JOHN F. KENNEDY
The Berlin Crisis
July 25, 1961
Good evening: Seven weeks ago tonight I returned from
Europe to report on my meeting with Premier Khrushchev
and the others. His grim warnings about the future of the
world, his aide memoire on Berlin, his subsequent speeches
and threats which he and his agents have launched, and
the increase in the Soviet military budget that he has
announced, have all prompted a series of decisions by the
Administration and a series of consultations with the members
of the NATO organization. In Berlin, as you recall, he
intends to bring to an end, through a stroke of the pen,
first our legal rights to be in West Berlinand secondly
our ability to make good on our commitment to the two million
free people of that city. That we cannot permit.
We are clear about what must be done-and we intend to
do it. I want to talk frankly with you tonight about the
first steps that we shall take. These actions will require
sacrifice on the part of many of our citizens. More will
be required in the future. They will require, from all
of us, courage and perseverance in the years to come. But
if we and our allies act out of I strength and unity of
purpose - with calm determination and steady nerves - using
restraint in our words as well as our weapons - I am hopeful
that both peace and freedom will be sustained.
The immediate threat to free men is in West Berlin. But
that isolated outpost is not an isolated problem. The threat
is worldwide. Our effort must be equally wide and strong,
and not be obsessed by any single manufactured crisis.
We face a challenge in Berlin, but there is also a challenge
in Southeast Asia, where the borders are less guarded,
the enemy harder to find, and the dangers of communism
less apparent to those who have so little. We face a challenge
in our own hemisphere, and indeed wherever else the freedom
of human beings is at stake.
Let me remind you that the fortunes of war and diplomacy
left the free people of West Berlin, in 1945, 110 miles
behind the Iron Curtain.
This map makes very clear the problem that we face. The
white is West Germany - the East is the area controlled
by the Soviet Union, and as you can see from the chart,
West Berlin is 110 miles within the area which the Soviets
now dominate - which is immediately controlled by the so-called
East German regime.
We are there as a result of our victory over Nazi Germany
- and our basic rights to be there, deriving from that
victory, include both our presence in West Berlin and the
enjoyment of access across East Germany. These rights have
been repeatedly confirmed and recognized in special agreements
with the Soviet Union. Berlin is not a part of East Germany,
but a separate territory under the control of the allied
powers. Thus our rights there are clear and deep-rooted.
But in addition to those rights is our commitment to sustain
and defend, if need be - the opportunity for more than
two million people to determine their own future and choose
their own way of life.
Thus, our presence in West Berlin, and our access thereto,
cannot be ended by any act of the Soviet government. The
NATO shield was long ago extended to cover West Berlin
- and we have given our word that an attack upon that city
will be regarded as an attack upon us all.
For West Berlin - lying exposed 110 miles inside East
Germany, surrounded by Soviet troops and close to Soviet
supply lines-has many roles. It is more than a showcase
of liberty, a symbol, an island of freedom in a Communist
sea. It is even more than a link with the Free World, a
beacon of hope behind the Iron Curtain, an escape hatch
West Berlin is all of that. But above all it has now become
- as never before-the great testing place of Western courage
and will, a focal point where our solemn commitments stretching
back over the years since 1945, and Soviet ambitions now
meet in basic confrontation.
It would be a mistake for others to look upon Berlin,
because of its location, as a tempting target. The United
States is there; the United Kingdom and France are there;
the pledge of NATO is there - and the people of Berlin
are there. It is as secure, in that sense, as the rest
of us - for we cannot separate its safety from our own.
I hear it said that West Berlin is militarily untenable.
And so was Bastogne. And so, in fact, was Stalingrad. Any
dangerous spot is tenable if men - brave men - will make
We do not want to fight-but
we have fought before. And others in earlier times have
made the same dangerous mistake of assuming that the
West was too selfish and too soft and too divided to
resist invasions of freedom in other lands. Those who
threaten to unleash the forces of war on a dispute over
West Berlin should recall the words of the ancient philosopher: "A
man who causes fear cannot be free from fear."
We cannot and will not permit the Communists to drive
us out of Berlin, either gradually or by force. For the
fulfillment of our pledge to that city is essential to
the morale and security of Western Germany, to the unity
of Western Europe, and to the faith of the entire Free
Soviet strategy has long been aimed, not merely at Berlin,
but at dividing and neutralizing all of Europe, forcing
us back on our own shores. We must meet our oft-stated
pledge to the free peoples of West Berlin - and maintain
our rights and their safety, even in the face of force
- in order to maintain the confidence of other free peoples
in our word and our resolve. The strength of the alliance
on which our security depends is dependent in turn on our
willingness to meet our commitments to them.
So long as the Communists insist that they are preparing
to end by themselves unilaterally our rights in West Berlin
and our commitments to its people, we must be prepared
to defend those rights and those commitments. We will at
all times be ready to talk, if talk will help. But we must
also be ready to resist with force, if force is used upon
us. Either alone would fail. Together, they can serve the
cause of freedom and peace.
The new preparations that we shall make to defend the
peace are part of the long-term build-up in our strength
which has been underway since January. They are based on
our needs to meet a world-wide threat, on a basis which
stretches far beyond the present Berlin crisis. Our primary
purpose is neither propaganda nor provocation - but preparation.
A first need is to hasten progress toward the military
goals which the North Atlantic allies have set for themselves.
In Europe today nothing less will suffice. We will put
even greater resources into fulfilling those goals, and
we look to our allies to do the same.
The supplementary defense build-ups that I asked from
the Congress in March and May have already started moving
us toward these and our other defense goals. They included
an increase in the size of the Marine Corps, improved readiness
of our reserves, expansion of our air and sea lift, and
stepped-up procurement of needed weapons, ammunition, and
other items. To insure a continuing invulnerable capacity
to deter or destroy any aggressor, they provided for the
strengthening of our missile power and for putting 50 percent
of our B52 and B-47 bombers on a ground alert which would
send them on their way with 15 minutes' warning.
These measures must be speeded up, and still others must
now be taken. We must have sea and air lift capable of
moving our forces quickly and in large numbers to any part
of the world.
But even more importantly, we need the capability of placing
in any critical area at the appropriate time a force which,
combined with those of our allies, is large enough to make
clear our determination and our ability to defend our rights
at all costs - and to meet all levels of aggressor pressure
with whatever levels of force are required. We intend to
have a wider choice than humiliation or all - out nuclear
While it is unwise at this time either to call up or send
abroad excessive numbers of these troops before they are
needed, let me make it clear that I intend to take, as
time goes on, whatever steps are necessary to make certain
that such forces can be deployed at the appropriate time
without lessening our ability to meet our commitments elsewhere.
Thus, in the days and months ahead, I shall not hesitate
to ask the Congress for additional measures, or exercise
any of the executive powers that I possess to meet this
threat to peace. Everything essential to the security of
freedom must be done; and if that should require more men,
or more taxes, or more controls, or other new powers, l
shall not hesitate to ask them. The measures pro posed
today will be constantly studied, and altered as necessary.
But while we will not let panic shape our policy, neither
will we permit timidity to direct our program. Accordingly,
I am now taking the following steps:
(1) I am tomorrow requesting the Congress for the current
fiscal year an additional $3,247,000,000 of appropriations
for the Armed Forces.
(2) To fill out our present Army Divisions, and to make
more men available for prompt deployment, l am requesting
an increase in the Army's total authorized strength from
875,000 to approximately 1 million men.
(3) I am requesting an increase of 29,000 and 63,000 men
respectively in the active duty strength of the Navy and
the Air Force.
(4) To fulfill these manpower needs, l am ordering that
our draft calls be doubled and tripled in the coming months;
I am asking the Congress for authority to order to active
duty certain ready reserve units and individual reservists,
and to extend tours of duty; and, under that authority,
I am planning to order to active duty a number of air transport
squadrons and Air National Guard tactical air squadrons,
to give us the airlift capacity and protection that we
need. Other reserve forces will be called up when needed.
(5) Many ships and planes once headed for retirement are
to be retained or reactivated, increasing our airpower
tactically and our sealift, airlift, and anti-submarine
warfare capability. In addition, our strategic air power
will be increased by delaying the deactivation of B-47
(6) Finally, some $1.8 billion - about half of the total
sum - is needed for the procurement of nonnuclear weapons,
ammunition and equipment.
The details on all these requests will be presented to
the Congress tomorrow. Subsequent steps will be taken to
suit subsequent needs. Comparable efforts for the common
defense are being discussed with our NATO allies. For their
commitment and interest are as precise as our own.
And let me add that I am well aware of the fact that many
American families will bear the burden of these requests.
Studies or careers will be interrupted; husbands and sons
will be called away; incomes in some cases will be reduced.
But these are burdens which must be borne if freedom is
to be defended Americans have willingly borne them before-and
they will not flinch from the task now.
