RFK Center - Defending Human Rights In This World
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The United States and the New Forces of the World

Remarks by Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney General of the United States, at the University of Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia

Wednesday, February 14, 1962

I am delighted to be with you today. I am particularly happy because we have much in common – your nation and mine. You are an old country and a young democracy. We are a young country and an old democracy – the oldest in the world. You have as your symbol the Garuda. The people of the United States claim the eagle. Your motto is “United Through Diversity”. Americans have E Pluribus Unum: Out of One, Many. Your flag has the Red of Courage and the White of Purity. Our Flag adds the Blue of Loyalty. Our coastlines both extend for 3000 miles. Ours stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific – yours reach from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. Both of our peoples boast forefathers from many lands and many tongues – yet each has united its differences into a common language. We seek our Four Freedoms – you strive for your Five Pillars. We each take pride in young leaders. The people of both our countries are dedicated to peace.

Wars of any magnitude release powerful social and economic forces which can change the whole face of the world. The Second World War flooded the world with its postwar problems.

Their variety and complexity touches every person in every land, on every sea, and now even reach into outer space.

Some of these problems were not adequately foreseen. Others, despite the difficulties of their resolution, were both foreseen and encouraged as part of the struggle for man’s freedom.

On January 6, 1942, a month after the United States entered the second World War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a message to Congress set forth our objective in that historic conflict. He said:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

“The first is freedom of speech and expression.

“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way.

“The third is freedom from want –everywhere in the world.

“The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor.”

Americans fought for the four freedoms in this region and around the world and we remain committed to them.

My country seeks their realization today.

President Kennedy in his state of the union message before Congress on January 11th, said:

“Our basic goal remains the same: a peaceful world community of free and independent states – free to choose their own future and their own system so long as it does not threaten the freedom of others.”

The President said we seek to enlarge the prosperity of freemen everywhere and achieve a free community of nations, “independent, but not interdependent, uniting north and south, east and west, in one great family of man, outgrowing and transcending the hates and fears that rend our age.”

These are old ideas, it is true, but they are the ideas that must be promoted and protected by the young people of your generation and mine.

These are revolutionary, but this is not surprising. The United States was born in revolution and nurtured by struggle. Throughout our history the American people have befriended and supported all those who seek independence and a better way of life.

Therefore, we welcome, the new forces which have come on the world scene because they correspond so closely to those which sparked our own revolution for independence, forces which, we are confident, will lead to the achievement of these freedoms around the world.

What are these forces? What are their opportunities? What are their dangers?

The outstanding spirit abroad in the world today is nationalism – nationalism closely linked with anti-colonialism. Nationalism, itself, of course is nothing new.     This self-determination performed the essential function of giving people an identity with their country and with each other. It became in some societies not merely an article of faith and common aspiration – but also a badge of conquest.

This was true of the nationalism which characterized the old Roman Empire, and was the driving force behind the German, Italian, and Japanese dictatorships in the days before World War II. It has not been true of our American nationalism.

Nor is it true of the new nationalism loose in the world today. This nationalism has taken the form of “non-conquest”, of disengagement from former economic political ties. It is recreating in many parts of the world a sense of identity and of national aims and aspirations that the old order had too often sought to stifle.

The United States has always been sympathetic with this kind of national aspiration. When Woodrow Wilson during World War I enunciated his fourteen points, among the most important of them was the right of every nation to determine its own destiny and decide its own future. (4)

Although his please was ignored by the councils at Versailles, it stirred emotions in Poland, Czechoslovakia and in the Baltic countries; passions still vividly felt despite the confinement of these people behind the iron curtain.

And in the middle and far east a spark had been ignited and the flame thus enkindled had flared in these post-war years with a vigor never before seen. For this spirit it is natural that we in the United States should have great sympathy.

The American people fought for national independence in 1776 and have been its spearhead ever since.

We know from our own history that the creation of a nation is not an easy matter. It took us years after our revolution – after we ceased to be a colony – to forge our thirteen original states into a nation that could act effectively and protect and promote the welfare of all its people.

Our own history has been tragic on occasion, but out of it we know from experience, as well as from conviction, that success can be achieved. It is from our own knowledge of difficulties we have faced, as well as from our dedication to the ideal of independence, that we have sought to aid new nations with technical and financial assistance during their crucial early years. Our aim is that they survive, develop, and remain proud and independent.

No period of the world’s history has seen the birth in such a short space of time of so many new nations as these postwar years.

With more nations, there is bound to be an increase in the forces that, our of jealousies and ambitions, could disturb the peace of the world. The prolific growth of many nations in the place of a few makes it impossible for there to be anything resembling the 19th century Pax Britannica

There can be no such combination of a few ruling powers, such as the Congress of Vienna, to dictate to the peoples of the world just what place in the sun they will be permitted to occupy.

The United States has no desire to impose our conception of the role other nations should be allowed to assume. And I can tell you quite frankly we have no intention of permitting any other nation to enforce its system on other nations of the world.

On the contrary, the answer we have given and shall continue to give calls, as President Kennedy said, for the association of nations on a world and on a regional basis to defend the rights of the least in behalf of the whole.

The rise of the new nationalism has been coincidental with the struggle against colonialism. Anti-colonialism is the one side of the coin whose opposite side is nationalism.

Americans are sensitive to this face because our own history began with freedom from colonial status. It is natural; therefore, repeatedly we have through our moral and spiritual support behind movements for independence.

We did so a century ago, when Simon Bolivar in South American challenged the might of Spain. Woodrow Wilson did so when he announced his principle of national independence and Franklin Roosevelt made it his foreign policy. The United States did so here in Indonesia to help you achieve your independence.

But anti-colonialism is nothing if it does not follow national paths and remain true to its basic principles. If anti-colonialism is the struggle for freedom, then the new nations must remain free.

If freedom is to be meaningful, independence must be accompanied by the desire to forge a nation patterned upon the people’s desires. Otherwise freedom can be meaningless in its motives and futile in its operation. And the land will be left prey to forces both within and without which would destroy the very freedom which the people seek.

Each year on the Fourth of July – Americans celebrate Independence Day and renew their faith in freedom. We recall these words from our Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

These words of one of our great Americans, Thomas Jefferson, express a third great force that, as an aftermath of World War II, has spread throughout the world.

It is the belief that the function of the government extends far beyond the mere maintenance of law and order, and has as its fundamental aim the betterment of the many and not merely a few. It is a principle which your government has adopted.

Your president, in striving for an increase of living standards, has set as his goal, “as just and prosperous society.”

Its attainment, even to a moderate degree, is difficult. Men may differ as to what form of government will do the best job. Even within independent governments such as yours and mine, there is no rigid formula upon which all of us can agree.

Different cultures, different historical backgrounds, different levels of education, as well as technology, all must have a part in shaping of an answer appropriate for a time and place.

You have a saying in your country:

Line lahdahng, line blahlahng, line loobook, line eekahn.

“Another field, another grasshopper, another pond, another fish.”

Or, in other words, each country has its own customs and habits.

But the important thing is regardless of our differences that we all hold firmly to the belief that a just and prosperous society, bringing decent living standards, education and adequate medical care to all its citizens – not to a favored few – is made more nearly possible by men who remain dedicated to the principles of freedom than by those who are bound by a totalitarian system or an economic and political manifesto drafted a century ago as a solution for conditions which scarcely exist today.

In America we cherish the idea that every man has the right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” And that government has an obligation to secure that right. Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, described the ideals for which we fought our Civil War 100 years ago, as the survival of a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

We have protected the rights of the individual, secured our freedom and built the most powerful and prosperous nation the world has ever seen.

As in any society, there are improvements that can be made, problems that remain unsolved. We have not fully attained for ourselves the prosperity that we seek for our people and all mankind.

We can do better and we intend to do so. Our struggles against racial discrimination, our continuing struggle against want, our efforts to life the levels of education so that any man may choose freely in the light of knowledge, all these struggles will continue.

But we are making progress with them. That is what is important. We will not accept the status quo.

A fourth force released by World War II can be designated as the revolt against economic feudalism. It has other names as well, such as economic betterment or the necessity for industrialization or agrarian reform. This, too, is part of your goal of a “just and prosperous society.”

All the forces set in motion as a result of World War II are, and continue to be, forces for freedom throughout the world – freedom from foreign domination, whatever its form; freedom from the economic cares of want;

Freedom to achieve; to solve one’s own problems; to think and do and act for oneself; freedom from fear; from violence, and from the hopelessness which has so often accompanied poverty.

To me freedom must be an ever expanding and ever widening concept. The horizons of man’s ability to achieve a better life – to pursue happiness – are  still distant; frontiers are still to be passed, for us and for you, as in deed, for all mankind.

Within the United States we have put great emphasis upon political freedoms. Because it has been our experience that these freedoms can lead to others.

Before Franklin D. Roosevelt became President there were many in America who believed that the poor would always be with us and that their only hope was the charity of the rich.

Government, it was felt, should be largely unconcerned with freedom from want. Labor, for example, had few rights.

The great industries of our country – steel, aluminum, rubber, automobiles – had fenced themselves off from the possibility of being organized by labor through injunctions, labor espionage and individual contracts binding employees not to join labor unions.

With the great depression that began in 1929, the poor suddenly became a horde as unemployment stalked the land. The whole fabric of our economy seemed threatened. How to deal with the depression became an almost impossible problem under the earlier conservative approach.

