John F. Kennedy photo

Address at the Free University of Berlin

June 26, 1963

Sir, Mr. Mayor, Chancellor, distinguished Ministers, members of the faculty, and fellows of this university, fellow students:

I am honored to become an instant graduate of this distinguished university. The fact of the matter is, of course, that any university, if it is a university, is free. So one might think that the words "Free University" are redundant. But not in West Berlin. So I am proud to be here today and I am proud to have this association, on behalf of my fellow countrymen, with this great center of learning.

Prince Bismarck once said that one-third of the students of German universities broke down from overwork; another third broke down from dissipation, and the other third ruled Germany. I do not know which third of the student body is here today, but I am confident that I am talking to the future rulers of this country, and also of other free countries, stretching around the world, who have sent their sons and daughters to this center of freedom in order to understand what the world struggle is all about. I know that when you leave this school you will not imagine that this institution was founded by citizens of the world, including my own country, and was developed by citizens of West Berlin, that you will not imagine that these men who teach you have dedicated their life to your knowledge in order to give this school's graduates an economic advantage in the life struggle. This school is not interested in turning out merely corporation lawyers or skilled accountants. What it is interested in--and this must be true of every university--it must be interested in turning out citizens of the world, men Who comprehend the difficult, sensitive tasks that lie before us as free men and women, and men who are willing to commit their energies to the advancement of a free society. That is why you are here, and that is why this school was founded, and all of us benefit from it.

It is a fact that in my own country in the American Revolution, that revolution and the society developed thereafter was built by some of the most distinguished scholars in the history of the United States who were, at the same time, among our foremost politicians. They did not believe that knowledge was merely for the study, but they thought it was for the marketplace as well. And Madison and Jefferson and Franklin and all the others who built the United States, who built our Constitution, who built it on a sound framework, I believe set an example for us all. And what was true of my country has been true of your country, and the countries of Western Europe. As an American said 100 years ago, it was John Milton who conjugated Greek verbs in his library when the freedom of Englishmen was imperiled. The duty of the scholar, of the educated man, of the man or woman whom society has developed talents in, the duty of that man or woman is to help build the society which has made their own advancement possible. You understand it and I understand it, and I am proud to be with you.

Goethe, whose home city I visited yesterday, believed that education .and culture were the answer to international strife. "With sufficient learning," he wrote, "a scholar forgets national hatreds, stands above nations, and feels the well-being or troubles of a neighboring people as if they happened to his own." That is the kind of scholar that this university is training. In the 15 turbulent years since this institution was founded, dedicated to the motto "Truth, Justice, and Liberty," much has changed. The university enrollment has increased sevenfold, and related colleges have been founded. West Berlin has been blockaded, threatened, harassed, but it continues to grow in industry and culture and size, and in the hearts of free men. Germany has changed. Western Europe and, indeed, the entire world have changed, but this university has maintained its fidelity to these three ideals--truth, justice, and liberty. I choose, therefore, to discuss the future of this city briefly in the context of these three obligations.

Speaking a short time ago in the center of the city, I reaffirmed my country's commitment to West Berlin's freedom and restated our confidence in its people and their courage. The shield of the military commitment with which we, in association with two other great powers, guard the freedom of West Berlin will not be lowered or put aside so long as its presence is needed. But behind that shield it is not enough to mark time, to adhere to a status quo, while awaiting a change for the better. In a situation fraught with challenge--and the last 4 years in the world have seen the most extraordinary challenges, the significance of which we cannot even grasp today, and only when history and time have passed can we realize the significant events that happened at the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties--in a situation fraught with change and challenge, in an era of this kind, every resident of West Berlin has a duty to consider where he is, where his city is going, and how best it can get there. The scholar, the teacher, the intellectual, have a higher duty than any of the others, for society has trained you to think as well as do. This community has committed itself to that objective, and you have a special obligation to think and to help forge the future of this city in terms of truth and justice and liberty. First, what does truth require? It requires us to face the facts as they are, not to involve ourselves in self-deception; to refuse to think merely in slogans. If we are to work for the future of the city, let us deal with the realities as they actually are, not as they might have been, and not as we wish they were. Reunification, I believe, will someday be a reality. The lessons of history support that belief, especially the history in the world of the last 18 years. The strongest force in the world today has been the strength of the state, of the idea of nationalism of a people; and in Africa and Latin America and Asia, all around the globe, new countries have sprung into existence determined to maintain their freedom. This has been one of the strongest forces on the side of freedom. And it is a source of satisfaction to me that so many countries of Western Europe recognized this and chose to move with this great tide and, therefore, that tide has served us and not our adversaries. But we all know that a police state regime has been imposed on the Eastern sector of this city and country. The peaceful reunification of Berlin and Germany will, therefore, not be either quick or easy. We must first bring others to see their own true interests better than they do today. What will count in the long run are the realities of Western strength, the realities of Western commitment, the realities of Germany as a nation and a people, without regard to artificial boundaries of barbed wire. Those are the realities upon which we rely and on which history will move, and others, too, would do well to recognize them.

