John F. Kennedy on Foreign Policy
Thin foreign policy record from all-too-short presidency
For all John Kennedy's personal charm, little had been accomplished in his all too short presidency. On the foreign policy front, the administration's record was thin. There were the talks with Soviet leader
Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, where Khrushchev came away with the impression that Kennedy was young and inexperienced.
There was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba that added to the impression of American weakness.
Then followed the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, both of which seemed to have been at least in part a result of the emboldened Khrushchev deciding to test America's new young leader.
Source: Known and Unknown, by Donald Rumsfeld, p. 81-82
, Feb 8, 2011
1963: Support the beleaguered people of Berlin
"Ich bin ein Berliner" in German actually means: "I am a chocolate-covered doughnut". What Kennedy should have said when addressing a crowd of over 80 percent of the population of West Berlin on 26 June 1963 was: "Ich bin Berliner".
It didn't matter whatsoever. He travelled a long way to show understanding and support to the beleaguered population of West Germany and this overcame any shortcomings he may have had with the German language. In fact, it was seen as endearing.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p.148
, Mar 3, 2010
We can work with Communists? Let them come to Berlin!
John F. Kennedy [said about the Soviet Union's Communists], "There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the communist world. Let them come to Berlin.
There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, that we can work with the communists.
Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress.
Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin." The repetition drives the narrative and the expectation is heightened.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p. 7
, Mar 3, 2010
1963: Ich bin ein Berliner; freedom is indivisible
In 1963, after a visit to the wall that the Soviets had erected to pen in those who would fell communist control, Pres. Kennedy stood in West Berlin to address a cheering crowd of at least 150,000. A fortnight earlier, he had told the American people in
different context that "this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free." Echoing those sentiments, he told the people of Berlin, "Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not
He continued: "When all are free, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades. All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free
man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' "
He inspired hope in an oppressed people. He delivered a message about the need for all men to be free that was consistent at home and abroad. And he was a realist about the time it would take.
Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.198
, Sep 14, 2009
1961: Warned aggressors that US ready to defend freedom
Hope inspired Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address to warn would-be-aggressors that the United States stands ready to defend its freedoms and the freedoms of its allies across the world. In addition, he called on citizens to accept the responsibility
of protecting America's freedoms, Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Source: They Think You're Stupid, by Herman Cain, p.153-154
, Jun 14, 2005
Food for Peace: $1.5B shipments annually
In 1961 Kennedy's second executive order created the Food-for-peace office. Designed to combat world hunger. Arthur Schlesinger would call it "the great unseen weapon of Kennedy's third world policy." Shipments averaged nearly $1.5 billion annually
during the Kennedy years. National self-interest was also involved: The program also helped reduce American agricultural surpluses and since American ships were exclusively employed to stimulate the nation's maritime industry.
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.254-255
, Dec 10, 1997
Immunized himself from suspicion of being "soft on Reds"
In 1954 letters sympathetic to McCarthy were pouring into Jack's office, and the Boston Post was questioning Kennedy's patriotism. To further immunize himself from any possible suspicion on being "soft on the Reds," Jack backed the Communist
Control Act of 1954. This hastily devised and poorly thought out response to the ultraconservatives virtually outlawed the Communist party in the United States. There was clearly a link between the act and the impending study and vote on McCarthy.
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.121-122
, Dec 10, 1997
Peace Corps: highest response to "ask not" request
March 1, 1961 the president issued an executive order creating the Peace Corps to send trained volunteers overseas to assist developing nations with their economic and social problems. That fall, after discovering that college students greeted it
warmly, he did not broach it in a formal campaign speech until six days before the election.
All Americans were now eligible to apply. Those accepted would be volunteers who lived in primitive conditions among the people they served.
The Peace Corps, Sorensen later boasted, "represented the highest response to [Kennedy's] Inaugural injunction to 'ask not.' The corps would turn out to be one of the administration's most successful--and newsworthy--projects.
By the end of 1961, nearly one thousand volunteers were serving, and the president called them "a cross-section of the finest men and women that this nation has to offer."
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.255
, Dec 10, 1997
Alliance for Progress: $500M for Latin American cooperation
In 1961, Kennedy called for an Alliance for Progress, a cooperative effort "to satisfy the basic needs of the American people for homes, work and land, health and schools." The president then described ten steps he was taking to bolster Latin American
economic development, education, inter-American cooperation, and democracy, including a request to Congress for half a billion dollars. "Let us once again awaken our American revolution," he concluded, "until it guides the struggles of people everywhere
--not with an imperialism of force or fear--but the rule of courage and freedom and hope for the future of man."
While the idealism in his proposal was undeniable, Kennedy's anti-communism was also apparent. Few could fail to see the specter of
Fidel Castro in much of what was said. Drawing a parallel between the Alliance and the Marshall Plan, Kennedy would later refer to the Alliance as a program "I believe can successfully counter the Communist onslaught in this hemisphere."
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.255-256
, Dec 10, 1997
"World safe for diversity", instead of "safe for democracy"
Although he did seek basic reforms in the efforts of other countries to make use of our funds, he knew that our own system could not be universally imposed or accepted in a world where most of the
people "are not white, are not Christians, [and] know nothing about free enterprise or due process of law or the Australian ballot."
All must adopt their own system, and the freedom to do so was at the heart of his policy. Without specifically contradicting Wilson's phrase of "a world made safe for democracy," he began in
1963 to refer in his speeches to "a world made safe for diversity." That single phrase summed up much of his new thinking in foreign policy.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 539
, Jan 1, 1965
1961: Created the Peace Corps
Kennedy created in his first 100 days the Peace Corps: a cadre of mostly youthful volunteers carrying American energy and skills directly to the people of poor nations. They lived with those people in their villages, spoke their languages, helped them
develop their natural and human resources, and received no compensation other than the satisfaction of helping others. The Peace Corps became in time--at least in the developing nations--the most stirring symbol of Kennedy's hope and promise.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 532
, Jan 1, 1965
Alianza para el Progreso: development aid for Latin America
In speeches [about Latin America], the emphasis was on the need for more self-help as well as American help, for ending injustice as well as poverty, for reform as well as relief. The Alianza para el
Progreso "is more than a doctrine of development, it is the expression of the noblest goals of our society."
The President had begun work on a coffee stabilization agreement, sent more Peace Corpsmen south than to any other continent, and increased
Food-for-Peace shipments. But the Alliance was slow getting started, and not without reason. With a rate of infant mortality nearly 4 times our own, a life expectancy less than 2/3 of our own, an illiteracy rate of
50%, and a highly suspicious attitude toward American investment, where were we to begin? The task, said the President, was "staggering in its dimensions," even for a ten-year plan.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p.534-535
, Jan 1, 1965
Bay of Pigs defeat enhanced Castro's stature
On April 17, 1961, the CIA mounted an invasion of Cuba with a thousand Cuban exiles at Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on Cuba's southern coast.
The invaders were defeated and most of them imprisoned. Castro's victory enhanced his stature in Cuba enormously and other communist and South American states were drawn closer to Cuba as a result.
In his 1961 May Day speech (an annual occurrence), Castro declared that the government would no longer hold the elections, but would depend on the direct support of the people at mass rallies
(like this one), something that delighted most listeners, but terrified others who assumed that any hint of democracy was now dead and buried in Cuba.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p.290-291
, Apr 17, 1961
Page last updated: Jul 11, 2013