Warren Kozak: Remembering JFK in an Age of Terror





[Mr. Kozak is the author of "LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay" (Regnery, 2009).]

For many Americans over the age of 55, Nov. 22 rarely passes without a wistful sense of sadness and the thought: What if? But today, 47 years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the initial feeling of shock and disbelief has long since been replaced by the sense that the world took a very bad turn on that day in 1963—one that we have never quite been able to correct.

An obscure tape clip has recently surfaced on YouTube that offers no better proof of this redirection. It's almost as if a voice from our past has come back to guide us through the most serious national security threat we face today.

The date is Sept. 25, 1961. Kennedy is standing in front of the United Nations General Assembly. And we hear a president of the United States assert a direct and unapologetic definition of who we are as Americans as he offers a response to, of all things, terrorism. The tape clip has a grainy quality, but the words are timeless:

"Terror is not a new weapon," the young president tells the world body. "Throughout history, it has been used by those who could not prevail either by persuasion or example. But inevitably, they fail either because men are not afraid to die for a life worth living, or because the terrorists themselves came to realize that free men cannot be frightened by threats and that aggression would meet its own response. And it is in the light of that history that every nation today should know; be he friend or foe, that the United States has both the will and the weapons to join free men in standing up to their responsibilities."

"Free men standing up to their responsibilities"—there is a lasting quality in those seven words that harks back to who we are as a people, to our War of Independence and our frontier days. It describes 18-year-old Marines on Pacific islands and in Afghanistan today. And it carries even more weight because this president, 18 years earlier, had almost lost his own life as a Navy officer on a patrol torpedo boat, PT-109, during World War II. He served his country in war despite his privileged background because, like most men of his generation, he believed in freedom and standing up to aggression. In other words, he took responsibility...


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