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RFK's Day of Affirmation Address


William Kelly
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'"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve thelot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tinyripple of hope, andcrossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring,those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls ofoppression and resistance." – RFK

Day of Affirmation Address, June 6, 1966

http://www.jfklibrar...xt-version.aspx

Listen to it: http://www.jfklibrar...nkv95-EnSg.aspx

Robert F. Kennedy University ofCapetown Capetown, South Africa June 6, 1966

(News Release Text)

I came here because of my deep interestand affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century,then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which thenative inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain aproblem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier; a landwhich has tamed rich natural resources through the energetic application ofmodern technology; a land which once imported slaves, and now must struggle towipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America.

But I am glad to come here to South Africa. I am already enjoying my visit. I ammaking an effort to meet and exchange views with people from all walks of life,and all segments of South African opinion, including those who represent theviews of the government. Today I am glad to meet with the National Union ofSouth African Students. For a decade, NUSAS has stood and worked for theprinciples of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - principles whichembody the collective hopes of men of good will all around the world.

Your work, at home and in internationalstudent affairs, has brought great credit to yourselves and to your country. Iknow the National Student Association in the United States feels a particularly closerelationship to NUSAS. And I wish to thank especially Mr. Ian Robertson, whofirst extended this invitation on behalf of NUSAS, for his kindness to me. It'stoo bad he can't be with us today.

This is a Day of Affirmation, acelebration of liberty. We stand here in the name of freedom.

At the heart of that Western freedomand democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is thetouchstone of value, and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit.Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supremegoal and the abiding practice of any Western society.

The first element of this individualliberty is the freedom of speech: the right to express and communicate ideas,to set oneself apart from the dumb beasts of field and forest; to recallgovernments to their duties and obligations; above all, the right to affirmone's membership and allegiance to the body politic - to society - to the menwith whom we share our land, our heritage, and our children's future.

Hand in hand with freedom of speechgoes the power to be heard, to share in the decisions of government which shapemen's lives. Everything that makes man's life worthwhile - family, work,education, a place to rear one's children and a place to rest one's head - allthis depends on decisions of government; all can be swept away by a governmentwhich does not heed the demands of its people. Therefore, the essentialhumanity of men can be protected and preserved only where government mustanswer - not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion,or a particular race, but to all its people.

And even government by the consent ofthe governed, as in our own Constitution, must be limited in its power to actagainst its people; so that there may be no interference with the right to worship,or with the security of the home; no arbitrary imposition of pains or penaltiesby officials high or low; no restrictions on the freedom of men to seekeducation or work or opportunity of any kind, so that each man may become allhe is capable of becoming.

These are the sacred rights of Westernsociety. These were the essential differences between us and Nazi Germany, asthey were between Athens and Persia.

They are the essence of our differenceswith communism today. I am unalterably opposed to communism because it exaltsthe state over the individual and the family, and because of the lack offreedom of speech, of protest, of religion, and of the press, which is thecharacteristic of totalitarian states. The way of opposition to communism is notto imitate its dictatorship, but to enlarge individual freedom, in our owncountries and all over the globe. There are those in every land who would labelas Communist every threat to their privilege. But as I have seen on my travelsin all sections of the world, reform is not communism. And the denial offreedom, in whatever name, only strengthens the very communism it claims tooppose.

Many nations have set forth their owndefinitions and declarations of these principles. And there have often beenwide and tragic gaps between promise and performance, ideal and reality. Yetthe great ideals have constantly recalled us to our duties. And - with painfulslowness - we have extended and enlarged the meaning and the practice offreedom for all our people.

For two centuries, my own country hasstruggled to overcome the self-imposed handicap of prejudice and discriminationbased on nationality, social class, or race - discrimination profoundlyrepugnant to the theory and command of our Constitution. Even as my father grewup in Boston, signs told him that No Irish NeedApply. Two generations later President Kennedy became the first Catholic tohead the nation; but how many men of ability had, before 1961, been denied theopportunity to contribute to the nation's progress because they were Catholic,or of Irish extraction? How many sons of Italian or Jewish or Polish parentsslumbered in slums - untaught, unlearned, their potential lost forever to thenation and human race? Even today, what price will we pay before we haveassured full opportunity to millions of Negro Americans.

In the last five years we have donemore to assure equality to our Negro citizens, and to help the deprived bothwhite and black, than in the hundred years before. But much more remains to be done.

For there are millions of Negroesuntrained for the simplest of jobs, and thousands every day denied their fullequal rights under the law; and the violence of the disinherited, the insultedand injured, looms over the streets of Harlem and Watts and South Side Chicago.

But a Negro American trains as anastronaut, one of mankind's first explorers into outer space; another is thechief barrister of the United States government, and dozens sit on the benchesof court; and another, Dr. Martin Luther King, is the second man of Africandescent to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent efforts for socialjustice between races.

