Most congenial: Good friend and Whittier classmate Hubert Perry says that RN might have not been the most talented player on the college football team, but he was the most popular.
In recent times, Neal Gabler’s penchant for originality has seemed to atrophy.
His latest article in the Los Angeles Times – in which he asserts that Sarah Palin has inherited the “politics of resentment” from RN– appears to have been ripped out of the pages of Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland:
In contemporary times, no one mastered it as well as Richard Nixon, who came by his anger honestly as a poor boy growing up in Southern California, where he felt ostracized by the local “in” crowd. He spent a lifetime trying to get even. Nixon was able to turn his entire existence, much less his political career, into a battle between them and us, the Brahmins and ordinary folk, which made his loss to John F. Kennedy more than a personal political loss. To him, it was a galling defeat of the common man by his presumed social betters.
Gabler goes on to rant bitterly about how RN would subsequently tap into the social resentments of the “silent majority” and would ride those resentments all the way to the White House in 1969.
Hubert Perry, a 96 year-old life long resident of Whittier, California, and a boyhood and college friend of RN, says Gabler’s statements indicate bad research at best, or at worst an outright lie.
Perry, who attended both Whittier High School and College with RN, remembers an affable and hardworking young man, who was very much part of his local community.
“At night he went out for football,” Perry explained. “he wasn’t the best player, but he gave the team a shot-in the arm.”
RN was also a skilled debater and tried out for several plays in college.
In his junior year, RN was elected student body president (far from being a resentful wound licker, he was elected as an officer — usually president — of every class between high school and college).
A fellow Quaker, Perry’s father Herman L. Perry was the branch manager at the Bank of America in Whittier. “He knew everyone in town,” Perry explained, and would later help RN join a Whittier law firm, following his graduation from Duke University law school and his acceptance to the California state bar.
If it matters much, he was very in with the local “in” crowd. So much so, that he was approached to run for office early on. The President in his own words:
I joined the Kiwanis club of La Habra and the 20-30 Club, a group for young business and professional men between those ages. By 1941, I had pretty well established myself in the community. I had been elected president of the 20-30 Club, and was the president of the Whittier College Alumni Association., president of the Duke University Alumni of California, president of the Orange County Association of Cities, and the youngest member ever chosen for the Whittier College board of trustees. I was approached by several of the town’s Republican leaders about running for the state assembly. I was flattered and interested in this suggestion, but the war intervened.
After his service in World War II, RN was encouraged by Herman Perry to run for California’s 12th district against Democratic incumbent Jerry Voorhis:
I am writing you this short note to ask if you would like to be a candidate for Congress on the Republican ticket in 1946.
Jerry Voorhis expects to run – registration is about 50-50. The Republicans are gaining.
Please airmail me your reply if you are interested.
Yours very truly,
P.S. Are you a registered voter in California?
Gabler also apparently fails to grasp some key historical trends.
In a series of debates, RN successfully challenged Voorhis on the issues. But his eventual surge to victory reflected the national mood of the 1946 midterm elections. President Harry Truman became increasingly unpopular for his handling of the economy, and was hampered by a dreadful approval rating of 32 percent.
The Republicans would pick up 55 seats nationwide and take control of the House of Representatives.
It’s no wonder that Gabler’s Times piece (which talks about resentment, but positively seethes with it) reflects a failure to understand what RN and his times were really like.
Community man: RN with PN and daughter Tricia at their house in Whittier in 1946.
Be there or be square: Unless you were POTUS you needed one of these on 6 December 1969.
Forty years ago today, RN flew on Air Force One to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and then boarded Marine One for the hop to the parking lot at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, to watch Darrel Royal’s Texas Longhorns pull out a fourth quarter 15-14 win over Frank Broyles’ Arkansas Razorbacks. What started out as the “Big Shootout” ended up as “The Game of the Century.”
A newspaper cartoon noted RN’s arrival on Marine One to join the capacity crowd of 44,000 at Razorback Stadium.
