Home Opinion Letters to the Editor A Centennial Birthday Card for John Fitzgerald Kennedy

A Centennial Birthday Card for John Fitzgerald Kennedy

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 On the occasion of the 100th birthday of President John F. Kennedy, headlines citing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement that Europe can no longer rely on its relationship with the United States stand in stark contrast to headlines over fifty years ago when our young president affirmed American solidarity with Germany at the Berlin Wall.  JFK  shouted out to soaring applause in June, 1963:  “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in…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!’”   JFK loudly declared the unflinchable support of the United States for West Germany after the Soviet-supported East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West.

The United States and Germany stood as allies over the succeeding decades against the foes to democracy.  President Ronald Regan issued a ringing challenge to Russia in his speech at the Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987:   “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…. Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”  In the audience, the German president, the Chancellor and the West Berlin Mayor wildly applauded along with thousands of freedom hungry Germans. 

The verdict of history is that Regan’s speech marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War and the fall of communism. The Berlin Wall would fall on November 9, 1989.  Although it was the bare hands and the hammers and picks of the German people who chipped the wall away, it was the steadfast words by American presidents which fueled their desires to reclaim their country.

The Guardian newspaper's headline for July 24, 2008 declared: "Obama wows Berlin crowd with historic speech". Candidate Barack Obama wowed a crowd of tens of thousands at the Brandenburg Gate who came to hear him spin his dreams of hope, not for America, but for the whole world.  After listing a series of global problems, Obama declared: "No one nation, no matter how large or how powerful, can defeat such challenges alone…”   Taking what he called his "improbable journey" to the heart of Europe, the future president declared: "Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law?" he asked. "Will we welcome immigrants from different lands?" and affirmed to the 200,000 cheering Germans who filled the streets: "This is the moment we must come together to save this planet."

The rudeness and incivility demonstrated by President Donald Trump last week toward Chancellor Merkel and other EU leaders combined with his failure to explicitly endorse NATO’s Article 5 mutual aid pact has moved most EU leaders toward the same conclusion: the United States is walking away from its historic global position as a leading partner in preserving the peace in Europe and the Western World.

The world view of today’s Oval Office has abandoned the post World War II vision which made America great around the world as it took the lead to rebuild Europe.  That world view of shared responsibility for global peace even for a small nation like Ireland was beautiful expressed by President Kennedy in his  June 28, 1963 speech in the joint session of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann in :

“For we realize, as John Boyle O'Reilly once wrote,
The world is large, when its weary leagues
Two loving hearts divide;
But the world is small, when your enemy
Is loose on the other side.


America will become great again someday and regain the respect of Europe, although we still do lament, Johnny, we hardly knew ye!

Robert F. Lyons, Kennebunkport

 

The Journey

The Journey Starring Colm Meany

2017 June

May 2017

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