SEPTEMBER 27, 1961
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—I was fortunate at the United Nations on Monday noon to sit behind our President's wife and other members of his family and from this vantage point I could look over the whole crowded floor of the General Assembly. How crowded that has become, and on Monday there were few seats left vacant. There were many people standing on the sides.
Much was expected of this speech by the American President, and I doubt if anyone was disappointed. I kept thinking what a great opportunity to address these representatives of 99 countries, but at the same time what a terrible responsibility.
A change has come over the President. I don't think anyone, in looking at him nowadays, is quick to say, "This is a young man." He spoke with great seriousness. His delivery was excellent, and I doubt if anyone in the room failed to feel his own sense of the importance of this moment in history.
In this first appearance before the General Assembly he looked into the eyes of these representatives and told them frankly that they might see their world go up in flames, or they might earn the gratitude of humanity for the wisdom they would show in somehow bringing to bear an influence on the great powers which would make them willing to create an international force in the U.N.—a unity with an active and strong leadership which would control the world for peace.
I watched the delegates almost more, I think, than I watched the President during his speech. When he spoke of the Berlin crisis there was a scattering of applause, but few of our African and Asian delegates seemed to take part in this applause. This made me wonder if they felt that what happened in Berlin is of no interest to them.
I have very strongly the feeling that whether we like it or not our world has become a very small world, and if freedom is at stake for human beings anywhere it will affect the freedom of human beings everywhere.
I think there is no room any longer for indifference or for sliding out of making decisions because one feels these decisions affect other areas of the world than the one in which we ourselves happen to live. We are tied together in so many ways, and I am convinced that even we in the United States need to be told on some organized daily basis of the different ties we have with the world as a whole.
For instance, I am quite sure that if, during our shipping strike last year, the heads of that union had been told that there were certain ships which were carrying out corn to a famine area in Africa, there would have been no hesitation on the part of the strikers to have loaded those ships.
We are not in the habit, however, of communicating the things which affect our ties with other parts of the world. This, I think, is a responsibility we should now consider with care, for failure to know will lead us often into making mistakes which are no longer excusable in the closely bound world of today.
The President's speech laid down some concrete steps and the position of the U.S. was made clear and firm on a number of counts. Our commitment to the Charter of the U.N. and the strength of that organization in electing one strong personality to make it an organization which will not be just a debating society but will be one that will take action is now indisputably clear.
Also, the President made it clear to the smaller nations that their safety lies in the strength of the U.N., for it will be a long time before "all the powerful are just."
I wish we could change the arms race quickly into a peace race, as the President envisaged it, and I was delighted that the emphasis of the speech was on disarmament. We are not seeking war or the annihilation of our neighbors, he said, and all the world is now included in our neighbors. He was not afraid to bring before the delegates the crisis threatening the peace of the world in Laos and Viet Nam as well as in Berlin.
Let us hope that we can now see the U.N. go to work and see our government standing strongly for the things that our President placed before us.
I hope there will be less emphasis on the production of arms and more emphasis on economic development throughout the world, which can bring us more economic stability at home in the long run.