Nixon’s Silent Majority
Throughout his first term in office, Richard Nixon was convinced that the war in Vietnam was winnable if only the US put forth enough effort and resources. This led to several escalations in bombing and troop deployments between 1969 and January 1972. That said, he also believed that the war should be placed back into Vietnamese hands and that the US should take on a supporting role in the war.
This, as you might expect, drew a lot of outcry from people who opposed the war. Protests became more and more frequent, and Americans became insistent the US begin to extract themselves militarily from Vietnam. To go along with all of this, the media that followed the anti-war movement grew and grew along side it, creating a media frenzy that snowballed, making it seem like almost all Americans opposed the war effort.
But how many truly did oppose the United States’ efforts in Vietnam in the early 1970s? We’ve seen some poll numbers from the late 60s, where just over 50 percent of Americans disapproved of US participation in the war, but what about after that? In January of 1970, the number held true at around 52 percent. In January 1971, that number had risen to 59 percent, and in January 1973 it was 60 percent.
So, while those numbers do indicate that a majority of Americans had a negative opinion of the war, there was still a significant number of Americans who held a different opinion.
Richard Nixon suggested that there was yet another group of Americans out there. With the majority of the media covering the anti-war protests, it was very difficult for people to understand how the Nixon administration could support any type of escalation in the war. The polls showed two groups of people, those who opposed the war, and those who supported it, with the latter almost continually shrinking.
Nixon suggested that there was a third group of people out there that he dubbed “The Silent Majority,” that supported the war but did not express their opinions in such a public fashion, as protesters were wont to do. The term had been used before, as we’ll discuss down below.
In November of 1969, Richard Nixon took his seat in the Oval Office and gave one of the most frank speeches ever given by an American President. Say what you will about Nixon (especially how his time in office ended), but you can’t really say in this case that he held back in any way.
The speech consisted of around 4500 words and lasted about a half-hour (if the recordings on YouTube are accurate). In the speech, he laid out how after taking office he had pressed for peace in several different ways. He even went so far as to read aloud a letter he had sent in secret to Ho Chi Minh.
After laying out the state of the war at the time of the speech, Nixon went on to re-outline the Nixon Doctrine, which was his plan to end the war no matter the result of negotiations (which had been taking place in Paris off and on for several years).
“The defense of freedom is everybody’s business-not just America’s business. And it is particularly the responsibility of the people whose freedom is threatened. In the previous administration, we Americanized the war in Vietnam. In this administration, we are Vietnamizing the search for peace.”