October 27, 1963: John F. Kennedy Honors Robert Frost

Less than a month before his assassination, President John F Kennedy spoke at a convocation at Amherst College honoring Robert Frost, who had died earlier that year:

…In America our heroes have customarily run to men of large accomplishments. But today this college and country honors a man whose contribution was not to our size but to our spirit; not to our political beliefs but to our insight; not to our self-esteem but to our self-comprehension.

In honoring Robert Frost, we therefore can pay honor to the deepest sources of our national strength. That strength takes many forms, and the JFK & Frostmost obvious forms are not always the most significant.

The men who created power make an indispensable contribution to the nation’s greatness. But the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested.

For they determine whether we use power or power uses us. Ours national strength matters; but the spirit which informs and controls ours strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost

He brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society. His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. “I have been,” he wrote, “one acquainted with the night.”

And because he knew the midnight as well as the high noon, because he understood the ordeal as wells as the triumph of the human spirit, he gave his age strength with which to overcome despair.

At bottom he held a deep faith in the spirit of man. And it’s hardly an accident that Robert Frost coupled poetry and power. For he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself.

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.

For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state.

The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role.

If Robert Frost was much honored during his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. . .

It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society– in it– the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.

In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man– “the fate of having nothing to look backward to with pride and nothing to look forward to with hope.”

I look forward to a great future for America– a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.

I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our national environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.

I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens.

And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.

And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.

Robert Frost was often skeptical about projects for human improvement. Yet I do not think he would disdain this hope.

As he wrote during the uncertain days of the Second War:

Take human nature altogether since time began …
And it must be a little more in favor of man,
Say a fraction of one percent at the very least …
Our hold on the planet wouldn’t have so increased.

Because of Mr. Frost’s life and work, because of the life and work of this college, our hold on this planet has increased.

October 22, 1962: Letter from President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev

Sir:JFK & Kruschev

A copy of the statement I am making tonight concerning developments in Cuba and the reaction of my Government thereto has been handed to your Ambassador in Washington. In view of the gravity of the developments to which I refer, I want you to know immediately and accurately the position of my Government in this matter.

In our discussions and exchanges on Berlin and other international questions, the one thing that has most concerned me has been the possibility that your Government would not correctly understand the will and determination of the United States in any given situation, since I have not assumed that you or any other sane man would, in this nuclear age, deliberately plunge the world into war which it is crystal clear no country could win and which could only result in catastrophic consequences to the whole world, including the aggressor.

At our meeting in Vienna and subsequently, I expressed our readiness and desire to find, through peaceful negotiation, a solution to any and all problems that divide us. At the same time, I made clear that in view of the objectives of the ideology to which you adhere, the United States could not tolerate any action on your part which in a major way disturbed the existing over-all balance of power in the world. I stated that an attempt to force abandonment of our responsibilities and commitments in Berlin would constitute such an action and that the United States would resist with all the power at its command.

It was in order to avoid any incorrect assessment on the part of your Government with respect to Cuba that I publicly stated that if certain developments in Cuba took place, the United States would do whatever must be done to protect its own security and that of its allies.

Moreover, the Congress adopted a resolution expressing its support of this declared policy. Despite this, the rapid development of long-range missile bases and other offensive weapons systems in Cuba has proceeded. I must tell you that the United States is determined that this threat to the security of this hemisphere be removed. At the same time, I wish to point out that the action we are taking is the minimum necessary to remove the threat to the security of the nations of this hemisphere. The fact of this minimum response should not be taken as a basis, however, for any misjudgment on your part.

I hope that your Government will refrain from any action which would widen or deepen this already grave crisis and that we can agree to resume the path of peaceful negotiations.

John F. Kennedy

October 20, 1962: John F. Kerry writes to John F. Kennedy

1078 Yale Station
New Haven, CT

Dear Mr. President,

Having met you several times this summer at Hammersmith Farm, and having worked for your brother in Massachusetts during that same time, I am to say the least, an ardent Kennedy supporter. My remarks however, are at no point based on this fact, and are as best as possible from the bystanders point of view.jfk x 2

I wish to apologize for the deplorable behavior of some of my fellow undergraduates here at Yale. Your very recent visit has left behind it much discussion – not on its political, but social aspects. Gradually the realization of the disrespect shown the office of the President of the United States is sinking in to those who are the offenders. It does little good for a non-offender to write and apologize for the acts of others, but perhaps it will do something to say that people here are aware of the disgrace they brought upon the University and themselves. It is possible that you personally were not bothered by what happened here, but the insult was made and there is no one here who is not now conscious of it.

May I also take this time for a very unforgettable and exciting time the weekend of the America’s Cup races.

With best wishes for the future,

John F. Kerry

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