We have another sober responsibility. To recognize the
possibilities of nuclear war in the missile age, without
our citizens knowing what they should do and where they
should go if bombs begin to fall, would be a failure of
responsibility. In May, I pledged a new start on Civil
Defense. Last week, I assigned, on the recommendation of
the Civil Defense Director, basic responsibility for this
program to the Secretary of Defense, to make certain it
is administered and coordinated with our continental defense
efforts at the highest civilian level. Tomorrow, I am requesting
of the Congress new funds for the following immediate objectives:
to identify and mark space in existing structures public
and private that could be used for fall-out shelters in
case of attack; to stock those shelters with food, water,
first-aid kits and other minimum essentials for survival;
to increase their capacity; to improve our air-raid warning
and fallout detection systems, including a new household
warning system which is now under development; and to take
other measures that will be effective at an early date
to save millions of lives if needed. In the event of an
attack, the lives of those families which are not hit in
a nuclear blast and fire can still be saved-if they can
be warned to take shelter and if that shelter is available.
We owe that kind of insurance to our families-and to our
country. In contrast to our friends in Europe, the need
for this kind of protection is new to our shores. But the
time to start is now. In the coming months, I hope to let
every citizen know what steps he can take without delay
to protect his family in case of attack. I know that you
will want to do no less.
The addition of $207 million in Civil Defense appropriations
brings our total new defense budget requests to $3.454
billion, and a total of $47.5 billion for the year.
This is an increase in the defense budget of $6 billion
since January, and has resulted in official estimates of
a budget deficit of over $5 billion. The Secretary of the
Treasury and other economic advisers assure me, however,
that our economy has the capacity to bear this new request.
We are recovering strongly from this year's recession.
The increase in this last quarter of our year of our total
national output was greater than that for any postwar period
of initial recovery. And yet, wholesale prices are actually
lower than they were during the recession, and consumer
prices are only 1/4 of 1% higher than they were last October.
In fact, this last quarter was the first in eight years
in which our production has increased without an increase
in the overall-price index. And for the first time since
the fall of 1959, our gold position has improved and the
dollar is more respected abroad. These gains, it should
be stressed, are being accomplished with Budget deficits
far smaller than those of the 1958 recession.
This improved business outlook means improved revenues;
and I intend to submit to the Congress in January a budget
for the next fiscal year which will be strictly in balance.
Nevertheless, should an increase in taxes be needed-because
of events in the next few months-to achieve that balance,
or because of subsequent defense rises, those increased
taxes will be requested in January.
Meanwhile, to help make certain that the current deficit
is held to a safe level, we must keep down all expenditures
not thoroughly justified in budget requests. The luxury
of our current post-office deficit must be ended. Costs in military
procurement will be closely scrutinized-and in this effort
I welcome the cooperation of the Congress. The tax loopholes
I have specified-on expense accounts, overseas income,
dividends, interest, cooperatives and others-must be closed.
I realize that no public revenue measure is welcomed by
everyone. But I am certain that every American wants to
pay his fair share, and not leave the burden of defending
freedom entirely to those who bear arms. For we have mortgaged
our very future on this defense-and we cannot fail to meet
But I must emphasize again that the choice is not merely
between resistance and retreat, between atomic holocaust
and surrender. Our peace-time military posture is traditionally
defensive; but our diplomatic posture need not be. Our
response to the Berlin crisis will not be merely military
or negative. It will be more than merely standing firm.
For we do not intend to leave it to others to choose and
monopolize the forum and the framework of discussion. We
do not intend to abandon our duty to mankind to seek a
As signers of the UN
Charter, we shall always be prepared to discuss international
problems with any and all nations that are willing to
talk-and listen-with reason. If they have proposals-not
demands-we shall hear them. If they seek genuine understanding-not
concessions of our rights-we shall meet with them. We
have previously indicated our readiness to remove any
actual irritants in West Berlin, but the freedom of that
city is not negotiable. We cannot negotiate with those
who say "What's mine is mine
and what's yours is negotiable." But we are willing
to consider any arrangement or treaty in Germany consistent
with the maintenance of peace and freedom, and with the
legitimate security interests of all nations.
We recognize the Soviet Union's historical concern about
their security in Central and Eastern Europe, after a series
of ravaging invasions, and we believe arrangements can
be worked out which will help to meet those concerns, and
make it possible for both security and freedom to exist
in this troubled area.
For it is not the freedom
of West Berlin which is "abnormal" in
Germany today, but the situation in that entire divided
country. If anyone doubts the legality of our rights in
Berlin, we are ready to have it submitted to international
adjudication. If anyone doubts the extent to which our
presence is desired by the people of West Berlin, compared
to East German feelings about their regime, we are ready
to have that question submitted to a free vote in Berlin
and, if possible, among all the German people. And let
us hear at that time from the two and one-half million
refugees who have fled the Communist regime in East Germany-voting
for Western-type freedom with their feet.
