National Post (Latest Edition)

Was JFK quoting Zorro?


Re: Lessons From A Hungry Dog, George Jonas, Jan. 29. If writers such as George Jonas aregoing to give JFK credit for the line, “Ask not what your country …” then the Post should at least include an asterisk, alerting readers to the real origins of the phrase.

Researcher­s attribute the quote to Roman statesman and orator Cicero, who used it during a speech in 64 BC. Some scholars, however, believe Cicero borrowed it from Juvenal, a Roman poet.

Others who used similar quotes include Captain Felipe Arrellanos, a character on the TV series Zorro. In the episode Invitation to Death, he gives a patriotic speech defending Spain in which he asks: “Is this the time for us to be asking, ‘What have you [Spain] done for us? We should be asking what can we do for you?’ ”

In his 1925 book The New Frontier, Khalil Gibran wrote: “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in a desert.”

Warren Harding in 1916 at the Republican convention echoed a similar statement: “We must have a citizenshi­p less concerned about what the government can do for it and more anxious about what it can do for the nation.” The line is on display in Harding’s own handwritin­g at his Marion, Ohio, home.

Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, “Recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return” in an 1884 Memorial Day speech.

Steve McCourtie, Lansing, Mich.

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