President Kennedy’s remarks to Mission Directors and Deputy Mission Directors from the Agency for International Development from the Rose Garden of the White House June 8th, 1962.

Well I want to – I’m impressed by – I wish all of our fellow Americans could listen to the litany of the countries to which you are going – all of them far away – many of them countries about which most of us knew very little two decades ago, or even in the case of some of them, a few years ago.  And the term that they will spend in these countries ranges from what? A minimum of two years, two to four years

Well I want to tell you what I’m sure you must be aware of or you wouldn’t be here, and that is the importance of this program and the importance of your work and how much we depend upon your judgment

Aid, the concept of foreign assistance, is not a popular program in the United States.  That is a well-known fact.  And therefore, there will not be farewell parades to you as you leave or parades for you when you come back.  But I cannot think of any action which is more important to the effort of which we’re engaged than what you are doing and the military advisory programs which are carried on in the same countries and the Peace Corps activities which are carried on in some of these countries also.

The presence of the United States as a leading power in the free world is involved in your work directly.  The people who are opposed to AID should realize that this is a very powerful source of strength for us.  It permits us to exert influence for the maintenance of freedom.  If we were not so heavily involved, our voice would not speak with such vigor, and as we do not want to send American troops to a great many areas where freedom may be under attack, we send you, and you working with the people in those countries to try to work with them in developing the economic thrust of their countries so that they can make a determination that they can solve their problems without resorting to totalitarian control and becoming part of the block – that’s the issue.  That is why you are very much in the front line of this effort.  That is why every president of the United States since 1947 – President Truman, President Eisenhower, and myself, have strongly supported this effort.  It represents a very essential national commitment.  It is a burden, but far less than the burden that would be involved to us directly if we did not have this program.

I hope you have the satisfaction of realizing how significant this effort is.  All these heads of state come to the United States to talk to us and one of the reasons is because we are engaged in this effort.  This is a tremendous source of influence for the President of the United States in exerting the power of this country in a way which serves our security and the long-range security of the countries that are involved.  If we did not have this program, our voice would not be as distinct.  So this is very essential.  I don’t always know why we have so much difficulty explaining it, but we do, because the arguments are all easy to make and do not require much thought against it.  But the American people, though they may not like it, in my judgment, they support it.  It’s gone by every year.  Not in the way that the administrations want, but in the final analysis the congress has supported it.  And in my judgment, I know very few occasions when members of congress who have supported it and have suffered any political repercussions because they have supported it.  I think that the good sense, even though these superficial opinions may be against it, the good sense of the American people and the final analysis have supported this program for fifteen years more than any other country in the free world.  We hope other countries who have benefitted from our assistance who are now more prosperous, will do more themselves, but we have to continue to do our part.

So I am delighted to have you here today, I don’t think it’s particularly – most of you are not the age of the Peace Corps – you have all got other things you could be doing – you’re at very important stages in your own lives, so we are doubly indebted to you for being willing to take your families and go to these countries on this task.  And as I say, I’m sure most of you have served in the armed forces of the United States on other occasions, and I would say the job that you are engaged in is as important as any work that is being done by anyone for this country at this time to protect the security of the country.  So we’re particularly glad to have you here at the White House.

An audio recording of President John F. Kennedy’s remarks to USAID Mission Directors is available from the John F Kennedy memorial library.