John F. Kennedy was in Richmond in January 20th, 1958, to speak in front of The Women’s Club of Richmond.
This speech was given at a time when nuclear war appeared to be on the horizon as the Soviet Union and United States danced around each other. Kennedy strikes a tone of fear, and resilience in this speech.
JFK was sworn in to be President of the United States 3 years later to the day after giving this speech.
“I am deeply honored that this distinguished organization of Virginia should invite for this occasion a son of Massachusetts. While I am grateful for the personal honor accorded me, I know that this is really but another demonstration of the common ties that bind together our two great states.
Massachusetts is important to this audience, moreover, because the first “woman’s club” in America originated in the village of Boston more than 320 years ago. The founder of this movement was the courageous Anne Hutchinson, who each week held meetings in her home for the women of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to discuss the previous Sunday’s sermon. The wives and daughters of the Colony, who had been excluded from the similar discussion meetings traditionally held by the men, and who were bored by their harsh labor and depressing surroundings, flocked to the Hutchinson home, to hear her views and enjoy her hospitality. As you may know, Anne Hutchinson was eventually expelled from the Colony on grounds of sedition and heresy, and she eventually lost her life and most of her family in a savage Indian massacre. But perhaps it is more important, when we think of America’s first “club woman”, to recall that the permanent monument to religious tolerance that stands today before the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill is a statue of Anne Hutchinson.
The courage and leadership demonstrated so many years ago by Anne Hutchinson are critically needed in this nation today. You need merely to glance at the daily headlines to know that we live in an age of unprecedented national peril. The terrors of the nuclear age and the current advantages of Soviet science pose threats far more terrifying to contemplate than the perils of the wilderness, the elements and the Indians that Anne Hutchinson and her compatriots were willing to brave. Today we read of the possibilities of hydrogen bombs and missiles raining upon our cities – of Soviet space vehicles conquering outer space – of Russian submarines terrorizing the high seas while their aircraft patrol the skies – of Communist scientists controlling even our weather and tides.
These are no science-fiction fantasies. The capability of the Soviets to direct a missile at Richmond from a submarine 500 miles out at sea against which we now have no certain defense is not to be doubted. Nor can there be any dispute about the fact that all of us – particularly here on the Eastern seaboard – now live for the first time on what may be the front lines in an international war, on the bull’s-eye of Soviet missile targets. There can be little doubt that this nation definitely faces the prospect, if current trends are not rapidly reversed, of being relegated to the status of a second-class military power. And even if we could make bigger, better and more terrible weapons that the Russians, even if we could achieve the capacity to destroy their nation (if not the world) with five bombs instead of fifty, such an advantage would obviously be meaningless. For our retaliation would neither heal our own wounds nor make the world more inhabitable and free from the radioactive fall-out that recognizes no boundaries, no friends and no victors.
In short, the possibilities of destruction or military defeat have never loomed so large on the American horizon since Patrick Henry of Virginia or Samuel Adams of Massachusetts aroused the colonists to more vigorous measures against the British. These are very real dangers, and will continue to be during the foreseeable future, despite whatever efforts we may now undertake to overcome our lag in defensive and deterrent strength. It is not surprising that the only question reportedly raised in the Defense Preparedness Subcommittee after a secret CIA briefing was: “When do you think they will hit us?”
But we make a great mistake, it seems to me – and this is the point I wish to emphasize here today – in concentrating all of our attention upon the threat of military destruction and defeat. I do not say this because such a danger is wholly remote, for I have indicated to you that it is indeed possible – and once it is possible, there is no guarantee against such an attack being started by an obsessed dictator or by a reckless military officer. Nor do I say that we err in concentrating upon our potential destruction and our military handicaps because of the danger of panic seizing our people and paralyzing our will. I have faith in the ability of the American people to face any facts, however grim, and to meet any challenge, however great may be the sacrifices required.
But I do say that the dangers of attack, defeat and the destruction of this nation are not the greatest dangers we face today from the Soviets.
I say that because I do not think even the Soviets want to engage in a world-wide nuclear war that could bring only disaster to both sides. War has never been an objective of foreign policy but an instrument – a means of securing power and influence, of advancing a nation’s views and interests. Consequently, I do not think even the Kremlin will seek to attack our shores as an end in itself, but will use their superior ability to launch such an attack to achieve their objectives in other ways.
It is these other avenues of Soviet advance with which I am concerned today and which I fear our emphasis on the dangers of missile attacks may cause us to forget. Those avenues include what might be called “Sputnik diplomacy;” they include limited “brush-fire” wars ; they include economic and political penetration; intimidation and subversion; and they include increased prestige in the minds of key millions of peoples not now committed to either side.
(1) Let us consider first the altered diplomatic situation. If the Soviets have achieved a superior military position, even though it is never exercised, their bargaining power at the international conference table is greatly heightened while that of the West is inevitably diminished. It exposes our allies, particularly those within whose borders we wish to locate missile and strategic air command bases, to the most vicious kind of blackmail. Our lag in missile development and striking power renders considerably less meaningful our ability to deter Communist advances around the world through the threat of massive retaliation. It weakens our ability to shield the free world through so-called brink of war diplomacy. It alters to a considerable degree the character of our position at any disarmament conference. It weakens immeasurably our prestige in the struggle for uncommitted nations to whom we have repeatedly boasted of the superiority of American arms and science. In these and other ways, the Communists will utilize their military advantages as a means of increasing their power and weakening our security without ever attacking our shores. It is this threat, in my opinion, which represents the most ominous danger posed by the Soviet satellite and missile development.
