Remarks of John F. Kennedy, Carolina Political Union, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, March 27, 1947

This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A copy of the text of this speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library.

Aid for Greece and Turkey

Tonight I wish to discuss briefly the President’s proposal for aid to Greece and Turkey which illustrates clearly the direction and meaning of American Foreign Policy in the Year 1947.

You are already familiar with the reception in the House of the President’s speech. Only twice did applause break out and then it rippled fitfully across the crowded hall of Congress and died. Reporters noted that never in recent history had a presidential message been received with such a deep sense of awareness of what that message might eventually mean to the security of this country and to the peace of the world. The President, as you will remember, stated that “Greece must have assistance if it is to become a self-supporting and self respecting democracy,” and that Turkey must also have assistance if it is to maintain its security.

This preoccupation of the United States with those countries that form the bridgehead of the peoples and civilizations of the East and the once powerful, now destitute and suffering people of Europe, is no new one for the United States. It was not President Truman who said, “A strong hope has long been entertained, founded on the heroic struggle of the Greeks, that they would succeed in their contest and resume their equal station among the nations of the earth. It is believed that the whole civilized world would take a deep interest in their welfare.” It was not President Truman but that able, cautious man who first enunciated the doctrine that placed American strength behind the guarantee of freedom for the western hemisphere, James Monroe.

I support the President’s proposal for assistance to the governments of Greece and Turkey. I feel it to be essential to the security of our country. I propose here to give the reasons for my belief.

Long a cornerstone of our foreign policy has been the belief that American security would be dangerously threatened if the continent of Europe or that of Asia were dominated by any one power.

We fought in 1917 when it appeared that Germany would break the thinning lines of the French and the British and win through to domination of the European continent. We fought again in 1941 to oppose the domination of Asia by the Empire of Japan. We fought in Europe to prevent the fall of Britain and of Russia and the consequent subjugation of Europe and Africa and the Middle East.

The Atomic Bomb and guided missile has not yet weakened that corner-stone. We would still fight, I believe, to prevent Europe and Asia from becoming dominated by one great military power and we will oppose bitterly, I believe, the suffering people of Europe and Asia succumbing to the false, soporific ideology of Red totalitarianism. Our proposed assistance to Greece and Turkey, therefore, is not turning the page to a new chapter in American Foreign Policy. Our Foreign Policy is the same as it has always been from the day that the discerning Monroe first enunciated the principles of the Monroe Doctrine. It merely means that time and space have brought a new interpretation to that historical document.

We have only to look at the map to see what might happen if Greece and Turkey fell into the Communist orbit. The road to the Middle East would be flung open. The traditional goal of the Russian foreign policy, an opening to the Mediterranean with all of its strategic implications would be gained. If we give way and Greece and Turkey succumb, it would have tremendous strategic ideological repercussions through the world. It would be a sign to all of those hard pressed governments who are resisting those disciples of the party line, who feed on the misery and despair of the post-war world. Our neutrality would strengthen greatly the prestige of Soviet Russia. The barriers would be down and the red tide would flow across the face of Europe and through Asia with new power and vigor.

I should like to deal with some of the objections which have been made with regard to the proposals for assistance. One of the most frequent objections, and one which is to be carefully considered, is that the proposed loans are unfriendly acts and enhance the prospects of war.

It seems to me that the war with Russia might arise in two ways. The greatest danger is a war which would be waged by the conscious decision of the leaders of Russia some 25 or 35 years from now. At that time, Russia will have a greater population than all the rest of Europe and could challenge even this country in steel production and overall power. She will have the Atomic Bomb, the Planes, the Ports and the Ships to wage aggressive war outside her borders. Such a conflict would truly mean the end of the world and all our diplomacy and prayers must be exerted to avoid it.

I do not believe that Russia wants war now. Nevertheless, as General Eisenhower said the other day,” All wars are stupid and they can occur stupidly.” There is real danger that Russia may stumble into a war which she may not want because of a series of bad guesses and bad information. The Russian information and intelligence services are, I believe, among the poorest in the world despite all the glamorous nonsense which seems to be written about them. The reports which these services supply to the Kremlin cannot be checked against any independent sources of information. You will not find in the world today freely traveling Russian newspapermen foreign traders, tourists or residents abroad. The Kremlin’s view of world affairs, therefore, is bound to be limited.

