President Kennedy Addresses United Nations Staff

President Kennedy Addresses United Nations Staff

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On a September 20, 1963, visit to New York that includes an address to the United Nations General Assembly on the nuclear test-ban treaty, President John F. Kennedy takes time out to express his appreciation to Americans working at the United Nations.

John F. Kennedy : Inaugural Address (1961)

One of the most eloquent of America’s Presidents was the youthful John Fitzgerald Kennedy, whose career came tragically to an end with his assassination in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961 he called for a spirit of resolution and sacrifice to meet the many challenges of the times. The address was a reaffirmation of the principles laid down in the First Inaugural Addresses of Jefferson and Wilson.

Heavy snow fell the night before the inauguration, but thoughts about cancelling the plans were overruled. The election of 1960 had been close, and the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts was eager to gather support for his agenda. He attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown that morning before joining President Eisenhower to travel to the Capitol. The Congress had extended the East Front, and the inaugural platform spanned the new addition. The oath of office was administered by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Robert Frost read one of his poems at the ceremony.

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do or we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge to convert our good words into good deeds in a new alliance for progress to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective, to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak, and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.

We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind’s final war.

So let us begin anew remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah: to “undo the heavy burdens … and to let the oppressed go free.”

And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.
Now the trumpet summons us again not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need not as a call to battle, though embattled we are but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation” a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

President Kennedy Addresses United Nations Staff - HISTORY

[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Mr. President, Honored Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:

We meet here in an hour of grief and challenge. Dag Hammarskjold is dead, but the United Nations lives. His tragedy is deep in our hearts, but the tasks for which he died are at the top of our agenda. A noble servant of peace is gone, but the quest for peace lies before us.

The problem is not the death of one man the problem is the life of this organization. It will either grow to meet the challenges of our age, or it will be gone with the wind, without influence, without force, without respect. Were we to let it die, to enfeeble its vigor, to cripple its powers, we would condemn our future.

For in the development of this organization rests the only true alternative to war -- and war appeals no longer as a rational alternative. Unconditional war can no longer lead to unconditional victory. It can no longer serve to settle disputes. It can no longer concern the Great Powers alone. For a nuclear disaster, spread by winds and water and fear, could well engulf the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the committed and the uncommitted alike. Mankind must put an end to war -- or war will put an end to mankind.

So let us here resolve that Dag Hammarskjold did not live, or die, in vain. Let us call a truce to terror. Let us invoke the blessings of peace. And as we build an international capacity to keep peace, let us join in dismantling the national capacity to wage war.

This will require new strength and new roles for the United Nations. For disarmament without checks is but a shadow, and a community without law is but a shell. Already the United Nations has become both the measure and the vehicle of man's most generous impulses. Already it has provided -- in the Middle East, in Asia, in Africa this year in the Congo -- a means of holdings man's violence within bounds.

But the great question which confronted this body in 1945 is still before us: whether man's cherished hopes for progress and peace are to be destroyed by terror and disruption, whether the "foul winds of war" can be tamed in time to free the cooling winds of reason, and whether the pledges of our charter are to be fulfilled or defied -- pledges to secure peace, progress, human rights, and world law.

In this hall, there are not three forces, but two. One is composed of those who are trying to build the kind of world described in Articles 1 and 2 of the charter. The other, seeking a far different world, would undermine this organization in the process.

Today, of all days, our dedication to the charter must be maintained. It must be strengthened first of all by the selection of an outstanding civil servant to carry forward the responsibilities of the Secretary-General -- a man endowed with both the wisdom and the power to make meaningful the moral force of the world community. The late Secretary General nurtured and sharpened the United Nations' obligation to act. But he did not invent it. It was there in the Charter. It is still there in the charter.

However difficult it may be to fill Mr. Hammarskjold's place, it can better be filled by one man rather than by three. Even the three horses of the Troika did not have three drivers, all going in different directions. They had only one -- and so must the United Nations Executive. To install a triumvirate , or any panel, or any rotating authority in the United Nations administrative offices would replace order with anarchy, action with paralysis, confidence with confusion.

The Secretary General, in a very real sense, is the servant of this Assembly. Diminish his authority and you diminish the authority of the only body where all nations, regardless of power, are equal and sovereign. Until all the powerful are just, the weak will be secure only in the strength of the General Assembly.

Effective and independent Executive action is not the same question as balanced representation In view of the enormous change in membership in this body since its founding, the American delegation will join in any effort for the prompt review and revision of the composition of the United Nations bodies.

But to give this organization three drivers -- to permit each Great Power to decide it's own case, would entrench the Cold War in the headquarters of peace. Whatever advantages such a plan may hold out to my own country, as one of the great powers, we reject it. For we far prefer world law, in the age of self-determination, to world war, in the age of mass extermination.

Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman, and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles , hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.

Men no longer debate whether armaments are a symptom or a cause of tension. The mere existence of modern weapons -- ten million times more powerful than any that the world has ever seen, and only minutes away from any target on earth -- is a source of horror, and discord, and distrust. Men no longer maintain that disarmament must await the settlement of all disputes -- for disarmament must be a part of any permanent settlement. And man may no longer pretend that the quest for disarmament is a sign of weakness -- for in a spiraling arms race, a nation's security may be shrinking, even as it's arms increase.

For fifteen years, this organization has sought the reduction and destruction of arms. Now that goal is no longer a dream -- it is a practical matter of life or death. The risks inherent in disarmament pale in comparison to the risks inherent in an unlimited arms race.

