Richard Nixon photo

Speech by Vice President Richard M. Nixon, VFW Convention, Detroit, MI

August 24, 1960

Vice President NIXON. Commander Feldman, Madam President, former commanders of the VFW behind me, and vice commanders who escorted us into this hall, members of the VFW, members of the auxiliary and your guests:

I want you to know first what a very great privilege it is for my wife, Pat, and me to be here with you again. And I can only say, as I look back over the past 8 years, the many speeches that I have made, the many appearances that I have participated in, none will stand out more in my memory than those with the national encampments of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. [Applause.]

I recall the first - 8 years ago - and then as I looked at these commanders, who seemed very young at that time but are a little older now I recalled each of the years that I appeared at their conventions. And unless my count is wrong, I believe that six times in the last 7 years (and this makes the 7 and 8 years) I have been able to be with you. [Applause.] I thank you for the invitations, for the warm receptions that you have always accorded me, and for the invitation to come again.

Now, since this is the eighth time that I have appeared before the national convention, I should also point out that it is the last time I will appear as Vice President of the United States and, depending upon what happens this November, it might be the last time as an elected official of this country. [Laughter.] But whatever capacity, may I say that I have enjoyed the opportunities and my only regret as I look over these past conventions is that the schedules have been so filled with distinguished guests, luncheons, with the photographs and other things that have to be planned, that neither Pat or I have had much chance to participate in the fun of the conventions - with the--- and others who, I know, have kept things humming here in Detroit.

So, may I congratulate the city of Detroit for what Lou Feldman says is one of the finest conventions you have ever had in the history of the organization. [Applause.] And may I also congratulate Lou (as I have had the privilege and the honor of congratulating each of his predecessors) for making me, as a member of this organization, proud of the job that he has done as our commander in this past year all over the world. [Applause.] I just learned today that George Allen awarded him a Distinguished Service Medal for his work on his last trip abroad and on other trips that he has taken.

And may I say to his successor, his successor, incidentally, who will be promoted automatically without having to go through an election, I say as far as his successor is concerned, that I hope that he too, be able to represent the Veterans of Foreign Wars not only in America, but throughout the world, because it is of great assistance to our foreign policy to have the commander of our organization travel as Lou and his predecessors have done, and I hope that you will make the funds available for his successor to travel as he has. [Applause.]

Now, in riding in from the airport with Lou, I had the chance to go over some of the program that you have enjoyed up to this time. And I have noticed that, as in previous years, you have concentrated particularly on that subject which I have always found is closest to the hearts of the members of Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as the members of the Auxiliary of this organization. And I speak, of course, of the great cause for which you as members of this great organization have fought. You have fought the wars of this Nation for two purposes: (1) To bring peace to the world; and (2) to bring peace without surrender, to bring peace with freedom and justice and honor for all people all over the world. [Applause.]

And I am glad you have had the opportunity of hearing from various people in Government who are working toward that end, whose work you have supported. In my previous appearances before you, I have tried to direct my remarks to that subject which is of such overriding concern to you. And today I do not want to depart from precedent; I want to talk on that subject again. And if you will permit me, I would like to look back a bit over the past 8 years and then look forward and see what our experience in these years teaches us about the policies and programs that we should adopt for the future.

Looking over those 8 years we have seen crises for this country for the cause of peace and freedom; we have seen difficulties. But I think also we can be thankful that in those 8 years that we have seen the ending of one war and policies that have kept the United States out of other wars without surrender of principle for the free world. [Applause.] These policies, incidentally, as you well know, have not been the policies of one party, have not been just the policies of an administration; they have been the policies of the American people - Republicans and Democrats alike - backing the President of the United States, and may that always be the case where the freedom and security of the people of the United States is concerned. [Applause.]

As we look over those 8 years it is sometimes easy to forget the crises through which we have passed, any one of which under the wrong kind of leadership and with lack of determination on our part might have resulted in a different outcome even in a way. I speak of Suez, of the situation in Quemoy and Matsu, of Indochina, of Lebanon, and others, of which of course you also would have knowledge. And I can only say that we can be thankful today, again, that we stand today as a nation that has survived these years and survived them with peace and with honor.

And now if I might turn to the problems of the future. And in turning to the problems of the future, examine our posture of the present. We have been hearing in increasing amounts in recent months great concerns and even doubts expressed about the position of the United States in the world. We have heard that our military strength has put us now in second place; that economically our economy is not as strong as it should be, and that we run the risk of becoming second in this area as well; that scientifically we are falling behind; that our educational system is not as strong as it should be. And there is a tendency sometimes for those who perhaps are not examining the whole record to jump to a conclusion that as far as this country is concerned, because of the weaknesses we have, that possibly we are generally falling and have fallen into a second-rate position in the world - militarily, economically, scientifically and from the standpoint of our education.

Now I think it's time to put the record straight, to put the record straight in this respect: First, we must recognize that one of the strengths of a free country is that any person has the right and the responsibility to criticize the policies of his government when he thinks they're wrong. He has the right and the responsibility to point up the weaknesses of our military strength or our economic strength or our scientific and educational establishment wherever he thinks weaknesses exist. But may I say that in pointing up those weaknesses, let us never make the mistake of overlooking the strengths of the United States and pointing out those strengths to ourselves and the world as well. [Applause.] And today we can say categorically and we can say proudly that the United States is first in the world militarily, economically, scientifically, and educationally, and we have the will and the determination to maintain that position in the years ahead. [Applause.]

The problem is; How do we maintain that position? And here we look to the future. And in looking to the future it is necessary for us to consider the threat to our position which is presented by those in the Communist world. Because we're in a race today, a race in which we are well ahead in the areas that I have mentioned, but a race in which we have an opponent that is determined to catch up. And all of you know that whenever you're in a race you can never be complacent, you must always examine your deficiencies, and in order to stay ahead you can't stand still, you have to move ahead. And so the question is: How does the United States move ahead? How do we maintain the position that we have, a position we must maintain, not only to assure our own freedom and our own security, but the chances for freedom and security of the peoples throughout the world. And I would lay down these guidelines today based on the experience of the past 8 years, experience which I have had the opportunity to participate in.

First of all (and this need not be said to the Veterans of Foreign Wars), but I repeat it for fear that we may sometimes forget that this is essential: If the United States is to give the leadership to the world, diplomatically and ideologically that it needs, if we are to be able to guarantee our peace and our security and the peace and security of others, we must begin with military strength which is second to none any place in the world. [Applause.] And we must have that today and in the future. [Applause.]

Now, we can have arguments about that strength, about its level, and we do have arguments - in the Government, as a matter of fact - between our services (and all of them are represented here) as to what the mission should be of each of the services and where the emphasis should be put. I will not participate in that particular discussion at this point as it would not be appropriate. But I will say this: there are certain guidelines with regard to our military strength that we should have in mind.

First, that it is essential that that strength be reexamined, reexamined as the Secretary of Defense indicated, not simply on an annual basis but on a regular basis, month by month, having in mind two guidelines which will change our policies if those guidelines indicate they should be changed.

First, we must have the intelligence which will tell us what our potential opponents are doing. I do not mean that we change our defense posture every time they change their emphasis. But I do mean, of course, that as we get new information a bout their capabilities, about their aggressiveness, the United States must be prepared to meet that contingency and to meet it efficiently and effectively. And second, in addition to that, we must always take advantage of the new technological developments. We must not be frozen into acquiring and depending upon the weapons of the past to fight the wars of the future, because if we do we will he in a position of inferiority regardless of how many of those weapons we may have. And so in this technological area this means that we're faced sometimes with hard decisions, hard decisions because, as we make new breakthroughs, it means we must move from the old to the new and move imaginatively, boldly, so that we stay ahead of the new as well as in the old until the old no longer has any relationship to our defense posture.

So these two guidelines I think we could generally agree upon. A second point that I would make is this. In determining what level of military strength we need, we must look at it from two standpoints: (1) The strength in fact that we need, and as far as that strength in fact or strength in being is concerned, it means that the United States and its allies must have enough power that regardless of what a potential enemy has, if he should launch a surprise attack that we would have enough left that we could knock out his war-making capabilities. This must always be our level of strength. Not only must that be the case with regard to our strength in fact but we must go a step further. We must have that strength and our potential enemy as well as our friends in the world must know we have that strength, because if war comes or threats of war or the use of threats of power at the conference table, it will come not only because we may be weaker in fact, but it might come because we might be considered weaker because the story with regard to our strength was not adequately known. And so America's strength must be stronger in fact and stronger in the minds of those with whom we will be bargaining at the conference table.

And the final thing I would say is this. What must America do to maintain this strength, to what ends will we go? And the answer is that the security of the United States must come before all other considerations. [Applause.] At the present time we do not see any necessity of raising our taxes in order to maintain that strength, but let us resolve that should the time ever come when because of the necessity of maintaining our strength we might have to tax ourselves more to do so, we shall put security second, security first and the tax situation second. This is the only way to maintain the strength of the United States at an adequate level. [Applause.]

And now if I could turn to a corollary of the strength that we should have militarily. Diplomacy is going to have a great deal to say as to whether we are able to keep the peace without surrender in the years ahead. What should we do at the diplomatic table? What should the posture of our Secretary of State, our President, the other representatives of America, be as they sit down across from the conference table with the representative of the Kremlin and others in the free world or in the Communist world. And I think that that posture can best be summarized - based again on the experience of these past years - with two words: We must always be firm without being belligerent, firmness without belligerency. Let me spell out the two words, if I might, just briefly.

By "firmness" I mean that the United States, our President, our Secretary of State, our other officials, must always be ready and willing to negotiate the outstanding differences with the leaders of the Communist world any time any place that there appears to be a reasonable possibility that some success could come from those negotiations. But in entering those negotiations we must enter them with a resolve that we will stand not only for our own freedom but for the right of the people of Berlin, for any other people in the world to be free also, and stand firmly in that right. [Applause.]

Now, I think the recent summit conference gives us some more guidance on this particular point. We have there, I think, an example on the part of the President of firmness without belligerence. It was a difficult situation for a President of the United States to go to a conference and then to be subjected to insult - never perhaps equaled in the relation between nations at a conference table in the history of the world. What did he do? One, he did not answer in kind; he maintained his dignity; but, two, he also refused Mr. Khrushchev's request that he either apologize or his request that he punish those who were responsible for the U-2 flights which you have read so much about. Now the President has been criticized on two counts on the summit conference. There are some who suggest that he might have considered at least apologizing or expressing his regrets for these flights for a good reason, a reason that by doing so he might have saved the conference and that Mr. Khrushchev then might have sat down and negotiated on Berlin and other matters. And on the other side of the coin there are people who say, no, he shouldn't have done that, but he made a mistake in not answering back and in telling this fellow off when he was engaging in such a terrific diatribe against the President of the United States and the Office which he represents.

I believe both sets of critics are wrong. First, on the basis of whether the President could have, or might have apologized regrets, the answer is a very simple one: The President of the United States must not and never should apologize or express regrets for trying to protect the security of this country against surprise attack. [Applause.] And there's a corollary to that, the United States must always be strong enough that no President of the United States ever is forced to apologize or express regrets in any conference in which we participate. [Applause.]

But there's another reason why this kind of approach I think is wrong. It shows a great lack of understanding with regard to the character of Mr. Khrushchev and his colleagues. Apologizing, expressing regrets to him, would have accomplished nothing. He came to this conference determined to break it up and he was intent upon making the President crawl to him, and if that had happened it would not have satisfied, it would only have whetted his appetite.

And now to the second point: Should the President have answered in kind? And there's an answer to that. You know, it's very easy, when you get into an argument with one of those who stands against everything we believe and hold dear, it's very easy to be tempted to respond in kind. But no President of the United States, no representative of this country, can give in to such personal temptation. Because the danger is that you heat up the international atmosphere by a war of words, heat it up to the point that a nuclear catastrophe can destroy civilization as we know it. And so in this instance let us ever remember that when you are confident of your strength, when you have faith in your cause, you do not have to resort to name calling, you do not have to respond to insults in kind. The United States and its representatives can be dignified, we can be firm, but we do not have to be belligerent, and that is the way to lead the free world in these difficult years ahead without involving us in war or surrender on either side. [Applause.]

