Monday, February 7, 2011

Ask Not

I’m sure if you watched the start of the Super Bowl introduction video you may have caught the famous John F. Kennedy Quote “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.” I’ve heard the line before, but what does it mean? It’s been over 50 years since President Kennedy presented the speech in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961.

For the first time I’ve actually read the speech in it’s entirety and I’m a little bit confused on what he meant by it. I always assumed it was about government services. In reality the speech is about tyranny, poverty, disease, and war and the future. The point of the quote is to really to challenge Americans to help end poverty, disease, and war.

Overall the speech is about the future after World War II. The world was changing at a rapid pace. Imperialism was winding down, with many countries formerly controlled by European powers being turned over to new regimes. Some regimes embraced communism and others tried democracy. Some tried doing both, causing conflicts fueled by the USSR, the United States and Europe. In the speech there was a hope that through cooperation the world could end poverty, disease and war and forge a better existence through liberty.

After 50 years can we say anything has been accomplished to meet these goals? I’m not sure if anything really has changed. We still have poverty, we still have disease and war still flourishes. The “… new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.” has not been achieved. Attempts at ending tyranny has ended badly since the speech. These bad experiences have tended to prevent actions to end known tyranny in the world such as the Rwandan Genocide.

Maybe someday we’ll have an end to poverty, disease and war, but I don’t think it will be in my lifetime.

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