A Few Months Before
A photo from JFK’s
inspiring speech on peace.
With the exception of a few opening words expressing
personal remarks, we reproduce below the entirety of John F.
Kennedy’s speech delivered in Washington D.C., 10 June
I have … chosen this
time and this 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 I mean? 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 to 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 generations yet unborn.
Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every
year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use
them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle
stockpiles - which can only destroy and never create - is not the only, much
less the most efficient, means of assuring peace.
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.
Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or
world law or world disarmament - and that it will be useless until the leaders
of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I
believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our
own attitude - as individuals and as a Nation - for our attitude is as
essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful
citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking
inward - by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace,
toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the cold war and toward freedom
and peace here at home.
First: Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too
many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a
dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to 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.
I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept
of peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not
deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and
incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal.
Let us focus instead on a more practical, more
attainable peace - based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a
gradual evolution in human institutions - on a series of concrete actions and
effective agreements which are in the interest 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 challenge of each
new generation. For peace is a process - a way of solving problems.
With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and
conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations. World peace,
like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor - it
requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their
disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that
enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever. However
fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often
bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbors.
So let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable,
and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it
seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to
draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.
Second: Let us reexamine our attitude toward the Soviet
Union. It is discouraging to think that their leaders may actually believe what
their propagandists write. It is discouraging to read a recent authoritative
Soviet text on Military Strategy and find, on page after page, wholly baseless
and incredible claims - such as the allegation that “American imperialist
circles are preparing to unleash different types of wars ….. that there is a
very real threat of a preventive war being unleashed by American imperialists
against the Soviet Union ….. [and that] the political aims of the American
imperialists are to enslave economically and politically the European and other
capitalist countries ….. [and] to achieve world domination ….. by means of
Truly, as it was written long ago: “The wicked flee
when no man pursueth”. Yet it is sad to read these Soviet statements - to
realize the extent of the gulf between us. But it is also a warning - a warning
to the American people not to fall into the same trap as the Soviets, not to
see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict
as inevitable, accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more
than an exchange of threats.
No government or social system is so evil that its
people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism
profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can
still hail the Russian people for their many achievements - in science and
space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in acts of courage.
Among the many traits the peoples of our two countries
have in common, none is stronger than our mutual abhorrence of war. Almost
unique among the major world powers, we have never been at war with each other.
And no nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union
suffered in the course of the Second World War. At least 20 million lost their
lives. Countless millions of homes and farms were burned or sacked. A third of
the nation’s territory, including nearly two thirds of its industrial base, was
turned into a wasteland - a loss equivalent to the devastation of this country
east of Chicago.
Today, should total war ever break out again - no
matter how - our two countries would become the primary targets. It is an
ironic but accurate fact that 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. And even in the cold war, which brings burdens
and dangers to so many nations, including this Nation’s closest allies - our
two countries bear the heaviest burdens. For we are both devoting massive sums
of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combating ignorance,
poverty, and disease. We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle in
which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons
In short, both the United States and its allies, and
the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and
genuine peace and in halting the arms race. Agreements to this end are in the
interests of the Soviet Union as well as ours - and even the most hostile
nations can be relied upon to accept and keep those treaty obligations, and
only those treaty obligations, which are in their own interest.
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
Third: Let us reexamine our attitude toward the cold war,
remembering that we are not engaged in a debate, seeking to pile up debating
points. We are not here distributing blame or pointing the finger of judgment.
We must deal with the world as it is, and not as it might have been had the
history of the last 18 years been different.
We must, therefore, persevere in the search for peace
in the hope that constructive changes within the Communist bloc might bring
within reach solutions which now seem beyond us. We must conduct our affairs in
such a way that it becomes in the Communists’ interest to agree on a genuine
peace. Above all, while defending our own vital interests, 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 the bankruptcy of our policy - or of a
collective death-wish for the world.
To secure these ends, America’s weapons are
nonprovocative, 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.
For we can seek a relaxation of tension without
relaxing our guard. And, for our part, we do not need to use threats to prove
that we are resolute. We do not need to jam foreign broadcasts out of fear our
faith will be eroded. We are unwilling to impose our system on any unwilling
people - but we are willing and able to engage in peaceful competition with any
people on earth.
Meanwhile, we seek to strengthen the United Nations,
to help solve its financial problems, to make it a more effective instrument
for 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.
At the same time we seek to keep peace inside the
non-Communist world, where many nations, all of them our friends, are divided
over issues which weaken Western unity, which invite Communist intervention or
which threaten to erupt into war. Our efforts in West New Guinea, in the Congo,
in the Middle East, and in the Indian subcontinent, have been persistent and
patient despite criticism from both sides. We have also tried to set an example
for others - by seeking to adjust small but significant differences with our
own closest neighbors in Mexico and in Canada.
Speaking of other nations, I wish to make one point
clear. We are bound to many nations by alliances. Those alliances exist because
our concern and theirs substantially overlap. Our commitment to defend Western
Europe and West Berlin, for example, stands undiminished because of the
identity of our vital interests. The United States will make no deal with the
Soviet Union at the expense of other nations and other peoples, not merely
because they are our partners, but also because their interests and ours
Our interests converge, however, not only in defending
the frontiers of freedom, but in pursuing the paths of peace. It is our hope - and
the purpose of allied policies - to convince the Soviet Union that she, too,
should let each nation choose its own future, so long as that choice does not
interfere with the choices of others. The Communist drive to impose their
political and economic system on others is the primary cause of world tension
today. For 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.
This will require a new effort to achieve world law - a
new context for world discussions. It will require increased understanding
between the Soviets and ourselves. And increased understanding will require
increased contact and communication. One step in this direction is the proposed
arrangement for a direct line between Moscow and Washington, to avoid on each
side the dangerous delays, misunderstandings, and misreadings of the other’s
actions which might occur at a time of crisis.
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 long range interest
in Geneva, however, 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. The pursuit of
disarmament has been an effort of this Government since the 1920’s. It has been
urgently sought by the past three administrations. And however dim the
prospects may be today, we intend to continue this effort - to continue it in
order that all countries, including our own, can better grasp what the problems
and possibilities of disarmament are.
The one major area of these negotiations where the end
is in sight, yet where a fresh start is badly needed, is in a treaty to outlaw
nuclear tests. The conclusion of such a treaty, so near and yet so far, would
check the spiraling arms race in one of its most dangerous areas. It would
place the nuclear powers in a position to deal more effectively with one of the
greatest hazards which man faces in 1963, the further spread of nuclear arms.
It would increase our security - it would decrease the prospects of war. Surely
this goal is sufficiently important to require our steady pursuit, yielding
neither to the temptation to give up the whole effort nor the temptation to
give up our insistence on vital and responsible safeguards.
I am taking this opportunity, therefore, to announce
two important decisions in this regard.
First: Chairman Khrushchev, Prime Minister Macmillan,
and I have agreed that high-level discussions will shortly begin 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.
Second: To make clear our good faith and solemn
convictions on the matter, I now declare that the United States does not
propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do
not do so. We will not be the first to resume. Such a declaration is no
substitute for a formal binding treaty, but I hope it will help us achieve one.
Nor would such a treaty be a substitute for disarmament, but I hope it will
help us achieve it.
Finally, my fellow Americans, let us examine our
attitude toward peace and freedom here at home. The quality and spirit of our
own society must justify and support our efforts abroad.
We must show it in the dedication of our own lives - as
many of you who are graduating today will have a unique opportunity to do, by
serving without pay in the Peace Corps abroad or in the proposed National
Service Corps here at home.
But wherever we are, 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 at
all levels of government - local, State, and National - to provide and protect
that freedom for all of our citizens by all means 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. “When a man’s
ways please the Lord”, the Scriptures tell us, “he maketh even his enemies to
be at peace with him”. 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 national interests,
let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is
clearly in the interest of both. No treaty, however much it may be to the
advantage of all, however tightly it may be worded, can provide absolute
security against the risks of deception and evasion. But it can - if it is
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 now expect a war. This generation
of Americans has already had enough - more than enough - of war and hate and
We shall be prepared if others wish it. We shall be
alert to try to 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.
(John F. Kennedy)
Reproduced from the
transcript of the talk as published by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
The above text is
available as an independent item in the associated websites since 09 March
2023. It is also included in the January 2023 edition of “The Aquarian Theosophist”, pp. 3-9, under the title “John F.
Kennedy: An Address on the Need for World Peace”.
(photo) wrote these revealing words: “Deserve,