John F. Kennedy’s address on the Berlin Crisis (1961)

On July 25th 1961 United States president John F. Kennedy went on television to address the American people on the Berlin Crisis. He condemned Nikita Khrushchev’s threats and ultimatums on Berlin, while announcing an increase in US military preparedness to defend the city, should an attack come:

“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 organisation.

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 Berlin; and 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 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 south-east 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…

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…

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… 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 fulfilment of our pledge to that city is essential to the morale and security of West Germany, to the unity of Western Europe, and to the faith of the entire Free World. Soviet strategy has long been aimed, not merely at Berlin, but at dividing and neutralising 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…

Accordingly, I am now taking the following steps:

1. I am tomorrow requesting the Congress for the current fiscal year an additional $3.247 billion of appropriations for the Armed Forces.

2. To fill out our present Army Divisions, and to make more men available for prompt deployment, I am requesting an increase in the Army’s total authorised strength from 875,000 to approximately one 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 fulfil these manpower needs, I 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…

5. Many ships and planes once headed for retirement are to be retained or reactivated, increasing our air power 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 bombers.

6. Finally, some $1.8 billion – about half of the total sum – is needed for the procurement of non-nuclear weapons, ammunition and equipment…

The world is not deceived by the Communist attempt to label Berlin as a hotbed 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 or West. 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 of agreements…”