John F. Kennedy on Homeland Security



Danger that security needs will expand to censorship

John F. Kennedy said, "There is little value in insuring the survival or our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon but those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship in concealment."
Source: 63 Documents, by Gov. Jesse Ventura, p. 2 , Apr 4, 2011

Invented "pre-emption doctrine" in Cuban Missile Crisis

In 2002, Pres. Bush told a West Point graduating class that their military careers would be shaped by a new doctrine that would focus less on multinational cooperation and more on preemptive strikes carried out by the US unilaterally. The President's words at West Point announced the coming of a preemption doctrine that would be employed to justify the invasion of Iraq the following year.

Democratic presidents had justified American preemption when they felt it necessary to defend U.S. interests. President Kennedy expressed his version of a preemption doctrine in his Cuban Missile Crisis address on Oct. 22, 1962:

"We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security to constitute maximum peril. Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift that any substantially increased possibility of their use or any sudden change in their deployment may well be regarded as a definite threat to peace."

Source: The Last Best Hope, by Joe Scarborough, p. 34-5 , Oct 5, 2010

Bay of Pigs intended to liberate Cuba; ended as fiasco

[In 1961] the liberation of Cuba by a small bank of freedom fighters would surely be another chapter in the Kennedy success story. Kennedy was assured that Castro would be toppled quickly, with no risk of American involvement, & little risk of failure.

To conceal American participation, the pilots in the first raids were to pretend to be defectors from Castro's air force. On the morning of April 15, the US attacked three Cuban air bases. The White House denied any knowledge of the events.

The invaders lost 114 men; Castro captured 1,189 along with a large cache of American weapons. As the full extent of American involvement in the debacle started to appear, his 3-month-old administration appeared to be in ruins.

Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.258-272 , Dec 10, 1997

Increase military spending to fight domino effect in SE Asia

Jack gained attention [in the Senate] for his foreign policy views. He repeatedly condemned the Eisenhower administration for its dependence upon "massive retaliation" and sought increases in military spending. He took a special interest in French Indochina, & tried unsuccessfully to tie American aid with eventual independence of Vietnam. Even before Eisenhower mentioned the "domino" principle, Kennedy linked the existence of a non-Communist regime in Vietnam to the security of all Southeast Asia.
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.120 , Dec 10, 1997

1963: Test Ban Treaty: no nukes in space nor oceans

In 1963 a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty [proposed] prohibiting testing in outer space, the atmosphere, and the oceans. The Soviets were persuaded that the United States wanted to inspect in order to spy; many on our side were convinced that without adequate inspection the Soviets would cheat.

It took only twelve days to agree to a limited test-ban treaty. Article One pledged the parties not to carry out nuclear explosions in the prohibited environments and to refrain from abetting such explosions by others. Underground testing was permitted to continue.

Kennedy warmly and eloquently endorsed the agreement calling the treaty "an important first step--a step towards peace--as step towards reason--a step away from war."

Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.401 , Dec 10, 1997

Lone senator to take no position on McCarthy condemnation

In October, Kennedy checked into NY's Hospital for Special Surgery, "This is the one that kills you or cures," he told aides. Complications set in. "The doctors did not expect him to live until morning." The death watch was even reported on television. For the 2nd time in his life, Kennedy was given the last rites of his church.

Kennedy rallied, but on Dec. 2, 1954, the Senate closed the curtain of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, voting to condemn his for conduct that brought discredit on the Senate itself. While he would live 2 years longer, both his anti-Communist crusade & his political significance had ended. The lone senator who refused to take a public position on the condemnation vote was Kennedy of MA. It was a privilege of the sick that he relished in full. "Those reporters are going to lean over me with great concern, and every one of those guys is going to say, 'Now Senator, what about McCarthy?' Do you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to reach for my back and I'm just going to yell 'Oow!'"

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 99-100 , Jun 3, 1996

Defense spending should not be limited by budget amount

As President-elect, he gave his first basic policy change: "Under no circumstances should we allow a predetermined arbitrary financial limit to establish either strategy or force levels." Our strategy was to be determined by the objectives of our foreign policy. Our force levels were to be determined by the necessities of our safety and commitments. "Like any other investment," he said of defense spending in 1960, "it will be a gamble with our money. But the alternative is to gamble with our lives."
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 603 , Jan 1, 1965

Increased defense spending, but also increased efficiency

Defense spending rose some $8 billion under Kennedy, constituting most of his Budget increase, but it was spent on more solid and dependable deterrents from which [inefficient] systems might otherwise have taken money. [Defense Secretary] McNamara and Kennedy formed a single Defense Intelligence Agency, which produced one confidential daily report instead of the previous eleven. They formed a single Defense Supply Agency, which tightened up procurement practices on everything from different belt buckles to missiles, noted that Army helicopters could use the one million too many small rockets in Air Force stockpiles (savings $41 million), and avoided duplications. They undertook a reorganization of the National Guard and they shut down, sold or cut back nearly three hundred inefficient installations. "The defense establishment," said Kennedy, "must be lean and fit."
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 417-418 , Jan 1, 1965

More air-lift; more submarines; more missiles

I have asked the Defense Secretary to initiate immediately three new steps most clearly needed now:Until the Secretary of Defense's reappraisal is completed, the emphasis here will be largely on improved organization and decision making--on cutting down the wasteful duplications and the time-lag that have handicapped our whole family of missiles. If we are to keep the peace, we need an invulnerable missile force powerful enough to deter any aggressor from even threatening an attack that he would know could not destroy enough of our force to prevent his own destruction. For as I said upon taking the oath of office: "Only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed."
Source: Pres. Kennedy's 1961 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 30, 1961

No atmospheric nuclear testing; push multilateral treaty

Q: The Atomic Energy Commission hints that the Russians may have resumed the testing of nuclear devices. Should we resume our own tests?

KENNEDY: I think the next president should make one last effort to secure an agreement on the cessation of tests. New breakthroughs in atomic energy technology indicate that by the time the next president's term of office has come to an end, there may be 10 or 20 countries with an atomic capacity, perhaps that many testing bombs with all the effect that it could have on the atmosphere and with more and more chance of war. So one more effort should be made. I don't think that even if that effort fails that it will be necessary to carry on tests in the atmosphere which pollute the atmosphere. They can be carried out underground.

NIXON: As a matter of fact, there's been a moratorium on testing as a result of the fact that we have been negotiating. I've reached the conclusion that the Soviets may be cheating. There should be no tests in the atmosphere.

Source: The Fourth Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate , Oct 21, 1960

Negotiate with USSR from a position of strength

Q [to Nixon]: Will there be a summit conference with the USSR?

NIXON: I would be willing as president to meet with Mr. Khrushchev or any other world leader if it would serve the cause of peace. I would not be willing to meet with him, however, unless there were preparations to [avoid the failure of the recent Berlin negotiations].

KENNEDY: I have no disagreement with the Vice President's position on that. I would add that before we go into the summit, it's important that the US build its military strength as well as its own economic strength. If we negotiate from a position where the power balance is moving away from us, it's extremely difficult to reach a successful decision on Berlin as well as the other questions. Our commitment to Berlin is going to be a test of our nerve and will. It's going to be a test of our strength. And partly because we have not maintained our strength with sufficient vigor in the last years, the next president should revitalize of our military strength.

Source: The Second Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate , Oct 7, 1960

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Other past presidents on Homeland Security: John F. Kennedy on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022