John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks to a Group of Foreign Military Officers.

May 13, 1963


I want to express a very warm welcome to you. I understand that you are meeting with some of our officials here at the White House and in the Government during your short stay in Washington.

We have been very much complimented that you have chosen to come to the United States for this particular series of courses at Leavenworth. I think that you have some idea from your own experience and I am sure from your visit here--but most of all from your own experience--of how burdensome and complicated in many ways is the military life today.

I think that the responsibilities at least in this country which we place upon our military today are really unprecedented, whether it is the commander of divisions, whether it is those military officers and men who serve with our special forces, whether it is those who serve with military advisory groups in some far-off countries, those who serve as military attaches, those who may take part in diplomatic activity as some of our military personnel did in the days following Korea, or who may take part in military conversations in Southeast Asia or in other countries where we in the free world are involved in disputes with those who would make themselves our adversary.

In any case, this places a great burden upon our military officials, and I think similar burdens are placed upon the military officials of other countries. Today it is not enough to know about the most advanced forms of weapons, the new weapons which have changed the whole theory of war, but we also have to be experts on the older traditional wars, guerrilla, paramilitary, subversive, and all the rest.

To dominate this wide spectrum from the most advanced to the most ancient, which we now face in 1963, we also require knowledge of civil. action, of engineering, of social change of those forces which move people to support the liberties of their country. All of this places a great burden upon our military officials, and, I am sure, places great burdens upon yours.

We are delighted that you have come here. We count very much upon the friendship of the countries that are represented here today. We represent, those of us who serve in the political capacity, a strong realization of the importance of military power unused. What we wish to do is to maintain our freedom, maintain our independence, and we do that in part because of our military power, and we hope that that military power can accomplish our political objectives without using it. When we have to use it, in a sense, we have suffered a defeat already. But your readiness, your ability to defend your country, your willingness to do so gives those who are your political leaders and bear the political responsibility a strong weapon in defense of their country.

We are very glad to have you here, gentlemen. And, as I said at the beginning, we feel honored by your choosing to come to this country and participate with us in the study of war which we hope leads to the maintenance of peace.

Thank you very much, gentlemen. I am delighted to see you all, and I appreciate very much your coming here. I wish you every kind of success. Thank you.

I might say that I know you are constantly warned in your countries, I am sure, as the military are in this country, to stay out of politics, but I will say that politics brought me from being an obscure lieutenant in the Navy to being Commander in Chief in 14 years! So we wish you success.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 4 p.m. in the Flower Garden at the White House. The group, composed of officers from 50 countries, was in the United States for training under the U.S. Military Assistance Program.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks to a Group of Foreign Military Officers. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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