The Pursuit of Peace

Forty-five years ago, June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered the Commencement Address at American University. You can read the full text of that address online.

President Kennedy said many great things that day. He said this of peace:

I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.

This was all in the context of the Cold War and growing conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. In relation to the “War on Terror” doesn’t this still make sense today? More JFK:

Some say that it is useless to speak of 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 attitudes, 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 towards the possibilities of peace, towards the Soviet Union, towards the course of the cold war and towards freedom and peace here at home.

First examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is 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 goal.

You know how this turned out. He was correct. We did not go to war with the Soviet Union. There are many reasons why we didn’t and I won’t go into those here. The point is we (both countries) chose peace.

There are people in this country right now (some VERY high up in the government) who want to go to war with Iran. We face similar issues today as we did 45 years ago. I don’t know if we’ll continue to chose war in the next few years or if we decide to chose peace. I hope it’s the latter.

Finally, here are the words JFK chose to end this historic speech. I heard these on the radio this morning and felt I needed to share them with you. Some of them are no longer true of the United States, and that makes me sad.

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 must labor on–not towards a strategy of annihilation but towards a strategy of peace.

The Generals by Shel Silverstein

I recently heard the poem The Generals by Shel Silverstein on Laugh USA on XM Radio, of all places. This poem sums up my thoughts about war quite nicely. The poem is from his book of children’s poetry titled Where the Sidewalk Ends which was first read to me in elementary school. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy his poem as much as I did:

The Generals

Shel Silverstein

Said General Clay to General Gore,

“Oh must we fight this silly war?

To kill and die is such a bore.”

“I quite agree,” said General Gore.

Said General Gore to General Clay,

“We could go to the beach today

And have some ice cream on the way.”

“A grand idea,” said General Clay.

Said General Clay to General Gore,

“We’ll build sand castles on the shore.”

Said General Gore, “We’ll splash and play.”

“Let’s leave right now,” said General Clay.

Said General Gore so General Clay,

“But what if the sea is closed today?

And what if the sand’s been blown away?”

“A dreadful thought,” said General Clay.

Said General Gore to General Clay,

“I’ve always feared the ocean’s spray,

And we may drown!” “It’s true, we may.

It chills my blood,” said General Clay.

Said General Clay to General Gore,

“My bathing suit is slightly tore.

We’d better to on with our war.”

“I quite agree,” said General Gore.

Then General Clay charged General Gore

As bullets flew and cannons roared.

And now, alas! there is no more

Of General Clay or General Gore.