Speech to French Student Groups

Paris, France | January 7, 1969

I wouldn't be an American if I thought there were any fundamentally irresolvable problems.

QUESTION: Would you give to us a picture of the internal situation of the United States at the beginning of the year 1969, on the eve of the installation of President Nixon?

ANSWER: Problems which the U.S. has are for the most part common to all developed nations. Only one of these problems can be placed strictly in the field of foreign relations. Here I am referring to the threat of nuclear destruction. Without negating the importance and the reality of the threat, I would like to direct my remarks to those problems which we face in the U. S. as elsewhere:

a) Urban Renewal
b) Poverty
c) Insufficient attention to the old, the physically ill and the mentally retarded
d) Inadequate facilities for education and related problems of youth
e) Discrimination of all kinds
f) Need for a positive rather than negative focus to the future.

Urban Renewal

If I were to describe a city as in distress, plagued by poverty, unemployment and slums, inadequate public services, pollution, congestion and crime, the question would arise as to which one I had in mind. The problem of urban renewal is common to all developed countries. We are taking the first steps to see what we can do. To this end, we have established Model Cities planning grants in over 60 areas. The program is admittedly experimental but we have high hopes that the cities of the 21st century will be better places to live in than those of the 20th.


Recognition by the U.S. of the high cost of tolerating poverty, drain on the economic as well as emotional resources of the nation, on its social services and most importantly on the most valuable resource of all, its people. We in the U.S. have decided that the continued wellbeing of the U.S. demands a frontal attack on major causes and areas of poverty. Government, business, the universities and youth groups are acting together and separately to conquer this evil existing among plenty. Business is providing job training, seeking out the poor, the illiterate and the undereducated to do so. During the 1960's, and the decade has still a year to go, we have done a great deal to change the old axiom that the rich get richer while the poor, poorer. In addition to the plain fact that more than 12 million Americans […] decade, the plight of those within the poverty category has been somewhat mitigated. I would be the last to deny that more must be done for the under-privileged, especially our Negro population. We are acting to eradicate the evils of today and we are better off now than 10 years ago.

Increase in Medical Facilities

With today’s rapid communication facilities, disease cannot be isolated and quarantined i.e., Hong Kong flu. There is world-wide need for expanded medical facilities starting with educational facilities. All nations are deficient in this area; for our part we are trying to bring health services to all our people and here the medical counterpart of business is making its contribution in time and money as part of the fight against poverty.

American doctors and dentists are giving many months of their time working among minority groups, in the ghettos, on the reservations and in the mountains of our South. Incidentally, we in the U.S. also have extensive free legal aide programs (The art of giving of oneself has become so attractive that the law firms have to constantly increase the salaries paid to young law graduates because the better ones are spending their first years after graduation in either the Peace Corps or the domestic poverty programs.)

The increase in the life span, the programs for early retirement have made it ever more important that special facilities be provided the elderly to make their remaining years not only comfortable but productive. Useful to recall that immediately following the second World War, the birth rate expanded rapidly but the period of such rapid expansion appears to be drawing to a close (if not already reached) and the problem of the aged is becoming of increasing concern. On the need to do something about the mentally retarded tremendous strides have been made in the past few years but so much more needs to be done -- Kennedy Foundation at home, Mrs. De Gaulle in France.

Educational Facilities

U.S. is among the first countries in the world to commit itself to free and compulsory education and secondary education. We still are not satisfied but would like to point out that the past 10 years in the U.S. has witnessed an unprecedented expansion in educational facilities at all levels; and two million more students are in college today than in the period of the 1950’s. Over 40 percent of our youth enter college and universities -- and of our deprived Negro minority, 15% are in college. American higher education was classical and elitists until the 1860’s. The demands of the industrial revolution, allied with the deeply held egalitarian beliefs, brought about a revolutionary change in the American educational system and increasingly large numbers of students were brought into the higher educational process. At the turn of the century, elementary education was an achievement; by World War II it was high school education and today it is the university degree for almost half of our school population.

Neither the physical plant nor the number and quality of teachers has caught up with demand and this inadequacy is a partial contributing factor to university unrest in the U.S.


We are not proud of our record with respect to our Negro minority but we have in the recent past been facing up to the question -- decisions by Supreme Court, legislative action, leadership by administration. We sometimes forget how far we have come in the past 20 years in our efforts to provide real equality of opportunity.

Need for a Positive Rather than Negative Focus to Future

We admit the underlying causes for discontent but destructive protest is the choice only of a small minority, whether in your country or in mine. Reference to the astronauts, need for discipline, the self-satisfaction that can come when people, both as individuals and as team members, make a significant contribution to society. In the space age cooperative activity is needed whether it be in business or in reaching the moon.

QUESTION: The United States maintains good relations with the USSR and even directs all their efforts to improve them. On the other hand, it persists in not recognizing Peking China and opposes that country's admission to the United Nations.

However, China has not annexed any independent countries like the Baltic States; it has not given North Vietnam aid greater -- actually the contrary -- than that which that country has received from the USSR. It has not intervened militarily in neighboring countries which are independent as in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Is it therefore that the attitude of the United States towards China remains based on the memory of the Korean war or are there other reasons?

ANSWER: We have been talking to the mainland Chinese for over ten years in Warsaw. What stands in the way of improving relations is what Secretary Rusk called on January 3 Peking's insistence that there is "nothing to discuss" with the U.S. unless the Republic of China (Formosa) is surrendered to Communist China. This, therefore, remains the central issue and as Secretary Rusk said last week, he was "not aware of any change" in the attitude of the authorities of Peking on this subject.

QUESTION: Do you think that France, or another European country, can, for the moment, play a positive role in settling the Vietnam situation?

ANSWER: France has already played a positive role by being host to the Vietnam talks and by providing an atmosphere conducive to serious negotiations. However, at the present time the two sides at the Paris talks are in constant contact with each other and there is no absence of direct channels of communication between the parties.

QUESTION: Do you think, Mr. Ambassador, that there are fundamentally irresolvable problems between the U.S. and France, or only serious differences of opinion on how to approach the problems?

ANSWER: I wouldn't be an American if I thought there were any fundamentally irresolvable problems. There are differences of opinion between the U.S. and France on how to approach some of the world's problems but this is only natural. No two people view things from the same perspective and each of us has a somewhat different opinion but the important point is that we continue to seek ways to improve cooperation between our two countries in dealing with the many problems which face the world today. I think the recent exchange of letters between President Johnson and President de Gaulle shows that there is an underlying sympathy between our two peoples which makes this cooperation all the more possible and indeed necessary.

QUESTION: Have you had the impression, since your arrival, that there was in France, both in official circles, and elsewhere, an anti–American feeling?

ANSWER: I certainly have not encountered in official circles or elsewhere any anti-American feeling in the sense that people have taken a dislike to me because 1 am an American or have refused to let me express my opinions because I am an American. This doesn't mean I have not been challenged or that America's policies have not been challenged, but that is the essence of open debate which both our countries cherish as a fundamental liberty.

QUESTION: During the recent financial crisis, the United States and France found themselves on the same side. The United States warmly welcomed the French decision not to devaluate. Can you explain the reasons for this position?

ANSWER: It is in the interest of all of us to avoid crisis in the monetary field. No country lives alone in splendid isolation and to a larger or smaller degree, we are all affected by the weakness or strength of other members of the free world.

QUESTION: What would be the advantages for the USA of a strong and united Europe, of a "third force" Europe? Rather than see Europe unify and organize itself, would not the USA prefer to see the creation of an Atlantic free exchange area?

ANSWER: I believe that a good answer to the question why the U.S. favors a strong united Europe was set out by President Kennedy in his July 4, 1962 speech in Philadelphia. He stated in part, " The United States looks on this vast new enterprise with hope and admiration. We do not regard a strong and united Europe as a rival but as a partner. To aid its progress has been the basic object of our foreign policy for 17 years. We believe that a united Europe will be capable of playing a greater role in the common defense, of responding more generously to the needs of poorer nations, of joining with the United States and others in lowering trade barriers, resolving problems at commerce, commodities, and currency, and developing coordinated policies in all economic, political, and diplomatic areas. We see in such a Europe a partner with whom we can deal on a basis of full equality in all, the great and burdensome tabs of building and defending a community of free nations...Acting on our own, by ourselves, we cannot establish justice throughout the world; we cannot insure its domestic tranquility, or provide for its common defense, or promote its general welfare, or secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. But joined with other free nations, we can do all this and more. We can assist the developing nations to throw off the yoke of poverty. We can balance our worldwide trade and payments at the highest possible level of growth. We can mount a deterrent powerful enough to deter any aggression. And ultimately we can help to achieve a world of law and free choice, banishing the world of war and coercion.

For the Atlantic partnership of which I speak would not look inward only, preoccupied with its own welfare and advancement. It must look outward, to cooperate with all nations in meeting their common concern. It would serve as a nucleus for the eventual. union of all free men - those who are now free and those who are vowing that some day they will be free.

To address the other part of the question: There is a world of difference between a united and an organized Europe and a free exchange area. We have always envisaged a united Europe as a political entity able and willing to participate with us in the responsibilities of today's world. A free exchange area is merely "free trade" in today's nomenclature and cannot be equated in any way with the question of a united Europe. These are quite separate questions. We all, I hope, believe in liberalizing trade on a reciprocal basis, but that is apart from and not a substitute for a United Europe.

It is not for us to establish the terms for United Kingdom entry. It is a European question which should be decided by Europeans.

There is one point, however, which must be made clear: There has been talk recently of some sort of association between the United Kingdom and the European Community short of membership. I would just like to say that while we have consistently supported European unification we are opposed to preferential trading arrangements between the European Communities and other countries when such arrangements are not clearly linked to membership within a reasonable period of time.