Remarks of Representative John F. Kennedy in a Nationally Broadcast Speech on Radio Station WOR, New York, New York, February 6, 1951


I have just returned from a five weeks' trip through Europe. My purpose in making this trip grew out of my realization that the most important task that would face this country and its Government during the next few months would be the question of our relationship to Western Europe in the face of the growing threat of Soviet expansion. Upon the correct solution of that problem hangs the fate of millions of American lives. Indeed the very survival of the nation may hinge upon it.

I spent my time in three countries - England, France and Italy - who are the chief European members of the North Atlantic Pact, and in three countries - West Germany, Yugoslavia and Spain - who are not members of that Alliance but whose problems, whose loyalties and whose capacities are tied into the question of the defense of Western Europe.

This issue of whether and how Western Europe can be defended, with or without American aid, depends as everyone agrees and, as General Eisenhower only a few days ago told us, on the existence in these countries of a will to resist - a determination to build up within them singly and collectively forces that, together with such aid as we may supply them, have a reasonable chance of dealing with the threatened aggression from the East. In trying to analyze the quality of their determination, I talked with men of every level - with French and German generals, with prime ministers and cabinet members, with our ambassadors, our High Commissioner in Germany, with political leaders, with Tito, and with the man in the street. The problem of European morale is, however, not merely what men say. It is also what men do. It is the capacity of their industry to devote significant portions to war purposes and still produce enough for basic and essential needs. It is their attitude toward manpower and its conscription, towards controls, towards taxes. It is their willingness to make sacrifices, to face deprivation, even to starve in defense of freedom. These are the things without which armies destined for victory cannot be built, and we must find them within ourselves as well within others if we would defend ourselves and our allies and those who might become our allies.

England is, perhaps, the easiest country to analyze. There is a will to resist in England but at the same time a deep spiritual and physical weariness over the thought of war. Victory did not bring an end to the privation that England's people had endured during the war. Instead, it deepened it. Only in the last year, has England with her efforts and our aid begun to see some solution to her overshadowing dollar problem and to hope again to regain some relief from her self-imposed austerity. Now the shadow of another war, further privation, queues and more queues, face her. It would be too much to expect her people to accept such a prospect with any degree of enthusiasm. There is definite resentment against our Korean policy, partly because she thinks it is a waste and diversion of valuable resources which might be devoted to Europe, but more because in bringing us into armed conflict with Red China we have both endangered her precarious position in the Orient and enhanced the possibility of all-out war with Communist Russia. To me, the people were less eager than the Government to take those preliminary steps toward the mobilization of resources and manpower that the will to resist demands.

War weariness, of course, characterizes all Europe. But the problem of France has additional complications. France knows that she will have to bear the lion' share of the manpower necessary for the creation of a Western European force and that her soil together with Germany will probably again be the battleground of any such conflict. She looks longingly to German manpower for assistance and relief from her burden, but at the same time she is unwilling to pay the price that Germany demands for rearming. Jules Moch, France's Minister of War, assured me that time would prove France was right on the issue of not rearming Germany if she insisted upon a national army, and Bidault, the former Prime Minister, echoed this thought. In addition, he expressed the general European fear that rearmament of Germany might incite Russian aggression. General Billotte, De Gaulle's military aide, was in a more aggressive mood. He feared the 5,000,000 Communists in France, their opposition and their neutralism, their power of sabotage. He and De Gaulle too, he said, would take stern measures to destroy the party were they to come into power, as he thought they would in six months. He criticized the present government and its war effort as weak. As against the 20 divisions by the beginning of 1953 that the Minister of War spoke about, Billotte would have 40 divisions in the field in 1952 and a goal of 75. The Germans, too, he thought should be brought in even on terms of independence from Western control.

France gives me a sense of division and confusion, of hesitation and doubt. Her own economy gives little sense of being attuned toward a war effort. The control of materials and the diversion of production into military channels have not really begun nor is it even being adequately planned. The tax structure, where only 15% of the tax receipts come from direct taxation with the balance derived from hidden taxes, seems to slant away from bringing home to the public the burdens that a defense effort must entail. Wages are low and prices high and no adequate price control exists. A prevalent criticism of France's government is that is unable to get through to working people whereas the Communists succeed in doing so.

In Germany skepticism of the rearmament effort was rife. The German generals I talked with had a more realistic and less fearsome appreciation of Russian military power. They had met the Russian armies in the field and felt they knew them and their weaknesses. At the same time, they are distrustful of France's military strength. The picture of the French rout in 1940 was still vivid in their minds. Politically, everyone insisted that a necessary condition of German rearmament was that Germany must have something to fight for. A consciousness of what happens to a battleground in modern war, such as the devastation that today is Korea, was widespread and there was little desire on the part of the Germans to risk that tragedy unless, as Kurt Schumacher, the head of the Socialist Party and the strongest of Germany's political figures, said, they were assured a West Germany free of Allied control and, secondly, a substantial screen of American troops to shield Germany while she rearmed herself. Even given these two conditions, the Army that Germany would be willing to build, must be her own army, officered by her own men, not brigades incorporated into some other force, and that would take months, if not years, to develop.

I could not convince myself that we and this newly-formed cause of ours were particularly popular in Germany. They had no love for Communism, but in their eyes our measures had been responsible for the disgrace of the German army. We had been preaching the evils of militarism, destroyed their war industries and were still doing so, when at the same time we seem to be urging their rearmament. As a popular joke in Germany these days goes, two Americans leave on a plane from New York, one has a mission to disarm Germany, the other's mission is to urge Germany to rearm; Germany cannot do both.

