April 16, 2014 By Jonathan Movroydis
Under the Nixon administration, the Republic of Vietnam returned 2.5 million acres of land to the former tenants who cultivated the crops. Republic of Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu hands out land titles to the new landowners in August of 1970. Photograph VA003128, August 1970, Douglas Pike Photograph Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University
By Brian Robertson
The history of land reform in Vietnam is complicated.
Long before President Harry S. Truman entered the U.S. Military Assistant Advisory Group (M.A.A.G.) into the First Indochina War, Vietnam held a long tradition of authoritarian social control of land use.
As early as the Hong Bang Dynasty, the Hung Vongs implemented a feudal-vassal socioeconomic system to cultivate crops (primarily rice) and maintain the dykes.
By 111 AD, the Han Dynasty occupied and conquered much of the Northern parts of today’s Vietnam and transformed the country into a Chinese vassal.
After centuries of conflict with China and after Ngo Quyen established independence, the government expanded private ownership and introduced a land-tax system. Once the French subjugated Vietnam, they instituted an exploitive taxation and land management system which created a large landless population.
To try and tie up centuries of history, World War II and the First Indo-China War devastated the economy and resulted in Ho Chi Minh as the leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam above the 17th parallel and Ngo Dinh Diem as the leader of the Republic of Vietnam.
In the North, Ho instituted China’s communist land reform polices by confiscating villages, executing at least 50,000 innocent civilians (the exact number, probably higher, is still debated) and attempting to redistribute the land and wealth.
In the South, Diem established an authoritarian government which remained under constant threat from the Binh Xuyen, French intrigue, and the North Vietnamese insurgents. Although not a western democracy by any stretch of the imagination, comparatively—as some historians argue—the Republic of Vietnam allowed a greater degree of freedom and civil liberties than the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
As for land reform, Diem attempted to dismantle the French landlord-tenant system and relocated villagers near the DMZ. With U.S. assistance, Diem implemented the strategic hamlet program which created secure hamlets intended to protect the inhabitants and weed out the Viet Cong. Depending on which historian you ask, the strategic hamlet program was either a successful example of land reform and pacification or an unmitigated disaster which helped turn the populous against Diem.
What is known is that after the assassination of Diem in 1963, the Republic of Vietnam descended into political and economic chaos and compelled President Lyndon Johnson to introduce American ground troops into Vietnam. The search-and-destroy tactics employed served to alienate villagers and as historian Mark Moyar noted in a panel presentation, “Villager Attitudes During the Final Decade of the Vietnam War:”
The introduction of American troops led to the most obvious and significant change in village life, a much higher level of violence than before, though this violence decreased after 1968. Many villagers watched Allied forces try to annihilate communist forces in their hamlets with machine guns, rockets, napalm, and other heavy weapons.
Inheriting the war in 1969, President Nixon sought to withdrawal U.S. troops from Vietnam while strengthening the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) to carry on with U.S. economic assistance and airpower. Often lost in the historical debates surrounding “Vietnamization” is the successful Land to the Tiller reform program introduced by the Nixon administration.
In a country which had been dominated by feudalism and colonialism, there was little tradition of land ownership. Thus, to help improve political and economic development, the Land to the Tiller program granted land to the villagers who cultivated the crops. Beginning in the spring of 1970, the Republic of Vietnam began transferring 2.5 million acres of land to eliminate farm tenancy.
A glimpse of President Nixon’s commitment to pacification and the land reform program is demonstrated in the following memcon covering his meeting with Republic of Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu. In addition to discussing negotiating strategy, President Thieu reported:
As the situation now stands, we have offered to enter into reasonable and serious talks with the communists. The question is whether they are willing to talk reasonably or will choose to continue the war. If they choose the latter, the war may take on a different character. The enemy may choose to carry on at a slower tempo, eventually even to fade away; thus it might go on this way for four or five years. We have to be prepared for the fact that it might take this course. We, therefore, have to move ahead on various fronts:
a) to strengthen our military forces;
b) to expand pacification; to extend security through land reform and other measures to bring; the people along with us;
c) to consolidate the people with the government;
d) to secure the collaboration of political parties in support; of the government;
e) to work toward collaboration of the Assembly and the Executive and
f) to fashion a broader based Cabinet.
South Viet-Nam must become stronger politically, militarily, and economically.
After further discussing aid for economic development, President Nixon turned to the progress of the Land to the Tiller program and President Thieu responded, “The draft law had been submitted to the Assembly, which was now in recess. The Assembly would, however, meet in mid-August and he hoped that it might enact the law by the end of August.”
By October of 1969, President Nixon remained impressed with the Republic of Vietnam’s political and economic progress. In a meeting with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Sir Robert Thompson, and John Holdridge he “gave his evaluation of the Thieu government, mentioning that it was difficult even for objective observers to form judgments of new governments, but that it was remarkable what the Thieu government had accomplished despite its newness and the wartime pressures. Admittedly it needed to carry out political and administrative reforms, to let political prisoners out of jail, and to implement a land reform program. However, it had made great progress.”
In the following document, the Vietnam Council on Foreign Relations examined the challenges and possibilities of the Land to the Tiller program:
It is to the credit of South Vietnamese leaders that the Land to the Tiller program not only seeks greater popular adhesion to the political cause they represent but also a greater degree of social justice in a country where peasants have always done more than their shares and received less than their due.
When the new Land Reform program is to be completed, an additional 800,000 farmers now living in a state of tenancy will own some 1.3 million hectares of rice land. Vietnam will then
become a nation of land owners. Also, by giving them this land free of charge, the President has chosen to force other segments of the South Vietnamese population to shoulder the cost of the
50 billion program.
Indeed, if one knows that during the past 20 years some 30 percent of the nation’s population have been taking about 70 percent of the country’s gross national product, one must agree to
the truly revolutionary measure President Thieu took last March 26 when he promulgated into law the Land to the Tiller bill in Can Tho. The time, indeed, has come for city-dwellers to give a hand to their brothers in the countryside.
The following document is a copy of the Land to the Tiller reform law passed in March of 1970 by the Republic of Vietnam National Assembly:
In U.S. General Creighton Abrams’ classified tapes, transcribed by Dr. Lewis Sorley and available in the Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972, a 1971 briefing cited captured enemy documents revealing the North Vietnamese’s assessment of the program:
COSVN released two training studies in 1971 to implement portions of the directive. One concerns the VC counterpacification program and observes that “The GVN has succeeded in relocating people to GVN-controlled areas, expanded its territorial security forces, and gained the support of segments of the rural population through the Land to the Tiller Program.
As part of the program, the Republic of Vietnam and the United States donated tractors to the new farm owners. The Vietnam News Bulletin captured pictures:
By 1973, the Land to the Tiller program transferred land to thousands of former farm tenants and is widely recognized as one of the forgotten successes of Vietnamization. Even after the intense struggle of signing the Paris Peace Accords under congressional duress, Republic of Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu reported progress on the Land to the Tiller program to President Nixon:
Dear Mr. President:
March 26th, 1973 marks the third anniversary of the signing of the “Land to the Tiller” law in the Republic of Vietnam. On this memorable occasion, I take pleasure in communicating to you the highlights of our land reform, one of the top priority programs for the welfare of the rural people. This also constitutes, in my view, an important aspect of the social and economic revolution, in the present ideological contest in Vietnam.
Upon the promulgation of the “Land to the Tiller” law in 1970, I pledged to distribute free of charge 1,000,000 hectares (approximately 2.5 million acres) of land in three years to 800,000 tenant farmers who actually tilled the land. To date, 1,003,353 hectares of land have been distributed to 858,821 former tenant farmers. Our planned goal has been achieved and surpassed.
The “Land to the Tiller” program has reduced farm tenancy from around 60 percent three years ago to almost the vanishing point. It has thus undercut the main theme of communist propaganda vis-a-vis the rural population.
