John F. Kennedy photo

Partial Text of a Speech Delivered by Senator John F. Kennedy in Alexandria, VA

August 24, 1960


The Republican orators are fond of saying that experience in foreign policy is a major issue in this campaign. I agree. But the issue is not merely the experience of the candidates. It is the experience which the whole Nation has gone through in the last 8 years - and what an experience it has been.

Never before have we experienced such arrogant treatment at the hands of our enemy. Never before have we experienced such a critical decline in our prestige, driving our friends to neutralism, and neutrals to our outright hostility. Never before have the tentacles of communism sunk so deeply into previously friendly areas - in Iraq and the Middle East, in the Congo and Africa, in Laos and Asia, and in Cuba, 90 miles off our shores, and elsewhere in Latin America.

Mr. Nixon is experienced - experienced in policies of retreat, defeat, and weakness.

They say he has presided over the Security Council. During the 8 years he has been presiding, our security has declined more rapidly than over any comparable period in our history - in terms of defensive strength and retaliatory power, in terms of our alliances, in terms of our scientific effort and reputation. Mr. Nixon may now say he has been urging an acceleration of our defense all along - but in his August 10 press conference the President said he knew of no such different viewpoint by the Vice President, adding: "Certainly if there is, he hasn't come to me about it."

What was the Security Council doing while the Nation was undergoing this experience? Why would anyone point with pride to presiding over successive blows to our security and prestige - Indochina, Hungary, Suez, Sputnik, the riots in Venezuela, the collapse of the summit, the riots in Japan, the collapse of the Baghdad Pact, the failure of disarmament, the U-2 fiasco, and now Cuba and the Congo?

Why would anyone boast about presiding over the Security Council during the years it rejected the now accepted findings of the Gaither report, the Killian report, and the Rockefeller report - during the years it held back our missiles and frustrated our efforts in Space - during the years it failed to come up with one new idea of any importance: for "Atoms for Peace" was a slogan, the Eisenhower Middle East Doctrine was a farce, the "open skies" plan was a gesture, and the Baghdad Pact was a failure. Mr. Nixon has presided, in short, over the decline of our national security.

They say he has traveled abroad. He has. In Vietnam he urged the French to keep fighting. On Formosa, he implied our support of invading the mainland. In India, he questioned Nehru's right to be neutral. In Venezuela, his good will tour provoked a riot. And in the Soviet Union, he argued with Mr. Khrushchev in the kitchen, pointing out that while we might be behind in space, we were certainly ahead in color television.

Mr. Nixon may be very experienced in kitchen debates. So are a great many other married men I know. But does anyone think for one moment that Mr. Khrushchev's determination to "bury" us was slowed down one iota by all these arguments and debates? Can anyone cite one instance of Mr. Khrushchev pulling back his lines as the result of some Nixon trip or debate?

So let us talk about experience in this campaign - the experience of the last 8 years - the most expensive experience in the history of the Nation. To learn our lesson from that experience - to learn that neither smiles nor frowns, neither good intentions nor harsh words, are a substitute for strength - to learn that if America stands still Mr. Khrushchev will try to run over us - to learn these things, to discuss these things, is not un-American, as Mr. Nixon implies.

For the Democratic program is not one that will please Mr. Khrushchev. Our criticism is not born out of disloyalty - but out of our deep loyalty to all America means and will mean. Mr. Nixon has said that when the Communists are running us down abroad, it's time to speak up for America. I would add to that: It's also time to build up America.

That is the real issue in this campaign - not who can best talk back to the Communist - not who can best swap threats and insults - not who can stand up to Khrushchev. The real issue is who can stand up and summon all the resources of this land to the defense of freedom, to restore our Nation's relative strength and leadership. For as long as Mr. Khrushchev is convinced that the balance of world power is shifting his way - as long as he is convinced that time and the course of history is on his side - then no amount of good will trips or kitchen debates can compel him to substitute fruitful negotiations for force. And no amount of Republican oratory about appeasement or apologies can conceal the trouble we are in today.

That is a hard issue for a political campaign. It involves unpleasant facts. It is easier to talk about trips and debates and experience. It is pleasanter to hear popular slogans and growing promises.

But the facts are there. They must be faced. The answers are not easy. And I believe the American people would say what Virginia's own Patrick Henry said in 1775: "For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst and to provide for it."

John F. Kennedy, Partial Text of a Speech Delivered by Senator John F. Kennedy in Alexandria, VA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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