Best Speech a U.S. President Ever Gave

By David Swanson

In planning an upcoming conference and nonviolent action aimed at challenging the institution of war, with the conference to be held at American University, I can’t help but be drawn to the speech a U.S. president gave at American University a little more than 50 years ago. Whether or not you agree with me that this is the best speech ever given by a U.S. president, there should be little dispute that it is the speech most out of step with what anyone will say at either the Republican or the Democratic national convention this year. Here’s a video of the best portion of the speech:

President John F. Kennedy was speaking at a time when, like now, Russia and the United States had enough nuclear weapons ready to fire at each other on a moment’s notice to destroy the earth for human life many times over. At that time, however, in 1963, there were only three nations, not the current nine, with nuclear weapons, and many fewer than now with nuclear energy. NATO was far removed from Russia’s borders. The United States had not just facilitated a coup in Ukraine. The United States wasn’t organizing military exercises in Poland or placing missiles in Poland and Romania. Nor was it manufacturing smaller nukes that it described as “more usable.” The work of managing U.S. nuclear weapons was then deemed prestigious in the U.S. military, not the dumping ground for drunks and misfits that it has become. Hostility between Russia and the United States was high in 1963, but the problem was widely known about in the United States, in contrast to the current vast ignorance. Some voices of sanity and restraint were permitted in the U.S. media and even in the White House. Kennedy was using peace activist Norman Cousins as a messenger to Nikita Khrushchev, whom he never described, as Hillary Clinton has described Vladimir Putin, as “Hitler.”

Kennedy framed his speech as a remedy for ignorance, specifically the ignorant view that war is inevitable. This is the opposite of what President Barack Obama said recently in Hiroshima and earlier in Prague and Oslo. Kennedy called peace “the most important topic on earth.” It is a topic not touched on in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. I fully expect this year’s Republican national convention to celebrate ignorance.

Kennedy renounced the idea of a “Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war,” precisely what both big political parties now and most speeches on war by most past U.S. presidents ever have favored. Kennedy went so far as to profess to care about 100% rather than 4% of humanity:

“… not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”

Kennedy explained war and militarism and deterrence as nonsensical:

“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.”

Kennedy went after the money. Military spending is now over half of federal discretionary spending, and yet neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton has said or been asked in even the vaguest terms what they’d like to see spent on militarism. “Today,” said Kennedy in 1963,

“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.”

In 2016 even beauty queens have shifted to advocating war rather than “world peace.” But in 1963 Kennedy spoke of peace as the serious business of government:

“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.”

Can you imagine any approved speaker at this year’s RNC or DNC suggesting that in U.S. relations toward Russia a major part of the problem might be U.S. attitudes? Would you be willing to wager your next donation to either of those parties? I’d be glad to accept it.

Peace, Kennedy explained in a manner unheard of today, is perfectly possible:

“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.”

Kennedy debunked some of the usual straw men:

“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.”

Kennedy then laments what he considers, or claims to consider, baseless Soviet paranoia regarding U.S. imperialism, Soviet criticism not unlike his own more private criticism of the CIA. But he follows this by flipping it around on the U.S. public:

“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.”

Imagine today trying to get Americans to see a designated enemy’s point of view and ever being invited back on CNN or MSNBC afterward. Imagine hinting at who actually did the vast majority of winning World War II or why Russia might have good reason to fear aggression from its west!

Kennedy returned to the nonsensical nature of the cold war, then and now:

“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 beget counterweapons. 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.”

Kennedy then urges, outrageously by the standards of some, that the United States tolerate other nations pursuing their own visions:

“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 all mortal.”

Kennedy reframes the cold war, rather than the Russians, as the enemy:

“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.”

By Kennedy’s definition, the U.S. government is pursuing a death-wish for the world, just as by Martin Luther King’s definition four years later, the U.S. government is now “spiritually dead.” Which is not to say that nothing came of Kennedy’s speech and the work that followed it in the five months before he was murdered by U.S. militarists. Kennedy proposed in the speech the creation of a hotline between the two governments, which was created. He proposed a ban on nuclear weapons testing and announced the unilateral U.S. cessation of nuclear testing in the atmosphere. This led to a treaty banning nuclear testing except underground. And that led, as Kennedy intended, to greater cooperation and larger disarmament treaties.

