John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Milwaukee, WI

October 23, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Gov. Gaylord Nelson, Lt. Gov. Philleo Nash, distinguished Attorney General John Reynolds, your distinguished Members of Congress, Congressman Zablocki, Congressman Reuss, Congressman-to-be Jim Megellas, Pat Lucey, Mr. Maier, Dave Rabinowitz, Mrs. Phillips, ladies and gentlemen, I come here tonight as the Democratic standard bearer to ask the help of the people of Wisconsin in this campaign. [Applause.] Here in Wisconsin this campaign began last winter, and I think it ought to end right here. [Applause.] Because the motto of the State of Wisconsin and the slogan of this campaign is one and the same, "Forward," and that is what this country must do, that is the direction it must take, that is the direction it will take November 8, when we make an affirmative decision. [Applause.]

I cannot believe that in these difficult and changing times when we are surrounded by revolution and hazard, that the American people are going to choose to sit still, that they are going to give their confidence to a political party, the Republicans, who have opposed every measure of progress in the last 25 years, led by a candidate who for the last 14 years has opposed progress. [Applause.] Can you tell me one piece of legislation of benefit to the people? Housing? Civil rights? Aid for the farmer? Aid for the retired? Rights for labor? Can you tell me one program that either Mr. Nixon or the Republicans have supported. [Response from the audience.] I said in Cleveland about 3 weeks ago that I could not think of one program, and the Cleveland paper said I had forgotten what President Taft did about child labor. All right. What have they done since then? What have they done in the last 50 years? [Response from the audience and applause.]

This fight is important, because unless this country is moving ahead, this country will not lead a world which is moving ahead. The same political party, the Republicans, who could vote against social security in the thirties could vote unanimously against the medical care for the aged in the sixties. The same political party that could vote against the minimum wage of 25 cents an hour in 1935 could vote against $1.25 an hour in 1960, and this goes to the heart of the issue, a party which fights progress, a party which is not prepared to associate with it, a party which has stood athwart the great social, international, and national movements of this century, sponsored by Wilson and Roosevelt and Truman - how can they lead in the dangerous sixties? How can they lead and move this country forward? How can they demonstrate to a watching world that we are a strong and vital society? In outer space, in the world around us, in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia, in Wisconsin, we are associated with a forward motion and they have stood still, and I believe on November 8, the people of this country are going to choose to move again. [Applause.]

I don't believe that this generation of Americans wants it said about us what T. S. Eliot in his poem "The Rock" said: "And the wind shall say: 'These were decent people, their only monument the asphalt road and a thousand lost golf balls.'" I don't believe that is what the people want. I think they want to move forward. [Applause]

The great question of the 1960's is how the United States can maintain its position in the world, how we can increase our security, how we can live in peace, how we can hold out a helping hand to all those who wish to he free, and the decision which you must make as decisions of this country is which administration, which candidates, which party, are best associated with the great issues which are going to distinguish life in the sixties, particularly the fight for peace, particularly the fight against war, especially the fight for security?

Mr. Nixon and I both want peace. All Americans do. We both want to put an end to the arms race, and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, but we do disagree, and we disagree very fundamentally, on the nature and the effort and the leadership which the pursuit of peace requires.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Nixon set forward his program for peace. It consisted of committees set upon committees, committees which will meet with other committees stretching around the world and across this country. But I don't believe you can talk your way into peace. I don't believe you can gain peace by conferences merely. I believe that peace, like any other goal, requires action. Words alone will never impress Mr. Khrushchev. Fingers pointed at his face in kitchen debates - he has spent his life debating. He has spent his life in argument. He is concerned only with peace, he is concerned only to disarm when he is convinced that that is the best for his system and best for the world. And how can we induce that desire in him, that is the question for the next President of the United States. [Applause.]

