John F. Kennedy photo

Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Pikesville Armory Pikesville, MD - (Advance Release Text)

September 16, 1960

I would like to set aside on this occasion my role as Democratic nominee, and speak as an American citizen. I would like to set aside on this occasion those issues that divide us, and speak of those that unite us. And I would like to address my remarks on this occasion not only to the people of Maryland and America, but also to the ruler of the Soviet Union.

I know something about Mr. Khrushchev, whom I met last year as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I know something about the nature and history of his country, which I first visited in 1939.

Mr. Khrushchev himself, it is said, first told the story a few years ago about the Russian who suddenly began to run through the Kremlin shouting : "Khrushchev is a fool. Khrushchev is a fool." He was sentenced, the Premier said, to 23 years in prison - "3 for insulting the party secretary - and 20 for revealing a state secret."

But Mr. Khrushchev is not a fool - and we ought to realize that before he comes. He is shrewd, he is tough, he is vigorous, well informed and confident.

And he is not putting on any act when he talks of the inevitable triumph of the Communist system. For this is what he believes - this is what he is determined to achieve - and this is what we in this Nation, Mr. Khrushchev, are equally determined to prevent.

We would not - and could not - prevent your coming here at the head of the Soviet delegation. We did not invite you - but I think most Americans would agree that we would rather meet in the U.N. than in nuclear combat.

But nevertheless the American people are wondering, Mr. Khrushchev, why you decided to come. At your last chance to discuss with us the world's drift toward war you not only sabotaged the Summit Conference but insulted our President as well. And Americans of all parties regard an insult to our President as an insult to every citizen.

Surely you do not believe you can use the United Nations as a forum for similar discourtesies. Nor can you believe that this country would ever be intimidated by your threats. That is not our tradition. We do not weaken in the face of tyranny. Samuel Adams, of Massachusetts, following the Boston Massacre, confronted the British Colonial Governor in his office. The Governor warned of mass arrests. Sam Adams warned of an American revolution; and "it was then," he wrote in his diary, "that I thought I saw his knees tremble." But Sam Adams' knees had not trembled - and our knees do not tremble today before your threats of rockets and conquest.

Why, then, Mr. Khrushchev, have you decided to come? It has been suggested that you may have four possible objectives in mind.

First, it has been suggested that your objective is to pose as a champion of peace and disarmament. You are said to be bringing new disarmament proposals with you. If they are at all constructive and negotiable, I hope we in this country will stand ready to consider them.

But the Bible, one book with which you may not be familiar, Mr. Khrushchev, warns us against those of whom it may be said: "The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart."

For the cold war, the Korean war, the Indochina war and every threat of new war have all been initiated by the Communists, not by the West. Today you are threatening or encouraging further disorders in Latin America, Africa, southeast Asia, Germany, and the Middle East. You have defied and hamstrung the U.N., yet now you come talking of disarmament. Under the old English legal maxim, "He who seeks equity must come with clean hands." And you do not come to the United Nations, Mr. Khrushchev, with clean hands to talk of peace.

I believe this country can do more for peace than it has done. I regret that we have had fewer than 100 scattered specialists working on the complex problems of arms control. I regret that our negotiators at previous conferences have been so ill-staffed and ill-prepared. But there is a big difference. We sincerely desire to live at peace with all our neighbors - we have no dreams of conquest - while you, and your Communist Chinese friends in particular, talk of peace only while working to undermine it.

Secondly, it has been suggested that your objective in the U.N. is to exploit the bitter colonialism. There will be controversial questions in this area - questions on which the West is not wholly prepared or united. The Algerian problem, in particular, has been allowed to fester too long without a final solution, until now the bitterness and commitments on both sides make any settlement difficult.

But the records of the West in encouraging the political and economic independence of former colonies stands in sharp contrast with the Soviet record as the most ruthless colonial power on earth. To rail against colonialism while holding in strictest bondage a great empire stretching from East Berlin to Vietminh is to achieve new heights of hypocrisy. To bring with you the puppet rulers of your captive states only reminds us that there may be satellite governments but there are not satellite peoples. And any U.N. debate on the subject of colonial rule should refer to the U.N. report on the butchery of Budapest.

