On May 15, 1967, there was a fascinating debate between California’s new Republican governor, Ronald Reagan, and New York’s new Democratic senator, Robert F. Kennedy. The subject: the Vietnam War. The debate was titled “The Image of America and the Youth of the World,” and was billed by CBS as a “Town Meeting of the World.” It was broadcast from 10:00-11:00 P.M. EDT by CBS TV Network and CBS Radio Network. It was produced by later 60 Minutes brainchild Don Hewitt and hosted by CBS News correspondent Charles Collingwood. The debate was watched by a huge audience: 15 million Americans.
There was total agreement, including among media sources who revered Bobby Kennedy, from the San Francisco Chronicle to Newsweek, that Reagan overwhelmingly won the debate. “To those unfamiliar with Reagan’s big-league savvy,” reported Newsweek, “the ease with which he fielded questions about Vietnam may have come as a revelation.” Newsweek judged that “political rookie Reagan … left old campaigner Kennedy blinking when the session ended.” Not having a crystal ball into the tragic year ahead for Kennedy, Newsweek pondered whether the debate might be a “dry run” for a future set of “Great Debates” between these two promising presidential aspirants. The late historian David Halberstam acknowledged that “the general consensus” was that “Reagan … destroyed him.”
Lou Cannon, in a 1969 book on Reagan and California assemblyman Jesse Unruh, agreed that “Reagan clearly bested Kennedy.” Another of Reagan’s first biographers, Joseph Lewis, recorded that the “tanned and relaxed” Reagan “talked easily and precisely without a hint of uncertainty or hostility,” and “deflated” the “anguished” Kennedy, who “gulped in restrained agony” when answering questions. Kennedy, said Lewis, “looked as if he had stumbled into a minefield.”
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With Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Gov. Ronald Reagan
As Broadcast over the CBS Television Network and the CBS Radio Network
Monday, May 15, 1967, 10:00 – 11:00 pm. EDT
Charles Collingwood, Host
STEPHEN MARKS: Senator Kennedy, I’d like to ask you what you think of Dean Rusk’s recent claim that the effect of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in the States may actually be to prolong the war rather than to shorten it?
SENATOR ROBERT KENNEDY: The war is going on in Vietnam, being extended in Vietnam, really because of the determination of those who are our adversaries, the North Vietnamese, the Vietcong, National Liberation Front. I don’t think a particular action takes place – military action takes place in South Vietnam because of the protests here in the United States. I think that if all the protests were ended, and even if all of the objections to the war came to an end here in this country, that the war in Vietnam would continue.
I’m sure to some extent the fact that there are some protests gives some encouragement to Ho Chi Minh and to others. But I don’t – I certainly don’t think that that’s the reason the war is continuing, and why the casualties are going up.
GOVERNOR REAGAN: Well, I definitely think the demonstrations are prolonging the war in that they’re giving the enemy, who I believe must face defeat on relative comparison of the power of the two nations, they are giving him encouragement to continue, to hold out in the hope that division here in America will bring about a peace without defeat for that enemy.
Many of the demonstrations now taking place in this country could not legally take place if there was a legal declaration of war, so we, I think, are faced with a choice here. But again, and I’m sure the Senator agrees with me, America will jealously guard this right of dissent, because I think the greatness of our country has been based on our thinking that everyone has a right even to be wrong.
CHARLES COLLINGWOOD: I’m Charles Collingwood and this is TOWN MEETING OF THE WORLD, the latest in an occasional series of trans-Atlantic confrontations that’s been going on ever since communication satellites made them possible. With me here in the studio of the BBC in London are a group of young people, university students from – one from the United States, but the rest of them from Europe, Africa and Asia. They are all attending universities in Great Britain. They have ideas, all of them, sometimes provocative ones, about the United States, its role and its image. For the next hour, via the Atlantic communications satellite, they will be participating in a global dialogue with Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Democrat of New York, and Governor Ronald Reagan, Republican of California.
Note: At the 38 minute mark, Reagan calls for the Soviet Union to take down the Berlin Wall – 20 years before his famous challenge to Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate. The Great Liberator . . .
ANNA FORD: I believe the war in Vietnam is illegal, immoral, politically unjustifiable and economically motivated. Could either of you agree with this?
COLLINGWOOD: Who wants to start? Senator Kennedy?
KENNEDY: I don’t agree with that. I have some reservations as I’ve stated them before about some aspects of the war, but I think that the United States is making every effort to try to make it possible for the people of South Vietnam to determine their own destiny. I think that’s all we want – no matter how – how we – what reservations we have about the conduct of the war. I think that we’re all agreed in the United States that if the war can be settled and the people of South Vietnam can determine their own destiny and determine their own future, that we want to leave South Vietnam. That’s the stated governmental policy, certainly what I would like to see, and I think that’s backed by the vast majority of American people. The fact is that the insurgency against – that’s taking place in South Vietnam is being supported by North Vietnam. If both of us withdraw and let the people of South Vietnam determine and decide what they want, what kind of government they want, what kind-of future they want, what kind of economic system they want to establish, I think that’s all we’re interested in, that’s all we’re interested in accomplishing. So I think it’s quite different than you’ve described it.
COLLINGWOOD: Governor Reagan, what about you?
