The Great Silent Majority: Nixon's 1969 Speech on Vietnamization

The Great Silent Majority: Nixon's 1969 Speech on Vietnamization

The Great Silent Majority: Nixon's 1969 Speech on Vietnamization

The Great Silent Majority: Nixon's 1969 Speech on Vietnamization

Synopsis

In his televised and widely watched speech to the nation on November 3, 1969, Pres. Richard M. Nixon introduced a phrase-"silent majority"-and a policy-Vietnamization of the war effort-that echo down to the present day. Nixon's appearance on this night framed the terms in which much of the subsequent civil conflict and military strategy would be understood.

Rhetorical scholar Karlyn Kohrs Campbell analyzes this critically important speech in light of the historical context and its centrality to three other speeches- two earlier and one the following spring, when the announcement of the US invasion of Cambodia brought a far different response. She also sheds light on a discourse that generated much heat in a nation already seriously divided in its support of the war in Vietnam.

The first single volume dedicated to this speech, this addition to the distinguished Library of Presidential Rhetoric provides the speech text, a summary of its context, its rhetorical elements, and the disciplinary analyses that have developed.

Excerpt

In military terms, the war in Vietnam ended in April of 1975 when North and South Vietnam were unified as one nation. Yet the continuing influence of the Vietnam War was apparent in the 1989 inaugural address of Pres. George H. W. Bush when he said, “That war cleaves us still…. The final lesson of Vietnam is that no great nation can long afford to be sundered by a memory.” Despite his plea, the war’s influence persisted, in part because of the thousands of veterans who were injured or died there and in part because its story has been told and retold by journalists who experienced it, US veterans who lived it, and novelists who wrote about the war, such as Tim O’Brien, author of Going after Cacciato and The Things They Carried. The Vietnam War remains a powerful national memory because for the first time in modern history, the United States discovered that, despite its enormous resources, its power was limited, and, in spite of great efforts, it was unable to impose its will on a small Asian nation.

The decision to focus on a speech by Pres. Richard Nixon is a result of his key role in the war’s history. Two figures who had opposed the war— the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy—had been killed in 1968 by assassins. Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, although eligible to run for re-election, chose not to do so, in part because military . . .

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