OTD in History… August 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers accuses Alger Hiss of being a Communist

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OTD in History… August 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers accuses Alger Hiss of being a Communist

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Whittaker Chambers giving his HUAC testimony. Source: New York Times

On this day in history, August 3, 1948, former Communist turned FBI informant Whittaker Chambers accuses former State Department official Alger Hiss of having been a Communist in his testimony in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and then Congressman Richard M. Nixon. Although Hiss would be convicted of perjury two-years later, he would fight the rest of his life against the accusation. After the fall of the Soviet Union, historians have been able to gain access to archives and documents and conclude that Hiss probably was a Communist spy.

At the time, however, the Chambers-Hiss accusation was one of the most notorious coming out of the HUAC anti-Communist crusade. The investigations by the FBI, Director J. Edgar Hoover, the HUAC and later Senator Joseph McCarthy amounted to the blacklist and convictions of many supposed Communists in politics and the entertainment industry amounted then to a witch-hunt. Freshman Congressman Nixon would build a name for himself in HUAC and his red hunting pursuit of Hiss, by 1952, he would on the Republican ticket as the nominee for Vice President.

In 1948, rehabilitated Communist Chambers was an editor at TIME magazine but in the 1930s he had been a member of the Communist Party, however, with the start of the House of Representatives investigations into Communists in the late 1930s, Chambers left the Communist Party and became a Communist informant. With the HUAC investigations in the late 1940s, Chambers as an informant was called as a witness after accusing Hiss of being a Communist.

Hiss was a New Deal Democrat, who worked in the Justice Department in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, then the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) legal team, an investigator and legal assistant to the Nye Committee. In 1936, hiss moved to the State Department, first as an assistant to Assistant Secretary of State Francis B. Sayre, then “an assistant to Stanley Hornbeck, a special adviser to Cordell Hull on Far Eastern affairs.” In 1944, Hiss served as Director of the Office of Special Political Affairs on post-war plans, and intentional organizations and attended the big three Yalta and Potsdam Conferences. In 1946, Hiss left government to serve as the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In an editorial in TIME, Chambers accused Hiss of having belonged with his in “an underground organization of the United States Communist Party,” the “Ware group,” led by agriculturalist Harold Ware, who wanted to make an agricultural uprising in the cotton industry. Chambers claimed, “The purpose of this group at that time was not primarily espionage. Its original purpose was the Communist infiltration of the American government. But espionage was certainly one of its eventual objectives.” Chambers accused eight members in total. By making it about espionage, the only illegal crime Chambers ensured it relevant to HUAC who was trying to prove the Democratic administrations of Roosevelt and then Harry Truman were soft on Communists.

Hiss was on the radar since 1939, when accusations against him started circulating. Nixon received information from former Central Intelligence Agency, CIA Director Allen Dulles and Roman Catholic Priest John Francis Cronin implicating Hiss. Cronin was the author of “The Problem Of American Communism In 1945”, where he declared, “In the State Department, the most influential Communist has been Alger Hiss.” Nixon made it his mission to go after Hiss, and the House made Nixon the chair of the HUAC subcommittee responsible for investigating Hiss, and he was figured prominently in questioning Chambers on August 3 and then Hiss on August 5 and during their subcommittee testimonies.

On August 3, Chambers gave his testimony in the Cannon Caucus Room in front of the HUAC naming Hiss a Communist. Both Chambers and Hiss alleged the other was lying, Committee Chairman J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey told the two, “certainly one of you will be tried for perjury.” Only after Chambers declared on Meet the Press that Hiss was a Communist and Hiss filed a libel suit did Chambers accuse Hiss of being a spy as well.

On November 17, 1948, Chambers produced evidence, retyped State Department documents from the “November and December 1937 arrest and disappearance in Moscow of a Latvian-born man and his wife, an American citizen” the documents mostly dated from 1938 and included handwritten notes by Hiss. Chambers claimed Hiss wanted them sent to the Soviets. The documents became known as the Baltimore Papers. Additionally, On December 2, 1948, Chambers led investigators to his Maryland farm and “microfilmed copies of classified State Department documents” from 1938 in a hollowed out pumpkin. Collectively HUAC referred to all the documents as the “Pumpkin Papers,” they were enough evidence to charge Hiss with perjury. After two trials the first with a hung jury, Hiss was found guilty of two counts of perjury in January 1950, sentenced to five concurrent years, Hiss only served 44 months in prison.

