Saturday, 12 October 2013

JFK: American University Commencment Speech: A Strategy of Peace - June 10th 1963

JFK: American University Commencment Speech: A Strategy of Peace - June 10th 1963 from Spike1138 on Vimeo.

At American University on June 10, 1963, President Kennedy proposed an end to the Cold War.”

Khrushchev called the American University Address “the greatest speech by any American President since Roosevelt.”

To work his way out of the arms race (and free from the kind of dilemma that arose from his science advisor knowing more about nuclear war, even its strategy, than his Defense Secretary), Kennedy decided to create a series of peace initiatives. He began with the American University address, the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, National Security Action Memorandum 263 withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam, and a covert dialogue with Fidel Castro.

During his final months in office, he went further. Compelled by the near-holocaust of the Missile Crisis, he tried to transcend the government’s (and his own) disastrous Cold War assumptions by taking a visionary stand for general and complete disarmament.

On May 6, 1963, President Kennedy issued National Security Action Memorandum Number 239, ordering his principal national security advisers to pursue both a nuclear test ban and a policy of general and complete disarmament. . . .

Marcus Raskin has commented on the meaning of this document: “The President said, ‘Look we’ve really got to figure out how to get out of this arms race. This is just impossible. Give me a plan, the first stage at least of how we’re going to get out of the arms race.’

“This would be a 30% cut of arms. Then move from that stage to the next stage. He was into that. There’s no question about it.”

In the three paragraphs of NSAM 239, Kennedy uses the phrase “general and complete disarmament” four times—twice in the opening paragraph, once each in the final two paragraphs. It is clearly the central focus of the order he is issuing.

The president’s accompanying, secondary emphasis is on “a nuclear test ban treaty,” which he mentions three times. It is his secondary focus that shows just how strongly he is committed to to NSAM 239’s higher priority, general and complete disarmament. For we know that in the three months after NSAM 239 was issued, JFK concentrated his energy on negotiating a nuclear test ban agreement with Khrushchev, a goal he accomplished.`

General and complete disarmament is the more ambitious project in which he says he wants immediate steps to be taken: “an urgent re-examination of the possibilities of new approaches to significant measures short of general and complete disarmament,” such as the 30 percent cut in arms mentioned by Raskin.

In his American University address the following month, he reiterates: “Our primary long-range interest [in the Geneva talks] 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 American University address and the test ban treaty opened the door to the long-range project that was necessary for the survival of humanity in the nuclear age. The test ban treaty was JFK’s critically important way to initiate with Khrushchev the end of the Cold War and their joint leadership in the United Nations for the redemptive process of general and complete disarmament.

In NSAM 239, Kennedy said why he was prepared to pursue such a radical program: “the events of the last two years have increased my concerns for the consequences of an un-checked continuation of the arms race between ourselves and the Soviet bloc.”

Having been shaken and enlightened by the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy had the courage to recognize, as head of the most disastrously armed nation in history, that humanity could not survive the nuclear age unless the United States was willing to lead the world to general and complete disarmament.

“You believe in redemption don’t you?” Kennedy said to his Quaker visitors. As usual, his irony told the truth and doubled back on himself. Ted Sorenson observed that when it came to disarmament, “The President underwent a degree of redemption himself.”

- Jim Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable

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