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This Week in History
June 8-14, 2014

John F. Kennedy Speeches
June 10 and June 11, 1963:
New Measures for a Better World

by Anton Chaitkin

President John F. Kennedy.

By June 1963, President Kennedy was moving the country into a new era. On two successive days, he asked Americans to examine their own wrong and dangerous attitudes, and announced new measures for a better world.

At American University in Washington, D.C., June 10, JFK asked, “What kind of peace do we seek?” He answered:

“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. . . . Our problems are man-made—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. . . .

“Let us re-examine our attitude toward the Soviet Union. It is discouraging to think that their leaders may actually believe what their propagandists write . . . to realize the extent of the gulf between us. But it is also . . . a warning to the American people not to fall into the same trap as the Soviets, not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see . . . communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats.

“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. . . .

“[Our] two countries have . . . [a] mutual abhorrence of war. . . . [W]e have never been at war with each other. And no nation . . . ever suffered more than the Soviet Union suffered in . . . the Second World War. At least 20 million lost their lives. . . . A third of the nation’s territory, including nearly two thirds of its industrial base, was turned into a wasteland—a loss equivalent to the devastation of this country east of Chicago.

“Today, should total war ever break out again . . . all we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours. . . . We must conduct our affairs in such a way that it becomes in the Communists’ interest to agree on a genuine peace. . . .

“I am taking this opportunity . . . to announce two important decisions. . . .

“First: . . . that high-level discussions will shortly begin in Moscow looking toward early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Our hopes must be tempered with the caution of history—but with our hopes go the hopes of all mankind.

“Second: . . . I now declare that the United States does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so. . . . We will not be the first to resume. . . .”

Kennedy’s speech was greeted with enthusiasm by the Soviets, who reprinted it in its entirety for Russian citizens.

The Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was soon signed by the U.S., U.S.S.R., and Britain (the British did no negotiating, by Kennedy’s insistence), and subsequently, by 100 nations.  

The day after the Strategy for Peace speech, Kennedy went on television to report enforcement of a court order requiring that Alabama Gov. George Wallace allow the enrollment of two African-American students to the University of Alabama. He asked his national audience,

“If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, . . . then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

“One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free . . . from the bonds of injustice . . . from social and economic oppression. . . .”

He asked, who are we, and what is America to the human race?

March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial looking east toward the Washington Monument in DC, August 28, 1963 .

“We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home; but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other, that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes? . . .”

“The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. . . . We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. . . .

“Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law.”

His bill was given additional support from Martin Luther King’s March on Washington on Aug. 28, which the Administration worked to make a success. Kennedy’s bill was passed as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after he was killed.

Transcript of June 10, 1963 speech, The Strategy for Peace:

Transcript of June 11, 1963 speech, Civil Rights as a Moral Crisis: