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Posted by wmmbb in nuclear weapons capability, Peace, US Politics.

What a difference fifty years has made to the tone of American Presidents.  John Kennedy gave the impression he was serious about world peace; recent office holders, in particular Bush and Obama, have be on a course of continual war.

This topic deserves a full appraisal, but here is Kennedy addressing the nation at the time of Cuban Missile Crisis on 22 October 1962:

In his speech to the American University in Washington on 10 June 1963, his speech writers and he said:

I have . . . chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived-yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace.

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. .

First: Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it 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 be 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 values of hopes and dreams, but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal.

Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions – on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace, no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process, a way of solving problems.

With such a peace there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor; it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. . . .

Second: Let us reexamine our attitude toward the Soviet Union.

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. . . .

Today, should total war ever break out again-no matter how-our two countries would become the primary targets. It is an ironical but accurate fact that the two strongest powers are the two in the most danger of devastation. All we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours. And even in the cold war, which brings burdens and dangers to so many countries – including this nation’s closest allies – our two countries bear the heaviest burdens. For we are both devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combating ignorance, poverty, and disease. We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle in which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other and new weapons beget counter-weapons.

In short, both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race. Agreements to this end arc in the interests of the Soviet Union as well as ours, and even the most hostile nations can be relied upon to accept and keep those treaty obligations, and only those treaty obligations, which are in their own interest. . . .

Third: Let us reexamine our attitude toward the cold war, remembering that we are not engaged in a debate, seeking to pile up debating points. We are not here distributing blame or pointing the finger of judgment. We must deal with the world as it is and not as it might have been bad the history of the last 18 years been different. . . .

Speaking of other nations, I wish to make one point clear. We are bound to many nations by alliances. Those alliances exist because our concern and theirs substantially overlap. Our commitment to defend Western Europe and West Berlin, for example, stands undiminished because of the identity of our vital interests. The United States will make no deal with the Soviet Union at the expense of other nations and other peoples, not merely because they are our partners but also because their interests and ours converge.

Our interests converge, however, not only in defending the frontiers of freedom but in pursuing the paths of peace. It is our hope-and the purpose of Allied policies-to convince the Soviet Union that she, too, should let each nation choose its own future, so long as that choice does not interfere with the choices of others. The Communist drive to impose their political and economic system on others is the primary cause of world tension today. For 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. . . .

That rhetoric and purpose is simply not heard any more. Since 9/11 all we have heard is revenge, hatred, stereotyping and violence without end, as if the relationship is wholly one-sided and the American President is the supreme arbiter. Now the practice and aspiration of peace is not even considered because how can you do otherwise with non-human terrorists except engage in persistent and determined torture and murder?

Desmond Tutu showed moral clarity in calling for Bush and Blair to indicted on war crimes, as African leaders have been. The beat-up against Iran is farcical, on the basis the Israel is a non-acknowledge nuclear power. Conflict resolution does not seem to have a chair the ten fat men in a room that  may run the US Government and the world, whenever they meet on Wall Street or alternatively at the Pentagon. Exaggerations aside, there is a militaristic mentality that sets the tone among the power elite.

Roi Beh-Yahuda is a Ph.D student in conflict resolution. He reflects on the current nuclear crisis in relation to Iran and the Cuban Missile Crisis. As illustrated in the video, Kennedy engaged in both military deterrence and tough-minded diplomacy. At Al Jazerra, he observes further, quoting Graham Allison, there are lessons to be drawn:

The first of these is the importance of adaptability in a negotiation scenario. Adaptability is the capacity for a given person to become better suited to their environment. Studies have shown that in the context of international negotiations, parties were more effective when they were able to show movement with regards to their orientations and behaviour. In negotiating with his staff and with Khrushchev, Kennedy was able to move around from contentious to collaborative.

Second, exercise empathy towards your enemy. It was precisely when President Kennedy and his staff began to consider the constraints on Khrushchev that they were able to come up with a solution that satisfied both parties’ needs. Empathy also allowed Kennedy to come up with solutions that give Khrushchev a face-saving and dignified way out of the conflict.

Third, engage in divergent thinking; thinking in atypical ways to generate solutions to problems. Over and over, Kennedy’s military advisers kept on telling him there is only one viable choice – attack and invade Cuba (interestingly in Israel it’s the security establishment who have come out against a unilateral military strike.) Yet, he refused to succumb to the pressure or the allure of such thinking. Instead, he demanded of himself and his team to come up with alternatives outside of what has been suggested.

“We need to recognise and celebrate that 50 years ago it was negotiation and diplomacy (not brute force) that saved the world from imminent and violent destruction.”

Fourth, stimulate constructive conflict. By creating ExCom (the Executive Committee of the National Security Council), encouraging vigorous debate and discussion, assigning devil advocates to subgroups within ExCom and allowing some meeting to take place without him (and away from the White House environment), President Kennedy made sure that the decision-making process would be exemplified by constructive conflict (devoid of the group think that had characterised the Bay of Pigs decision-making process).

One of the contrasts between then and now, we seem to be living in a time of empty rhetoric, that nonsense passes itself off as deep thinking. The problems in the world are as real as ever, including the Climate Crisis and the economic crisis reflected in increasing unemployment and decreasing income.

Let us suppose that this lack of constructiveness may in part be due to the dominant media. Kennedy can be seen as the first president of the age of television, as FDR was of the age of radio, and while the internet might be blamed for many things, it may not yet be held responsible for the paucity of leadership since in the minds of politicians at least we still live in the age of television. Somehow, it is the personal details of the leaders that have become important, the close up and the present, rather than the wider view. Perhaps Kennedy was using a new medium framed in an earlier experience of print literacy.


Robert McNamara offered his insights on the Cuban Missile Crisis:



1. 730reportland - September 4, 2012

The rhetoric of peace does not exist for most potus, congressmen or senators because most of them are funded by the war-machine. All those monster corporations getting rich supplying and weaponizing the military machine, that in turn sponsor usa politics. And don`t forget all those bases the usa has in other peoples countries and, who supply those bases.

wmmbb - September 5, 2012

Thanks. I think your comment is on the money. Fifty years is long enough to notice notice apparent changes and developments. For example, it is striking to me as to how Kennedy is so constitutionally constitutional, in a way, for example, was overtly denied in the case of the bombing of Libya.

We should stay with this story, because it matters to people everywhere, both inside and outside the US.

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