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Let us all understand that the question before us is not whether some Americans are for peace and some Americans are against peace. (19.1)
Think about this in terms of delicious pizza. Everybody loves pizza—this much we can agree on. Nixon is just saying that those protesters who don't support his policies in Vietnam are the pizza weirdos: the ones who put anchovies, pineapple, and probably grape salad all over their pizzas.
Well, one of the strengths of our free society is that any American has a right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view. But as President of the United States, I would be untrue to my oath of office if I allowed the policy of this Nation to be dictated by the minority who hold that point of view and who try to impose it on the Nation by mounting demonstrations in the street. (116.1-116.2)
Here's the meat and potatoes of Nixon's whole argument. Nixon really didn't want all those anti-war protestors to change the events in Vietnam. So, he's saying that they're just a small fraction of Americans, and therefore shouldn't really have that strong a voice in politics, especially in regard to the war in Vietnam.
If a vocal minority, however fervent its cause, prevails over reason and the will of the majority, this nation has no future as a free society. (117.2)
If the previous statement represented Nixon's meat and potatoes, this one is the side salad with a healthy dollop of contempt for dressing. Nixon really didn't want those anti-war protestors to change the events in Vietnam, so here he's basically saying that if the anti-war protestors get their way, the United States would crumble, and war would probably break out anyway.
Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.
And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support. (130.1-131.1)
The food metaphors continue: this was Nixon's cherry, sitting atop his speech-giving ice cream sundae. He's calling on all of his supporters to join him and enjoy the delicious rhetorical meal that he has created for them—all in return for helping to get his plans for Vietnam passed. And America ate it up. (Pun intended.)
But Nixon didn't want to invite the anti-war and hippie crowds to join in. He assumed that they don't like ice cream…it's not vegan.
Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against defeat. Because let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that. (134.1-134.4)
Nixon just couldn't leave it at the speech's peak moment. He really hit a high mark with his reference to the "great silent majority," but he had to have the last word on the anti-war crowd. This little jab is meant to get those protestors to feel super bad for not being pro-Nixon supporters.
The war was causing deep division at home and criticism from many of our friends as well as our enemies abroad.
In view of these circumstances there were some who urged that I end the war at once by ordering the immediate withdrawal of all American forces. (15.1-16.1)
Haters gonna hate. That's basically what Nixon wants to say here. He's calling all those dissatisfied Americans (the anti-war protestors, participants in the civil rights movement, the feminists) a bunch of haters. He even puts them in the same category as those "enemies abroad." Ouch.
Now, many believe that President Johnson's decision to send American combat forces to South Vietnam was wrong. And many others—I among them—have been strongly critical of the way the war has been conducted. (23.1-23.2)
Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon wouldn't be remembered for his amazing foresight and truth-telling abilities, but he's telling the truth here.
Nixon admits that he himself was one of those standing in the dissatisfied line. He didn't like the situation in Vietnam. That's the truth. He also promises a swift and painless end to the war—that was a lie.
For the United States, this first defeat in our Nation's history would result in a collapse of confidence in American leadership, not only in Asia but throughout the world. (30.1)
Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon would not be remembered for his amazing foresight and truth-telling abilities, but he definitely hit the nail on the head here. The United States did experience a loss of confidence in American leadership shortly after losing the war in Vietnam. Unfortunately for him, this was largely due to his decision-making and largely due to the fact that he resigned from the presidency under shady circumstances.
I can order an immediate, precipitate withdrawal of all Americans from Vietnam without regard to the effects of that action. (105.1)
Before making this statement, Nixon actually says some nice things about the anti-war crowd. He even hints that he respects them. This statement (and several that follow as well) is a little wake-up call and stab in the back to those protesters listening to the speech. He's kind of calling the protestors morons for thinking that the war could end just like that. It's a veiled insult, but it's still not very nice.
In San Francisco a few weeks ago, I saw demonstrators carrying signs reading: "Lose in Vietnam, bring the boys home."
Well, one of the strengths of our free society is that any American has a right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view. (115.1-116.1)
Similar to the previous quote, this statement is a mixture of honey and flesh-burning acid. Nixon wants to be Mr. Nice Guy President giving compliments to those dissatisfied people making calls to end the war and saying that they have the right to be dissatisfied. But he ultimately argues that they should just pack up and go home, and let his precious "great silent majority" get the spotlight for once.
