President at the American Legion Convention, Miami, FL

October 18, 1960

Thank you very much.

Commander McKneally, all the distinguished guests on the platform, my comrades of the American Legion and guests of this organization: It is indeed a very great privilege for both my wife and for me to be with you today, and particularly since this happens to be the seventh time that I have been invited to address the national convention of the American Legion. The first was when I was a Senator from the State of California, and six times as Vice President of the United States. I have always enjoyed these appearances from the standpoint of having an opportunity to address such a distinguished audience of opinion leaders in this Nation. What I have not had the opportunity to do is to participate more in the fun of the Legion which I know goes on at least in some hours of the night if you have the opportunity to be in it, and, as a Californian, I must admit you have very good weather here in Florida today.

But, in any event, I will always remember those appearances. I will remember the graciousness with which I have been received. I will remember the courtesy with which the audiences have listened to what I have had to say, and, speaking now for the last time as Vice President, I will only say this: Whether it is in an official capacity or an unofficial capacity, I am coming back to a convention of the American Legion next year.

Each of those 7 years, those of you who have heard me have noted I have spoken on the same subject, and variations of it. That subject is the one closest to the hearts of the people of America, but particularly to those who have participated in the wars in which this Nation has been involved.

It is a subject of survival of the Nation in all its aspects, and during those 7 years I have had an opportunity to trace the developments of U.S. foreign policy, our policies as far as defense is concerned, our policies economically, morally, and spiritually, as they affect the struggle for the world.

And, so, today I again want to speak on that subject, because there is none that is more important today, none more important to the Legion, none more important to America and certainly none more important to the world. We have heard a great deal about what has happened in the last 8 years of the administration of which I have been a part. I will recognize that we have had great problems, problems to solve and problems that were thrust upon us because of the aggressive tendencies of the international Communist movement. This is not the time to discuss those problems from a political standpoint. I have always refused to do so.

I have always declined to do so, and I will decline to do so this year, when the stakes are very high, but it is the time to speak up for America - and that I'll do today as I speak to the American Legion.

Over these past 7 years there have been some accomplishments as far as the cause of freedom is concerned. Seven and a half years ago we were in a war in Korea, a war that we were not allowed to win, a war that was tying down and killing thousands of American boys. Under the leadership of President Eisenhower, whatever criticism may otherwise be directed toward him, that war has been ended. We have avoided other wars, and America stands today as the proud champion of the freedom-loving people of the world, and we will continue to be in that position.

During those 7 years, I have had the opportunity to see much of the world. Fifty-four countries I have visited, and in that period I have also had the opportunity to see the Iron Curtain, both sides, and to see the developments with which we will be confronted in the years ahead, and I begin today by stating what should be obvious to every American regardless of what his political persuasions may be, that whatever we may think of American strength today - and I happen to know, and Mr. Khrushchev knows that we're the strongest nation in the world - we're going to continue to stay that way.

But whatever we may think of our strength today, America can never stand pat. We can never stand pat on that strength because we are confronted with an enemy, ruthless, fanatical, and as that enemy is dedicated to conquering the world by any means, including the use of force, as he constantly steps up his preparedness in order to Use that force to extend power throughout the world, it is essential that America increase its strength; and I want to say to you, that there is no doubt in my mind but that the American people will support the necessary steps - and there will be necessary steps - which will increase America's strength, increase it in the areas where there have been new breakthroughs technologically, increase it in areas so that America's deterrent will be one that will be absolute and unattackable, increase it in the areas with which we are all aware in which the Soviet Union has been making strides, so that America, whether it is a small war or a big war, will have the ultimate power that no one, Mr. Khrushchev, Mr. Mao Tse-tung, or any other enemy of peace, will dare start anything against the United States.

That strength we must maintain. Why? Not because we are for war, because we are not; because we are for peace, because we are the guardians of peace, and because it is essential that as guardians of peace, America must have strength that will discourage any of those who would threaten the peace of the world - and I can assure you that decisions which will be made if I have the opportunity to make them, will be ones that will always put the security of America first. That must come before any other consideration, and there will never be a dollar sign on what Americans will be able to do in the field of protecting the defense of this country.

Now, let's turn from that area of strength, absolutely essential if we are to contain communism and extend freedom throughout the world - and both these objectives must be ours. We must accompany that military strength at the level at which I have described it with diplomatic strength, diplomatic firmness.

I want to explain that in terms of examples today because it seems to me there has been a great lack of understanding in recent months, and, for that matter in recent years, as to why the United States has followed the line that it has diplomatically.

