45. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Pat Moynihan’s Memo on the Young Demonstrators

I have several specific comments on Pat Moynihan’s memo on the problem of the young demonstrators. (Tab A)

Who Are They?

They are a very mixed group—in social origin, in political outlook, in potential for help or harm. Of the young Moratorium marchers, some were certainly the offspring of the affluent, and therefore their politics are a sharp departure from their parents. Yet many probably have fathers who attended college under the GI Bill in the late ’40s. Some of the marchers were likely to be the first generation to reach college. And if Tom Wicker is speaking for himself and his colleagues in claiming that “those are our children” down there in the streets, these are also the offspring of some traditionally Democratic elements.

The geographic spread of politically active young people is much broader than the East Coast. A Harvard-Princeton game might find a majority of Bostonians and New Yorkers among the alumni in the stands. But the percentage of mid-Westerners and Westerners among the students would be far, far higher than it was 10 or 15 years ago. To use Pat’s comparison, the distinction between the subway to City College (or the freeway to Berkeley) as against walking across Harvard Yard has largely broken down in this age of mass higher education.

Why Do They March?

Their motives are undoubtedly varied. I think a good many of these young people simply don’t know who they are—and are trying desperately to find out. In the broader sense, they are casualties of our affluence. Brooded over by too zealous, too psychologically-oriented parents, they have lost confidence in themselves as well as in their elders. Graduated into the impersonal routine of a bureaucratic-technological society, they see conformity as a lonesome life without adventure. In short, they do not find meaning or purpose in those values that guided most of their parents.

[Page 147]

It is this quality of rootlessness and despair that goes to explain their quest for “instant” experience—from politics to sex. And what better refuge from loneliness than the crowd (“the happening”)—from Woodstock to the Moratorium.

Confusion and outrage have taken their toll, of course, of youthful energies in every generation. The group Pat talks about is special in the sheer breadth of its political consciousness and activism. It is drawn, after all, from the largest number of educated young people in history. They have had the leisure for self-pity, and the learning enabling them to focus it in a fashionable critique of the “system”.

To the degree that they are politically conscious, many are substantially anti-establishment simply because that is not only the natural bent of youthful alienation, but also because it is a major thrust of contemporary academic literature. Modern American sociology, psychology, political science, etc., have turned a glaring light on the faults in our society. So too is some of our modern literature social criticism. All this is bound to fall on fertile ground—and cover more of it than ever before—in a country that sends 8 million kids to college.

The practical results are very mixed. The combination of aimlessness and skepticism of the elders has produced a sense of isolation and even of nihilism.

A small minority escapes (as it always has) in mindless radicalism. And the predictable quota of shallow minds and fanatics—the organizers rather than the thinkers—ride the crest of the wave to positions of prominence they could never claim otherwise.

There is also the danger that many of these young demonstrators—deriving passion from their personal crises—do not grasp the consequences of their actions. Some (though not all by any means) march for marching’s sake with the sheepish conformity they claim to abhor. The heroes of a vocal minority among them (Che, Mao, et al) are romantic images devoid of reality. It is just unthinking emotion that links civil rights and Chinese Communism.

Yet I believe that the overwhelming majority of these young people across the country remain remarkably open in terms of their future political affiliation. Many are bright and thoughtful. They are committed to right wrongs as well as to find themselves. They are eager to participate, impatient for tangible progress. It is true that they are wary of every answer—and some are ready to suspect that arguments for gradual (realistic) progress (from peace in Vietnam to desegregation) mask some sinister conspiracy against the goal. But this skepticism can also be the bedrock of a critically intelligent and informed citizenry in the ’70s and ’80s.

[Page 148]

Their Political Impact

This frame of reference will probably stay with most of these young people through their first decade as voters. Taken alone as a segment of the voting public, however, they are not significant, and you could build a broad majority however you deal with them.

They become formidable by adding to their own votes an enormous outburst of political activism, bound to have an influence on others as well as on their parents. We have ample proof of this in the McCarthy phenomenon.

In this sense, Vietnam may be only symptomatic. When that issue is gone, another will take its place. For they are fighting the established position as much as a given problem.

What Can You Do?

I think that attacking this group head-on is counterproductive. This is not to say that you should be soft on the destructive militants. There is obviously a need here for firm leadership. But when talking about the great majority of these young activists, I believe you should weigh the benefits and costs of taking them on.

My concern is that blanket condemnation, while giving no lasting benefit, will drive the young activists to focus their energies against you personally—with the fallout Pat describes in the sympathy of their elders and the influence they have in the broader arena. The best posture is that the Administration be seen to take seriously the perplexed but responsible majority of these young people. The posture would be that they may be wrong on the merits of the argument, but you do not doubt the authenticity and sincerity of their concerns.

