Your First Assignment|
is to Write a Speech for the President
By Alton Ketchum (Now deceased)
NCSA Member #1
That was Deputy Director Abbott Washburn of the U.S. Information Agency talking. It was early in 1956. He had just sworn me in as a Special Assistant. Through the Advertising Council, I had written several booklets for the Department of State about American foreign policy, all gratis. They had been well received, but even so, I had not expected anything like this.
Washburn said: "Now I'm going to give you your first assignment. It's a speech for the President, next April in New York, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. I want you to go home and think about it. Give me '14 points for our problems today.'" (The reference was to President Wilson's "14 points" after World War I which brought forth the League of Nations.)
I tried to give the impression that this was all in a day's work. The truth was that I left there a little disoriented and walking on air. And this, even though I had helped to get General Eisenhower nominated at Chicago, and later as President, he had opened at the Washington Union Station a show I had designed for the U.S.I.A. to take overseas: "How Americans Live". And he said: "This is the story we should be taking abroad."
But a speech! That was something else. I went through Wilson's "14 points" as ordered. None of them seemed applicable any more. I fell back upon a script of my own on which I had been working for some time. It was "The Future of Freedom."
At that time the world was in the grip of the cold war between the Communist and free nations. Movement toward better relations was, if any, glacial. The Communist credo was trumpeted widely and constantly that they were on the march, and would in time be completely victorious.
Why were'nt we explaining and extolling the dynamism of freedom? Why weren't we saying that freedom was the way of the future -- that it was the only system that developed mankinds' highest capabilities to attain a better life for all?
The case for freedom was clear. It was demonstrable -- it could be proved. And the article proceeded to prove it, by historical references and projections. That was the best I could do. I finished it and sent it. Then I waited -- untill April 22, 1956. I opened the New York Times and there was my speech all right, six full columns on an inside page. Most of it -- the important part -- was about as I had written it.
"Now why do the musket shots of a few embattled farmers at Concord bridge still ring out in far-off lands? Concord is the symbol of certain basic convictions about the relationship of man to the state . . . a belief founded in the firm belief in the spiritual worth of an individual.
"Our forefathers did not claim to have discovered novel principles. They looked on their findings as universal values, the common property of all mankind."
"These ideas of freedom are still the truly revolutionary political principles abroad in the world. They appeal to the timeless aspirations of mankind."
"My friends, we cannot doubt that the current or world history flows towards freedom. In the long run, dictatorship and despotism must give way."
The White House speech writers had added some facts about foreign relations. But I had made the case for the future of freedom. And now that viewpoint was official. The President had gone on record that freedom was the way of the future. And in light of what is happening in the world today --- how right he was.