And now, having mentioned our military strength, the necessity for a firm diplomacy, the necessity for attending conferences and working for peace through negotiation wherever the opportunity presents itself, there might be a tendency for us to say, well, that's it, if we do these things we can keep the peace and we can have our freedom. But we must never make that mistake. These things are terrifically important as I've already indicated, but we must remember that we can do these things: we can be the strongest military nation in the world, we can have a strong economy, we can be firm without being belligerent at the conference table, and still lose the battle for freedom in the world without a shot ever being fired. And I speak now of an area that has already been touched upon by previous speakers and I do it for emphasis, the great nonmilitary conflict that is going on throughout the world today. Oh, you read it in your papers every time you pick them up. In Asia, in Africa, in South America, all over the world, where a billion people live, so-called underdeveloped or newly developing countries - a conflict is going on for the allegiance of men and women. It's a conflict which is difficult from our standpoint; it is one that I am sure many Americans sometimes are tempted to brush off by saying: Let's draw within our own shell, let's build our own strength and be tough at the conference table and let the rest of the world go hang, because when you see what happens in Laos - after all the money we've spent there - when you see the troubles in the Congo, when you read of what's happening in Cuba, there is a temptation to engage in the kind of thinking that I have just described. But let us never forget that if America fails its responsibility to the world that the world will be lost and we will be lost with it, because the Communists are working. They have launched a war here without guns, but a war more deadly than that, a war of words, a political war, an economic war, a subversive war, which is aimed at conquering those nations just as surely as they would be conquered if they were to roll through them with the Red army. And we cannot let this happen.

And how do we avoid its happening? Well, what we have to do here is recognize the ingredients of that struggle and then develop our programs to deal with those ingredients. And so first we look at the people in those countries. What do they want? My wife and I have visited most of those countries; we have talked to their people; we have seen the condition under which they live. You know, one thing that is the same about all of them and they're different in most other respects - religion, clothing, everything else - the thing that is the same about them is that they're determined to have a better way of life, because they live in terrible poverty for the most part and, under those circumstances, they aren't going to be satisfied with a program which says: Don't take communism because it brings progress but at the cost of freedom. If the choice that these people have is progress at the cost of freedom (which the Communists offer) and no progress staying where they are, they're inevitably going to have to take the Communist offer. And it's our responsibility not to leave them in that position, to show them that there is an alternative, an alternative which the American history shows and illustrates better than anything in the world: that a newly developing country, a new country, wanting progress, can get it, but that they can get it and keep their freedom at the same time. This is America's lesson to the world and it is one that we must reiterate over and over again - not just by the words that George Allen in the Information Service puts out - that is essential - but by our deeds. Because, remember, a nation is what its deeds are. And this brings me, then to the programs with which we, I think, must deal.

Sometimes we might be tempted to say: Why don't we just spend more billions of dollars helping these people get economic progress? The spending of money is important in some areas, but you could increase the spending a hundredfold, and if you did that alone we would still lose. Because money without the political and economic institution, the trained technicians to run an economy in the Government, will go right down a rathole. And so we must combine our economic program, which we need, with technical and political and other training programs on a scale such as we have never had before. That's point one.

And a second point - turning to Cuba. Here I hear many people suggest: When are we going to get tough with Castro? Why don't we invoke the Monroe Doctrine? Let's get one thing straight. As the President indicated in his press conference in Washington this morning, there's no question about our attitude toward Cuba, our determination that there will not be set up a foreign-controlled Communist dictatorship in Cuba [applause] but what we must remember too is that the United States has the power - and Mr. Castro knows this - to throw him out of office any day that we would choose, but getting rid of Castro is not the answer alone. We have to remember what brought Castro and then we have to give a constructive alternative to the people not only of Cuba, but to the people of all the Latin American countries, where they can see that there is a way to a better life in those countries without turning to Communist dictatorship to get it. This is what we have to prove to them. [Applause.]

And so that is why I say the Congress of the United States, the Senate of the United States, was certainly acting with great statesmanship in approving the President's program for expanded economic assistance in these areas, and that is why I say that in this area - as well as others in the world - we must remember that it isn't enough just to be against communism, we have to offer a constructive alternative to it.