REAGAN: Well, I think we’re very much in agreement on this, that this country of ours has a long history of non-aggression but also a willingness to befriend and go to the aid of those who would want to be free and determine their own destiny. Now, I think all of us are agreed that war is probably man’s greatest stupidity and I think peace is the dream that lives in the heart of everyone wherever he may be in the world, but unfortunately, unlike a family quarrel, it doesn’t take two to make a war. It only takes one, unless the other one is prepared to surrender at the first hint of force. I do believe that our goal is the right of a people to self-determination and to not have a way of life, a government or a system forced upon them.
DAVID JENKINS: Mr. Reagan, just five minutes ago on this program, you said every man has the right of dissent and I believe that every man has the right to be wrong. No doubt you’d also support the American ideal of freedom. Now, while on this I want to ask you whether you’d support the people who at the moment you say are dodging the draft, and whether you will go on record as supporting people who claim to be conscientious objectors as a means for not joining the war in Vietnam?
REAGAN: Oh, now wait a minute I thank you for giving me a chance, if I left the wrong impression. We agree in this country of the right of people to be wrong, but as I said before, taking advantage of the technicality that we are not legally in a state of war, we have people doing things with which I am in great disagreement. I do not believe in those who are resisting the draft. Now, we draw a line between the conscientious objector on religious grounds. With our great belief in religious freedom in our country, we have always said those whose religion specifically prohibits them, such as our Quakers, from taking human life, we offer them military service in a noncombat role such as being medics and so forth, and they have a great and honorable history, people of this kind, of serving in our wars in that capacity. But I believe if government is to mean anything at all, that all of us have a responsibility, once the action has been decided upon and supposedly by the majority will, that we then, while reserving our right to disagree, we support the collective or the unified effort of the nation. Otherwise, all law and order and all government breaks down, because we might have a citizen who has a conscientious objection to paying taxes and if we allow our citizens to voluntarily quit paying taxes the government breaks down–or obeying the law, or anything else that may come along. We give up certain individual freedoms in the interest of–well, I suppose it comes from our own Constitution our idea that every American or every person has the right, is born with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But my pursuit of happiness, if it comes from swinging my arm, I must stop swinging my arm just short of the end of your nose.
COLLINGWOOD: Senator Kennedy is there anything you want to add to that?
KENNEDY: Well, I expect I disagree somewhat with the Governor. I don’t think that we’re automatically correct or automatically right and morality is on our side or God is automatically on our side because we’re involved in a war. I don’t think that the mere fact that the United States is involved in the use of force with an adversary makes everything that the United States then does absolutely correct. So I–the idea that we’re involved in this kind of a struggle, if there are those within the United States that feel that the struggle could be ended more rapidly with less loss of life, that the terror and the destruction would be less if we took a different course, then I think that they should make their views known. I don’t think they’re less patriotic because they feel that. In fact, I think that they would be less patriotic if they didn’t state their views and give their ideas, just because the United States is involved in this kind of a conflict as we are at the present time. Not to state any opposition, or say that we can’t state an opposition because of the–the fact that we’re involved in a struggle I think is an error. This is a difficult period of time, but the mere fact that we’re shooting one another across the world doesn’t make the United States automatically right. I think it should be examined. It doesn’t make the course that we’re following at the present time automatically right, automatically correct and I think that those who have a different point of view, no matter what their point of view might be and whether they are in favor of using increased force, or in favor of lessening the force, or even some–of pulling out unilaterally–I happen to disagree with that but I think they have a responsibility and a right to state those views, even though we’re in a difficult period of time.
COLLINGWOOD: Would you draw the line at draft-dodging though. Yes, Mr. Reagan?
REAGAN: Well, I Just–again apparently I haven’t made myself clear. Senator, I want to make it plain, this. No, as I say, we reserve the right of dissent, but when that dissent takes the form of actions that actually aid the enemy, the enemy that is engaged in killing our forces, such as avoiding the draft, refusing service, blocking troop trains and shipments of munitions as we’ve had here in this country by some demonstrators, this is going beyond the dissent that is provided in our present governmental system, whereby any American can stand up, protest, can convey his feelings to the legislature or to the duly organized government in an effort to get the government to change its course; but again, it must stop short of lending comfort and aid to an enemy that is presently engaged in forceful activities against our country.
COLLINGWOOD: Arshad Mahmood of Pakistan.
ARSHAD MAHMOOD: Both of you a moment ago defended the right of self-determination of people and the right to dissent. I was wondering, given the assumption that North Vietnam and South Vietnam can be brought to the conference table, would you advocate that the National Liberation Front be given a place in the con–in the negotiations or in the conference?
KENNEDY: Is that–who is that directed at?
COLLINGWOOD: Well, why don’t you start, Senator?
KENNEDY: I’ve said before that I’m in favor of the National Liberation Front being represented at the conference table, that they come to the conference table, that they take place–that they take a part in the discussions. They have been involved in the struggle for a long period of time. I don’t think that we can arrive at any meaningful peace–I don’t think we can have any negotiations that are really going to be very productive unless the National Liberation Front is represented and I would therefore be in favor of the National Liberation Front, who is the political arm of those who are providing most of the troops, most of the force, most of the effort in the south, being represented at the conference table.