If we are to secure peace, if we are to ever hope to negotiate for an effective arms control agreement, we must act immediately, for as each year passes the control of increasingly complex, mobile and hidden modern armaments becomes more difficult and the chances for country after country to possess an atomic capacity. By 1964 or 1965, we may see a world in which 20 countries have a nuclear capacity and the ability to destroy their adversary, themselves, and perhaps the world. In short, no problem is more vital, no problem is more immediate, than the problem of effective control over arms. Yet in the past 8 years, and in my opinion this is one of the most serious indictments that can be leveled against this administration, in this vital area in the past 8 years this administration has given this problem no attention. In the entire U.S. Government we have had fewer than 100 people working on the complex subject of arms control and disarmament, less than 100 people, scattered through four or five agencies of the Government. When I reminded Mr. Nixon of this in one of the debates he gave one of his usual answers. "Well, they were of extraordinary high quality."

Who were they? Can you name one of them? Who were these geniuses at work that none of us could name?

Less than 100 of them scattered throughout the Government, working on one of the most vital subjects before the people of the world. A recent independent survey concludes, and I quote it accurately, "The only continuous features of our efforts in the disarmament field have been a lack of continuity in top personnel and a paucity of planning and research effort."

As a result, we have been unprepared at every disarmament conference that we have attended. At a time when our relative military strength was at its height, in the mid fifties, at a time when we had the best chance to reach an agreement on control of arms, there was not a single top person in the entire Government working on this subject. We did not come up with a single major new proposal in the field of arms control, and we cared so little about it that we regarded the entire effort as merely a part of our effort in psychological warfare.

At the London Conference of 1957, the first important disarmament Conference held in the fifties, and the one which came closest of any in reaching an agreement on disarmament, we sent a man who had not been active in the field, Harold Stassen, we sent him to a meeting without formulating an American position. Mr. Stassen was never able to get clear instructions at the meeting as to what our position was. We came close and in part failed because the American position was never finalized. And at the end of the Conference, when success might have been possible, Mr. Stassen was disposed and sent back to Pennsylvania. At the next important disarmament conference, the Geneva Conference of 1958, we were represented by a businessman who had been out of the Government for 5 years and returned to his duties only 5 weeks before the Conference. Almost up to the opening day of the meeting we had no research, no position, no committees working on the subject. The Conference was a failure and our chief negotiator said, and I quote him, "I doubt that we have given up to this time the intense study to the kind of measures which will make the prevention of surprise attacks possible." Our chief negotiator.

This administration is liable on the whole series of grounds, Latin America, Africa, Asia, outer space, and here in the field of disarmament, which involves the security and peace of every person in and out of the State of Wisconsin, the head of our mission should say, "We have given it very little time and attention." [Applause.]

This is the experience of which so much is heard. The last meeting, the most recent one, the 10 nation Conference at Geneva this March - in September this administration appointed a special committee headed by a lawyer from Massachusetts, Mr. Coolidge. He worked for 3 months. He prepared a report. The report was thrown aside, and this time a New York lawyer without any experience in the field of disarmament became head of our mission. We had no position and we adopted that of the British. Our negotiators had to leave Geneva during the Conference itself to come to Washington to find out what our position was, and again we failed to prepare for disarmament. Throughout the consistent history of indifference and failure the arms race has continued to mount. This is an issue which involves the lives of all of us, and I must say in this area as in so many others this Government has been under the control of those who have been uninterested, who have lacked intellectual curiosity, who have failed to realize that in these changing times we need the best talent we can get, constantly applied to all the new problems that disturb us. Disarmament is only one failure of the last 8 years. [Applause.]

Therefore, I suggest the following things. First, that we maintain our strength. "We arm to parley," Mr. Winston Churchill said a decade ago. We cannot parley on the basis of equality with the Soviet unless we maintain a military position of equality with them, and that goes in the traditional weapons and in missiles and in outer space. One of the reasons why we have never been able to get an agreement on the disarmament of outer space is because we are second in outer space, and the Soviet Union will not give way their advantage. We arm to parley, and we must be strong if we are going to disarm and maintain our security. [Applause.]

Secondly, we must establish an arms control research institute, working full time under the direction of the President, and their function will be to conduct the research and make the studies on which our position will be based at future conferences which must be held in the sixties, on the important subject of disarmament and on the important subject of nuclear test control, a full time institute manned by men whose mission is peace just as we maintain the Pentagon, whose mission is war. We must also give the same attention, certainly as much, and if possible more attention, to the involved and important subject of peace. [Applause.]