And now, if I could turn to not only programs but to the goal that America must set for herself in this critical period. And that goal must be an affirmative one. It isn't enough in dealing with the threat of communism to say that our programs are designed to stop communism, to defend free nations against communism, to contain communism; these things are necessary but they're not enough. Because the Communist goal is not to hold the line for communism; it's the victory of communism, the imposing of communism on all the world. And you can't answer a strategy of victory with simply a strategy of defense. What you have to have to answer a strategy of victory for communism is a strategy and a program of victory for freedom throughout the world. [Applause.] And as we speak of that strategy we must recognize that to implement it, it requires a determination and the stamina on our part, which will take the rough seas with the calm, which will recognize that we're not always going to succeed, but which will never be deterred by the fact that the Communists may mount an offensive here, there, or somewhere else in the world. Two examples to prove the point.

The riots in Japan, the riots in Caracas when we were there 2 years ago. People suggest, well, when these riots occur this means that the President and the Vice President and the Secretary of State shouldn't travel to these countries. And the answer is that that's just exactly what the Communists want us to do, to cut off our communications with the millions of people in Japan and Latin America who are for us because of the actions of a Communist minority who are against us. We must not play into their hands. When they do, in other words, engage in these activities, we must push through, push through with our policy without being deterred. Because remember: whatever we may say about the evils of communism, the leaders are dedicated, they are determined, they're willing to wait, and may the American people and the American Government have the same determination and the same stamina as they have. We've got to outlast the enemies of freedom in this struggle. [Applause.]

And then there is one other ingredient which is essential for victory and that is a matter of faith. Too often we put our primary reliance solely on our military strength, our diplomatic policy, the productivity of our factories. And America can be very thankful that we are militarily strong and diplomatically firm and productive from the standpoint of our economy. But let us never forget that this is not all that we offer the world and it isn't the most important facet of our ideals in the world. Because America stands for more than military strength and economic strength (the Communists can offer that); we stand for moral and spiritual ideals and values that caught the imagination of the world 180 years ago in the American Revolution and that still lives in the hearts of our people and in the hopes of people throughout the world today. [Applause.]

And so to my comrades in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, may I say to you today that as I look into the future I do not look at it with fear as to the outcome of this struggle - and neither should you. I look into the future with faith. I do not consider this (as some do) a terrible time in which to live. We have problems, but it is the most exciting time - perhaps the best time - that men and women of courage and conviction and faith could ever have chosen to live, and I want to tell you why.

Men and women have dreamed from the beginning of civilization of the time when there would be enough in the world from the standpoint of goods, of food and clothing, to go around. They have dreamed of that day - Utopia it is called - and some have worked for that day - but until our generation we could never have reached the goal had we been able to implement the policies which we had adopted. And today for the first time in the history of man, because we have made great breakthroughs in science, because we have made great breakthroughs in productivity and Detroit is one of the finest examples in that respect, because of all these things men and women today can build a world of peace, of freedom, and of real progress and plenty for all. We can wage a winning war. We can wage it against poverty, misery, and disease all over the world.

And so I call upon you, those of you who fought the wars of this country, to save the freedom of America, to save our security, who fought for the freedom of others. I say: Join in this struggle, join in it recognizing that it is more difficult, more complex, but that the rewards can be even greater than in all the wars we have fought in past history. And let the American people not fall their Government so that their Government will not fail the cause which we are leading in the world today. Because America must lead the world. We have this responsibility, whether some would like us to have it or not. And in order to lead it we need not only Government officials who know this problem, but millions of Americans led by people like yourselves who recognize the danger that we face, who know the ideals in which we believe, and who are willing to work for those ideals for the victory which we seek.

And I can say to you as I conclude, that having traveled the length and breadth of this land, having seen 50 nations abroad, I could not have greater faith as to the outcome of this struggle because we are on the right side, because the peoples of the world - millions of them on both sides of the Iron Curtain - want peace with freedom (which we offer) - but primarily because of men and women like yourselves dedicated to the cause of freedom with faith in God, faith in our country, and faith in yourselves. With such backing the Government of the United States cannot and will not fail the cause of freedom and justice for the world.

Thank you. [Applause.]

Richard Nixon, Speech by Vice President Richard M. Nixon, VFW Convention, Detroit, MI Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project