REAGAN: Well, here we’re in disagreement. I believe if there is any negotiation involving the Vietcong, that that is between the Vietcong, and the South Vietnamese government, in a negotiation of their own, because the Vietcong is in a position of being a rebellious force, an illegal force, fighting against the duly authorized government of its own nation, and to sit them down at a negotiating table between two nations, North and South Vietnam, who are engaged in a conflict, is tipping the scales. I doubt if we–if we wanted to draw a parallel…
KENNEDY: Do you think the United States, should be represented then?
ARSHAD MAHMOOD: Surely, Governor…
REAGAN: No, if you’re going to have a negotiation between North and South Vietnam…
KENNEDY: But if you’re going to have negotiations to end the war, and North Vietnam, South Vietnam, is going to be represented, shouldn’t the United States and the National Liberation Front be there?
REAGAN: I don’t think you can have a rebel force that is engaged in criminal activity having the distinction of sitting at the table as–as one of the representatives.
JEFF JORDAN: I’m sorry, but you say that you believe in self-determination and in this lovely idea of let everybody decide for themselves. Yet in Vietnam, in 1954, you refused to sign the Geneva Convention, you refused to allow independent elections in Vietnam, you forced the Diem regime on the Vietnamese people, it was hated by the Vietnamese people, it put six million in forced prison camps. This was your puppet regime, and you supported it. You’ve refused to come to the negotiations with the Vietcong, and you’ve shown every time you ask for a peace talk, all you do is escalate the war. This is only one example in Vietnam. You’ve got the example of the C.I.A. overthrowing the Jagan government, you’ve got the example of it giving 104 million pounds’ aid, military aid to Greece. There are so many examples of America refusing to allow a people to determine for itself what government it would have.
REAGAN: Now, are you talking about a people determining what government they’ll have, or are you talking about a faction within a country that wants to take over and dictate the system to a country? Now, I disagree, I disagree.
JORDAN: …the Diem regime. Would you say the Diem regime was a popular one, or was it one which you imposed on a people and which the people then rebelled against?
REAGAN: I doubt that you could make much of a case. I challenge your history. In 1954.-.
JORDAN: … the history of the Diem regime, sir?
REAGAN: I do. Because there was a referendum taken in 1954, in which 90 per cent of the people voted, in a referendum, for Diem to take the position that he took. He was subsequently endorsed in two other elections, a few years apart, in which they elected both the General Assembly for his government that was preponderantly pro-Diem; they re-elected him to his position. We could hardly have installed a puppet regime at a time when we had less than 700 unarmed military advisers, many of them non-commissioned officers, helping to teach the South Vietnamese how to organize an army for protection against guerrillas in their own country.
JORDAN: I’m sorry, are you saying that you approve of the activities of the Diem regime?
REAGAN: What activities?
JORDAN: Do you approve that they put six million in forced prison camps and that the American advisers did nothing but help them in this?
REAGAN: I challenge your history again. There is absolutely no record that six million people were put in concentration camps. They only have 16 million to begin with. Now, I’d also like to challenge something else about the supposed evils of the Diem regime. I do approve of Diem’s land reform in which he took from the great mandarin holdings, and began to make land available to the peasants and to the people of Vietnam, who had never owned land before. But also, I would like to call to your attention that a team from the U.N. was sent to Saigon, Vietnam, to investigate the charges against Diem’s regime They did investigate those, but as they returned to this country, Diem was assassinated, which I think was one of the great tragedies of this whole conflict; and the United Nations report, which they declined to make official because they thought why bring anything up now that he’s been killed, has on the other hand, been published, there has been public access to it, and the United Nations report completely cleared the Diem regime of any of the charges that had been brought against him.
COLLINGWOOD: Governor, let’s get Senator Kennedy in on this. We haven’t heard from him in a while. What about your answer to Jordan’s question, Senator?
KENNEDY: Well, why doesn’t somebody ask me a question, and then I’ll answer it specifically?
JORDAN: Can I–can I ask you the question then?
COLLINGWOOD: Hands sprout up again. Go ahead Jordan.
JORDAN: … self-determination, the principle of which Mr. Reagan made use, seems to me to be violated by America’s record in Vietnam, by its refusal to allow free elections which was the suggestion of the Geneva Convention, by its supporting of…
KENNEDY: O.K., I understand that. I understand. I would say that there, as I’ve said before, I think that there were mistakes that were made over the period of the last 10 years. There were mistakes in which I was involved – excuse me.
JORDAN: Do you regard it as a mistake that a million civilians have been killed?
KENNEDY: If a million civilians have been killed, I would regard it as a mistake–I think that the civilians being killed in North Vietnam, or South Vietnam, I think that the terrorism that existed in North Vietnam was a mistake: I think that the terrorism–the killings that took place in Hungary during the 1950’s were a mistake; and I think that some of the actions of President Diem in South Vietnam were a mistake. I think that the United States at various times have been associated with governments which do not represent the will and the wish of the people, and I think that that is most unfortunate, but I don’t go on this program, and I don’t think Governor Reagan goes on this program, saying that we never made a mistake and that we never erred, because I think we have. But if we look at the present times, if I might say to you, if we look at the present time, the fact is, the-United States is willing to have elections in South Vietnam, willing to abide by the result of those elections, willing to permit an outside group to come in and supervise the elections, and it’s the North Vietnamese that are unwilling to accept that.