It is in this spirit that the recent Belgrade Conference -- recognizing that this is no longer a Soviet problem, or an American problem, but a human problem -- endorsed a program of "general, complete and strictly and internationally controlled disarmament." It is in this same spirit that we in the United States have labored this year, with a new urgency, and with a new, now statutory agency fully endorsed by the Congress, to find an approach to disarmament which would be so far-reaching, yet realistic, so mutually balanced and beneficial, that it could be accepted by every nation. And it is in this spirit that we have presented with the agreement of the Soviet Union -- under the label both nations now accept of "general and complete disarmament" -- a new statement of newly agreed principles for negotiation.

But we are well aware that all issues of principle are not settled, and that principles alone are not enough. It is therefore our intention to challenge the Soviet Union, not to an arms race, but to a peace race -- to advance together, step by step, stage by stage, until general and complete disarmament has been achieved. We invite them now to go beyond agreement in principle to reach agreement on actual plans.

The program to be presented to this Assembly -- for general and complete disarmament under effective and international control -- moves to bridge the gap between those who insist on a gradual approach and those who talk only of the final and total achievement. It would create machinery to keep the peace as it destroys the machinery of war. It would proceed through balanced and safe-guarded stages designed to give no state a military advantage over another. It would place the final responsibility for verification and control where it belongs, not with the big powers alone, not with one's adversary or one's self, but in an international organization within the framework of the United Nations. It would assure that indispensable condition of disarmament -- true inspection -- and apply it in stages proportionate to the stage of disarmament. It would cover delivery systems as well as weapons. It would ultimately halt their production as well as their testing, their transfer as well as their possession. It would achieve under the eyes of an international disarmament organization, a steady reduction in force, both nuclear and conventional, until it has abolished all armies and all weapons except those needed for internal order and a new United Nations Peace Force. And it starts that process now, today, even as the talks begin.

In short, general and complete disarmament must no longer be a slogan, used to resist first steps. It is no longer to be a goal without means of achieving it, without means of verifying its progress, without means of keeping the peace. It is now a realistic plan, and a test -- a test of those only willing to talk, and a test of those willing to act.

Such a plan would not bring a world free from conflict and greed -- but it would bring a world free from the terrors of mass destruction. It would not usher in the era of the super state -- but it would usher in an era in which no state could annihilate or be annihilated by another.

In 1945, this nation proposed the Baruch Plan to internationalize the atom before other nations even possessed the bomb or demilitarized their troops. We proposed with our allies the Disarmament Plan of 1951 while still at war in Korea. And we make our proposals today, while building up our defenses over Berlin, not because we are inconsistent or insincere or intimidated, but because we know that the rights of free men will prevail -- because while we are compelled, against our will to rearm, we look confidently beyond Berlin to the kind of disarmed world we all prefer.

I therefore propose on the basis of this plan, that disarmament negotiations resume promptly, and continue without interruption until an entire program for general and complete disarmament has not only been agreed upon, but has been actually achieved.

The logical place to begin is a treaty assuring the end of nuclear tests of all kinds, in every environment, under workable controls. The United States and the United Kingdom have proposed such a treaty that is both reasonable, effective, and ready for signature. We are still prepared to sign that treaty today.

We also proposed a mutual ban on atmospheric testing, without inspection or controls, in order to save the human race from the poison of radioactive fallout. We regret that that offer has not been accepted.

For 15 years we have sought to make the atom an instrument of peaceful growth rather than of war. But for 15 years our concessions have been matched by obstruction, our patience by intransigence -- and the pleas of mankind for peace have met with disregard.

Finally, as the explosions of others becloud the skies, my country was left with no alternative but to act in its own interests and in the free world's security. We cannot endanger that security by refraining from testing while others improve their arsenals. Nor can we endanger it by another long, uninspected ban on testing. For three years we accepted those risks in our open society while seeking agreement on inspection. But this year, while we were negotiating in good faith in Geneva, others were secretly preparing new experiments in destruction.

Our tests are not polluting the atmosphere. Our deterrent weapons are guarded against accidental explosion or use. Our doctors and scientists stand ready to help any nation measure and meet the hazards to health which inevitably result from the tests in the atmosphere.

But to halt the spread of these terrible weapons, to halt the contamination of the air, to halt the spiraling nuclear arms race, we remain ready to seek new avenues of agreement. Our new disarmament program thus includes the following proposals:

- First, signing the test ban treaty by all nations. This can be done now. Test ban negotiations need not, and should not await general disarmament.

- Second, stopping the production of fissionable materials for use in weapons, and preventing their transfer to any nation now lacking in nuclear weapons.

- Third, prohibiting the transfer of control over nuclear weapons to states that do not own them.

- Fourth, keeping nuclear weapons from seeding new battlegrounds in outer space.

- Fifth, gradually destroying existing nuclear weapons and converting their materials to peaceful use.

- And finally, halting the unlimited testing and production of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, and gradually destroying them as well.

To destroy arms, however, is not enough. We must create even as we destroy -- creating worldwide law and law enforcement as we outlaw worldwide war and weapons. In the world we seek, the United Nations Emergency Forces, which have been hastily assembled, uncertainly supplied, and inadequately financed, will never be enough.

Therefore, the United States recommends that all member nations earmark special peace-keeping units in their armed forces -- to be on call of the United Nations, to be specially trained and quickly available, and with advanced provision for financial and logistic support.

In addition, the American delegation will suggest a series of steps to improve the United Nations' machinery for the peaceful settlement of disputes -- for on the spot fact finding, mediation, and adjudication -- for extending the rules of international law. For peace is not solely a matter of military or technical problems -- it is primarily a problem of politics and people. And unless man can match his strides in weaponry and technology with equal strides in social and political development, our great strength, like that of the dinosaur, will become incapable of proper control -- and like the dinosaur, vanish from the earth.