We have passed laws prohibitingdiscrimination in education, in employment, in housing, but these laws alonecannot overcome the heritage of centuries - of broken families and stuntedchildren, and poverty and degradation and pain.

So the road toward equality of freedomis not easy, and great cost and danger march alongside us. We are committed topeaceful and nonviolent change, and that is important for all to understand -though all change is unsettling. Still, even in the turbulence of protest andstruggle is greater hope for the future, as men learn to claim and achieve forthemselves the rights formerly petitioned from others.

And most important of all, all thepanoply of government power has been committed to the goal of equality beforethe law, as we are now committing ourselves to the achievement of equalopportunity in fact.

We must recognize the full humanequality of all of our people before God, before the law, and in the councilsof government. We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous,although it is; not because of the laws of God command it, although they do;not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single andfundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.

We recognize that there are problemsand obstacles before the fulfillment of these ideals in the United States, as we recognize that other nations,in Latin America and Asia and Africa, have their own political, economic,and social problems, their unique barriers to the elimination of injustices.

In some, there is concern that changewill submerge the rights of a minority, particularly where the minority is of adifferent race from the majority. We in the United States believe in the protection ofminorities; we recognize the contributions they can make and the leadershipthey can provide; and we do not believe that any people - whether minority,majority, or individual human beings - are "expendable" in the causeof theory or policy. We recognize also that justice between men and nations isimperfect, and that humanity sometimes progresses slowly.

All do not develop in the same manner,or at the same pace. Nations, like men, often march to the beat of differentdrummers, and the precise solutions of the United States can neither be dictated nortransplanted to others. What is important is that all nations must march towardincreasing freedom; toward justice for all; toward a society strong andflexible enough to meet the demands of all its own people, and a world ofimmense and dizzying change.

In a few hours, the plane that broughtme to this country crossed over oceans and countries which have been a crucibleof human history. In minutes we traced the migration of men over thousands ofyears; seconds, the briefest glimpse, and we passed battlefields on whichmillions of men once struggled and died. We could see no national boundaries,no vast gulfs or high walls dividing people from people; only nature and theworks of man - homes and factories and farms - everywhere reflecting Man'scommon effort to enrich his life. Everywhere new technology and communicationsbring men and nations closer together, the concerns of one inevitably becomingthe concerns of all. And our new closeness is stripping away the false masks,the illusion of difference which is at the root of injustice and hate and war.Only earthbound man still clings to the dark and poisoning superstition thathis world is bounded by the nearest hill, his universe ended at river shore,his common humanity enclosed in the tight circle of those who share his townand views and the color of his skin.

It is your job, the task of the youngpeople of this world, to strip the last remnants of that ancient, cruel belieffrom the civilization of man.

Each nation has different obstacles anddifferent goals, shaped by the vagaries of history and of experience. Yet as Italk to young people around the world I am impressed not by the diversity butby the closeness of their goals, their desires and their concerns and theirhope for the future. There is discrimination in New York, the racial inequality of apartheid inSouth Africa, and serfdom in the mountains of Peru. People starve in the streets ofIndia, a former Prime Minister is summarily executed in the Congo,intellectuals go to jail in Russia, and thousands are slaughtered in Indonesia;wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere in the world. These are differingevils; but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfections ofhuman justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, the defectiveness of oursensibility toward the sufferings of our fellows; they mark the limit of ourability to use knowledge for the well-being of our fellow human beingsthroughout the world. And therefore they call upon common qualities ofconscience and indignation, a shared determination to wipe away the unnecessarysufferings of our fellow human beings at home and around the world.

It is these qualities which make ofyouth today the only true international community. More than this I think thatwe could agree on what kind of a world we would all want to build. it would bea world of independent nations, moving toward international community, each ofwhich protected and respected the basic human freedoms. It would be a worldwhich demanded of each government that it accept its responsibility to insuresocial justice. It would be a world of constantly accelerating economic progress- not material welfare as an end in itself, but as a means to liberate thecapacity of every human being to pursue his talents and to pursue his hopes. Itwould, in short, be a world that we would be proud to have built.

Just to the north of here are lands ofchallenge and opportunity rich in natural resources, land and minerals andpeople. Yet they are also lands confronted by the greatest odds - overwhelmingignorance, internal tensions and strife, and great obstacles of climate andgeography. Many of these nations, as colonies, were oppressed and exploited.Yet they have not estranged themselves from the broad traditions of the West;they are hoping and gambling their progress and stability on the chance that wewill meet our responsibilities to help them overcome their poverty.

In the world we would like to build, South Africa could play an outstanding role in thateffort. This is without question a preeminent repository of the wealth andknowledge and skill of the continent. Here are the greater part of Africa's research scientists and steelproduction, most of its reservoirs of coal and electric power. Many SouthAfricans have made major contributions to African technical development andworld science; the names of some are known wherever men seek to eliminate theravages of tropical diseases and pestilence. In your faculties and councils,here in this very audience, are hundreds and thousands of men who couldtransform the lives of millions for all time to come.

But the help and the leadership of South Africa or the United States cannot be accepted if we - within ourown countries or in our relations with others - deny individual integrity,human dignity, and the common humanity of man. If we would lead outside ourborders, if we would help those who need our assistance, if we would meet ourresponsibilities to mankind, we must first, all of us, demolish the borderswhich history has erected between men within our own nations - barriers of raceand religion, social class and ignorance.

Our answer is the world's hope; it isto rely on youth. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planetwill not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved bythose who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion ofsecurity to the excitement and danger which comes with even the most peacefulprogress.

This world demands the qualities ofyouth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a qualityof the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetitefor adventure over the love of ease. It is a revolutionary world we live in,and thus, as I have said in Latin America and Asia, in Europe and in the United States, it is young people who must take thelead. Thus you, and your young compatriots everywhere, have had thrust upon youa greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived.

"There is," said an Italianphilosopher, "nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous toconduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in theintroduction of a new order of things." Yet this is the measure of thetask of your generation, and the road is strewn with many dangers.

First, is the danger of futility: thebelief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous arrayof the world's ills - against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yetmany of the world's greatest movements, of thought and action, have flowed fromthe work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant Reformation, ayoung general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and ayoung woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer whodiscovered the New World, andthe thirty-two-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men arecreated equal.

"Give me a place to stand,"said Archimedes, "and I will move the world." These men moved theworld, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself,but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the totalof all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands ofPeace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and cityslums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazisand many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of theircountries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that humanhistory is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improvethe lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tinyripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers ofenergy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down themightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

"If Athens shall appear great to you," saidPericles, "consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men,and by men who learned their duty." That is the source of all greatness inall societies, and it is the key to progress in our time.

The second danger is that ofexpediency; of those who say that hopes and beliefs must bend before immediatenecessities. Of course, if we would act effectively we must deal with the worldas it is. We must get things done. But if there was one thing President Kennedystood for that touched the most profound feelings of young people around theworld, it was the belief that idealism, high aspirations, and deep convictionsare not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs - thatthere is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities, noseparation between the deepest desires of heart and of mind and the rationalapplication of human effort to human problems. It is not realistic orhardheaded to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aimsand values, although we all know some who claim that it is so. In my judgment,it is thoughtless folly. For it ignores the realities of human faith and ofpassion and of belief - forces ultimately more powerful than all of thecalculations of our economists or of our generals. Of course to adhere tostandards, to idealism, to vision in the face of immediate dangers takes greatcourage and takes self-confidence. But we also know that only those who dare tofail greatly, can ever achieve greatly.

It is this new idealism which is also,I believe, the common heritage of a generation which has learned that whileefficiency can lead to the camps at Auschwitz, or the streets of Budapest, only the ideals of humanity and lovecan climb the hills of the Acropolis.

A third danger is timidity. Few men arewilling to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of theircolleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity thanbravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vitalquality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully tochange. Aristotle tells us that "At the Olympic games it is not the finestand the strongest men who are crowned, but they who enter the lists.... So tooin the life of the honorable and the good it is they who act rightly who winthe prize." I believe that in this generation those with the courage toenter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every cornerof the world.

For the fortunate among us, the fourthdanger is comfort, the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths ofpersonal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who havethe privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out forus. There is a Chinese curse which says "May he live in interestingtimes." Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times ofdanger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy ofmen than any other time in history. And everyone here will ultimately be judged- will ultimately judge himself - on the effort he has contributed to buildinga new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shapedthat effort.

So we part, I to my country and you toremain. We are - if a man of forty can claim that privilege - fellow members ofthe world's largest younger generation. Each of us have our own work to do. Iknow at times you must feel very alone with your problems and difficulties. ButI want to say how impressed I am with what you stand for and the effort you aremaking; and I say this not just for myself, but for men and women everywhere.And I hope you will often take heart from the knowledge that you are joinedwith fellow young people in every land, they struggling with their problems andyou with yours, but all joined in a common purpose; that, like the young peopleof my own country and of every country I have visited, you are all in many waysmore closely united to the brothers of your time than to the older generationsof any of these nations; and that you are determined to build a better future.President Kennedy was speaking to the young people of America, but beyond them to young peopleeverywhere, when he said that "the energy, the faith, the devotion whichwe bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it - and theglow from that fire can truly light the world."

And, he added, "With a goodconscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, letus go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Edited by William Kelly
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