Historian Tim Weiner writing, in his book Enemies: A History of the FBI argues the turning point was when Chambers upped his accusation from Communist to Communist spy. Weiner notes, “This was a crucial point. Infiltration and invisible political influence were immoral, but arguably not illegal. Espionage was treason, traditionally punishable by death. The distinction was not lost on the cleverest member of HUAC, Congressman Richard Nixon…. He had been studying the FBI’s files for five months, courtesy of J. Edgar Hoover. Nixon launched his political career in hot pursuit of Hiss and the alleged secret Communists of the New Deal.”

Nixon was able to make a public name for himself as a combatant of Communism, he parlayed this into being Dwight D. Eisenhower’s running mate in 1952 and then Vice President, in 1960 to the Republican Presidential nomination and finally in 1968 to win the presidency. The Hiss conviction helped fuel the anti-Communist investigations in government. Just two weeks afterward on February 9, Senator Joseph McCarthy delivered his Wheeling Speech. McCarthy famously alleged, “The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205 — a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.” The speech catapulted McCarthy to head a Senate investigation in Communists infiltrating the government leading to his McCarthyism reign of terror in the early 1950s. By 1954, the Senate censured McCarthy, and the Communist hysteria finally died down.

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Summers, Anthony, and Robbyn Swan. The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon. New York: Penguin, 2001.

Tanenhaus, Sam. Whittaker Chambers: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1997.

Weiner, Tim. Enemies: A History of the FBI. New York: Random House, 2012.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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OTD in History… July 24, 1959, VP Richard Nixon engages with Soviet leader Khrushchev in the Kitchen Debate

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OTD in History… July 24, 1959, VP Richard Nixon engages with Soviet leader Khrushchev in the Kitchen Debate

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On this day in history July 24, 1959, Vice President Richard Nixon on a mission to the Soviet Union engaged in the Kitchen Debate with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the opening of the American National Exhibition at Sokolniki Park in Moscow. The exhibit featured an American home with modern conveniences that the average worker could afford. In their third meeting of the trip, Nixon and Khrushchev debated through translators over capitalism, communism and the technological race over a model American home and kitchen and its advanced appliances. The three television networks captured the vivid and headline-making exchange and they aired it on July 25. The debate was one of the most significant summits in the early Cold War era and the televised and much-publicized debate help catapult Nixon to the 1960 Republican presidential nomination.

The exhibition was the second of two the United States and the Soviet Union agreed upon in 1958, as part of a cultural exchange. The Soviets hosted their exhibition in New York in June.

President Dwight Eisenhower sent his Vice President Nixon to the exhibition’s opening in Moscow and his younger brother Milton S. Eisenhower. The exhibit featured products from 450 companies, while the exhibit’s “centerpiece” was a 30,000 square foot geodesic dome featuring “scientific and technical experiments.” Afterward, the Soviet’s would buy the laboratory.

Nixon met Khruschev four times during his mission. At the first meeting as Nixon showed him around, Khrushchev argued about the Congress’ recently passed Captive Nations Resolution calling those living under Soviet rule captives, who needed the nation’s prayers. The second debate was at the exhibit’s opening in a televised studio, there Khrushchev and Nixon debated the superiority of each country’s technology, rather than “compete” over weapons, military or politics. There Khrushchev quipped, “We haven’t quite reached 42 years, but in another 7 years, we’ll be at the level of America, and after that, we’ll go farther.” Nixon told Khrushchev “not be afraid of ideas. After all, you don’t know everything.” To which he shot back, “You don’t know anything about communism–except fear of it.” The Soviet leader also made Nixon promise their exchanges would be translated into English, to which Nixon responded, “Certainly it will, and everything I say is to be translated into Russian and broadcast across the Soviet Union. That’s a fair bargain.”

The third meeting took place near the famed Kitchen exhibit part of a model home than any American worker could afford. Nixon explained about the model, saying, “This house can be bought for $14,000 (about $92,000 in current dollars), and most American [World War II veterans] can buy a home in the bracket of $10,000 to $15,000. Let me give you an example that you can appreciate. Our steelworkers, as you know, are now on strike. But any steelworker could buy this house. They earn $3 an hour. This house costs about $100 a month to buy on a contract running 25 to 30 years.” Khrushchev responded, saying, “We have steelworkers and peasants who can afford to spend $14,000 for a house. Your American houses are built to last only 20 years, so builders could sell new houses at the end. We build firmly. We build for our children and grandchildren.” Nixon and Khrushchev’s third meeting was a five-hour closed-door session at Khrushchev’s dacha.

Their debate centered on luxury versus substance. The exchange, however, became heated over the differences between Communism with a dictator at the held and Capitalism and a democracy with the people making the decision. Nixon told Khrushchev, “I appreciate that you are very articulate and energetic.” To which, he responded, “Energetic is different from wise.” Nixon took advantage of the opening telling the Soviet leader, “If you were in our Senate, we would call you a filibusterer. You do all the talking and don’t let anyone else talk … To us, diversity, the right to choose, the fact that we have 1,000 builders building 1,000 different houses is the most important thing. We don’t have one decision made at the top by one government official.” Khrushchev became sarcastic and mocked American technology, asking Nixon, “Don’t you have a machine that puts food in your mouth and pushes it down?”

