On November 3, 1969 Richard M. Nixon addressed the nation in what would come to be known as “The Silent Majority Speech”. In 32 minutes, the president promoted his plan for a “Vietnamization” of the war and called upon “the great silent majority of my fellow Americans” to support his plan “to end the war in a way that we could win the peace”. Arguing against the immediate cessation of hostilities, Nixon warned of a Communist bloodbath should American troops leave too quickly. Hypocritically, he spoke of peace as he made plans for a massive expansion of the murderous American air campaigns, which would include the criminal bombardment of neutral Cambodia.
While he asked for unity, the term “silent majority” stood in sharp contrast to Nixon calling anti-war activists on campus “bums” and the range of racist terms he used for African Americans, Jews, and the LatinX community. In The 'Silent Majority' Speech: Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War, and the Origins of the New Right
(Routledge, 2019), Scott Laderman argues that this speech was part of Nixon’s rhetorical strategy of using divisive “dog whistle” terms such as “law and order” to cover up his racist appeals to the white working class. According to Laderman the speech was a historical turning point in American political history, opening the way for the Lee Atwaters and Donald Trumps to come. While he shows how this foreign policy speech can work as a prism to understand the later years of the American War in Vietnam, aka the Second Indochina War, Laderman further demonstrate that this speech was an important moment in American domestic politics as it signaled the creation of the New Right.
Scott Laderman is a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, Duluth – home of the best surfing in the upper Midwest.
Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018). When he’s not quietly reading or happily talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.