(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)
By John Jones, introduction:
The speech is by a UN advisor and economics professor Jeffrey Sachs described as important to us because it speaks directly to the current situation in Ukraine and the attitudes we have to deal with if we want to prevent it from escalating into nuclear war.
Sachs highlights this passage in the speech: "Above all, nuclear powers defending their own vital interests must at the same time seek to avoid confrontations that could force an adversary to choose between a humiliating retreat and nuclear war. Pushing forward such a choice in our nuclear age will be the ultimate proof of our political bankruptcy – or of our collective death wish for the world.”
The speech was courageous. Kennedy not only warns against the possible catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons, but also about the need to tame the nuclear threat and the lust for war in American society itself. Kennedy had to write the speech in secret, without many influential people in the Democratic Party and his own staff knowing about it. He used this opportunity to inform the American people of the negotiated Test Ban Treaty he had completed with the Soviet Union and Great Britain. And he turned to the American people and got support. Khrushchev was so excited by the speech that he had it printed in Pravda in its original form. Five weeks later, the agreement was signed and later ratified by the United States Senate. Additional weeks later, Kennedy presents the agreement to UN general Assembly.
A few weeks later, on November 22, Kennedy is shot and killed in Dallas. Kennedy's family believes there is a connection between what Eisenhower warned against in his farewell speech in January 1960, and the murder on 22 November 1963: The military-industrial complex had become an uncontrollable power in the United States. These interests could not stand Kennedy's talk of demilitarization. It threatened not least an armaments industry that had never scaled back after the war. And the strong economic interests that gradually take shape in an empire-building, confrontational eternal war strategy, we are sitting with today. "Send weapons to Ukraine" is the war cry of these very forces.
Khrushchev was so excited by the speech that he had it printed in Pravda in its original form.
It should also be remembered that the speech was delivered just a few years after Joseph McCarthy had wreaked havoc with his anti-American accusations in all directions, had gagged Hollywood and paralyzed the political landscape for anything that smacked of left-wing attitudes. 'Communist' was the death label that exiled Charlie Chaplin to London for the rest of his life, and spies – real or fictional – received death sentences and lost their livelihoods. Kennedy's reminder of Russian casualties during World War II was bolder than anyone today can imagine. And to call for cooperation must have seemed beyond all decency.
In our context, it is primarily the speech's opening to the Soviet Union, the Communists' standard-bearer, an outstretched hand to America's enemy of all enemies, that makes it courageous and remarkable. Without enemies to rally the nation, the threat of war is powerless. Today, the Soviet Union is gone, but the military-industrial complex has long since replaced the Soviet Union with Russia on America's political enemy map. This world's largest country controls the vast area known as the 'island of the world', which stretches from the historical great powers of Europe to the most populous, China. Russia has vast untapped natural resources. It is this context that Kennedy's speech hits today. And that is why we include it as important when we ORIENTERING looks at the phenomenon of Russophobia – hatred of Russians.
Jeffrey Sachs called the speech one of the most important in history. Read and judge for yourself.
Jeffrey Sachs To move the world, JFK and the Quest for Peace (2013)
and YouTube, June 10, 2023,
By John F. Kennedy:
"Few earthly things are more beautiful than a university", wrote John Masefield in his tribute to English universities – and his words are just as true today. He did not refer to spires and towers, to campus lawns and ivy-covered walls. He admired the universitys singular beauty, he said, for it was "a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who have found truth may strive to make others see."
I have therefore chosen this occasion and this place to discuss a subject where ignorance all too often abounds and the truth too rarely prevails – yet it is the most important topic on earth: Worldpeace.
Not just peace for Americans, but peace for all men and women.
What kind of peace am I referring to? What kind of peace are we seeking? Not a Pax Americana forced upon the world by US weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the safety of the slave. I'm talking about real peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind of peace that enables people and nations to grow and live in hope and create a better life for their children—not just peace for Americans, but peace for all men and women—not just peace in our time, but peace for all time.
I speak today about peace in light of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age where great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without using these weapons. This makes no sense in an age where a single nuclear warhead contains nearly ten times the explosive power used by all the Allied air forces in World War II combined. It makes no sense at a time when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear confrontation would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the farthest corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.
Today's use of billions of dollars annually on arms to ensure that we never have to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But building such pointless stockpiles—which can only destroy and never create—is not the only, nor the most effective, means we have of achieving peace.
I therefore speak of peace as the most rational goal for all rational people. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as exciting as the pursuit of war – and often the words of the persecutor fall on deaf ears. But no task is more urgent.
Some say that there is no point in talking about world peace, world legislation or world disarmament – and that such things will be meaningless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. And I think we can help them do that. But I also believe that we must reconsider our own attitude – as individuals and as a nation. Because our attitudes are just as important as yours.
And every graduate of this university, every thinking citizen who despairs of war and wants to bring peace, should begin by looking within—examining his own attitude to the possibilities of peace, attitudes to the Soviet Union and to the development of the Cold War and to freedom and peace here at home.
First: Let us examine our attitudes towards peace itself. Too many of us think peace is impossible. Too many people think it's unrealistic. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable – that humanity is doomed – that we are ruled by forces we cannot control.
Peace is a process – a way of solving problems.
We need not accept this view. Our problems are man-made
- therefore they can also be solved by humans. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem concerning our future is too difficult for us. Human reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable – and we believe they can do it again.
I am not referring to the absolute grandiose idea of universal peace and good will dreamed up by fantasists and fanatics. I do not deny the importance of hopes and dreams, but such only invite discouragement and disbelief when it becomes our sole and immediate goal.
Let us focus instead on a 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 that are in the interests of all parties concerned.
There is no simple key to this peace—no grand or magical formula to be adopted by one or two powers. True peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many actions. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. Because peace is a process – a way of solving problems.
With such a peace, there will still be disagreement 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 only requires that they live together in mutual tolerance and submit their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. History also teaches us that enmity between nations, as between individuals, does not last forever. No matter how strongly we like or dislike something, the tides of time and events will often bring surprising changes to the relations between nations and neighbors.
So let's persevere. Peace doesn't have to be inconvenient, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less distant, we can help people see it, find hope in it, and move relentlessly toward it.
No nation has ever suffered more than the Soviet Union suffered during World War II.
Second: Let us reconsider our attitude to Soviet Union. It is disheartening to think that leaders actually believe what their propagandists write. It is disheartening to read a recent authoritative Soviet text on military strategy and find page after page completely baseless and incredible statements – such as the claim that "American imperialist circles are preparing to launch various kinds of wars ... that we are facing a real threat of a preventive war launched by American imperialists against the Soviet Union ... and that the political goal of the American imperialists is to enslave the European and other capitalist countries economically and politically ... and to achieve world domination ... by means of aggressive wars".
Indeed, as it was written long ago, "The wicked flee even where no one pursues them." Still, 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, cooperation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats.
No government, no social system is so evil that its people are without morality. As Americans, we find communism deeply abhorrent as it denies people personal freedom and dignity. Nevertheless, we can still pay tribute to the Russian people for their many achievements – in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in courageous action.
Among the many aspects our two countries have in common, none is stronger than our mutual abhorrence of war. It is almost unique among major world powers, but we have never been at war with each other. And no nation in the history of war has ever suffered more than the Soviet Union suffered during World War II. At least 20 million lost their lives. Countless millions of homes and farms were burned or destroyed. One-third of the country's territory, including nearly two-thirds of its industrial base, was laid waste—a loss equivalent to the destruction of the entire United States east of Chicago.
Today, if all-out war breaks out again – no matter how it happens – our two countries will be the main targets of the bombs. It is an ironic but precise fact that the two strongest powers are the same two most in danger of being destroyed. Everything we've built, everything we've worked for, would be destroyed within the first 24 hours. And even in the Cold War that brings burdens and dangers to so many countries, including this nation's closest allies, our two countries bear the heaviest burdens. Because we both spend enormous sums on weapons that could have been used to fight ignorance, poverty and disease. Both super powerare caught in a vicious and dangerous circle where suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new ones arms breeds counterweapons.
New weapons breed counterweapons.
In short, boats USA and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutual deep interest in obtaining a just and genuine peace and in stopping the arms race. Agreements to this end are in the interest of the Soviet Union, but also in ours—and even the most hostile nations can be trusted to accept and keep these treaty obligations, obligations that are in their own interest.
So let's not be blind to the differences between us – but let's also focus on our common interests and on how we can learn to live with these differences. And if we can't deal with disagreement now, we can at least help make the world more diverse. Because at the end of the day, it is fundamental that we all live on this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all care about our children's future. And we are all mortal.
Third: Let us reconsider our attitude towards it call the war, and remember that this is not a debate where points are to be scored. We are not here to apportion blame or point fingers at each other. We must deal with the world as it is, and not as it could have been if the history of the last 18 years had been different.
We must therefore persevere in the search for peace in the hope that constructive changes within the communist bloc can bring solutions that now seem out of reach. We must conduct our affairs in such a way that it will be in the interests of the Communists to agree on a real peace. Above all, nuclear powers defending their own vital interests must at the same time seek to avoid confrontations that could force an adversary to choose between a humiliating retreat or nuclear war. To push such a choice in our nuclear age would be the final proof of our political bankruptcy – or of our collective death wish for the world.
To secure these goals, America's weapons are non-provocative, carefully controlled, designed to deter and suitable for selective use. Ours military forces are committed to peace with discipline and self-restraint. Our diplomats are instructed to avoid unnecessary irritation and pure rhetoric hostility.
Because we can seek to reduce tensions without relaxing our guard. And for our part, we do not need to use threats to prove that we are determined. We do not need to interfere with foreign broadcasts for fear of being affected. We are not willing to impose our system on unwilling people – but we are willing and able to engage in peaceful competition with all people on earth.
In the meantime, we seek to strengthen FN to help solve the organization's financial problems, make it a more effective instrument of peace, and develop it into a real security system for the world—a system capable of resolving disputes based on laws. We want to make the world safe for young and old, and create conditions so that weapons can finally be abolished.
At the same time, we seek to keep peace in the non-Communist world, where many nations – all of whom are our friends – are divided on issues that weaken Western unity, which invite Communist intervention – or with the consequence breaking out into war. Our efforts in West New Guinea, in the Congo, in the Middle East and on the Indian subcontinent have been persistent and patient despite criticism from both sides. We have also tried to set an example for others – by advocating to adjust small but significant differences with our own closest neighbors in Mexico and Canada.
To create conditions so that guns can finally be abolished.
Speaking of other nations, I want to make one point clear. We are tied to many nations with alliances. These alliances exist because our concerns and theirs overlap substantially. Our commitment to defend Western Europe and Vest-Berlin, for example, are unwavering and based on our shared vital interests. The United States will not enter into any agreement with the Soviet Union at the expense of other nations and peoples, not only because they are our partners, but also because their interests and ours coincide.
However, our interests coincide not only because we defend the borders of freedom, but because we want to follow the path of peace. It is our hope—and the purpose of the policy of our allies—to convince the Soviet Union that she too should let each nation choose its own path, so long as their choices do not interfere with the choices of others. The communist drive to impose others' political and economic systems is the main cause of world tensions today. For there can be no doubt that if all nations could refrain from interfering in the self-determination of others, peace would be far more secure.
This will require a new venture to create one global legislation – a new context for the world's discussions. It will require increased understanding between the Soviets and ourselves. And increased understanding will require increased contact and communication. A step in this direction is the proposed direct line between Moscow and Washington, to avoid dangerous delays, misunderstandings and misreadings of the other's actions that can occur in a time of crisis.
We also talked in Geneva about other first-stage arms control measures designed to limit the arms race and reduce the risk of unwanted war. However, our primary long-term interest in Geneva is general and complete disarmament – designed to be carried out in stages, allowing for parallel political
developments to build the new institutions of peace that will take the place of weapons.
the hunt for disarmament has been an issue for US governments since the 1920s. It has been in strong demand by the last three administrations. And however dim the prospects are today, we intend to continue this work—to continue it so that all countries, including our own, can better understand the problems and opportunities of disarmament.
The one major area of these negotiations that we are now seeing come to an end, but where a new beginning is sorely needed, is an agreement banning nuclear weapons tests. The conclusion of such an agreement, so close and yet so distant, would prevent the arms race from spiraling out of control in one of the most dangerous areas we have. It would enable the nuclear powers to deal more effectively with one of the greatest dangers facing humanity in 1963, the increased proliferation of nuclear weapons. It would increase our security—it would reduce the possibilities of war. Surely this goal is sufficiently important to demand that we commit to it, and that we yield neither to the temptation to abandon the entire effort nor to the temptation to abandon our insistence on vital and responsible safeguards.
I therefore take this opportunity to announce two important decisions in this regard.
Firstly: Prime Minister Khrushchev, Prime Minister Macmillan and I have agreed that high-level discussions will soon begin in Moscow with a view to an early agreement on a comprehensive trial ceasefire agreement. Our hope must be tempered with the caution of history – but with our hope comes the hope of all humanity.
Second: To make clear our good will and solemn conviction in this matter, I now declare that the United States proposes to stop nuclear test explosions in the atmosphere as long as other states fail to implement such. We will not be the first to continue the explosions. Such a declaration is no substitute for a formally binding agreement, but I hope it will help us reach one. Nor will such an agreement be a substitute for disarmament, but I hope it will help us achieve it.
Finally, my American friends, let's look at our own attitude to peace and freedom here at home as well. The quality and spirit of our own society must justify and support our efforts abroad. We must devote our own lives to this work – as many of you students 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, in our daily lives we must all live up to the ancient belief that peace and freedom belong together. In too many of our cities today, peace is not assured, since freedom is incomplete.
It is the responsibility of the executive branch at all levels of government – local, state and national – to provide and protect this freedom for all our citizens by all means within their area of responsibility. It is the responsibility of the legislative authority at all levels, and where this authority is not sufficient, it must be given such authority. And it is a responsibility that all citizens have everywhere in our country, to respect everyone's rights and to respect the laws of the country.
None of this is without significance Worldpeaceone. "When a man's ways please the Lord," says the Scripture, "he causes even his enemies to live in peace." And isn't peace fundamentally a matter of human rights – the right to live a life without fear of destruction? The right to breathe air as nature gives us – and the right of future generations to a healthy life?
A peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just.
So while we continue to defend our national interests, let us also defend the interests of all people. Eliminating war and weapons is clearly in the interests of both the United States and the Soviet Union. No agreement, no matter how much it benefits all parties, no matter how tightly worded, can provide absolute guarantees against deception and fraud. But it can – if enforced effectively enough, and if it takes sufficient account of the interests of all signatory countries – offer far more security and far fewer risks than an uncontrolled and unpredictable arms race.
The United States will never, as the world knows, start a war. We don't want war. We do not expect war. This generation of Americans has already had enough—more than enough—of war and hatred and oppression. But we will be prepared if others want war. We will be vigilant to try to stop wars.
At the same time, we will also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless in the face of this task, nor do we doubt that it will succeed. We are safe and undaunted and work on – not towards a strategy of annihilation, but towards a strategy of peace.
Translated by John Y. Jones. See also https://www.jfklibrary.org/archives/other-resources/john-f-kennedy-speeches/american-university-19630610