Remarks of John F. Kennedy at the Crosscup-Pishon American Legion Post, Boston, Massachusetts, November 11, 1945

Our foreign policy today may well determine the kind of life we will live here for generations. For the peace and prosperity of this country are truly indivisible from the peace and prosperity of the world in this atomic age.

But before we whole-heartedly subscribe to any foreign policy, it may be well for us to examine the kinds of government that are taking over in the countries of post-war Europe and try to estimate where they are headed. I would like to offer for your consideration today my personal observations on three of these countries – England, Ireland, and Germany – victor, neutral, and vanquished.

The subject is a very broad one so that I am going to speak chiefly on the political parties of England and Ireland to try to estimate the reasons for their success or failure and to study the problems they face and their prospects for the future. In the case of Germany I merely propose to estimate the possibilities as they appear at the present time of building any kind of democratic government – democratic in the western sense.

The outstanding political event of the year was the emergence of the Labour Party in England as the majority party for the first time in history. Their overwhelming victory came as a surprise to everyone including themselves. Even Professor Laski, whose views on one thing and another have been pouring into the United States during the last three months, told me that he only expected to win by fifty seats, and he said it as though he himself really didn't believe it. I think what threw most prognostications off was the amazing popularity of Mr. Churchill. This popularity was general not only in the Conservative Party but in the Labour Party itself. I attended dozens of Labour Party rallies and I didn't hear a single speech which does not contain a tribute to Mr. Churchill for his notable work during the war. They cheered him and then they voted against him. Why?

I think first and foremost because the Conservative Party had been in power during the most difficult times in English history, both at home and abroad. The Conservative Party was the majority party during the years of the depression when poverty stalked the Midlands and the coal fields of Wales, and thousands and thousands lived off the meager pittance of the dole. Where Roosevelt made his political reputation by his treatment of the depression, the Conservative Party lost theirs.

Later the Conservative Party was the party in power during the days of appeasement, when crises followed crises, and Germany slowly and inexorably spread over the face of Europe. Few seemed to remember that the opposition of the Labor Party to this policy of appeasement consisted principally of voting against armaments and conscription. The Conservatives were in power and they had the responsibility. And finally when the fiasco in Norway brought the end to the rule of Mr. Chamberlain, the Coalition government took over and all parties therefore shared in the successes of the next five years which culminated in victory.

Thus the Conservative government was stained with two awful and tragic periods in English history. That the Conservatives realized that their name was a liability was tacitly confessed when they changed their name to the National Party during this last election.

The second contributing factor to the defeat of the Conservative Party was that England traditionally has been a country with tremendous contrasts between the very rich and the very poor.

That arch Tory, Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, once stated that England was divided into two nations—the rich and the poor.

With the turnover caused by the war, the contribution made by the poor as well as the rich, the coming of the American troops with their high pay, with their stories of cars, refrigerators, and radios for all, a new spirit – a new restlessness – and a fresh desire for the better things of life had become strong in Britain.

The third reason for the Conservative defeat was that Labour made the most of the fact that it never had held office. It was relatively easy, therefore, to be all things to all men. With higher wages and shorter hours, happy days would be here again. They attacked the Conservatives' pre-war foreign policy – attacked government by a privileged class. The day of the working-man was to be at hand – and to the Socialists, virtually everyone was a working-man.

All these arguments which were put forward with vigor and cleverness had their effect. The Conservative Party, fat and happy with years of victory, let their political ace, Mr. Churchill, carry the ball.

Instead of a vigorous campaign on the virtues of private enterprise, they offered a watered down version of blood, sweat, and tears for the years of peace. Blood, sweat, and tears was fitted to the desperate days of 1940 but not to 1945 to a people whose chronic fatigue and exhaustion had brought them to a sharp-tempered dissatisfaction with life in England.

The result was, therefore, inevitable, although few could see it. The victory was overwhelming. Labour with its far-reaching plan for Socialization and for "the new foreign policy" swept into office.

What are the prospects in store for the Labour Party? She faces tremendous problems both at home and abroad. Most serious is Britain's financial problem.

Ernest Bevin once said, "Britain is an island of coal surrounded by fish." Only by the most vigorous governmental regulations in the war was she able to grow as much as two-thirds of her food. She must import not only food but iron and oil and most of the other raw materials with which she supports her daily life.

Before the war she had three sources of income to pay for these imports: the money derived from goods sold abroad, the interest from investments overseas, and receipts from shipping services.

But during this war, she sold most of her overseas investments, her shipping future is precarious and depends on our policy on the sea, and thus, her export trade must carry a tremendous burden. England must build up her export trade to six times what it was in 1944 and three times what it was in the normal year of 1938 to make both ends meet.

But if she concentrates on manufacturing for the export trade, the people at home will suffer, and if she builds for the people at home, it will be bad medicine financially for England – and in the long run, fatal. This is the great problem facing Labour in England today.

I have stressed today the politics and economics of Great Britain more than her foreign situation. I have done this because Mr. Bevin's recent speech proved how right Benjamin Disraeli was when he defined a Tory as a Whig in power. Responsibility is a very sobering thing. Although Mr. Laski may talk about the new foreign policy of Socialism, Britain stands today as Britain has always stood – for the empire. Britain's relations with the countries of Europe and Asia will not be substantially different than they have ever been.

I propose today to discuss one of these countries – Ireland – because I think its relationship with England is typical of the many problems which England will be facing in the future with increasing regularity.

The world's attention was turned to Ireland last July by a debate in the Irish Dail between Prime Minister DeValera and Mr. James Dillon. For when Mr. DeValera answered Mr. Dillon's question concerning Eire’s constitutional status with the words, "We are a Republic," it immediately raised the question of whether or not Eire was a member of the British Commonwealth of nations, the connecting link of which is a common allegiance to the British crown.

Mr. DeValera waited a week before he answered this question. The world waited with him. When the answer finally came, it left many observers somewhat bewildered, but it neatly extracted Mr. DeValera from a very precarious political position. He did not say whether or not he believed that Eire was a member of the British Commonwealth of nations. He merely quoted a British statement of 1931 to the effect that she was – and left it at that. Why these careful words, this guarded reply after a week of study?

Behind the debate of Mr. Dillon and Mr. DeValera loomed the fundamental problem behind all Irish politics—the problem of ending the partition, which divides the twenty-six counties of the south, which form Eire, and the six counties of the north known as Ulster which are attached directly to Great Britain. That this partition must be ended both Mr. DeValera and Mr. Dillon agree. On this all Irishmen agree. The dispute lies in the method to be followed.

A great many people in Eire feel that the only way to end partition is to come to an agreement with the British, to take a full part in the British Commonwealth of nations, and to make a treaty of mutual defense. They argue that the British will not tolerate a sullen neutral on their vulnerable western flank. Rather than have this, the British will support the government in Ulster until the end of time. This is the view of the Fine Gael or United Ireland Party formerly led by Cosgrave and now by that able warrior who proved his toughness in the wars against the black and tans, General Mulcahy.

The day that I called on General Mulcahy he was sitting in a small office surrounded by books, but he looked like the soldier he was. He was a man of strong opinions. When an Irish politician gives you his views on his country's position, you know that they are not lightly held and that he has probably shed some blood in their defense. The most impressive object in General Mulcahy's room is a large picture of Michael Collins. We spent only a few minutes talking about the General and several hours talking about Collins.

This young man who was killed in his early thirties looms as large today in Ireland as when he died. As General Mulcahy said, "If Michael Collins had lived, the history of Ireland would be different." Collins, who died in the Civil War of 1922, was only one of the many brilliant young Irishmen who died in what Kevin O’Higgins called, "the spilling of the wine."

But against the party of General Mulcahy is ranged the powerful Fianna Fail "Soldiers of Ireland" which now holds a majority in the Irish Dail. This is the party of DeValera who fought Cosgrave and Collins in 1922 until finally defeated and who now continues the battle in the Dail. These are the men who claim that everything that Ireland has ever gotten from England has been only at the end of a long and bitter struggle. Always it has been too little and too late. This is the party of DeValera, and in his government he is surrounded by men of the same tough fiber. All have been in British and Irish prisons and many of them have wounds which still ache when the cold rains come in from the west.

One of these is Frank Gallagher, DeValera's secretary. Instead of the hundreds and hundreds of young men who work in our OWI and in the British Ministry of Information, in Eire there is just one man, Gallagher, and he is a gold mine of information. He has been with DeValera for many years and fought in the war against the British and in the Civil War. One evening when I had been talking with him for hours, I said, "Frank, I think I'm taking up too much of your time."