To many, dictatorship seemed to be the answer. The abandonment of democratic principles seemed necessary.

But in 1933 Franklin Roosevelt and others came to power. They relied upon the democratic process to change the direction of government and to infuse into it a will to face and deal with the issues. Employment thus became a direct object of government concern. This was, in truth, a social and political revolution accomplished within the framework of a democratic government.

Out of that depression measures, which to us are now commonplace, were born. For government in the mid-thirties, having overturned the tides of the depression, became committed to the development of permanent measures to spread more widely and more fairly the rewards of toil.

Old-age security, unemployment compensation, the recognition and protection of collective bargaining of workers, the insurance of bank deposits, the regulation of stock markets; are but a small catalogue of the uses to which government was put in its mission of action, as Lincoln put it, “for the people.”

It was this social revolution that hammered out the meaning of the new freedom – freedom from want.

That drive for the economic and spiritual betterment of our nation goes on. Its tempo under President Kennedy has been accelerated. Our plans for medical aid to the aged; for urban rehabilitation and redevelopment; for federal aid to education so as not merely to improve the quality of our primary and secondary education but to make college education available to every young man or woman qualified and eager to undertake it; our drive to increase foreign trade by both increasing exports and imports – these are some of the aspects of our new economic and social programs.

These are some of the new frontiers we are presently seeking to conquer.

We in the United States regard highly the importance of private incentive. We see it as a mainspring for social action. This does not mean that state enterprise is incompatible with freedom. Our public power, our nuclear energy development and similar undertakings, are proof that we can utilize, where desirable, the credit of the state in lieu of private capital.

But our history has been primarily that of private enterprise – controlled by the government whenever necessary in the public interest.

No other nation to my knowledge has left the development and ownership of its transportation systems, both rails and airlines, or its communication system in private hands.

We have had time and the resources to do so. Other nations may not have time to wait or the resources to do so. But the degree of private and public control is not the test of freedom, either economic of political.

Complete economic activity by the state can stifle freedom, but the point at which a balance is struck between the use of promoting the two methods of producing wealth will vary from time to time and from nation to nation.

I say this because we have no desire to fasten our economic image upon any civilization. We think the balance between these two areas of activity must be based on experience. It must be hammered out in the light of the culture and resources of a particular nation and not to be answered by a doctrinaire ideology which, far from the being revolution, is a new feudalism that enslaves rather than frees.

The important factor and the one to which we are committed, is that the state exists for man; that man is not a tool of the state.

It is difficult for me to understand why the opposite ideology could appeal to any peace-loving nation or to a nation that takes – and rightly takes – a fierce pride in its independence.

At home this ideology subjugates the individual to the state.

On the international scene it looks to the envelopment of nations into a system which it must control. Divergence of views, either at home or abroad, can be tolerated. Of these perils, we have sought to make our friends aware. Against them we offer no set ideology, no patent means of government, but an emphasis on individual dignity and a program of opportunity and assistance in terms of friendship.

I cannot leave this platform without remarking on the great problems that face us in the world today and the role that young people must play in achieving their solution. The younger men and women will have to live longer with these problems and will have to find new answers year after years in every field – in government, in politics, in business, in the science, in the arts.

The great challenges of these years, the responsibilities that now must be met, provide greater incentive and greater opportunity than ever before for the educated young people of our world.

Education is more than merely giving an individual an economic advance over his neighbor; over those who are less fortunate.

We have obligations and responsibilities to our fellow citizens, to our country, indeed to the people of the entire world in these days when we are all each other’s neighbors. We have responsibilities to encourage and spread the dedication to independence and to freedom.

I am proud to join with you today in that endeavor.

I also in closing want to mention a remarkable parallel between your country and mine that I believe has a meaning not only today but for the future. The motto of my country is “E Pluribus Unum” or “One out of many, one.” Originally, it had reference to the welding of a national government out of our original thirteen states.

But just as concepts of freedom expand, the meaning of mottoes grows. Into that original union have now poured millions of immigrants with their varied cultures and traditions. And yet out of these many, there is still one country, one flag, one loyalty.

Our culture has been enriched by the culture of all Europe and by the knowledge and imagination and traditions of many other countries. Africa, for example, has contributed much to our music; the Middle East and Far East to our art, our literature and our philosophy.

You, too, have a motto – “Unity through diversity.” In your ethnological and religious diversity you resemble us and we resemble you.

In your vast country you must deal with the distances as we do. But from north to south and from east to west you are building that same single loyalty, which preserves differences and yet has a unity of purpose devoted to the good of all the people.

Freedom, I trust, will be their proud possession just as it is ours – freedom under law and a government of the people by the people and for the people.