John F. Kennedy photo

Excerpts of Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Milwaukee, WI - (Advance Release Text)

October 23, 1960

* * * In the years preceding World War II, Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed the historic four freedoms as the goals of American policy and American society. Tonight, I want to talk to you about one of those freedoms - freedom from fear.

In a message to Congress on January 7, 1941, President Roosevelt translated freedom from fear to mean "a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor anywhere in the world." In short, freedom from fear was freedom from war - the pursuit of that freedom was the pursuit of peace - the method of achieving that freedom was the method of disarmament.

Today, 20 years later, we are still far from Franklin Roosevelt's goal. War still threatens - this time with weapons of destructive power far beyond the imagination of 1941. The pursuit of peace is still the focus of our leadership, our energies, and our determination. And disarmament is still the most vital step on the road to a lasting peace.

The great question of the 1960's - the overriding concern of all Americans and all men - is whether, in the coming decade, the world will move toward a secure peace and the survival of mankind or whether we will move toward war and common destruction. And how the American people choose in this campaign may well determine our direction in the years to come.

Of course Mr. Nixon and I both want peace. We both want to put an end to the arms race and the prospects of nuclear holocaust. But we do disagree - and we disagree fundamentally - on the nature of the effort and leadership which the pursuit of peace demands.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Nixon put forth his program for peace. The program consisted of setting up more committees and more conferences. It depended on meetings between heads of state and discussions among our own top officials. It was based on the premise that the battle for peace was a battle of words - that we could end the threat of war by talking it away. Thus it is a program which does not grapple with the real nature of the Communist threat to peace. For peace will not come solely through the conference room and the propaganda machine.

Rather the road to a world at peace runs through a revitalized and growing American economy, through the arduous construction of defenses so powerful that the Communists know that peace is their only alternative, through vast research projects to solve the complex difficulties of controlling modern arms, through carefully prepared disarmament programs to be presented by skilled and experienced negotiators, and through the exercise of a firm Presidential leadership which will never allow either our own representatives or the rest of the world to wonder what our position is, to wonder indeed, if we have any position at all, or to doubt the sincerity of our desire for disarmament.

Words alone will never impress Mr. Khrushchev. For he can talk louder and longer than either Mr. Nixon or myself. But he is impressed by strength and by action. And he will agree to disarm only when he is convinced that armed force can never bring a Communist victory.

If we are to secure peace in the 1960's, if we ever hope to negotiate an effective arms control agreement, we must act immediately.

For as each year passes, the control of increasingly complex, mobile, and hidden modern armaments becomes more difficult. And at the same time, as we increase our stockpiles of nuclear bombs, and as we develop pushbutton weapons systems, the danger of nuclear holocaust through accident or through a mistaken belief that war will bring victory, that danger increases.

In short, no problem is more vital or more urgent in the struggle for peace than the problem of effective arms control. Yet, in the past 80 years, this problem has been virtually ignored; we have had no real disarmament policy. And we have completely failed to provide the effort and the leadership which the pursuit of disarmament demands.

In the entire U.S. Government we have had fewer than 100 men working on the complex problems of arms control. And even this handful of workers has been scattered through four or five agencies with little coordination or leadership. A recent independent survey concluded:

The only continuous features of our efforts in the disarmament field have been a lack of continuity in top personnel and a paucity of planning and research efforts.

As a result of this failure we have been steadily unprepared on disarmament. Our delegates to international conferences have been inexperienced, understaffed, and inadequately instructed. And the Soviet Union has consistently had the initiative in the eyes of the world.

At a time when our relative military strength was much higher than it is today, from 1953-55, there was not a single top person in the entire Government working full time on disarmament. We did not come up with a single major new proposal for arms control. And we cared so little about arms control, that we regarded the entire effort as just another branch of psychological warfare, restricting ourselves to propaganda while Soviet armed strength increased.

At the London Conference of 1957 - the first important disarmament meeting, we were represented by a man with absolutely no experience in arms control, Harold Stassen, and we sent him to the meeting without having formulated any American position. It was not until August 29, 1957, more than 5 months after the conference opened, that America had any position at all. And by that time our chief negotiator had been repudiated by the administration, and publicly demoted from the White House staff.

At the next important disarmament conference, the 1958 Geneva Conference on surprise attack, we were represented by a businessman who had been out of Government for 5 years, and who had assumed his duties only 5 weeks before the conference met. Almost up to the opening day of the meeting, we had prepared no position, conducted no special research, formulated no realistic or constructive proposals. The conference was a failure. And our chief negotiator concluded that "I doubt that we have up to this time really given intensive study to the kind of measures which will make this (prevention of surprise attack) possible."

The last important meeting was the 10-nation conference at Geneva this March. In September the administration appointed a Boston lawyer, Charles Coolidge, to prepare an American position. Mr. Coolidge had barely finished his studies when he was replaced by another man - this time a New York lawyer without any experience in disarmament. We had no position ready when the conference started. Our negotiators had to leave Geneva for Washington during the conference itself to try to find out what our policy was. Again, we had failed to prepare for disarmament. We had developed no real policy or position.

Throughout this consistent history of indifference and failure the deadly arms race has continued, the danger of war has mounted, and the Soviet Union has scored propaganda victory after propaganda victory; taking the initiative with its proposals, falsely posing as the friend of peace, pointing to our lack of policy and interest in an effort to picture America as a nation unwilling to reach agreement on arms control.

Of course, it may not be possible to reach an agreement on arms control no matter how hard we work. Perhaps the Russians will be unwilling to give up military force as a method of achieving world domination. Perhaps they will not agree to the effective system of inspection and control which is vital to agreement. Perhaps the Communist Chinese will refuse to participate in arms control negotiation, even though their ultimate participation is essential to effective disarmament. Perhaps the science of inspection will be unable to keep pace with advancing weapons technology.

But no matter how difficult the problems are, how discouraging the obstacles, how uncertain the prospect for agreement, we must, nevertheless, begin a determined, large-scale effort to prepare ourselves for disarmament - to formulate constructive and realistic proposals which have a chance of success. For the hopes of all mankind rest on successful disarmament. And if we let the nations of Africa and Asia and Latin America feel that the United States is the real obstacle to disarmament, that we are not sincere in our desire for peace - if we continue to let the Soviet Union seize the offensive in disarmament negotiations - then these emerging areas of the world may well turn away from America and the free world, and begin to look to the Communist bloc for leadership in the fight for peace.

And, of course, we must also seek disarmament because the only alternative to pursuit of an effective disarmament agreement is the pursuit of our present course - the arms race, the gap, new weapons, the development of even higher orders of mutual terror resulting in the ever higher likelihood of mutual destruction.

But we will not move toward disarmament and a secure peace, we will not be any closer to freedom from fear, if we simply follow Mr. Nixon's plan for meetings, more conferences, more study groups and discussions. For peace takes more than words. It takes hard work and large-scale effort. It takes men and resources and firm leadership from the top. Above all, it takes a government which is organized for the pursuit of peace, as well as the possibility of war, a government which has a program for disarmament, as well as a program for arms.

First, we must work to rebuild our rapidly deteriorating defenses. Winston Churchill has pointed out that "civilization will not last, freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless * * * mankind unite together to defend them and show themselves possessed of a power before which barbaric * * * forces will stand in awe."

It is only when we have a military force strong enough to convince the Russians that they'll never be able to gain any advantage through military strength, only when we can approach the conference table in a position of equality, only then can we hope for fruitful negotiation. Second, we must establish an arms control research institute, under the direction of the President, to undertake, coordinate, and follow through on the research, development, and policy planning needed for a workable disarmament program. Detection and monitoring systems will require new techniques of aerial reconnaissance and radar surveillance, new uses for our communications systems, computers, and cameras, new ways to denature plutonium and inspect power reactors, and a whole host of additional research projects.

The arms control research institute would coordinate and direct all these research efforts, carrying them on itself or farming them out to private firms and universities. The scattered disarmament technicians, scientists, and policymakers could at last work as a unit with a central purpose and direction given by the President himself.

Third - we must begin, perhaps within the framework of the arms control research institute, to plan for the reconversion of our economy from war to peace. Millions of jobs and billions of dollars are tied up in our present defense effort. We must plan for the orderly reallocation of these resources to our peacetime needs.

I do not share the opinion of some that disarmament would bring economic disaster. I believe that America can fruitfully use all our present productive power and much more to meet our vital needs for schools and roads and power and all the rest as well as our commitments to the war against poverty and Communist subversion abroad. But we must begin to plan now if we are not to waste these resources in severe economic dislocation.

Fourth, while we are working to dismantle the engines of destruction we must work out methods of protecting ourselves against the growing danger of accidental war, through sure methods of informing ourselves about suspicious events or accidental firings so that neither nation can make a mistake which will trigger nuclear destruction.

Fifth - And most important, the fight for disarmament must command the personal attention and concern of the President of the United States. Our defense and six disarmament experts are concentrated in many important agencies of Government - in the State Department, the Defense Department, the AEC and others. Only the President can overcome the frictions and differences between those agencies; only he can weld all the parts of the Executive into a singleness of purpose in the pursuit of peace, and only the President can make the hard decisions, decisions involving peace or war, destruction or survival, which peace programs as well as war programs will surely bring.

The struggle for disarmament will not be an easy one. For disarmament is an ideal just as peace itself is an ideal, but it was a great son of Wisconsin, Carl Schurz, who said:

Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But, like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.

Carl Schurz came from Wisconsin to Faneuil Hall in Boston in 1859 to make this eloquent profession of faith.

Today, 100 years later, I come from my native city of Boston to Wisconsin, to tell you that Carl Schurz's teachings have not been forgotten. That I know, and all Americans realize, that peace and disarmament are remote and difficult goals. But we have chosen them as ideals to guide our actions. And we will follow those ideals until America and all mankind have reached their destiny of a free people living in a world at peace.

John F. Kennedy, Excerpts of Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Milwaukee, WI - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives