John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, U.S. Grant Hotel, San Diego, CA - (Advance Release Text)

September 11, 1960

San Diego - perhaps better than any other city in this country - illustrates the failures of the Republican Party - its failure to meet our urgent needs at home, and its failure to maintain our position abroad.

For here, as throughout the Nation, there are able-bodied and skilled men - men who can work and want to work - but who are unable to find work. And here - as throughout the Nation - the idleness of these men has meant a decline in American vitality and American strength.

For the unemployed in San Diego do not merely represent individual hardship, and poverty, and despair. They also represent a loss to the Nation, a loss of skills, and effort, and a loss of effective and valuable production teams. When these skilled production workers scatter to other jobs and other locations, our national security is the loser.

It is paradoxical that at a time when America's relative military strength is declining - when we lack the capacity to airlift more than a single division to trouble spots throughout the world - when we lack the invulnerable retaliatory capacity necessary to insure successful deterrence of growing Soviet strength - when our country faces its greatest military peril since Valley Forge - it is paradoxical and it is tragic that at such a time our aircraft plants are operating at less than full capacity - that expert production teams are being broken up - and that men who have the skills which America needs to rebuild its strength are unable to find jobs.

And that strength needs rebuilding. For today a Russian missile, armed with the power to destroy a city, can reach our shores in less than 20 minutes. Today our proud fleet of bombers - the Strategic Air Command - is threatened with destruction before it can even leave the ground. Today our ground forces - our only protection against the threat of limited war - lacks the airlift necessary to bring effective force to the many corners of the world where Communist aggression is a real and immediate threat.

And, in the 1960's, our danger will grow greater as the Soviet Union - which already possesses vast and well - trained armies - builds up its lead in missile striking power. It is true that we cannot be sure that America will ever be attacked - that the Russians will ever use their missiles and their armies against us and that those of us who call for a greater defense effort are not taking a chance on making an unnecessary expense.

But those who oppose such an effort - those who blandly reassure us that we are already strong enough - are taking a chance on our national survival. And today the only real question is which chance do we take - our money or our survival.

To that question there can be only one answer - and that is the answer of the Democratic Party: America must have a military strength second to none - strength which can guarantee survival.

The people of the State of California are proud of the contributions they have already made to our national strength - and they are confident of their capacity to maintain and increase that strength. But I know that there is not one person in the State or Nation who would not like to see the arms race ended - the threat of war recede - and the billions now spent on weapons of destruction turned to schools and hospitals and homes and dams. And with imaginative and painstaking planning for reconversion this State would enjoy a greater boom under disarmament than it ever enjoyed in the cold war.

For peace is our deepest aspiration. And then peace comes, we will gladly convert - not our swords into plowshares - but our bombs into reactors and our missiles into space vehicles. "Pursue peace" - the Bible tells us - and we shall pursue it with all the energy and effort which we possess.

But it is an unfortunate fact that we can pursue peace only by remaining strong. We can convince Mr. Khrushchev to bargain seriously for peace only when our strength makes it clear to him that the balance of power is not shifting his way - that were he to start a war it would be a mistake - his mistake. And we cannot convince Mr. Khrushchev by smiling at him - or by exchanging insults - for he is a man who deals in reality - and he will only be convinced of our strength when we are truly strong.

That requires only one kind of defense policy - not a policy of ceilings and limitations - not a policy set by narrowminded men in the Budget Bureau - not a policy which places a balanced budget ahead of a balance of power - but a policy which will keep America the strongest country in the world.

That is the policy of the Democratic Party - and that is the policy we will begin to pursue this January.

San Diego, and all of California, will contribute greatly to those goals. For you build the airlift planes which can remold our Armed Forces into mobile striking units ready to meet aggression wherever it may occur. You build the bombers which can remake our Strategic Air Command into a swift and powerful weapons system, with its planes always in the air, invulnerable to Soviet attack. You build the missiles which will reshape our whole concept of warfare - providing us with the ultimate and impregnable defense we need for peace.

I call upon this administration to take prompt action to put the untapped skills of your men, and the unused capacities of your aircraft plants into a new and expanded effort to build our Nation's defenses.

America needs San Diego. It needs your men, your plants, your skills - just as it must have the men, the plants, and the skills of the entire country - if this Nation is to remain strong and vital and free.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, U.S. Grant Hotel, San Diego, CA - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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