Study Guide

The Great Silent Majority Compare and Contrast

By Richard Nixon

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  • "Beyond Vietnam" by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1967)

    Martin Luther King Jr. will always be remembered for his hugely (the word "huge" really doesn't do him justice) influential role in the American civil rights movement, but did you know that he was also adamantly opposed to the Vietnam War?

    MLK viewed the end of the Vietnam War as both a human and civil rights issue. Like Nixon, MLK believed that peace was the ultimate goal. But, wow, did their visions of peace differ from one another. Nixon believed that peace was only attainable by handing the war over to South Vietnamese fighters and upping the aerial bombing campaign.

    King, on the other hand, had this to say: "Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation" (paragraph 39). The two views on how to end the war in Vietnam couldn't have been more different.

    On top of this, King also knew that African American men were being sent to fight in Vietnam at way higher numbers than Americans of other races. You'd better believe that if the Black Lives Matter movement had been around back then, they'd have a thing or two to say about the racial inequality taking place in the Vietnam War.

  • "Sit-In Address on the Steps of Sproul Hall" by Mario Savio (1964)

    If Richard Nixon's 1969 speech was a call to the "great silent majority" to rise up and take a more active role in American politics, Mario Savio was the type of person that he wanted to sit down and stop making noise about American politics.

    He would have been in Nixon's "lame loud minority."

    Savio was one of the most important figures in the 1960s counterculture movement, and especially in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement.

    When the University of California, Berkeley banned all political activity and fundraising, Savio and thousands of other students saw what they argued was an act of authoritarian injustice. So, they protested the whole situation.

    During one of the protests, Savio stood up like a total boss and gave this speech to the crowd of students, administrators, and reporters. In the speech, Savio basically called the people who ran the university a bunch of hacks.

    He said that the university acted like a heartless and monstrous machine that just chewed up students and spat them out. Which wasn't very nice. A lot of people felt that this represented their university experiences and actually kind of represented massive bureaucracies as a whole. As a result, this message became a powerful symbol of the 1960s.

    Also as a result, it became a powerful symbol of everything that Richard Nixon didn't like about the 1960s.

  • Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York by Che Guevara (1964)

    Ho Chi Minh wasn't the only bearded revolutionary out there. Che Guevara can be counted alongside Minh and the other revolutionary figures that came to define the post-World War II world.

    Guevara gained a name for himself by fighting alongside the most famous revolutionary beard of all time: that of Fidel Castro. He and Castro were central figures in the Cuban Revolution that took place between 1953 and 1959.

    But Guevara didn't stop there. He made it his personal mission to spread the word of revolutionary socialism and the importance of a well-maintained beard in the revolutionary battlefield. Importantly, though, he saw himself as a spokesperson of what he argued were the oppressed classes.

    This is where the speech that he gave at the United Nations in 1964 comes into play. During the speech, Guevara spoke about the Vietnam War. He actually spoke about a lot of things, but he mostly pinned most of the world's problems—including the war in Vietnam—on two major sources: imperialism and the United States.

    Five years later, Richard Nixon would address the "great silent majority" in America. In that speech, he mostly blamed Vietnam for preventing peace. In 1964, Che Guevara blamed the United States for preventing peace.

    Sure, it may sound like the old schoolyard tactic "I know you are (a violent aggressor that has ruined world politics and the chances for peaceful coexistence), but what am I?" Actually, now that we mention it, that saying could characterize the entire Cold War.

  • Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh (1945)

    Before becoming one of the United States' most formidable enemies, Ho Chi Minh (and the rest of Vietnam) wanted to be BFFs with America. In fact, when the country declared its independence to the world, it did so in a proclamation that was both a cheesy love ballad and the most bitter breakup song ever composed.

    For those U.S. history and politics buffs out there, the first bit of this proclamation should ring a bell…maybe the Liberty Bell?

    After giving this a read, you may recognize the words of the Declaration of Independence being used here. That's because the Vietnamese were trying to pluck at the heartstrings of the U.S. government. The Vietnamese needed the United States' support if they were going to break free from France's colonial rule.

    Unfortunately for the Vietnamese, the United States didn't like sappy love songs. They supported the French to the bitter end. So, when this document accused the French of having "acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice" (paragraph 5), there's totally the not-so-subtle jab being made at the United States as well.

    The United States and Vietnam had seemed destined to be inseparable besties, but by 1945, their relationship was on the rocks, and by the time Nixon gave his speech in 1969, they were definitely on the outs.

  • "The Great Society" Speech by Lyndon B. Johnson (1964)

    Apparently, this was the era of the quotable presidential speech. So why not throw Lyndon B. Johnson's "The Great Society" speech into that mix as well?

    Actually, like Nixon's "The Great Silent Majority" speech, this one given by ol' LBJ in 1964 is considered one of the greatest presidential speeches of the 20th century. Also like Nixon's speech, this one took place at a time when the situation in Vietnam seemed to be getting worse and worse.

    That's where the similarities end.

    When Johnson gave this speech, he had grand visions for his presidency. It's chock full of warm and fuzzy language, like his calls to "enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization" (paragraph 4).

    Johnson wanted to see an increase in social welfare programs, federal investment in education, and a restructured medical system as part of his new "great society." Before he could really get any of this done, though, Johnson had to deal with the Vietnam situation.

    And that situation, as we all know by now, didn't end up so great, good, or even sort of okay.

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