Our farmers have not been merely passive recipients of government largesse but have enthusiastically participated in the program to improve their lives. They are using the additional income from the sale of crops formerly paid in rent to develop the rural economy, thus contributing to the growth of the nation. Our farmers have now a new sense of personal worth and dignity and have become masters of their destiny, free men with reasons to preserve their freedom.
These accomplishments are attributable, in no small measure, to the dedicated support and cooperation of Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker and the American AID Mission staff in Vietnam and to the financial assistance of the American people through your government.
For this, I would like to convey, on behalf of the Vietnamese people, our deep gratitude to you, and through you to the people of the United States of America.
I wish also to express the hope that the Government of the Republic of Vietnam will continue to have help and support from your government and people to not only complete the land reform program but to help carry forward vigorously the implementation of the five-year rural economic development plan, which will solidify and build on the tremendous benefits of land distribution, and of our postwar reconstruction plan which is to heal the wounds of war and to promote development and growth in an era of peace.
NGUYEN VAN THIEU
President Nixon responded:
Dear Mr. President:
I very much appreciate your warm message of March 20 which described the achievements of the “Land to the Tiller” program and expressed the gratitude of the Vietnamese people for our assistance in this great work of social reform and economic development.
With deep interest and satisfaction, I learned from your letter that on March 26 your country will celebrate the fulfillment of its three-year goal of redistributing titles for one million hectares of land to tenant farmers under the “Land to the Tiller” program. This program, I know, is one of the most ambitious and far-reaching land distribution programs undertaken by any country in recent times. It will ultimately benefit over one million rural families in South Vietnam and should virtually eliminate farm tenancy. The fact that this program has been completed under the difficult wartime conditions of the past three years makes the accomplishment that much more admirable. This program also represents tangible evidence of concern for and responsiveness to the needs of the people and encourages us to look with confidence to the future of your country as it pursues its goals of a lasting and fruitful peace.
On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the government and the people of the Republic of Vietnam on the success of this land reform endeavor. Americans are pleased to have cooperated with Vietnamese in this historic undertaking.
In the postwar period, we look forward with equal interest to joining your government and people in the important task of reconstruction and long-term economic development.
In the end, the Land to the Tiller program suffered from the United States’ discontinuation of economic aid and inability to enforce the Paris Peace Accords. After the North Vietnamese Army’s final offensive in 1975, the program ceased to exist.
The North confiscated the land, plowed over the South’s ancestral burial grounds, forced the populace into communist “re-education” camps, and transformed the economy into one of the poorest in the world. It would not be until the Soviet Union disbanded Comecon that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam abandoned the economic system of its founders. In 1986, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam instituted the Doi Moi reforms and moved toward a socialist based market economy.
Brian Robertson holds a Ph.D. in Diplomatic History with a subfield in Modern Vietnam and specializes in the Nixon Presidency.
April 9, 2014 By Chris Barber
RN and members of the Herter Committee stand in front of rice fields in northern Italy.
By Chris Barber
On Monday, July 30, 1947, then Congressman Richard Nixon was chosen, to his pleased astonishment, by Speaker Joe Martin to be one of nineteen members representing a committee headed by Congressman Christian Herter to go to Europe and prepare a report based on the feasibility and efficacy of Secretary of State, General George C. Marshall’s proposed post-war foreign aid plan.
Though an unexpected honor, it was one that a younger Nixon would nonetheless take full advantage of– a thrust for his young career, and especially to his foreign policy resume. Furthermore, it was a journey that would impact, to a large extent, the development of his presidential geopolitical strategy and his position in regards to Soviet Russia and Communism, over two decades later.
Prior to his departure to post-war Europe, constituents in Nixon’s congressional district generally resented the idea of committing the United States to what they suggested would be an inflationary foreign policy. Nixon heeded their concerns of a Truman foreign policy pledging military and economic aid to countries threatened by Soviet expansion, yet he maintained an unbiased level-headedness when he stepped foot on European soil.
