The Great Silent Majority: Nixon's 1969 Speech on Vietnamization. By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014. 144 pp.
Nearly a year to the day after winning the presidency, Richard M. Nixon sat before television cameras in the Oval Office to deliver what he considered the most important speech of his career. His goal was to persuade war-weary Americans to support his Vietnam War policy. Following months of massive antiwar rallies, the president, who had campaigned on a plan to end the war, was under pressure to convince Americans that he truly wanted peace. At the same time, he needed to persuade the Vietminh and Vietcong that the United States was serious about its commitment to support an independent South Vietnam. Nixon wrote the speech himself-spending days in solitude, scribbling his thoughts on yellow legal pads. No advance copies were provided, so expectations were high when the White House scheduled time on the three television networks for 9:30 p.m. on November 3, 1969Reciting the speech from memory, Nixon appealed to his base, what he called "the great silent majority of my fellow Americans" (p. 13) for their support.
In hindsight, this pivotal speech in American history continues to incite mixed reactions. In his memoirs, Nixon wrote that he was proud of the address. "Very few speeches actually influence the course of history," he wrote. "The November 3 speech was one of them" (The Memoirs of Richard Nixon [New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978}, p. 409). Biographer Stephen Ambrose, in contrast, thought that such a claim was "nonsense" (Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989}, p- 310).
Now, nearly a half-century after Nixon's address, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell's The Great Silent Majority concludes that it was "a persuasive masterpiece" (pp. 21, 64) that successfully persuaded Americans to buy into a false narrative-the need to support South Vietnam's heroic resistance to communism. After presenting a concise history of the Vietnam conflict itself, Campbell expertly dissects each phrase in the president's masterful speech, revealing his intent, rhetorical techniques, and verbal sleights of hand.
According to Campbell, Nixon's speech followed a familiar pattern by claiming that his policy of Vietnamization-supporting the South Vietnamese effort to defend themselves-was the result of thoughtful deliberation, was justified, required the audience to be unified, and legitimized...