Let me also say, if you want to criticize President Diem, I think that at the same time, I would suggest that perhaps you could also criticize North Vietnam. When did they last have a free election? When did they last have a free election in any of the countries who are our adversaries? I agree that our standard that we hold up to the rest of the world might be higher and might be different, and therefore we have a greater responsibility to adhere to it. And at times we have not in our relationships with some of the countries of Latin America, Asia and Africa, and I’d be glad to go into what I think the explanation of that is. But I don’t say that we are without fault, I don’t say that even the administration that I was involved with–President Kennedy–was without fault, in our policy towards Vietnam; but nor has North Vietnam. And the other important point is, which I think you should accept, and have to accept, is the fact that we are willing at the present time to abide by elections. We’ve stated it quite clearly, and that we were willing to permit an outside group to come in and supervise it.
JORDAN: I don’t know who you mean by “we.” But President Johnson and certainly Governor Reagan isn’t prepared to have realistic negotiations with the Vietcong, who you agree ought to be at the conference table. While they’re spending 20 billion dollars a year destroying the country, and while your government refuses…
KENNEDY: You’re wrong in your figures again – it’s about 25 billion.
JORDAN: Oh, splendid, 25 billion dollars …
KENNEDY: But I wouldn’t say–let me just say this–let’s also–it doesn’t do any good for any of us to get into exaggerations. We’re not spending 25 billion dollars to destroy the country. We feel very strongly in the United States–you can smile if you wish–but we listen to you, just listen to us for a second. We want the people of South Vietnam–again, Governor Reagan and I have some differences and I have perhaps differences with others, but–and–but the fact is that we do agree that we will abide by the results of elections in South Vietnam. That’s all we’re interested in, in South Vietnam that people make their own determination. President Johnson has said publicly that he is willing to abide by the elections, and even if the Communists take over the country, that the United States will withdraw. Now if the North Vietnamese were to make a public statement now, “We’ll abide by the elections, and we’ll have elections there in 60 days, and we’ll have the I.C.C. come in and supervise the elections,” then I think that–and then we back down–then I think there’s more point to your statement. We held out the challenge, that we’re willing to abide by the election if that’s where you put your emphasis. I think it’s much more complicated.
JORDAN: …if it doesn’t come about in 60 days – can we take it that I’m right?
KENNEDY: Excuse me?
JORDAN: You said, sir, that if this doesn’t happen in 60 days there’s a point to my question.
KENNEDY: No – but will the North Vietnamese agree to elections? Can you deliver the North Vietnamese?
STEVEN MARKS: Senator Kennedy, can I ask you something about those elections because what I understand from reading the American press, is that in elections that have recently been held in South Vietnam, no one that the government considered in its own opinion was either a neutralist or a Communist, was allowed to stand.
KENNEDY: Yes, that’s right.
MARKS: And, there was also considerable intimidation. Now, it seems to me that if you–you accuse us being inconsistent, that if you’re going to accuse North Vietnam of not holding free elections, then you should condemn the South Vietnam government that President Johnson is supporting for holding elections that are equally as farcical as anything that ever happened in a Communist country.
KENNEDY: Well, let me just say this, I said in the beginning that there were mistakes and things done that I would disagree with in South Vietnam. I’m just saying–and I don’t think–and I agree with your criticism of the elections of South Vietnam. As I have said before, I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that we have said that we’d be willing to abide by the result of elections, and I don’t say that the elections that have been held have been free elections. You’re absolutely right. The government of South Vietnam has not permitted neutralists or Communists to–or people from the National Liberation Front, to participate in the elections that it held in the past. Rat we said, the United States policy has been that if the North Vietnamese will agree to it, the National Liberation Front will agree to it, that we will agree to hold elections in which all parties will participate in South Vietnam and let the people themselves determine their own destiny. I said that I’m sure we’d be willing to do that in 60 days, if you can get Mr. Ho Chi Minh and the head of the National Liberation Front to participate with us. That is the challenge I’m offering to you.
COLLINGWOOD: Mr. Graziani of Italy.
GRAZIANI: Yes. I mean, I think this very relevant. I think what we want to know is what the Americans are doing in Vietnam. I think what we want to know is what right they have to be there. By going there, they have breached the U.N. Charter, the U.S. Constitution, and the Geneva Agreements. What can you say about that?
REAGAN: Well, I don’t think they have breached any of those agreements. As a matter of fact, by the Geneva Agreement, two countries were created, with the 17th Parallel dividing them…
STUDENTS: No, no, a temporary division.
REAGAN: A million people–a million people fled across the border to South Vietnam. Now…
GRAZIANI: Can I quote you a passage from the Geneva Agreement? “The 17th Parallel dividing North from South Vietnam is mere provisional military demarcation line, and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary. The introduction into Vietnam of foreign troops and military personnel, arms and ammunitions is prohibited.” Don’t you think that this is abridged?