The world is not deceived by the Communist attempt to
label Berlin as a hot-bed of war. There is peace in Berlin
today. The source of world trouble and tension is Moscow,
not Berlin. And if war begins, it will have begun in Moscow
and not Berlin.
For the choice of peace or war is largely theirs, not
ours. It is the Soviets who have stirred up this crisis.
It is they who are trying to force a change. It is they
who have opposed free elections. It is they who have rejected
an all-German peace treaty, and the rulings of international
law. And as Americans know from our history on our own
old frontier, gun battles are caused by outlaws, and not
by officers of the peace.
In short, while we are ready to defend our interests,
we shall also be ready to search for peace-in quiet exploratory
talks in formal or informal meetings. We do not want military
considerations to dominate the thinking of either East
And Mr. Khrushchev may find that his invitation to other
nations to join in a meaningless treaty may lead to their
inviting him to join in the community of peaceful men,
in abandoning the use of force, and in respecting the sanctity
While all of these efforts go on, we must not be diverted
from our total responsibilities, from other dangers, from
other tasks. If new threats in Berlin or elsewhere should
cause us to weaken our program of assistance to the developing
nations who are also under heavy pressure from the same
source, or to halt our efforts for realistic disarmament,
or to disrupt or slow down our economy, or to neglect the
education of our children, then those threats will surely
be the most successful and least costly maneuver in Communist
history. For we can afford all these efforts, and more-but
we cannot afford not to meet this challenge. And the challenge
is not to us alone. It is a challenge to every nation which
asserts its sovereignty under a system of liberty. It is
a challenge to all those who want a world of free choice.
It is a special challenge to the Atlantic Community-the
heartland of human freedom.
We in the West must move together in building military
strength. We must consult one another more closely than
ever before. We must together design our proposals for
peace, and labor together as they are pressed at the conference
And together we must share the burdens and the risks of
The Atlantic Community, as we know it, has been built
in response to challenge: the challenge of European chaos
in 1947, of the Berlin blockade in 1948, the challenge
of Communist aggression in Korea in 1950. Now, standing
strong and prosperous, after an unprecedented decade of
progress, the Atlantic Community will not forget either
its history or the principles which gave it meaning.
The solemn vow each of us gave to West Berlin in time
of peace will not be broken in time of danger. If to we
do not meet our commitments to Berlin, where will we later
stand? If we are not true to our word there, all that we
have achieved in collective security, which relies on these
words, will mean nothing. And if there is one path above
all others to war, it is the path of weakness and disunity.
Today, the endangered
frontier of freedom runs through divided Berlin. We want
it to remain a frontier < of
peace. This is the hope of every citizen of the Atlantic
Community; every citizen of Eastern Europe; and, I am confident,
every citizen of the Soviet Union. For I cannot believe
that the Russian people who bravely suffered enormous losses
in the Second World War would now wish to see the peace
upset once more in Germany. The Soviet government alone
can convert Berlin's frontier of peace into a pretext for
The steps I have indicated tonight are aimed at avoiding
that war. To sum it all up: we seek peace but we shall
not surrender. That is the central meaning of this crisis,
and the meaning of your government's policy.
With your help, and the help of other free men, this crisis
can be surmounted. Freedom can prevail and peace can endure.
I would like to close with a personal word. When I ran
for the Presidency of the United States, I knew that this
country faced serious challenges, but I could not realize-nor
could any man realize who does not bear the burdens of
this office-how heavy and constant would be those burdens.
Three times in my life-time our country and Europe have
been involved in major wars. In each case serious misjudgments
were made on both sides of the intentions of others, which
brought about great devastation.
Now, in the thermonuclear age, any misjudgment On either
side about the intentions of the other could rain more
devastation in several hours than has been wrought in all
the wars of human history.
Therefore I, as President and Commander-in-Chief, and
all of us as Americans, are moving through serious days.
I shall bear this responsibility under our Constitution
for the next three and one half years, but I am sure that
we all, regardless of our occupations, will do our very
best for our country, and for our cause. For all of us
want to see our children grow up in a country at peace,
and in a world where freedom endures.
I know that sometimes we get impatient, we wish for some
immediate action that would end our perils. But I must
tell you that there is no quick and easy solution. The
Communists control over a billion people, and they recognize
that if we should Alter, their success would be imminent.
We must look to long days ahead, which if we are courageous
and persevering can bring us what we all desire.
In these days and weeks I ask for your help, and your
advice. I ask for your suggestions, when you think we could
All of us, I know, love our country, and we shall all
do our best to serve it. In meeting my responsibilities
in these coming months as President, I need your good will,
and your support-and above all, your prayers.
Thank you, and good night.