Eight months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy delivered a dramatic paradigm-shifting speech at the commencement exercises at American University. Delivered on June 10, 1963 — almost five months before he would be assassinated — it has gone down in history as JFK’s “Peace Speech.”
It was a short speech. It was a shocking speech, especially to the U.S. national-security establishment. It was broadcast all across the Soviet Union — the first time that had ever happened.
Every American today owes it to himself to read or listen to Kennedy’s Peace Speech, especially given the deadly, destructive, and highly dangerous crisis in Ukraine. You can do it here.
In his Peace Speech, Kennedy effectively declared an end to the vehement anti-Soviet, anti-Russia animus that had guided U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II. Consider some excerpts from his speech:
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 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….
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.
The question arises: Should we today adopt the principles that JFK set forth in his Peace Speech? Should we adopt a foreign policy of peaceful, friendly, and harmonious relations with Russia as well as with China, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and the rest of the world?
The Pentagon and the CIA would naturally take the same position that they took when Kennedy delivered his speech. They would vehemently oppose any relaxation of the extreme anti-Russian animus that guides our country today — and that guided it throughout the Cold War.
After all, Russia has just invaded Ukraine, the Pentagon and the CIA would point out. In their minds, anyone who thinks America could have normalized relations with Russia would be as hopelessly naive as they were convinced Kennedy was. Even worse, letting down our guard, they would say, would inevitably subject the United States to Russia’s obvious designs to take over Eastern Europe, Western Europe, South America, Canada, and ultimately the United States.
As I point out in my new book An Encounter with Evil: The Abraham Zapruder Story, that was the position of the Pentagon and the CIA toward Kennedy’s Peace Speech. As far as they were concerned, any political leader of any country whose foreign policy was based on abandoning the Cold War paradigm and instead establishing peaceful and normalized relations with the Soviet Union (especially Russia) posed a grave threat to U.S. national security.
After all, don’t forget that just eight months before Kennedy’s Peace Speech, the Soviets had installed nuclear missiles in Cuba pointed at the United States. The Soviets also were continuing the brutal occupations of Eastern Europe and East Germany. They had promised to “bury us.”
And here was Kennedy declaring that he intended to establish peaceful and friendly relations with the Soviets and, essentially, the rest of the communist world.
That’s precisely why the Pentagon and the CIA targeted Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz, with regime change and why they would later target Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, with regime change. The positions of both presidents was the same as Kennedy’s. All three of them said to hell with the U.S. national-security establishment’s Cold War racket, which naturally came with ever-increasing taxpayer-funded largess and power for the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, the CIA, the NSA, and, to a certain extent, the FBI.
Americans today need to do some serious introspection, just as Kennedy exhorted his fellow Americans to do in 1963. We need to examine our own attitudes — especially toward war, foreign interventionism, and the way that the U.S. national-security establishment contributes to crises in the world. This includes Ukraine, where the Pentagon and the CIA have used their old Cold War bureaucratic dinosaur known as NATO to help gin up this deadly, destructive, and highly reckless and dangerous crisis.
We especially need to examine the extreme anti-Russia animus that the Pentagon and the CIA have inculcated in the American people. In the process, we need to closely examine the entire Cold War racket that Kennedy was determined to end and how his assassination brought an immediate end to his dramatic paradigm-shifting vision for the future direction of the United States.
We need to explore the consequences of having abandoned our founding governmental system of a limited-government republic in favor of a national-security state.
We need to take a close look at the dark-side practices of Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, and others and to recognize the many ways that we have become like them.
Our freedom and our well-being depend on it.
My new book is entitledAn Encounter with Evil: The Abraham Zapruder Story. You can purchase it at Amazon.