John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the Dinner of the Protestant Council of the City of New York.

November 08, 1963

Dr. Kinsolving, Dr. Sockman, Rev. Potter, Father Morgan, Rabbi Rosenblum, Mr. Mayor, Governor Stevenson, Mr. Champion, Mr. Leidesdorf, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I had wondered what I would do when I retired from the Presidency, whenever that time might come, but Dr. Sockman was the first man to suggest work as challenging as the Presidency in becoming chairman of the Protestant Council's annual dinner, and I am very grateful to him.

I also regret very much that another honored guest of this dinner on a previous occasion is not with us tonight. I follow his career with more interest than he might imagine. In his quest for the Presidency, Governor Rockefeller follows the example of other distinguished New Yorkers--Wendell Willkie, Thomas Dewey, Richard Nixon, and I wish him some margin of sucess.

I am gratified to receive this award from the Council, and I am impressed by what you are doing here in the city, and I think that the words of Reverend Potter bear very careful reflection by us all. The United States is not in the position which England was when Benjamin Disraeli described it as: two nations divided, the rich and the poor. This is generally a prosperous country, but there is a stream of poverty that runs across the United States which is not exposed to the lives of a good many of us and, therefore, we are relatively unaware of it except statistically. It is concentrated to a large measure in the large cities from which, as he said, so many people are moving out. It is concentrated in some of our rural areas.

The New York Times 2 weeks ago, I think, had an article by Mr. Bigart on desperate poverty in several rural counties of eastern Kentucky--schools which were without windows, sometimes with occasional teachers, counties without resources to distribute the surplus food that we make available. And what is true in some of the older coal mining areas of the United States is very true in our cities. We see it in some of our statistics, where we have a mental retardation rate for our children of three times that of Sweden, where we have an infant mortality rate behind half the countries of Europe, plus we have about 8 million boys and girls in this decade who will drop out of school, and a good many of them out of work. And this Council, and the religious leaders of the Catholic faith and Jewish faith have a great responsibility not only for the moral life of the community, but also for the well-being of those who have been left behind.

We are attempting, in cooperation with the State and the city, as Reverend Potter described, to carry out a pilot program here in the city of New York, but it is only a beginning, and there are hundreds of thousands without resources, and we have a responsibility to all of them. We have it in Washington. Schools were integrated a few years ago. About half the population of Washington is Negro. Today about 85 percent of the children in the schools of Washington are Negro. Other whites who are more prosperous generally have moved away and left the problem behind. So I commend this council for its concern for the Family of Man here in the city of New York, and I hope its efforts will be matched by others in other cities across the country, and that we will remember in this very rich, constantly increasing prosperity that there are some for whom we have a responsibility.

I want to speak tonight very briefly, however, about the Family of Man beyond the United States. Just as the Family of Man is not limited to a single race or religion, neither can it be limited to a single city or country. The Family of Man is more than 3 billion strong. It lives in more than 100 nations. Most of its members are not white. Most of them are not Christians. Most of them know nothing about free enterprise or due process of law or the Australian ballot.

If our society is to promote the Family of Man, let us realize the magnitude of our task. This is a sobering assignment. For the Family of Man in the world of today is not faring very well.

The members of a family should be at peace with one another, but they are not. And the hostilities are not confined to the great powers of the East and the West. On the contrary, the United States and the viet Union, each fully aware of their mutually destructive powers and their worldwide responsibilities and obligations, have on occasion sought to introduce a greater note of caution in their approach to areas of conflict.

Yet lasting peace between East and West would not bring peace to the Family of Man. Within the last month, the last 4 weeks, the world has witnessed active or threatened hostilities in a dozen or more disputes independent of the struggle between communism and the free world--disputes between Africans and Europeans in Angola, between North African neighbors in the Mahgreb, between two Arab states over Yemen, between India and Pakistan, between Indonesia and Malaysia, Cambodia and Viet-Nam, Ethiopia and Somalia, and a long list of others.

In each of these cases of conflict, neither party can afford to divert to these needless hostilities the precious resources that their people require. In almost every case, the parties to these disputes have more in common ethnically and ideologically than do the Soviet Union and the United States-yet they often seem less able and less willing to get together and negotiate. In almost every case, their continuing conflict invites outside intervention and threatens worldwide escalation--yet the major powers are hard put to limit events in these areas.

As I said recently at the United Nations, even little wars are dangerous in this nuclear world. The long labor of peace is an under taking for every nation, large and small, for every member of the Family of Man. "In this effort none of us can remain unaligned. To this goal none can be uncommitted." If the Family of Man cannot achieve greater unity and harmony, the very planet which serves as its home may find its future in peril.

But there are other troubles besetting the human family. Many of its members live in poverty and misery and despair. More than one out of three, according to the FAO, suffers from malnutrition or under-nutrition or both--while more than one in ten live "below the breadline." Two out of every five adults on this planet are, according to UNESCO, illiterate. One out of eight suffers from trachoma or lives in an area where malaria is still a clear and present danger. Ten million--nearly as many men, women, and children as inhabit this city and Los Angeles combined--still suffer from leprosy; and countless others suffer from yaws or tuberculosis or intestinal parasites.

For the blessings of life have not been distributed evenly to the Family of Man. Life expectancy in this most fortunate of nations has reached the Biblical 3 score years and 10; but in the less developed nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the overwhelming majority of infants cannot expect to live even 2 score years and 5. In those vast continents, more than half of the children of primary school age are not in school. More than half the families live in substandard dwellings. More than half the people live on less than $100 a year. Two out of every three adults are illiterate.

The Family of Man can survive differences of race and religion. Contrary to the assertions of Mr. Khrushchev, it can accept differences of ideology, politics, and economics. But it cannot survive, in the form in which we know it, a nuclear war--and neither can it long endure the growing gulf between the rich and the poor.

The rich must help the poor. The industrialized nations must help the developing nations. And the United States, along with its allies, must do better--not worse-by its foreign aid program, which is now being subjected to such intense debate in the Senate of the United States.

Too often we advance the need of foreign aid only in terms of our economic self-interest. To be sure, foreign aid is in our economic self-interest. It provides more than a half a million jobs for workers in every State. It finances a rising share of our exports and builds new and growing export markets. It generates the purchase of military and civilian equipment by other governments in this country. It makes possible the stationing of 3 1/2 million troops along the Communist periphery at a price onetenth the cost of maintaining a comparable number of American soldiers. And it helps to stave off the kind of chaos or Communist takeover or Communist attack that would surely demand our critical and costly attention. The Korean conflict alone, forgetting for a moment the thousands of Americans who lost their lives, cost four times as much as our total world-wide aid budget for the current year.

But foreign aid is not advanced only out of American economic self-interest. The gulf between rich and poor which divides the Family of Man is an invitation to agitators, subversives, and aggressors. It encourages the ambitions of those who desire to dominate the world, which threatens the peace and freedom of us all.

"Never has there been any question in my mind," President Eisenhower said recently, "as to the necessity of a program of economic and military aid to keep the free nations of the world from being overrun by the Communists. It is that simple."

This is not a partisan matter. For 17 years, through three administrations, this program has been supported by Presidents and leaders of both parties. It is being supported today in the Congress by those in leadership on both sides of the aisle who recognize the urgency of this program in the achievement of peace and freedom. Yet there are still those who are unable or unwilling to accept these simple facts--who find it politically convenient to denounce foreign aid on the one hand, and in the same sentence to denounce the Communist menace. I do not say that there have been no mistakes in aid administration. I do not say it has purchased for us lasting popularity or servile satellites. I do say it is one essential instrument in the creation of a better, more peaceful world. I do say that it has substituted strength for weakness all over the globe, encouraging nations struggling to be free to stand on their own two feet. And I do not say that merely because others may not bear their share of the burden that it is any excuse for the United States not to meet its responsibility.

To those who say it has been a failure, how can we measure success--by the economic viability of 14 nations in Western Europe, Japan, Spain, Lebanon, where our economic aid, after having completed its task, has ended; by the refusal of a single one of the more than 50 new members of the United Nations to go the Communist route; by the reduction of malaria in India, for example, from 75 million cases to 2,000; by the 18,000 classrooms and 4 million textbooks bringing learning to Latin America under the infant Alliance for Progress?

Nearly 2 years ago my wife and I visited Bogota, Colombia, where a vast new Alliance for Progress housing project was just getting under way. Earlier this year I received a letter from the first resident of this 1200 new home development. "Now," he wrote, "we have dignity and liberty."

