Presidents and Protesters: Political Rhetoric in the 1960s

By Theodore Otto Windt Jr. | Go to book overview

prehensive treaty banning all tests everywhere, and our ultimate hope for general and complete disarmament. The Soviet Government, however, is still unwilling to accept the inspection such goals require. . . .

But the difficulty of predicting the next step is no reason to be reluctant about this step. Nuclear test ban negotiations have long been a symbol of East-West disagreement. If this treaty can also be a symbol--if it can symbolize the end of one era and the beginning of another--if both sides can by this treaty gain confidence and experience in peaceful collaboration--then this short and simple treaty may well become an historic mark in man's age-old pursuit of peace.

Kennedy concluded the speech by remarking on the symbolic nature of the treaty:

According to the ancient Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."

My fellow Americans, let us take that first step. Let us, if we can, step back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace. And if that journey is a thousand miles, or even more, let history record that we, in this land, at this time, took the first step.

Thus, Kennedy established the strongest grounds for argument: ratification of the treaty would be a step toward peace; failure to ratify it might, by implication, be a step away from peace and toward greater tensions between the United States and the U.S.S.R. These grounds were quite favorable ones upon which to wage rhetorical battles for ratification.

On September 24, 1963, by a vote of 80 to 19, the Senate of the United States ratified the limited nuclear test-ban treaty.23


Conclusion

Chairman Nikita Khrushchev called Kennedy's speech at American University "the best speech by any American President since Roosevelt."24 Truly, it was the best speech Kennedy gave during his entire administration. But it was only part of an overall effort to change public attitudes toward reaching the first phase of detente with the Soviet Union. That is, Kennedy began with the principles upon which the United States should seek accommodation with the U.S.S.R., principles he spelled out in full in the American University speech. The speech was a mixture of firmness, flexibility, and rationality. The specific issues to be negotiated were relegated to the conclusion of the speech and were to be seen and understood in light of the principles enunciated earlier in the speech.

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