"The watchmen on the walls of world freedom" – Undelivered Dallas Speech, Nov. 22, 1963
The sound of bullets ringing out over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, TX marked the end of John F. Kennedy's Presidency. While JFK himself would not bear witness to the future he had theorized so often in his addresses, his extensive catalog of speeches would live on as testaments to his ability as an orator and leader.
Kennedy was scheduled to make one last speech in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and its words not only exemplify the evolution of his rhetoric, but also lead us to wonder what other speeches he would have delivered, what phrases he would have coined, what messages he would have prioritized, had he lived on.
In this speech, to be given at the Dallas Trade Mart, Kennedy discusses U.S. Cold War interventionalism at home and abroad, quoting the bible as he declares the United States "watchmen" of the free world: "For as was written long ago: 'except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’"
Kennedy's speech is quite technical, mainly stating American interventional strategies, and backing them up with defense figures and statistics. But one particular phrase in the early paragraphs of the speech speaks volumes about the relationship of oration to actual political action.
“I realize that this Nation often tends to identify turning-points in world affairs with the major addresses which preceded them. But it was not the Monroe Doctrine that kept all Europe away from this hemisphere--it was the strength of the British fleet and the width of the Atlantic Ocean. It was not General Marshall's speech at Harvard which kept communism out of Western Europe--it was the strength and stability made possible by our military and economic assistance.”
Maybe it wasn’t Kennedy’s speeches that did the heavy lifting of his presidential accomplishments, but they undoubtably helped to solidify his legacy, clarifying American ideals more effectively than perhaps any President before or since.