And as we extend the rule of law on earth, so must we also extend it to man's new domain, outer space. All of us salute the brave cosmonauts of the Soviet Union. The new horizons of outer space must not be driven by the old bitter concepts of imperialism and sovereign claims. The cold reaches of the universe must not become the new arena of an even colder war.

To this end, we shall urge proposals extending the United Nations Charter to the limits of man's exploration in the universe, reserving outer space for peaceful use, prohibiting weapons of mass destruction in space or on celestial bodies, and opening the mysteries and benefits of space to every nation. We shall propose, further, cooperative efforts between all the nations in weather prediction and eventually in weather control. We shall propose, finally, a global system of Communications satellites linking the whole world in telegraph and telephone and radio and television. The day need not be far away when such a system will televise the proceedings of this body to every corner of the world for the benefit of peace.

But the mysteries of outer space must not divert our eyes or our energies from the harsh realities that face our fellow men. Political sovereignty is but a mockery without the means of meeting poverty and illiteracy and disease. Self-determination is but a slogan if the future holds no hope.

That is why my nation, which has freely shared it's capital and it's technology to help others help themselves, now proposes officially designating this decade of the 1960's as the United Nations Decade of Development. Under the framework of that Resolution, the United Nation's existing efforts in promoting economic growth can be expanded and coordinated. Regional surveys and training institutes can now pool the talents of many new research, technical assistance, and pilot projects that can unlock the wealth of less developed lands and untapped waters. And development can become a cooperative and not a competitive enterprise -- to enable all nations, however diverse in their systems and beliefs, to become in fact as well as in law free and equal nations.

My country favors a world of free and equal states. We agree with those who say that colonialism is a key issue in this Assembly. But let the full facts of that issue be discussed in full. On the one hand is the fact that, since the close of World War II, a worldwide declaration of independence has transformed nearly 1 billion people and 9 million square miles into 42 free and independent states. Less than 2% of the world's population now lives in "dependant" territories.

I do not ignore the remaining problems of traditional colonialism which still confront this body. Those problems will be solved with patience and goodwill and determination. Within the limits of our responsibility in such matters, my country intends to be a participant and not merely an observer, in the peaceful, expeditious movement of nations from the status of colonies to the partnership of equals. That continuing tide of self determination, which runs so strong, has our sympathy and our support.

But colonialism in its harshest forms is not only the exploitation of new weapons by -- of new nations by old, of dark skins by light, or the subjugation of the poor by the rich. My nation was once a colony, and we know what colonialism means the exploitation and subjugation of the weak by the powerful, of the many by the few, of the governed who have given no consent to be governed, whatever their continent, their class, or their color.

And that is why there is no ignoring the fact that the tide of self determination has not yet reached the Communist Empire where a population far larger than that officially termed "dependant" lives under governments installed by foreign troops instead of free institutions, under a system which knows only one party and one belief -- which suppresses free debate, and free elections, and free newspapers, and free books, and free trade unions -- and which builds a wall to keep truth a stranger and its own citizens prisoners. Let us debate colonialism in full -- and apply the principle of free choice and the practice of free plebiscites in every corner of the globe.

Finally -- Finally, as President of the United States, I consider it my duty to report to this Assembly on two threats to the peace which are not on your crowded agenda, but which causes us and most of you the deepest concern.

The first threat on which I wish to report is widely misunderstood: the smoldering coals of war in Southeast Asia. South Vietnam is already under attack -- sometimes by a single assassin, sometimes by a band of guerillas, recently by full battalions. The peaceful borders of Burma, Cambodia, and India have been repeatedly violated. And the peaceful people of Laos are in danger of losing the independence they gained not so long ago.

No one can call these "wars of liberation." For these are free countries living under their own governments. Nor are these aggressions any less real because men are knifed in their homes and not shot in the field of battle.

The very simple question confronting the world community is whether measures can be devised to protect the small and the weak from such tactics. For if they are successful in Laos and South Vietnam, the gates will be opened wide.

The United States seeks for itself no base, no territory, no special position in this area of any kind. We support a truly neutral and independent Laos, its people free from outside interference, living at peace with themselves and with their neighbors, assured that their territory will not be used for attacks on others, and under a government comparable (as Mr. Khrushchev and I agreed at Vienna) to Cambodia and Burma.

But now the negotiations over Laos are reaching a crucial stage. The cease-fire is at best precarious. The rainy season is coming to an end. Laotian territory is being used to infiltrate South Vietnam. The world community must recognize -- and all those who are involved -- that this potent threat to Laotian peace and freedom is indivisible from all other threats to their own.

Secondly, I wish to report to you on the crisis over Germany and Berlin. This is not the time or the place for immoderate tones, but the world community is entitled to know the very simple issues as we see them. If there is a crisis it is because an existing peace in that area is under threat, because an existing island of free people is under pressure, because solemn agreements are being treated with indifference. Established international rights are being threatened with unilateral usurpation. Peaceful circulation has been interrupted by barbed wire and concrete blocks.

One recalls the order of the Tsar in Pushkin's " Boris Godunov :" Take steps at this very hour that our frontiers be fenced in by barriers. that not a single soul pass o'er the border, that not a hare be able to run or a crow to fly."

It is absurd to allege that we are threatening a war merely to prevent the Soviet Union and East Germany from signing a so-called "treaty" of peace. The Western allies are not concerned with any paper arrangements the Soviets may wish to make with a regime of their own creation, on territory occupied by their own troops and governed by their own agents. No such action, however, can affect either our rights or our responsibilities.

If there is a dangerous crisis in Berlin -- and there is -- it is because of threats against the vital interest and the deep commitments of the Western powers, and the freedom of West Berlin. We cannot yield these interests. We cannot fail these commitments. We cannot surrender the freedom of these people for whom we are responsible. A "peace-treaty" which carried with it the provisions which destroy the peace would be a fraud. A "free city" which was not genuinely free would suffocate freedom and would be an infamy.

For a city or a people to be truly free they must have the secure right, without economic, political or police pressure to make their own choice and to live their own lives. And as I have said before, if anyone doubts the extent to which our presence is desired by the people of West Berlin, we are ready to have that question submitted to a free vote in all Berlin, and, if possible, among all the German people.

The elementary fact about this crisis is that it is unnecessary. The elementary tools for a peaceful settlement are to be found in the charter. Under its law, agreements are to be kept, unless changed by all those who make them. Established rights are to be respected. The political disposition of peoples should rest upon their own wishes, freely expressed in plebiscites and free elections. If there are legal problems, they can be solved by legal means. If there is a threat of force, it must be rejected. If there is a desire for change, it must be a subject for negotiation, and if there is negotiation, it must be rooted in mutual respect and concern for the rights of others.

The Western Powers have calmly resolved to defend, by whatever means are forced upon them, their obligations and their access to the free citizens of West Berlin and the self-determination of those citizens. This generation learned from bitter experience that either brandishing or yielding to threats can only lead to war. But firmness and reason can lead to the kind of peaceful solution in which my country profoundly believes.

We are committed to no rigid formulas. We see no perfect solution. We recognize that troops and tanks can, for a time, keep a nation divided against its will, however unwise that policy may seem to us. But we believe a peaceful agreement is possible which protects the freedom of West Berlin and allied presence and access, while recognizing the historic and legitimate interests of others in assuring European security.

The possibilities of negotiation are now being explored it is too early to report what the prospects may be. For our part, we would be glad to report at the appropriate time that a solution has been found. For there is no need for a crisis over Berlin, threatening the peace -- and if those who created this crisis desire peace, there will be peace and freedom in Berlin.

The events and decisions of the next ten months may well decide the fate of man for the next ten thousand years. There will be no avoiding those events. There will be no appeal from these decisions. And we in this hall shall be remembered either as part of the generation that turned this planet into a flaming funeral pyre or the generation that met its vow "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war."

In the endeavor to meet that vow, I pledge you every effort that this nation possesses. I pledge you that we shall neither commit nor provoke aggression, that we shall neither flee nor invoke the threat of force, that we shall never negotiate out of fear, and we shall never fear to negotiate.

Terror is not a new weapon. Throughout history it has been used by those who could not prevail, either by persuasion or example. But inevitably they fail, either because men are not afraid to die for a wife -- a life worth living, or because the terrorists themselves came to realize that free men cannot be frightened by threats, and that aggression would meet its own response. And it is in the light of that history that every nation today should know, be he friend or foe, that the United States has both the will and the weapons to join free men in standing up to their responsibilities.

But I come here today to look across this world of threats to a world of peace. In that search we cannot expect any final triumph -- for new problems will always arise. We cannot expect that all nations will adopt like systems -- for conformity is the jailor of freedom, and the enemy of growth. Nor can we expect to reach our goal by contrivance, by fiat, or even by the wishes of all.

But however close we sometimes seem to that dark and final abyss, let no man of peace and freedom despair. For he does not stand alone. If we all can persevere, if we can in every land and office, look beyond our own shores and ambitions, then surely the age will dawn in which the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.

Ladies and Gentlemen of this Assembly, the decision is ours. Never have the nations of the world had so much to lose, or so much to gain. Together we shall save our planet, or together we shall perish in its flames. Save it we can -- and save it we must -- and then shall we earn the eternal thanks of mankind, and, as peacemakers, the eternal blessing of God.

"The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened."

"One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free."

JFK said that line while delivering the Civil Rights Address over radio and television on June 11, 1963, in which he proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

President Kennedy Addresses United Nations Staff - HISTORY

Sixty years ago on May 25, President John F. Kennedy stood before a crowd in Houston, Texas, and declared to the world that the United States was going to put a man on the moon. This was 1962 and the Space Race between the U.S. and U.S.S.R was not going well for America. The Soviets had put the first satellite in orbit when they launched Sputnik in 1957, and then put the first human in space when Yuri Gagarin was sent up in 1961. There was a fear that the U.S. would forever be playing catchup in the race to the stars.

Yet in his celebrated speech, President Kennedy thrilled the nation with his determination to put an American on the moon. “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

It was a stirring call to action — one that would ultimately help expand humanity’s scientific knowledge and to pinpoint our place in the cosmos. Kennedy did not live to see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the surface of the moon, but when they did the astronauts brought a message of peace with them: The crew of Apollo 11 carried two medals commemorating Soviet astronauts who had lost their lives on missions to show that this really was “one giant leap for mankind.”

To celebrate the anniversary of that stirring speech, here are 10 other presidential speeches that have changed the course of history.

George Washington’s “Farewell Address” of 1796 set the standard that U.S. presidents would serve only two terms in office. As the most popular figure of his day, and the first to hold this office,, Washington could have served as President for life. Instead, he chose to step down from his position of power, putting the good of the nation before his personal ambition. Washington had already displayed his selflessness when, in 1783, he gave up his military power to Congress. When King George III of England was told Washington meant to return to private life he declared, "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world."

Abraham Lincoln delivered his historic “House Divided” speech in 1858 when he was chosen as the Republican nominee for the presidency. The United States was already on the precipice of war over the matter of slavery, and Lincoln told voters that they would not be able to ignore the issue much longer. There would have to be a great reckoning, and it was not one that Lincoln intended to lose.

