"decision points". julien? >> guest: the line where he says mitch mcconnell, the senate republican leader in 2006 was, i think, in 2006, was saying that troops should come back in iraq at a moment the republican party was really going after the democrats for proposals for withdrawals, deadlines, and i found that an amazing small sentence, the difference between what some republicans were saying privately and what they said publicly. >> host: thank you, lara and tevi troy from the hudson institute, thank you for being on our historians round table looking at "decision points." >> lara brown worked at
>> good evening. welcome to the new york public lie braer. this evening's program is with the author thurston clarke. he is the author of 10 widely acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, including three "new york times" notable book. his book "pearl harbor ghost" was the basis of a cbs documentary and his best-selling last hero a biography of raoul lawen berg was made inon the a award winning nbc miniseries. he is the recipient of a guggenheim fellowship, among other awards and lives in upstate new york. s eveng, he will >> he is the recipient of athe guggenheim, among other awards and lives in upstate new york. aftee progra he will talk about his book "ask not: the inauguration of john f. kennedy and the speech that changederbae america". sew after the program there will be books for sale in the back if your interested. also, when we do the question and answer session please waitn.
for the boom like to ask question so it will be heard for taping. okay? >> they keep. [applauding] >> good evening.fo but kennedy's inaugural, under 15 minutes.30 i'm going to be very presumptuous and talked forons about half -- i mean, twice that long. i'm going to talk for 30 have minutes.future the future american president will deliver an inaugural address as eloquent and expiring -- inspiring as kennedy's. i would like to try to answer that question by telling you why at the kennedy's inaugural was so successful, why it resonatedd so powerfully with the american people and then i will leave ita to you to calculate the odds we we'll will hear its equal ten days from now after seven or in 2009
or 2013.s that's perhaps that is something we ca. let's s during the questions. let's just, i would like to thee start by setting the scene.'ll a we will start with what thepeleo 50,000 people who are gathered at the capitol and theericans wi 60 million americans watchingion d did961 inauguration on television saw and did not see on the frigid january day. a zero of x and f trillion's tons as of her tonight with the kind of day when you can see forever. imagine getup -- glittering snowbanks countries theees machines, and eyes and an ideal ay of providing like televisiod him. of imagine this and you have washington d.c. on december 20th 1961. january, i'm sorry, january 20th 1961. television cameras broadcast. gnitwind ruffled.di did the tories were top hats.
the marble facade blamed. sunlight reflected off the snow and spectators shielded their eyes.president the incoming and outgoingce president and vice presidentsedo eisenhower, kennedy, johnson, and nixon sat in a semicircle of armchairs. kennedy was youthful looking anl deeply tanned. eisenhower, who he was scribe replacing, was described by oned observer as being bald andesemba blinking and resembling atheir s tortoise. therefore wives, all former or t future first ladies sat behind them in the first row. so the air was so cold it turneded kiddies' breath into white clouds said that when he said let the word go forth from thiso time and place to friend and foe alike that the torch has been passed to a new generation, it y seemed that his words really now, noing forth. now, no one knew that kennedy had dressed in long underwear so that he could shed his overcoato and appear even more youthful
with that behind his confident delivery late months of tooting from a speech coach or that rose kennedy, his mother, was fumingr over her role in seat with that eleanor roosevelt had refused t sit on the platform at all because she could not bear being so close to kennedy's father. there was so much bad bloodood between some many dignitariese gathered on this platform that is grudges had with the entire contraption would have crashed to the ground. no one suspected that cardinalc cushing had slowed thecation bee invitation because he believed the smoke wafting from beneath th the poedium came from the itoldering bomb meant fory. kennedy. short it was actually a short circuit. he wanted to avoid the blast itself or suspected that kennedy as he glared at cushing who was taking eight minutes for his invitation was probably still sh editing the words of the speech of his own mind it would make 32 alterations to the reading copy of the address as here deliveren
it. now the inaugural address camet rsed ncross the political spectrum. lifeit magazine reprinted under the headlines a great speech.eda declared that it rang with ther rhetoric rarely found in a political statement.the barry goldwater, the leader of the conservative wing said somewhat patronizing lead god, i would like to be able to do wit that boyto did there. the praise was so extravagant that it is difficult to believe the nation was as divided as itt yesterday, if not more so.e 1960 kennedy had won the 1960 election with only 49 percent o the popular vote as opposed to nixon's 496%. a gallup poll taken june after a search kennedy with an approval rating of 72%. his his own poll conducted by lou harris but his approval at an al astronomical 92%. 62% of same time more than 62 percent of the americans nowl electorate was now claiming that they had voted for kennedy in november.s,
