Address at the University of Stellenbosch

June 7, 1966


Stellenbosch, South Africa

If we—all of us—are to conquer anew the freedom for which our forebears gave so much, we must begin with a dialogue both full and free.

In the world of 1966 no nation is an island unto itself. Global systems of transportation and communications and economics have transformed our sense of geography and outmoded all the old concepts of self-sufficiency. Whether we wish it or not, a pattern of unity is woven into every aspect of the society of man.

We are protected from tetanus by the work of a Japanese scientist, and from typhoid by the work of a Russian. An Austrian taught us to transfuse blood, and an Italian to protect ourselves from malaria. An Indian and the grandson of a Negro slave taught us to achieve major social change without violence.

Our children are protected from diphtheria by the work of a Japanese and a German, from rabies by the work of a Frenchman, and cured of pellagra by the work of an Austrian. We all owe our very existence to the knowledge and talent and effort of those who have gone before us. We have a solemn obligation to repay that debt in the coin in which it was given; to work to meet our responsibilities to that greater part of mankind which needs our assistance, to the deprived and the downtrodden, the insulted and the injured. Those men who gave us so much did not ask whether we, their heirs, would be American or South African, white or black. And we must in the same way meet our obligations to all those who need our help, whatever their nationality or the color of their skin.

No longer can a spectator be certain that the blood and mud of the arena will not someday engulf him as well. No longer can any people be oblivious to the fate and future of any other. And no longer can any nation, no matter how wealthy or well armed, be as free as it once might have been to ignore a far-off war or warning, to shrug off another nation’s crisis or criticism, or to defy the concerns or the contempt of mankind…

At times in our history, we have reacted too hastily and harshly to the fear of threats from within and without. But any times of suppression have been times of fear and stagnation, the years when the locusts have eaten. We do not intend to repeat those years—even now, in the midst of a war in Vietnam. For we will not abolish the substance of freedom in order to save its shadow.

At times in our history, we have reacted too hastily and harshly to the fear of threats from within and without. But any times of suppression have been times of fear and stagnation, the years when the locusts have eaten.

No nation would have so little confidence in the wisdom of its policies and its citizens that they dare not be tested in the free marketplace of ideas. Societies concerned with the importation of ideas are those which fear what Jefferson called “the disease of liberty.” But those with confidence in their own future, in their citizens, and in the durability of their ideals, will welcome the exchange of views.

I am here in South Africa to listen as well as talk, less to lecture than to learn. Whatever our disagreements, neither your country nor mine is under any illusion that there is only one side to any issue or that either of us can coerce or quickly convert the other to share our point of view. But asserting disagreements without debates is as meaningless as asserting unanimity without discussion. Let us find out where we disagree, and why we disagree, and on what we can agree…

[Ours] is a world of change—unparalleled, unsettling, dizzying change. The certainties of yesterday are the doubts of today, and the folly and mockery of tomorrow. Every problem we solve only reveals a dozen more of increasing complexity.

Your country and mine have created wealth unmatched in the history of man; but we have of yet learned to turn that wealth to the service of all our people.

Your country and mine gained freedom from colonial domination and set an example for seventy nations around the world; but we have not yet learned how to help those new nations to achieve the economic, social, and political progress which their people demand and deserve…

In your country and mine, we fought for and achieved freedom for some of our people; but we have not yet learned, as Thomas Paine said, that “no man or country can be really free unless all men and all countries are free.