Excerpts from President Kennedy's Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union, January 14, 1963


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 815-816


President Kennedy's Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union, January 14, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents, Kennedy, 1963, p. 16-17:

"Second, what of the developing and non-aligned nations? They were, I believe, shocked by the Soviets' sudden and secret attempt to transform Cuba into a nuclear striking base-and by Communist China's arrogant invasion of India.

"They have been reassured by our prompt assistance to India, by our support through the United Nations of the Congo's unification, by our patient search for disarmament, and by the improvement in our treatment of citizens and visitors, whose skin does not happen to be white. And as the older colonialism recedes, and the neo-colonialism of the Communist powers stands out more starkly than ever, they realize more clearly that the issue in the world struggle is not communism versus capitalism, but coercion versus a free choice.

"They realize that the longing for independence is the same the world over, whether it is the independence of West Berlin or Viet-Nam. They realize that such independence runs athwart all Communist ambitions, but is in keeping with our own-and that our approach to their needs is resilient and resourceful, while the Communists rely on ancient doctrines and old dogmas.

"Nevertheless, it is hard for any nation to focus on an external or subversive threat to its independence when its energies are drained in daily combat with the forces of poverty and despair. It makes little sense for us to assail in speeches and resolutions the horrors of communism, to spend $50 billion a year to prevent its military advance-and then to begrudge spending, largely on American products, less than one-tenth of that amount to help other nations strengthen their independence and cure the social chaos in which communism has always thrived."

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"Third, what comfort can we take from the increasing strains and tensions within the Communist bloc? Here hope must be tempered with caution. For the Soviet-Chinese disagreement is over means, not ends. A dispute over how best to bury the free world is no grounds for Western rejoicing.

"Nevertheless, while a strain is not a fracture, it is clear that the forces of diversity are at work inside the Communist camp, despite all the iron disciplines of regimentation and all the iron dogmatisms of ideology. Marx is proven wrong once again: for it is the closed Communist societies, not the free and open societies which carry within themselves the seeds of internal disintegration.

"The disarray of the Communist empire has been heightened by two other formidable forces. One is the historical force of nationalism-and the yearning of all men to be free. The other is the gross inefficiency of their economies. For a closed society is not open to ideas of progress-and a police state finds that it cannot command the grain to grow.

"New nations asked to choose between two competing systems need only compare conditions in East and West Germany, Eastern and Western Europe, North and South Viet-Nam. They need only compare the disillusionment of Communist Cuba with the promise of the Alliance for Progress. And all the world knows that no successful system builds a wall to keep its people in and freedom out-and the wall of shame dividing Berlin is a symbol of Communist failure.

"Finally, what can we do to move from the present pause toward enduring peace? Again I would counsel caution. I foresee no spectacular reversal in Communist methods or goals. But if all these trends and developments can persuade the Soviet Union to walk the path of peace, then let her know that all free nations will journey with her. But until that choice is made, and until the world can develop a reliable system of international security, the free peoples have no choice but to keep their arms nearby.

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"In short, let our adversaries choose. If they choose peaceful competition, they shall have it. If they come to realize that their ambitions cannot succeed--if they see their 'wars of liberation' and subversion will ultimately fail--if they recognize that there is more security in accepting inspection than in permitting new nations to master the black arts of nuclear war--and if they are willing to turn their energies, as we are, to the great unfinished tasks of our own peoples--then, surely, the areas of agreement can be very wide indeed: a clear understanding about Berlin, stability in Southeast Asia, an end to nuclear testing, new checks on surprise or accidental attack, and, ultimately, general and complete disarmament.

* * *

"My friends: I close on a note of hope. We are not lulled by the momentary calm of the sea or the somewhat clearer skies above. We know the turbulence that lies below, and the storms that are beyond the horizon this year. But now the winds of change appear to be blowing more strongly than ever, in the world of communism as well as our own . . ."

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