well, iconsidering this is tha perhaps understandable that hise successes might have paraphrased and expropriated some of theed passages and themes from this inaugural address for their ownl free usually passages that leaf one longing for kennedy. in his 1973 inaugural, for riard example, richard nixon offeredr americans is on version of kennedy's and so my fellowfellow americans ask not what her country can do for you but what you can do for your country.r nixon said in our own lives let each o f us ask not what thent government will do for me but what i can do for myself and the challenges we face together ask bypassed. jut each of us asked not just how government can help but hel ica can help. now, perhaps nixon -- nixon iswa so flummoxed by the task of finding some grand idea to summarize his political to philosophy that he had to borrow kennedy's war had asked notosopd already been woven so seamlessly into the national soul that
nixon and his speechwriters or, perhaps, is unaware of the similarities. they're echoes of kennedy hoinoh both of queens inaugural addresses.esses. kennedy said now the trumpet summons us again. clinton, we have heard the trumpets. kennedy's inaugural contains several challenges to his sinceh generation such as since thisunn neratioey was founded each atneration has been summoned ton give testimony to its national loyalty and only a fewgeneratioe grantedofns have been the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. clinton said we must do what not generation has had to do beforel and that challenge a new generation of americans to a season of service.rrowed th open clinton even barred the openinge of kennedy's asked not beginning one sentence in his 1997, my inaugural with and so my fellowf americans. instead of offering his own a stirring call to service he followed it with a somewhat land at the edge of the 21stsomewhat century th lat as begin with energy and hope.
finally george w. bush. si kennedy neededng a single, or :, a sentence and 22 words to callt his call to service and sacrifice. ur bush needed for commas, three, 59 words for what you do is as import important as anything governmeno does. i asked you to seek a common ow. good beyond your own comfort tos defend needed reforms against easy attacks to serve yourattacn nation beginning with youru to e neighbor. i ask you to be citizens the buildingthis is not spectators, citizens, not substance,aracter. responsible citizens building communities of service and the nation of character. agiarit is a stretch to call this place prison. after all, it is true. coming up with an original idea or theme for a presidential inaugural address is not easy.su to be honest, the concept of asked not was certainly not original to kennedy. it had numerous analogs.
for example, warren harding to the 1966 republican national conventi cizenshion that we onmust have a citizenship less concerned about what the government can do for r it and more anxious about what it can do for the nation. e stic4 memorial day address the supreme court justice oliver wendell holmes said it is nowno for eament to recall what our country has done for each of us and to ask ourselves what we car do for our country in return. im kennedy also, i'm sure, was familiar with the exploitation of his prep school headmaster. what mattered really the most that ot what joe does for you, ant what you can do for choke. probably familiar with cicero's you can do something for youra country once in awhile insteadwt of always thinking about whattr your country can do for you.k rebilie the concept, the citizens of the democracy have a responsibility to contribute their talents and labors to their nation was one that was o
first of all perfectly matched to the needs and anxieties ofwat 1961, and it was also a concept byat kennedy had made his own by articulating it for more than 20 years in his diaries, books, and speeches. now, in his 1940 book why england slept he had written but we shall have to be prepared to make if ware tosustained sacrifices if we are to preserve this way of life, democracy in the future.ice all groups must be prepared to sacrifice. articular group interests with a-of good.s in a footnote to his prologue
kennedy had also warned in a senate speech in 1959 that an unveloped ap between wealthy and undeveloped countries was providing an opening for communist ideology declaring is ensured it is our job to prove that we can devote as muchergy, energy, intelligence, idealism, and sacrificed to the survival and triumph of the open society bythe russian despots can exhort by compulsion in defensem of the closed system of tyrannyn then he said in a speech to they 1960tly aftess club in january 1960 shortly after he declared for the presidency thet president needed to let theunits people to our dangers andnd of opportunities, demand of and the so rifices that will be necessary. befo so when kennedy stood befores inguration americans on inauguration day a year laterw and said and so my fellow americans asked not he was also delivering a sentence that he had polished like a diamond
during numerous extemporaneous campgn.s throughout his 1960 an campaign. hed was also uttering a line te seemed to a rise naturally from his own life experiences.they ke americans perceive this connection. they knew that the man who wasas asking them to pay any price and bear any burden and ask whatouny they could do for their countrye was himself a decorated war hero.one this is one reason i argue why kennedy's words have such powers and why similar ones voiced byne nixon who never came under enemy fire and by reagan, alsoe of imilarities to one of reagan's inaugurals who bore the burden r of making world war ii trainingi films inni hollywood and by clinton who avoided militaryush service and by george to the bush whose life story i thinkstr even some of his supporters would concede as not one of aa n man making great sacrifices throughout his life and the service of this country.ughout
