Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Luncheon Meeting, Mauston, Wisconsin, March 9, 1960

Winston Churchill said: "We arm - to parley." We prepare for war - in order to deter war. We depend on the strength of armaments - to enable us to bargain for disarmament. We compare our military strength with the Soviets - not to determine whether we should use it - but to determine whether we can persuade them that to use theirs would be futile and disastrous - and to determine whether we can back up our own pledges in Berlin, Formosa and around the world.

In short, peace, not politics, is at the heart of the current debate - peace, not war is the objective of our military policy. But peace would have no meaning if the Soviet Union ever achieved the power to destroy most of our retaliatory capacity in a single blow. It would then be irrelevant as to whether the Soviets achieved our demise through massive attack, through the threat of such attack, or through nibbling away gradually at our security.

Will such a time come?

The current discussions of defense have too often centered on how our retaliatory capacity compares today with that of the Soviets. But the real issue is not how we stand today but tomorrow - not in 1960 but in 1961, 1962 and particularly 1963 and thereafter. 1960 is critical because this is the year that the money must be appropriated - by this session of this Congress - if we are to obtain even initial results in subsequent years.

It is true that we cannot be certain that the Soviets will have, during the term of the next Administration, the tremendous lead in missile striking power which they give every evidence of building - and we cannot be certain that they will use that lead to threaten or launch an attack upon the United States. Consequently those of us who call for a higher defense budget are taking a chance on spending money unnecessarily. But those who oppose these expenditures are taking a chance on our very survival as a nation.

The only real question is - which chance, which gamble, do we take - our money or our survival? The money must be appropriated now - the survival will not, we hope, be at stake for a few more years.

I am convinced that every American who can be fully informed as to the facts today will agree to an additional investment in our national security now rather than risk his survival, and his children's survival in the years ahead - in particular, an investment effort designed

(1) to make possible an emergency stop-gap air alert program, to deter an attack before the missile gap is close,

(2) to step up our ultimate missile program that will close the gap when completed: Polaris, Minuteman and long-range air-to-ground missiles - meanwhile stepping up our production of Atlas missiles to cover the current gap as best we can; and

(3) to rebuild and modernize our Army and Marine Corps conventional forces, to prevent the brush-fire wars that our capacity for nuclear retaliation is unable to deter.

These additional efforts do not involve a small sum, to be spent carelessly. There are other uses - schools, hospitals, parks and dams - to which we would rather devote it. But the total amount, I am convinced, would be less than one per cent of our Gross National Product. It would be less than the estimated budget surplus.

It is, I am convinced, an investment in peace that we can afford -and cannot avoid.

We cannot avoid taking these measures any more than the average American can avoid taking out fire insurance on his home. We cannot be absolutely certain of the danger. But neither can we risk our future on our estimates of a hostile power's strength and intentions, particularly when secrecy is that power's dominant characteristic - and particularly in the light of our consistent history of underestimating Soviet strength and scientific progress. The chance that our military improvidence will invite a national catastrophe is substantially greater - many, many times greater if you work out the odds on an actuarial basis - than the chance that your house or my house will burn down this year or next. But as individuals we are willing to pay for fire insurance - and, although we hope we never need it, we are surely equally prepared as a nation to pay every dollar necessary to take out this kind of additional insurance against a national catastrophe.

I am calling, in short, for an investment in peace. Like any investment it will be a gamble with our money. But the alternative is to gamble with our lives.

Some say that it is deplorable that the facts of our defense weaknesses are discussed in an election campaign. I agree. It is not the discussion that is deplorable, however, but the facts. The Russians already know these facts. The American people do not. The debate itself is not deplorable - it is deplorable that the situation deteriorated to this point where it became a matter for debate. In matters of this kind, the only wise and safe course is leave a margin so large as to preclude any doubt or debate.

For when we are in doubt, our allies are in doubt - and our enemy is in doubt - and such doubts are tempting to him. While those doubts persist, he will want to push, to probe and possibly to attack. He will not want to talk disarmament. He will not want to talk peace at the Summit.

I urge that this Congress, before the President departs for the Summit, demonstrate conclusively that we are removing those doubts - and that we are prepared to pay the full costs necessary to insure peace. Let us remember what Gibbon said of the Romans:

They kept the peace - by a constant preparation for war; and by making clear to their neighbors that they were as little disposed to offer as to endure injury.

Source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files, Box 907, "Luncheon meeting, Mauston, Wisconsin, 9 March 1960." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.