He replied, “My boy, I have the best job in the world. I am the only man in Ireland who gets paid for just talking.”

Mr. Dillon, an independent who supports the opposition to Mr. DeValera, was attempting to demonstrate in his debate with DeValera that Eire’s constitutional position was, as he put it, "like that of a cat which has its tail caught in the door – neither in nor out – and in a state of considerable intellectual perplexity."

He feels that Eire today is bound to England with the closest of economic bonds. England today buys more than 90 per cent of Eire’s exports. England also owes Eire over 400,000,000 pounds sterling, which makes Eire one of the wealthiest nations proportionately in the world. This balance was built up during the war when Eire supplied Britain with food on credit.

Economically and strategically, Eire is bound to England, argues Mr. Dillon. It is only nursing ancient quarrels long since dead for Mr. DeValera to consistently hold to his position that he will make no commitments of any nature until Ireland is united under the flag of Eire.

But at the present time DeValera holds the whip hand.

The Irish are as vigorous in their support of DeValera's policy of neutrality as they are proud of the thousands and thousands of young men who left their country to join the British army. And to those critics who wonder whether the Irish are getting soft, they point to the seven Victoria Crosses, England's highest decoration, won by soldiers from the Southern counties. They take singular pleasure in the fact that in spite of their close ties to England, they were none won by the soldiers from Ulster.

DeValera has a unique hold on the hearts of the Irish people. The fact that it was DeValera who made the deal that returned the now famous ports of Berehaven, Queenstown, and Lough Swilly to Eire gives them confidence that it will be DeValera who will finally settle the problem of Partition. He has always won support for his policies by appealing to the strong patriotic instinct of all Irishmen. Thus he won support for his policy of neutrality during the war by identifying neutrality with freedom from England, which will always win support.

There is no compromise in DeValera's firm, ascetic face. He has a passionate intensity and single-mindedness in the course he is taking that brooks no opposition. He is extremely conscious that his visit to the German Legation on Hitler's death caused unfavorable comment in America. He discussed it with me at some length. He was determined to carry out Eire's policy of strict neutrality to the end, and carry it out he did. To all critics he answers, "I kept Ireland out of the war."

Eire at the present time has a unique political set-up. There is no "left" party in the accepted sense. The "left" in Eire are not those who favor more and more governmental control as in France for example, but are those who favor a complete break with England; the right – those who believe in working with England in the Commonwealth. DeValera walks a tightrope between the two extremes. While in his heart he is far to the Left, yet he realizes that economically and strategically Eire is bound by the strongest ties to England and that only with England's support can Partition be ended. His vague answer to Mr. Dillon's question about Ireland's position in the British Commonwealth, in the debate referred to before, clearly demonstrates his delicate position.

As to the possibility of his ending Partition, no one can say. Sir Alan Brooke, head of the government in Ulster, recently roared down to the gentleman in Dublin that "not an inch" will he give up of the six counties of the North. And it is somewhat dubious if England, after its narrow escape during this conflict, will ever consent to giving up her naval base at Belfast until she at least has assurances of support in case of another war. Some people feel that General Mulcahy and Mr. Dillon, with their willingness to play a full part in the British Commonwealth, may yet be the ones to end Partition.

We have discussed today a country, England, with two political parties, Conservative and Labour, split over the extent of government control of industry. We have discussed another country, Ireland, with its two great political parties, the Fine Gael and the Fianna Fail which are divided, not over economic policies, but over the extent of their country's cooperation with England.

We turn now to a third country, Germany, whose geographic, economic, and political structure have been smashed by war and the subsequent peace. In order to estimate the possibilities of Germany building out of its present ruin any democratic parties in which the Western allies can place confidence, let us look at Germany today.

Germany is now split into four divisions, the eastern section under Russia, the northwest under the British, the west along the Rhine valley under the French, and the southwest under the United States. Its capitol and greatest city, Berlin, is similarly divided and is likewise administered by a council composed of representatives of each of the four allied nations.

