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What Freedom Means to Us
July 24, 1959
Richard M. Nixon

I am honored on behalf of President Eisenhower to open this American Exhibition in Moscow. Mrs. Nixon and I were among the many thousands of Americans who were privileged to visit the splendid Soviet Exhibition in New York, and we want to take this opportunity to congratulate the people of the U.S.S.R. for the great achievements and progress so magnificently portrayed by your Exhibition.

We, in turn, hope that many thousands of Soviet citizens will take advantage of this opportunity to learn about life in the United States by visiting our Exhibition.

Of course, we both realize that no exhibition can portray a complete picture of all aspects of life in great nations like the U.S.S.R. and the United States.

Among the questions which some might raise with regard to our Exhibition are these: To what extent does this Exhibition accurately present life in the United States as it really is? Can only the wealthy people afford the things exhibited here? What about the inequality, the injustice, the other weaknesses which are supposed to be inevitable in a Capitalist society?

As Mr. Khrushchev often says: "You can't leave a word out of a song." Consequently, in the limited time I have, I would like to try to answer some of these questions so that you may get an accurate picture of what America is really like.

Let us start with some of the things in this Exhibit. You will see a house, a car, a television set -- each the newest and most modern of its type we can produce. But can only the rich in the United States afford such things? If this were the case we would have to include in our definition of rich the millions of America's wage earners.

Let us take, for example, our 16 million factory workers. The average weekly wage of a factory worker in America is $90-54. With this income he can buy and afford to own a house, a television set, and a car in the price range of those you will see in this Exhibit. What is more, the great majority of American wage earners have done exactly that.

Putting it another way, there are 44 million families in the United States. Twenty-five million of these families live in houses or apartments that have as much or more floor space than the one you see in this Exhibit. Thirty-one million families own their own homes and the land on which they are built. America's 44 million families own a total of 56 million cars, 50 million television sets and 143 million radio sets. And they buy an average of 9 dresses and suits and 14 pairs of shoes per family per year.

Why do I cite these figures? Not because they indicate that the American people have more automobiles, TV sets, or houses than the people of the U.S.S.R.

In fairness we must recognize that our country industrialized sooner than the Soviet Union. And Americans are happy to note that Mr. Khrushchev has set a goal for the Soviet economy of catching up in the production of consumer goods.

We welcome this kind of competition because when we engage in it, no one loses -- everyone wins as the living standards of people throughout the world are raised to higher levels. It also should be pointed out that while we may be ahead of you as far as these items are concerned, you are ahead of us in other fields -- for example, in the size of the rockets you have developed for the exploration of outer space.

But what these statistics do dramatically demonstrate is this: That the United States, the world's largest capitalist country, has from the standpoint of distribution of wealth come closest to the ideal of prosperity for all in a classless society.

As our revered Abraham Lincoln said "...We do not propose any war upon capital; we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else."

The 67 million American wage earners are not the down-trodden masses depicted by the critics of capitalism in the latter part of the l9th and early part of the 20th Centuries. They hold their heads high as they proudly enjoy the highest standard of living of any people in the world's history.

The caricature of capitalism as a predatory, monopolist dominated society, is as hopelessly out of date, as far as the United States is concerned, as a wooden plow.

This does not mean that we have solved all of our problems. Many of you have heard about the problem of unemployment in the United States. What is not so well known is that the average period that these unemployed were out of work even during our recent recession was less than three months. And during that period the unemployed had an average income from unemployment insurance funds of $131.49 per month. The day has passed in the United States when the unemployed were left to shift for themselves.

The same can be said for the aged, the sick, and others who are unable to earn enough to provide an adequate standard of living. An expanded program of Social Security combined with other government and private programs provides aid and assistance for those who are unable to care for themselves. For example, the average retired couple on Social Security in the United States receives an income of $116 per month apart from the additional amounts they receive from private pensions and savings accounts.

What about the strikes which take place in our economy the latest example of which is the steel strike which is going on? The answer is that here we have a firsthand example of how a free economy works. The workers right to join with other workers in a union and to bargain collectively with management is recognized and protected by law. No man or woman in the United States can be forced to work for wages he considers to be inadequate or under conditions he believes are unsatisfactory.

Another problem which causes us concern is that of racial discrimination in our country. We are making great progress in solving this problem but we shall never be satisfied until we make the American ideal of equality of opportunity a reality for every citizen regardless of his race, creed or color.

We have other problems in our society but we are confident that for us our system of government provides the best means for solving them. But the primary reason we believe this is not because we have an economy which builds more than one million houses, produces six million cars and six million television sets per year.

Material progress is important but the very heart of the American ideal is that "man does not live by bread alone." To us, progress without freedom to use a common expression is like "potatoes without fat."

Let me give you some examples of what freedom means to us.

President Eisenhower is one of the most popular men ever to hold that high office in our country. Yet never an hour or a day goes by in which criticism of him and his policies cannot be read in our newspapers, heard on our radio and television, or in the Halls of Congress.

And he would not have it any other way. The fact that our people can and do say anything they want about a government official, the fact that in our elections, as this voting machine in our exhibit illustrates, every voter has a free choice between those who hold public office and those who oppose them makes ours a true peoples' government.

