Sunday, June 06, 2010

He began by talking about a country:

"settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier; a land which has tamed rich natural resources through the energetic application of modern technology; a land which once the importer of slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage."

And then employing the humorous but meaningful irony so characteristic of JFK and RFK (and their speechwriters), he said:

"I refer, of course, to the United States of America."

But this was not simply a rhetorical ploy, for this was a description of South African as well as American history. Throughout the first part of his speech, he continued to describe the American ideals of racial equality, and the difficulties America historically had in living up to them. In explaining those ideals, his audience naturally applied them to their own country.

For example, he spoke about freedom of speech, but also “the power to be heard, to share in the decisions of government which shape men’s lives....
Therefore, the essential humanity of man can be protected and preserved only where government must answer -- not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion, not just to those of a particular race, but to all of the people."

He related the struggle of African Americans in America to other prejudices, felt by immigrants including his own ancestors:

"Even as my father grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, signs told him: "No Irish Need Apply." Two generations later President Kennedy became the first Irish Catholic, and the first Catholic, to head the nation; but how many men of ability had, before 1961, been denied the opportunity to contribute to the nation's progress because they were Catholic or because they were of Irish extraction? How many sons of Italian or Jewish or Polish parents slumbered in the slums -- untaught, unlearned, their potential lost forever to our nation and to the human race? Even today, what price will we pay before we have assured full opportunity to millions of Negro Americans? "

He praised Martin Luther King, and the goal of non-violent social change. He talked about historical and contemporary evils, and issued a call to conscience:

"These are different evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfections of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, the defectiveness of our sensibility toward the sufferings of our fellows; they mark the limit of our ability to use knowledge for the well-being of our fellow human beings throughout the world. And therefore they call upon common qualities of conscience and indignation, a shared determination to wipe away the unnecessary sufferings of our fellow human beings at home and around the world."

He then made this directly relevant to his audience, the youth of South Africa:

"It is these qualities which make of our youth today the only true international community. More than this, I think that we could agree on what kind of a world we would all want to build. It would be a world of independent nations, moving toward international community, each of which protected and respected the basic human freedoms. It would be a world which demanded of each government that it accept its responsibility to insure social justice. It would be a world of constantly accelerating economic progress -- not material welfare as an end in/of itself, but as a means to liberate the capacity of every human being to pursue his talents and to pursue his hopes. It would, in short, be a world that we would all be proud to have built."

He sharpened the message:

"Our answer is the world's hope: It is to rely on youth. The cruelties and the obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger which comes with even the most peaceful progress.

This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease..."

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