Both peacemakers and warmakers should revisit JFK’s 1963 address at American University

President Kennedy made a profound speech at American University’s commencement on June 10, 1963. Evidently reflecting his experience of managing the Cuban missile crisis barely eight months earlier, JFK spoke of harsh realities in inspirational terms:

“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 these forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all of 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 generations yet unborn…. I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men.”

Despite the “Cold War” enmity of the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the time, Kennedy recognized the tremendous suffering and sacrifice of Russia in defeating fascism in WWII (more than 25 million dead, its land and industry devastated by the Nazi invasion), and refused to demonize either the USSR’s communist government or the Russian people. Rather he pointed starkly to the certain result of nuclear exchange between the two great atomic powers: “All we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours.” Instead of sinking billions of dollars annually in a “dangerous cycle” that could end civilization itself, we could, and should, be “devoted to combating ignorance, poverty, and disease.”

“So,” said the president, “let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which difference 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.”

Indeed, we are all mortal. Less than six month’s later, Kennedy the apostle of peace would be dead, as would be others like brother Bobby and Martin Luther King just a few years later. The lesson should not be lost on today’s hubristic “warriors” who foolishly use threats of using nuclear arms to further short-term and ultimately small-minded geopolitical-economic aims. No one “wins” a nuclear war. The path of nuclear escalation is a one-way ride on the long black train of death.

You can see the full Kennedy address as he delivered it here –

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s