REAGAN: Oh, Mr. Graziani, I–just a moment. When I said this, I’m not talking about the fact that Geneva set this up as a separate country, but once the demarcation line was set, was it not Ho Chi Minh. and the North Vietnamese that closed that border after a million refugees had fled from the Communist regime that was imposed in North Vietnam–had fled to South Vietnam? Did they not make this a country themselves, and did they not create or start the aggression with regard to a South Vietnam in violation of that treaty? (Several voices)
COLLINGWOOD: Let’s hear Senator Kennedy on this, Mr. Graziani. Let’s hear Senator Kennedy on this.
KENNEDY: Well, first, I–I think probably I’ve some differences with Governor Reagan regarding communism at the moment. First, I’d say…
GRAZIANI: Answer my question first.
KENNEDY: Well, I don’t know…
GRAZIANI: I’m sorry. You should. You should give the legal right for America to be in Vietnam.
KENNEDY: I’ll come around to it. I think I can answer it the way I want. I don’t think that communism is a monolithic political system at the moment. I think there are very major differences between the Soviet Union and Communist China; and I think that that’s recognized in the United States, as I think it’s recognized in Europe and recognized elsewhere around the globe.
I agree that I don’t think that the Communist system wishes us well, but I think that it’s recognized that–that it’s a different system than it was 20 years ago, that we’re going to make every effort within the United States, our governments, our people make every effort to try to reach an accommodation, particularly with the Soviet Union, that we recognize the danger from China, but that as President Johnson has said, that we’re going to make every effort to try to reach an accommodation also with Communist China, if that’s possible. Perhaps out of the internal struggles that are taking place within China at the present times out of that might come a government which with which not only the United States, but the Soviet Union and other countries around the globe could deal. That’s what we’re hoping.
COLLINGWOOD: Let’s see what some of the others…
GRAZIANI: You did not answer the question.
KENNEDY: I will be glad to answer the question.
GRAZIANI: I asked you already, what are the legal rights for the America to be in Vietnam?
KENNEDY: I’m going to answer that. I’ll just say that other people have raised points. And I think that it’s interesting that they’ve raised them and that we’re going to discuss them. But in any case, we were invited to come in, in 1955 by the government at that time to give help and assistance. It was after–in–during 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, when there were indications that North Vietnam was supporting some insurgency within the South, and it was to struggle against that insurgency that the United States sent greater numbers of people. We have had the same agreements in Western Europe. We sent troops to Western Europe and kept them there with NATO after the end of the Second World War to insure that there wouldn’t be an overthrowing of the governments of those countries and that the people themselves could determine their own destiny and their own future.
COLLINGWOOD: Well, we’re having a brisk argument about whether or not the National Liberation Front should be represented, and among the students there are all sorts of hands up. Steven Marks.
STEVEN MARKS: Well, first of all, I’d like to ask Governor Reagan how he thinks that his attitude towards legitimacy and the principle of no negotiation with rebels, had it been applied in the 18th century, I’d like to know how he thinks his country would ever have achieved independence?
REAGAN: I think we have to be pretty realistic about these supposed wars of liberation; the legitimate uprising of a people who rose as did the Americans a couple of hundred years ago against what they considered a tyranny and invasion of rights, beginning with the line of the Declaration, “When in the course of human events.” We must be realistic enough today to ask ourselves, are these truly wars of liberation and the uprising of a people, or are these being instigated by someone outside as a part of the great ideological conflict which still seems to be going on in the world today?
Now, this is what I–if the Vietcong and the South Vietnamese sit down and negotiate out whatever differences have caused the Vietcong to rebel, I think we might be surprised to discover that the Vietcong–I wouldn’t be surprised, is a very tiny minority instigated by an outside force, namely North Vietnam, but it hardly constitutes an uprising of the people of South Vietnam.
KENNEDY: And I think that it’s important that the United States associate itself with–with those forces within a country who are in favor not just of change for change’s sake, but–but for a better life for the people of these nations, not with the prince in his palace or the general in his barracks, but with the peasant in the field, and with the student and with those who want to lead a better life, and lead their country in a better life, not to turn over to one tyranny, however, for another tyranny, not for one kind of dictatorship to another kind of dictatorship.
GELLA SKOURAS: Would you like to see the United States dissociate itself from the military regime which is now in Greece?
KENNEDY: Greece. Well, I think it’s unfortunate whenever a the military takes over from a democratic system in a country. I think it’s particularly unfortunate when it takes place in Europe where the other countries look to for–other countries of the world look to for some kind of guidance, and I think, particularly, because democracy began in Greece, began in Athens, that it’s particularly unfortunate that it should happen there.
I think the United States must make it clear that we–that our relationship with Greece is going to continue to be strained unless the country returns to democratic processes, and I, for one, would be opposed to giving any military aid or assistance to Greece until it’s made quite clear that the people themselves are going to determine their future, not a military junta.
COLLINGWOOD: Do you agree with that, Governor Reagan?
REAGAN: Well, this is a pretty cloudy situation over there, and I’m not sure that I agree completely that–well, I’m not sure that the forces that the military junta rose up to put down were completely dedicated to Greece’s welfare, or whether they perhaps were again a part of this instigation of uprising and violence on the part of people who have a prior allegiance to an economic and political theory that they believe should dominate the world.
