JFK Part IV: An Inspirational Speaker

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

This week, Clubhouse News examines the life of John F. Kennedy (JFK), leading up to the 50th anniversary of his assassination on November 22. In “JFK Part IV: An Inspirational Speaker,” we explore some of JFK’s most famous speeches and quotes.

JFK is still remembered to this day as one of the most inspirational speakers ever. Although there are countless speeches he gave that are memorable and historically significant, three in particular stand out…

Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961

JFK positively blazed with charm, and he is still to this day one of the most beloved presidents ever, respected by Democrats and Republicans.

When John F. Kennedy took the oath of office from Chief Justice Earl Warren on this day, he became the 35th President of the United States, as well as the youngest man (at age 43) to ever hold the office and the first Irish Catholic to be elected. His most memorable quote from the speech was when he said, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

As for other countries, like the Soviet Union, he declared, “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.” Then, because he believed strongly in the possibilities that would be created by the Space Race against the Soviets, JFK invited, “Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.”

Moon speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962

As JFK believed the US was losing the Space Race, he knew the country needed to believe in his vision for surpassing the Soviet Union. So, on May 25, 1961, he told Congress that the nation should commit to landing a man on the Moon someday, and bringing him home safely. Then, on September 12, 1962, he described his goals for the nation’s space program in front of 35,000 people at Rice University in Houston. Memorable quotes include his wisdom in the humble nature of knowledge, as he said, “The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.”

To those who wished to play it safe and not risk losing money on the Space Race, he expressed, “…the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward—and so will space.” For anyone discouraged by the great difficulty, he assured, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

“A Strategy of Peace” at American University on June, 1963

JFK American University
JFK delivers the commencement address at American University on June 10, 1963. “A Strategy of Peace” was very kind in its tone towards the Soviet Union, at a time when the Cold War between the US and Soviets was very intense.

JFK believed very much in peace, and often tried reaching out to the hostile leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Kruschev. When he spoke at the Commencement Address at American University, JFK asked everyone to rethink the way they viewed the Soviets. He also announced that he and Kruschev had agreed to hold discussions on a nuclear test ban treaty (which later resulted in a successful ban of above ground nuclear testing, thus slowing the Cold War arms race).

His famous words still echo, as he preached, “Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable – that mankind is doomed – that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade – therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

Furthermore, he believed, “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”  He explained, “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.”

Images courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.