We begin our countdown of the greatest speeches never given with President John F. Kennedy’s undelivered remarks for the Dallas Trade Mart in 1963. It was en route to this address that the President was assassinated in his limousine, a national tragedy still burned deeply into the collective American memory.
Though the media attention and conspiracy theories that followed shifted people’s focus away from the speech, Kennedy’s words spoke silent volumes to the times in which he shortly lived and the troubles he jointly faced with Americans, home and abroad.
Interestingly enough, his words also had a lot to say about their own futility. A major theme of the address is how rhetoric does nothing to move a nation towards its goals. “If we are strong,” it reads, “our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help.”
In a brilliantly overlapping parallelism of verbs, Kennedy insists that “our successful defense of freedom was due not to the words we used, but to the strength we stood ready to use on behalf of the principles we stand ready to defend.” Like a speechmaking vigilante out to undermine speechmakers’ efforts, Kennedy employs great rhetoric to attack rhetoric himself, ingeniously persuading Americans of the need to hold less stock in persuasion.
On the pursuit of world peace, Kennedy spread more poetic wings. He urged the American people to maintain “respect for our mission in the world as well as our missiles,” positioning himself against then-GOP Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. In a line that would have probably been carved onto statues or seen in quote books if delivered, he was to say:
We in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.
Though speechwriter Ted Sorenson is probably the one to thank for that gem, just imagine how it would have sounded from an orator as skilled as Kennedy was.
Be sure to check back with the Inkwell Blog for the rest of the “Greatest Speech Never Made” series. You’ll be surprised at how much fun it is to watch hypothetical masses moved.