"The stories of past courage can define that ingredient - they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.
In such a time as today the limits of human endeavor become more apparent than ever. We cannot depend solely on our material wealth, on our military might, on our intellectual skill or physical courage to see us safely through the seas that we must sail in the months and years to come. Along with all of these we need faith."
Faith in what? For the author and many of us it is faith in God. For the future of our nation I sincerely hope it is faith in the ideals we have espoused this past 231 years.
Military might does not make a great nation. Nor does economic might.
"Peace does not rest in charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of all people. And in this world no act, no pact, no treaty, no organization can hope to preserve it without the support and the wholehearted commitment of all people."
The author wrote during a time of great danger. Great threat to his country. But I note that he writes of "all people." Not his nations people but all people.
"The meaning of courage, like political motivations, is frequently misunderstood. Some enjoy the excitement of its battle, but fail to note the implications of its consequences. Some admire its virtues in other men and other times, but fail to comprehend its current potentialities.
Without belittling the courage with which men have died, we should not forget those acts of courage with which men have lived."
This is an important point that no one, no one at all, speaks of this in todays political environment. Support the troops or you are a traitor. Show strength and a willingness to fight that either borders on or crosses over into bullyism. But what about the strength and courage it takes to sit down with an enemy and take the risks required to find peace? Or to stand up to the accusations one receives from the right wing even for hinting at suggesting such a thing?
Might it not be a better idea to talk with Iran than bomb them? Might there be some long term value in discussing with arab and other muslim peoples why there is so much anti-americanism and what we can do together to solve the problem? Might that be better than bombing their countries and killing hundreds of thousands of their people?
"The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy."
I think Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin can attest to that.
"We know now that freedom is more than the rejection of tyranny, that prosperity is more than an escape from want, that partnership is more than a sharing of power. These are all, above all, great human adventures... We are called to a great new mission. It is not a mission of arbitrary power... The mission is to create a new social order, founded on liberty and justice, in which men are the masters of their fate, in which states are the servants of their citizens and in which all men and women can share a better life for themselves and their children."
That is a powerful vision. Why aren't I hearing this out of leaders today? Bush I talked of a "new world order" after the fall of the USSR. Clinton worked on building a global community... even if just economically. Bush II... says you're either with us or against us. The numbers of people "with him" have gotten increasingly smaller. None of these truly displayed a vision or a "new social order."
"Our foremost aim is the control of force, not the pursuit of force, in a world safe for mankind."
Uh... yeah... whatever happened to that? That is a truly courageous concept. One that requires real strength and not just a bully attitude.
"Just as the Family of Man is not limited to a single race or religion, neither can it be limited to a single city or country [editors note: dare I inject "or political party"]. The Family of Man is more than 3 billion strong. It lives in more than 100 nations."
And it has only grown since. What is wrong that understanding such as this has been lost in the dustbin of history? Old Europe, Arabs, south Asia, Koreans, Africans, latin Americans are all our Family. Family squabbles can get real ugly but don't you think at least some of them can be solved by loving our brothers and sisters and following up that love with loving action? Might it not be possible that such loving action would be reciprocated in kind? Just as violent action is reciprocated in kind?
"We must present to the world a concept of freedom which has not been diluted by the evils of prejudice and discrimination. As Woodrow Wilson once said in an address on citizenship: "No amount of dwelling upon the idea of liberty and of justice will accomplish the object we have in view unless we ourselves illustrate the idea of justice and liberty."
"Unless we ourselves illustrate the idea of justice and liberty." We neither protect nor promote our concepts of freedom, justice and the rule of law by compromising or giving them up. It just doesn't work that way.
A free and open society contains inherent risks. This in turn requires the free and open people to exhibit the courage spoken of earlier... the "acts of courage with which men have lived."
"While maintaining our readiness for war, let us exhaust every avenue for peace. Let us always make clear our willingness to talk, if talk will help, and our readiness to fight, if fight we must.
Let us resolve to be the masters, not the victims, of our history, controlling our own destiny without giving way to blind suspicion and emotion.
The making of peace is the noblest work of God-fearing men."
There is so much more but that will do for now. It would do for now if we could but hear a real leader step forth and speak of these things... with strength, and power, and conviction.
* Quotes are all selected from a book published in 1967 called "John F. Kennedy Words to Remember."