Dignity and liberty--these words are the foundation, as they have been since '47, of the mutual security program. For the dignity and liberty of all free men, of a world of diversity where the balance of power is clearly on the side of free nations, is essential to the security of the United States. And to weaken and water down the pending program, to confuse and confine its flexibility with rigid restrictions and rejections, will not only harm our economy, it will hamper our security. It will waste our present investment and it will, above all, forfeit our obligation to our fellow man, obligations that stem from our wealth and strength, from our devotion to freedom and from our membership in the Family of Man.

I think we can meet those obligations. I think we can afford to fulfill these commitments around the world when 90 percent of them are used to purchase goods and services here in the United States, including, for example, one-third of this Nation's total fertilizer exports, one-fourth of our iron and steel exports around the world, one-third of our locomotive exports. A cut of $1 billion in our total foreign aid program may save $100 million in our balance of payments-but it costs us $900 million in exports.

I think the American people are willing to shoulder this burden. Contrary to repeated warnings, prophecies, and expressions of hope, in the 17 years since the Marshall plan began, I know of no single officeholder who was ever defeated because he supported this program, and the burden is less today than ever before. Despite the fact that this year's AID request is about $1 billion less than the average request of the last 15 years, many Members of Congress today complain that 4 percent of our Federal budget is too much to devote to foreign aid--yet in 1951 that program amounted to nearly 20 percent of our budget--20 percent in 1951, and 4 percent today. They refuse today to vote more than $4 billion to this effort--yet in 1951 when this country was not nearly as well off, the Congress voted $8 billion to the same cause. They are fearful today of the effects of sending to other people seven-tenths of 1 percent of our gross national product-but in 1951 we devoted nearly four times that proportion to this purpose, and concentrated in a very limited area, unlike today when our obligations stretch around the globe.

This Congress has already reduced this year's aid budget $600 million below the amount recommended by the Clay committee. Is this Nation stating it cannot afford to spend an additional $600 million to help the developing nations of the world become strong and free and independent--an amount less than this country's annual outlay for lipstick, face cream, and chewing gum? Are we saying that we cannot help 19 needy neighbors in Latin America and do as much for the 19 as the Communist bloc is doing for the Island of Cuba alone.

Some say that they are tiring of this task, or tired of world problems and their complexities, or tired of hearing those who receive our aid disagree with us. But are we tired of living in a free world? Do we expect that world overnight to be like the United States? Are we going to stop now merely because we have not produced complete success?

I do not believe our adversaries are tired and I cannot believe that the United States of America in 1963 is fatigued.

Surely the Americans of the 1960's can do half as well as the Americans of the 1950's. Surely we are not going to throw away our hopes and means for peaceful progress in an outburst of irritation and frustration. I do not want it said of us what T. S. Eliot said of others some years ago: "These were a decent people. Their only monument: the asphalt road and a thousand lost golf balls."

I think we can do better than that.

My fellow Americans, I hope we will be guided by our interests. I hope we will recognize that the struggle is by no means over; that it is essential that we not only maintain our effort, but that we persevere; that we not only endure, in Mr. Faulkner's words, but also prevail. It is essential, in short, that the word go forth from the United States to all who are concerned about the future of the Family of Man; that we are not weary in well-doing. And we shall, I am confident, if we maintain the pace, we shall in due season reap the kind of world we deserve and deserve the kind of world we will have.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in New York City following the presentation to him of the Council's Family of Man Award. His opening words referred to Rev. Dr. Arthur L. Kinsolving, rector of St. James Episcopal Church in New York City and president of the Protestant Council, who presented the award; Rev. Dr. Ralph W. Sockman, minister emeritus of Christ Church, Methodist, of New York City, who introduced the special guests; Rev. Dr. Dan Potter, executive director of the Council; Father Kenneth Morgan of the diocese of Brooklyn, cochairman of the Committee of Religious Leaders in the City of New York, who offered the invocation; Rabbi William F. Rosenblum of Temple Israel in New York City, cochairman of the Committee of Religious Leaders in the City of New York, who gave the benediction; Robert F. Wagner, mayor of New York City; Adlai E. Stevenson, U.S. Representative to the United Nations and former Governor of Illinois; George Champion, chairman of the board of the Chase Manhattan Bank, who served as chairman of the dinner committee; and Samuel D. Leidesdorf, an executive of the United Jewish Appeal, the treasurer of the dinner committee.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Dinner of the Protestant Council of the City of New York. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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