After Lincoln won the presidency in 1861, the United States endured a bloody civil war over the issue of slavery. In his second Inaugural Address in 1865, with the Union at the precipice of victory and millions of enslaved people freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln set out his bold vision of reconstruction and reconciliation between the North and South.

Despite campaigning for President on a vow not to enter the First World War, Woodrow Wilson found himself leading the United States into the conflict. In 1918, looking toward the peace that would follow the war, Wilson gave a speech setting out 14 points necessary for a lasting settlement. His plan led to the creation of the League of Nations, which paved the way for the United Nations of today.

In Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first Inaugural Address in 1933, he set out clearly the dire state of the nation amid the Great Depression. Yet he also sought to comfort Americans and promised change. Reflecting that fear itself was the only true obstacle, Roosevelt set out his project to rebuild the United States, the New Deal, telling his audience that “this nation asks for action, and action now.

In 1953, the United States and the Soviet Union were facing each other in a Cold War that threatened at any moment to turn into a destructive conflict of atomic warfare. In his “Atoms for Peace” speech, Eisenhower opened up nuclear technology to the world, instead of guarding it secretly. Trading fear for knowledge, this helped demystify the new science, which paved the way for the development of nuclear energy around the globe.

John F. Kennedy laid down a challenge to Americans and to the world in his Inaugural Address of 1961. His speech set the tone for a government that would bring the nation together and foster a global community. Promoting service over selfishness, he promised the country that no challenge would be too great if people worked together.

The United States in 1965 (as it is now) was struggling with issues of racial injustice. After 600 civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, were brutally attacked by state troopers, the nation was shocked into action. President Johnson went to Congress and pressed for the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The new law would guarantee equal rights to vote to all U.S. citizens by abolishing discriminatory voting laws.

The Cold War had dragged on for 40 years by the time President Reagan stood to speak beside the Brandenburg Gate in a divided Berlin in 1987. Outlining simple demands, he challenged the Soviet Union to speed up its promises of reform and freedom. It marked the closing chapter of an age of uncertainty, and promised better relations between the two global superpowers.

In a campaign speech in New Hampshire in 2008, Barack Obama hit on a phrase that channelled the optimism of America. He would later repeat it in his acceptance speech delivered on November 4, 2008 in Chicago after his victory.. He reminded Americans, “A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination… America, we have come so far.”

John F. Kennedy : American University Address (1963)

Kennedy’s hope for peace ran like one continuous thread through his speeches. But never was it more stirringly enunciated than in this address at the American University in Washington D. C. on June 10, 1963.

Address delivered 10 June 1963

President Anderson, members of the faculty, board of trustees, distinguished guests, my old colleague, Senator Bob Byrd, who has earned his degree through many years of attending night law school, while I am earning mine in the next 30 minutes, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

It is with great pride that I participate in this ceremony of the American University, sponsored by the Methodist Church, founded by Bishop John Fletcher Hurst, and first opened by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. This is a young and growing university, but it has already fulfilled Bishop Hurst’s enlightened hope for the study of history and public affairs in a city devoted to the making of history and to the conduct of the public’s business. By sponsoring this institution of higher learning for all who wish to learn, whatever their color or their creed, the Methodists of this area and the Nation deserve the Nation’s thanks, and I commend all those who are today graduating.

Professor Woodrow Wilson once said that every man sent out from a university should be a man of his nation as well as a man of his time, and I am confident that the men and women who carry the honor of graduating from this institution will continue to give from their lives, from their talents, a high measure of public service and public support. “There are few earthly things more beautiful than a university,” wrote John Masefield in his tribute to English universities — and his words are equally true today. He did not refer to towers or to campuses. He admired the splendid beauty of a university, because it was, he said, “a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see.”

I have, therefore, chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived. And that is the most important topic on earth: peace. What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and to build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women — not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.

I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age where great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age where a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.

Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need them is essential to the keeping of peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles — which can only destroy and never create — is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace. I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.

Some say that it is useless to speak of peace or world law or world disarmament, and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitude, as individuals and as a Nation, for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward, by examining his own attitude towards the possibilities of peace, towards the Soviet Union, towards the course of the cold war and towards freedom and peace here at home.

First examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again. I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal.

Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions — on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process — a way of solving problems.

With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor, it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever. However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbors. So let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all people to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly towards it.

And second, let us reexamine our attitude towards the Soviet Union. It is discouraging to think that their leaders may actually believe what their propagandists write. It is discouraging to read a recent, authoritative Soviet text on military strategy and find, on page after page, wholly baseless and incredible claims, such as the allegation that American imperialist circles are preparing to unleash different types of war, that there is a very real threat of a preventive war being unleashed by American imperialists against the Soviet Union, and that the political aims — and I quote — “of the American imperialists are to enslave economically and politically the European and other capitalist countries and to achieve world domination by means of aggressive war.”

Truly, as it was written long ago: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.”

Yet it is sad to read these Soviet statements, to realize the extent of the gulf between us. But it is also a warning, a warning to the American people not to fall into the same trap as the Soviets, not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats.

No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture, in acts of courage.

Among the many traits the peoples of our two countries have in common, none is stronger than our mutual abhorrence of war. Almost unique among the major world powers, we have never been at war with each other. And no nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union suffered in the Second World War. At least 20 million lost their lives. Countless millions of homes and families were burned or sacked. A third of the nation’s territory, including two thirds of its industrial base, was turned into a wasteland — a loss equivalent to the destruction of this country east of Chicago.

Today, should total war ever break out again — no matter how — our two countries will be the primary target. It is an ironic but accurate fact that the two strongest powers are the two in the most danger of devastation. All we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours. And even in the cold war, which brings burdens and dangers to so many countries, including this Nation’s closest allies, our two countries bear the heaviest burdens. For we are both devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combat ignorance, poverty, and disease. We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle, with suspicion on one side breeding suspicion on the other, and new weapons begetting counter-weapons. In short, both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race. Agreements to this end are in the interests of the Soviet Union as well as ours. And even the most hostile nations can be relied upon to accept and keep those treaty obligations, and only those treaty obligations, which are in their own interest.

So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.

Third, let us reexamine our attitude towards the cold war, remembering we’re not engaged in a debate, seeking to pile up debating points. We are not here distributing blame or pointing the finger of judgment. We must deal with the world as it is, and not as it might have been had the history of the last 18 years been different. We must, therefore, persevere in the search for peace in the hope that constructive changes within the Communist bloc might bring within reach solutions which now seem beyond us. We must conduct our affairs in such a way that it becomes in the Communists’ interest to agree on a genuine peace. And above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy — or of a collective death-wish for the world.

To secure these ends, America’s weapons are nonprovocative, carefully controlled, designed to deter, and capable of selective use. Our military forces are committed to peace and disciplined in self-restraint. Our diplomats are instructed to avoid unnecessary irritants and purely rhetorical hostility. For we can seek a relaxation of tensions without relaxing our guard. And, for our part, we do not need to use threats to prove we are resolute. We do not need to jam foreign broadcasts out of fear our faith will be eroded. We are unwilling to impose our system on any unwilling people, but we are willing and able to engage in peaceful competition with any people on earth.

Meanwhile, we seek to strengthen the United Nations, to help solve its financial problems, to make it a more effective instrument for peace, to develop it into a genuine world security system — a system capable of resolving disputes on the basis of law, of insuring the security of the large and the small, and of creating conditions under which arms can finally be abolished. At the same time we seek to keep peace inside the non-Communist world, where many nations, all of them our friends, are divided over issues which weaken Western unity, which invite Communist intervention, or which threaten to erupt into war. Our efforts in West New Guinea, in the Congo, in the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent, have been persistent and patient despite criticism from both sides. We have also tried to set an example for others, by seeking to adjust small but significant differences with our own closest neighbors in Mexico and Canada.

Speaking of other nations, I wish to make one point clear. We are bound to many nations by alliances. Those alliances exist because our concern and theirs substantially overlap. Our commitment to defend Western Europe and West Berlin, for example, stands undiminished because of the identity of our vital interests. The United States will make no deal with the Soviet Union at the expense of other nations and other peoples, not merely because they are our partners, but also because their interests and ours converge. Our interests converge, however, not only in defending the frontiers of freedom, but in pursuing the paths of peace. It is our hope, and the purpose of allied policy, to convince the Soviet Union that she, too, should let each nation choose its own future, so long as that choice does not interfere with the choices of others. The Communist drive to impose their political and economic system on others is the primary cause of world tension today. For there can be no doubt that if all nations could refrain from interfering in the self-determination of others, the peace would be much more assured.

This will require a new effort to achieve world law, a new context for world discussions. It will require increased understanding between the Soviets and ourselves. And increased understanding will require increased contact and communication. One step in this direction is the proposed arrangement for a direct line between Moscow and Washington, to avoid on each side the dangerous delays, misunderstandings, and misreadings of others’ actions which might occur at a time of crisis.

We have also been talking in Geneva about our first-step measures of arm[s] controls designed to limit the intensity of the arms race and reduce the risk of accidental war. Our primary long range interest in Geneva, however, is general and complete disarmament, designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms. The pursuit of disarmament has been an effort of this Government since the 1920’s. It has been urgently sought by the past three administrations. And however dim the prospects are today, we intend to continue this effort — to continue it in order that all countries, including our own, can better grasp what the problems and possibilities of disarmament are.

The only major area of these negotiations where the end is in sight, yet where a fresh start is badly needed, is in a treaty to outlaw nuclear tests. The conclusion of such a treaty, so near and yet so far, would check the spiraling arms race in one of its most dangerous areas. It would place the nuclear powers in a position to deal more effectively with one of the greatest hazards which man faces in 1963, the further spread of nuclear arms. It would increase our security it would decrease the prospects of war. Surely this goal is sufficiently important to require our steady pursuit, yielding neither to the temptation to give up the whole effort nor the temptation to give up our insistence on vital and responsible safeguards.

I’m taking this opportunity, therefore, to announce two important decisions in this regard. First, Chairman Khrushchev, Prime Minister Macmillan, and I have agreed that high-level discussions will shortly begin in Moscow looking towards early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Our hopes must be tempered with the caution of history but with our hopes go the hopes of all mankind. Second, to make clear our good faith and solemn convictions on this matter, I now declare that the United States does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so. We will not be the first to resume. Such a declaration is no substitute for a formal binding treaty, but I hope it will help us achieve one. Nor would such a treaty be a substitute for disarmament, but I hope it will help us achieve it.

Finally, my fellow Americans, let us examine our attitude towards peace and freedom here at home. The quality and spirit of our own society must justify and support our efforts abroad. We must show it in the dedication of our own lives — as many of you who are graduating today will have a opportunity to do, by serving without pay in the Peace Corps abroad or in the proposed National Service Corps here at home. But wherever we are, we must all, in our daily lives, live up to the age-old faith that peace and freedom walk together. In too many of our cities today, the peace is not secure because freedom is incomplete. It is the responsibility of the executive branch at all levels of government — local, State, and National — to provide and protect that freedom for all of our citizens by all means within our authority. It is the responsibility of the legislative branch at all levels, wherever the authority is not now adequate, to make it adequate. And it is the responsibility of all citizens in all sections of this country to respect the rights of others and respect the law of the land.