People have often spoken to me and they have said, "Why can't we be more flexible in our dealings on disarmament? Why can't we find a bold new program in this area which will make it possible for the Soviet Union to agree?"

And the answer is, of course, that the United States has gone the extra mile in disarmament time and time again. The answer is that the reason the Soviet Union has not agreed is that they do not want apparently to disarm unless we give up the right to inspection. I say that the United States must continue to insist on that line. They can call it rigid. They can call it inflexible, but it is rigidity and inflexibility in the right, and that's what we must do, because America must never disarm unless we are sure the Soviet Union is doing likewise at the same time.

And now if I could turn to the whole area of diplomatic policy. Firmness is necessary, without belligerence. That has been our philosophy for the last 8 years, and it is, I believe, the only philosophy that will work where the men in the Kremlin are concerned.

I know Mr. Khrushchev. I have sat opposite the conference table with him. He is not an easy man to deal with, but you do know this: That if you make a concession to him without getting one in return, whenever you show any weakness at the diplomatic table, it is not something that will make him treat you better. It is something that will make him treat you worse. It's an invitation to disaster, and we must never engage in that kind of dealings where Mr. Khrushchev is concerned. And what's true of Mr. Khrushchev is true of all the Communist leaders. It is true of Communists in this country. I noted that immediately before I came on the platform an award was given to the Hearst newspapers for their support of the campaign in this country against those who would work in the interests of a foreign government. I have been through that campaign. I recall the lonely days of the Hiss case, when among the very few people in this country who were supporting what we were trying to do were the American Legion and the Hearst newspapers, and I thank you both for standing by us at that time.

Now, fortunately, most Americans, virtually all, recognize the danger from within as being the same as the danger from without; but looking to the danger from without, looking at the Communists in other parts of the world, why is it that the administration has taken the position that it has in the Formosa Straits? I have been asked that time and again. People concerned about peace have said: "Mr. Nixon, why is it that we are concerned about a couple of little islands in the Pacific, a couple of worthless rocks? Why is it that we're concerned about these little islands, particularly when there are only 50,000 people that live on them? Why, in other words, should we become involved in any kind of activity with regard to these islands, because they are not worth a war?"

It has been said: "It would be the wrong war, the wrong place, and the wrong time." The answer to that is, What is a right war and the right place and the right time?

But beyond that might I say this: We have history to look to here. Whenever you deal with a dictator, you must never abandon people or territory at the point of a gun, because if you do it never satisfies him. It only whets his appetite, and it leads to war and not to peace. We learned it with Hitler, and we will learn it now.

You recall the same arguments. Why die for Danzig, the Sudetenland, Austria, all the rest ? - that terrible trail which led finally to the point where Hitler made a demand that we could not resist and where we had to go to war? How much better it would have been if at the first instance we had said, "You will not get what you want by reason of gunpoint, because we realize that if you do that you will be able to blackmail us again."

And that is the way the dictators work. And then came the Korean campaign. I am sure that those who announced and drew a line outside of Korea and said Korea was outside the defense zone of the United States in January of 1950 thought this meant we would have no war in Korea; we wouldn't get into a battle about that lonely peninsula because we had drawn a line.

Yet what happened? The Communists, this time the Chinese Communists, took us at our word. They marched in. We had to go in, and you know the rest - the Korean war, with all the troubles and terrible tragedies it brought to the American people and to the people of the United Nations who fought in it. Certainly we learned there that where a Communist dictator is concerned, just as where a Nazi dictator is concerned, that you cannot draw a line and say, "this area of freedom we exclude," because this does not satisfy him. It only encourages him to push you again, and the next time he pushes you, you will have to respond.

And so that is the reason the President, a man who has seen a lot of war and who loves peace the more for it - that's the reason why the President has said, we will not draw a line in the Pacific excluding the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. We will not do it because these islands are free. We will not do it because we realize that an attack on these islands, if we are to take the Communists at their word, will be an attack on an ally of ours, Formosa, and also because the President knows, as all Americans must know now, that if we draw such a line it will not satisfy the Chinese Communists. It will encourage them to be more belligerent than they are. And so I say to you that it would be easy to say that there's an easy way out in dealing with the Communists. Give them a little here; draw a line here; do this or that or the other thing. But my friends, the only way to handle dictators is to be firm with them because the road of retreat is paved with good intentions, and the road to war also. We have learned our lesson in Korea. We've learned it in dealing with Hitler, and we're not going to make that mistake again certainly if I have anything to do about it in these next years.