However, we should remember that these same young people will not forgive us for letting them suffer the consequences of their own actions. To take them seriously is not to add one more indulgence. We need not give in to them to show our concern for their problems.

Above all, they need leadership to respect. It is the qualities they miss in their own lives—sureness of purpose, confidence in the future, the courage to stand alone—that they will recognize, whatever the differences on specific issues.

Although many do not realize it, you have something basic in common with many of them—a conviction that the machinery of New Deal liberalism has to be fundamentally overhauled. You also share a concern that America play a more balanced and restrained role in the world. You are, in fact, turning over most of the rocks at home and abroad that these kids want to see turned over. You are in addition, their best protection against the forces their impetuosity and extremism bids fair to unleash on the right.

[Page 149]

With a concerted and sensitive effort to get across the fresh approach of your Administration, you may well gain some converts among those who now seem irretrievable.

Tab A

Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for Urban Affairs (Moynihan) to President Nixon 2

Last night Teddy White related to me your hopes for reviving the Eisenhower-Nixon majority. This seems to me altogether a worthy goal, and a perfectly feasible one. But I fear we may be jeopardizing that outcome by certain present postures which are now in no way central to any of your other goals or policies.

The Eisenhower-Nixon majority was broadbased. (Ike got 20% of the black vote in 1952 and twice that in 1956.) But its bedrock consisted of the business and professional class of the nation. These provided the brains, the money, the elan.

Clearly your overall policies are ideal for mobilizing that group once again. Your fixed intention to get us out of that war in Asia; to put the economy back in balance; to restore the authority of public institutions; to achieve social progress with social stability—all these are precisely the goals of that group.

I think, however, you could lose much of it—needlessly—if their children begin to take personally your necessary, proper and essentially impersonal opposition to their own effort to make foreign policy in the streets.

It must be remembered that to an extraordinary degree the demonstrators are an elite group.3

  • —I would hazard that half their parents are Republicans.
  • —I would not be surprised if those parents contributed half the funds spent by either major party in the 1968 election.4
  • —Note, for example, that much of the money behind this weekend’s demonstration comes from General Motors and Singer Sewing Machine fortunes. (The Ole Mole, the radical journal in Cambridge, is financed by the granddaughter of Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith. There is no end to such examples.)

As with most such groups, they really are kind of arrogant. Teddy White told a (private) story. His son will be down from Harvard this weekend, demonstrating with his girl friend. She is an Auchincloss. As she put it “Uncle Mac [Bundy] and Uncle Bill [Bundy] made a terrible mistake about Vietnam, and I feel I must help rectify it.”5

They can also be wonderful. Maureen Finch who took part in the Moratorium worked for me this summer, and was superb. I gather that Mel Laird’s son who also took part is equally an attractive young man.

And in the mass they are powerful. One of the least understood phenomenon of the time is the way in which the radical children of the upper middle classes have influenced their parents. That is why Time Magazine, Life, Newsweek, NBC, CBS, the New York Times and the media in general will take their side against anybody whatsoever: the Democratic Party, the Pentagon, Mayor Daley. Or, if it should ever come to it … you.6

In the course of the rioting at the Chicago convention Tom Wicker of the New York Times uttered the famous remark “But those are our children down there on the street.” It remained for Pete Hamill to comment that “You’d think no cop ever had a mother.” No matter. The kids finished Humphrey.

Their parents are in a curious way proud of them. Last Saturday at half time at the Harvard-Princeton game the Harvard Band lined up and began its march with the announcement “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Effete Harvard Corps of Intellectual Snobs.” There cannot have been less than $10 billion bucks of Republican money in the Stadium at the time, and as one man it roared approval, i.e., unity with the undergraduates in the face of an outsider who dared affront them.7 After all, they are Harvard men, etc. (Try to remember that I went to the City College of New York on the subway. So I am not writing about anybody I know!)

[Page 151]

I sometimes like these kids. More often I detest their ignorant, chiliastic, almost insolent self confidence. But I think it extremely important for the administration not to allow itself to become an object of their incredible powers of derision,8 destruction, and disdain.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1050, Staff Files, Staff Memos, Moynihan 3/69-11/70. Eyes Only; Sensitive.
  2. No classification marking. Nixon added the following handwritten note on the memorandum and sent it to Kissinger: “K—Return to me with your comment.”
  3. Nixon underlined the last five words in this sentence, and at the top of the first page of the memorandum he wrote: “Can we win the Harvard et al types”?
  4. Nixon added a marginal handwritten comment at this point which reads: “no—RN $ came from Midwest California & South.”
  5. Brackets in the source text.
  6. Nixon underlined “against anybody whatsoever” and added the following marginal comment: “(on the left only!).”
  7. Nixon underlined portions of this paragraph, including the final four words, and added a marginal note which reads: “RN did so in 1947.”
  8. Nixon underlined “incredible powers of derision.”