At Amherst College on October 26, 1963, less than a month before he was assassinated, JFK spoke about human tragedy, about overcoming despair . . .
Our national strength matters, but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. Robert Frost’s sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. ‘I have been one acquainted with the night,’ he wrote, and because he knew the midnight as well as the high noon, because he understood the ordeal as well as the triumph of the human spirit, he gave his age strength with which to overcome despair.
Robert Frost held a deep faith in the spirit of man, he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads men towards 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.
Tragically, power has corrupted the entire political establishment, the history of the last 50 years has revealed the moral degeneracy of this nation’s leaders.
JFK . . .
Are we truly men of integrity? Are we men who never ran out on either the principles in which we believe or the people who believed in them as well? Are we men whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust? Are we truly men of dedication and honor, serving no single individual or group, compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest?
We know the answers. Most of America’s leaders have no integrity.
They have no principles.
They have no honor.
But millions of Americans still have integrity, they still have principles, they still have honor, they’re still looking forward to what America can be . . .
I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural 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.
We can get there. We have been acquainted with the night, but no night lasts forever, a new day always comes . . .
Too many of us think that peace is impossible, too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are man-made, therefore, they can be solved by man.
Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.
This night isn’t over yet, but we can leave our despair behind. We can bring that new day ever closer. Believe in yourself, believe in the human spirit within all of us. It’s too big to fail . . .