The debate, however, descended into Nixon claiming Khrushchev’s threats over nuclear weapons “could to war,” Khrushchev seeing this as threat retorted, warning of “very bad consequences.” The Soviet leader, however, backed off saying, “We want peace with all other nations, especially America.” Nixon agreed, “We also want peace.” Nixon somewhat apologized admitting, “I’m afraid I haven’t been a good host.”

The heated exchange had the press and television cameras following Nixon and Khrushchev as they argued through the exhibition. William Satire, who was working as a press agent for the house exhibit battled future Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev to obtain a photo of the exchange at the model kitchen. Safire would serve as Nixon’s speechwriter during his presidency and then a New York Times columnist. Safire commented on the exchange, “The shrewd Khrushchev came away from his personal duel of words with Nixon persuaded that the advocate of capitalism was not just tough-minded but strong-willed.”

The newspaper and three major television networks had a field day with the debate, airing the exchange the next day on July 25. Just airing the exchange caused a diplomatic skirmish as the Soviet claimed it was agreed the American and Soviet television would air the exchange on the same day. The Soviets would air it on late night television two days later on July 27. Unlike Nixon who kept his promise to air the debate with English translation for all of Khrushchev’s words, the Soviet only aired a partial translation of Nixon’s remarks.

The newspapers were divisive in their coverage, the New York Times called the debate, a political stunt, and “an exchange that emphasized the gulf between east and west but had little bearing on the substantive issue.” TIME, however, praised Nixon, saying he “managed in a unique way to personify a national character proud of a peaceful accomplishment, sure of its way of life, confident of its power under threat.” Unfortunately, despite the attention, the press paid to the event, historians have not been as kind.

Historian Irwin F. Gellman observed in A Companion to Richard M. Nixon in 2011 that few historians “have published anything on the genesis of Nixon’s evolution during the vice-presidency. No historian has written any study on how deeply involved the Vice President was in the administration’s foreign policies.” Even less attention was paid to his trip to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1959, with Gellman noting, “No scholar has evaluated the significance of that mission to Russia and Poland.”

Gellman would go on to write the book The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon, 1952–1961 in 2015, arguing although never a partner, Eisenhower relied on and trusted Nixon, giving him much responsibility. Gellman notes, “Nixon’s trips to Asia, Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were never ceremonial goodwill journeys; he conducted delicate business and sometimes tense negotiations with foreign leaders, and he gave Eisenhower detailed reports on what he saw, heard, and did.” (Gellman, 11)

The exchange and its subsequent press coverage increased Nixon’s profile to the public and allowed him to demonstrate to the country his foreign policy chops, the newfound credibility elevated him to the 1960 Republican presidential nomination. Nixon would lose the 1960 election, but would go to win in 1968; during his time in office, he instituted a détente with the Soviet Union that opened the door to the eventual end of the Cold War. As Gellman indicates, “This immersion in foreign affairs as vice president gave Nixon the background, when he became president, to conduct a foreign policy that included winding down the war in Vietnam, détente with the Soviet Union, and a historic opening of relations with China.” (Gellman, 11)

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Gellman, Irwin F. The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon, 1952–1961. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.

Small, Melvin. A Companion to Richard M. Nixon. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

OTD in History… June 27, 1950, President Truman orders American troops to fight in the Korean War

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OTD in History… June 27, 1950, President Truman orders American troops to fight in the Korean War

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: Communities Digital News

On this day in history, June 27, 1950, President Harry S. Truman gives a statement and orders the United States air and naval military troops to Democratic South Korea to defend them as part of a United Nations military effort after Communist North Korea invaded it two days prior on June 25, 1950, Korean time. After World War II Korea had been divided between North and South by the 38th parallel. Truman sent American troops under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who would be Commander of the U.N. forces, 15 nations fighting against North Korea. Truman’s decision came after United Nations Security Council condemned North Korea’s invasion with a 9–0 vote on June 26 and supported the Democratic Republic of Korea. On June 28, the UN voted to use force against North Korea and June 30, Truman committed ground troops to the conflict. Congress did not pass a war resolution but did extend the draft and allowed the president to call up reservists.

