President Kennedy's Address, in Chicago to Democratic Party Dinner, April 28, 1961


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 801-802


President Kennedy's Address, in Chicago to Democratic Party Dinner, April 28, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents, Kennedy, 1961, p. 340:

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"We live in a hazardous and dangerous time. I do not think it's possible to overstate it. We live in a world which has changed tremendously in our lifetime--history only will secure a full perspective on that change. But here is Africa, which was held by Western European powers for several centuries, now independent--which holds within its countries masses of people, many of them illiterate, who live on average incomes of 50 or 60 or 75 dollars a year, who want a change, who now are the masters of their own house but who lack the means of building a viable economy, who are impressed by the example of the Soviet Union and the Chinese, who--not knowing the meaning of freedom in their own lives--wonder whether the Communist system holds the secret of organizing the resources of the state in order to bring them a better life.

"And what is true of Africa is true of Asia, and what is true of Africa and Asia is true in some degree of Latin America. The Communists move among them, disciplined, organized, subject to an international discipline, promising under their system that all will be well, knowing that if they can win just once, then the iron grip of the totalitarian state goes upon the population--those who resist become refugees, or are shot--and they manage to control the population.

"Tonight, in Viet-nam, where the President was re-elected recently in the last 2 weeks by a majority of 75 to 80 percent, yet a small army of guerrillas, organized and sustained by the Communist Viet Minh in the north, control most of the countryside in the nighttime--in the last 12 months have assassinated over four thousand civil officers, two thousand state employees and two thousand police, believing if they can 'spill the wine,' that then they can win control of the population. And when they have won, they do not intend to give way.

"Now our great responsibility is to be the chief defender of freedom, in this time of maximum danger. Only the United States has the power and the resources and the determination. We have committed ourselves to the defense of dozens of countries stretched around the globe who look to us for independence, who look to us for the defense of their freedom.

"We are prepared to meet our obligations, but we can only defend the freedom of those who are determined to be free themselves. We can assist them--we will bear more than our share of the burden, but we can only help those who are ready to bear their share of the burden themselves.

"The Russians and the Chinese, containing within their borders nearly a billion people, totally mobilized for the advance of the Communist system, operating from narrow, interior lines of communication, pressuring on Southeast Asia with the masses of the Chinese armies potentially ready to move--of the Russians who hold great power potentially in the Middle East and Western Europe--the United States stands as the chief defender of freedom.

"I said in my Inaugural Address that no group of people in any generation since democracy was first developed by the ancient Greeks nearly twenty-four or -five hundred years ago, have ever borne a responsibility as great as ours. And I welcome it--and I welcome it tonight.

"There is no easy answer to the dilemmas that we face. Our great ally is the fact that people do desire to be free, that people will sacrifice everything in their desire to maintain their independence. And as the true nature of the Communist conspiracy becomes better known around the globe, when people come to realize--as they surely will--that the Communist advance does not represent a means of liberation but represents a final enslavement, then I believe that they will rally to the cause to which we have given our support and our commitment.

"I believe that we must build our country well, also. Senator Douglas described what we are attempting to do. The burdens are heavy upon us. We have to make this society an example to the world, strong enough to serve not only as an example but strong enough to maintain the commitments that we have assumed."


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