The struggle for disarmament will not be easy, but I don't know any easy struggles in the 1960's. The struggle for freedom in Latin America, the struggle for freedom in Africa, the struggle for freedom in Asia, the maintenance of the security of Western Europe, the maintenance of our commitments to Berlin, the hope for freedom in Eastern Europe, the development of the American economy, the security for American agriculture - all these are difficult problems, but I do not take the view that they are impossible problems. [Applause.]

This is not a contest merely between Mr. Nixon and myself. It is not a contest in a very real sense between our two parties alone. It is a contest between those who look to the future with concern, with hope, with anxiety, and with a desire to serve, and between those who stand still, between those who have missed opportunity after opportunity in the last 8 years to build our position around the world to demonstrate to the world that we are a vigorous, moving country, that holds out a hand of friendship to people who wish to be free. [Applause.]

I believe in the 1960's that this country must prepare itself for another great movement forward, that we must work to strengthen our country, not only because of our devotion to it, but also because it represents the great hope of freedom. In the next 10 years, people around the world, particularly in the globe to the south of us, will begin to make their choice between freedom, between the system that we represent, and that of the Communists. We want them to choose to associate with us. We want them to choose to follow the same road that we are following. But we can only do that if we identify ourselves with them, if we move in this country, if we follow the roads of a distinguished citizen of the Middle West, a great son of Wisconsin, speaking nearly a century ago, who said:

Ideals are like stars. You will not succeed in touching them with your hands, but the seafaring man who follows the waters follows the stars, and if you choose them as your guides, you can reach your destiny.

Our stars and our ideal is the welfare of our country and the welfare of freedom. I ask your help in this campaign. I ask you to join us in serving this country, in building this country, in demonstrating what this country can be, in demonstrating what freedom can do, in showing the people who sit on the razor edge of decision that we represent the future, that the Communist system is as old as Egypt, and in our great free society there are inexhaustible veins of energy. We are the great source of the future and I believe under new leadership, the kind of leadership which this State has had in recent years, I believe this country can be given leadership, and I believe it can move again, and I ask your help. [Applause.]

In the American Constitutional Convention there was a painting of a sun, low on the horizon, behind the desk of General Washington, and many of the delegates wondered whether it was a rising or a setting sun, and at the conclusion, Benjamin Franklin stood up. He said, "We now know. It is a rising sun and the beginning of a great new day." I believe in 1960, if we choose to move forward, it can be a rising sun, and the beginning of a great new day. Thank you. [Applause.]

(Excerpt from question-and-answer period:)

Question. I would like to ask, Senator Kennedy, what do you feel is the best way to handle Fidel Castro?

Senator KENNEDY. The question is what do I think is the best way to handle Mr. Castro.

I think the great opportunity was really denied in 1957, during the last days of the Batista administration. I was in Cuba in 1957 and the American Ambassador informed me that the American Ambassador was the second most influential man in Cuba. There is not any doubt we had great influence in Cuba, and I think it is unfortunate that we did not use that influence more vigorously to persuade Mr. Batista to hold free, open elections, so that the people of Cuba could have made the choice, rather than holding onto his power and finally driven out by Castro at the point of a gun. Mr. Castro is now a Communist. I think the struggle will be, really, to prevent the spread of Castroism throughout all of South America. Cuba really is an isolated island. The great problem that we face as citizens of this hemisphere is to prevent other countries from following that example. The President of Brazil, during the last campaign, felt that Castro was so strong in Brazil that it was necessary for him to go to Havana to call on Mr. Castro. There were riots in Mexico in support of Castro. The difficulties we have had in Panama - this administration has almost ignored Latin America, which was the basic element, support of Latin America, in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. I believe the next President should reestablish that atmosphere, and working with the other countries [applause] and work with the other countries of the Organization of American States to maintain the free spirit within Cuba, itself, and throughout Latin America.

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Milwaukee, WI Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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