Address to the American Trucking Associations

October 20, 1959


Washington, DC

There is a compelling need for a reevaluation of our public attitudes toward political life. The national attitude that politics is somehow a degrading occupation for which no man of intelligence or ambition should aspire is becoming too deeply ingrained in our national thinking.

There have been many jokes directed at politics. I remember the wisecrack many years ago in Boston that my grandfather John Fitzgerald would still be mayor of Boston if someone hadn’t broken into the courthouse and stolen the election returns for the next ten years.

But the time is important for us to rise in defense of politics. There is no greater need than for educated men and women to point their careers toward public service as the finest and most rewarding type of life. There is a great danger, not only in politics but in many facets of our nation’s social and economic life, that the ethical and moral approach has been reduced to the second rank of importance behind the twin goals of success and prosperity. If this is generally true—and there are many indications that it is—then our nation is in dire peril at a time when its foundation should be strongest.

The last two hundred years of our country’s existence have been filled with instances of people risking their security and their futures for freedom and an ideal. Washington and Lincoln; the foot soldiers at Valley forge; the men who marched up Cemetery Hill and those who stood by their guns at the summit; the Marines who fought at Belleau Wood and at Tarawa; these men did not measure their sacrifices in terms of self-reward.

The study of [the] history of our country leaves no other conclusion but that the great events of which we are proud were forged by men of toughness who put their country above self-interest—their ideals above self-profit.

In the intervening years since Valley Forge, we have progressed materially and financially until now we are the most powerful nation in the world. But have the comforts that we have bought, the speeches that we have made to one another on national holidays extolling American characteristics of bravery and generosity, so lulled our strengths of character and moral fiber that we are now completely unprepared for the problems that are facing us? Are we prepared to meet another Valley Forge or Gettysburg? There are some very disturbing signs that we are not.

Let me give you several examples.

A few years ago, a committee of the United States Senate, for which I was counsel, made a study of the degree of cooperation and collaboration of our American soldiers who were captured in Korea. The results, which have since been supported by a report of the army itself, are compelling in the portent for America. While 50 percent of the army prisoners who were captured in Korea died in prison camps or on forced marches, Turkish troops captured at the same time, and who were generally in worse physical condition because of wounds, suffered no fatalities from cold or starvation during the prison period. The explanation, disturbing as it may sound, was that the Turkish troops took care of their wounded and their sick while many of the American troops showed concern only for themselves, shunted the sick aside, and left the wounded to die in the cold.

Even more disturbing is that one out of every ten of the American soldiers informed on his fellow prisoners on at least one occasion. A third of all the army prisoners collaborated to some extent with the Chinese. The collaboration that took place was not due to any belief in Communism, because less than 1 percent of the American prisoners showed they accepted Communism to any appreciable extent. Nor, with a few notable exceptions, was their succumbing due to any torture or brainwashing.

The explanation by the army and those who have studied the situation is this: On the part of a large percentage of Americans there was a complete lack of self-discipline; there was very little real understanding of the United States—its history or its principles; and there was no firm belief in anything—the army, family, religion, or even themselves.

What happened in Korea is not something for which we can blame the army. It is a reflection on all of us. The army is the melting pot of the people of this country, and we cannot assume that we who were not there would have done better…

Recently, a test designed to determine physical fitness was given to U.S. school children. Sixty percent failed to measure up to the minimum standards, while the same test given to a large number of European children resulted in only 9 percent failures.

In a period of six and a half years, from July 1950 through 1957, 5.2 million young men were called up by the draft and were examined by the armed forces, and 2.1 million of these were found to be unfit for military duty because of physical and mental deficiencies.

What has happened to our vital economic system…both on the side of organized labor and in business…is also of a shocking nature. The continuing survival of America depends on a vibrant economy, yet, today, we witness clear symptoms that all is not well in this vital facet of our national life.

Organized labor has undergone its own history of ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the working man. Man and women have fought and died so that their fellow employers could throw off the yoke of economic slavery. Even now the ideals of the labor movement are carried on with great credit by the vast majority of officials who follow the leadership of George Meany. However, that there are those in high positions who have betrayed their trusts, there can be no doubt.

The theft of millions of dollars of union funds by men like Dave Beck, James R. Hoffa, James Cross, and others is a grievous enough crime, but at best it is only a symptom of other more serious and underlying problems. A number of men in important union positions have come to regard unions as their own personal possessions.

Some fifteen years ago, a young and ambitious man battled his way to prominence in one of our nation’s largest unions. He was a man of high ideals and dedicated to the cause of the men and women he represented in his union. As he rose in power within this union, his idealism faded. He lost touch with the very rank-and-file workers who had placed him in office.

He joined country clubs, and his best friends became the employers with whom he negotiated contracts. Soon he began signing contracts with these employers weakening the working conditions and wages of his own union members. He started accepting loans from those with whom he was supposed to negotiate, and finally he started to steal from the union itself.

There is also the man who organized a small business in New York. His needs were modest and he treated his employees well. As the years progressed, his business grew. The size of his plant as well as his desire for profits increased. When a union official came to his door and said for a certain consideration he could sign a contract with him which did not even provide for the minimum wage of one dollar an hour, this man did not hesitate to make the payoff and sign the contract. By doing so, he participated in a fraud against several hundred employers, mostly uneducated Puerto Ricans who were unable to defend themselves, and reduced them to a form of economic slavery.

Neither of these cases is fictional. Both of these men appeared before the committee headed by Senator McClellan, and represent the type of testimony of which this committee has heard far too much…

Dangerous changes in American life are indicated by what is going on in America today. Disaster is our destiny unless we reinstall the toughness, the moral idealism which has guided this nation during its history. The paramount interest in oneself, for money, for material goods, for security, must be replaced by an interest in one another, an actual, not just a vocal interest in our country; a search for adventure, a willingness to fight, and a will to win; a desire to serve our community, our schools, our nation…