Secondly, what does justice require? In the end, it requires liberty. And I will come to that. But in the meantime, justice requires us to do what we can do in this transition period to improve the lot and maintain the hopes of those on the other side. It is important that the people on the quiet streets in the East be kept in touch with Western society. Through all the contacts and communication that can be established, through all the trade that Western security permits, above all whether they see much or little of the West, what they see must be so bright as to contradict the daily drum beat of distortion from the East. You have no higher opportunity, therefore, than to stay here in West Berlin, to contribute your talents and skills to its life, to show your neighbors democracy at work, a growing and productive city offering freedom and a better life for all. You are helping now by your studies and by your devotion to freedom, and you, therefore, earn the admiration of your fellow students from wherever they come.

Today I have had a chance to see all of this myself. I have seen housing and factories and office buildings, and commerce and a vigorous academic and scientific life here in this community. I have seen the people of this city, and I think that all of us who have come here know that the morale of this city is high, that the standard of living is high, the faith in the future is high, and that this is not merely an isolated outpost cut off from the world, cut off from the West. Students come here from many countries, and I hope more will come, especially from Africa and Asia. Those of you who may return from study here to other parts of Western Europe will still be helping to forge a society which most of those across the wall yearn to join. The Federal Republic of Germany, as all of us know from our visit better than ever, has created a free and dynamic economy from the disasters of defeat, and a bulwark of freedom from the ruins of tyranny.

West Berlin and West Germany have dedicated and demonstrated their commitment to the liberty of the human mind, the welfare of the community, and to peace among nations. They offer social and economic security and progress for their citizens, and all this has been accomplished-and this is the important point--not only because of their economic plant and capacity, but because of their commitment to democracy, because economic well-being and democracy must go hand in hand.

And finally, what does liberty require? The answer is clear. A united Berlin in a United Germany, united by self-determination and living in peace. This right of free choice is no special privilege claimed by the Germans alone. It is an elemental requirement of human justice. So this is our goal, and it is a goal which may be attainable most readily in the context of the reconstitution of the larger Europe on both sides of the harsh line which now divides it. This idea is not new in the postwar West. Secretary Marshall, soon after he delivered his famous speech at Harvard University urging aid to the reconstruction of Europe, was asked what area his proposal might cover, and he replied that he was "taking the commonly accepted geography of Europe--west of Asia." His offer of help and friendship was rejected, but it is not too early to think once again in terms of all of Europe, for the winds of change are blowing across the curtain as well as the rest of the world.

The cause of human rights and dignity, some two centuries after its birth, in Europe and the United States, is still moving men and nations with ever-increasing momentum. The Negro citizens of my own country have strengthened their demand for equality and opportunity. And the American people and the American Government are going to respond. The pace of decolonization has quickened in Africa. The people of the developing nations have intensified their pursuit of economic and social justice. The people of Eastern Europe, even after 18 years of oppression, are not immune to change. The truth doesn't die. The desire for liberty cannot be fully suppressed. The people of the Soviet Union, even after 45 years of party dictatorship, feel the forces of historical evolution. The harsh precepts of Stalinism are officially recognized as bankrupt. Economic and political variation and dissent are appearing, for example, in land, Rumania, and the Soviet Union, itself. The growing emphasis on scientific and industrial achievement has been accompanied by increased education and by intellectual ferment. Indeed, the very nature of the modern technological society requires human initiative and the diversity of free minds. So history, itself, runs against the Marxist dogma, not towards it.

Nor are such systems equipped to deal with the organization of modern agriculture, and the diverse energy of the modern consumer in a developed society. In short, these dogmatic police states are an anachronism. Like the division of Germany and of Europe, it is against the tide of history. The new Europe of the West--dynamic, diverse, and democratic--must exert an ever-increasing attraction to the people of the East. And when the possibilities of reconciliation appear, we in the West will make it clear that we are not hostile to any people or system providing they choose their own destiny without interfering with the free choice of others. There will be wounds to heal and suspicions to be eased on both sides. The difference in living standards will have to be reduced by leveling up, not down. Fair and effective agreements to end the arms race must be reached. These changes will not come today or tomorrow. But our efforts for a real settlement must continue undiminished.

As I said this morning, I am not impressed by the opportunities open to popular fronts throughout the world. I do not believe that any democrat can successfully ride that tiger. But I do believe in the necessity of great powers working together to preserve the human race, or otherwise we can be destroyed. This process can only be helped by the growing unity of the West, and we must all work towards that unity, for in unity there is strength, and that is why I travel to this continent--the unity of this continent--and any division or weakness only makes our task more difficult. Nor can the West ever negotiate a peaceful reunification of Germany from a divided and uncertain and competitive base. In short, only if they see over a period of time that we are strong and united, that we are vigilant and determined, are others likely to abandon their course of armed aggression or subversion. Only then will genuine, mutually acceptable proposals to reduce hostility have a chance to succeed.

This is not an easy course. There is no easy course to the reunification of Germany, the reconstitution of Europe. But life is never easy. There is work to be done and obligations to be met--obligations to truth, to justice, and to liberty.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:30 p.m. after being made an Honorary Citizen of the Free University of Berlin. His opening words referred to Herbert Koelbel, Rector of the University; Willy Brandt, Mayor of West Berlin; and Chancellor Adenauer.

John F. Kennedy, Address at the Free University of Berlin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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