The committee arrived at a Continent “tottering on the brink of starvation and chaos.” Post-war Europe, afflicted from the ravages of war and suffering from its worst drought in 100 years, was in dire need of assistance. Likewise, the threatening Communist sphere, externally and more so internally, endangered the democratic backbone of Western Europe.
RN on the Queen Mary en route to Europe.
In his typed report on the condition of the various European countries the Committee observed, RN identified a prevailing theme throughout–that democratic leadership was close to non-existent and Communist leadership at the forefront of political shaping.
RN found Italy, the country he was assigned, particularly on the brink of an undesirable social alteration:
Italy was a battleground particularly in the industrial north, the physical destruction heavy. But the great difficulty in Italy at the present time is not so much the physical destruction of the war, but the fact that the Communists have chosen this country as the scene of one of their most clever and well-financed operations against the forces of democracy.
After speaking to Communist leaders in Italy, most notably Giuseppe Di Vittoria of the Italian Labor Federation, RN learned that the phraseology used by them were identical to those used by Communists in England and France. In other words, as Nixon intimated in his notes, “this indicates definitely then the Communists throughout the world owe their loyalty not to the countries in which they live but to Russia.” RN provides more evidence of Soviet supported Communist tactics in Trieste, a free city-state situated in the northeast portion of Italy on the western coast of the Adriatic Sea. Attention should be given to his account of an American Lt. Oaks, who, with his 12 men, stood firm against a Yugoslavian Communist force of 2,000 attempting to force the people of Trieste into submission. Lt. Oaks’ conduct made a lasting impression on RN:
A portion of RN’s typed report, compiled at the conclusion of the Herter Committee trip, recounting Lt. Oak’s bravery in the face of Communist aggression.
Below is the rest of RN’s final report on the contentious occurrences at Trieste during the Herter Committee’s visit:
Reflecting in his memoirs 40 years later on his involvement with the Herter Committee, RN recalled learning four things that contributed to what so far appeared to be the resounding success of the Communist Party. He concluded that Communist leaders were strong and vigorous, and worked incredibly hard with that spirit. He observed that these leaders understood and took advantage of the power of Nationalistic fervor, and that they furthermore had the fortune of access to Soviet money. Finally, RN identified the leading cause of Communist success–the leadership classes’ capitulation to Communism.
Through these conclusions, RN developed the basis of how U.S. leaders ought to approach Communist leaders, which would be particularly helpful in his future dealings with Soviet, Chinese, Romanian, and other states helpful to his grand strategy.
From just the brief exposure, I could see that the only thing the Communists would respect–and deal with seriously–was power at least equal to theirs and backed up by willingness to use it. I made a penciled note in Trieste that is as true today as it was thirty years ago: “One basic rule with Russians–never bluff unless you are prepared to carry through, because they will test you every time.’’ RN, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon
April 9, 2014 By Jonathan Movroydis
Then-Captain Jeremiah Denton meets with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office on March 12, 1973.
By Brian Robertson
Last week, the United States witnessed the passing of an American hero, Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton. Shot down over North Vietnam and brutally tortured for nearly eight years as a POW during the Vietnam War, obituaries rightly acknowledge his courageous act of blinking “T-O-R-T-U-R-E” in Morse code to expose the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s public lie that U.S. POWs were treated humanely.
Overlooked, however, is Admiral Denton’s and other POWs’ steadfast belief that the Vietnam War was a noble cause. Also missing in the public narrative is their support for President Richard M. Nixon’s Vietnam policies. In When Hell was in Session, he wrote, “I’m confident that the Vietnam myths can be dispelled by the evidence presented in this book. I am also confident that my efforts and yours will succeed in our nation’s shaking of this cultural and national security decline. Truth will prevail.”
Like President Nixon, Admiral Denton criticized Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s gradual approach to the Vietnam War for prolonging the conflict and depleting the nation’s will to seek an honorable peace. As President Nixon observed in No More Vietnams, “our gradual escalation gave North Vietnam time to adapt to the additional pressure by dispersing its people, military supplies, and industry.”
Admiral Denton also regarded the Republic of Vietnam as a legitimate state, writing “The South had infinitely more freedom than North Vietnam, even under Diem, in spite of considerable corruption and some repression in South Vietnam.” President Nixon agreed, comparing post-independence Ho Chi Minh City with Saigon:
South Vietnam’s people were worse off by every measure after Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City. Antiwar critics charged that under (Republic of Vietnam President Nguyen Van) Thieu South Vietnam was governed by a hopelessly corrupt regime. It is true that there was some corruption—but there was also substantial freedom. Under Thieu, elections were held with international observers, and opposition Buddhists almost won control of the National Assembly. There was freedom of religion for all faiths. There were economic freedoms. South Vietnam became a prosperous small developing country. There was some freedom of the press. South Vietnam had three televisions stations, twenty radio stations, and twenty-seven daily newspapers, all of which were free to express dissenting views within certain bounds.
Now there are no political, religious, economic, or press freedoms. There are no free elections. There is ruthless repression of religion. More Buddhist monks have committed suicide through self-immolation under the Communists than under Diem and his successors combined. Southern Vietnam has become an economic disaster. Vietnam now has one television station, two radio stations, and two dailies—all of which pump out government propaganda.
There are those who held that there was no difference between authoritarian and totalitarian governments. But in the case of Vietnam it was not a question of distinguishing among shades of gray—rather of seeing a difference between night and day.
During the gruesome days of his captivity, Admiral Denton reflected, “My principal battle with the North Vietnamese was a moral one, and prayer was my prime source of strength. Another source was my country; no sacrifice was too great on her behalf. The nation is only as strong as the collective strength of its individuals. National interests, objectives, policies, and commitments depend on adherence to the nation’s principles.”
As his North Vietnamese captors continued to impress communist propaganda upon him, he defiantly replied, “What I can’t understand is the Communist suppression of political, religious, and press freedoms,” and “went on with my lecture about how Communism may bring short-term material gains, but in the long run people would not be allowed to share in the fruits of their own production because they would be funneled to Russia.”
Perhaps the most trying aspect of his captivity was his perception that the activities of the United States antiwar movement emboldened his captors. For instance, after several beatings from his guards, Admiral Denton was forced to “copy excerpts from an antiwar book written by Dr. Benjamin Spock, the baby-care specialist.” The statements and recordings of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War were distributed and played throughout the prison. Infamously, antiwar activist and actress Jane Fonda visited prisoners at Hoa Lo prison—popularly known as the Hanoi Hilton—and recorded radio propaganda for U.S. soldiers and U.S. POWs.
“The torture was programmed; there was a purpose in each move, and one method followed another to a single end,” Admiral Denton wrote. “They would first attempt to impose on the prisoner a feeling of guilt. Punishment would follow. Then we were to apologize for our sins against them. Then we would atone by performing a service for them. A written biography, a taped confession, anything they could use for propaganda.”
Even to this day, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam uses public history as a propaganda tool by whitewashing history at the Hoa Lo museum. At least when I was there in 2006, the museum taught visitors that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam treated U.S. POWs humanely during the war.
Picture of display at Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi, 2006. Author’s collection.
From the POWs perspective, the confidence of their captors evaporated after President Nixon launched Operation Linebacker II in December of 1972. According to Admiral Denton:
The critical and decisive change beginning 18 December 1972 from a U.S. strategy involving ineffective and too gradually escalating attacks with overly limiting rules of engagement to a strategy of applying massive destructive power in large scale attacks essentially devastating the enemy’s capacity to wage further war and eliminating their will to do so. The effect on the enemy capabilities and will was never revealed to the American public. The enemy’s infrastructure of logistics, air defense, electric power, communications, and transportation were rendered incapable of any kind of effective military operations.
