Wednesday, November 22nd, was the forty-third anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. That tragedy haunts us still. In many ways and at all times. The writer Mary McGrory said on that day that we shall never smile again. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said no, we may smile again, but we’ll never be young again. For most it was the day hope died.
But hope, like courage, rests not on the shoulders of any one man but lives on from the words of that man in the hearts of all. All we need is the resolve to remember, and to carry on.
It is in that remembrance that we answer the question of many scholars as to what JFK’s legacy really was. His Presidency too short to see the fulfillment of many of his boldest initiatives, how is it that he captures our imaginations still? The answer rests in his words as much as his deeds. For those words, those ideas, still make us see possibilities in ourselves that we thought unimaginable.
They held out the vision of a generosity of spirit that could realize the ancient dream of the brotherhood of man. They challenged us to vigourous service and sacrifice in our daily lives. And most of all, they dared us to be brave. They lit the flame of courage within each of us that made us all understand that the indomitable spirit of freedom shall triumph over the dark forces of tyranny.
Perhaps that is the greatest quality of leadership. To make people bolder, braver, better than they ever thought possible. And to give them hope…the greatest gift.
At no time since his murder has the world been in need of such hope and such courage. It is for that reason that his words resonate with us still. At no time since the Second World War have the free been so full of fear. At no time since that era, has appeasement of terror and villainy been so obsequious.
Kennedy understood these dangers well. In his 1940 best-selling book “Why England Slept” he wrote "It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war." Today history repeats itself. Today a continent rests, as Bruce Bawer has so thoughtfully examined in “While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within”. New cloaks for the old tyrannies.
The greatest tribute to John F. Kennedy is that his words and vision during his “…one brief shining moment…” remain relevant as calls of conscience for us today. And if we do not answer those calls; if we do not respond to conscience; then years from now people will ask how it came to be that the family of free peoples was so willingly complicit its own destruction.
For today, on this sad anniversary, as the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick has noted, we have just witnessed the British Prime Minister do a near total about-face by demonstrating ignominious surrender to political correctness on Al-Jazeera, the radical Arab world’s main propaganda platform. In France teacher Robert Redeker has been living in hiding from death threats for two months for daring to publish an op-ed in Le Figaro in which he decried Islamist intimidation of freedom of thought and expression in the West. Le Figaro's editor also appeared on Al-Jazeera to apologize for publishing Redeker's article.
In the Netherlands the two strongest voices in Holland warning against Islamic subversion of Dutch culture and society — Pim Fortyn and Theo Van Gogh — were murdered. The third most prominent voice calling for the Dutch to take measures to defend themselves, former member of parliament Ayan Hirsi Ali herself a Muslim, moved to Washington, DC. Her former colleague in the Dutch parliament, Geert Wilders, has been living under military protection because of death threats, without a home, for years.
Though the European Human Rights Convention stipulates that states must enable free speech, Annemarie Thomassen, a former Dutch judge at the [European Human Rights Court] in Strasbourg, stated that the limits to freedom of speech in the European context lie where the expressed opinions and statements affect the human dignity of another person. The message is that in today’s Europe one cannot simply write and say anything one wants if it somehow offends anyone.
Melanie Phillips, the author of “Londonistan”, noted at the Freedom Center conference that what Europe is witnessing is "a dialogue of the demented." In this dialogue, European Islamists protest victimization at the hands of the native Europeans while threatening to kill them, and native Europeans apologize for upsetting the Muslim radicals and loudly criticize the US and Israel for not “…going gently into that good night…”
In the meantime, Jihadist ideologues and political leaders are flourishing throughout the continent. Some governments have even hired Muslim Brotherhood members, some 30,000 of whom have been summarily jailed in Egypt by President Mubarak, as counterterrorism advisers.
There could be no more poignant day to remind us all that submission is not a strategy against global Jihadist domination. During Kennedy’s Presidency Europe faced a threat of similar magnitude though of different origin. Kennedy went to Berlin to address that threat and send a message to the enemies of freedom. On a glorious June day in 1963, almost five months to the day before his murder, he delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” address in Rudolph Wilde Platz facing the recently constructed Berlin Wall. There could be no more fitting tribute to Kennedy’s legacy, and few more important lessons for our own national will, than reading his timeless words today. Among those words on that brilliant day were the following. “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.” It is a message for the ages, and particularly for our time.
The Text of "Ich Bin Ein Berlinetr"
I am proud to come to this city as the guest of your distinguished Mayor, who has symbolized throughout the world the fighting spirit of West Berlin. And I am proud to visit the Federal Republic with your distinguished Chancellor who for so many years has committed Germany to democracy and freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.
Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner."
There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.
Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.
What is true of this city is true of Germany--real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people. You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.
Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.
All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner."