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What was President Kennedy trying to say in his inaugural speech? Is the speech an...

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sarah4252 | Student, Grade 11 | eNoter

Posted July 20, 2010 at 1:34 PM via web

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What was President Kennedy trying to say in his inaugural speech? Is the speech an accurate and relevant request to action?

Do you think/feel this speech is meaningful to today’s society? Any quotes directly from the speech, in order to support your answer, would be appreciated! (:

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 20, 2010 at 2:31 PM (Answer #1)

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John Fitzgerald Kennedy's eloquent Inaugural Address is considered to be among the best presidential inaugural speeches in history.  Kennedy, the second youngest President ever, stated that "the torch has been passed to a new generation" and suggested the country held the power "to abolish all forms of poverty."  He displayed determination in his speech to defend liberty at any price.

Among the most memorable of his points, Kennedy's placing responsibility upon each citizen was a call to action: 

Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

This call to action and individual reponsibility led to the formation of the Peace Corps in which many young people gave of their time to help others around the world.  Other agencies around the country also set about to make America better.

This concept of patriotism and personal responsibility has been shelved by many today. Many people now want a "nanny government" that will take care of them. And, with the influx of some who seek to merely use the benefits of America, there is little asking what they can do for the country. Instead, the mentality is "What can America do for us?"

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dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted July 20, 2010 at 2:43 PM (Answer #2)

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Kennedy's Inaugural is considered one of the finest ever delivered by an American president. Many political historians concur that the speech delivered characteristics of realism, idealism, historical reference, and strength, all of which are vital to a successful presidency. Kennedy was clear; the United States would pay any price to assure the success of liberty. He was a 'Cold Warrior' with a tone of 'hawkishness' but he knew that every nation would be listening to the speech, especially the Soviet Union.  The speech also suggests that with freedom also comes a responsibility, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. This statement was intended to rally all Americans towards the quest for freedom, in the U.S. as well as other nations of the world. A great example would be Kennedy's creation of the Peace Corps. The volunteer organization gave Americans the opportunity to offer (U.S.) education, medical assistance, etc to those less fortunate that themselves in other countries. However, it must be noted that this to was connected to fighting the Cold War, in a non-violent but very Americanized way.

Yes, I believe this speech is as relevant today as the day it was delivered because the U.S. does stand at the forefront of freedom. In addition, the U.S. continues to assist less fortunate nations with regard to healthcare and food subsidies.

Use the italicized prompts above to locate specific quotes in the speech that you might want to use.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 20, 2010 at 5:26 PM (Answer #3)

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The quotes highlighted in the first post are probably the best ones to reflect the spirit of optimism and hope that Kennedy was trying to tap into within the American people.  The zeal and exuberance that Kennedy symbolized was brought out in resonant fashion in his Inauguration Speech.  Kennedy was very well skilled at getting the public to constantly believe that he was articulating a vision of what can be or what could be as opposed to what is.  It is this idea that led many to accept that Kennedy's election was a voice of change.  Bringing this out in his speech, Kennedy wanted to chart the course or establish the perception that his administration would work with Americans in redefining the role of America in both the world and in how it sees itself.  Given the rise of the 1960s spirit that was embodied in his election and the belief in his administration, his Inauguration Speech was a great way to strike this chord and set the tone for this belief.

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