Remarks at Suresnes American Military Cemetary and Memorial

Suresnes, France | May 30, 1968

Everywhere men of all ages, of different races, are pressing ahead with a firm resolve that in their time they will scale the very walls that too many have waited too long to demolish. Our mission, passed to us here today, on this hillside consecrated to men lost in past battles, is to join those new struggles now.

Men who died in America's wars fell doing their duty. It is necessary now for us to know our duty. In the moment of silence we observed, each of us, each in our own way, saw our duty ahead. Each of us, probably, with a different approach. For each of us, I am sure, if asked to express his thoughts, would have different words. Yet, no matter the words or the approach, the world is full of people, place, problems -- all calling upon us -- the living -- to do our duty.

There is starvation and hunger on every continent. There is disease. There is also social and economic inequality of vast magnitude. But, fortunately, there is action against all these conditions, these social-economic rituals that bind and suffocate the spirit of man -- and this is where we who are gathered can find a call to front-line action.

For men on earth are not standing still today. Poverty, the lack of opportunity, the inability to achieve, have been the tinder box ingredients to what we see happening in many lands, far and near. In Washington, there is a shanty-town of proud people. They are poor. Yet they persevere in their faith in America by demonstrating their courage on behalf of all Americans.

Everywhere men are upsetting traditions to demonstrate the independence of individual spirit -- for they have seen new hopes denied to them, and they will not be denied. Everywhere men are resurgent, desperately so, because they want to eliminate the obvious injustices in the world and force all of us to live up to our words and principles.

Everywhere men of all ages, of different races, are pressing ahead with a firm resolve that in their time they will scale the very walls that too many have waited too long to demolish. Our mission, passed to us here today, on this hillside consecrated to men lost in past battles, is to join those new struggles now. Our duty is to recognize there is a revolt against the conformity of the past. Our duty is to involve ourselves. To involve ourselves in the debate, whether it be at Columbia or California, Harvard or Howard. To involve ourselves at the base of it all, whether it be Marks, Mississippi, or Lawnsdale, Chicago.

Failure to involve ourselves in the politics, the education, the commercial endeavors of our times, is to abdicate one's citizenship. Across America now we have more than 1,000 community action programs -- designed to strengthen rural, and urban areas through active participation of all citizens, rich and poor, in community affairs. There are new education techniques -- Head Start for pre-school children -- upward bound, a program that assets talented and able underprivileged children getting into college.

There is business involvement in the job corps. It has turned 100,000 young men and women, who had dropped out of life, with work skills that will make them productive -- not wasted souls -- in society. Who's running the job corps centers? -- IBM, Philco-Ford, Burroughs, I.T. & T., to mention a few. These industrial corporations are involving themselves in the front line to fight to social justice.

Men such as Henry Ford, Roger Burroughs, Harold Geneen, Thomas J. Watson, can be said to be serving at the barricades. We cannot fail to join them, and the thousands of others, poor and rich, black and white, who are struggling toward a new era.

Two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher, Plato, wrote:

"You cannot make people good. The most you can do is to create the conditions in which the good life can be lived."

The soldiers we honor here will indeed have died in vain if we cannot create the conditions that will bring men, young and old, into society's fabric. But, that fabric must be made up of all men. No longer can we choose to repress new voices. We must respond to the youth of today. We must know that our duty is to build enthusiasm, not frustration, in a world where the men we honor died so that we might conquer new horizons.