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Friday, December 19, 2014

UNM 125: RFK favors talks, asks peace effort

Printed April 1, 1968

Editor’s note: Robert F. Kennedy visited UNM two months and one week before he was assassinated in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968.

New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, addressing a large crowd Friday at Zimmerman field, said he favors a “negotiated settlement rather than a withdrawal” in Viet Nam. “We must make a new effort to end the war in Viet Nam and begin the long journey to peace,” he said.

“We must have a broader base of support there, and end the corruption within the Siagon government. I believe the time has come to seek the path of peace. That is why I run for president,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the growth of a people cannot be measured by the gross national product. He indicated that the GNP includes such things as air pollution, cigarette advertising, and the “glorification of violence on television” to advertise children’s toys.

“The gross national product measures everything except those things that make life worthwhile,” he declared, “… and that which makes us proud to be Americans.”

He accused this nation of using a double standard for health care — one for the “well-off majority,” and “another for the poor.” He insisted there should be new sources of recruitment into the health field, and a creation of new institutions and health clinics within the poverty regions of this country.

“We must operate on the principle that we can do better in the United States,” Kennedy said. “We must meet our needs on a decent and human scale.”

A large painted sign on the east end of the field asked: “So who wants a ruthless President?” Before delivering his speech, Kennedy turned to face the sign, hesitated, turned back to the microphones and said, smiling: “If I was ruthless, you know what I could do to you.” Later he looked to the sign again. “I resent that sign,” he said. “It’s unfair, which Richard Nixon not being here.”

At the conclusion of his speech, Kennedy answered questions from the crowd. “You — the girl in the pink blouse,” he called to someone seated in the stadium. “You are a girl, aren’t you?” It wasn’t. “You’ve convinced me,” he laughed. “I’m going to cut my hair.”

He was asked if he thought the draft is unconstitutional. “No … the draft isn’t unconstitutional,” he said. “It isn’t unconstitutional because you don’t like it.”

When pressed for answers on the Viet Nam war, he reversed the order of questioning and said “Let me ask you something … four questions.” He asked which the audience would prefer, a unilateral withdrawal in Viet Nam; a bombing halt and negotiations; a continuance of the present policy; or escalation. The response showed a majority favored a bombing halt with negotiations.

Leading back to the question on the draft, he said it was his objective to see the United States have a professional army. He added that he was in favor of a lottery draft system. “The burden of the Viet Nam war is with the poor,” he said, pointing out that 58 percent of the men drafted in New Mexico are Spanish-Americans.

Someone asked Kennedy what he would do with Gen. Lewis Hersey, head of the Selective Service. “I can’t do anything with him until January,” he said, “… and then I will.”

“What about the legalization of marijuana?” someone called out. “That’s your problem,” he answered.

As the crowd began to rise and concentrate on leaving, Kennedy made his last appeal. “I think we can do better in this country … Give me your hand, give me your help.”