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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Excerpts from John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address

We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom...signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe...that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed....

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. This much we pledge—and more.

To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves....If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer...to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty....Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas....

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in...self-destruction.

So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of laboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors.

Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah—to "undo the heavy burdens [and] let the oppressed go free."

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days...nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it....The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Questions for Reading 3

1. What emotions do you think this speech tried to evoke from the audience? Which sections aim at which emotions?

2. Why do you think Kennedy impressed so many people on that day?

3. Do you find the content of the speech to be relevant today?

4. How many of the values his parents tried to instill in him are represented in the speech? How many of those values seem relevant today? Why do you think that those that are not relevant became that way?

Delivered January 20, 1961. From the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office).

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