The most nationalist speech given by an American to an international audience was—and remains—John F. Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech.
In it, Kennedy threatened the Soviet Union, an enemy of the United States. The Soviet Union menaced the United States with a massive arsenal of thermonuclear weapons. Mutually assured destruction made the use of nuclear weapons an uncertain proposition. As Winston Churchill had said: “…safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation.”
Still, safety was not secured. The Soviets continued to pursue dangerous aggression around the globe, inspired by the perverted ethic that all morality is subordinate to the march of History, ending in communist world domination.
But there was something the Soviet Union feared more than mutually assured destruction. Kennedy understood it and threatened it.
“What is true of this city,” he said, “is true of Germany: Real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with goodwill to all people.”
Less than two decades after Germany laid waste to European Russia, Kennedy had uttered the unthinkable. He threatened Russia with a unified Germany. The effect was immediate. The German crowd’s wild reaction unsettled some observers. That was the sound of statesmanship. The other sound heard was the sound of Russians changing their underpants.
Tuesday, in an act of statesmanship paralleling Kennedy’s, President Trump curbed the ambitions of a vicious tyrant armed with nuclear weapons. Threatening North Korea with annihilation, Trump made clear that he would think the unthinkable, as Kennedy had 54 years before.
Like Kennedy, who wordsmithed his message into the line “Ich bin Ein Berliner,” Trump too reduced his message to an unforgettable phrase: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission.”
This is the sound of statesmanship. The other sound heard is the sound of Rocket Man and company changing their underpants.