This speech also led by degrees difficult to measure to greater U.S. resistance to launching new wars. May it serve to inspire a movement to bring the abolition of war to reality.

30 Responses

  1. Thank you for posting this and your precise comments . I am the theatrical director of March For Our Lives 2016 .in Philly .
    The ideal and idea of peace is not passe …. we need to speak it and embrace the truth of Peace . We are not alone in these thoughts . we just need to assemble and speak about it … assemble in small groups and large groups … in peace about peace for peace .

    thank you
    j. Patrick Doyle

  2. It’s a fine speech, all right. Kennedy was always a hardline anti-Communist. And that was still true when he first became President. Whether that was still true in 1963 is a matter for debate. Maybe he really did have an epiphany. If he was not still a hardline anti-Communist in 1963, if he was actually becoming more of a realist about war, nuclear and otherwise, that could be a reason why he was assassinated. We won’t ever know if that is the case or not.

    Kennedy was right about the collective death wish, of which Americans today appear to have a chronic and terminal case.

    1. I agree Lucymarie Ruth, a fine speech indeed by President Kennedy to combat ignorance. Thank you for bringing a peace perspective to Election 2016. I look forward to attending your conference in September, and will post this on Facebook and Twitter…Stay the Course!

    2. Bobby Kennedy, in an interview while he was running for President after his brother’s murder, was emphatic that JFK was never going to allow he Vietnamese to oust the colonial powers from their land. Bobby cited the domino theory in justification. So JFK’s words sound very good indeed, but his action would, as they say, have spoken louder than his words.

    3. Yes, we DO know much more now than when he spoke. For a comprehensive viewpoint on why he was assassinated, please read the amazingly documented book by James Douglass, “JFK and the Unspeakable.”

  3. Lucymarie Ruth,

    Let me ask you the following: would a hard-line anti-communist have done the following:

    1. Write the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles a letter with forty-seven specific questions about what the U.S. aims in Vietnam were, asking how a military solution (including use of atomic weapons) could actually be feasible (as Senator, in 1953)?
    2. Defend Algerian independence on the Senate floor (1957), against the vast majority of US political opinion and to the disapproval of even the noted “progressive” Adlai Stevenson?
    3. Defend Patrice Lumumba and Congan independence against western (European-American) interests who wanted to paint every such movement as communist-inspired?
    4. Support Sukarno in Indonesia, another non-aligned nationalist leader acccused of communist ties, and work with Dag Hammarskjold not only on the Congo, but also on the Indonesian situation?
    5. Make the stipulation that no American forces be involved in what he was led to believe was a Cuban initiative to take back the island (the Bay of Pigs), and hold fast to that even as the invasion revealed itself to be a disaster?
    6. Refuse to Americanize the conflict in Laos and insist on a neutralist settlement?
    7. Refuse, at least 9 times in 1961 alone, to commit ground troops to Vietnam, and, almost alone, insist on that position in a two-week debate with advisors in November of 1961?
    8. Follow this up with a plan which began in 1962 and was put on paper (by May of 1963) to withdraw even the advisors he had sent in?
    9. Order General Lucius Clay to move his tanks back from the border in Berlin during the Berlin crisis?
    10. Use a back channel with both Khrushchev in order to get around military, CIA and even his own advisers during and after the Missile Crisis, once again being the only person of the group (as revealed by the taped sessions) to have consistently resisted all-out bombardment and invasion of the island?
    11. Use a similar back-channel to try to ease tensions and reopen diplomatic relations with Castro in 1963?

    And then ask yourself this question: would someone like Richard Nixon, the guy who made a career of Red-baiting, the guy who framed Alger Hiss, the guy who under Eisenhower was one of the architects of CIA plans to invade Cuba, have done likewise?