The role of Operation Linebacker II in convincing Hanoi to sign the Paris Peace Accords is supported by recent scholarship. In Hanoi’s War, Dr. Lien-Hang Nguyen– the first and only scholar to obtain access to the Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs records– cited Ilya Gaiduk’s use of Soviet archives denoting that Democratic Republic of Vietnam Foreign Minister Hoang Van Tien “asked Moscow to persuade the United States to stop the bombing.”
Operation Linebacker II also shook Admiral Denton’s captors as they became, in his words, “jelly.” No longer did they engage in torture but “they started acceding to our demands. They started catering to our good will.” Admiral Denton continued, “I began to suspect that the North Vietnamese believed that President Nixon still intended to conclude the war successfully, and naturally, they were worried about being tried for war crimes. They wanted us to arrive home in good condition! From that point on, I knew of no one who was tortured. I threatened a hunger strike if we weren’t provided information about other POWs, including Jim Stockdale. “
Another captor timidly told him, “We afraid when you get home and make speech, Mr. Nixon will not give us aid he promised. Public would not allow.” The “mister” title struck Admiral Denton and served as further evidence that the bombing forced them into submission.
Admiral Denton later related, “It was President Nixon in December 1972 under whose leadership the corrective strategy was finally applied. We POWs feel a great debt to him. It was basically the same kind of strategy used in Desert Storm and planned for Iraq. I believe that that strategy had it been applied at the outset could have decided the Vietnam War in a couple weeks as it did in Desert Storm.”
After receiving a hero’s welcome upon his return to the United States, President Richard Nixon privately met with then-Captain Denton in the Oval Office and the two discussed the war, Captain Denton’s captivity, and prepared for the POW celebration to be held in giant tents on the White House’s south lawn.
Captured on the White House tapes, Nixon also suggested Captain Denton sit-in on a national security briefing and perhaps the most compelling part of the conversation is Captain Denton’s joyful laugh as the President describes the upcoming dinner.
In 1981, with the support of President Nixon, Admiral Denton would be elected as the first Republican since reconstruction to a United States Senate seat in Alabama. His relationship with President Nixon continued as he became one of the most ardent advocates of a strong U.S. national security policy. In the epilogue to When Hell was in Session, Admiral Denton hoped his experiences and conclusions from Vietnam would be a part of his legacy for the country, writing:
The truth about Vietnam is that in pursuit of a just cause, the U.S. used tragically flawed tactics and strategy under the Johnson-McNamara leadership. Finally, under President Nixon, correct strategy for Vietnam evolved, and our ground forces, along with the critically important Linebacker II operations and the effective blockade of NVN ports in 1972, were a knockout blow, finally achieving a total military victory for the United States.
I can swear, with the use of truth serum, how the North Vietnamese leadership just prior to my release acknowledged to me, explicitly enough to convince anyone, that they had no will for further fighting, and were satisfied to settle on terms of settlement before the outrageous cave-in by Congress in 1972, when it cut off funds to the South Vietnamese. In February of 1973, all our captors were concerned about was being tried for war crimes for illegally mistreating us.
Brian Robertson holds a Ph.D. in Diplomatic History with a subfield in Modern Vietnam and specializes in the Nixon Presidency.
April 8, 2014 By Jonathan Movroydis
President Nixon and Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev have an informal conversation.
Robert Wilkie of Human Events asks the question many Nixon supporters have asked in light of America’s current foreign policy foibles: Where is Dick Nixon when you need him?
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, as Ariel Sharon’s tanks crossed the Suez Canal to cut off the reeling Egyptian Army from its home, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev declared that he was prepared to drop several divisions of paratroopers into the Sinai Desert to protect his Arab client. Within hours of Brezhnev’s statement going public, the entire US Seventh Fleet sailed from its Mediterranean bases. That was how Richard Nixon dealt with Russian provocation.
Apart from the perpetually resentful on the academic left, few would deny that Nixon was the most formidable practitioner of the dark arts of foreign policy in modern America history. He opened up China and ringed the Soviet Union with adversaries. He paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt by bringing Anwar Sadat out of Moscow’s orbit. He ended the war in Vietnam. His speechwriter Ben Stein recalls that Nixon’s favorite phrase was “we must create a generation of peace”.