All this is not unrelated to world peace. “When a man’s way[s] please the Lord,” the Scriptures tell us, “he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” And is not peace, in the last analysis, basically a matter of human rights: the right to live out our lives without fear of devastation the right to breathe air as nature provided it the right of future generations to a healthy existence?

While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both. No treaty, however much it may be to the advantage of all, however tightly it may be worded, can provide absolute security against the risks of deception and evasion. But it can, if it is sufficiently effective in its enforcement, and it is sufficiently in the interests of its signers, offer far more security and far fewer risks than an unabated, uncontrolled, unpredictable arms race.

The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough — more than enough — of war and hate and oppression.

We shall be prepared if others wish it. We shall be alert to try to stop it. But we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we must labor on–not towards a strategy of annihilation but towards a strategy of peace.

JFK proposes joint lunar expedition with Soviets, Sept. 20, 1963

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on this day in 1963, President John F. Kennedy offered to mount a joint manned lunar program with the Soviet Union. Kennedy’s proposal that the rival superpowers cooperate on a mission to mount an expedition to the moon caught both the Soviet leadership and many Americans off guard.

Toward the end of his address, Kennedy said: “In a field where the United States and the Soviet Union have a special capacity — space — there is room for new cooperation, for further joint efforts. I include among these possibilities,” he added, “a joint expedition to the moon.”

Why, the president asked, should the United States and the Soviet Union conduct parallel efforts that would include “duplication of research, construction and expenditure?” He suggested a joint series of space missions, which if enacted, he said, “will require a new approach to the Cold War.”

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev rejected the proposal. But in 1997, his son, Sergei Khrushchev, told SpaceCast that some weeks after the Kremlin’s rebuff, his father had second thoughts. While Khrushchev agreed with his military brass that such an effort would provide an opportunity for the U.S. military to learn more about Soviet missile programs, he also believed that it might be possible for the Soviets to absorb some valuable American technology.

Another untested hurdle: Congress would have had to approve the plan, thereby opening the U.S. space program to direct Soviet involvement, a politically unpalatable notion in the 1960s’ Cold War environment.

Trump warns that major portions of the world ‘are going to hell’

In the wake of Kennedy’s assassination some two months later, both President Lyndon B. Johnson and Khrushchev abandoned the idea while each nation pushed ahead with its own lunar landing programs. In 1969, with Richard Nixon in the White House, the United States became the first and, so far, the only country to land a man on the moon.

After the American moon landing, justification in Moscow’s eyes for the Soviet lunar landing program largely evaporated, although development and testing continued into the early 1970s.

Meanwhile, China, which in 2003 became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the United States, has announced plans for a manned lunar mission. A government official said in 2016 that China wants to put astronauts on the moon by 2036. In 2013, the Chinese completed the first lunar “soft landing” since 1976. China also plans to land the first probe ever on the dark side of the moon in 2018.

NASA is conducting a study at the behest of the Trump White House to see whether two astronauts can fly on the first launch of a next-generation rocket, sending them on a nine-day trip around the moon in 2018 or early 2019. Originally, human flight onboard the new rocket ship was not planned until 2021.

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After the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Kennedy was determined to construct a better relationship with the Soviet Union to discourage another threat of nuclear war. He believed that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was also interested in renewing U.S.–Soviet relations. On November 19, 1962, Khrushchev had submitted a report to the Central Committee of the Communist Party that implicitly called for a halt in foreign intervention to concentrate on the economy. One month later, Khrushchev wrote Kennedy a letter stating "the time has come now to put an end once and for all to nuclear tests." [4] Kennedy greeted this response with enthusiasm and suggested that technical discussions for nuclear inspections begin between representatives of the two governments. [5] However, Kennedy faced opposition for any test ban from Republican leaders and his own State Department. After several months the opposition in the Senate lessened and gave the Kennedy Administration the opportunity to pursue the ban with the Soviet Union. In May 1963, the president informed his National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy that he wished to deliver a major address on peace. According to Special Assistant Ted Sorensen the speech was kept confidential in fear that the unprecedented tone would "set off alarm bells in more bellicose quarters in Washington" and allow political attacks against Kennedy in advance of the speech. [6] In the days before the speech, Kennedy was committed to addressing the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Honolulu and asked Sorensen to construct the initial draft with input from several members of Kennedy's staff. The speech was reviewed and edited by Kennedy and Sorensen on the return flight from Honolulu days before the address. Historian and Special Assistant Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. observed in his diary, "from the viewpoint of orderly administration, this was a bad way to prepare a major statement on foreign policy. But the State Department could never in a thousand years have produced this speech." [7]

Sorensen had been Kennedy's aide since the 1953 Massachusetts Senatorial election, and eventually served as his primary campaign speechwriter and as Special Counsel during and after the 1960 Presidential election. [8] By 1963 he had written drafts for nearly every speech Kennedy delivered in office, including the inaugural address, the Cuban Missile Crisis speech, and the Ich bin ein Berliner speech. Common elements of the Kennedy-Sorensen speeches were alliteration, repetition and chiasmus as well as historical references and quotations. [6] Although Kennedy often interposed off-the-cuff ad-libs to his speeches, he did not deviate from the final draft of the address. Anca Gata described Ted Sorensen as "the chief architect of the speech in language, style, composition, and rhetoric. One of the most original issues in the speech was the reintroduction of the Russian people to the Americans as a great culture with important achievements in science and space, and as promoting economic and industrial growth on their own." [9]

The content of the speech was unapologetically "dovish" in its pursuit of peace. Kennedy noted that almost uniquely among the "major world powers" the United States and Russia had never been at war with each other. He also acknowledged the massive human casualties that Russia suffered during World War II and declared that no nation had "ever suffered more than the Soviet Union in the Second World War," a fact that had gone largely unheralded in the West due to the onset of the Cold War. Kennedy sought to draw similarities between the United States and the Soviet Union several times and called for a "reexamination" of American attitudes towards Russia. He warned that adopting a course towards nuclear confrontation would be "evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy—or of a collective death-wish for the world."

