John F. Kennedy photo

Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy at a Democratic Fund-Raising Dinner in Syracuse, NY

September 29, 1960

Chairman Prendergast, Senator Jackson, reverend clergy, Mayor Wagner, Governor Harriman, Controller Levitt, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I read in this morning's newspaper a story that a great hero of my own home town, Ted Williams, was retiring. And I was also interested to read that he was too old at 42.

Maybe experience isn't enough. I come here tonight, to New York, to express my appreciation to the delegation from this State which supported my nomination at the convention; and without that support I would not today be the standard bearer of the Democratic Party.

And I come here tonight to ask the support of the people of New York in November.

I could talk on many subjects tonight - the need for an effective minimum wage; the medical care for the aged; of Federal aid to education, and all the rest.

But I'm going to talk about an issue which goes to the survival of the United States. I'm going to talk about experience. Not Ted Williams', not my opponent's; but the experience during the last 12 months of the United States.

That question is highlighted by one dramatic fact: the head of the Soviet U.N. delegation, Mr. Khrushchev, who is being confined now to Manhattan Island, is the same Mr. Khrushchev who a year ago was invited to Camp David.

It is certainly the same Mr. Khrushchev. He represents the same Communist system - still dedicated to achieving world domination. He maintains the same objectives, the same views and essentially the same tactics.

It is we who have changed our tactics. We tried arguing with Mr. Khrushchev in the kitchen. We tried impressing him on a goodwill tour. We tried smiling at him in the spirit of Camp David. Now we are confining him to the island of Manhattan. But Mr. Khrushchev has not been impressed, deterred, or confined in his efforts to build a Communist empire.

The reason is that Mr. Khrushchev is not the enemy. He may personify it. His antics may dramatize it. But the real enemy is the Communist system itself, unyielding, uncompromising, and unchanging in its drive for world domination.

Standing up to Mr. Khrushchev in debate is not enough. What we must do is stand up and summon the strength of the free world to advance the cause of peace and our own security.

Instead we have concentrated on Mr. Khrushchev - of answering his arguments - of reacting to every crisis that he creates. We have concentrated on his objectives - and forgotten our own. When he grins we invite him to Camp David. When he growls we restrict him to Manhattan. But our responsibility, whether he grins or growls, is to pay more attention to our objectives and those of the other free nations.

I am tired of reading every morning what Mr. Khrushchev is doing and what Mr. Castro is doing. I want to read what the President of the United States is doing.

We have great political and economic assets in this country, and the Communists know it. We are the sponsors of our own great independence movement. We initiated the Marshall plan and Point Four. We are the strongest nation still on earth. And, because the Communists know it, they have succeeded in tying us up in one trouble spot after another - on their own terms, in areas of their own choosing - and in this way preventing us from using our strength to advance freedom throughout the world.

We have been hypnotized by the glare of the headlights of the oncoming car and have forgotten to look at the road ahead.

While we are busy in our backyard, we can do nothing in theirs. While we talk to the underdeveloped nations about the evils of communism, the Soviets talk to them of hunger and poverty and disease. I think we can do better.

Consider, for example, the year that has passed since Mr. Khrushchev's last visit - the year between the "Spirit of Camp David" and the "Spirit of Manhattan." One year ago this week - when I warned at Rochester, N.Y., in this city, and I quote, "A cause for redoubled efforts, not for relaxation" when I said "the real test of Mr. Khrushchev's intentions - will be his deeds, not his words" - some resented my dampening of their hopes. Mr. Nixon had hailed the prospects for peace developing from, and I quote him, "the mutual respect" that was being stimulated by our leaders. Others had envisioned the cold war actually ending - and we all wished it would.

But now 1 year has come and gone. The spirit of Camp David has gone. The spirit of mutual respect has disappeared. Our hopes for an end to the cold war have also gone.

And what of the six areas of hope and potential agreement that featured the Camp David talks just 1 year ago now?

The summit meeting was a fiasco, and our President was insulted, which every American objected to.

The President's trip to Russia was abruptly canceled by his hosts, who have no hesitation in coming here, uninvited and unwanted, to carry the cold war to the U.N. meeting in New York.

The Berlin crisis is worse instead of better.

The negotiations on nuclear testing are as far apart as they ever were.

The talks on disarmament have been called off.

And, finally, instead of the hoped-for general relaxation of world tension, the Soviets have stepped up the tempo of disorder, division and danger.

They have established an iron curtain outpost just 90 miles from the coast of the United States, 8 minutes by jet. They have, for the first time, extended their sphere of influence to Africa. They have threatened the stability of the free tiny nation of Laos in southeast Asia - they have infiltrated and tied to the extremist movement of the nationalists in Algeria, in order to make a solution of that difficult problem even more difficult - and stepped up their use of funds, arms, technicians and propaganda to Iraq and the other countries of the Middle East.

They have exploited anti-American sentiment in Japan so successfully that the President's trip was canceled. They have made a spectacle before the world of the U-2 flight and the trial of our pilot and they have treated this nation with open hostility and contempt in seizing the crew of the RB-47. And finally, they have sought to increase their prestige and influence in the United Nations; and, failing that, to make it impotent and ineffective.

All this they have done in a year - the year of the Camp David spirit. And what has the United States been doing in the same 12 months?