Truman’s decision was the first time the American history a president would send troops to a foreign conflict without Congress passing a declaration of war. Truman noted he did not need to because speaking of Congress he said, “They are all with me.” As historian Larry Blomstedt indicates in his book, Truman, Congress, and Korea: The Politics of America’s First Undeclared War, explains the Koran War is “historically crucial. Korea began a trend of American presidents deploying significant numbers of troops overseas without obtaining a declaration of war from Congress.” The conflict increased the power of the president.

Sending troops was also part of the post-World War II strategy of “Containment” containing the spread of Communism in the world, and part of the 1947 Truman Doctrine of foreign policy having the US intervening in foreign conflicts that do not directly involve the country. As Truman stated to the public on June 27, “Communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war.” The front line of fighting Communism shifted from Europe to Asia. Truman declared that the spread of Communism in the strategic Korean peninsula was a threat to national security. The Korean War would last three years and for most veterans considered as the “forgotten war.” It was the first American conflict with no clear-cut victory or peace, only an armistice signed July 27, 1953, with 36,516 American troops killed in the war. The boundary line altered slightly with both sides gaining territory but a continued military presence was necessary.

Recently, nuclear tensions between North Korea and the US increased under President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un. A result of the escalation and Trump’s bully diplomacy, North and Korea had a rapprochement and signed an agreement with the intention to make finally a peace agreement, 65 years after the armistice was signed. The US and North Korea are also making historic headway, with Trump becoming the first American president to meet with a North Korean leader. At their Singapore summit on June 12, the two leaders signed an agreement to denuclearize North Korea, a giant step towards finally ending the Korean War.

READ MORE

Blomstedt, Larry. Truman, Congress, and Korea: The Politics of America’s First Undeclared War. Lexington, Kentucky The University Press of Kentucky, 2016.

Brands, H W. The General Vs. the President: Macarthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War. New York : Anchor Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2017.

Wainstock, Dennis. Truman, Macarthur, and the Korean War. New York, NY: Enigma Books, 2011.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

 

Statement by the President on the Situation in Korea
June 27, 1950

IN KOREA the Government forces, which were armed to prevent border raids and to preserve internal security, were attacked by invading forces from North Korea. The Security Council of the United Nations called upon the invading troops to cease hostilities and to withdraw to the 38th parallel. This they have not done, but on the contrary have pressed the attack. The Security Council called upon all members of the United Nations to render every assistance to the United Nations in the execution of this resolution. In these circumstances I have ordered United States air and sea forces to give the Korean Government troops cover and support.

The attack upon Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war. It has defied the orders of the Security Council of the United Nations issued to preserve international peace and security. In these circumstances the occupation of Formosa by Communist forces would be a direct threat to the security of the Pacific area and to United States forces performing their lawful and necessary functions in that area.

Accordingly I have ordered the 7th Fleet to prevent any attack on Formosa. As a corollary of this action I am calling upon the Chinese Government on Formosa to cease all air and sea operations against the mainland. The 7th Fleet will see that this is done. The determination of the future status of Formosa must await the restoration of security in the Pacific, a peace settlement with Japan, or consideration by the United Nations.

I have also directed that United States Forces in the Philippines be strengthened and that military assistance to the Philippine Government be accelerated.

I have similarly directed acceleration in the furnishing of military assistance to the forces of France and the Associated States in Indochina and the dispatch of a military mission to provide dose working relations with those forces.

I know that all members of the United Nations will consider carefully the consequences of this latest aggression in Korea in defiance of the Charter of the United Nations. A return to the rule of force in international affairs would have far-reaching effects. The United States will continue to uphold the rule of law.

I have instructed Ambassador Austin, as the representative of the United States to the Security Council, to report these steps to the Council.

OTD in History… June 26, 1963, President Kennedy delivers his Berlin Speech declares solidarity “Ich bin ein Berliner”

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OTD in History… June 26, 1963, President Kennedy delivers his Berlin Speech declares solidarity “Ich bin ein Berliner”

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivers his Berlin Speech, where he expressed solidarity and hope with the citizens of West Berlin declaring “Ich bin ein Berliner” I am a Berliner, in what is considered Kennedy’s best speech and one of the best speeches in American history. Kennedy delivered his speech in front of the Berlin Wall on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg, the city hall, in front of an audience of 450,000 filling Rudolph Wilde Platz; the speech was the climax of Kennedy’s four-day trip to Germany. The Soviet Union built the wall barely two years earlier to separate the eastern Communist bloc with the western democratic half of the city and prevent their citizens from escaping to freedom. The citizens of West Berlin were an island of democracy surrounded by the Communist regime, Kennedy’s anti-Communist speech aimed at showing American and western support for the city. Three other presidents after Kennedy aimed at making history at the wall, only twenty-four years later Ronald Reagan made an impact asking Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall.”

The people of West Berlin and West Germany needed Kennedy’s assurances of support from the west as they sat in the middle of Soviet-controlled East Germany. After World War II, Berlin was divided into four blocs, the east controlled by the Soviets, and the western part of the city controlled by the American, British, and French. In June 1948, the Soviets blocked land access to West Berlin, in response President Harry Truman and the Allied Military Air Transport Service airlifted food, energy, medical supplies into the western part of the city, the blockade would last until May 1949, and the US delivered 2.3 million tons of supplies. On August 13, 1961, the East German government started the wall between the east and west, first built with barbwire and then a more permanent with cement blocks, the Berlin Wall, called the antifaschistischer Schutzwall.

Kennedy faced the continuing aggressive threats from the Soviet Union. Kennedy first met Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in a June 1961 summit, where Kennedy was warned it was “…up to the U.S. to decide whether there will be war or peace” and if not “Force will be met by force.” Tensions remain high throughout Kennedy’s term. Kennedy delivered another speech before his Berlin one about the Cold War and nuclear two weeks earlier on June 10 at American University in Washington, which was conciliatory to the Soviets where the president talked of “improving relations with the Soviet Union”, while in Berlin Kennedy took a hard-line approach. Kennedy arrived in West Germany on June 23 for his four-day trip.

The most famous phrase of Kennedy’s speech was a late add-on by the president. Kennedy was revising his speech up even during his trip and his “Ich bin ein Berliner” was not of the typed cards of the speech written by speechwriter Ted Sorensen, but scribbled by Kennedy phonetically among some German phrases he was considering. Kennedy would use the phrase twice at the beginning and conclusion of his address.

Kennedy started his speech declaring, “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!”… 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!’” Historian Andreas W. Daum writing his book Kennedy in Berlin believes after President Kennedy saw the Berlin Wall he was inspired and “fell back on the most memorable passage of his New Orleans speech given the year before, changing pride in being an American in being a Berliner.” (Daum, 153)

Kennedy harshly criticized the Soviets and communism and praised the citizens of West Berlin in his nine-minute speech. Kennedy condemned Communism, saying, “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.”

To contrast with Communism and refer to the wall, Kennedy pointed out, “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in.” In conclusion, Kennedy again uttered his soon to be famous line, “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!’” The cheering from crowds lasted long after Kennedy completed his speech, he later said, “We’ll never have another day like this one, as long as we live.”

After his speech, Kennedy’s National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy took the president aside and warned him, telling him, “Mr. President, I believe you have gone too far,” concerned

he was risking negotiations for the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty they would sign with the Soviets later that year. Later that afternoon, Kennedy would give a toned down version of the speech at the Freie Universität Berlin before concluding the trip in Germany and moving on to Ireland.

Kennedy had not gone too far, the public and historians remember the speech as Kennedy’s best and one of the defining moments in the Cold War. Historian Alan Brinkley writing in his book John F. Kennedy: The 35th President, 1961–1963 indicates the Berlin “speech was a rhetorical triumph and a contrast to his tempered call for peace two weeks earlier at American University. There were few hints of conciliation in his words in Berlin as Kennedy rolled out the failures of the East and the triumphs of the West.” (Brinkley, 131) While Daum states, “It is one of the most successful trips of Kennedy’s presidency. This success can be attributed above all to the enormous demonstration of enthusiasm Kennedy experienced in Berlin, which will remain in the memory of generations thanks to his own declaration ‘“Ich bin ein Berliner.’” (Daum, 163)

During the Cold War, two other presidents would speak in Berlin near the wall, President Jimmy Carter and more famously Ronald Reagan in June 1987, where he challenged Soviet leader Gorbachev in front of the Brandenburg Gate to “tear down this wall.” Two years later in October 1989, the people of Berlin would tear down the wall with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nearing the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s speech President Barack Obama would invoke Kennedy in his speech on June 19, 2013, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, expressing “His words are timeless because they call upon us to care more about things than just our own self-comfort.” Obama was right, as journalist and Kennedy biographer Andrew Cohen writes, “Fifty years later, Mr. Kennedy in Berlin remains one of the spectacles of the Cold War. Here was an exquisite meeting of man, moment and momentum, creating a dazzling piece of theatre. Presidents have come to Berlin since to declaim and decry, but none like this.”

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Brinkley, Alan. John F. Kennedy: The 35th President, 1961–1963. New York: Times Books, 2012.

Daum, Andreas W. Kennedy in Berlin. Washington, D.C: German Historical Institute, 2008.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

 

Remarks at the Rudolph Wilde Platz, Berlin

 

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.”

I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!

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.”