(2) Secondly, let us not permit our concentration on missiles and other weapons of massive destruction to cause us to overlook the steadily increasing dangers in the fields of limited wars and conventional weapons. There is little value in rushing new billions in defense expenditures to fight total wars of massive retaliation if we are unprepared to prevent continued Soviet advances through “brush fire” wars, subversion and intimidation. Here, too, the “Sputnik diplomacy” which I have described – the flaunting by the Soviets of their ability to rain death upon any hostile neighbor – will increase still further the advantages an aggressor always enjoys in this respect, particularly now that this nation will be less willing to push its brink of war diplomacy too far.
We may expect in the coming years to see the Communists nibble away still further at the periphery of the Free World – not through invasions of Russian troops both through local aggressions waged the Syrians or the Viet-Minh or the North Koreans or even the Chinese. Each such attack will further weaken the West – but no one attack will be large enough to induce us to initiate an all-out atomic war in which we might be at a serious an all-out atomic war in which we might be at a serious disadvantage. The question is whether we will be able to prevent or resist such local wars, through building strength in the most vulnerable areas and increasing our own sadly neglected capacity to meet such an attack short of atomic war. Missiles and satellites are not the only items in the new budget, in short, that require our urgent attention.
(3) Permit me to state a third and perhaps most important reason why I do not want us to concentrate only on the military peril that confronts us today – and that is the danger that we will lose sight of the even greater Soviet threat in the economic and political areas. The Russians, as I have said, seek power and influence more than war itself – and they are gaining that power today through expanded economic influence, unprecedented political penetration and increased prestige in such fields as science and culture.
The economic decline, political chaos and ideological disillusionment upon which Communism breeds and spreads are all on the increase – threatening to divide and reduce the strength of the Free World, curtail the geographic advantage so necessary to the dispersal of our bases and the defense of our own shores, and gradually turn popular opinion against us in a host of uncommitted states whose individual speaking parts may be small, if not inarticulate, but whose common consciousness will powerfully affect the future pattern of world power. Pouring new billions into our missile program will not alone prevent the loss of a disillusioned India, an embittered North Africa or a chaotic Indonesia.
Important as the recent military alteration of the balance of power may be, it is equally distressing that our balance of trade with the rest of the world is once again moving sharply out of balance. Raging inflation consumes available capital and clogs channels of trade. The new independent nations of the world are encountering increasing difficulty in eliminating the poverty they have previously blamed on their oppressors, in securing an industrial base to raise per capita income and in providing the health, education and community services necessary for a stable society that can remain outside the zone of Communist influence. The astounding explosive growth of the world’s population, centered largely on those nations of the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America least able to support it, seems certain to outstrip all of our efforts to increase living standards and consumer goods by any similar proportions. To feed each day’s increase in population requires that we find 150 square miles of new arable land every day. To feed one year’s gain alone would require a new farm as large as the state of Illinois.
As a result, in the midst of this age of prosperity and abundance, the standard of living for much of the world is actually declining, their poverty and economic backwardness are increasing, and their vulnerability to Communist exploitation becoming daily more obvious. In the world community of nations, the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. Per capita income in the United States may have climbed to some $2,000 a year for every man, woman and child – but it is $110 a year in Egypt, $54 in India and $25 a year in Libya. The world may be enjoying more prosperity than ever before – but strange as it may seem, it has also never seen so much poverty in all its history.
Into the disorder and distress caused by these trends march Messrs. Khrushchev and company, who can conclude arrangements for foreign aid and trade without respecting the wishes of Congressional Committees, consumers and taxpayers. The leaders of the Soviet Union can – and have – purchased commodities they did not need from wavering nations, sold expensive equipment at a loss to an uncommitted state, purchased raw materials at a level far above the world price from an under-developed nation, and provided loans to potential allies at a rate of interest far below the world bank and other normal levels.
The Soviet Union has even passed us in the production of capital goods, in its rate of industrialization and productive growth, and in the production of military end items. We in this country can produce twice as much steel as the Soviet Union – but practically all of the Russian steel capacity is devoted not to automobiles and freezers but to structural, heavy steel shapes and steel plate production – for armaments and capital goods, for developing their own capacity and for exporting to the underdeveloped nations the capital goods they cannot obtain in sufficient quantity from us.
The unprecedented penetration in the Middle East – the Soviet lead in scientific prestige and production of scientists – the drastically reduced prestige of the American in Africa and Asia – the strain on the solidarity of the Western Alliance – the decline of NATO – even chinks in the armor of the Western Hemisphere – war in Algeria, political confusion in Indonesia, the prospects of bankruptcy in India, the fanning of ancient rivalry in the Middle East – in every part of the globe, the peril to Western security continues to grow. Our trade, aid, information, immigration, education and other programs will certainly demand as much reappraisal as our military if we are to reverse these trends.”