John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the Yellowstone County Fairgrounds, Billings, Montana.

September 25, 1963

Senator Mansfield, Governor, Secretary Udall, Senator Metcalf, Senator McGee, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express our appreciation to you for your welcome, and I appreciate the chance to be introduced by my old friend and colleague, Senator Mansfield. I know that those of you who live in Montana know something of his character and his high standard of public service, but I am not sure that you are completely aware of what a significant role he has played in the last 3 years in passing through the United States Senate measure after measure which strengthens this country at home and abroad.

And I think the action which the United States Senate took by a vote of 80 to 19 yesterday in joining the United States, under our constitutional procedures, to 102 other countries to bring an end to nuclear tests in the atmosphere, to bring an end, we hope, for all time to the dangers of radioactive fallout on the citizens of the world, and to take a first step towards peace, and our hope for a more secure world--Senator Mansfield, with the able support of Senator Dirksen, the Republican Minority Leader of the Senate, I think were responsible for that overwhelming vote.

I am glad and proud that the word went out yesterday that Members of the Senate in both parties stood up for the long-range interests not only of the United States, but I think of people everywhere. So I am proud to be in his State, and I am proud to be with his colleague, Senator Metcalf, who speaks for Montana, and also speaks for the United States. This State, in the far Northwest, I think, has sent an outstanding delegation to Washington, and I am, therefore, glad to be with you today.

As the problems which occupy our attention in Washington, in the White House and in the Congress, and really in the country, have become increasingly complex, I am sure that many citizens who, in the early years of this century, understood or had strong feelings about conservation and about the Populist movement, and about free silver, and the two or three other issues which dominated the political debate in this country for 10, 20, and 30 years--I am sure as they look at the complexities and the suddenness with which events pour across the desk of a citizen of the United States, calling upon him to make a decision, I am sure they must wonder where we are going.

I talked the other day to an Ambassador who went to Cuba under the administration of Herbert Hoover, and as he was leaving, President Hoover said to him, "We have two problems in American foreign relations: our relations with Cuba, our relations with Mexico. Otherwise the United States has no interests abroad." There is no comparable case in the history of the world where a country lived an unaligned, withdrawn, and isolated existence as we did until 1939, '40, and '41, and then suddenly played such a dominant role all around the world. Countries which we had never heard of before, Viet-Nam, Laos, the Congo, and the others, countries which were distant names in our geographies, have now become matters of the greatest concern, where the interests of the United States are vitally involved, and where we have, for example, in Viet-Nam, over 25,000 of your sons and brothers bearing arms.

So this is a difficult and complex world. I am sure a citizen in this community and in this country must wonder what we are doing. I think what we are trying to do is comparatively simple, and that is, with our own power and might--and the only country which has that power and might--and, I believe, the long-range determination and perseverance, we are trying to assist the hundred-odd countries which are now independent to maintain their independence. We do that not only because we wish them to be free, but because it serves our own national interest. As long as there are all of these countries separate, free, and independent, and not part of one great monolithic bloc which threatens us, so long we are free and independent.

When it appeared at the end of the fifties that there would be over a billion people organized in the Communist movement, Russia and China and Eastern Europe working closely together, that represented a danger to us which could turn the balance of power against us. As there has been a division within the bloc, as there has been a fragmentation behind the Iron Curtain, as the long-range interests of geography and nationalism play a part even behind the Iron Curtain, as it does on this side of the Iron Curtain, we have made progress, not toward an easier existence, but, I think, toward a chance for a more secure existence.

In 1961 the United States and the Soviet Union came face to face over Berlin. The United States called up more than 150,000 troops. At the meeting in Vienna, of 1961, Mr. Khrushchev informed me that he was going to sign a peace treaty in Berlin by the end of the year, and if the United States continued to supply its forces in Berlin it would be regarded as a possible act of war. In 1962 we came face to face with the same great challenge in Cuba, in October. So we have lived, even in the short space of the last 3 years, on two occasions when we were threatened with a direct military confrontation. We wish to lessen that prospect. We know that the struggle between the Communist system and ourselves will go on. We know it will go on in economics, in productivity, in ideology, in Latin America and Africa, in the Middle East and Asia.

But what we hope to do is lessen the chance of a military collision between these two great nuclear powers which together have the power to kill 300 million people in the short space of a day. That is what we are seeking to avoid. That is why I support the test ban treaty. Not because we are going to be easier in our lives, but because we have a chance to avoid being burned.

In addition to that problem abroad, we have our problem here in the United States. The reason why I think it is most important, and why I am strongly in support of the action of the House of Representatives today in overwhelmingly passing, in the House, the tax bill, is because I recognize in this country, with our tremendously increasing population, and machines taking the jobs of men, that unless we can stimulate our economy we are going to limp from recession to recession, always coming out of the recession with more unemployed, and finally finding ourselves faced with overwhelming economic problems here at home.

As I have said before, the United States must find 10 million jobs in the next 21/2 years. We had a recession every 40 months since the end of World War II. That 40 months runs out in January 1964. Yet at the same time, when we run into this problem of a possible recession, we have the job of finding 10 million jobs.

So these are the problems we face, and what we seek to do in Washington, at home and abroad, is strengthen the United States, strengthen its vital interests, and have it live in greater security. And one of the ways that I think we can strengthen its vital interests is to strengthen the resources of the United States. This State of Montana knows better almost than any other State what it means when you develop the water resources and get cheap power. If this State does not have cheap power, how can you possibly compete, having to send your goods by the most expensive transportation route in the United States to Eastern markets.

The only way you can make up for that disadvantage is to develop your resources and protect them--water, power, and all the rest. And this Congress has done great actions which have gone comparatively unnoticed but which, I think, can make a significant difference not only for us but for those who come after us. We passed in the last session of the Congress--and no one here at Billings probably ever knew it--three major pieces of legislation providing for the setting aside of more seashore parks in the United States than any Congress in the history of our country. Over 300 miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf are now available for the public. We have embarked on a long range acquisition of wetlands. There will be 11 new waterfowl refuges established, more than in any period in recent history. We have initiated 10 reclamation projects, including two large-scale projects, and more will be done.

We have, for the first time, made the benefits of our cropland conversion program available to farmers and ranchers throughout the Nation. We have acted to save our woodlands and our wildlife.

This State of Montana, which depends on tourists, will in 10 years probably find that your number one industry or your number two industry. You must recognize how essential it is, with our exploding population, that we protect our natural resources, our wildernesses, all the things that will attract 'people to the Northwest.

And we have a lot more to do. We have a chance now to set up a fund which can liquidate itself over a period of years and use it for land and water conservation now, and 10 years from now the price of that same land will have doubled. If we get it now we will have it for our people. If we lose the chance, it will be built upon by private interests, and our chance to capture it will be gone. We have a chance to take some of those thousands of boys and girls who are on the city streets, out of work, and put them in our Youth Employment Corps and give them a chance to work on the land, as was done in the thirties. When you have one out of four of our children out of school and out of work, it is too much.

These are the things that must be done. There is an old saying that we hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I would like to improve that. I think we should work for the best. It may be we have to prepare for the worst. This country, of course, must be strong. But I think that in all these areas of our national life, in education, which is the development of our most precious resource, our children--in education, because there isn't any boy or girl who is going to be sure of a job if they have dropped out of high school, and there are going to be 8 or 9 million of them in the next 7 years unless we do something about it--education of our children, jobs for our people, some security in our older age--these are the things we must do, and I think we can do them.

The potential of this country is unlimited, and there is no action which any of us can take in Washington which gives us greater confidence in the future of this country than to leave our city of Washington and come west to Wyoming, Montana, California, and recognize that in this golden area of the United States that a great writer from my own State of Massachusetts, Thoreau, was right when he said, "Eastward I go only by force; Westward I go free. I must walk towards Oregon and not towards Europe."

I walk towards Montana. I express my thanks to all of you. And I am confident that when the role of national effort in the 1960's is written, when a judgment is rendered whether this generation of Americans took those steps at home and abroad to make it possible for those who came after us to live in greater security and prosperity, I am confident that history will write that in the 1960's we did our part to maintain our country and make it more beautiful.

Thank you.

Note: In his opening words the President referred to U.S. Senator Mike Mansfield and Governor Tim M. Babcock of Montana, Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall, U.S. Senator Lee Metcalf of Montana, and U.S. Senator Gale McGee of Wyoming.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Yellowstone County Fairgrounds, Billings, Montana. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives