753: Southern Half

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Southern Half
Also, if you read his speech at Rice, all his arguments for going to the moon work equally well as arguments for blowing up the moon, sending cloned dinosaurs into space, or constructing a towering penis-shaped obelisk on Mars.
Title text: Also, if you read his speech at Rice, all his arguments for going to the moon work equally well as arguments for blowing up the moon, sending cloned dinosaurs into space, or constructing a towering penis-shaped obelisk on Mars.


On May 25, 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy gave a speech before a joint session of Congress, in which he set as a goal for the American people the task of landing a man on the moon and returning him successfully to earth. Though Kennedy didn't live to see that goal become a reality - he was assassinated in 1963 - the Apollo 11 lunar module landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in July, 1969. During that speech, Kennedy said the sentence that the comic is referring to, and the map provided shows that the vast majority of the regions he mentioned are actually in the Northern Hemisphere, despite Kennedy calling them "the whole southern half of the globe", not to mention the Southern Hemisphere has regions which are not included (like Australia).

The actual meaning behind Kennedy's statement is likely a reference to the common lingo used describing the 'third world' as the 'Global South', which is a metaphorical rather than geographical description which includes all of the regions mentioned (though leaving out the USSR from Asia, as Soviet satellite states are commonly referred to as “second-world” to the West’s “first world” and un- or underdeveloped nations’ “third world”). At the time, a number of proxy wars between the U.S. and the USSR had broken out and were in progress in many third world countries across the entirety of the regions mentioned. Thus, Kennedy was describing the Cold War and his expectation that it would continue, and that the 'Global South' would be the actual battlefield. Out-of-context, and insisting on a literal geographic interpretation for the words, this part of the speech sounds particularly funny.

Another way to understand Kennedy's phrasing is a reference to the "southern half" of the land on earth. Because the area south of the equator is mostly water, the geographical centre of Earth (geometric centre of all land surfaces) is in Turkey, meaning that (with the exception of the Russian part of Asia) almost the entirety of the regions Kennedy listed are in the southern half of Earth's land surfaces.

A third way is to interperate what the comic interperates as a dash as a comma making the sentence a list only, instead of a list and saying what the list is of.

The title text refers to a September 1962 speech Kennedy gave at Rice University. One of the most famous quotes from that speech is, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Randall suggests that all of the arguments Kennedy made for going to the moon could also serve the cause of many different "innovations", such as blowing up the moon, sending cloned dinosaurs into space, or, ridiculously, constructing a towering penis-shaped obelisk on Mars. Or, as seen here, eating a bag of pinecones.


"The great battlefield for the defense and expansion of freedom today is the whole southern half of the globe - Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East."
-John F. Kennedy, 1961 speech to Congress.
[An ovoid world map, with Latin America colored in red, Africa in yellow, the Middle East in green, and Asia in Blue. There is an arrow pointing to the top of the map marked 'northern half', and another arrow pointing to the bottom half marked 'southern half.' The majority of these places are actually in the northern half.]
Okay, so I'm half a century late on this, but it's been bugging me: did JFK own a globe?


This is the first xkcd comic featuring John F. Kennedy.

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OF COURSE! A Penis-Shaped Obelisk on Mars! And it's got to be big enough to been seen with an ordinary backyard telescope.-- 00:31, 20 March 2013 (UTC)

And, yes, I imagine it would be hard. 23:17, 4 May 2013 (UTC)
"Hard" .... *facepalm*. 14:37, 9 October 2014 (UTC)

Woah, woah, no cloned velociraptors in spaaace. Not on my watch. BruceJohnJennerLawso (talk) 05:25, 13 November 2013 (UTC)

However, leave off Latin America and the rest seem to be pretty much in the hemisphere centered at the Persian Ocean.-- 07:14, 27 May 2014 (UTC)

I was under the impression that latin America did not include south America, just the part of north America south of the USA. 02:20, 19 June 2014 (UTC)

That's called Mexico. Seriously, that's the only country south of the U.S. in North America. Beyond that is central America, although some people do, in fact, define Central America as part of North America. Weirdly, it seems people only think of Central America as part of North America when specifically talking about Central America, and when discussing North America, Central America is not part of it. This is also reflected in search results. 13:58, 30 March 2022 (UTC)

Randall lacks to take in account the USA-centric view of the USA. If you define "south" as "more south than the USA", the speech sounds legit (especially if you subtract the Soviet Union from Asia - surely the enemy but not the "battlefield" Kennedy talked about). 12:12, 20 October 2014 (UTC)

Ah I see, so the USA-centric view puts the equator as the southern border of USA to Mexico... So pretty much everything is the southern Hemisphere then! Makes sense! Lol. 00:46, 13 December 2014 (UTC)
The thing is, JFK did say 'southern half' and not 'southern area'. I understand your argument, but half is half, no matter your perspective. In Australia, 'southern half of the globe' doesn't mean 'Antarctica'. 09:23, 13 December 2015 (UTC)
But since he was talking about land, what if you look at the southern 50% of land mass only - a line that would be much higher north, as most of the land on earth is above the equator. And then if you generously interpret his statement as meaning "only those parts of those continents that are below that line", it actually kind of works. 15:36, 31 May 2022 (UTC)

The title text in the first illustration for http://what-if.xkcd.com/124/ also references the Kennedy Rice speech. 10:34, 6 February 2015 (UTC)

Look. Kennedy was zoned out on painkillers most of the time. He didn't know what he was saying and probably didn't care. The praise lavished on his Presidency is mostly hype. Jakee308 (talk) 02:50, 10 June 2015 (UTC)

Is it possible that the dash in Kennedy's quote should be a comma? In which case he was saying the battlefield is everywhere except US, Canada, and Europe? 07:52, 6 August 2015 (UTC)

See xkcdsw. 06:14, 18 August 2015 (UTC)

Also: Asia, Africa AND the middle east? I always was under the impression, that the middle east is located on these continents. This can only mean, that he explicitely wants to include western Turkey to the list. --Lupo (talk) 07:01, 27 March 2020 (UTC)

I just always thought JFK played a lot of a certain game which came out in 1959: https://imgur.com/xaywAVB. As you can see, in the "southern half" - below the fold - are (1) a good bit of Asia, including Vietnam, (2) almost all of Latin America, (3) ALL of Africa, and (4) the Middle East. (Also, Spain and Portugal, southern France, and most of Italy and Greece.) Mathmannix (talk) 17:51, 23 July 2020 (UTC)