OTD in History… June 20, 1963, President Kennedy establishes direct hotline to the Soviet Union

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OTD in History… June 20, 1963, President Kennedy establishes direct hotline to the Soviet Union

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history, June 20, 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union signed an agreement creating a direct hotline between the two countries, which President John F. Kennedy had negotiated after the slow exchange of messages during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis put the countries at the precipice of nuclear war. The hotline still exists between the United States and Russia; however, the technology has been updated three times since the agreement was signed in 1963.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis the previous October 16–28, 1962, the US and Soviet Union had a confrontation over each other’s nuclear weapons. The Americans had weapons stored in Italy and Turkey and the Soviets were planning to transport nuclear weapons to Cuba, in order to deter another American invasion like the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. After a U-2 spy plane discovered the missile facilities in Cuba, President Kennedy ordered a blockade to deter any further ballistic missiles reaching Cuba and demanding the Soviets dismantle those already in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union. The negotiations between the two nations were long and tense. It took 12 hours for the Kennedy Administration to “receive and decode” Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev’s 3,000-word settlement. The administration drafted a reply and in the interim, the Soviets sent another message demanding the US to remove their missiles in Turkey.

Quicker communications between the US and Russia might have resolved the crisis more swiftly and with less threat of a nuclear war. The nations decided to establish a “hotline” for faster and direct communications to avert further crises. In June 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union signed hotline agreement formally called the “Memorandum of Understanding Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Link.” The agreement outlined, “For use in time of emergency the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have agreed to establish as soon as technically feasible a direct communications link between the two Governments.”

On June 20, President Kennedy released a statement about the hotline, saying, “This age of fast-moving events requires quick, dependable communications for use in time of emergency…. both Governments have taken a first step to help reduce the risk of war occurring by accident or miscalculation. This agreement on a communications link is a limited but practical step forward in arms control and disarmament.” August 30, 1963, was the first time the system was used. The phrase the US sent was “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back 1234567890,” because it utilized the entire alphabet and numerals.

The hotline was not a “red telephone” but encrypted messages sent through telegraph wires and using teletype machines. The system consisted of “two terminal points with teletype equipment, a full-time duplex wire telegraph circuit and a full-time radiotelegraph circuit.” Kennedy would send a telephone message to the Pentagon, where they would encrypt the message and then send it through a transmitter. The US first used the hotline to notify the Soviet of Kennedy’s assassination. President Lyndon Johnson, however, was the first president to use the hotline. In 1967, he responded then-Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin during the Six Day War in the Middle East. Johnson warned the Soviet leader who was supporting the Arab nations that he was considering sending the Air Force to aid Israel.

In 1984, the hotline changed over to fax machines, while since 2008 it has been through secure emails on a computer network. The system has worked, and never has the two countries ever been at the precipice of nuclear war as they had been in 1962. In 2010, President Barack Obama joked that social media was replacing the hotline, “We may be able to finally throw away those red phones that have been sitting around for so long.” Recently American relations with Russia have turned frosty under Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the US should not consider retiring those phones just yet.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

OTD in History… June 12, 1987, President Reagan calls on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall

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OTD in History… June 12, 1987, President Reagan calls on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech at the Brandenburg Gate and called upon the Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” in what became known as Berlin Wall Speech. The speech challenged Gorbachev but was controversial in Berlin and among his speech writing team. Reagan had made two previous references to the Berlin Wall in 1982 and 1986, but this was the boldest of his references. The speech is one of Reagan’s most famous anti-Communist speeches and a symbol of the start of ending the Cold War.

Berliner’s protested Reagan’s arrival in West Germany, with 50,000 opposing his visit to the country. Earlier most of his speechwriters opposed the controversial line, concerned that it might heighten tensions with the Soviet Union, however, junior speechwriter Peter Robinson researched the mood in Germany and believed they wanted the wall down. Soviets erected the Berlin Wall in 1961 to prevent East Berliners in the Soviet bloc escaping to the Western-controlled half of the city.

In a May 18, meeting with his speechwriters, the line had fierce opposition from White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker and National Security Advisor Colin Powell, while Reagan was noted as saying, the speech was a “good solid draft” and said about the line, “I think we’ll leave it in.” Robinson claims to have gotten his inspiration from Ingeborg Elz of West Berlin at a dinner, who had said, “If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk of Glasnost and perestroika he can prove it by getting rid of this wall.” Chief speechwriter Anthony Dolan counters Robinson’s recollection and insists Reagan thought of the line, not Robinson.

Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan arrived in West Berlin on June 12, to protests. They first visited the Reichstag, where they stood on the gallery observing the wall, before heading to the Brandenburg Gate for the speech at 2 p.m. Reagan chose the gate because both President John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter delivered speeches in the same spot. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963 was the better-known coming just months after the wall was erected and is considered “one of Kennedy’s best.”