We trust the people. We constantly submit big decisions to the people. Our history convinces us that over the years the people have been right much more often than they have been wrong.

As an indication of the extent of this freedom and of our faith in our own system, forty hours of radio broadcasts from the Soviet Union can be heard without jamming in the United States each day, and over a million and a half copies of Soviet publications are purchased in our country each year.

Let us turn now to freedom of religion. Under our Constitution no church or religion can be supported by the State. An American can either worship in the church of his choice or choose to go to no church at all if he wishes. Acting with this complete freedom of choice, 103 million of our citizens are members of 308 thousand American churches.

We also cherish the freedom to travel, both within our country and outside the United States. Within our country we live and travel where we please without travel permits, internal passports or police registration. We also travel freely abroad. For example, 11 million Americans will travel to other countries during this year, including 10,000 to the Soviet Union. We look forward to the day when millions of Soviet citizens will travel to ours and other countries in this way.

Time will not permit me to tell you of all of the features of American life, but in summary I think these conclusions can objectively be stated.

The great majority of Americans like our system of government. Much as we like it, however, we would not impose it on anyone else. We believe that people everywhere should have a right to choose the form of government they want

There is another characteristic of the American people which I know impresses itself of any visitor to our country. As Mr. Mikoyan and Mr. Kozlov both pointed out after their visits to the United States, the American people are a peace-loving people. There are a number of reasons for this attitude: As this Exhibition so eloquently demonstrates, we Americans enjoy an extraordinarily high standard of living.

There is nothing we want from any other people except the right to live in peace and friendship with them.

After fighting two World Wars we did not ask for or receive an acre of land from any other people. We have no desire to impose our rule on other lands today.

Our hearts go out to Mr. Khrushchev who lost a son, to Mr. Kozlov who lost two brothers, and to the millions of other Soviet mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who mourn for their loved ones lost in defending their homeland.

But while it is generally recognized that the American people want peace, I realize that it has sometimes been charged that our government does not share the attitude of our people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For seven years I have sat in the high councils of our government and I can tell you that the primary aim of our discussions has been to find ways that we could use our strength in behalf of peace throughout the world.

Let me tell you of the background of some of those who participate in our policy discussions. The Secretary of State lost his brother in World War I. I saw boys as close to me as brothers die on barren islands four thousand miles from home in World War II. No man in the world today has more knowledge of war and is more dedicated to peace than President Eisenhower.

Those who claim that the policies of the American government do not represent and are not supported by the American people are engaging in a completely inaccurate and dangerous form of self-deception. Any administration which follows policies which do not reflect the views of our people on major issues runs the risk of defeat at the next election. When our elected officials cease to represent the people, the people have the power to replace them with others who do. The reason the leaders of both our major political parties are united in supporting President Eisenhower's foreign policy is that they are reflecting the views of a people who are united behind these policies.

The government and people of the United States are as one in their devotion to the cause of peace.

But dedication to peace, good will and human brotherhood should never be mistaken for weakness, softness and fear.

Much as we want peace we will fight to defend our country and our way of life just as you have fought so courageously to defend your homeland throughout your history.

The peace we want and the peace the world needs is not the peace of surrender but the peace of justice, not peace by ultimatum but peace by negotiation.

The leaders of our two great nations have such tremendous responsibilities if peace is to be maintained in our time.

We cannot and should not gloss over the fact that we have some great and basic differences between us. What we must constantly strive to do is to see that those differences are discussed and settled at the conference table and not on the battlefield.

And until such settlements are agreed to, our leaders must exercise the greatest restraint, patience and understanding in their actions and their statements. They must do nothing which might provoke a war no one wants.

The fact that one of us may have a bigger bomb, a faster plane, or a more powerful rocket than the other at any particular time no longer adds up to an advantage. Because we have reached the point in world history where the biblical injunction "they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" is literally true today.

The nation which starts a war today will destroy itself. Completely apart from any retaliatory action which might be taken by a nation which is attacked, the deadly dust from radioactive bombs used in an attack will be carried by the winds back to the homeland of the aggressor.

With both of our great nations holding this terrible power in our hands neither must ever put the other in a position where he has no choice but to fight or surrender. No nation in the world today is strong enough to issue an ultimatum to another without running the risk of self-destruction.

The Soviet Exhibition in New York and the American Exhibition which we open tonight are dramatic examples of what a great future lies in store for all of us if we can devote the tremendous energies of our peoples and the resources of our countries to the ways of peace rather than the ways of war.

The last half of the 20th Century can be the darkest or the brightest page in the history of civilization. The decision is in our hands to make. The genius of the men who produced the magnificent achievements represented by these two Exhibitions can be directed either to the destruction of civilization or to the creation of the best life that men have ever enjoyed on this earth.

As I have said on previous occasions, let us expand the idea of peaceful competition which Mr. Khrushchev has often enunciated. Let us extend this competition to include the spiritual as well as the material aspects of our civilization. Let us compete not in how to take lives but in how to save them. Let us work for victory not in war but for the victory of plenty over poverty, of health over disease, of understanding over ignorance wherever they exist in the world.

Above all, let us find more and more areas where we can substitute cooperation for competition in achieving our goal of a fuller, freer, richer life for every man, woman and child on this earth.