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Friday, July 28, 2006

A great speech

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.
Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year of 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.
I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal 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 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.
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.
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.
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... We shall ... 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.
Tragically, the man who delivered that speech was gunned down in the streets of Dallas a few months later. For a few short months, the US had a president who had a different, saner vision of the world. James Carroll's book House of War tells of JFK's journey from ardent cold warrior to the man who gave that incredible speech at American University in June 1963. Kennedy ran in 1960 against Nixon accusing the Eisenhower-Nixon administration of allowing a dangerous "missile gap" to develop with the Soviets. As Carroll points out, there was a "missile gap" -- hugely in the favor of the US, something Kennedy apparently didn't know until he'd been in office for a few months. His first two years were no peaceniks' picnic, either. He signed off on the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, and then was involved in two huge crises which nearly led to nuclear war: the Berlin crisis of 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. These events profoundly affected him, as the man with the button, causing him to realize that the fears on both sides, American and Soviet, were propelling the arms race, turning those fears into self-fulfilling prophecies. The American University speech reached out to Khrushchev and the Soviets, and was broadcast throughout the Soviet Union in its entirety. Nuclear tensions dropped substantially because of the speech, which led to the partial test ban treaty--a first step towards arms control.

Imagine that--a president who actually learns in office! Or is even capable of it.