Remarks of Representative John F. Kennedy in the House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., November 20, 1947

AID TO ITALY

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on the need and wisdom of aiding Italy immediately. As we talk here today, riots and strikes are now ravaging the Italian Peninsula. Today the press reports violent outbreaks in 20 cities. If Italy is to be saved, we must act immediately. If we do not act immediately, Italy may soon fall before the onslaught of the Communist minority.

As we gather here in a special session of Congress to do what we can to meet the aftermath of the second great World War, I am reminded of a scene which took place on August 10 of last year in the Luxemburg palace at the plenary session on the conference of Paris. That was the day on which Premier Alcide de Gasperi spoke for Italy and the Italian people.

The aims of the Government which this distinguished statesman so nobly and ably leads, were set forth in glowing language:

I lift my voice as the representative of a new republic which blends the humanity of Mazzini’s vision with the universal aims of Christianity and the international hopes of the working class, a republic striving toward that lasting and constructive peace which you are also seeking, and toward that cooperation between nations which it is your task to establish.

The delegates listened to de Gasperi in silence. When he finished his speech, the greatest of the conference, there was no applause but only the same cold silence. Herbert L. Matthews, of the New York Times, reports the rest of the scene:

As the Italian Premier walked slowly and dejectedly up the main aisle to the back of the auditorium where his delegation was sitting Mr. Byrnes leaned forward as Signor De Gasperi approached, smiled, held out his hand, and shook Signor De Gasperi’s warmly, with a little friendly pat on the back of the Italian’s hand for good measure.

Curiously enough, a few minutes later Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav M. Molotov walked back along the same central aisle toward where the 10 Italians were sitting. Premier De Gasperi seemed to think the Soviet Foreign Minister also was going to shake hands and he sat up expectantly, but Mr. Molotov went by stolidly without even looking at him.

This scene is indicative of the problems we face in this special session of Congress and the approach we must take in solving them. Premier De Gasperi asked for the assistance of the world in establishing a democratic government in Italy and called for the creation of “a more just, a more human world.” He met with silence on the part of the delegates. He met with cold contempt on the part of the Soviet Foreign Minister. This cold contempt has continued to be the attitude of the Soviet Government, which seeks to destroy the freedoms of all peoples everywhere. This is the challenge which this congress must meet.

Peace will not be found in the unrelenting bitterness and hostility of the Soviet Union and her satellites, but in mutual understanding and good will.

The only great hope for world recovery and peace at the Paris Conference was the handshake of the United States Secretary of State with the Italian Premier. In that moment of despair the one hand of friendship extended to the Italian people was the hand of the United States. Mr. Byrnes did not forget the words of the Potsdam declaration:

Italy was the first of the Axis Powers to break with Germany, to whose defeat she had made a material contribution.

Mr. Byrnes did not forget the Italian contribution to the Allied victory. He knew that 100,000 Italian men had fallen in resisting Germany and that the Italian people had suffered ruin and devastation from the bitter war that raged from Sicily to the Po Valley.

Mr. Byrnes’ action symbolizes the approach which this Congress must take if we are to meet successfully the challenge of Russian aggression and Russian dictatorship. The United States must extend the hand of friendship to democratic governments everywhere. To the goal of a peaceful and democratic world we must pledge our material resources as we so recently pledged the lives of our manhood.

Today I speak particularly of Italy, for I feel that Italy stands in the most perilous position of any country in Western Europe. Italy, along with France, has been chosen by the Russians as the initial battleground in the Communist drive to capture Western Europe.

The bitter struggle with the Communist Party of Italy is now reaching the crucial stage. Luigi Longo and Eugenio Reale attended the recent conference of Communist Parties setting up the Cominform, which is apparently the successor of the Communist International. A few days after the conference Palmiro Togliatti, leader of the Italian Communist Party, announced: A great new battle for progressive democracy is about to begin.

As the first step in this plan Italy is now being ravaged by Communist storm troopers.

What are Togliatti’s weapons in his battle for Italy? His weapons are hunger and depression.

Hunger

Italy uses 8,000,000 tons of wheat annually. Her normal production is 6,00,000 tons. This year, with an Italian crop of only 4,500,000 tons, the situation is appalling. Unless the Italian shortage of 3,500,000 tons of wheat is made up by imports from abroad, Italy, already reduced to a state of poverty by the war’s devastation, will starve.

Depression

They key to a peaceful, democratic Italy is industrial production. Despite the shortage of food, Italy’s workers already have taken real strides in restoring production. The worth of the Italian effort is shown by the fact that she has now achieved an industrial production which is 61 percent of her 1938 volume. For a continued increase in production and to avert depression the northern industrial cities of Milan, Turin, and Bologna, need coal. Prior to the war, Italy produced some coal from the Istrian mines but, with the award of Istria to Yugoslavia, these mines are now under Yugoslavian control. Most of her coal, however, Italy received from Germany and England, paying for it in fruits and vegetables. Today, Germany and England themselves face a coal shortage. If Italy’s industry is to survive, she must receive coal from the United States.
Through the action of this Congress we can wrest Togliatti’s weapons from his hands. We can help the Italian people achieve democracy and peace.

The Secretary of State has asked the Congress to grant $227,000,000 in interim aid to Italy. Interim aid now is most important for it will enable Italy to take a real step forward in the solution of her problems.

The Italian spirit, too, is most heartening. Italy has offered France and England 2,00,000 men to meet their manpower shortage. To France and Austria she wishes to make available her waterpower resources.

The outlook for Italy will be hopeful if we give her funds and goods now. With food to carry the Italian people through the winter, and with coal to keep her factories in operation, Italy can begin the establishment of a self-sustaining economy.

Italy can become a bastion of democracy in Europe. Italy must receive assistance from the United States.

I most strongly endorse Secretary Marshall’s request for aid to Italy.