Reagan’s speech “emphasiz[ed] freedom and reunification,” and challenged Gorbachev to show good faith in negotiations and challenged him to get rid of the wall, calling on him to do so twice in the speech.

The first time with the famous line:

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The second, Reagan stated he foresees the inevitability of the wall falling:

“As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, ‘This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.’ Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

The speech’s focus, however, was to get Gorbachev at the negotiating table to reduce nuclear arms, particularly SS-20 weapons. As Reagan brought up, saying, “Not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.”

The speech was not given the weight at the time as it does in historical context. When the wall fell on November 9, 1989, and Berlin reunified on October 3, 1990, Reagan’s call and foreshadowing had greater significance. Some journalists have been critical of the speech’s impact, however, New York Times best-selling author James Mann, believes it did have an impact on ending the Cold War. Mann argued in his 2007 New York Times article “Tear Down That Myth,” Reagan “wasn’t trying to land a knockout blow on the Soviet regime, nor was he engaging in mere political theater. He was instead doing something else on that damp day in Berlin… — he was helping to set the terms for the end of the cold war.”

READ MORE

Matlock, Jack F. Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. New York: Random House, 2004.

Ratnesar, Romesh. Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech That Ended the Cold War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

 

Remarks on East-West Relations at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin
June 12, 1987

Thank you very much. Chancellor Kohl, Governing Mayor Diepgen, ladies and gentlemen:

Twenty four years ago, President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin, speaking to the people of this city and the world at the city hall. Well, since then two other presidents have come, each in his turn, to Berlin. And today I, myself, make my second visit to your city.

We come to Berlin, we American Presidents, because it’s our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must confess, we’re drawn here by other things as well: by the feeling of history in this city, more than 500 years older than our own nation; by the beauty of the Grunewald and the Tiergarten; most of all, by your courage and determination. Perhaps the composer, Paul Lincke, understood something about American Presidents. You see, like so many Presidents before me, I come here today because wherever I go, whatever I do: “Ich hab noch einen koffer in Berlin.” [I still have a suitcase in Berlin.]

Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening throughout Eastern Europe, I extend my warmest greetings and the good will of the American people. To those listening in East Berlin, a special word: Although I cannot be with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen in the West, in this firm, this unalterable belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin. [There is only one Berlin.]

Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guardtowers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same–still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.

President von Weizsacker has said: “The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed.” Today I say: As long as this gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph.

In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air raid shelters to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. And in 1947 Secretary of State–as you’ve been told–George Marshall announced the creation of what would become known as the Marshall plan. Speaking precisely 40 years ago this month, he said: “Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.”

In the Reichstag a few moments ago, I saw a display commemorating this 40th anniversary of the Marshall plan. I was struck by the sign on a burnt-out, gutted structure that was being rebuilt. I understand that Berliners of my own generation can remember seeing signs like it dotted throughout the Western sectors of the city. The sign read simply: “The Marshall plan is helping here to strengthen the free world.” A strong, free world in the West, that dream became real. Japan rose from ruin to become an economic giant. Italy, France, Belgium–virtually every nation in Western Europe saw political and economic rebirth; the European Community was founded.

In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle, the Wirtschaftswunder. Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty–that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom. The German leaders reduced tariffs, expanded free trade, lowered taxes. From 1950 to 1960 alone, the standard of living in West Germany and Berlin doubled.

Where four decades ago there was rubble, today in West Berlin there is the greatest industrial output of any city in Germany-busy office blocks, fine homes and apartments, proud avenues, and the spreading lawns of park land. Where a city’s culture seemed to have been destroyed, today there are two great universities, orchestras and an opera, countless theaters, and museums. Where there was want, today there’s abundance–food, clothing, automobiles-the wonderful goods of the Ku’damm. From devastation, from utter ruin, you Berliners have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks as one of the greatest on Earth. The Soviets may have had other plans. But, my friends, there were a few things the Soviets didn’t count on Berliner herz, Berliner humor, ja, und Berliner schnauze. [Berliner heart, Berliner humor, yes, and a Berliner schnauze.] [Laughter]

In the 1950’s, Khrushchev predicted: “We will bury you.” But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind-too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control. Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent–and I pledge to you my country’s efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides. Beginning 10 years ago, the Soviets challenged the Western alliance with a grave new threat, hundreds of new and more deadly SS-20 nuclear missiles, capable of-striking every capital in Europe. The Western alliance responded by committing itself to a counterdeployment unless the Soviets agreed to negotiate a better solution; namely, the elimination of such weapons on both sides. For many months, the Soviets refused to bargain in earnestness. As the alliance, in turn, prepared to go forward with its counterdeployment, there were difficult days–days of protests like those during my 1982 visit to this city–and the Soviets later walked away from the table.

