I’m watching a rerun of CNN’s series “The Sixties,” specifically season one, episode 2, “The World on the Brink.” It’s about the Cuban missile crisis. I watched again as Russian ships carrying nuclear missiles sailed boldly and openly toward Cuba while Pres. John F. Kennedy warned them not to and the whole world braced for the possible beginning of a nuclear World War III.
The terror I felt at that time, imagining the very real possibility of nukes raining down on my home in Oklahoma City, far exceeded anything a few crazy Muslim extremists have done since then, or plan to do. They are terrible, demented human beings, but they don’t pose a threat nearly as frightening as nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
The show included some thought-provoking lines from Pres. John F. Kennedy’s “peace” speech at American University on June 10, 1963 — after the missile crisis had been defused.
Kennedy sought to draw similarities between the United States and the Soviet Union several times and called for a “reexamination” of American attitudes towards Russia. He warned that adopting a course towards nuclear confrontation would be “evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy — or of a collective death-wish for the world.”
In it Kennedy tells us about transforming our deepest aspirations — in this case for peace — into practical realities.
“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a 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, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and 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 in all time.”
“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.”
“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 futures. And we are all mortal.”
“… 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.”
“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 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.”
Why, if we could face and step back from the very brink of worldwide nuclear war, can we not make sense of the chaos in the world today? Part of the problem, I’m afraid, is our lack of true statesmen. I can’t think of anyone who could do what Kennedy did during those terrible days. And despite his confidence that the US would never start a war, I keep thinking of Vietnam and most definitely of Iraq. Actions do indeed have consequences. We need leaders who can head off and stop wars, not plunge blindly into them.
And Kennedy’s statement, “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 futures. And we are all mortal,” should apply to all of us here at home, to all Americans. I didn’t say it. Trump and Clinton didn’t say it. Obama didn’t say it. Somebody needs to say it, and say it in a way that all Americans can believe and embrace. Life’s too short to waste it hating the cops, the blacks, the rich, the Muslims, the LGBTs, the immigrants, etc. If we don’t shape up and grow up — fast — there won’t be a viable world (or country) left for whomever survives.
We need a leader like Kennedy.
(I confess I voted for Nixon and plead youthful ignorance.)