this is why their verses of this i asked not ring false. in fact, the more closely one examines kennedy's entire inaugural address the more one realizes that unlike the e addresses of his successors and re predecessors it was hispredeces sorhetorical autobiography.it wa it was informed by his knowledge nuclear changerfare, is fear ofa nuclear exchange, his understanding of third world thr nationalism and his encounterene with object -- abject poverty. told his story and the story of his generation, born in the century, century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace. ents now, there are five events in kennedy's life that i think breeds to the words of his inaugural address.l address, ant that all but one of these occurred overseas is a reminder that kennedy was both the most traveled man ever to assume the
american presidency, and an american who had experienced many of the defining moments of his life outside the boundaries of his own country. now, the first one i refer to are his experiences in europe before world war ii. kennedy was a kind of zealot in 1939. he traveled throughout eastern europe two months before the war started. he was in berlin a week before war was declared and brought a message back to his father who was the american ambassador to london. he was in the house of commons when neville chamberlain declared that britain and nazi germany were at war, and when winston churchill stood up and gave a rousing speech that also echoes through kennedy's address. his experiences in 1939 taught him two complementory principals -- that it's more difficult for a democracy than a totaltary yarn state to mobilize the citizens for war and that the best strategy for overcoming this vulnerability is for
democratic leaders to inspire their citizens to voluntary acts of sacrifice. these maxims became the thesis for why england slept and they were expressed in many of his campaign speeches and they provided the philosophical underpinning for ask not in his call to pay any price. the second event -- the second major event was experiences in the pacific during world war ii. his heroics after his p.t. boat was rammed and sunk by a japanese destroyer. now, afterward, throughout his political career, kennedy would sometimes choke up when he was called upon to speak about young men who had lost their lives in world war ii. he broke down for example after telling an audience at an american legion post in massachusetts a year after the end of the war "greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends."
films of kennedy delivering his inaugural address reveal the emotional turning point the moment when he began to speak from his heart. came as he proclaimed since this country was founded, each generation of americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. the graves of young americans who answered the call to service surround the globe. when he delivered this sentence at his inauguration, i am certain as are many of his friends that he was remembering his brother, joseph kennedy jr., his brother-in-law billy hardington, as well as the two crewmen who lost their lives in p.t. 109, whose graves and memorials were among those surrounding the globe. now, in the pacific, kennedy had experienced war in miniature. on july 28, 1945, 1/2 months after the end of the european war and 19 days before the end of the asian one, a plane
carrying kennedy and secretary of the navy circled berlin before landing and finally kennedy saw the results of war on a grand scale, war without limits. at the time, he was traveling as a reporter for the hearst newspapers and had hitched a ride to germany. on august 22, 1939, he left behind a berlin that was the bustling and prosperous capital. now, his diary entry in 1945 began the devastation is complete, there is not a single building which is not gutted. on some street, the stench, sweet and sickish from dead bodies is overwhelming. total war had cut berlin's prewar population of four million in half, and the survivors, kennedy wrote, "have completely colorless face, a yellow tinge with pale tan lips. they're all carrying bundles,
they sleep in cellars. the women will do anything for food." he had seen photographs and newsreels of the devastation, but it was a different experience to confront the three-story mountains of rubble and the blackened apartment blocks. and to drive through this silent city where everyone walked but kennedy. now, several months later, kennedy told an audience at a massachusetts american legion post that berlin was a gutted ruin. its magnificent buildings merely shells and echoing his diary, the faces of survivors were colorless, expressions lifeless and dead. their lips a pale tan. the ruins and horror kennedy said far surpassed anything i had ever imagined. kennedy never visited hiroshima, but newsreels showed a devastation bearing a resemblance to that of berlin. in later years, if kennedy wanted to imagine what a nuclear bomb might do to washington, d.c., he had only to remember
berlin. so behind his warning in his inaugural address, that quote man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human life, and behind his pleas for soviets and americans to begin anew the quest for peace before the dark powers of destruction engulf humanity, i think lie the pulverized buildings of post-war berlin and the colorless faces of the citizens. now, the next event, kennedy was a third-term u.s. congressman when he disembarked on saigon in 1951 at the end of a seven-nation fact-finding tour of asia. he had not stopped -- had he not stopped in vietnam, he might not have pledged to the third world that one form of colonial control should not have been passed away to be replaced by an iron tyranny or promised to help