Berlin today is a gutted ruin. Its destruction far surpassed anything that I had ever imagined. The buildings which still stand are merely shells, and where the three million people who still remain in Berlin live, is a mystery. The streets are filled with them – their faces colorless, their lips a pale tan, their expressions lifeless and dead, as though they were suffering from shock. Occasionally, and it appears incongruous, you see a dog. They won't last through this winter. The streets are swarmed with Russian soldiers who look young and stocky and tough, and grim and dirty. They regard American equipment with the greatest respect and they say that even Marshall Zhukov’s eyes popped during a victory parade in Berlin when the Second Armored "Hell-on-Wheels" Division came by with its miles of the newest equipment and its rugged and perfectly disciplined troops.

The food problem is more acute in Berlin than anywhere else in Germany. The average ration runs to about twelve hundred calories, which is below the subsistence level. The city of Berlin is being administered as a single unit, and all the citizens – no matter in which section – get the same ration. The reason for this is obvious. If the United States fed their 700,000 people better than the Russians, for example, fed theirs, hungry Berliners would swarm into the American zone. Everyone in Berlin is therefore treated alike.

The Russians have not only sent back all the food and machinery which they can move to Russia, but they are transporting nearly all the able-bodied Germans between the ages of 15 and 60 to Russia as laborers.

As far as the Americans and Russians getting along in Berlin, though there was some suspicion at first, relations now seem to be reasonably cordial. The Russians acted with far greater speed than we in opening the schools, starting newspapers, and permitting political parties to function – as long as they have the right politics. But the Russians have a long way to go before they win much support from the German people. The Russian army that first entered Berlin was a fighting army and it acted with great violence. Many Germans who might have been Communist sympathizers were thus alienated.

In the western cities like Bremen, Frankfurt, and Salzburg, the people have been living very well up to now. They have had food reserves to supplement their low ration, but by winter these rations will be gone and they will be on a bare subsistence level. There will be no coal, and many of their houses have been destroyed. The Germans this winter will pay for their support of Hitler.

Our occupation troops are as fine as any I ever saw. I watched an inspection by General Eisenhower of several thousand troops in Frankfurt. They were rugged looking and their discipline was perfect, but it remained for a Marine Major with whom I was standing to give the final accolade, "Why," he said, with astonishment, "they look like Marines!"

What is the future of Germany? Some people believe that Germany should be split up into principalities or divided into zones of control as she is now. The objection to this solution, as Bismarck realized, is that Germany forms a geographical and economic unit. British-occupied Germany is only 40 per cent self-sufficient in food – ours only 70 per cent, and while the Russian zone is 100 per cent self-sufficient in food, it is short on coal and iron, the supplies of which are under French control in the Ruhr valley.

Others say leave the Germans alone to work out their own salvation, they are too weak to ever menace us again. But Germany is in no position to build any kind of democratic government, and I do not think that it is particularly desirable for the United States to leave Germany a political vacuum which the Russians might be only too glad to fill. I believe that we should keep some measure of control indefinitely in Germany. The German people will never forget nor forgive this defeat. The French did not in 1870, and whether Nazi or anti-Nazi, there is no reason to believe the Germans will after their defeat in 1945. Their scientific experiments particularly must be carefully supervised, because science is fast learning the secret of annihilation.

I have spoken today of three countries – England, Ireland, and Germany. All these countries are different and all face different problems. But from each one, and indeed from every country that I visited in Europe, I came away with one great impression – the greatness of my own country, America. Unless he has been abroad since the war ended, no American can possibly realize what a tremendous place America occupies in the world today. In England, for example, before the war, an American was just a tourist and America the land where the tourist came from. When I was in Russia in 1939, Americans were viewed with darkest suspicion and considerable dislike.

But now a change has come about. All of our millions of young men who swarmed over Europe, all the millions and millions of tons of equipment that were poured by us into the war has made Europeans realize that here, indeed, is the great productive giant of the world.

During this war we fought on two fronts, and at the same time shipped 41 billion dollars worth of lend-lease equipment abroad for the use of other countries. No other country in the world could have ever duplicated this tremendous job. We occupy a great position in the world today. We must measure up to our responsibility.

But we must not forget that we have here in our own country a problem just as great as that of any other country in the world. And that is the problem of keeping our great productive machinery going at full capacity. We must do this if we are going to provide jobs for all those young men who are coming home. This is the first and most important task we face. We will be in a far better position to help solve the world's problems if we have first solved our own.

Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. House of Representatives Files, Box 94, "Foreign Policy Speech, Crosscup - Pishon American Legion Post, 11 November 1945 (first JFK speech)." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.