    Now, of course, one can point to some of JFK’s more saber-rattling, “bear any burden” speeches. But why not also talk about the JFK who made these statements:

    “The Afro-Asian revolution of nationalism, the revolt against colonialism, the determination of people to control their national destinies … in my opinion the tragic failure of both Republican and Democratic administrations since World War II to comprehend the nature of this revolution, and its potentialities for good and evil, has reaped a bitter harvest today—and it is by rights and by necessity a major foreign policy campaign issue that has nothing to do with anti-communism.” – from a speech given during the Stevenson campaign, 1956)

    “We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, that we are only 6% of the world’s population, that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94% of mankind, that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity, and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.” – from an address at the University of Washington, Seattle, November 16, 1961

    Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. – John F. Kennedy, from remarks on the first anniversary of the Alliance for Progress, March 13, 1962

    Most of this revisionist business about JFK the “hard-line anticommunist” is based on some of his public poses, which were made because he was constantly aware of the climate in which he had to operate. But let me ask this: Obama made a lot of campaign statements which were not lived up to by his actions in office. How would you judge his Presidency, by what he said or by what he has done?

    I would suggest you read the following books to get a better idea of JFK’s foreign policy:

    1. Richard Mahoney, Ordeal In Africa
    2. Philip E. Muehlenbeck, Betting on the Africans
    3. Robert Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World
    4. Greg Poulgrain, The Incubus of Intervention
    5. John Newman, JFK and Vietnam
    6. James Blight, Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived
    7. Gordon Goldstein, Lessons in Disaster
    8. David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard
    9. James Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable
    10. The first four chapters and the final two chapters of James DiEugenio’s Destiny Betrayed.

    If you do your homework, you will see that the American University speech is less of a surprise, less of a “turning point” than it appears, and more of a logical evolution in the course JFK had set himself on.

    1. P.S. I agree with David’s assessment that the speech is the “most out of step with what anyone will say at either the Republican or the Democratic national convention this year.” I am in fact of the opinion that this “being out of step” broadly characterizes Kennedy in general. It is hard to find attitudes and behavior equivalent to his among the occupants of the White House, at least in the last 75 years or so.

  4. If politics, and especially revolutionary politics, must be based on social analysis, it would probably be very instructive to examine Mr. Kennedy’s premises in this speech, two of them, his Irishness and his Catholicism, so as to focus attention on the roots of our “death wish”, which I find in our Germanic cultural ancestry. Hans-Peter Hasenfratz, in a brief, non-academic monograph (gaudily published in English as Barbarian Rites), argues that German democracy, albeit with slave-holding, gave way around a thousand years ago to a self-destructive, world-raping culture I would call an ideology, replacing perception with fantasy, which I will emblemize in his remark, as a philologist specializing in religious history, that a Germanic young man of this era gained more honor among family and friends for starting a fight with his best friend than for doing something constructive, such as, say, planting oats or building a boat. Apparently the collision with Christendom, in its own ambivalence about solidarity and violence, brought out the worst in Germanic culture and suppressed the best. What was the best: the word “thing” is a Norse, i.e., Germanic, term for a town meeting. The fundamental sine qua non in philosophy and thus of ethics and hence of law is that the Other is capable of debate with me. Me and whomever, we have this thing. No matter how badly we have offended each other.

    1. Nope! That was LBJ. JFK limited the US involvement to very few, and was intending to withdraw–See the Douglass book mentioned above to understand better.

      1. It was a lot more complicated than that. Truman escorted the French re-invasion fleet in 1945. Ike prevented the reunification elections and put in several hundred US military advisors. JFK increased the number of “advisors” to the size of an infantry division but without the heavy weapons, but the latter were nearby on US Navy ships and USAF bases. LBJ and Nixon greatly expanded the war.

        We can go further back when it comes to US colonialism in Asia and the Pacific.

  5. I believe JFK was very much a realist by the time of that speech. Also believe this is an immensely powerful article by World Without War that should be read by all political leaders, particularly those vying for POTUS in the US.

  6. NATO was far removed from Russia’s borders.

    Turkey was already a NATO member – and bordered the Soviet Union. Turkey shares a border with Georgia and Armenia; right behind them lies Russia itself.

    The United States had not just facilitated a coup in Ukraine.

    A sponsored revolution is not a coup.