The recuperation that Germany has shown, however, is extraordinary. Steel, pig iron, and coal production have climbed by leaps and bounds. Her national income has almost reached that of England. Her important industrial production and her strategic position in the middle of Europe make her incorporation into a Western European defense system imperative.

Italy, though a member of the North Atlantic Alliance finds her position precarious. She has achieved some economic recovery despite the difficult burden on her of exporting sufficient to pay for the 60% of her food that she must import. Her slim recovery, however, is precious to her people and there is a fear of endangering it by assuming the heavy burdens of rearmament. The Peace Treaty still limits Italy to an armed force of 175,000 men as well as in the production of war materials and, as such, operates as a deterrent upon her desire to rearm herself. Nevertheless, she has far to go today to fill her allowable army quota.

The nine divisions that are her present goal are not expected to serve outside the country, and the probable area of invasion north of Trieste, the Italians are under obligation not to fortify. The widely expressed concern is that the burden of rearmament will so lower the scale of living that it will fan the Communist parties of the north, so strong in those industrial areas, to make difficult and even to stop her productive effort.

In Yugoslavia I had the opportunity of talking with Marshall Tito and his Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Marshall answered the questions I put to him with directness. Czechoslovakia in 1938 made her mistake, he said, in not fighting instead of accepting the partial dismemberment forced on her at Munich. If she had resisted with arms, she would have forced England and France to come in on her side. If attacked, he said, we will fight long enough to bring the West in on our side, for a retreat by us in the north opens the road to Italy while our defeat imperils both Greece and Turkey. In case of attack, our need, he continued, will not be men but equipment - jet planes, tanks, bazookas and heavy artillery. But America, and he paid respect to her military power, has not yet exhausted the possibilities of an amicable arrangement with Russia. Moreover, America is wasting her strength in Korea. The strategic area today as always, he concluded, is in Europe and not in Asia.

Marshall Tito seemed to have substantially weathered the Russian-Communist forces that initially opposed him in Yugoslavia. The vast majority of the Communists in Yugoslavia had been young and new members and had fought with him in the war, and he had thus succeeded in swinging their allegiance away from Moscow to him. But Yugoslavia is still a sparse and grim county, with recovery slowed by drought, the essential inefficiency of the Communist system, and the absence of Marshall funds. Its people, however, are determined to fight.

Spain again is a picture poverty but of an army willing to fight. It lacks, however, almost everything needed for modern war. It has no real air force, few trucks, an inadequate rail system and no anti-tank weapons. It needs officers conversant with our standards, our specifications, our training and equipment to boot. The big question mark is whether Western Europe will permit it or invite it to join in the common effort of defense. In England, I found distrust and distaste for Franco's help and doubt of its efficacy. In France, Bidault confirmed these doubts. Bringing Spain in, he said, might give the impression that our line of defense is in the Pyrenees and not on the Rhine and that would be fatal to France and her effort. But there is manpower in Spain, determined and aggressive, but a woeful lack of arms.

The firmness and quality of Europe's will to resist is not an easy subject of analysis. Besides the war-weariness of her peoples, there are conflicting political ambitions of her nations. There is the precariousness of her hard-won economic recovery that could be overthrown by the heavy drain of rearmament, while waiting for just such an opportunity are the millions of disloyal Communists within her own borders. There is strength, great strength outside the nations of the North Atlantic Pact that still remains unharnessed and, as in the case of Yugoslavia, may be picked off singly before Western Europe can bring itself to a decision. There is Germany, about which there must be some meeting of minds. And although a line of defense for Western Europe must be far east of the Pyrenees, Spain as a base for operations, as a source of power and because of its strategic position straddling the Mediterranean can no longer be ignored.

The assessment of Western Europe's potentialities is a necessary condition for shaping the extent and nature of the aid we can and should supply. That program from this country's standpoint cannot be the product of one man's thought or that of a small group. It is this nation acting through the Congress and the Executive that must fashion that program and coordinate in with our own defense. To do that, we must not be afraid of facts or seek to gloss them over by a veneer of trustful but mistaken understanding. If we are to share, we should know the nature of the venture that we are being asked to undertake, what our partners say they will do and what they actually do or have done. Mutual aid to be successful demands both aid and mutuality. Its conditions should be stipulated at least in broad outline and, if the spirit of mutuality is to endure, those conditions should be met. At the moment, no permanent assessment of the picture can be made and even a tentative one is full of doubt and darkness. In the countries of Western Europe dwell over 200,000,000 people. It has enormous productive powers that can be of immense value to us and can be tragically harmful in the hands of Red Russia. Productive power is the basic of military power, and because of that it is discouraging to an American observer to see the limitations on Europe's rearmament effort. Neither industrial power nor manpower are military assets unless they are efficiently mobilized.

If Europe is to be saved, Europe must commence to make sacrifices sufficient for that purpose and commensurate with the danger that threatens to engulf her peoples. The plain and brutal fact today is that Europe is not making these sacrifices. Except for Yugoslavia and Spain, her military budgets in terms of their proportion of the national income are far below those we propose for ourselves. Her draft of manpower is less severe than what we suggest should govern us here. The nations of the North Atlantic Pact still lack any systems for the control of strategic materials. This effort today is clearly not enough. It is important that Western Europe be saved, but we cannot do so ourselves or pay a price that will endanger our own survival. We cannot link our whole fate to what is presently a desperate gamble. We can and will survive despite Europe, but with her it will be that much easier. But Europe must know, as we are again learning to know, that freedom is born and held only by deep sacrifice.

Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. House of Representatives Files. Series 02. Speeches, 1946-1952. Box 95, Folder: "Issues in the Defense of the West, 6 February 1951".