The Class of ’73
It was a warm and breezy morning in central Florida – June 8th, 1973. President Nixon was giving commencement remarks at Florida Technological University – now the University of Central Florida. The President began speaking at 10:35 a.m.
There will be no tributes to this speech today. But there should be tributes to this speech today because it represent a moment in our history when generational change took place.
Read these words from the speech and let them marinate in your mind.
“So, I begin with why this is a good time to be alive, and why it is a good time to be alive in America, by pointing out how this class, the class of ’73, has some enormous advantages that your predecessors have not had for many years. First, we can be thankful this is the first graduating class in 12 years that will graduate from college or a university in a year in which the United States is not engaged in war in Vietnam. Second, this is the first graduating class in 32 years where the young men of this class will not be subject to a draft. If you want to go into volunteer service, you can. Of course, those are points that come right home to each of you. They affect your future, your lives.”
The enormity of this cannot be underestimated. When Richard Nixon entered office in 1969 there were over 500,000 US soldiers in Vietnam. The nation was torn apart by race and anti-war riots. Many cities were burning and folks were hoisting NVA flags on government buildings. Later, The Black Panthers were shooting cops and the Weather Underground was making bombs to blow up cadets and their dates at a Fort Dix dance.
The slow withdrawal of troops from Vietnam began almost immediately. By July of 1969 the Nixon Doctrine was announced and Vietnamization was official. It was a complicated time. The Hawks wanted the US to be in perpetual combat in Vietnam. The Doves – championed by Mr. McGovern and the radical left – wanted us to cut and run – leaving our old friend President Thieu to the communist wolves. The Doves would get their way after President Nixon left office and the US Congress let dominoes fall and communists murder millions in South Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere.
But in 1972 the silent majority was very vocal and gave Mr. Nixon four more years with a 49 state landslide. They approved of the handling of an inherited war.
Some claim we could have gotten the same peace deal in 1968 or 1969 that we ended up with at the end of 1972. Of course this is not true. The North insisted on the removal of President Thieu right up until a massive bombing campaign at the end of 1972. Winston Lord – who was at the negotiations – was clear that we got a better deal in 1972-1973 than was possible before. In a phone call with President Nixon (in early 1973) former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey flat-out told the President that they (meaning the Johnson administration) could never have gotten the deal negotiated by the Nixon Administration.
Peace is never easy and the Nixon administration accomplished generational change that was too slow for some and not fast enough for others. Nixon never promised to cut and run. From day one he promised to work for an honorable end to the war.
We should thank him.