those people in the hudson villages -- in the huts and villages across the globe. bobby kennedy said that the trip had made a very, very major impression on his brother. foreign policy advisor walt rustau called it a formative experience. it convinced kennedy that the european empires were doomed and the new nations would become cold war battlegrounds to win them, the united states would have to offer a better doctrine of political and social revolution than the communists. at the conclusion of the asian trip, kennedy wrote in bobby's diary, "the reason for the spread of communism is the failure of those who believe in democracy to explain this theory in terms intelligible to the ordinary man and to make its ameliorating effect on his life apparent." a failure that some might argue is being repeated today by americans in iraq. finally, anyone reading
kennedy's inaugural for the first time would be struck by the concern for the wretched of the earth. and the insistence that the fellow countrymen had a duty to alleviate their suffering. now, kennedy confronted wrefrped poverty for the first time while campaigning in the west virginia primary in the spring of 1960. he had seen desperate people in berlin and third world country but never faced the american poor in their own homes. he arrived, tanned and rested after a short jamaican holiday. and according to journalist theodore white who followed him through the state, kennedy's shock communicated itself with the emotion of original discover ri he could scarcely bring himself to believe that human beings could survive on the cans of rations he fingered like artifacts of another civilization. after the primary, kennedy often spoke of the blight of west virginia poverty of its families receiving surplus food packages
and no hope for the future. less than 24 hours after delivering an inaugural address with more references to poverty, hunger and suffering than any before or since, he signed his first executive order. it instructed his secretary of the agriculture to double the surplus food ration given to four million impoverished americans. now, while conducting my research for ask not, i also discovered that kennedy himself and not a team of speechwriter, not even his skilled principle speechwriter had composed the most memorable and poetic lines of his inaugural address. he did this during a flight from washington to palm beach, 10 days before his inauguration, when he summoned his secretary into his private compartment on the care line and told her he wanted to dictate some ideals for his inaugural. lincoln wrote in her memoirs
that she recorded her words in a stenographer's book. she attached a note to the pages describing them as "dictation on inaugural address en route from washington to palm beach." i found the dictate pad for january 10 among her paper ins the kennedy library and i had her shorthand transcribed. it showed as kennedy dictated he had been consulting a draft of the speech written by his principal speechwritered to sorenstam. and he instructed him to insert the pages in his dictation. the ste nothing rafer's pad showed however that kennedy had either ignored or dramatically altered the opening and closing pages of the draft. there was nothing unusual about this for kennedy and as he acknowledged, kennedy would often carry one of sorensen's speeches to the podium only to replace it with his own off the cuff remarks.
kennedy did this again during palm beach flight, dictating his own original material, so that it is his dictation or more specifically in the loops and the sqibls of lincoln's shorthand that one finds early versions of passages such as let the word go forth to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation, etc. let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, etc. and in the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. kennedy revises inaugural in palm beach during the next seven days without the assistance of focus groups or teams of speechwriters that have since become common. he read it aloud to jackie. he rewrote some passages on sheets of yellow legal paper and he consulted with ted sorensen. now, those who borrowed some of
the words and the themes of kennedy's inaugural address i think has failed to appreciate that the text itself was only part of the magic that day. there was also an extraordinary convergence of people and events and history. there was the snowstorm. there was jackie's wardrobe. there was the poem that robert frost recited. and finally, there was kennedy, a man who left nothing to chance not his tan that he worked on for 10 days in palm beach, not his haircut. not the cut of his suit. he had his teeth polished in new york three days beforehand. not the seating of dignitaries on his platform. and a man who also spoke with the urgency of someone who had himself three or four times narrowly escaped death and cared passionately about the judgment of history. it was a speech that he had not only composed, but lived and
that he delivered with a passion that was uncharacteristic for kennedy, and that elicited from the american people a remarkable emotional response. now, one of the reasons i think that it evoked this response was that the american people were already longing for kennedy's words. another fact that might be considered by anyone tempted to try to copy his inaugural. when i began my research i assumed that the 1961 inaugural required not just a great text, and a speaker who could deliver it with feeling, but it also required a great event and the 1961 inauguration was certainly that. one of the great political events of that century. but i soon discovered as well that a great speech also needed an engaged and passionate citizenry. "time" magazine correspondent hugh sidey watched kennedy
revise his inaugural address while flying back from palm beach to washington three days before the inauguration. now, in ask not, i describe sidey's take on kennedy this way. i think this is very good and very perceptive. sidey believed that under the style and glamour, kennedy was "basically a serious man on a serious mission." when asked to assess him 40 years later, sidey said i can't begin to understand how careless he was about his personal life and how obsessed he was. but if you separated that out, you had a person who loved and understood history and could self-consciously place his decisions and career in historical context. he had courage and a fine sense of honor, but only in his public life. he also had a huge amount of talent and ability when it came to speaking and rousing people. but of course, sidey added in