VLADIMIR PERENOSOV: We think the Communists will be all over the world, because it is a very good system. You believe that another system will be all over the world, but we shouldn’t quarrel, we shouldn’t fight against each other and instead of saying such things as you said, we would like to negotiate and we would like to have it in Vietnam nowadays, and we would like to negotiate now in Vietnam and not–not to see American troops in Vietnam now. And we know that over 50,000 people, American soldiers, are going to Vietnam, and we think that it will create a new world war because the Chinese Prime Minister said that if Americans landed in North Vietnam, they will have to send their volunteers there. And you know that the Soviet Union in the open said about that, that it would like to send volunteers, too, and so it might create a new dangerous world war. And I think instead of sending American troops to Vietnam, it’s better to negotiate and to stop this war in Vietnam, and to negotiate between the Soviet Union and America, and to create a very good atmosphere.
BRADLEY: This discussion is now sounding like many I’ve had at Oxford, and many I’ve had in Europe. It’s one in which discussions on Vietnam somehow degenerate into polemical accusations and disputations of facts, etc., etc. I think there is a basic understanding that must be had in any kind of discussion here, and that is that the United States is not out to achieve a position of power in land or economic force in the world. And I think that there are other things that we should debate here. When you talk about negotiations which seem to be the main advocation of everyone here, well, what–so we have negotiations, and we bring the people from NLF and we bring the people from North Vietnam, and we bring the people from South Vietnam and the United States. Then, what do we negotiate for? Do we negotiate for a stable Asia and what does a stable Asia mean? Does this mean that the United States should be present in Asia, or does it mean that the United States should be absent, and let the revolutionary forces take their course?
I think these are more important questions that could be asked, and I’m sure, for example, that Mr. Singh from India, if we asked him if the Chinese happened to attack India, to whom would he first go for help? Would he go to the Soviet Union, or would he go to the United States? I think that there are certain considerations here about stability in Asia that haven’t been answered.
COLLINGWOOD: Well, let’s see. I called on Mr. Delvaque of France before.
DELVAQUE: Bill has mentioned recently the necessity of the presence–or the … choice of the presence of the United States in Asia–I think the best presence of any country in any other country is a diplomatic presence. And President Johnson has mentioned the necessity of, say, normalizing the relationship between the United States and China. Governor Reagan, do you think this normalization is desirable?
REAGAN; Well, the only objection that I’ve had with some of the building of bridges that has been attempted by this country, is very frankly, we haven’t been hard-nosed enough in getting–now when I say concessions I don’t mean that they have to buy their way but in getting concessions that would also help build the bridge from the other end.
For example, I think when we signed the Consular Treaty with the Soviet Union, I think that there were things that we could have asked in return. I think it would be very admirable, if the Berlin Wall, which was built in direct contravention to a treaty if the Berlin Wall should disappear, I think that this would be a step toward peace, and towards self-determination for all the peoples if it were. And so, I think that what you’re bringing up here, and this ties in with something that Bill Bradley said, and it’s very significant–among people of good will in the world today, there is too much of a tendency to argue challenging or suspecting the other fellow’s motive, when perhaps what we’re challenging is only the method that has been suggested. Let’s start with the premise that all people want peace, and not suspect that anything that someone else suggests is a plot. For example, we don’t want the Berlin Wall knocked down so that it’s easier to get at the throats of the East Germans. We just think that a wall that is put up to confine people, and keep them within their own country instead of allowing them the freedom of world travel, has to be somehow wrong.
DELVAQUE: I don’t think you are really answering my question. I–I asked you whether you consider that the normalization of the relationship between the United States and China was desirable.
REAGAN: Well, well I thought I had. I guess maybe I was too general in that. When you say the normalization what do you mean? Do you mean that the United States should …
DELVAQUE: That’s what I want you to tell me …
REAGAN: All right, the United States, we’ll say, has wheat and China is undergoing a great famine. And we could help with that wheat. Should we stand over here and give that wheat to the government of the Red Chinese who, incidentally, have never proven that they are the choice of the Chinese people …
WARUHIU: Do you think Chiang Kai-shek is a better choice?
REAGAN: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Just a minute before my young English friend smiles–there–aloud. What if we said, in an effort to bring friendship between the two peoples that we be allowed to provide this wheat in such a way that we are sure that the Chinese people, those who need it, can get it, at the same time that we ask in return for the Red Chinese to sit down with an effort toward giving up some of their hostile utterances which openly announce their aggressive intent. Is this wrong?
WARUHIU: Governor Reagan, you’re on record as having supported Senator Goldwater when he was running for President. One of the things he said was extremism was about–was about extremism and liberty. Now, how do you–do you see any essential difference between saying this and a Stokely Carmichael saying to hell with the laws of this country? Aren’t those two sayings as extreme I mean, as each–aren’t they both extreme? And when you talk about Red China giving up some of its hostile sayings, would you give up this saying which is patently hostile?
