In 1962, the Cold War with Russia escalating, President John F. Kennedy stopped to speak of peace at Christmas
WASHINGTON, December 21, 2014 — John F. Kennedy had a gift for bringing America hope. While historian and pundits debate whether his presidency was successful or merely romanticized because of his charisma, good looks and his tragic death, Americans remember the promise Kennedy brought to the country.
In December 1962, President Kennedy issued a Christmas message of peace. Only two months earlier, the United States, the Soviet Union and Cuba were involved in a stand-off over stationing Soviet missiles in Cuba. The Cold War was in full swing, and although the U.S. had not yet entered the Vietnam war, tensions in Asia were mounting.
Yet in this atmosphere of fear and angst, Kennedy issued a message of hope and peace for the country.
This morning I had a meeting in the White House which included some of our representatives in the distant lands of Asia. They were returning to their posts for the Christmas holiday. Talking with them afterwards, I was struck by the fact that in that far-off continent Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, as well as Christians, pause from their labors on the twenty-fifth of December to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace.
There could be no more striking proof that Christmas is truly the universal holiday of all men. It is the day when all of us dedicate our thoughts to others, when all are reminded that mercy and compassion are the enduring virtues, when all show by small deed and set that, verily, it is more blessed to give than to receive. It is the day when we remind ourselves that men can live in peace with his neighbors, and that it is the peace-makers who are truly blessed.
In this year of 1962 we greet each other at Christmas with some special sense of the blessings of peace. This has been a year of peril, a year when peace was threatened. But, it has been a year when peril was faced and when reason ruled. As a result, we may talk at this Christmas just a little more confidently of peace on earth and good will among men. As a result your hopes are a little more higher than before; so are mine. We have much yet to do. We still have need with Tiny Tim to ask that God bless us every one. But yet I think we can enter this season of good-will with more than usual joy in our hearts. I wish you all a Merry Christmas.
The previous year, Kennedy had famously penned a letter of hope to 8-year-old Michelle Rochon in response to her letter to the President.
In 1961, Ms. Rochon wrote:
Dear Mr. Kennedy,
Please stop the Russians from bombing the North Pole because they will kill Santa Claus. I am 8 years old. I am in the third grade at Holy Cross School.
Her letter illustrates the fear many Americans had of the Soviet Union at that time.
In response, President Kennedy wrote:
THE WHITE HOUSE
October 28, 1961
I was glad to get your letter about trying to stop the Russians from bombing the North Pole and risking the life of Santa Claus.
I share your concern about the atmospheric testing of the Soviet Union, not only for the North Pole but for countries throughout the world; not only for Santa Claus but for people throughout the world.
However, you must not worry about Santa Claus. I talked with him yesterday and he is fine. He will be making his rounds again this Christmas.
(Signed, ‘John Kennedy’)
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Peace be with all of us this Christmas season.
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