This, to my mind, balances the short-term danger of a conflict with the Soviet Union. Let us suppose that puppet governments are installed in Greece and Turkey which then establish still closer relations with Poland, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Albania and the Soviet Union. The centuries-old Russian dream of domination of the straits and access to the vast areas to the south and east would be realized and realized with practically no sacrifice. We may then well imagine that she might decide to round out her Mediterranean bastion by annexing a few crumbs of territory here and there, said in Northern Iran or the Eastern Provinces of Turkey. She would expect to get such trifles at little cost only to be bitterly shocked and surprised to discover that she had touched off a world war.

If you consider this fantastic, look for a moment at Hitler’s Reich. After the Diplomatic failures at Munich and the subsequent swallowing up of Czechoslovakia, Hitler’s information services told him that the British and French and Americans would do nothing about Poland. They were wrong about Britain and France, and the result we know.

To me all this adds up to the fact that the use of American dollars and credits in Greece and Turkey now will make it possible for us to avoid sending men later, and will avert a repetition of the process I have just described.

The second objection to the President’s proposals and one which is most often heard, I believe, is that we are willfully by-passing the United Nations. It is extraordinary what strange bedfellows this crisis has made and what sudden friendships have come to the aid of the United Nations: Imagine Henry Wallace and Senator Wherry on the same side.

Many people do, however, sincerely feel that the United Nations has been slighted. I think the feeling arises from some confusion as to what the United Nations can do. It is not equipped to deal with every problem in international affairs nor is there anything in the concept of the United Nations which precludes one nation from asking another for assistance as Greece has asked the United States.

The United Nations is now ready and able to deal effectively with that part of the problem which arises from outside Greece’s borders and is doing so. Greece has charged before the Security Council that armed bands operating within her territory are partly supplied, trained, and given refuge in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania, and that these bands are moving back and forth across the border. Greece has asked the United Nations for help in dealing with this situation and the Security Council has appointed a commission which is now investigating Greek charges on the spot. The United States took an energetic part in setting up this commission and, I am sure, we hope that its findings will afford the basis for a settlement of at least that part of the question.

However, Greece has asked this country for economic and financial assistance for supplies and funds to cope with its internal difficulties. UNNRA and the British have been helping Greece with these problems but the present crisis has arisen because these supports must be withdrawn.

There is no organization in the United Nations which is ready to give such support. The World Bank is primarily designed to make loans of self-liquidating character and it is doubtful if it could or would take up a Greek loan. Furthermore, the bank simply is not organized to function at the present time. It is only just beginning to consider applications and as yet has made no loans whatsoever.

The United Nations has had neither the funds nor the organization to do a job of this character. We cannot afford to wait until it has, or even to go through a long pro forma effort which we know will be futile in the end.

Moreover, we must remember that the whole concept of the United Nations is that of the revolution of law backed up by force utilized under the guidance and restraint of the Security Council. So far, no progress has been made in establishing the military contingents which are to back up Security Council decisions. Why? Because the Soviet Union has dragged its feet constantly in the discussions of the military staff committee which was to draw plans for the enforcement measures. Besides all this, there is yet no settlement of the territorial problems arising from the last war, no peace settlement, in fact, and no generally accepted plan for the control of atomic weapons, nor for the regulation of armaments.

Nevertheless, the United Nations is the great hope for the future. I do hope personally that the administration will inform and keep the United Nations abreast of all moves that it will take in this Greek and Turkish matter. We already have the Administration’s assurance that it is studying measures whereby the United Nations can help. Senator Austin is making a statement to the Security Council tomorrow which may throw some light on the problem. It would, however, mean an early collapse of the United Nations Organization if we were to place on its infant shoulders a burden which it cannot yet bear and with which it was, in fact, never intended it should deal.