Nixon and his right hand Henry Kissinger gave voice to a generation forged in wars against Fascism and Communism and steeped in the harsh diplomatic lessons of the 20th century. They represented the confluence of hard headed practical politics with an encyclopedic knowledge of the historical motivations of America’s friends and enemies.
Roger Stone, Republican political consultant to Presidents spanning from Nixon to George W. Bush, also offers his response to this very relevant question. Click here to read how he thinks the 37th President would handle the Ukraine.
April 3, 2014 By Jonathan Movroydis
February 2, 1969: President Nixon visited General Eisenhower at Walter Reed Hospital. This would be the last meeting between the two presidents.
By Chris Barber
Last week marked 45 years since the passing of one of the greatest Americans of all — Dwight “Ike” D. Eisenhower. A man revered for his love of family and country, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II achieved throughout his life the highest of honors and stature while gaining the unconditional trust of all Americans and free people worldwide.
At the 34th President’s funeral, President Nixon, Vice President to Eisenhower from 1953 to 1961, delivered a eulogy both enticing in his remembrance of General’s moral authority, and compassionate in his appreciation of his unerring capacity to love and not hate. These were the qualities that Nixon had grown to know, both as his running mate and as his friend.
A relationship built from RN’s young Congressional career in the Senate to the day he ascended to the presidency, it personified uniqueness in every sense of the word. Senator Nixon was a, loyal and hard-nosed man of lawyer logic, still fresh from the highs of the Alger Hiss case–a man who General Eisenhower believed necessary and capable of overseeing the political activity within the administration.
General Eisenhower was a monument of men, with a charisma and personal savvy that attracted the hearts of all to him. The dangers of the communist challenge and a glaring divide within the Republican Party at the time compelled General Eisenhower to pick Senator Nixon as his running mate. It was a bold selection, one that certainly molded RN into the leader he became. Their relationship lasted and evolved for nearly twenty years, culminating in a more personal connection made possible by the marriage of General Eisenhower’s grandson David and RN’s daughter Julie.
In preparing for General Eisenhower’s eulogy, President Nixon communicated a goal he wanted to achieve with his speech writers. He wanted to celebrate not only the great achievements of Eisenhower, but also the grand character he emanated. RN’s chief speech writer, Ray Price, ruminated on the nature of the eulogy in a memo that can be seen below:
This, then, is a final salute: to a friend and former chief; to a man of genuine greatness who presented an age now passing, which yet had values we want to preserve. In the best of military tradition, salutes are rendered with a respect which assumes reciprocity; with dignity; with an inherent recognition that the one saluting and the one being saluted both are servants of the same great cause.
And it is certain that is what President Nixon wanted to impress upon in General Eisenhower’s remembrance. The President’s thoughts on how to honor the late commander in chief can be further explored in a copy of his yellow-pad notes:
“I had an unusual privilege-
-as Senator – selected as V.P.
-as V.P. – great decision (?) – had his support for President
-as one who knew him – our families joined -
In all the years – I never called him Ike -
-a personal dignity – commanded respect -
No one targeted him
The grin – the warm personality – “
General Eisenhower, Nixon said, personified the best in America. He was everything a mother of a boy would want: strong, courageous, honest, and compassionate. He was a man of immovable moral authority; President Nixon recalled what General Eisenhower said to him at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in the last time the two saw one another: he said that the thing the world needs most today is understanding, an ability to see the other person’s point of view and not to hate him because he disagrees. That was Dwight D. Eisenhower and those were the words Richard Nixon conveyed in his first inaugural address and subsequently throughout his presidency:
“In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.”
We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another–until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”
The great Eisenhower’s time had passed, yet in passing he stood tall and proud in all the hearts of Americans, especially so in the heart of the 37th president.
March 28, 1969: General Eisenhower laid in state at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.