those days, people wanted to be roused. this quality of wanting to be roused was evident in the crowd that was gathered at the capital for the inauguration. the cbs commentator, edward r. murrow said he was impressed "by a sense of solemnity. not so much the manner of the president, but the audience here at the capital." now kennedy's demeanor during the campaign had contributed to this atmosphere. and the speech he was about to deliver would reinforce it. unlike some of his successors he had if anything aired on the -- he had erred on overestimating the literacy and intelligence of the american people. during the campaign for example, he had quoted from francis begin at the wall and edmund burke, t.s. elliott at a minnesota feed and king lear in and from other
rallies and oscar wilde. perhaps it was naive, perhaps it was a subtle form of flattery like inviting noted academics to contribute to his speeches which he did, but just consider that during the weekend between his assassination and funeral, 50,000 americans chose to express their grief by writing poems -- original poems and mailing them to the white house. and that within days of his inauguration, high school students had sent him greek and latin translations of his inaugural address. so if kennedy had overestimated the american people, no one was complaining and if he was the last president to make such assumptions, well, perhaps this was the last time they were warranted. as kennedy delivered his inaugural address, the crowd at the capital became more engaged and kennedy in turn became more
passionate. i write in ask not, i will read a little from the book. he raised his voice still louder booming out the trumpet summons us, then dropping it for though arms we need. and though embattled we are. the next sentences contained his only rhetorical questions -- can we forge a grand and global alliance, north and south, east and west, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? no president before or since has made such an ambitious and idealistic proposal. i'm sorry. when kennedy said this, people cried out yes, yes, yes. if the liberal engagement in world affairs is a high water mark, this was it. now w the shouts of yes from the crowd ringing throughout the capital, kennedy proclaimed that
in the long history of the world only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. i do not shrink from this responsibility, i welcome it. i do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. the energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. when he said i do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation, the audience cried out, no, no, no. kennedy then shouted out the words energy, faith and devotion pausing as if each one was a sentence inist. then raising his voice again to say the glow from the fire can true truly light the world. finally, after delivering sentences that were inspired by some of the most dramatic and
memorable moments of his life and speaking with an emotional intensity, he seldom revealed, and inspiring the audience at the capital to cry out like a congregation at a revival meeting he delivered the master sentence of his speech. he ran it into the proceeding passage to prevent the moment being shattered by applause and the climax that he and the audience were approaching together being delayed any longer. he began and so crucial words signaling that everything had been leading to this moment. and so, at a moment kennedy considered as crucial to the survival of western democracy as 1939, and believing that the survival of human rights might depend on his ability to inspire his fellow countrymen to acts of courage and sacrifice, and training an eye on the high court of history, he said, and so my fellow americans, and
began setting millions of lives on courses many are still following. so my fellow americans, he said, looking out at the audience, and straight into the cameras in history, and so, my fellow americans, he said, crooking his right index finger, jabbing it at the crowd and even now editing his speech and turning ask not what your country will do for you, into the stronger can do for you, and so, kennedy delivered at least -- at last the sentence of his philosophy and a logical and emotional climax of his inaugural address. he said, and so, my fellow americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. and it was at this moment that americans walked with kennedy through a membrane in time, entering the next decade and a new era. thank you. [applause]
>> all right. i'm ready for questions, but wait for the mic. there it comes. >> is it possible that nixon's words were an -- not an imitation of kennedy's, but a conservative critique of ask not in the famous critique of ask not at the beginning of his freedom where he forced both sides of the equation for being qaulty. >> i'm willing to accept that, but -- that's an interesting point. i don't know if i like -- in the challenges we face together, let us ask not how can government
help, but how could i help. i suppose you could say that. this was a clever nixonnian response. if so, i have never heard that before and i read a lot of the nixon books. ok. [[inaudible]] well, i have greater respect for nixon and his speechwriters than i did half an hour ago. thank you. yes, anybody else? >> in terms of inaugural speeches, this would have been the third one that was televised live? >> yes. the fourth. >> fourth. >> harry truman was first and the audience was very small. i think it was in the thousands. and then both of eisenhowers'.
