Monday, January 14, 2008

JFK At The Tabernacle

On September 26, 1963 President John F. Kennedy spoke at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. See here for info on the Tabernacle, here to listen to the speech, and here for the transcript. The speech is very fascinating to me for a couple of reasons.

First are the nice things he said about Mormons,
"Of all the stories of American pioneers and settlers, none is more inspiring than the Mormon trail. The qualities of the founders of this community are the qualities that we seek in America, the qualities which we like to feel this country has, courage, patience, faith, self-reliance, perseverance, and, above all, an unflagging determination to see the right prevail."
Take that, Mr. Larry "I play one on tv" O'Donnell. :-)

The real meat of this speech is when President Kennedy outlines his reasons for the dramatic change in US foreign policy after WWII. Perhaps this is why the speech resonated with me. I had recently read George Washington's farewell address where he announced he would not be running for a third term as president, and where he outlined a few parting words of advice. One part of this advice was an admonition to stay out of the world's affairs. He explained that the more involved we are with the world, both politically and economically, the more influence the world would have on us, and he warned that this influence could be dangerous to our liberty-the same liberty he had so recently struggled to achieve.

In the years that followed, America for the most part had heeded Washington's admonition. However, after WWII things changed. In the words of President Kennedy,
"The fact of the matter is that we, this generation of Americans, are the first generation of our country ever to be involved in affairs around the globe. From the beginning of this country, from the days of Washington, until the Second World War, this country lived an isolated existence. Through most of our history we were an unaligned country, an uncommitted nation, a neutralist nation. We were by statute as well as by desire. We had believed that we could live behind our two oceans in safety and prosperity in a comfortable distance from the rest of the world."
But why the change? President Kennedy said it was "the inevitable result of growth," and that "no nation so powerful and so dynamic and as rich as our own could hope to live in isolation."

Of course, JFK recognized the difficulties that arise from this change in policy,
"We find ourselves entangled with apparently unanswerable problems in unpronounceable places. We discover that our enemy in one decade is our ally the next. We find ourselves committed to governments whose actions we cannot often approve, assisting societies with principles very different from our own."
These difficulties, President Kennedy said, caused many people to advocate retreat from our influence in the world.

Kennedy's response to the isolationist advocates? Impossible. As much as we may want to retreat from the world and its problems, we cannot. He reminded his audience that it took Brigham Young over 100 days to cross the United States to the Salt Lake Valley, but that it now took 30 minutes for a missile to cross continents. Technology has made the world a much smaller place, which in turn has made isolation a fairy tale,
"We cannot return to the day of the sailing schooner or the covered wagon, even if we wished. And if this Nation is to survive and succeed in the real world of today, we must acknowledge the realities of the world."
This speech was given in 1963, and if anything the world has gotten even smaller in the 45 years since then. Technology has advanced at an incredible rate, making our influence even greater. We have spent much of the last 5 decades knee deep in world affairs, and have received a lot of criticism for it. Still, much like President Kennedy said, because of our size and wealth, the United States is always looked to in times of political and humanitarian crisis. Which begs the question, was JFK right?


Don Kauffman said...

great audio and pictures of the speech can be found here:

George said...

Tell my why it is Cameron that so many Mormons, possessing the 'qualities sought in America' are so ethnically biased toward people of color, Black and Brown?

George said...

BTW, I heard that speech over KSL and recorded it.

Cameron said...

George, favoring a stricter and less incomprehensible immigration policy does not make one racist.

Becoming a member of the LDS Church does not automatically imbue you with all the "qualities sought in Ameria."

But I agree with JFK in saying that Mormons as a whole are pretty awesome people.