President Nixon observes the West Point Military Academy Corp of Cadets drill on May 29, 1971.
43 years ago today on May 29, 1971, President Nixon delivered the commencement address at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Grasping at the contemporary geopolitical landscape and with America’s honorable end to the Vietnam War in sight, the President expressed his sincere gratefulness that the graduating class of 1971 would not see many of its cadets receive orders for Vietnam.
Moreover, the United States and Mainland China were beginning to show signs of moving toward a more normal relationship. Relations with America’s principal adversary were beginning to soften as well–the United States and the Soviet Union were on the verge of completing an agreement on limits to strategic arms. Recognizing that the world was on the cusp of sustained peace, President Nixon conveyed to the young officers that America and its officers from West Point must now, more than ever, persist in the quest for a peaceful American future. It would be at this cusp that America would call on the quality of West Point cadets.
Invoking West Point’s motto, the President shared his definition of the Military Academy’s three quality virtues:
As you set the course of your career, let the great motto of the Military Academy be the star you steer by: “Duty… honor…country.”
Duty: Your duty quite simply will be to keep America so ready to defend herself that she is never challenged to do so. General Eisenhower, a man who spoke from 50 years of service to the Nation, once told me that it was far more difficult for the professional military man to serve in time of peace than in war. You will find this to be true. In combat a man risks his life, but at least the issues are clearly drawn and the outcome is decisive. But the challenge of patient readiness, the challenge to be strong when you want to use your strength for peace, not war-this takes a special kind of courage, of stamina, and of statesmanship. And I know you have it.
Honor: You must retain your own high sense of honor, knowing that you will not receive civilian recognition to the measure you deserve, and knowing that the emotional antimilitarism and moral upheaval of our times will test you severely. It is no secret that the discipline, integrity, patriotism, self-sacrifice, which are the very lifeblood of an effective armed force and which the Corps represents, can no longer be taken for granted in the Army in which you will serve. The symptoms of trouble are plain enough, from drug abuse to insubordination.
I believe, in perspective, that the military ethic remains strong in the hearts of America’s fighting men, and particularly strong in your hearts. Your special task will be to reaffirm it, to give it new life and meaning for the difficult times ahead. And as you succeed in this task, your success can set an example of moral rebirth for all the people and institutions of this land, civilian as well as military.
Country: Each of you is sworn to place the security of your country, the freedom of your countrymen, above all your own desires and even above life itself. You pay a price for this. Your duty, though supremely important, may often be thankless. Your honor, though high and true, may meet with the scorn of some. But you will have this great reward: Your country, the United States and all its people, will be deeply in your debt. Day by day, through all your years in uniform, you will be rendering your country the very highest service: the protection of our liberties, the preservation of our peace. People you will never know, people you will never meet, children yet unborn will have better and safer lives because you took your stand for America and the world. You can always be proud of that.
President Nixon shares a candid moment with West Point cadets.