  7. Obviously you have drank the Kool-Aid that would make Kennedy seem like some martyred saint. In his short time in office, his hawkish beliefs were quite evident with the build up in arms continued from Ike, to the various ‘soft’ invasions of South and Central America that helped pave the way to brutal regimes continuing on through Reagan and so on. Lets not forget the incredible violence he helped to establish in S. Vietnam, two key formerly classified documents NSAM 263 and NSAM 273 bearing testimony that he would not back down from imposing a wider war in Vietnam. Let’s not judge a man by his sweet and seemingly soulful words, but by his actions you will know him. I’d suggest a bit more scholarly research before you sing the praises of a man who was every bit a war hawk and right wing leaning as those existing today…

    1. I agree with you 100%. Speeches are used to fool the public and polish reputations. Actions, and especially bombs and bullets, count for far more than words, especially for those on the receiving end.

      Ike did more to establish the permanent military industrial complex than all other presidents combined, and he knew what was happening, as the first version of his famous speech was given in the spring of 1953, near the beginning of his first term.

  8. A World Free of Nuclear Weapons
    Updated Jan. 4, 2007 12:01 a.m. ET
    Nuclear weapons today present tremendous dangers, but also an historic opportunity. U.S. leadership will be required to take the world to the next stage — to a solid consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally as a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.

    Nuclear weapons were essential to maintaining international security during the Cold War because they were a means of deterrence. The end of the Cold War made the doctrine of mutual Soviet-American deterrence obsolete. Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.

    North Korea’s recent nuclear test and Iran’s refusal to stop its program to enrich uranium — potentially to weapons grade — highlight the fact that the world is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era. Most alarmingly, the likelihood that non-state terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weaponry is increasing. In today’s war waged on world order by terrorists, nuclear weapons are the ultimate means of mass devastation. And non-state terrorist groups with nuclear weapons are conceptually outside the bounds of a deterrent strategy and present difficult new security challenges.


    Apart from the terrorist threat, unless urgent new actions are taken, the U.S. soon will be compelled to enter a new nuclear era that will be more precarious, psychologically disorienting, and economically even more costly than was Cold War deterrence. It is far from certain that we can successfully replicate the old Soviet-American “mutually assured destruction” with an increasing number of potential nuclear enemies world-wide without dramatically increasing the risk that nuclear weapons will be used. New nuclear states do not have the benefit of years of step-by-step safeguards put in effect during the Cold War to prevent nuclear accidents, misjudgments or unauthorized launches. The United States and the Soviet Union learned from mistakes that were less than fatal. Both countries were diligent to ensure that no nuclear weapon was used during the Cold War by design or by accident. Will new nuclear nations and the world be as fortunate in the next 50 years as we were during the Cold War?

    * * *
    Leaders addressed this issue in earlier times. In his “Atoms for Peace” address to the United Nations in 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower pledged America’s “determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma — to devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.” John F. Kennedy, seeking to break the logjam on nuclear disarmament, said, “The world was not meant to be a prison in which man awaits his execution.”

    Rajiv Gandhi, addressing the U.N. General Assembly on June 9, 1988, appealed, “Nuclear war will not mean the death of a hundred million people. Or even a thousand million. It will mean the extinction of four thousand million: the end of life as we know it on our planet earth. We come to the United Nations to seek your support. We seek your support to put a stop to this madness.”

    Ronald Reagan called for the abolishment of “all nuclear weapons,” which he considered to be “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization.” Mikhail Gorbachev shared this vision, which had also been expressed by previous American presidents.

    Although Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev failed at Reykjavik to achieve the goal of an agreement to get rid of all nuclear weapons, they did succeed in turning the arms race on its head. They initiated steps leading to significant reductions in deployed long- and intermediate-range nuclear forces, including the elimination of an entire class of threatening missiles.

    What will it take to rekindle the vision shared by Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev? Can a world-wide consensus be forged that defines a series of practical steps leading to major reductions in the nuclear danger? There is an urgent need to address the challenge posed by these two questions.

    The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) envisioned the end of all nuclear weapons. It provides (a) that states that did not possess nuclear weapons as of 1967 agree not to obtain them, and (b) that states that do possess them agree to divest themselves of these weapons over time. Every president of both parties since Richard Nixon has reaffirmed these treaty obligations, but non-nuclear weapon states have grown increasingly skeptical of the sincerity of the nuclear powers.

    Strong non-proliferation efforts are under way. The Cooperative Threat Reduction program, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Additional Protocols are innovative approaches that provide powerful new tools for detecting activities that violate the NPT and endanger world security. They deserve full implementation. The negotiations on proliferation of nuclear weapons by North Korea and Iran, involving all the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany and Japan, are crucially important. They must be energetically pursued.

    But by themselves, none of these steps are adequate to the danger. Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev aspired to accomplish more at their meeting in Reykjavik 20 years ago — the elimination of nuclear weapons altogether. Their vision shocked experts in the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, but galvanized the hopes of people around the world. The leaders of the two countries with the largest arsenals of nuclear weapons discussed the abolition of their most powerful weapons.

    * * *
    What should be done? Can the promise of the NPT and the possibilities envisioned at Reykjavik be brought to fruition? We believe that a major effort should be launched by the United States to produce a positive answer through concrete stages.

    First and foremost is intensive work with leaders of the countries in possession of nuclear weapons to turn the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise. Such a joint enterprise, by involving changes in the disposition of the states possessing nuclear weapons, would lend additional weight to efforts already under way to avoid the emergence of a nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran.

    The program on which agreements should be sought would constitute a series of agreed and urgent steps that would lay the groundwork for a world free of the nuclear threat. Steps would include:

    Changing the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons to increase warning time and thereby reduce the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon.
    Continuing to reduce substantially the size of nuclear forces in all states that possess them.
    Eliminating short-range nuclear weapons designed to be forward-deployed.
    Initiating a bipartisan process with the Senate, including understandings to increase confidence and provide for periodic review, to achieve ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, taking advantage of recent technical advances, and working to secure ratification by other key states.
    Providing the highest possible standards of security for all stocks of weapons, weapons-usable plutonium, and highly enriched uranium everywhere in the world.
    Getting control of the uranium enrichment process, combined with the guarantee that uranium for nuclear power reactors could be obtained at a reasonable price, first from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and then from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or other controlled international reserves. It will also be necessary to deal with proliferation issues presented by spent fuel from reactors producing electricity.
    Halting the production of fissile material for weapons globally; phasing out the use of highly enriched uranium in civil commerce and removing weapons-usable uranium from research facilities around the world and rendering the materials safe.
    Redoubling our efforts to resolve regional confrontations and conflicts that give rise to new nuclear powers.
    Achieving the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons will also require effective measures to impede or counter any nuclear-related conduct that is potentially threatening to the security of any state or peoples.

    Reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures toward achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage. The effort could have a profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations. Without the bold vision, the actions will not be perceived as fair or urgent. Without the actions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible.

    We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal, beginning with the measures outlined above.

    Mr. Shultz, a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, was secretary of state from 1982 to 1989. Mr. Perry was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997. Mr. Kissinger, chairman of Kissinger Associates, was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977. Mr. Nunn is former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    A conference organized by Mr. Shultz and Sidney D. Drell was held at Hoover to reconsider the vision that Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev brought to Reykjavik. In addition to Messrs. Shultz and Drell, the following participants also endorse the view in this statement: Martin Anderson, Steve Andreasen, Michael Armacost, William Crowe, James Goodby, Thomas Graham Jr., Thomas Henriksen, David Holloway, Max Kampelman, Jack Matlock, John McLaughlin, Don Oberdorfer, Rozanne Ridgway, Henry Rowen, Roald Sagdeev and Abraham Sofaer.

  9. Listening to this speech makes me wonder how much involvement the arms manufacturers had in his death.

  10. Great speech. I would say Eisenhower warning of the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex has to merit consideration as well.

    When will we ever learn violence begets more violence and in order to break this cycle of war we need to find a way to negate the financial profiteering of the politicians (republicans and democrats) who have led (and lied) us into this mess for many years now?