Another objection to the President’s plan is based on the allegedly “undemocratic and reactionary” Greek Government which our loan would support in power. The facts are these: In accordance with the Yalta Agreement, a civil mission composed of the representatives of the United States, England, and France (Russia refused to join), was sent to Greece to determine the fairness of the recent election. In the conclusion of the report, this mission unanimously stated “that notwithstanding the present intensity of political emotions in Greece, conditions were such as to warrant the holding of elections, that the election proceedings were on the whole, free and fair, and that the general outcome represented the true verdict of the Greek people”. Not only were the elections closely observed by the mission, but polls were taken which substantiated the results. 1,117,000 votes were recorded out of a possible 1,850,000. The E.A.H. as a matter of policy, abstained from voting and it is estimated by the mission that they reduced the number of those voting by about 15%. Thus, the election was free and fair. The Greek government now contains elements of all parties with the exception of communists.

The United States Government is not, as the president stated, endorsing or in any way condoning any of the past actions of the present Greek Government. But it recognizes full well that the alternative to the present government is not liberal democracy but communism, and orderly liberal government will come into being when an orderly middle class exists in Greece.

The President has called for a loan to Greece and Turkey of $400,000,000. $150,000,000 will go for the relief of the civilian population of Greece whose suffering during the war was well known. This amount will include imported materials and equipment for the reconstruction of the railroads, roads, transportation system, electrical utilities, farm machinery, food processing equipment and raw materials for many peacetime programs.

An additional $150,000,000 will be devoted to making available to the Greek Armed Forces the clothing, arms, food and equipment to deal effectively with the guerillas and to place some stability in the military position of Greece as a whole.

In addition to equipment, special missions will be sent to Greece which will include experts in many fields but will not include any troops.

The remaining $100,000,000 goes to the Turkish Government. The general economic conditions in Turkey are more favorable than those in Greece and thus, nearly the entire $100,000,000 will be devoted to equipment of the Turkish Armed Forces and for projects such as the rehabilitation of the Turkish Railroad system which will contribute most directly to the maintenance of security in Turkey. Turkey occupies a strategic position of great importance and lives under a heavy shadow thrown by its great neighbor to the north and to the east.

The proposed assistance to Greece and Turkey is an integral part of American Foreign Policy of 1947. It is part of the policy developed by Secretary Byrnes to prevent the spread of communism by supporting those governments that are standing up against Russian expansion. To some of those countries, we have given outright loans such as one recent loan to Great Britain: to others, relief shipments which have helped prevent sheer misery and starvation from driving the sufferers into the hands of the communists. In Italy, Japan, and Germany, we have kept occupation troops. In Korea and China, we retained elements of the American army and marines and we have taken a firm stand on Triests, the Dardanelles, and the Freedom of the Danube. All of these independent events add up to the central theme of our American foreign policy - the prevention of Russian domination of Europe and Asia. This is the foreign policy that I support most vigorously. Upon it depends our security and I believe the best hope of peace. The manifest destiny of Russia can best be contained in the words of Louis Fisher, “Blocking the Russian territorial expansion by any effective international organization and blocking Russian idealized expansion by increasing the contentment and cohesion of the countries in her path.”

Our aid is not to dominate by dollar imperialism the governments of Greece and Turkey, but rather it is to assist them to live in freedom.

From Greece has come much of the culture and civilization upon which the institutional and political life of this nation has been based. We seek to give to the Greeks an opportunity to rebuild their country and to the Turks and opportunity to maintain their security.

123 years ago, Greece was struggling for her liberty. The voice of America spoke then as it does now, when Daniel Webster stood up and said, “Mr. Chairman, there are some things which to be well done must be promptly done. If we even determine to do the thing that is now proposed, we may do it too late. Sir, I am not one of those who are for withholding aid when it is most urgently needed, and when the stress is past, and the aid no longer necessary, overwhelming the sufferer with caresses. I will not stand by and see my fellow man drowning without stretching out a hand to help him till he has, by his own efforts and presence of mind, reached the shore and safety and then encumber him with aid. With suffering Greece now is the crisis of her fate - her great, it may be her last struggle, Sir, while we sit here deliberating, her destiny may be decided.”

The decision is up to us. The path is clearly marked. It must be clearly followed. It is the only path by which we will reach security and peace.