Levees Not War
National Security Begins at Home

“So Let Us Persevere . . .”

11/22/10

On the anniversary of the assassination of a peace-seeking, war hero president—and at a time when the arms-reduction efforts of another peace-seeking president are being opposed for only political, not strategic, reasons by a few obstinate Republicans in Congress—we thought it fitting to present passages from President John F. Kennedy’s famous commencement address at American University in Washington on June 10, 1963. In this speech President Kennedy outlined a vision of peaceful coexistence of nations and announced “a series of concrete actions and effective agreements” the U.S. was initiating to make peace a little more likely. Kennedy’s reasons in 1963 apply to President Obama’s efforts today. Following the excerpts, please also see some key quotations from a fine book by James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, now in paperback.

“No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

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.

. . . 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. . . .

Let us focus . . . 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.

. . . 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. . . .

. . . 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.

From JFK and the Unspeakable by James W. Douglass

We can know the essential truth of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. That truth can set us free. . . .

On our behalf, at the height of the Cold War [in the Cuban missile crisis, October 1962], John F. Kennedy risked committing the greatest crime in history, starting a nuclear war.

Before we knew it, he turned toward peace with the enemy who almost committed that crime with him.

For turning to peace with his enemy (and ours), Kennedy was murdered by a power we cannot easily describe. Its unspeakable reality can be traced, suggested, recognized, and pondered. That is one purpose of this book. The other is to describe Kennedy’s turning. . . .

John Kennedy’s story is our story, although a titanic effort has been made to keep it from us. That story, like the struggle it embodies, is as current today as it was in 1963. The theology of redemptive violence still reigns. The Cold War has been followed by its twin, the War on Terror. We are engaged in another apocalyptic struggle against an enemy seen as absolute evil. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the enemy. We are told we can be safe only through the threat of escalating violence. Once again, anything goes in a fight against evil: preemptive attacks, torture, undermining governments, assassinations, whatever it takes to gain the end of victory over an enemy portrayed as irredeemably evil. Yet the redemptive means John Kennedy turned to, in a similar struggle, was dialogue with the enemy. When the enemy is seen as human, everything changes.

—from the Preface

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Praise for James W. Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

“A remarkable achievement, outstanding even in an overcrowded field. It is profoundly conceived, researched, considered, argued, and written. . . . Not all will agree with his detailed speculation as to what happened in Dallas. But Douglass’s large picture of America’s political agony is, I believe, incontrovertible and certain to last.” —Peter Dale Scott, author, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK

“Jim Douglass has unraveled the story of President Kennedy’s astonishing and little-known turn toward peace, and the reasons why members of his own government felt he must be eliminated. This disturbing, enlightening, and ultimately inspiring book should be read by all Americans. It has the power to change our lives and set us free.” —Martin Sheen

“Douglass presents, brilliantly, an unfamiliar yet thoroughly convincing account of a series of creditable decisions of John F. Kennedy—at odds with his initial Cold War stance—that earned him the secret distrust and hatred of hard-liners among the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA. Did this suspicion and rage lead directly to his murder by agents of these institutions, as Douglass concludes? Many readers who are not yet convinced of this ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ by Douglass’s prosecutorial indictment will find themselves, perhaps—like myself—for the first time, compelled to call for an authoritative criminal investigation. Recent events give all the more urgency to learning what such an inquiry can teach us about how, by whom, and in whose interests this country is run.” —Daniel Ellsberg, author, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

“Douglass writes with moral force, clarity, and the careful attention to detail that will make JFK and the Unspeakable a sourcebook for many years to come, for it provides us with the stubborn facts needed to rebuild a constitutional democracy within the United States.” —Marcus Raskin, co-founder, Institute for Policy Studies

“By far the most important book yet written on the subject.” —Gaeton Fonzi, former Staff Investigator, U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations

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Top photograph of John F. Kennedy by Philippe Halsman, 1952

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