John F. Kennedy photo

Excerpts of Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, York Town Ship High School, Elmhurst, IL

October 25, 1960

Newspaper and network reports today, confirming the previously reported results of the latest USIA overseas survey, lead to three deeply disturbing conclusions:

1. American prestige, essential to our influence and our security, has declined these last 8 years even more sharply than we realized.

2. The present administration, contrary to the public interest and the request of the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has withheld this report from the American people, just as it has withheld the text of the Nixon-Khrushchev talks and the Gaither report on our military decline. There are no facts here the Russians do not know - but there are facts here the American people deserve to know - and I am distressed that this administration has no confidence in the ability of the American people to face these facts frankly. Now that the press has revealed its essential contents, I again call upon the administration to make this report officially public.

3. The Republican candidate, Mr. Nixon, has seriously misled the American people about this survey and its results in at least four important ways:

He asserted, when Senator Fulbright and I indicated this survey showed our prestige declining, that "the facts simply aren't as stated." It is now clear that the facts have been stated exactly as they were.

He asserted that "This report was made many, many months ago, and related to the period immediately after Sputnik" - the fall of 1957. It is now clear that the survey was made this summer, 1960, and related to the period immediately after the U-2 incident, the summit collapse, the Tokyo riots, and the height of Castro's anti-American frenzy.

He asserted that "Communist prestige was at an all-time low and American prestige was at an all-time high." It is now clear that our friends and neutrals alike regard Russia ahead in the race for world power today, and are even more convinced that the Communists will widen their lead over the next 10 years.

He asserted that "American prestige will be just as high as the spokesmen for America allow it to be." It is now clear that our prestige is not based on what we say but what we do, relative to what our enemies do. Mr. Nixon has said many times that our confusion on U-2, the collapse of the summit, the cancellation of the President's trip to Tokyo, our policies on Cuba were all great American triumphs. We wish they were. But the survey unfortunately shows that, no matter how loudly or often these claims are made, our prestige was badly damaged by those events in the eyes of other governments, other peoples, and their papers.

In these four statements, Mr. Nixon has misstated the facts - either because he chose to misinform the public or because he was uninformed himself.

Possibly Mr. Nixon is so far removed from the operations of this administration that he did not know of this report. Possibly he is so uninformed on world affairs that he did not know our prestige had declined. A man who does not know what we did in Guatemala, how the gold market operates, whether our commitment extends beyond Formosa, when the U-2 flights were canceled, and why we lost half of Indochina should perhaps be excused for not knowing our prestige has declined.

But all he had to do was read the headlines in our own press: Anti-American riots in Japan, Panama, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela - the weakening of pro-American forces in Laos, Iraq, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Guinea, Ghana, and the Congo. The Associated Press this month featured an excellent survey by Relman Morin entitled "U.S. Prestige Is Damaged in Asia" - citing our image in that continent as that of a "well-meaning but confused and confusing giant." To the Asian, this report said, the administration's policy on Cuba "was a clear case of American indecision, fumbling, and possible weakness." The events of last summer, the survey reported - the U-2, summit, and Toyko chain of events - "appear to have shown that the United States was weak, indecisive, incapable of evaluating trends, anticipating developments and formulating action to meet them."

Perhaps Mr. Nixon has read these reports but considers the matter unimportant. But prestige is important. We face a dangerous and powerful enemy. We do not want to face him alone.

Today the Sino-Soviet bloc is surrounded largely by nations opposed to communism - and that is a major advantage for the West, militarily, politically, and in every other way. That is an advantage we want to maintain. I do not say that the balance of power is determined by a popularity contest. But I do say that our prestige affects our ability to influence these nations, to strengthen the forces of freedom within them, to convince them of which way lie peace and security.

It is not merely a coincidence that the Communists obtained their first foothold in Latin America, their first foothold in the Middle Fast, and their first foothold in Africa at the very same time our prestige was declining in those areas. And it is not merely a popularity contest when our prestige is no longer high enough to win a majority of U.N. members to oppose Red China's admission - when we cannot convince the OAS Conference to condemn Castro by name - and when the Baghdad Pact collapses without a single Arab state favorable to the West.

"We intend to be on the winning side," a Singapore merchant told the AP survey. "Therefore, any setbacks for American prestige naturally affect our thinking."

We in the United States intend to be on the winning side also. And any setbacks in our prestige should naturally affect our thinking as well - our choice of policies - our choice of leadership. And I cannot believe the American people - once they are given the facts - will want leadership that either is misinformed on these facts or attempts to misinform the American people about them.

I hope that, if he has not already done so, Mr. Nixon will read the USIA report. I hope he will read these surveys of our prestige in our own press, and the reports of our prestige in the foreign press. And I hope he will see, for example, how the figure of Uncle Sam is portrayed in the cartoons of many foreign newspapers and magazines. Once he was a stern, forceful, but friendly figure. Now, in too many of these cartoons - even in friendly countries - he is pictured as fat, weary, or greedy - confused and defensive - or talking tough with little to back it up.

I do not say these cartoons are either fair or accurate. But they do represent the image of America to much of the world. And if we are to save the peace and rebuild our security, we must remold that symbol of Uncle Sam as the forceful spokesman of a great and generous nation.

We cannot do this under a leader who stuck his finger in Mr. Khrushchev's face and said: "You may be ahead of us in rocket thrust but we are ahead of you in color television."

We cannot rebuild our prestige under a leader who tells us it is now at an all-time high. I think it is time to trust the American people - to face up to the facts - and to decide what we must do. I think we must move in the spirit of Patrick Henry, when he told Virginia patriots in 1775:

It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth and listen to the song of the siren * * * [but] for my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth - to know the worst - and then to provide for it.

John F. Kennedy, Excerpts of Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, York Town Ship High School, Elmhurst, IL Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives