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Veterans Day Address.

October 24, 1971

Good evening:

When Pericles was asked to speak in honor of those men of Athens who were the first to fall in the Peloponnesian War, he spoke not of their deeds, but of Athens herself. He spoke of the life there and the people, and of the glory of Athens. He spoke of the Athenian warriors and of all they had fought to maintain.

It is appropriate, on this Veterans Day, to recall the origins of our own Nation-- because it was established by the first American veterans--and to recall the purposes of our own people, for they continue to be protected by those fighting men who all of us wish might be the last American veterans.

The United States was conceived in the quest for freedom and born to a people committed to the preservation of their God-given rights--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They neither coveted empire nor sought to rule any people. From the beginning, to live in peace has been one of the most fervently held goals of the American people.

But, while we have sought peace, we have also understood that where peace cannot be kept with liberty, it cannot be kept at all. As Pericles himself noted, happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.

When freedom was challenged, Americans fought. They fought to preserve for other generations a land of liberty and justice for all, and they preserved it with the old dream of peace.

As we look back on our history, we see that there have been thinkers and builders, poets and prophets, statesmen and philosophers-men and women with tomorrow on their minds. All helped to create America. But none have been more important than those who defended our Nation-nor are any more important today. It is to our veterans that we owe the final debt for America's greatness, and we intend to pay that debt.

Many veterans of World War II and Korea were educated under the GI bill. Today we continue to bear part of the cost of educating our returning veterans, and already more than 2 1/2 million young Vietnam-era veterans have taken advantage of this benefit.

The coming of peace and the conversion from a wartime to a peacetime economy have contributed to the problem of unemployment by already eliminating more than 2 million defense-oriented jobs. As we complete the transition to a peacetime economy, let us all, as Americans, join in this commitment: to do all that we can do to insure that those who have borne the burdens of war are not made, because of their sacrifice, to bear disproportionately the burdens of the peace they are winning.

To help prevent this, I directed Secretary Hodgson on June 11 to institute a special six-point program to provide increased employment and training opportunities for veterans. I am happy to report that during July and August alone, more than 121,000 Vietnam-era veterans were placed in jobs or in training for jobs. Beyond these programs, each of us in his own community must also hold out a helping hand to those who have served America.

In addition to jobs and education, we have taken comprehensive steps to provide the best medical care possible, including treatment for drug users. Other benefits have also been increased; the budget for veterans and dependents in 1972 is nearly $11 billion.

But the most appropriate tribute to America's veterans would be to accomplish the secure and lasting peace for which they fought, and for which their comrades died. On this Veterans Day, 1971, we have a greater opportunity to build a lasting peace than at any time in this century. We have before us the best chance in this century to make the present generation of American war veterans the last generation of American war veterans.

In the past 2 1/2 years we have made positive steps toward that goal:

We have ratified a treaty to halt the further proliferation of nuclear weapons.

We have signed a treaty barring the use of the seabeds for implanting nuclear weapons.

We have renounced the use of biological and toxin weapons. We have had significant progress and several substantive agreements in the strategic arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union. We have had an historic agreement on Berlin.

Today we are preparing to take additional steps toward an end to the conflicts which have divided so many of the world's people and which have threatened all of the world's people. My trips to Moscow and Peking are directed toward that goal. We go there with no false hopes, and we intend to leave behind us in America no unrealistic expectations.

There are great differences between the Government of the United States and the Governments of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. But we have much in common with the Russian people and the Chinese people. We share this earth. We share a love for our children. And we share an understanding of the ultimate futility of war.

And so, while the road to a lasting peace may still be long and difficult, yet all that reasonable men may do to accomplish that lasting peace will be done.

There is a theory that nations flourish in war. Nevertheless, as we study the ancients we see that the old warrior empires have perished and the fruits of conquest are gone. But so much that was created in peace remains through the ages--old aqueducts that once brought water to cities; old theaters where men were entertained and enlightened; the literature of those times remains; there are works of art that still move us with their grace; them are laws and forms of government that still influence us. So we see what things in ancient societies had lasting values and what things have passed.

In America there is a unity of purpose that distinguishes our people from the ancients. The things we are willing to die for, we are equally willing to live for. Where in other states the periods of peace were used to prepare for war, in our own we work for peace, and when it is achieved, we work to maintain it.

We seek peace again today. We are ending one war and moving to prevent others. We have a new generation of veterans, and they are returning from the most publicized and the least understood war in our history.

Because it has been so little understood, this war has been especially difficult for many Vietnam veterans. All too often they have suffered from the frustration which this war has generated among many Americans.

We must not permit this. A nation which condemns those who serve it will find itself condemned in turn.

It is rather for us now to redeem the sacrifices our men have made in Vietnam and to grasp again the old dream, the old possibility which they have preserved-the dream of peace. It is for us now, as one people, to make that dream a reality, to insure at last what American fighting men have struggled to insure for two centuries-that this generation of veterans might truly be the last; that the world will see a new dawn of hope for the old ideal of human brotherhood; and that men and nations will find at last a larger purpose in peace than they ever found in war.

Thank you and good night.

Note: The President spoke at 7:30 p.m. from Camp David in Maryland. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio.

An advance text of the President's address was released on the same day.

Richard Nixon, Veterans Day Address. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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