Nixon Comments on Youth, Soviet Jewry and Vietnam (Vol. 36, Issue 8)
The most significant events of this year affecting American Jews are the protests on behalf of Soviet Jewry and the unexpected cooling down of activist fervor in American political life. Specifically we have witnessed a massive outpouring of human emotions for an oppressed minority coupled with calculated attacks on Soviet property and citizens by certain American Jews. Also, we perceive a growing spirit of alienation among American youth and a widening of the generation gap.
Reacting to these phenomena, this reporter began a correspondence with President Richard Nixon in an attempt to learn the President's views on these topics. The response from the White House included a promise of a possible invitation to Washington for a personal meeting with the President as well as Mr. Nixon's answers to the above questions.
Regarding the Soviet Jewry problem, the President wrote, “You may be certain that this administration, reflecting the traditional liberties upon which this country was founded, joins with you in urging freedom of emigration as explicitly provided in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in its commitment to cultural and religious freedom at home and abroad.
“But acts of violence and lawlessness against Soviet facilities in this country. will not advance
our common cause; they are, as you say, moraliy wrong and injure that very cause.”
My letter made reference to the Indochina war. Concerning this Mr. Nixon stated, “If we are to benefit fully from the energies and ideals of our young people, we must break down the barriers to the exercise of these energies, the pursuit of those ideals.
“The war in Vietnam has taken a very heavy toll of our young men, This Administration has no higher priority than to end that war, But to end it in a way that we will have a lasting peace.
“I have a plan which we are implementing, to obtain that kind of peace, I can tell you confidently today it is succeeding. I believe yours will be a generation of peace.”
Much of the alienation of today’s youth is caused by a credibility gap between the generations. Mr. Nixon agreed that this is so and stated, “There can he no generation gap in America. The destiny of this nation is not divided into yours and ours.
“There has been too much of a tendency of my generation .to blame all of your generation for the excesses of a violent few. I pledge to you that as you have faith in our intentions, we will do our best to keep faith with your hopes.”
A question which faces most college students today is what can they do to change things. To this the President responded with a call for you to get involved. He cited that we now have the power to vote and could use it to change the system. He also urged mere involvement by young Americans.
“Young people need something positive to respond to — goals that are worthy of us, Consider, for example, the problems of our environment. To subdue the land is one thing, to destroy it is another, and we have been destroying it. And now we must undo what we have done. You must help in this venture. It will require your dedication, your brains, idealism, impatience and faith, To preserve the earth is a great goal.”
President Nixon plans to establish a volunteer service corps that will give young men an opportunity to serve the country. Specifically he said, “As we free young Americans from requirements of the draft and of the war, from the requirements of forced service, let us open the door to volunteer service.”
Youth and Responsibility
Ronald Ziegler, press secretary to the President, wrote to me that Mr. Nixon's letter should be pertinent to The Commentator readership. He said that the President's concern for involving young Americans and his concern for the well-being of all Jewish people is very real. Perhaps Mr. Ziegler's comments were based on President Nixon’s closing statement.
“So much is in your hands now. To those who believed the system would not be moved, I say try it. To those who have thought that the system was impenetrable, I say there is no longer a need to penetrate; the door is open.
“I know that there are those who reject politics, who scorn the political life, and I can assure you that politics attracts its share of bad people, but so do all the other professions. This does not reflect on the political system, for politics is a process, not an end in itself, and the process can be as good or as bad as the people that are a part of it.
“There is an old excuse: This is a world that I never made.
“That won't do any longer, You have now the opportunity, the obligation, to mold the world that you live in and you cannot escape this obligation.”
President Nixon’s letter reflected many candid sentiments. The sincerity of a statement, however, must be verified by action. The administration must withdraw all American troops from Southeast Asia, and must also commit itself to improving the environment. The President must himself issue strong and meaningful statements to the Soviet government concerning the welfare of Russian Jewry. Only when the administration and the President take these steps will they be accepting the obligation to help “mold the world.”