so this was the fourth. the first one to be broadcast was hardings', i believe. >> so he saw this as an opportunity in the way -- in a way that no one else had before. >> oh, yes, he did. >> there's a letter. there's a letter in the kennedy archive, it is very interesting. ben bradley met with fred friendly of cbs and another cbs executive. and they -- the purpose of the meeting was to talk about how kennedy could give speeches, how a president could give a speech that would be more dynamic than just man reading, and, you know, what could they do, what kind of visuals could they do? how could they make it, and this letter was written -- a letter summarizing the meeting was written by ben bradley to sorensen and i'm sure given to kennedy. in fact, kennedy met two days before with friendly in the suite in the carlyle hotel.
i understand that it was to discuss a television coverage of the inaugural. it very interesting when you watch the cbs coverage of the inauguration because the cameras jump around a bit. kind of harder to follow the speech because you're constantly seeing other things going on. they'll go to the crowd, cut to the crowd. but the important parts of the speech, the camera's always on kennedy. so somebody had, you know, obviously they hollywood a copy and they knew what the important lines were. the democratic -- the tape made by the democratic national committee is somewhat of a gas because they don't move around and so you just see the platform and you see how miserable lyndon johnson was throughout the whole event. there's one -- it's almost embarrassing that while kennedy is speaking, he's whispering to people, he looks down and somebody has dropped a piece of paper. he reaches down and he picks it
up and he takes -- he makes a big show of taking his glasses out of his pocket, he puts them on and he holds it out. meanwhile, kennedy is giving his inaugural address and he reads it and then he folds it and puts it back in his pocket. he actually twiddles his thumbs at one point. he does something with his hands. there are other people who do -- there's a secret service agent who's whispering to people. and there's senator sparkman's wife who every time you see her, she looks more and more miserable and she has this huge fur coat on. and she's pulling the fur coat over her. so she ended up looking like this bear. which is what oleg cassini told jackie about her jacket, that she'd have this whisper of sable around her collar. as it turned out, it was a sort of reproach to the other women, mamie and pat, they were all in the huge old bulky furs. oleg cassini told me that when
he came and sat down and he looked up at the podium, he saw them all come in, he said, i knew i won already. when i saw what everybody else was wearing. i couldn't believe it. i told her it would happen and it happened as i anticipated. yeah. >> what do you owe the mystique of the early '60's? some 40 years later we are still enthralled by, you know, a generation that's already, you know, older. you know, some of the things, you know, you probably will see in the next five years or whatever with the war, you know? it would far surpass anything in the last 50 years. to what do you owe kennedy's mystique? his experience, his -- >> i think his physical appearance didn't hurt. his youth. and i think -- i mean, he was -- i mean, people now forget what a
huge deal it was to have a catholic president. and how much that meant, you know, to the country. not just for -- not just for catholics, but for other minorities as well. i talk in the book about four years earlier at the eisenhower -- the 1957 inauguration, they had what was then traditional, it was called the minority's dinner. they hollywood a special dinner with all of these -- with musa ka and corn beefed and cab badge and the national patronizing foods. that didn't happen anymore after kennedy became president. but i think that -- i think that this speech which is what the book is -- the book is about is acknowledged as the greatest political speech by an american politician in the 20th century. martin luther king's i had a dream is seen as a different kind of speech. but at the end of the century when they had the best 100 lists
on all of them you find this kennedy's inaugural is number one or number two. and generally acknowledged to be the best inaugural address since abraham lincoln's. one of the things he told ted sorensen to do before he wrote his draft, he said read the gettysburg address and learn the secrets. he told him to read every single inaugural address. i object know, sorensen claims he did this. he says he did this, and that they were pretty tough going. >> when did sorensen -- why didn't sorensen didn't get the credit? >> he didn't get the credit. sorensen has always said that kennedy, you know, was the author or he's couched it in words that have made it clear that he believes that kennedy was the -- he calls him the architect and everything else. but i think people have heard
that, and assumed that because speechwriters have written so many presidential inaugurals, f.d.r.'s famous one was completely written by moley, not written by f.d.r. that kennedy's must have been written by sorensen. also, sorensen wrote many of the great set piece speeches that kennedy did. the american university speech, his senate speeches. these were sorensen. what sorensen didn't do as much, and didn't do as well, write the rousing campaign speeches. sorensen has conceded this in his book, that this something that kennedy was particularly good at. now, this speech, this inaugural address, drew on so many of the things that kennedy had been saying extemporaneously, that it was easy for kennedy to sit on that plane and really and dictate for 15 minutes and pull this stuff out of his head. if he had any notes, lincoln didn't save them and she was a real packrat and saved everything. but there are no notes.