When Air Force One touched down at the Fort Smith airport, the President and his VIP passengers were greeted by Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. RN responded:
THE PRESIDENT: Governor Rockefeller and all of the people who are here at the airport at Fort Smith, I want you to know how much I appreciate this very warm welcome. It is warm, at least as far as the welcome is concerned.
I want you to know, too, that, as I come here to this great football game at Fayetteville, that I have to be in somewhat of a nonpartisan position, because on the airplane we brought down some members of the delegation from the State of Arkansas — Senator McClellan, Senator Fulbright, John Paul Hammerschmidt, your own Congressman — but I also brought along some members of the delegation from Texas. So I have to be in between the two.
All that I know is that we are going to see today, in this 100th anniversary of football, one of the great football games of all time, and both of them I wish could be Number 1. But at the end, whichever is Number I will deserve it, and the Number 2 team will still go to a bowl and be a great team.
We want to also say, clearly apart from football, that as we flew over the airport and I saw the cars parked for, well, actually not just feet nor yards, but miles down the road, and then as I went down this line and shook hands with people and I felt how cold your hands were, and your noses a little red, and the rest, I realized some of you have been here a long time.
I just want you to know how much we appreciate it. To come from Washington, to get this kind of a welcome, in the heart of the country, right here in Arkansas, means a great deal to us.
We are going to take back memories of that welcome.
I want you to know, too, that I did not have the opportunity of visiting Arkansas during the 1968 campaign. This is the first time I have had a chance to visit Arkansas, since becoming President. After this warm welcome, it isn’t going to be the last. I want to come back here.
Now, if I could just close my remarks with one other thought, I realize that this is the beginning of a holiday season. It isn’t going to be much of a holiday season for the Congress. I think we are going to have to stay and work during most of that Christmas season, although I haven’t worked that out yet with the Congressmen and Senators. But I do want you to know, for everybody here, that Mrs. Nixon and I and our two daughters extend our very best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you. Thank you.
1969 was the hundredth anniversary of college football, and the season was dominated by the Longhorns, the Razorbacks, and the Nittany Lions (whose coach and fans didn’t warm to RN’s Fayetteville excursion, and whose undefeated record was recognized by RN during his post-game locker room remarks).
Richard Nixon Comes To Arkansas: A First Person Account (recalled thirty-nine years later) of RN’s Arrival in Fayetteville Arrival by Jim Stafford, Business Reporter for The Oklahoman
It was cold and rainy on Dec. 6, 1969, when Air Force One emerged from the clouds to land at the Fort Smith, Ark., airport. I was there, along with about 2,000 of my closest friends to welcome President Richard M. Nixon to Arkansas.
Nixon was on his way to Fayetteville to witness the Texas-Arkansas football game, but had to land about 60 miles south in Fort Smith because the Fayetteville airport runway wasn’t long enough to accommodate his aircraft.
Anyway, I was a sophomore in high school and begged my mom to let me take her car to the airport to see Nixon. I actually arrived before they opened the gates to the Air National Guard section of the airport about 9 a.m. Nixon’s plane didn’t arrive until about 11, so we had plenty of standing around to do.
A press plane landed about 20 minutes ahead of Nixon’s plane. Reporters came out and struck up some conversation with some of those around me along the rope barriers set up for the occassion. The Southside High School band was there to play “Hail to the Chief.”
I don’t recall Nixon making any kind of formal speech, but he came down the rope barrier shaking hands during the brief time he was there. When he got to within about six feet of my spot in line, Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller whispered something to him, which I assumed was about the need to head up to Fayetteville in time for kick-off of the game.
Nixon turned away and started to walk to the waiting helicopter, but several hundred disappointed well wishers let out a collective “awwwww.” Nixon turned around and came back and shook hands all the way down the line, including mine. I have pictures! He even took time to shake a few hands of the high school band members.
A couple of things happened that morning that I still clearly recall:
First, a reporter who stepped off the press plane complained of the cold weather and one of the folks waiting with me offered to sell him the stocking cap he was wearing. The reporter took him up on the deal and paid about $10 for the cap. I was impressed with his walking-around money.
Second, a man armed with a Kodak Instamatic climbed up on one of the barrels that held the rope barrier just as Nixon’s plane was pulling onto the tarmac. A sheriff’s deputy came running over and shouted for the man to get down. I’ll never forget the guy’s reply after he jumped off. He said “come the revolution, you are going to get yours.” (Although, I believe the deputy was already out of earshot) We had a counter-culture wannabe in the crowd!
Finally, when I got home my mom told me that a friend of mine called minutes after I left to go to the airport. His family had tickets to the big game, but his mother decided it was too cold and wet to sit in the stands. So he was calling to offer me the extra ticket.
RICHARD NIXON COST ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO WATCH THE GAME OF THE CENTURY IN PERSON.
I didn’t hold it against him.Almost 40 years later, that day remains one of my fondest memories.
I took this photo of Air Force One sitting on the tarmac in Fort Smith and had not seen the picture for decades. It showed up in my e-mail box Monday morning courtesy of my dad, who obviously ran across it while looking through some old photos.
His only comment: “Do you remember this?”
I certainly do.
The Nation’s #1 Football Fan in his element: RN, flanked on his right by Arkansas congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt, and Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, and, on his right, by Arkansas Senators John McClellan and J. William Fulbright, and young Texas congressman George H. W. Bush (whose eye was apparently already on the presidency).
During the half time, RN went to the ABC press booth and chatted with sportscasters Chris Schenkel and analyst (and former Oklahoma coach) Bud Wilkinson, whom he had appointed Special Consultant to the President on a wide range of issues.
The Longhorns got off to a sloppy start, losing a fumble on the second play from scrimmage and turning the ball over a total of six times. A 1-yard leap into the end zone by Bill Burnett in the first quarter and a 29-yard touchdown reception by Chuck Dicus in the third quarter put the Hogs up 14-0 with 15:00 to play.
James Street scrambled for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. Longhorns coach Darrell Royal had decided before the game to go for a two-point conversion after the Longhorn’s first touchdown to avoid a tie, and Street dove into the end zone to make it 14-8.
Arkansas quarterback Bill Montgomery next led the Razorbacks on a 73-yard drive down to the Texas 7. On third down, Montgomery was intercepted in the end zone by Danny Lester, Arkansas’ first turnover of the game. A field goal would have likely put the game out of reach for Texas.
Still down 14-8, Texas began a desperate drive for the end zone that appeared to stall with 4:47 remaining when Royal opted for yet another gamble on fourth-and-3 from their own 43-yard line. During a timeout that Texas took before the fateful play, Royal shouted at Street, “Right 53 Veer pass.” The play was a deep pattern throw to the tight end. The play wasn’t in the Texas game plan package. “Are you sure that’s the call you want?” Street said. “Damn right I’m sure!” Royal snapped. Street had noticed Arkansas defenders looking into the Texas huddle, so he fixed his gaze on split end Cotton Speyrer while explaining the play to Randy Peschel, saying “Randy, I’m looking and pointing at Cotton, but I’m talking to you.” Street then hit Peschel on the dramatic play, with Peschel making a difficult catch over his shoulder in double coverage. It not only converted on fourth down, but also gained 44 yards, putting the Longhorns on the Razorbacks 13.
Two plays later Jim Bertelsen ran in for the game-tying touchdown. Donnie Wigginton, the third-string quarterback who was the holder, made a big save on a high snap and Happy Feller booted the extra point for the winning score with 3:58 remaining.
Fayetteville, 6 December, 1969, 4th and 3: “Are you sure coach?” — QB James Street. “I called it and I called it long.” — Coach Darrell Royal.
Here are the game highlights:
After the game, RN visited the Longhorn locker room to present the Presidential Plaque.
POTUS amidst the Longhorns: In the locker room after the game on live TV, RN presented Texas coach Darrell Royal with the presidential plaque on live TV.
THE PRESIDENT. This was one of the great games of all time, without a question. I was up in the booth, the ABC booth, at halftime, and, incidentally, I have got to brag a little. They asked what was going to happen in the second half. I said both teams were going to score, but I thought that what would really determine the second half would be whether Texas had the ability in the fourth quarter to come through. And you did. How do you feel?
MR. ROYAL. I have got to be the happiest guy in America tonight.
THE PRESIDENT. I just want to say this in presenting the plaque: In presenting this plaque, I want to say first that the AP [Associated Press] and the UPI [United Press International] will name Texas Number 1, as we know, after this game. This is a great honor in the 100th year of football.
I also want to say that, having seen this game, what convinced me that Texas deserves that is the fact that you won a tough one. For a team to be behind 14 to o and then not to lose its cool and to go on to win, that proves that you deserve to be Number 1, and that is what you are.
MR. ROYAL. Mr. President, it is a great thrill for us to win the football game, but the big thrill, I know I speak for all of our squad, is for the President of the United States to take time to endorse college football and to honor us with your presence in our locker room. This is a big moment in all of our lives. I am speaking for the coaching staff and all the players.
THE PRESIDENT. I want all of you to know that we didn’t make up the plaque in advance. It doesn’t say what team. I am taking it back to Washington and putting in Texas.
If I could add one thing, Darrell, while we are talking here, I do want to say that Penn State, of course, felt that I was a little premature in suggesting this, so we are going to present a plaque to Penn State as the team in the 100th year with the longest undefeated, untied record. Is that fair enough?
MR. ROYAL. That is fair enough.
Bevo Rex: This cartoon —showing the Texas mascot Bevo with RN— appeared on the front page of The Austin American.
RN also visited with coach Frank Broyles and the players in the Razorbacks’ locker room:
THE PRESIDENT. It is an honor to be here with a great team.
MR. BROYLES. Thank you, sir. We are proud and we feel that way, too.
THE PRESIDENT. I would like to say something to the team, because I know how you feel.
In my field of politics, I have lost some close ones and I have won some close ones. But I want you to know that in the 100th year of football, in the game to prove Which was to be Number 1, we couldn’t have had a greater game. Arkansas was magnificent throughout the game, and Texas, in order to win, had to beat a great team.
On any Saturday, if we were to make a bet, I would say we wouldn’t know which team to choose, whether it would be Arkansas or Texas.
I also want you to know this: I think you can be awfully proud of the way your fans are with you. I have never seen stands so full of life. The whole State was behind you. There was a spirit there about it, Coach, and that means that your team has done something that is really great for this State.
MR. BROYLES. Thank you, sir. We are very proud of our fans. They have had a big part in the success that we have had.
But we are doubly proud that you are a big sports fan and believe in our program across the State. This will mean a lot to football for years to come.
THE PRESIDENT. I know how the fellows feel, being right down there on that 8-yard line, ready to go over, and then losing the game after what they have done. But I do know this, that in that Sugar Bowl, watch out.
BILL FLEMMING [ABC Sports]. Mr. President, this has been, of course, the climax of the centennial year of college football, and we, indeed, are very indebted to you, sir, for not only taking your television set to your dentist so you could watch a college game, but also being here at this final game.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I wouldn’t have missed it. I am only sorry that both teams couldn’t have won.
Thank you, fellows.
In today’s Austin-American-Statesman —under the headline “Did you think we’d forgotten?“— the highlights of the game are recalled
In a matchup billed as the “Game of the Century,” this one certainly lived up to the hype, as the old Southwest Conference foes entered the game unbeaten and ranked 1-2 in the Associated Press poll.
The Longhorns trailed 14-0 entering the fourth quarter, but James Street’s score on the first play of the final period helped top-ranked Texas climb back into the game.
The Razorbacks were in position to put the game away after driving to the Longhorns’ 7, but UT cornerback Danny Lester stepped in front of a Bill Montgomery pass in the end zone to keep the score at 14-8. Lester’s play set up the finish that made Street and Darrell Royal household names across the nation.
With his team facing a fourth-and-3 at its 43, Royal called a play that wasn’t even in the Longhorns game plan that week — ‘Right 53 Veer Pass.’
Street hit wideout Randy Peschel in double coverage for a 44-yard gain to the Razorback 13.
Two plays later, Jim Bertelsen bulldozed his way into the end zone, and Happy Feller’s point-after was good, giving UT the lead and ultimately the victory.
The Game of the Century made its way to the cover of the next issue of SI.
From The Haldeman Diaries: Saturday, December 6, 1969
P to Arkansas for the Texas game. All pleased with his plan to present Presidential plaque to winner as number one team in the 100th year of collegiate football. Great comination of circumstances to make this possible, as final game of season is between number one and number two teams on national TV. He did a great job and TV covered it thoroughly, the arrival by helicopter, the half-time interview in the press box, the plaque presentation to Texas (15-14), the crowd scene outside the locker room, the consolation visit to the Arkansas locker room.
Great stuff. Especially at half-time, when P gave thorough analysis of the game so far, and outlok for second half, which proved 100% accurate. And some really good stuff in the locker rooms, talking to the players. A real coup with the sports fans.
The post-game locker rooms: RN’s Longhorn visit begins at 2.51.
The game —and the changing nature of college football in the late ’60s— became the subject of a 2002 book by Denver Post sportswriter Terry Frei.
At the Huffington Post, Tom Shachtman writes:
Former Vice President Richard B. Cheney in a recent interview with Politico labeled President Barack Obama’s drawn-out process of deciding on a troop surge for Afghanistan as projecting “weakness,” and charged that this and other “signs of weakness” would embolden our adversaries in the world. In articulating this position, Cheney embraced the concept of “provocative weakness” promulgated many years ago by the mysterious Pentagon civilian adviser Fritz G. A. Kraemer.
Schachtman identifies Kraemer as the “shaper” of Henry Kissinger and a neoconservative guru. Kraemer was one of Kissinger’s mentors, but so was William Y. Elliott of Harvard, an apostle of realism. In suggesting that Kraemer was responsible for the idea of provocative weakness, Schactman is being ridiculous. The notion that weakness invites aggression has been around for a very long time. Consider:
Gliders were used as a vital component of American military operations for a relatively short period of time, most notably from 1943-1945 during epic and crucial battles in World War II. Those who flew and manned these fragile crafts were among the most courageous of all those who put themselves in harm’s way. Down through the years since the war, an ever-dwindling group of these unique silent warriors have met for reunions and remembrances. Usually in the course of these gatherings someone offers a very familiar toast, “To the Glider Pilots – conceived in error, suffering a long and painful period of gestation, and finally delivered at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Yet these men of honor made it work, scrambling to fulfill their vital missions in advance of an onslaught to come.
When it was over, and in an effort to extricate their crafts to soar another day – as well as to evacuate many wounded fighters, a maneuver known simply as “the snatch” was carried out and hazardously so. Instead of having a real runway and tow plane to get the glider airborne the usual way, the craft in the field would be flown over by a C-47 and using a hook and pole arrangement the fast passing craft would snag a towline on the grounded plane and jerk it into the air in a matter of seconds. There was no margin for error.
The other day, in the ICU of Houston’s Kindred Hospital, another snatch of sorts took place as a hero of a time long past, one who served our nation as a glider pilot during those brief and storied days, was snatched from his bed of affliction in a twinkling of an eye. He then soared at breakneck speed to the heavens, never to collide with this world again. His name was Curtis Goldman – those of us who knew him and counted him as a friend called him, affectionately, “Goldie.” He was 86 years old.
Goldie served as a glider pilot in the European Theater of Operations from 1944-1945 with the 99th Squadron, 441st Troup Carrier Group. He really wanted to pilot airplanes with actual motors, thinking that to be the prudent way to fly, but after he failed an eye exam someone suggested that he might try gliders – the first time he’d ever heard that word.
This was shortly after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor and the death of the pilot-poet James Gillespie Magee a few days later. Goldie never knew Magee, but he certainly understood his famous poem, which began:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
There were only about 6,000 American glider pilots in World War II – all of them volunteers. Their silver wings sported the letter “G” for glider, but the men insisted that it stood for “guts.” No one ever argued with them on this point.
These brave men were part of battles in Burma, the Philippines, Sicily, Normandy, and Holland. And in an often overlooked exercise as part of the Battle of the Bulge, they quietly and effectively airlifted supplies to the besieged soldiers holding on for dear life at a place called Bastogne in Belgium.
When Goldie talked about his days as a glider pilot, however, he would speak of Operation Varsity, part of a larger initiative designed to effectuate a massive Allied crossing of the Rhine into Germany. In March of 1945, hundreds of transport aircraft and other planes with gliders in tow left bases in England and France. They rendezvoused with others over Belgium then turned northeast toward the target areas. This airdrop armada (the largest of the war) included 1,350 gliders – one of them piloted by 22-year old Curtis Goldman.
Following the war, and no doubt deeply influenced by his experiences, Goldie committed his life to the Christian ministry, serving for 50 years as the pastor of a church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work was characterized by passion, sacrifice, and a tireless effort to tell his favorite stories.
Goldie loved to take young ministers under his glider pilot wing, myself included. He was a great encouragement and help to me in my early pastoral days as I tried to find my voice leading my first congregation in West Texas. Sometimes he’d even help my young family financially.
I last saw him a few years ago in Lynchburg, Virginia, as we stood together in a very long line of those gathered to pay respects to Jerry Falwell, who had just died. Goldie was in rare form that day. “David,” he said, “Here’s what you need to be doing.” And he was off on this or that subject. Nonstop. The guy could talk. Soon, a few in the line around us began to appear a bit annoyed at the old guy sounding forth. But not me – I knew his heart, not to mention his history.
Interestingly, though – whereas he really liked to tell his war stories – the one he would always default to was the one about Jesus. He might open a conversation with his glider exploits, but he always found his way to the Christian gospel. In fact, he was doing that until his voice could speak no more and he lapsed into unconsciousness a few days ago in that Texas hospital room.
And though this glider pilot turned preacher was unable to communicate any longer with those at his bedside, he was keenly aware when the moment came for him to leave and experience the rest of Pilot Officer Magee’s famous poem:
Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
Curtis “Goldie” Goldman (February 13, 1923 – December 3, 2009) – RIP.
1 December 2009 and 3 November 1969: the desire to contain a vocal minority and the determination to mobilize a silent majority.
I’ve looked at a lot of the coverage of the President’s speech at West Point last night, and, so far at least, no one seems to have noticed the precedent and example that is hiding in plain sight: Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” speech of 3 November 1969.
Nixon was eleven months into his presidency forty years ago —just as Mr. Obama is eleven months and a week into his— when he went to the people to explain his plans for the war the nation was fighting in Vietnam.
Both leaders used a highly-publicized and much-anticipated speech to explain the conduct of a war started by their predecessor(s); to separate themselves from that history; and to announce their new policies for ending the war and bringing peace.
Both speeches were about the same length —4500 words. And both, based on the knowledge that the nation was divided and confused, and that there was a widespread feeling that the leaders hadn’t been leveling with the people, began with straightforward narratives of the story to that point.
Nixon even listed the questions he would answer:
How and why did America get involved in Vietnam in the first place?
How has this administration changed the policy of the previous administration?
What has really happened in the negotiations in Paris and on the battlefront in Vietnam?
What choices do we have if we are to end the war?
What are the prospects for peace?
Obama recalled the brutal provocation of 9/11, the decisions that followed, the developments in Iraq, and the current situation in Afghanistan:
Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additional swaths of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating attacks of terrorism against the Pakistani people.
Nixon mentioned his reservations about the way the war had been conducted:
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.
Obama recalled his outright opposition:
I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions.
Nixon mentioned the possibility —and acknowledged the temptation— of simply ending the war by blaming the administration that began it.
From a political standpoint this would have been a popular and easy course to follow. After all, we became involved in the war while my predecessor was in office. I could blame the defeat which would be the result of my action on him and come out as the Peacemaker. Some put it to me quite bluntly: This was the only way to avoid allowing Johnson’s war to become Nixon’s war.
But I had a greater obligation than to think only of the years of my administration and of the next election.
Obama examined and refuted the arguments —within his own party— that he should wash his hands of the wars his predecessor started. Indeed, he cited Vietnam in this regard:
I recognize there are a range of concerns about our approach. So let me briefly address a few of the more prominent arguments that I’ve heard, and which I take very seriously.
First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we’re better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history.
Both Nixon and Obama quoted Eisenhower — Nixon albeit indirectly and Obama to make the opposite point. Nixon said:
In 1963, President Kennedy, with his characteristic eloquence and clarity, said: “. . . we want to see a stable government there, carrying on a struggle to maintain its national independence.
“We believe strongly in that. We are not going to withdraw from that effort. In my opinion, for us to withdraw from that effort would mean a collapse not only of South Viet-Nam, but Southeast Asia. So we are going to stay there.”
President Eisenhower and President Johnson expressed the same conclusion during their terms of office.
I’m mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who — in discussing our national security — said, “Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”
The thirty-seventh President spoke of the great weight of his decisions as Commander in Chief:
There are powerful personal reasons I want to end this war. This week I will have to sign 83 letters to mothers, fathers, wives, and loved ones of men who have given their lives for America in Vietnam. It is very little satisfaction to me that this is only one-third as many letters as I signed the first week in office. There is nothing I want more than to see the day come when I do not have to write any of those letters.
I want to end the war to save the lives of those brave young men in Vietnam.
As did the forty-fourth:
As President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. I visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I’ve traveled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place. I see firsthand the terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.
So, no, I do not make this decision lightly.
Although the two speeches —separated by forty years— shared many similarities, there were major differences between them in terms of substance, technique, and intention.
At the core of both speeches, both Presidents presented essentially similar policies in radically different ways. Nixon expounded on the Vietnamization that he had initiated earlier in the year:
We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the South Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces, and their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable. This withdrawal will be made from strength and not from weakness. As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.
And Obama set out what amounted to a policy of Afghanization:
The 30,000 additional troops that I’m announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 —the fastest possible pace— so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They’ll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.
But Nixon was adamant about staying until the job was done and about keeping his counsel in the meantime:
I have not and do not intend to announce the timetable for our program. And there are obvious reasons for this decision which I am sure you will understand. As I have indicated on several occasions, the rate of withdrawal will depend on developments on three fronts.
While Obama was definitive about his timetable for disengagement.
And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.
Nixon had written his speech entirely by himself at Camp David over the weekend before the Monday night on which he delivered it. He did this partly because he considered the content so important, and partly because he was determined that none of it would leak in advance. He took considerable satisfaction from the fact that what he said completely confounded the widespread speculations and predictions about what he would have to say.
Obama’s speech was parceled out in leaks over the preceding several days; and the text was accurately reported twenty-four hours before the speech was delivered. In the event, the delivery confirmed the expectations.
Nixon read his speech in the Oval Office in the White House at 9.30 PM. The glass-top desk was covered with a piece of brown baize and the only backdrop was the closed gold silk window curtains. The Obama address, delivered using TelePrompter at 8.30 PM, was a highly staged and choreographed event in Eisenhower Hall at the United States Military Academy at West Point —the second largest auditorium east of the Mississippi (only Radio City Music Hall is bigger). The event was opened with introductions and concluded with a crowd bath.
The Nixon speech was intended to speak directly to the American people by going above the large and growing anti-war movement while going around its sympathizers and supporters in the media. Nixon was convinced that “the great silent majority” of Americans would support his plan to end the war the way he proposed if only he could reach them and explain himself to them.
His belief was justified by the phenomenal results of that single speech. Overnight his poll ratings jumped from the high thirties to the high sixties, and the wind was at least temporarily sucked from the sails of the anti-war movement.
The Obama speech, on one very important level, was a finely calibrated exercise at mollifying, or at least containing, the vocal minority of leaders and activists inside the president’s own party who want nothing to do with this or any war.
Whether President Obama’s speech is as successful at containing the vocal minority as President Nixon’s was at mobilizing the silent majority will take at least a few more days to begin to figure out.