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John F. Kennedy:

The Lesson of Cuba, 1961

Speech Delivered by President Kennedy before the American Society of Newspaper Editors at Washington, D.C., April 20, 1961

The President of a great democracy such as ours, and the editors of great newspapers such as yours, owe a common obligation to the people: an obligation to present the facts, to present them with candor, and to present them in perspective. It is with that obligation in mind that I have decided in the last 24 hours to discuss briefly at this time the recent events in Cuba.

On that unhappy island, as in so many other areas of the contest for freedom, the news has grown worse instead of better. I have emphasized before that this was a struggle of Cuban patriots against a Cuban dictator. While we could not be expected to lend our sympathies, we made it repeatedly clear that the armed forces of this country would not intervene in any way.

It is not the first time that Communist tanks have rolled over gallant men and women fighting to redeem the independence of their homeland. Nor is it by any means the final episode in the eternal struggle of liberty against tyranny, anywhere on the face of the globe, including Cuba itself.

Mr. Castro has said that these were mercenaries. According to press reports, the final message to be relayed from the refugee forces on the beach came from the rebel commander when asked if he wished to be evacuated. His answer was: "I will never leave this country. "That is not the reply of a mercenary . .

The Cuban people have not yet spoken their final piece, and I have no doubt that they and their Revolutionary Council, led by Dr. Míro Cardona and members of the families of the Revolutionary Council, I am informed by the Doctor yesterday, are involved themselves in the islands - will continue to speak up for a free and independent Cuba.

Meanwhile we will not accept Mr. Castro's attempts to blame this Nation for the hatred with which his onetime supporters now regard his repression . But there are from this sobering episode useful lessons for all to learn. Some may be still obscure and await further information. Some are clear today.

First, it is clear that the forces of communism are not to be underestimated; in Cuba or anywhere else in the world, The advantages of a police state - its use of mass terror and arrests to prevent the spread of free dissent - cannot be overlooked by those who expect the fall of every fanatic tyrant. . . .

Secondly, it is clear that this Nation, in concert with all the free nations of this hemisphere, must take all even closer and more realistic look- at the menace of external Communist intervention and domination in Cuba. The American people arc not complacent about Iron Curtain tanks and planes less than 90 miles from our shores. . . .

The evidence is clear-and the hour is late. We and our Latin friends will have to face the fact that we cannot postpone any longer the real issue of the survival of freedom in th Is hemisphere itself. . . .

Third, and finally, it is clearer than ever that we face a relentless struggle in every corner of the globe that goes far beyond the clash of armies or even nuclear armaments. The armies are there, and in large number. The nuclear armaments are there. But they serve primarily as the shield behind which subversion, infiltration, and a host of other tactics steadily advance, picking off vulnerable areas one by one in situations which do not permit our own armed intervention.

Power is the hallmark of this offensive-power and discipline and deceit. The legitimate discontent of yearning peoples is exploited. The legitimate trappings of self-determination are employed. But once in power, all talk of discontent is repressed-all self-determination disappears-and the promise of a revolution of hope is betrayed, as in Cuba, into a reign of terror. . . .

The message of Cuba, of Laos, of the rising din of Communist voices in Asia and Latin America - these messages are all the same. The complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history. Only the strong, only the industrious, only the determined, only the courageous, only the visionary who determine the real nature of our struggle can possibly survive.


from The Department of State Bulletin, XLIV, No. 1141 (May 8, 1961), pp. 659-661.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998

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