  11. Thanks for your essay and reminding us of this speech. It is typically easier to interpret presidential speeches through the filter of ones’ own agendas and biases. It is much more difficult to derive genuine intent and purpose. One must always assume there are considerations of the context of time and place, how it was meant play to the voters, what unspoken agendas it might be promoting or opposing, etc. Nevertheless, words, simply taken at face value, are important, and words spoken in public by the leader of the United States have tremendous potential. A president is not a king or a dictator, but his public speeches have tremendous power to influence and inspire. I can’t think of another speech by a politician that has offered so much hope and inspiration, while still being so intellectually sturdy, pragmatic and thoughtful, to the hearts and minds of people everywhere in the world, then and now. Martin Luther King was the only other public figure I know that could do it as masterfully as this. And they were both on the same page in terms of the spiritual as well as pragmatic necessity of peace. We need them now more than ever. In modern times, only Dennis Kucinich has ever come close. Thank you David for all you do to keep this concept going.

  12. We all need to remember this message today. Thank you!
    We must persevere in the search for peace. War is not inevitable. – JFK

  13. I do not remember this speech. I wish I had and that this had become a major goal of out country. Far too many is this country have no real concept of a world without war as a consequence of peace. How beautiful the thought of a world with constant peace, each country working to make every member successful, contributing to the equality of all.

  14. Hard to believe we have gone so far backwards since Kennedy’s speech. It needs to be listened to as a wake up call.

  15. “We, the undersigned, are Russians living and working in the USA. We have been watching with increasing anxiety as the current US and NATO policies have set us on an extremely dangerous collision course with the Russian Federation, as well as with China. Many respected, patriotic Americans, such as Paul Craig Roberts, Stephen Cohen, Philip Giraldi, Ray McGovern and many others have been issuing warnings of a looming a Third World War. But their voices have been all but lost among the din of a mass media that is full of deceptive and inaccurate stories that characterize the Russian economy as being in shambles and the Russian military as weak—all based on no evidence. But we—knowing both Russian history and the current state of Russian society and the Russian military, cannot swallow these lies. We now feel that it is our duty, as Russians living in the US, to warn the American people that they are being lied to, and to tell them the truth. And the truth is simply this:

    If there is going to be a war with Russia, then the United States
    will most certainly be destroyed, and most of us will end up dead.

    Let us take a step back and put what is happening in a historical context. Russia has…..” Read MORE…….

  16. Great video, but is there any way you can add Closed Caption? I know segments of the speech are printed in the article, but it is not in order.

  17. From his initial refusal to bail out the Anti-Castro Cuban invasion with the USAF at the Bay of Pigs in April of 1961, to his refusal to be drawn into a shooting war over Berlin in August of 1961, to his negotiated settlement over Laos (no shooting war), to his refusal on 11/22/61 (!) to commit US combat troops to Vietnam, to his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, to his insistence (and political skill) in getting the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ratified, to his decision in October of 1963 to begin withdrawal of all US forces from Vietnam – a withdrawal to be completed by 1965 – all demonstrate a commitment to avoid war and certainly to avoid escalating situations where war became inevitable.

    JFK, as president, did everything he could to avoid war. He did far more than any other president, before or since, to avert war. He had seen war up close and personal, and knew its horrors.

    His positions so infuriated the War Machine in this country that they killed him. And no president since has had the courage to take such a strong stance to prevent war.

  18. Kennedy’s is a moralistic preachment from the church-pulpit standpoint. Does he anywhere mention the huge profits to the weapons makers!!?, the basic cause of needing to create an enemy, the USSR, in order to keep ladling funds into that crevasse. The USSR was chosen because of its work to establish communism – ordering society to comfort the people in it. This is a constant threat to our Owners, our profiteers.

  19. Kennedy’s is a moralistic preachment from the church-pulpit standpoint. Does he anywhere mention the huge profits to the weapons makers!!?, the basic cause of needing to create an enemy, the USSR, in order to keep ladling funds into that crevasse. The USSR was chosen because of its work to establish communism – ordering society to comfort the people in it. This is a constant threat to our Owners, our profiteers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Our Theory of Change

How To End War

Move for Peace Challenge
Antiwar Events
Help Us Grow

Small Donors Keep Us Going

If you select to make a recurring contribution of at least $15 per month, you may select a thank-you gift. We thank our recurring donors on our website.

This is your chance to reimagine a world beyond war
WBW Shop
Translate To Any Language