Reviving John F. Kennedy’s “Vision of Peace” Today

On June 10, 1963, less than eight months after his nearly-catastrophic confrontation with the Soviet Union over nuclear missiles the latter had placed in Cuba, U.S. President John F. Kennedy (JFK) delivered a speech which must be heard by everyone concerned about the existential threat coming from NATO’s war against Russia in Ukraine. The decision taken by JFK in Oct. 1962 to blockade Cuba had brought the U.S. and the USSR face-to-face in a possible nuclear confrontation. Both leaders were under heavy pressure from “hard-liners” in their defense and intelligence establishments to not back down.

For a period lasting nearly two weeks, there were legitimate fears that nuclear war could break out. Kennedy found a way to outflank his war hawks, opening a back channel to the Soviets, in which his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, spoke with the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin. An agreement was reached, that the Soviets would dismantle and remove the missiles in Cuba, in return for the U.S. doing the same with nuclear missiles in Turkey. To help JFK save face, Khrushchev agreed to make no public announcement about the removal of the U.S. missiles.

This quid-pro-quo became the basis for cooperation which could have ended the Cold War. The June 10, 1963 speech by JFK, delivered at American University in Washington, D.C., represented an open public initiative to win the citizens of both America and the Soviet Union over to this process. Consider the following passages:

“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.”

He continued this appeal by identifying that there are common aims for all people, saying that “…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.”

The speech had the desired effect. Khrushchev called it “the greatest speech by any American president since Roosevelt.” Back channel discussions continued, and deepened. On Aug. 5, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed, after eight years of negotiations, and JFK was preparing for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. His assassination ended that hope for peace, as the special interests behind the “war hawks” launched the U.S. into six decades of virtually perpetual war, up to the present day.

On June 10 this year, the Schiller Institute will hold an online seminar to commemorate this singular moment of exemplary statecraft by an American president. The event will be dedicated to reviving the better tradition of U.S. history, and introduce it to many too young to have lived through it.

Please register for the conference, “The World Needs JFK’s Vision of Peace, here.

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