Now I would like to turn to a related subject, the subject of our relations with Communist China. Here again we have well-intentioned people in this country who suggest "Why can't we find a formula by which this country of over 600 million people can be brought into the community of nations?" And the line goes something like this: "If we got Communist China into the United Nations, then they might develop along more civilized terms."

Well, first of all, let me say the United Nations was not set up to be a reformatory - and that's a good answer to that. But, secondly, I should also point to the effect the United Nations has had on the conduct of the Soviet Union, which got in because it was a charter member. Certainly it has not had too much effect in making them abide by the rules of the game.

But beyond that, let's look at the suggestions that have been made, and here again we can get some guidance to the future.

Two weeks ago it was suggested that we should change our policy toward Communist China and that we'd make a trade. We would trade our support - we would give them support for admission to the United Nations - for a guarantee by them that Formosa, our ally, would be free.

Now of course, as all of you can quickly see, that's one horse for one rabbit. Formosa is already free, and all we would be doing would be taking a worthless guarantee from a government which has certainly never shown it intends to keep any guarantee of that type.

And then last Sunday another suggestion was made, this time again with the best of intentions, along these lines - that U.N. membership for Red China could be considered if - now listen carefully - if they would renounce their official foreign policy of belief in the inevitability and the desirability of war and if they would disallow hostility to the United Nations.

Now this is naive in the extreme because it ignores something else. When are we going to learn that it isn't what the Communists say but what they do that counts. Of course they will say, "if we say that's the price of admission, they will renounce wars as instruments of international policy. Of course, they will abide by the rules of the United Nations." But look at the deeds of the Chinese Communist government. That's why we oppose their recognition. That's why we oppose their admission to the United Nations.

Let me list them for you: Aggression in Korea; today an open contempt for United Nations resolutions; continued violence

against a member of the United Nations, free China today; ruthless seizure of Tibet, a rule of force and genocide there; today military raids against India and Nepal, and illegal and unprincipled imprisonment of American civilians, which we have been objecting to and which they will do nothing about.

I say today that to seat a regime with this record of gangsterism, regardless of what they said about their good intentions in the future, would make a mockery of the peaceful purposes of the United Nations to which we belong.

In other words, before the United States can consider United Nations membership for an international outlaw, what it must do is purge itself of its offenses against world law and against the principles of civilized behavior, as well as against the United Nations - and I want to announce here today what I think the next President of the United States must do with regard to this particular problem.

I believe this matter is so fundamental to decency in world affairs that until Red China has proved her adherence to these standards by her deeds and not just by her words, the next President should consider a veto, which we have never used, to be fully justified by the United States in the National Security Council - a veto of any effort to admit a nation that does not comply, as Red China does not comply.

And now I want to turn to one other subject at hand, much closer, the problem of Cuba, a very difficult problem.

People have often said, "Mr. Nixon, why can't we get rid of Castro?" The answer is that the United States has the military power to get rid of Castro tomorrow or the next day or any day that we choose. The answer, of course, is that the United States with its great power must use it wisely. We must use it in a way that will not destroy our moral influence in the world. The United States cannot do and would never do what Mr. Khrushchev did in Hungary. We are not going to make 5 million innocent Cubans, who are the victims of Castro 5 demagoguery, the victims also of what we might do if we were to move in with the kind of force that some have suggested.

What can we do then? We've been patient. I'll tell you why we've been patient. It's because we need and want the support of all of our Latin American friends in South America for our position, and it has been developing. We find in the San Jose and Bogota conferences more and more support for our position. More and more support against the Communist position has developed. In the meantime, however, as our policy of patience has gone ahead, we have found that the provocations have been intensified. The Cuban Government just recently has acted to reduce drastically formal trade with the United States. Unpaid bills of more than $150 million have been piled up as a result of Cuban failure to pay for imports from us. This is just one of many items that I could list today. And I say to you today that in the affairs of nations, just as in the affairs of individuals, there comes a time when patience, which we have been displaying, is no longer a virtue - and that time is at hand as far as our dealings with Castro and his government are concerned.

You will recall that last July we acted to safeguard our future sugar supplies by reducing the share allotted to Cuba. Now we must take further action to protect the interests of the United States and of our friendly sister Republics in the hemisphere. Because of Communist penetration, the Castro regime has now exposed itself within the Western Hemisphere as an intolerable cancer. It will endlessly fester until we and the other freedom-loving nations in the Western hemisphere move and do so promptly and authoritatively, to prevent further Soviet penetration.

