By Beryl Wajsman on November 19, 2013

 “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.  I hear it said that West Berlin is militarily untenable — and so was Bastogne, and so, in fact, was Stalingrad.  Any danger spot is tenable if men — brave men — will make it so. 

~ President John F. Kennedy

We live in a petty and shameful era colored by false pieties, moral relativism and pandering to the lowest common denominator. JFK matters to us still because he made courage tenable. Courage to be just. Courage to be compassionate. Courage to be dreamers. And he challenged all our resolves to make it so.

Friday will be the 50th commemoration of that terrible day in Dallas when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was murdered. That tragedy haunts us still. In many ways and at all times. The writer Mary McGrory said on that day that we shall never smile again. Daniel Patrick Moynihan answered ” no, we may smile again, but we’ll never be young again. For many it was the day hope died.

JFK was the first post-war leader who inspired hope. A quality that was understandably lost after the descent of civilized Europe into the barbaric bloodlust of genocide. Many historians call the postwar era the post-apocylyptic age. One would be hard put to argue. But hope, like courage, rests not on the shoulders of any one man but lives on from the testament of that man in the hearts of all. All we need is the resolve to remember, and to carry on.

It is in that remembrance that we answer the question of many scholars as to what JFK’s legacy really was. His Presidency too short to see the fulfillment of many of his boldest initiatives, how is it that he captures our imaginations still? The answer rests in his words as much as his deeds. For those words, those ideas, still make us see possibilities in ourselves that we thought unimaginable. 

They held out the vision of a generosity of spirit that could realize the ancient dream of the brotherhood of man. They challenged us to vigorous service and sacrifice in our daily lives. And most of all, they dared us to be brave. They lit the flame of courage within each of us that made us all understand that the indomitable spirit of freedom inevitably triumphs over the dark forces of tyranny.

Perhaps that is the greatest quality of leadership. To make people bolder, braver, better than they ever thought possible. 


At no time since his murder has the world been in need of such hope and such courage. It is for that reason that his words resonate with us still. At no time since the Second World War have the free been so full of fear, fear of being impotent to decide their own lives. At no time since that era, has appeasement of terror and villainy been so obsequious. Just think, one week ago China, Iran and Saudi Arabia were elected to the UN Human Rights Council.

Kennedy understood these dangers well. In his 1940 best-selling book “Why England Slept” he wrote “It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.” Today history repeats itself. Today,  so many countries rest, as Bruce Bawer has so eloquently phrased in While Europe Slept, in “New cloaks for the old tyrannies.”

The greatest tribute to John F. Kennedy is that his words and vision during his “…one brief shining moment…” remain relevant as calls of conscience for us today. And if we do not answer those calls; if we do not respond to conscience, then years from now people will ask how it came to be that the family of the free was so willingly complicit in its own self-abnegation.

For on this sad anniversary, we witness too many leaders demonstrating ignominious surrender to political correctness. We see too many voices of conscience hiding from threats or being intimidated in their expression. We see too marked a submission to those who would subvert individual liberty and subjugate liberal pluralism.

We seem to be surrounded with the message that if one wants to survive one must sublimate one’s beliefs and one’s courage. That indeed there is nothing worth believing in and certainly nothing worth fighting for. In short, that our culture should not stand for something and be prepared to fall for anything. The British writer Melanie Phillips,  has called it “a dialogue of the demented.” It is the mindset of the victimized and the demonized.

There could be no more poignant day to remind us all that submission to this bodyguard of lies is not a strategy against existential threat. A threat that has been driven as a stake into the hearts of almost every western capital over the past dozen years.

During Kennedy’s Presidency Europe threats of similar magnitude, though of different origin. Kennedy went to Berlin to address that threat and to send a message to the enemies of freedom. On a glorious June day in 1963, some five months before his murder, he delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” address in Rudolph Wilde Platz facing the then recently constructed Berlin Wall. There could be no more fitting tribute to Kennedy’s legacy, and few more important lessons for our own national will, than reading his timeless words today. Among those words on that brilliant day were the following. “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.” It is a message for the ages, and particularly for our time.

Kennedy proclaimed “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.’ 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. 

 “Let me ask you 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. 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.”

Today, a different “ism” has replaced the Communist threat. It emanates from many capitols. It too enslaves millions through different walls. But its most noxious by-product on the free world has been fear. The legacy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy is the antidote to that fear.

JFK marshaled the nobler angels of our spirit. He put himself on the firing line of freedom. And through his words and deeds roused a stagnant world from its lethargy of fear.  Let us remember. And let us begin anew.


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