John F. Kennedy

Address on the 20th Anniversary of the Voice of America

delivered 26 February 1962, Health, Education, and Welfare Building, Washington, D.C.

Audio mp3 of Address


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Occupying as I do a rather secondary status these days with the -- I'm very appreciative to you all for waiting. I think that this meeting is tied up with the common American interest in Colonel Glenn, and I feel that in addition to being dry, we are also contributing a little to telling the story of which he's a great part -- as are Alan Shepard and the others.

I think that I was most anxious to come here personally today, because I put such great importance on the work that you're doing. The Voice of America is -- occupies, I believe, a key part in the story of American life. What we do here in this country, and what we are, what we want to be, represents, really, a great experiment in a most difficult kind of self-discipline, and that is the organization and maintenance and development and the progress of free government. And it is your task, as the executives and the participants in the Voice of America, to tell that story around the world.

This is an extremely difficult and sensitive task. On the one hand, you are an arm of the Government, and therefore an arm of the Nation; and it is your task to bring our story around the world in a way which serves to represent democracy and the United States in its most favorable light. But on the other hand, as part of the cause of freedom, and the arm of freedom, you are obliged to tell our story in a truthful way, to tell our, as Oliver Cromwell said about his portrait, "Paint us with all our blemishes and warts, all [those] things about us that may not be so immediately attractive."1

We compete with other means of communication, of those who are our adversaries who tell only the good stories. But the things that go bad in America, you must tell that also. And we hope that this -- the bad and the good -- is sifted together by people of judgment and discretion and taste and discrimination, that they will realize what we're trying to do here.

This presents with -- to you an almost impossible challenge, and it's a source of satisfaction to me that in the last 20 years you've met that challenge so well. I know that there are those who are always critical of the Voice, but I believe that over the years, faced with this very difficult challenge, far more difficult than that of an American editor or a newspaperman or a commentator on an American radio or television station, you've been able to tell our story in a way which makes it believable and credible. And that's what I hope you'll continue to do in the future.

The first words that the Voice of America spoke were 20 years ago. They said (The Voice of America speaks):

...Today America has been at war for 79 days. Daily, at this time, we shall speak to you about America and the war. The news may be good or bad. We shall tell you the truth.2

And so you have, for 20 years; and so you shall for 20 years more.

In 1946 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution reading in part, "freedom of information is a fundamental human right, and the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated." This is our touchstone as well. This is the code of the Voice of America. We welcome the view of others. We seek a free flow of information across national boundaries and oceans, across iron curtains and stone walls. We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.


The Voice of America thus carries a heavy responsibility. Its burden of truth is not easy to bear. It must explain to a curious and suspicious world what we are. It must tell them of our basic beliefs. It must tell them of a country which is in some ways a rather old country -- certainly old as republics go. And yet it must make our ideas alive and new and vital in the high competition which goes on around the world since the end of World War II.

In the last 20 years the Voice of America and its parent organization have grown in strength and in stature, but in the next 20 years our opportunities to tell our story will expand beyond belief: the advent of the communications satellite, the modernization and education of less-developed nations, the new wonders of electronic[s] and technology -- all these and other developments will give our generation an unprecedented opportunity to tell our story. And we must not only be equal to the opportunity, but to the challenge as well.

For in the next 20 years your problem and ours as a country, in telling our story, will grow more complex. The choices we present to the world will be more difficult, and for some the future will seem even more empty of hope and progress. The barrage upon truth will grow more constant, and some people cannot bear the responsibility of a free choice which goes with self-government. Finally, shrinking from choice, they turn to those who prevent them from choosing, and thus find in a kind of prison, a kind of security.

We believe that peop[le] are capable of standing the burdens and the pressures which choice places upon them, and it is because of this strong conviction that this organization functions, and it is because there is this commitment to this view that you continue to serve in it.

None of you are interested in serving in an agency which merely reflects a line which the Government from time to time may set down. You serve in it -- and you all could serve in different agencies or in different parts of life -- because you believe, I am sure, that this is a vital part of telling our story around the world.

And as you tell it, it spreads. And as it spreads, not only is the security of the United States assisted, but the cause of freedom.

So I salute you on your 20th birthday and say that in the next 20 years when these choices will become more vital to us, I believe that the Voice of America will be fulfilling its function, as it did that first day when it committed itself to truth.

Thank you.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

1 Attributed, unconfirmed.

2 Transcript of VOA audio recording includes German language opening and underlay accompanying the English language broadcast:

This is a voice speaking from America, a voice from America at war. Our voices are coming to you from New York, across the Atlantic ocean to London from where they are relayed to you from Germany. Today, America has been at war for 79 days. Daily, at this time, we shall speak to you about America and the war. The news may be good or bad. We shall tell you the truth.

The original broadcast date and other particulars are subject to clarification. The Voice of America website (retrieved 19 January 2018) dates the broadcast 1 February 1942. Several English speaking orators delivered the message, including William Harlan Hale. See also this useful corrective piece.

Original Text Source:

Original Audio of Kennedy Speech Source: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum

Original Audio of Voice of America's First Broadcast:

Images of Kennedy and VOA logo #1 Source:

Page Updated: 6/15/21

U.S. Copyright Status: This text and audio of Kennedy's Speech = Property of Audio of the Voice of America and Image of logo #1 = Public domain. Images of Voice of America logo's 2 and 3 = Uncertain.
































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