In planning an upcoming conference and nonviolent action aimed at challenging the institution of war, with the conference to be held at American University, I can't help but be drawn to the speech a U.S. president gave at American University a little more than 50 years ago. Whether or not you agree with me that this is the best speech ever given by a U.S. president, there should be little dispute that it is the speech most out of step with what anyone will say at either the Republican or the Democratic national convention this year. Here's a video of the best portion of the speech:
President John F. Kennedy was speaking at a time when, like now, Russia and the United States had enough nuclear weapons ready to fire at each other on a moment's notice to destroy the earth for human life many times over. At that time, however, in 1963, there were only three nations, not the current nine, with nuclear weapons, and many fewer than now with nuclear energy. NATO was far removed from Russia's borders. The United States had not just facilitated a coup in Ukraine. The United States wasn't organizing military exercises in Poland or placing missiles in Poland and Romania. Nor was it manufacturing smaller nukes that it described as "more usable." The work of managing U.S. nuclear weapons was then deemed prestigious in the U.S. military, not the dumping ground for drunks and misfits that it has become. Hostility between Russia and the United States was high in 1963, but the problem was widely known about in the United States, in contrast to the current vast ignorance. Some voices of sanity and restraint were permitted in the U.S. media and even in the White House. Kennedy was using peace activist Norman Cousins as a messenger to Nikita Khrushchev, whom he never described, as Hillary Clinton has described Vladimir Putin, as "Hitler."
Kennedy framed his speech as a remedy for ignorance, specifically the ignorant view that war is inevitable. This is the opposite of what President Barack Obama said recently in Hiroshima and earlier in Prague and Oslo. Kennedy called peace "the most important topic on earth." It is a topic not touched on in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. I fully expect this year's Republican national convention to celebrate ignorance.
Kennedy renounced the idea of a "Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war," precisely what both big political parties now and most speeches on war by most past U.S. presidents ever have favored. Kennedy went so far as to profess to care about 100% rather than 4% of humanity: