President Nixon addresses the graduates of the Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, March 12, 1971.
By Chris Barber
On this day 43 years ago, President Nixon stood before the 1971 graduating class of officers at the Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island to deliver a message of opportunity.
But it was not simply a message blanketed by cliches about what lay ahead for each talented young man. Instead, it was about the kind of opportunity that lay ahead–the kind that all men would be willing to stand for.
To President Nixon, the opportunity for these budding officers was the realization for a full generation of peace. The Vietnam War was drawing closer and closer to an end, and Nixon believed within the next three years the United States would not be involved in any major conflict.
The pursuit of peace is the opportunity which lies before you, and the preservation of peace will be the special obligation of your generation. There is no greater opportunity, and there is no greater responsibility.
To the graduates of 1971, and to son-in-law David Eisenhower who was one of the graduating members of this class, President Nixon assigned the task of keeping the peace, and adding to the challenge of this task, he stressed the importance of maintaining American military strength.
President Nixon congratulates his son-in-law, David Eisenhower, upon his graduation from Naval Officer Candidate School.
In his message, the President also quelled the concerns of those that found themselves resenting the time dedicated to service–time that could perhaps be used instead for advancement in other careers. He offered an encouraging perspective and alluded to his own wartime service:
I tell you, [the years] will not be lost. Rather, I believe that nothing you do in your life will be more important than the service you give in the next 3 years. Out of the sacrifice and the bitterness and the testing of the last 10 years has come the opportunity to achieve at last what Americans all want and what we have not had in this whole century: a full generation of peace. It is for us now to seize that opportunity, to win the peace. It will be for you to keep it.
In keeping the message of peace, he dedicated a portion of his message to discounting the new isolationist philosophy so often evangelized in Washington–a philosophy of maintaining considerable distance from world affairs. The President confessed that keeping peace for the next generation would be a difficult task if the United States had suddenly scaled down its defense sphere. He understood the arguments of the new isolationists, but to President Nixon, the question “of what is enough is not academic.” For a man who had been in the arena for a large part of his life, who had gone face to face with enemies of freedom and justice, he also understood the cost of weakness.
We must have strength. If all the world were free, we might have no need of arms. If all the world were just, we would have no need of valor. But as we see that the values we cherish are not cherished universally, and that there are those who feel threatened by the prospects of freedom and justice, then we must keep the strength we need to keep the values we cherish.
And so, President Nixon left the graduates with an imprint for which they could live the rest of their lives by:
As you serve in our peace forces, you can be proud of this great fact: We Americans firmly believe in what we are and in what we have. But we do not choose to go the way of those ancient crusaders who sought to civilize the world one grave at a time. We do not seek power as an end in itself. We seek power adequate to our purpose, and our purpose is peace.