Perhaps, probing our soft spots, you will be successful this year in establishing new satellites, new colonies, in Cuba and the Congo. But I cannot believe - particularly if we in this country can once again win friends to our cause by our example - that in the long run the people of those two nations will be willing to accept this new type of dictatorship as a substitute for their old type of repression.

Third, Mr. Khrushchev, it has been suggested that your objective in coming here is to flaunt the supposed advantages of your system over ours. Without doubt, if you succeed in putting a man into space and bringing him back alive, you will have scored another impressive triumph. It would confirm your lead in the thrust of your rocket engines - and there are many of us deeply concerned about it. We are concerned, too, about how much faster your economy is growing than ours, and how many more scientists and engineers you are producing - and you may be tempted to make the most of these differences too.

But this country is still far from fitting your description of a "senile capitalist system - (an) exhausted, limping and stumbling * * * horse." For while you may be an expert on Karl Marx, Karl Marx was not an expert on modern American capitalism, with its unique combination of public effort and private competition, dynamic, progressive, and still evolving. It may, from time to time, pause or show weakness. But it is still capable of reaching greater heights than any you have ever seen or imagined. It is still capable of building all the defenses we need, and all the schools and homes and public works - and help stabilize the non-Communist world at the same time.

We have our share of low-paid workers and our share of poor housing - but you have more. And ours is the exception while yours is the rule. Whatever complaints may be voiced by our farmers, our teachers, and our scientists, they know that they are free - and they would not change places with your farmers, your teachers, and your scientists for anything in the world. Can you say the same for yours? Whatever propaganda value you may see in enticing two American defectors of uncertain stability, the fact remains that the great flow across the Iron Curtain is almost all one way- this way - to freedom.

For people around the world know, Mr. Khrushchev, that while you may learn to bring a man back alive from outer space, you rarely bring one back alive from Siberia.

In short, it is not our system but yours that is becoming obsolete. Capitalism was evolved - our monopolies are largely gone - but you must still maintain your political monopoly through secret police and concentration camps. And the peoples of the world - including your own - want more now than economic progress. They want peace and freedom as well.

Fourth and finally, Mr. Khrushchev, it has been suggested that your objective is to divide our country in the midst of our election. Let me say as emphatically as I can: Those tactics will not work.

You may try to praise or condemn one candidate more than another - you may try to express your preferences or doubt - but the American people are not going to be influenced in this election by what The Kremlin does or does not say.

You may not be familiar with our campaigns, Mr. Khrushchev; for you are not familiar with free elections. So perhaps you have been misled into believing that we are a divided country, or that one side favors appeasement, or that the humiliation of our President would be pleasing to his political opponents. Nothing could be further from the truth. For Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike are united in our opposition to your system and everything it means, in our stand for peace, in our hatred of war, and in our refusal to tolerate appeasement.

You may hear us inquiring into our lost prestige, our shaky defenses, our lack of leadership. But do not be deceived. The Democratic Party is not preaching disunity. Our program is not one that will please you. The Democratic Party wants to win this election - not to preside over the liquidation of the free world, or the destruction of mankind - but to achieve peace, and regain our security, by rebuilding America's strength.

Once we are as strong as need be - militarily, economically, scientifically, and politically - I think then you will want to a more sensibly with us. I think then you will want to avoid the catastrophe of war, the drain of the arms race, and the spread of nuclear weapons. I think then you will want the benefits of a world truly at peace - with a greater flow of goods, ideas, and people between our two nations.

But, until we can achieve the balance that will make such talks possible, our task here is to remain strong, and alert, and moving ahead.

A great poet once wrote:

"The world is large when its weary leagues

Two loving hearts divide;

But the world is small when your enemy

Is loose on the other side."

Tonight we know that our world grows smaller every day, that our enemy is loose, and that he is coming even now to our side of the world. But we shall be neither deceived nor dismayed. Neither shall we retreat. For while there may be fearless men in both our countries, this is not only the home of the brave, Mr. Khrushchev; it is also the land of the free. And, in the long run, that is going to make the difference.

John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Pikesville Armory Pikesville, MD - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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