Was JFK quot­ing Zorro?

National Post (Latest Edition) - - LETTERS -

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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