I know it may not be fashionable to speak of patriotism or national destiny these days. But I feel it is appropriate to do so on this occasion. (128.1-128.2)
One of the most common stereotypes of Nixon's era was that anti-war protesters, those in the Free Speech Movement, feminists, etc. weren't real Americans. They were unpatriotic. Patriots fully supported the war and the American way of life. But again, many have argued that these groups were patriots just like any others. Either way, Nixon's point here is to characterize these movements as generally unpatriotic.
Two hundred years ago this Nation was weak and poor. But even then, America was the hope of millions in the world. Today we have become the strongest and richest nation in the world. And the wheel of destiny has turned so that any hope the world has for the survival of peace and freedom will be determined by whether the American people have the moral stamina and the courage to meet the challenge of free world leadership. (129.1-129.4)
If you were to give one of the most patriotic histories of the United States in three sentences or less, this is really the way to do it. There are many ways to tell the country's origin story, but he chooses this one. This is meant to get those patriotic folks that he sees as part of the "great silent majority" all riled up before he calls out for their support a few sentences later in the speech.
[…] the great silent majority of my fellow Americans […]. (131.1)
Nixon's speech will always be remembered as "The Great Silent Majority" speech because those particular words were a great patriotic rallying cry. Just like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, Nixon is trying to give a feel-good jolt to the hearts of every patriotic American. He wants it to be of cinematic proportions. And it worked. It really did rally patriotic sentiment, while Nixon got the support he ultimately wanted.
The more support I can have from the American people, the sooner that pledge can be redeemed; for the more divided we are at home, the less likely the enemy is to negotiate at Paris. (133.1)
Again with the veiled critiques of 1960s counterculture. Nixon is trying to blame the anti-war movement for failed negotiations between U.S. and North Vietnamese forces. Ouch.
Fifty years ago, in this room and at this very desk, President Woodrow Wilson spoke words which caught the imagination of a war-weary world. He said: "This is the war to end war." His dream for peace after World War I was shattered on the hard realities of great power politics and Woodrow Wilson died a broken man.
Tonight I do not tell you that the war in Vietnam is the war to end wars. But […]." (136.1-137.2)
Don't be fooled, dear Shmoopers. That's a big "but" at the end of this statement.
If Nixon doesn't want to compare World War I to Vietnam, why does he bring it up in the first place? Nixon wants his audience to associate his Vietnamization policies with the patriotism surrounding World War I. He even hints that anti-patriotic "power politics" got in the way of Woodrow Wilson's success just like the unpatriotic anti-war protestors are getting in Nixon's way.
How and why did America get involved in Vietnam in the first place? (5.1)
This is the million-dollar question. Short answer: it's complicated. But Nixon does let his audience in on some of the key events that got America more and more involved in the war. Some may argue that his perspective is a little one-sided. Others may argue that he plays a little bit of the blame game.
But the question facing us today is: Now that we are in the war, what is the best way to end it? (24.1)
Here's the second million-dollar question. Again, the answer depended on one's perspective. According to Nixon, the best way to end the war is an American defeat (with the help of the South Vietnamese) of the North Vietnamese forces. Was this the only solution? No, but it's the one that Nixon supported the most.
It would not bring peace; it would bring more war. (40.1)
Speaking of alternate solutions, this short but sweet statement represents Nixon's desire to completely shoot down one of the alternate paths to ending the war: just leave and end the war. This was the anti-war perspective, and Nixon wants none of it.
I did not wait for my inauguration to begin my quest for peace. (51.1)
To give Nixon a bit of credit, he did want to see the end of the Vietnam War. He also believed that his plan for Vietnamization was the best route to get this goal achieved. When he ran for president, he ran under the promise of ending the war, which he was unable to do. But he did immediately start removing American troops when he first came into office.
In the previous administration, we Americanized the war in Vietnam. In this administration, we are Vietnamizing the search for peace. (79.3-79.4)
Here's where Nixon really starts laying out his war strategy. Basically, he wants to get the Vietnamese to fight the Vietnam War. It may sound a little obvious to say that, but American troops were in so deep in Vietnam that they were doing the vast majority of the fighting.