Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Mayor Charles Boswell Dinner, Indianapolis, Indiana, October 2, 1959

It is a great pleasure for any democrat to visit Indianapolis. Here we have a prime illustration of why it pays to have a Democratic administration. Your city, under the leadership of Mayor Boswell, has been officially declared both the safest and cleanest city in the United States in its population class. The Twin Metropolitan terror of slums and juvenile delinquency have both been substantially reduced since Mayor Boswell took office. Your airport program, your community facilities such as storm and sanitary sewers, your recreational facilities, and your fire and police protection are today acclaimed as among the best in the nation -- and at the same time the Democratic city administration has been able to offer a substantial reduction in property taxes. Such a record shows the true compatibility of the Democratic program of education to the public welfare and fiscal responsibility. I am proud to salute the record made in this city by Mayor Boswell. I am confident the vote in November will reflect the appreciation of the voters for his outstanding administration.

I am particularly honored to be introduced by my colleague and friend, Vance Hartke. His vigor and dedication to the principles of sound government have earned him the respect of his fellow Senators from every section of the nation. It is comforting to take advantage of his wide knowledge and understanding in all matters affecting the general welfare of the nation.

You have every right to be proud of Vance Hartke, for he speaks in the Senate not only in the best interests of Indiana but in the best interests of the nation.

On the other side of the capitol you are ably represented by Joe Barr. He and Senator Hartke form a team that assures Indianapolis that its interests will always be protected.

There has been excitement in the capitol this fall -- as there has been all over the country -- about the visit of Soviet Premier Khrushchev. In fact, one of the most useful results of this extraordinary tour has been the new interest and new emphasis which the American people have given to issues of national security. Now that Mr. Khrushchev has come and gone, I do not think there is any value in continuing to wrangle over whether Mr. Khrushchev should have been invited in the first place. I supported that decision -- but whether that decision was wise, or necessary, or unavoidable is no longer at issue, except for narrow political purposes, and I do not believe the American people respect that kind of partisanship on sensitive international issues.

But even though Mr. Khrushchev is no longer in every American headline, he should still be in every American mind. It seems to us imperative that all of us -- public servants and private citizens alike -- now reflect on the meaning of this visit and try to put it into some kind of long-range perspective. What lessons did we learn? What manner of man was this Khrushchev? What did we learn about our future relations?

A few years ago, at a diplomatic party in Moscow Premier Khrushchev told the assembled guests about the Russian who suddenly began to run through the corridors of the Kremlin shouting: "Khrushchev is a Fool! Khrushchev is a Fool!" He was sentenced, the Premier said, to 23 years in prison – three for insulting the party secretary -- and 20 for revealing a state secret."

But Mr. Khrushchev is no fool -- and the American people now know that beyond a doubt. He is shrewd, he is tough, he is vigorous, well-informed and confident. Americans traditionally like to picture hostile dictators as unstable and irrational men. The almost comic captives of their moods and manias. There was some feeling in recent years that even Mr. Khrushchev could be pictured largely as a short-tempered, vodka-drinking politician, buffoon, alternately scheming and screaming inside the Kremlin's walls.

But the Khrushchev with whom I met, in his session with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was a tough-minded, articulate, hard reasoning spokesman for a system in which he was thoroughly versed and in which he thoroughly believed. He was not the prisoner of any ancient dogma or limited vision, and he was not putting on any act -- he was not engaging in any idle boasts -- when he talked of the inevitable triumph of the communist system, of their eventual superiority in production, education, scientific and world influence.

I think it is well that the American people saw and heard this kind of man and this kind of talk. I think it is important that we realize what we are up against, and I think it is important also that Mr. Khrushchev recognize what he is up against -- so that he does not miscalculate our determination or underestimate our resources. A confrontation of adversaries gives each a picture of the other. After Samuel Adams, following the Boston Massacre, had confronted the British Colonial Governor in his office with a warning of revolution, he wrote in his diary: "It was then I fancied that I saw his knees tremble." Mr. Khrushchev was shown our nation -- our might, our strength, our determination. But he did not tremble.