What must we do? I say that oar goal must be to quarantine the Castro regime in the Americas.

Now there are a number of steps which can be taken to accomplish this and that are planned. While this process goes forward, we will very promptly take the strongest possible economic measures to counter the economic banditry being practiced by this regime against our country and our citizens. So much for specific examples. If I could sum up, in a word if we want to keep the peace, keep it without surrender, it is essential that America be the strongest Nation in the world militarily - and certainly there will be no disagreement in this audience or any American audience on the necessity of what we must do and how much we are willing to sacrifice to do it.

Second, we must accompany that strength with diplomatic firmness, not with a naive attitude that the Communist leaders will react like the leaders of the free world, because they don't. We must recognize them for what they are - they are bent on world conquest and our policies must be developed accordingly.

If we have these two programs going together we shall hold the line, hold the line against the Communist expansion. But that alone is not enough. The time has come now to expand freedom, not simply to contain communism, not simply to defend the free world against communism, but to extend freedom throughout the world - and this requires more than military strength. It requires more than diplomatic firmness. It requires economic strength, which we must continue to develop in this country and which I am sure the American people will be able to continue to develop if they are given the chance by the Government. But it also requires a dedication to American ideals - not just by a President, but by the American people.

It has very truly been said that this is a time for greatness as far as the leadership of America is concerned. Let me give you in this last appearance as Vice President before the American Legion my own philosophy with regard to what makes a great leader in America.

Greatness in a President is not something that is the result of his ambition. It is not something that is written on a campaign poster. Greatness in a leader comes from the people that he represents - and our great Presidents - some Democrats, some Republican - have been great to the extent that they have represented the highest ideals, the greatest moral and spiritual strength of the people themselves. In other words, the next President of the United States can lead greatly and will be great only to the extent that the American people are great.

What I am trying to say is this: As you have heard over and over again, the battle for the world will be decided probably in the non military area. It will be decided in the minds and the hearts and the souls of men. It will be decided certainly by what our President and our Vice President and our Secretary of State say in the world councils, but it will be decided in our favor only if a President is able to speak for a nation that is strong morally an spiritually - and that kind of strength must come from the homes, it must come from the schools, it must come from the churches of America. America must be an example for all the world to see, and that's why I say you, the American Legion, as leaders of your community, can render tremendous service. See that our young people realize what a privilege it is to be a citizen of this country. See that they realize what freedom means. See that they realize certainly that in America we have some other destinies than simply to keep what we have, that America came into the world 180 years ago not just to preserve freedom for ourselves, but we came into the world to extend it to all mankind. That was true then; at the time of the American Revolution. It is even truer today, when America has the power morally, spiritually, economically, and militarily to be heard and seen and felt in world councils. But again that comes back to you. See that the President of the United States can represent a united America. See, for example, in a very difficult field - and I mention it because it is difficult and because the Legion has been very forthright in meeting difficult problems - that we make progress in the difficult area of human rights so that a man like Khrushchev, who has enslaved millions and who slaughtered thousands in the streets of Budapest, cannot again come to this country and point a finger at us and say "You deny human rights." Let's see that we make the progress that will deny this to him. My friends, if you develop this kind of strength in America, we will win. We will win the struggle for freedom, and we will win it because we are on the right side. How do I know? I have seen what moral strength means. Oh, I know you will hear people say, "What does this matter with a man like Khrushchev or Mao Tse-tung?" The tyrants have always underestimated it, and when my wife and I visited Poland a year ago we saw that they did. A quarter of a million Poles were on the streets of Warsaw on a Sunday afternoon, cheering - "Niech Zyje America", "Long Live America" - shouting at the tops of their voices - and, when the cars stopped in the middle of the streets, throwing hundreds of bouquets into our cars, I looked into their faces, and over half of them, grown men and women, were crying, tears streaming down their cheeks.

Now, why? Not because we were strong militarily - they knew that - or rich economically - they knew that - Khrushchev had bragged of that kind of strength; he had been there 2 weeks before - but because they knew what you know and what I know - that America stands for more than that - that we stand for the freedom of all men; that we stand for faith in God, for belief that the rights that men have come from God and not from men and cannot be taken away by men.

These are the things that America stands for, and the next President of the United States, whoever he is, with a united America, confident of its strength, confident of its faith, will be able to lead the forces of freedom to victory without war.

Thank you.

Richard Nixon, Speech by the Vice President at the American Legion Convention, Miami, FL Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project