REAGAN: Well, I don’t think there was anything hostile in what he said. Actually, I could have questioned whether that was the time and place to say it. He was paraphrasing a very famous remark that goes back, I guess, to Cicero. And what he was paraphrasing–he was paraphrasing in that statement the idea of all-out defense of virtue – all-out defense of liberty and that there was–I would think that a soldier who died in World War II fighting Hitlerism had gone all the way out in his defense of what we believe to be right and moral, virtuous, and certainly in defense of freedom. Now, to turn this …
WARUHIU: Excuse me, sir, could you substitute communism for virtue and you see the deadlock which it would produce. You think something is good; he thinks something else is good. You want him to give up some of his hostile views. You are not prepared to move back one inch from yours.
REAGAN: May I ask, all right, wait a minute. Let me ask you one question. I could almost guess the answer, but I know what the answer is in my own heart, and that of people who will really weigh this. At the end of World War II, one nation in the world had unprecedented power, had not suffered any damage to its industrial complex, had the greatest military force the world had ever seen put together, the United States. The rest of the world was war-weary. The United States also had the only bomb that had been demonstrated. We had the atomic bomb, that great weapon. Now, the United States disarmed, the United States made no effort to impose its will on the rest of the nations. Can you honestly say in your heart that had the Soviet Union been in a comparable position with that bomb, or today’s Red Chinese, in a position with that bomb, and with that great military force, that the world would not today have been conquered by that force? But this country did not.
WARUHIU: Don’t forget that the Soviet Union which fought the war is not the Soviet Union which is here now. And in any case, there is no comparison really. How can you give an answer to such a purely hypothetical question?
REAGAN: No, I am saying this, as an evidence of the proof. We’re talking–we were supposed to–on this program–we were supposed to be talking about the image of America, and I would like to point out how consistent this was with our past, of no aggressive intent, at. a chance when for the first time, perhaps in all of the world’s history, there was a nation with the power to have done it. You know, perhaps one day, history might record that we goofed, that that was the time when the United States should have said to everyone, lay down your arms, and then we’ll lay down ours.
COLLINGWOOD: We have a representative of the Soviet Union here. Vladimir Perenosov, what about that?
PERENOSOV: it seems to me that it is very strange to hear from you that America, the only country who used an atomic bomb and didn’t use it against another country. It seems to me that it isn’t a very good idea to say so. We now have a lot of armaments. We now have a lot of people, but we are not going to use this armament, these people against America, or against another countries. And it seems to me that America, who did take part in the last war, and the Soviet Union did take part in the last war, and if we say for example about America who gave a lot to finish the war with Hitler, with Germany, we can speak about that, from the–from the Soviet point of view, but we don’t boast about that. It isn’t necessary to do that I think so
COLLINGWOOD: Now the lovely blond girl from England.
JEAN SOLOMON: I’d like to change the subject to civil rights. In England there is a growing movement for legislation against racial discrimination. I believe that many states have experienced this legislation. Would those candidates like to comment on this and perhaps other countries may learn from America’s experience.
COLLINGWOOD: Senator Kennedy, you were Attorney General when the civil rights legislation was in a crucial phase.
KENNEDY: Well, I’m not familiar with the exact kind of legislation being proposed within your own country. We passed some major bills in 1964, 1965, 1966 which gave some guarantees to individuals in the field of education, in the field of using public accommodations such as hotels and restaurants, and in the field of job discrimination. Some of the legislation has been more effective than other parts of it. But there was an effort by the United States to try to deal with the problem, not completely successfully, but at least we started to make the effort. If you want to talk about some particular piece of legislation–I think it was extremely important that we pass the legislation. I think it was extremely important that we recognized the problem and began to deal with it, but I would say to you quite frankly we’ve by no means made this very difficult problem that affects the United States disappear, and we’re going to have a lot of problems including some of the disorders that have happened in the past over the period of the last 6 years, we’re going to continue to have those within our own country for some years to come. We’re dealing with a heritage of 150 years–we’ve been unjust to our minority groups, and particularly the Negroes–as well as some other groups–the Mexican-Americans, the Indians, and we’ve Just begun to recognize it and now we’re starting to deal with it. And I think we’re going to have to continue to deal with it in the form of legislative action as well as personal activity on the part of all of us.
COLLINGWOOD: Governor Reagan, what do you think as a governor of a great state of the effectiveness of American civil rights legislation?
REAGAN: Well, I think with all of the disorders we’ve lost sight of some of the progress that has been made. There can be no question that in this country, well, I guess in all the world there is the heritage of those people who mistrust those who are different, and when you have–and history tells us, when you’ve had a people enslaved, you have a much harder time. It is not just a racial or ethnic or religious difference. There is a prejudice that remains. Now, I happen to believe that the greatest part of the problem lies in the hearts of men. I think that bigotry and prejudice is probably the worst of all man’s ills the hardest to correct. And in addition to legislation which guarantees and enforces our constitution–and our constitution and it differs from the constitutions of many of the countries represented there by the young people. Many constitutions promise their people the same things that ours does, but there’s one subtle and yet very great difference. Those constitutions in many other countries say the government grants to the people these rights and our constitution says you are born with these rights just by virtue of being a human being, and no government can take them from you. Now we’ve found it necessary to legislate, to make it more possible for government to exert its responsibility to guarantee those constitutional rights. At the same time, we have much more that can be done in the area of just human relationships. I happen to bridge a time span in which I was a radio sports announcer for major league sports in our country, in athletics, many years ago. At that time the great American game of baseball had a rulebook whose opening line was: “Baseball is a game for Caucasian gentlemen.” And up until that time, up until World War II, there’d never been a Negro play in organized major league or minor league baseball in America. And one man defied that rule–a man named Branch Rickey of one of the major league teams, and today baseball is far better off and our country is far better off because he destroyed that by handpicking one man and putting him on his baseball team, and the rule disappeared. Now I don’t say this is the only answer, but we must use both, and I think the people in positions like ourselves like the Senator and myself, like the President of the United States, can do a great deal of good, perhaps almost as much as proper legislation, if we take the lead in saying those who operate their businesses or their lives on a basis of practicing discrimination and prejudice are practicing what is an evil sickness. And that we would not knowingly patronize a business that did such a thing, and we urge all right-thinking people to join us and not patronize that business. Soon we will make those who live by prejudice learn that they stand alone, that they’re …
COLLINGWOOD: Excuse me, Governor, Andrew Verzar, our Swiss student, hasn’t been on yet.
