JOHN F. KENNEDY
June 10, 1963
President Anderson, members of the faculty, board of trustees,
distinguished guests, my old colleague, Senator Bob Byrd,
who has earned his degree through many years of attending
night law school, while I am earning mine in the next 30
minutes, ladies and gentlemen: - It is with great pride
that I participate in this ceremony of the American University,
sponsored by the Methodist Church, founded by Bishop John
Fletcher Hurst, and first opened by President Woodrow Wilson
in 1914. This is a young and growing university, but it
has already fulfilled Bishop Hurst's enlightened hope for
the study of history and public affairs in a city devoted
to the making of history and to the conduct of the public's
business. By sponsoring this institution of higher learning
for all who wish to learn, whatever their color or their
creed, the Methodists of this area and the Nation deserve
the Nation's thanks, and I commend all those who are today
Professor Woodrow Wilson once said that every man sent
out from a university should be a man of his nation as
well as a man of his time, and I am confident that the
men and women who carry the honor of graduating from this
institution will continue to give from their lives, from
their talents, a high measure of public service and public
"There are few earthly things more beautiful than
a university," wrote John Masefield, in his tribute
to English universities-and his words are equally true
today. He did not refer to spires and towers, to campus
greens and ivied walls. He admired the splendid beauty
of the university, he said, because it was "a place
where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where
those who perceive truth may strive to make others see."
I have, therefore, 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 of 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 glove and to generations yet unborn.
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.
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
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.
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 countries, 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 all mortal.
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 Communist's 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 tensions 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 sub continent, 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 converge.
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 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 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
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 oppression. 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.