On the contrary, judging from his remarks upon his arrival in Peiping, he has not been deterred in the slightest from his objectives of overcoming in every way what he called "The senile capitalists system... This exhausted, limping and stumbling...horse."

Mr. Khrushchev is just as confident as ever -- just as determined to "bury" the American system -- and just as tough during and after this good-will mission as he has ever been, and to recall Winston Churchill's memorable question: "If this is what they do in the green wood, what will they do in the dry?"

For Premier Khrushchev achieved his real objective -- bilateral talks and a future summit conference -- without giving up a thing without making any real concessions on Berlin or any real commitments on disarmament -- except to agree to talk -- to talk during a period in which he is confident the missile gap will grow and the balance of power will shift even more heavily his way. We gained nothing tangible, nothing enforceable, nothing essential to the achievement of our foreign policy objectives. Supposedly we gained an informal understanding of no deadlines on Berlin -- but even this vague and unenforceable agreement was clouded by Mr. Khrushchev's statement upon his return to Moscow that the negotiations should not be protracted indefinitely.

This is what we gained from the tour -- while Mr. Khrushchev was gaining increased prestige for himself and his country, the face-to-face talks with the President and no other allies, and the future summit conference he has always wanted. His speeches in Moscow and Peiping demonstrated again what he thinks of our system and why he is willing to talk ... to wait ... to plan, and "If this is what they do in the green wood what will they do in the dry?"

I do not mean to minimize the values of the talks to Camp David. Communication is important. Understanding is important, making clear our peaceful but determined intentions is important, and there is real hope now for further talks on Berlin, disarmament, cultural exchanges, trade, the old lend-lease debts, nuclear tests, and the peaceful uses of atomic energy. All of these are important.

It is far better that we meet at the summit than at the brink.

But let us remember that assurances of future talks are not assurances of future success or agreement. We in this country did not invent the Cold War. The real test of Mr. Khrushchev's desire to end it will be in his deeds, not his words -- his deeds in Germany and Eastern Europe where he has been rattling his missiles -- or in advising the Red Chinese on Laos -- or in charging his emissaries at the United Nations and the Geneva nuclear test conferences - or in directing the Soviet missile program.

We look for deeds, not words, and we, too, must offer deeds, not works. We need to think through more carefully our own positions on such questions as disarmament and troop withdrawals, instead of offering only proposals which we know in advance must be rejected.

There are possible areas of negotiation -- because there are certain basic interests which both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. have in common. Both nations would like to be free of the crushing burden of the arms race. Neither wants a nuclear war that would leave not one Rome but two Carthages. Neither wants too many other nations, friendly, unfriendly or neutral, to join the Atomic Club and hold that power of life or death. Neither country wants to breathe radioactive air -- we do not want the atmosphere we share polluted by an excess of nuclear tests. Both nations seek to advance their economies and scientific achievements -- and would benefit by a much greater exchange and pooling of goods, ideas, and personnel between our two nations.

I think we could work for practical, enforceable agreements, in these areas, but there would still be fierce competition. There would still be basic conflict. Our security would still be at stake.

For the hard facts of the matter are that the real roots of the Soviet-American conflict cannot be easily settled by negotiations. Our basic national interests clash -- in Europe, in the Middle East and around the world. Our aspirations as the most powerful leader of the free world conflict with their aspirations as the most powerful leader of the Communist world. No negotiations can end those differences. No exchange of personal visits, no amount of summit conferences, can cause either side to compromise away its fundamental position in Germany, Europe or the world community.

In short, there is nothing whatsoever in the results of Mr. Khrushchev's tour which justifies any relaxation on our part. There is no reason whatsoever to claim, as some have, that this is a prelude to a new, great era of peace. On the contrary, this visit should have made clear to us all that we need more, not less, sacrifice to protect and extend the world's frontiers of freedom. It should have made us realize what our task is -- and what dangers face us now and in the generation that lies ahead. And, as Winston Churchill said in June of '39 "We shall not escape our dangers by recoiling from them."

Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 904, "Mayor Boswell dinner, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2 October 1959." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.