Jeffrey Sachs, American economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, was deeply moved by the speech, "not only for its eloquence and content, but also for its relevance to today's global challenges. For in it Kennedy tells us about transforming our deepest aspirations—in this case for peace—into practical realities. He almost presents a method, a dream-and-do combination that soars with high vision and yet walk on earth with practical results." [10] In reviewing the history and context of Kennedy's speech at American University, Sachs' esteem for Kennedy grew further, concluding, "I have come to believe that Kennedy's quest for peace is not only the greatest achievement of his presidency, but also one of the greatest acts of world leadership in the modern era." [11]

Soviet response Edit

Kennedy's speech was made available, in its entirety, in the Soviet press [3] so that the people in the Soviet Union could read it without hindrance. Additionally, the speech could be heard in the Soviet Union without censorship because jamming measures against the western broadcast agencies such as Voice of America didn't take place upon rebroadcast of Kennedy's speech. Khrushchev was deeply moved and impressed by Kennedy's speech, telling Undersecretary of State Averell Harriman that it was "the greatest speech by any American President since Roosevelt." [12]

After 12 days of negotiations and less than two months after the president's speech the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was completed. [3] The Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed by the governments of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States (represented by Dean Rusk), named the "Original Parties", at Moscow on August 5, 1963. US ratification occurred by the U.S. Senate on September 24, 1963, by a vote of 80–19 [3] and the treaty was signed into law by Kennedy on October 7, 1963. The treaty went into effect on October 10, 1963.

Other reactions Edit

The speech was met with little response in the United States after one week, only 896 letters were sent to the White House concerning its content (in contrast to over 28,000 related to a bill affecting the price of freight). The response from Republicans in Congress was mostly dismissive in nature. [13] Senator Barry Goldwater accused Kennedy of taking a "soft stance" on the Soviet Union. [14]

Robert McNamara, Kennedy's Secretary of Defense, declared at a 2003 memorial event at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum that the speech was "one of the great documents of the 20th century." He later commented that it "laid out exactly what Kennedy's intentions were." [13] Ted Sorensen considered the address Kennedy's most important speech. [15]

JFK and the United Nations: How would the world be different if he lived?

In his 1961 speech to the United Nations, five months after the Bay of Pigs invasion and still in the midst of the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy placed hope that the United Nations would be able to resolve the U.S.-Soviet standoff.

JFK assassination: World reaction 9 photos &ldquoFor in the development of this organization rests the only true alternative to war -- and war appeals no longer as a rational alternative. Unconditional war can no longer lead to unconditional victory. It can no longer serve to settle disputes. It can no longer concern the Great Powers alone.&rdquo

At the time, the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union were competing for influence, and the confrontation of the Cuban Missile Crisis would take place just over one year later.

&ldquoFor a nuclear disaster, spread by winds and water and fear,&rdquo he said in September, 1961, &ldquocould well engulf the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the committed and the uncommitted alike. Mankind must put an end to war -- or war will put an end to mankind.&rdquo

In that speech, President Kennedy began with a tribute to U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, who had died one week before in a plane crash in the Congo and some advisors had advised him to cancel his address. Instead, he spoke of proposals for a new disarmament program, the U.S.-Soviet crisis and about how to resolve the conflicts in Germany, Laos and South Vietnam. He wanted a strong United Nations, which would lead the world on disarmament, create a nuclear test ban agreement, and would cooperate on economic development and outer space exploration.

Rather than an arms race, he called on the Soviet Union to create a &ldquopeace race.&rdquo

Later, in 1963, a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis and two months before he was assassinated, he returned to the U.N. and talked about the dangers presented by the confrontation, returning to his theme of non-proliferation.

&ldquoThe integrity of the United Nations Secretariat has been reaffirmed. A United Nations decade of development is under way. And, for the first time in 17 years of effort, a specific step has been taken to limit the nuclear arms race, noting the start of steps that would lead to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty.

This week in a panel on the Kennedy assassination, Stefano Vaccara, author of Carlos Marcello: The Man Behind the JFK Assassination, about mafia involvement in the assassination, said, &ldquoThings might have been different at the U.N. and in the world, if Kennedy had not been assassinated he wanted the U.N. to end the Cold War.&rdquo

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In an editorial in USA Today, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today said that meeting President Kennedy led to his decision to choose a life in public service:

&ldquoPresident Kennedy had great faith in the United Nations. His last speech to the General Assembly just weeks before his death reads like a primer for addressing the problems that still plague us today. He stressed the indivisibility of human rights. He opposed wasteful military spending. He called for racial and religious tolerance. He praised United Nations peacekeeping. And he insisted that we embrace peace not only on paper, but in our hearts. These are all values I defend along with a corps of dedicated United Nations staff members around the world.&rdquo

At an event this year marking the anniversary of President Kennedy&rsquos last address to the U.N., Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson reflected on meeting the President as a young Swedish exchange student in Decatur, Indiana: &ldquoA 17-year-old boy, khaki pants, sport shirt, crew cut, I was at this dinner&hellipand in front of this whole gathering, the master of ceremonies says &lsquoJack, welcome to Indiana, but I tell you one thing, you wouldn&rsquot have been in this room if it hadn&rsquot been for this Swedish exchange student,&rsquo&rdquo because his host family had promised that he would meet with the young presidential candidate John F. Kennedy.

First published on November 22, 2013 / 12:39 PM

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.


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