JFK, June 1963, American University speech


Richard Moore


Here, in June 1963, we see JFK calling for complete disarmament and 
an end to the Cold War.  I don't remember hearing anything about this 
at the time. It took only four months for the powers-that-be to get 
rid of him and resume their plans via LBJ.



        "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."

        "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

Original source URL:

Commencement Address
President John F. Kennedy
John M. Reeves Athletic Field, American University, Washington DC
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 thirty minutes, ladies and 

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 graduating.

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 support.

"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 11 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 globe and to generations yet 

Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons 
acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use the 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 again.

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 

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 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.

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 aggressive wars."

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 

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 twenty 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 twenty-four 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 to weapons massive sums of 
money 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.

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 eighteen 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.

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 
subcontinent, 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 

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 

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 existence?

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.

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