We have frustrated congressional attempts to build more missiles, to harden our missile bases, to increase our powerful submarine fleet. We have failed to propose a consistent, comprehensive and workable plan for disarmament that would gain the support, at least, of the free world, based on careful preparation and technical studies. And we have been repeatedly reassured by Mr. Nixon - in glowing, sugar-coated terms that we have nothing to worry about in arms, science and space - that we have achieved peace without surrender - that statistics which show that the Russian economy is expanding faster than ours are dismissed as "growthmanship" - and that anti-American riots in Latin America and Japan were actually indications that the Communists were afraid to face us.

If you are satisfied with those assurances - if you feel that we are doing all that we must do to build up the cause of freedom around the world, to prepare long-term strategy for its defense, instead of moving from crisis to crisis - then Mr. Nixon's experience is what should be sent to the White House. But if you are concerned with a tendency to react instead of act - to become preoccupied with responding to communism instead of also advancing freedom - then I suggest you consider more closely the foreign policy experience of the Republican nominee.

He has, as he has pointed out, had an opportunity to travel widely. He has had an opportunity to study the long-range needs of each area - to recommend new policies for this administration- and to see that those recommendations are promptly carried out. What has been the result?

Today, in six key areas around the world, we are reacting too late to a cold war crisis where the cause of freedom is in serious danger in Cuba, where the Communists openly plot an attack upon hemispheric solidarity - in Ghana, whose President was assailed by Mr. Herter last week as "very definitely leaning toward the Soviet bloc" in Japan, where we have seen anti-American demonstrations - in the area once known as Indochina, where the tiny nation of Laos is struggling to keep its head above the ground from Communist attacks - in Poland, where the once hopeful cracks in the Iron Curtain are disappearing - and in India, the one nation which is capable of outstripping the Chinese Communists in the race for the attention of Asia, already is meeting one setback after another.

These six areas are far apart in their geography, their history, their devotion to freedom and the kind of threat that they pose to our future. But they all share two features in common:

First, in each case, action by this Nation or the West - before the Communist threat reached its present stage - might well have gone a long way toward strengthening the cause of freedom in each of those countries.

Secondly, also before the threat reached that stage, each of these areas had been visited by Mr. Richard Nixon.

Why was not our Latin American capital investment program strengthened in 1958, after Mr. Nixon was there, instead of this summer at the point of Mr. Castro's gun?

Why did we not encourage free elections in Cuba after Mr. Nixon was there in 1955, in order to stave off a revolt against what he called in a Havana press conference in 1955 "the competence and stability" of the Batista dictatorship?

Why are we suddenly embarking now on a crash program for African scholarships for students? Last year we allocated no scholarships at all to the Congo, practically none to other French and Belgian colonies and, indeed, practically none to the continent of Africa itself.

We have allocated more scholarships this summer to the Congo than we allocated to all of Africa a year ago. We allocated 300 scholarships to the Congo, and there are only 6 students here on those scholarships from the Congo. We allocated less than 220 to all of Africa last year. And you cannot educate a leader overnight. It takes many, many years before these men and women will be able to lead their country along the road of freedom.

Why did we fail to realize the situation in Laos - in India - in Japan - in Poland - in other areas of the world - before the crisis developed? Mr. Nixon was there - presumably he made recommendations, but it is apparently an unfortunate fact that for all these years a trip by Mr. Khrushchev or Mr. Mikoyan has had a greater effect on our foreign policy than a trip by Mr. Nixon.

The facts of the matter are that trips and tours are not enough. Words and debates are not enough. Slogans about peace are not enough.

For peace takes more than talk, more than effort, more than "experience," particularly if that "experience," in Oscar Wilde's words, is "the name that everyone gives to their mistakes."

The next administration, in addition to meeting our present commitments and facing up to the crises already mentioned, must look ahead with foresight to the new problems just over the horizon.

The spread of nuclear weapons to several nations drastically altering the balance of world power and sharply increasing the chances of accidental war, the emergence of Red China as a nuclear power dedicated to the proposition of victory through war, and differing with the Soviets as to the means of achieving their joint ambitions.

The possibilities of new cracks in the Iron Curtain of Eastern Europe, new Communist moves in Africa, new East German pressure on Berlin, and new voting blocs in the United Nations.

The possibilities of new steps to integrate the economy of Europe and the economy of Latin America.

We need to plan for such developments before they happen. We need to foresee now what is going to happen in 1961 and 1962. We need to recognize the revolutionary tempo of the world in which we live if we are to strengthen this country, if we are to provide for our arms and diplomacy the kind of foresight that is desperately needed, and strengthen the cause of freedom all around the globe.

We cannot be satisfied with things as they are. We cannot be satisfied to drift, to rest on our oars, to glide over a sea whose depths are shaken by subterranean upheavals.

In 1939, I saw in Europe what happened to those countries who were lulled into complacency by leaders who talked of peace instead of building it. And when France fell to the Nazis, one of its most illustrious leaders declared:

Our spirit of enjoyment was greater than our spirit of sacrifice. We wanted to have, more than we wanted to give. We spared effort, and met disaster.

I run for the Presidency in 1960 in the conviction that the people of this country are willing to give, are willing to sacrifice, and will spare no effort and will not meet disaster.

That is our objective, and that is our policy.

John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy at a Democratic Fund-Raising Dinner in Syracuse, NY Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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