she doesn't mention there being any notes either. >> i was curious, you have other examples of the changes that he made while giving the speech. i thought that was a good change. >> i have another one. actually, most of them make good grammatical sense. it's not that he didn't read something properly. none of them are noted on the text of the speech. they were all done. because he thought that was a historical document. that's one point where he talks about where the text talks about a cold and bitter peace. this is the part of the speech where he's holding out a hand to khrushchev and he changed that to hard and bitter peace. it is thought that the reason for that was the word cold had the echoes of the cold war, and kennedy wanted to eliminate that. he had his pay any price, bear any burden, that was to show khrushchev he wouldn't be pushed around. that was the fist and then most
of the rest of the speech was the olive branch. so that's another change he made. the other ones are getting rid of repetitive words and kennedy just didn't say them. >> what -- what is the input from sorensen and kennedy's why england slept and the profiles of courage? >> there was nothing in why england slept because they didn't know each other until 1953 i think is when sorensen came to work for kennedy. the profiles in courage was a very contentious issue about how much sorensen had done. because there were allegations made after kennedy won the pulitzer prize made by drew peerson in his column, he was a
political columnist that sorensen had ghosted the entire book. this was repeated on abc and kennedy went in with harper and roe, with his publisher and with clark clifford who was then his attorney and they went in to abc and showed them kennedy's handwriten notes. now, this was enough to convince them that kennedy had had at least some input into the book. what do you think? i think that the general -- you know, the consensus is that kennedy contributed a lot as he did to his inaugural address to the prologue and to the conclusion and that the actual profiles of the different senators was largely probably sorensen's work or somebody else's. but this episode taught kennedy the importance of handwritten notes. and this is why i believe that he does this very bizarre thing on the 17th of january when he's flying back to washington, having already worked on the speech for a week and having a draft already typed up, he calls
hugh sidey from times magazine into his compartment and he say, hugh, gee, i'm having trouble, you know, with the inaugural address. and he sits there and scribbles seven pages in his handwriting of stuff -- and he dates it january 17. now, if you bother -- his handwriting is pretty bad, but the you bother to decipher the handwriting and compare wit the dictation, you will see all he's really doing is he's writing down what he dictated a week before. he's making a record for history for historians that this was -- his original material. that he dictated this. and meanwhile, and it bears -- you know, you wonder why is he writing this stuff, he had already changed it around? because this is what he could pull out of his memory most easily for sidey, so he could perform for sidey. so it was a charade, but i think it was an honorable one. and he was establishing his
ownership of his dictation. >> in your research on kennedy, did you come across any indication that he understood that the north vietnam please had been enemies of china for a thousand years and that this idea of a communist takeover of that whole area was basically misguided? he was being taken in by french propaganda rather than by the -- >> i didn't -- of course, i was looking at the speech and i was also looking at the trip to vietnam. what i discovered was that kennedy for the first two or three months after the inauguration was obsessed with
laos, thanks to the briefing that eisenhower gave him the day before the inauguration in which he said this was the greatest problem that the american government was going to face and that he was going to have to put troop -- he might have to put troops into laos and the kennedy administration was obsessed with it in first six weeks. in fact, robert mcnamara when he writes in his recent memoirs he picks out 10 particular events that he thinks led to the american involvement in vietnam and one of them is the briefing from eisenhower about laos in which eisenhower laid out the whole domino theory, in that if it went, all of southeast asia would fall into communist hands. but i think there was a little bit of hazing going on here that eisenhower was trying to show -- eisenhower had been a commander in chief and this guy was a lieutenant. eisenhower used to call him
little boy blue, and he's saying sonny, younted this job and now you have to send troops in to laos. about in march when kennedy made a tough speech about laos, eisenhower said to a journalist, he said that boy is crazy. what he's talking about laos so much? who cares about that country? i think so that there was -- i think that there was something going on in the 19 -- that had little to owith the real threat in laos. yeah? was there someone else? >> why do you think kennedy used the archaic form ask not instead of speaking more colloquially as i would have, don't ask? >> i think it's part of the whole speech. that it's a classical speech. that he wanted to have distance between himself and the audience.
there are no person is -- personal stories in the speech. he instructed sorensen he didn't want to use the first person. this is a formal speech. this is a speech in which there's a distance between speaker and the audience. he's not telling heart-warming stories about himself. and i think that it goes with that kind of construction that goes with this speech. it's an elegant, classical speech. >> good afternoon, mr. speaker. i'm sorry i was late, but i had to come for kennedy's sake because i was born in west africa. i said, one day i'm going to america to see that man, and all of a sudden he died. but i have a question why the kennedy said ask not what your country can give you, and i thought, i mean -- but myself, i'll tell you -- ask what you can do for your country, because
your country can do for you. working so hard, the country can work so hard for you. what your country can do for you. why should you do for your country when your country does for you? >> one of the things that ask not, one of the great reasons i think this goes to what we're both saying, one of the reasons that it was framed this way and also why ask not, was essentially that told americans that each individual is important. there was a huge debate about national purpose in the year before the inaugural address. there was a "life" magazine series in which famous thinkers talked about what the problem that america had no national purpose anymore. there was a commission to decide what the american -- what the national purpose should be. and why there wasn't one. eisenhower had a commission, the ford foundation had a commission this was a huge thing. and really, ask not is --
finally, and a lot of the other terms in this speech are telli telling -- saying to americans the individual is important. the individual can do something. life and behind that is the idea which kennedy articulated in a number of campaign speeches which is -- and he said this once at witten burg college in ohio. he said, there is a higher purpose to life. there is a purpose, there's a higher purpose. there's something beyond getting and spending that we're here for something. we're here to sacrifice. we're here, we have a purpose. and i think that that's -- that that's expressed by ask not. i think that that's something that the american people -- i talked about the audience had to be hungry for his words after the 1950's, americans were hungry for these words. over here. wait for the -- there's a woman behind you. wait a minute.
>> when i went to school, i always thought about -- all the people in the world, being patriarches. when i think about that, that speech, i always remind myself, we are that, because i think what one -- he always made people come to the country for this. it is true. opportunity. well, it's another reason, but they never say it. if you ask them anything about the founding fathers, there's absolutely no interest. so i think about that speech still, americans ought to be more patriotic. whether you support anybody. that doesn't have to be -- go to the peace corps, do something, you know? think about what the values of the country should be. at least learn to speak english, if nothing else. or to think about what other people are doing for the country you know? >> well, kennedy tell that it was -- he felt as did robert kennedy in his campaign that they -- that one of the things that you did in a presidential campaign was that you educated
the american people. that you tried -- you know, that you tried to teach them something. not because they're ig norpts or anything, but that you tried to educate them. that you tried to convince them of certain principles. this is what kennedy did throughout his campaign, the same principles again and again. this idea of sacrifice, that there was a higher purpose. he said it again and again in different ways and different speeches. this is why it rang so true when he said it in his inaugural address, because it was something that people expected from hi -- from him. it was something he created in the campaign, you know, the ground work for this. people say sometimes, well, why can't we have another inaugural address like this one? well, maybe the problem is not with the presidents or the men, maybe the problem is with the campaigns. and that the campaigns, the way a presidential campaign is run
now doesn't -- you know w the sound bytes and with the attack and the counterattack, it doesn't provide a podium a basis for this kind of speech. that's something i wonder about. >> i don't remember all of it, of course, but i don't think there are many direct references to god, are there, in speech? and i was wondering if you thought there was anything that was -- any kind of tone of catholicism that can be in any way perceivedded? >> i think there is. and i'll read you the last -- i'll just read you the last -- the last paragraph of the speech. which is what kennedy -- he doesn't close of course with ask not. he closes with finally, whether you're citizens of america or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice, which we ask of you. with a good conscience our only
sure reward, with history the final judge of our deed, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking his blessing and his help, but knowing that here on earth, god's work must truly be our own. and that's the reference to god. i point out later in the book that i think that this is in a way -- it reflects something that his mother had drilled into him from saint luke. there's definitely -- there's definitely a mixture of kennedy. kennedy often talks of the high court of history and being judged by the high court of history and one begins to wonder if the high court of history isn't interchangeable in his mind or something. anyway. this gentleman here. wait.
>> at the height of the cuban missile crisis, the o.a.s. ordered the interception of 25 ships. i do research 25 is probably a reference to the shelling of santa barbara oil refinery during the first inaugural speech in 1942 which fired 25 shells. this was recently echoed in the shelling of a primary school in new jersey with an f-16. i believe 16 to 20 lounds -- rounds. do you think kennedy was aware of the significance of, you know the seriousness of the cuban missile crisis? and later in the cuban missile crisis when gary powers was shot down that -- that it could lead to -- you know, as we open up now, the first u-boat in spring really. >> i'm afraid i don't feel qualified to answer this. i'm a microhistorian. i'm not -- i do