ANDREW VERZAR: Through this rather irrelevant rhetoric, to my mind, how does Mr. Reagan explain the fact that there is a very much higher percentage of Negro soldiers in the Vietnamese–in the American forces in Vietnam than there is a percentage of Negroes in the States. Is it perhaps due to the fact that Negroes have more difficulty still and will continue to have more difficulty in finding jobs in America?
REAGAN: I don’t think anyone could deny that because of this heritage of prejudice which the Senator referred to, there has been, and among our minority groups, a greater percentage who did not go on through our educational system–did not qualify themselves for the better jobs, and so therefore there perhaps is a higher percentage who find the army or the military a suitable job and a good job in the face of lack of opportunity in other lines. And this could be true.
COLLINGWOOD: Senator Kennedy, what about your views?
KENNEDY: I think his point is well taken. The gentleman, I think, from Switzerland–there are a higher degree–a higher rate of Negroes serving in Vietnam than the population as a whole, and the casualties in Vietnam amongst Negroes is higher than the population as a whole. 1 think that’s partially due to what he mentions.
Secondly, I think it’s also the fact that the draft has been unfair here in this country, and has discriminated against those who are poor and those in the lower economic groups which we’re trying to remedy now.
But these are some of the problems and we’ve recognized it and we’re trying to do something about it. Some legislation was passed in the United States Senate just this past week, which will at least partially rectify the situation. But the Negroes and the lower economic groups … a larger percentage of them as a population as a whole have been drafted, taken into the Army, and have been serving in Vietnam and have suffered casualties. And I think that it’s most unfortunate.
COLLINGWOOD: Senator, Governor Reagan, gentlemen and ladies of our university group, I’m afraid that our time has run out. I know you didn’t get a lot of questions in that you would have liked to have done, and I suspect that the Governor and the Senator didn’t get some answers in that they would have liked, but thank you very much for being with us on this TOWN MEETING OF THE WORLD.
KENNEDY: Could we just say a word, please?
COLLINGWOOD: This is Charles Collingwood–yes, say a word.
KENNEDY: Just how much we’ve enjoyed, and I’m sure Governor Reagan has, and obviously we don’t agree on all of these matters. But it’s so extremely important within our own country that we have a dialogue. We make major mistakes within the United States. We recognize that. Perhaps we don’t remedy them as rapidly as you would like to see us remedy or deal with them, but there are people. Even though Governor Reagan and I represent different political parties and perhaps a different point of view on some of these matters, we’ve recognized the fact that we are obviously far from perfect.
But the world is so close together now because of technology, because of a lot of different things, that it’s so important that we have these kind of exchanges, and particularly as the world belongs to you, that what we do and the decisions that we make have an effect on your lives, that you continue where you see that we make mistakes, that you continue to criticize. But, as I said earlier, that you examine the facts. And that all of us, whether we here in the United States, or elsewhere, examine the facts and try to deal with them.
Plato once said that all things are to be questioned – and all things are to be examined, and brought into question – there is no limit set to thought, and I think that has to apply for all of us, particularly those who have the advantage of an education. Thank you.
REAGAN: Mr. Collingwood, is there time for just a word of farewell?
COLLINGWOOD: Governor, I’ll let you second that.
REAGAN: Well, I do second it. The very fact that we have discussion and differences, I think, brings me to the point being the oldest one here, I can take the liberty of giving a little advice to the young people.
I believe the highest aspiration of man should be individual freedom and the development of the–of the individual, that there is a sacredness to individual rights. And I would like to say to all of the young people as they pursue their way, and this has been very stimulating, I think you should weigh everything that is proposed to you, everything in the line of government and law and economic theory, everything of that kind and weigh it on this one scale–that it should at all times not offer you some kind of sanctuary or security in exchange for your right to fly as high and as far as your own strength and ability will take you as an individual, with no ceiling put on that effort. Plenty of room for a floor underneath so that no one in this world should live in degradation, beneath that floor, but you reserve the right for yourself to be free.
COLLINGWOOD: Thank you very much again. This is TOWN MEETING OF THE WORLD. This is Charles Collingwood. Good night.
ANNOUNCER: This has been another in the CBS NEWS series, TOWN MEETING OF THE WORLD. Tonight’s subject was “The Image of America and the Youth of the World.”