“The Peace Speech” The following are excerpts from “The Peace Speech” a Commencement address delivered by President John F Kennedy at American University on June 10th 1963. To read the speech in its entirety please go to: http://www.southerncrossreview.org/54/kennedy-peace2.htm
Introduction: In 1963 The Cold War and its Nuclear threats are foremost on the mind of the President. JFK’s integrity, diplomacy and rational approach, averted nuclear catastrophe during his presidency. Much can be learned from his approach to international relations, his plea for the dismantling of nuclear arsenals and more broadly for peace. Consider this path.
“I have chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived – yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace.
What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and hope and to build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to the generations yet unborn.
I speak of peace therefore as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war – and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.
First let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many of us think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads us t the conclusion that war is inevitable – that mankind is doomed – that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade – therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable – and we believe they can do it again.
Let us focus on an attainable peace based on a gradual evolution in human institutions – on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interests of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace – no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic not static, changing to meet the challenges of each new generation. For peace is a process – a way of solving problems.
History teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever.
So let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable and war need not be inevitable. It is discouraging to me to think that leaders may actually believe what their propagandists write.
No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. Should war ever break out again – no matter how – the two strongest powers are the two in the most danger of devastation. All we have built all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours. Even in the cold war, which brings burdens if dangers to so many nations, including this nations closest allies – ‘the two great powers’, bear the heaviest burden for we are both devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combating ignorance, poverty, and disease. We are caught up in a vicious cycle in which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons beget counter weapons.
So let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
Nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of a collective death wish for the world.
To secure these ends, America’s weapons are non-provocative, carefully controlled, designed to deter, and capable of selective use. Our military forces are committed to peace and disciplined in self-restraint. Our diplomats are instructed to avoid unnecessary irritants and purely rhetorical hostility.
We do not need to use threats to prove that we are resolute.
We seek to strengthen the United Nations, to make it a more effective instrument of peace, to develop it into a genuine world security system a system capable of resolving disputes on the basis of law, of insuring the security of the large and the small and of creating conditions under which arms can finally be abolished.
We seek to adjust small but significant differences with our closest neighbours Mexico and Canada. We are bound to many nations by alliances. … Our concerns and theirs substantially overlap. Our commitment to defend Western Europe and West Berlin for example stands undiminished. The United States will make no deal with the Soviet Union at the expense of other nations and other peoples.
Our intentions converge not only on the frontiers of freedom but in pursuing the paths of peace. It is our hope – and the purpose of allied policies to let each nation choose its own future. There can be no doubt that if all nations could refrain from interfering in the self-determination of others, the peace would be much more assured.
Increased understanding will require increased contact and communication.
We have also been talking in Geneva about the other first step measures of arms control designed to limit the intensity of the arms race and to reduce the risks of accidental war.
Our primary and long range interest is general and complete disarmament – designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms. … A fresh start is badly needed, in a treaty to outlaw nuclear tests, to check the spiraling arms race and the further spread of nuclear arms…one of the greatest threats we face in 1963.
This would increase our security – it would decrease the prospects of war.
Chairman Krushchev, Prime Minister Macmillan have agreed to high level discussions in Moscow looking toward early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Our hopes must be tempered with the caution of history – but with our hopes go the hopes of all mankind.
Let us examine our attitude toward peace and freedom. We must all in our daily lives live up to the age old faith that peace and freedom walk together. In too many of our cities today the peace is not secure because the freedom is incomplete.
It is the responsibility of the executive branch of all levels of government – local, state and National -to provide and protect that freedom for all of our citizens by all means and within their authority. It is the responsibility of the legislative branch at all levels, wherever that authority is not now adequate to make it adequate. And it is the responsibility of all citizens in all sections of this country to respect the rights of all others and to respect the law of the land.
All this is not unrelated to world peace. And is not peace in the last analysis, basically a matter of human rights—the right to live out our lives without fear of devastation—the right to breathe air as nature provided it—the right of future generations to a healthy existence?
While we proceed to safeguard our nations interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both. No treaty can provide absolute security against the risks of deception and evasion. But it can – if sufficiently effective in its enforcement and if it is sufficiently in the interests of its signers – offer far more security and far fewer risks than an unabated, uncontrolled, unpredictable arms race.
The United States, as the world knows will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough – more than enough – of war and hate and oppression. We shall be prepared if others wish it. We shall be alert to try and stop it. But we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we labor on – not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.”
We the people of the world of 2017, like the people of 1963 America do not want war. We need the leaders of the nations to listen to the people and cease their ramblings of war. We the people of the world know there is no Nuclear War, only Nuclear annihilation. We have learned that war is never won, that a lasting peace is not achieved by force and that other ways are possible. This path is not easy, not expedient, not exciting or dramatic or economically profitable but possible and that is the path some hope, some pray and all who wish to live, demand our leaders take.
Peace is possible. Peace by peace.