NIXON'S SECOND INAUGURAL
Just five days after he ordered the end of a massive bombing campaign in Hanoi and Haiphong, and seven days before he actually signed the Paris Peace Accords, Richard Nixon took the podium on the Capitol's East Portico and delivered a rousing encomium to peace. "As we meet here today, we stand on the threshold of a new era of peace in the world," he crowed. "The central question before us is: How shall we use that peace?"
"Let us resolve that this era we are about to enter will not be what other postwar periods have so often been: a time of retreat and isolation that leads to stagnation at home and invites new danger abroad.... This past year saw far-reaching results from our new policies for peace. By continuing to revitalize our traditional friendships, and by our missions to Peking and to Moscow, we were able to establish the base for a new and more durable pattern of relationships among the nations of the world. Because of America's bold initiatives, 1972 will be long remembered as the year of the greatest progress since the end of World War II toward a lasting peace in the world."
Many saw the speech as deeply cynical, given that the president arguably could have ended the Vietnam war four years earlier on similar terms, and the following day's New York Times noted Nixon's glaring omission of the words "Vietnam" and "Indochina." But the California Quaker evidently saw himself as a peacemaker -- and branded himself as such when he re-entered public life in the post-Watergate era. His tombstone in Yorba Linda, Calif. is inscribed with the following epitaph: "The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker."
One of the most famous addresses of all time -- up there with FDR's 1933 "nothing to fear" speech and Lincoln's 1865 "malice toward none" masterpiece -- Kennedy's only inaugural address is remembered primarily as a call to service. ("Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," is easily the most famous line.) But the speech's deeper significance lies in the fact that it challenged the prevailing run-for-the-bunker Cold War mentality, conveying both American resolve and willingness to negotiate.
Parts of the speech are hawkish, like the section that declares, "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." But other moments are pragmatic, even conciliatory. "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate," he said, suggesting further that both the Soviets and the United States "formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms." Kennedy also called the United Nations "our last best hope," vowed to alleviate global poverty, and affirmed his commitment to U.S. allies, remarking that "United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do."
The following day, the New York Times lauded Kennedy's theme of "conciliation without weakness," noting that the speech "entirely lacked the polemical tone and defensive outlook that have characterized many American state papers in recent years."