• Erik Fogel

This Day in Speech & Debate History! Ted Sorensen, Debater & Speechwriter to President Kennedy!

On this day we recognize, Ted Sorensen (May 8, 1928 – October 31, 2010) who was advisor and lead Speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, high school and college debater, international law and human rights advocate, Conscientious objector, Pulitzer Prize winning author, and served his country in so many ways.

Sorensen was brought up in a family of debaters. All five of his siblings were on their high school and college debate teams. “We fought with words, not with weapons,” he stated.

During World War II, Sorensen declared himself to be a conscientious objector. "But I did not believe in killing people, and I did not want to be used to kill people," he says. He offered to serve in the armed forces in any non-violent role as ambulance driver, kitchen or other.

Sorensen graduated at the top of his class at the University of Nebraska law school in 1949. After graduation he became legislative aid to then Senator John F. Kennedy. He also helped Kennedy draft his bestseller Profiles in Courage which won Kennedy the Pulitzer Prize and he went on to win the Presidency. Sorensen served as his close advisor, friend and lead speechwriter. Kennedy called him his “intellectual blood bank.” He would not comment if he was the one who came up with the immortal phrase “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” When asked he simply replied, “ask not.” After Kennedy’s assassination, he served with President Johnson for several months to support him during the transition before leaving the White House to write his first memoir, “Kennedy” which became an international bestseller in 1965. He became one of the close advisors to Robert F. Kennedy in his candidacy for presidency as well.

He cited his proudest work in drafting a letter from Kennedy to the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, which helped end the Cuban missile crisis. “I knew that any mistakes in my letter anything that angered or soured Khrushchev — could result in the end of America, maybe the end of the world.”

Sorensen has continued to be an advocate for human rights, international law, and peace. "Differences [between countries] are inevitable," he said. "But settling those differences by violence is neither inevitable nor useful, much less necessary." He became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and saton the board of the International Center for Transitional Justice, a non-profit group that helps countries pursue accountability for past mass atrocities or human rights abuses. He has also protested the use of detention and interrogation practices by the Bush administration.

He supported Obama’s campaign for Presidency and was very active in his campaign and even helped in the preparation with President Obama's 2009 Inaugural Address.




Voice of America News


New York Times


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