Saturday, August 26, 2006

From New to Next Generation

Then on a frigid January day in Washington, he delivered his inaugural address. It was instantly impressive, and has grown in fame since. But by the 1990s, all that was ever heard of it was one sentence: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” By the early 21st century, that was reduced to an iconic soundbite of two words: Ask not.

But that was only one sentence among many heard that day, and talked about and quoted for days and months to come. There was the call, early in the speech, to fulfill the postwar hopes of those who had fought World War II. It was a call to action to Kennedy’s generation, and to Roddenberry’s :

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace..”

While Kennedy signaled his determination to remain firm against any aggression (and these words are often quoted to define him as a Cold War president) he also called for cooperation, for both sides to “explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems that divide us,” and to end the arms race and control nuclear weapons. He pledged support for international agreements and institutions such as the United Nations-- “our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace…”As events would finally prove, these were heartfelt and serious statements, and they would become more so as time went on.

He also signaled that his new frontier would include creative and positive uses of science and technology:

“Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.”
He linked progress in science and technology, as well as in economics and international institutions, to a moral purpose grounded in our common humanity. To the world’s poor he pledged help, “not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” He asked his fellow citizens to join him in “a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

As he had in Los Angeles, he challenged Americans to do the difficult, with energy and realism but with purpose.

All this will not be finished in the first 100 days,” he concluded, and more than prophesized, “ Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

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