But through it all, the alliance held firm. And I invite those who protested then–I invite those who protest today–to mark this fact: Because we remained strong, the Soviets came back to the table. And because we remained strong, today we have within reach the possibility, not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth. As I speak, NATO ministers are meeting in Iceland to review the progress of our proposals for eliminating these weapons. At the talks in Geneva, we have also proposed deep cuts in strategic offensive weapons. And the Western allies have likewise made far-reaching proposals to reduce the danger of conventional war and to place a total ban on chemical weapons.

While we pursue these arms reductions, I pledge to you that we will maintain the capacity to deter Soviet aggression at any level at which it might occur. And in cooperation with many of our allies, the United States is pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative-research to base deterrence not on the threat of offensive retaliation, but on defenses that truly defend; on systems, in short, that will not target populations, but shield them. By these means we seek to increase the safety of Europe and all the world. But we must remember a crucial fact: East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but about liberty. When President Kennedy spoke at the City Hall those 24 years ago, freedom was encircled, Berlin was under siege. And today, despite all the pressures upon this city, Berlin stands secure in its liberty. And freedom itself is transforming the globe.

In the Philippines, in South and Central America, democracy has been given a rebirth. Throughout the Pacific, free markets are working miracle after miracle of economic growth. In the industrialized nations, a technological revolution is taking place–a revolution marked by rapid, dramatic advances in computers and telecommunications.

In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom. Yet in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and innovation, the Soviet Union faces a choice: It must make fundamental changes, or it will become obsolete. Today thus represents a moment of hope. We in the West stand ready to cooperate with the East to promote true openness, to break down barriers that separate people, to create a safer, freer world.

And surely there is no better place than Berlin, the meeting place of East and West, to make a start. Free people of Berlin: Today, as in the past, the United States stands for the strict observance and full implementation of all parts of the Four Power Agreement of 1971. Let us use this occasion, the 750th anniversary of this city, to usher in a new era, to seek a still fuller, richer life for the Berlin of the future. Together, let us maintain and develop the ties between the Federal Republic and the Western sectors of Berlin, which is permitted by the 1971 agreement.

And I invite Mr. Gorbachev: Let us work to bring the Eastern and Western parts of the city closer together, so that all the inhabitants of all Berlin can enjoy the benefits that come with life in one of the great cities of the world. To open Berlin still further to all Europe, East and West, let us expand the vital air access to this city, finding ways of making commercial air service to Berlin more convenient, more comfortable, and more economical. We look to the day when West Berlin can become one of the chief aviation hubs in all central Europe.

With our French and British partners, the United States is prepared to help bring international meetings to Berlin. It would be only fitting for Berlin to serve as the site of United Nations meetings, or world conferences on human rights and arms control or other issues that call for international cooperation. There is no better way to establish hope for the future than to enlighten young minds, and we would be honored to sponsor summer youth exchanges, cultural events, and other programs for young Berliners from the East. Our French and British friends, I’m certain, will do the same. And it’s my hope that an authority can be found in East Berlin to sponsor visits from young people of the Western sectors.

One final proposal, one close to my heart: Sport represents a source of enjoyment and ennoblement, and you many have noted that the Republic of Korea–South Korea–has offered to permit certain events of the 1988 Olympics to take place in the North. International sports competitions of all kinds could take place in both parts of this city. And what better way to demonstrate to the world the openness of this city than to offer in some future year to hold the Olympic games here in Berlin, East and West?

In these four decades, as I have said, you Berliners have built a great city. You’ve done so in spite of threats–the Soviet attempts to impose the East-mark, the blockade. Today the city thrives in spite of the challenges implicit in the very presence of this wall. What keeps you here? Certainly there’s a great deal to be said for your fortitude, for your defiant courage. But I believe there’s something deeper, something that involves Berlin’s whole look and feel and way of life–not mere sentiment. No one could live long in Berlin without being completely disabused of illusions. Something instead, that has seen the difficulties of life in Berlin but chose to accept them, that continues to build this good and proud city in contrast to a surrounding totalitarian presence that refuses to release human energies or aspirations. Something that speaks with a powerful voice of affirmation, that says yes to this city, yes to the future, yes to freedom. In a word, I would submit that what keeps you in Berlin is love–love both profound and abiding.

Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower’s one major flaw, treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the Sun strikes that sphere–that sphere that towers over all Berlin–the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.” Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.

And I would like, before I close, to say one word. I have read, and I have been questioned since I’ve been here about certain demonstrations against my coming. And I would like to say just one thing, and to those who demonstrate so. I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they’re doing again.
Thank you and God bless you all.

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