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Toasts of the President and Andre Malraux, French Minister for Cultural Affairs.

May 11, 1962

Ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express a very warm welcome to all of you, and particularly to our distinguished guests, Mr. and Madame Malraux.

This will be the first speech about relations between France and the United States that does not include a tribute to General Lafayette. It seems that almost every Frenchman who comes to the United States feels that Lafayette was a rather confused sort of ineffectual, elderly figure, hovering over French politics, and is astonished to find that we regard him as a golden, young, romantic figure, next to George Washington our most distinguished citizen. Therefore he will not be mentioned, but instead I will mention a predecessor of mine, John Adams, who was our first President to live in the White House and whose prayer on occupancy is written here. John Adams asked that on his gravestone be written, "He kept the peace with France."

I am very glad to welcome here some of our most distinguished artists. This is becoming a sort of eating place for artists. But they never ask us out!

I want to tell you how very pleased we are to have so many distinguished writers and artists and actresses and creative thinkers. You know, one of the great myths of American life is that nothing is pleasanter or easier than lying around all day and painting a picture or writing a book and leading a rather easy life. In my opinion, the ultimate in self-discipline is a creative work. Those of us who work in an office every day are actually the real gentle livers of American society.

We do not manage our cultural life in this country, nor does any free society, but it is an important part. It is one of the great purposes. And I would hope that this tremendous energy obtained in the intellectual life of America could be communicated not only to people in this country but all around the world.

There are so many more people playing a musical instrument now, going to symphonies, going to the theater, to art galleries, painting, than anyone realizes. And it is our hope that Americans will begin to look about them and realize that here in these years we are building a life which, as I say, develops the maximum in each individual.

Now we have the best model that we could have this evening in welcoming Mr. and Madame Malraux. I suppose all of us wish to participate in all the experiences of life, but he has left us all behind. We are the descendants of early founders who were themselves men of great variety and vitality. But he has led an archeological expedition to Cambodia, been connected with Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Tse-tung--and has been active in the civil war--participated in the defense of his country--been involved with General de Gaulle--and has been at the same time a great creative figure in his own right. He has left, I think, most of us way behind.

So we regard him as an honored guest in this country--as participants in the cultural stream and also as admirers of those who travel the far horizons of human destiny. So we are very proud to have him. And we are particularly proud to have him because of his association with a distinguished leader of the West.

A good deal has been written by some of our distinguished correspondents about the difficulties that have occasionally come up between the President of the United States and General de Gaulle. But I want to say that there is a tradition in that regard, with Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. And General de Gaulle continues on his way, and has built for his country and his friends in Europe a strength which is the most valuable source of comfort to us all. I know that there are sometimes difficulties in life but I hope that those who live in both our countries realize how fortunate we are in the last two decades to be associated in the great effort with him. And we are glad to have Mr. Malraux and Madame Malraux here because we believe that they will go back to France and say a kind word for the United States--and its President.

So I hope you will drink to all of us, in the sense that you are leaders in our free society-and particularly to our distinguished leader whom we are very glad to have with us tonight--and most especially to drink to the President of France, General de Gaulle.

Note: The President proposed the toast at a dinner in the State Dining Room and the Blue Room at the White House. In his response (through an interpreter) Mr. Malraux expressed appreciation for the hospitality accorded him. "You have greeted me here with the masterpieces of the world--and you have greeted me even better by having your masterpieces shown to me by Mrs. Kennedy.

"... At one time I was in another country, in a country named Russia," he continued, "and there in the enormous expanse of snow I felt something great--a great hope.

"Here I feel also something great--we feel the very spirit of the free world--we feel brotherhood; we feel the brotherhood of man, in this country. This is the brotherhood which so many people for so long had thought they would find elsewhere, in that other country, but which really exists and lives here.

"... The United States of America is the only country which has become the leader of the world without having sought to become that leader, the country to which is entrusted the future, the destiny of mankind .... And it is really strange," Mr. Malraux concluded, "that in so many millennia there is for the first time today... a country which has become the leader not through conquest but by seeking justice."

John F. Kennedy, Toasts of the President and Andre Malraux, French Minister for Cultural Affairs. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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