Forty years ago today
June 10, 2003 2:25 AM   Subscribe

...we are all mortal Forty years ago today, the US President tentatively outlined the idea of coexistence with an intractable enemy. The famous, resonant lines about breathing the same air and cherishing our children's future feel oddly buried in the speech, between a "secondly" and a "thirdly". Cuba was still some months in the future when Kennedy gave this speech. Audio here.
posted by gdav (26 comments total)

 
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.

Wow. First let me say that this is an incredible speech, and has raised my spirits considerably.

This makes me wonder why world peace seemed so attainable back when the world was at the brink of total annihilation, and seems so far away now, when we instead look across the world and see only a few relatively weak (though undoubtably violent) pockets of chaos. Why aren't we doing more to achieve the unattainable, and push ourselves into the history books as the people who made life livable for all?

Over the last few days, working as a canvasser on an environmental issue, I've come to think that the greatest enemy of world peace is willful ignorance. At least this is the case in the US... The people do not know what is happening around them. Here in Oregon, most don't realize that the river they live on is toxic, filled with arsenic and mercury and all kinds of other chemicals, don't realize the amount of effort that certain industries put into keeping it that way. People don't see this, and don't realize that they have the power to stop it. Education is our greatest weapon.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:38 AM on June 10, 2003


It is very important that George W. Bush should lose the next election.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:12 AM on June 10, 2003


World peace remains impossible for the same reason communism fails; people are intractably selfish.
posted by johnnyace at 3:27 AM on June 10, 2003


Embrace capitalism based on permanent war, you naive fools!
posted by magullo at 3:35 AM on June 10, 2003


Cuba was still some months in the future when Kennedy gave this speech

if by "Cuba" you mean the missile crisis, it was about 9 months in the past already (Oct 1962). probably that 13-days-nightmare was one of the reasons why JFK's 1960 campaign hawkish rethoric ("pay any price...") gave way to a more nuanced position in the last year of his thousand-day presidency

Kennedy died 5 months and 12 days after he gave this speech. on June 11 for example, he gave the famous "One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free" civil rights speech (on that same night, Medgar Evers was murdered)
posted by matteo at 4:11 AM on June 10, 2003


Thanks matteo, I stand corrected (I had a mental screw-up between the missile crisis and the assassination).
posted by gdav at 4:16 AM on June 10, 2003


World peace remains impossible for the same reason communism fails; people are intractably selfish.

Not all of them johnnyace, but for every person who feels inevitably drawn to that conclusion it is probably true to say that there is one more.
posted by walrus at 4:42 AM on June 10, 2003


If you can't even have peace here on Metafilter and metatalk I think the chances for world peace are infinitesimal. Sad to say.
posted by konolia at 5:08 AM on June 10, 2003


I don't know konolia... I mean, sure, we have our disagreements, but nobody has yet tried to assassinate Miguel or round up and exterminate all of the 17k crowd. World peace isn't about everyone agreeing with each other all the time, it's about nobody killing each other over the disagreements of nations. Largely the disagreements that happen here are between (somewhat) reasonable individuals; wars, on the other hand, consist of an unreasonable machinery, thrown into motion by a failure of reason. To some extent, I think it's like the use of the atomic bomb in WWII: if we didn't have it, we wouldn't have felt the need to use it. It would be much easier to not have wars if we had no armies. War is a massive, systematic horror visited upon a people by a state, not a simple disagrement between individuals.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:52 AM on June 10, 2003


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.

oops
posted by angry modem at 6:53 AM on June 10, 2003


If you can't even have peace here on Metafilter and metatalk I think the chances for world peace are infinitesimal. Sad to say.

If everybody in the world bickered 24-7-365, that would still :be peace. Often annoying peace, but still: no one getting killed, no one seizing land. When we start taking those actions, that's when peace ends.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:53 AM on June 10, 2003


Actually , that's a little over simplistic on my part. Just go read what the dead guy said again.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:59 AM on June 10, 2003


World peace was possible to Kennedy (and other policy makers of the day) because the world they thought they lived in was largely an illusion.

To them, all conflicts in the world were ultimately explainable in terms of the East-West rivalry. Settle that, and everything else falls into place, they thought. They simply did not believe that people in the Congo, for example, might spend years killing each other purely for their own 'selfish' reasons, and not because the superpowers were using them as proxies.

There are some excuses for this. The east-West rivalry was certainly the thing that US policy makers spent most of their intellectual energy on that, its understandable that they wouldn't look much beyond that.

This was also the era when colonialism was ending. Most violence in those areas was in the form of wars of national liberation directed against the rule of the oppressors, not the communal and confessional violence that we practically take for granted today. Or so it looked to those in Washington.

But they had seen the millions killed by muslim/hindu violence at the Indian partition starting in '47, the Arab Israeli war in '48, both of which were not part of the East/West rivalry but were predicated on the 'private' grievances of those involved. So was the racist violence in the US south that was occurring even as Kennedy spoke in 1963.

They should have known that this was the future of a world without superpower rivalry, not the world of 'we all breathe the same air' or whatever ...

Is world peace possible? I don't know. But I think that if you only look at the causes closest to hand or for solutions in what first comes to mind, you probably won't find it.
posted by Jos Bleau at 7:03 AM on June 10, 2003


...the greatest enemy of world peace is willful ignorance.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:38 AM PST on June 10


Too right.
posted by *burp* at 7:42 AM on June 10, 2003


History lesson: appeasement can only go so far. If you find yourself faced with an enemy whose aim is your own destruction, destroy or incapacitate it first with no hesitation whatsoever, no matter if it's a bear, a serial killer, communism or fundamentalist terror. It's that simple.
Also do not be afraid to reject values that go against your own values, your own country and, ultimately, your own survival. As the spanish proverb says, "raise ravens and they'll pluck your eyes out".
posted by 111 at 7:52 AM on June 10, 2003


If you find yourself faced with an enemy whose aim is your own destruction, destroy or incapacitate it first with no hesitation whatsoever

So this would have been your advice to Fidel Castro after the Bay of Pigs?

It's that simple.

No doubt.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:12 AM on June 10, 2003


Armitage, that's the advice I'd give Chamberlain just before the Munich meeting. The despicable killer you mention is a delirious enemy of what I stand for (freedom, democracy, free markets, the Rule of Law, civil rights etc etc); how could anyone advise an irrational agent?

The Bay of Pigs was an attempt to supress a communist, terrorism-supportive regime whose very existence posed an open, undisguised threat to the USA, the Americas and the Free World; it's difficult to mention the Bay of Pigs without recalling the missile crisis.

On the other hand, if you feel comfortable with what living in Cuba today means, you should perhaps abandon your current citizenship and become a cuban citizen. I suppose you're not, since a free Internet discussion such as this one is not likely to be allowed there right now.
posted by 111 at 8:45 AM on June 10, 2003


The Bay of Pigs was an attempt to supress a communist, terrorism-supportive regime

As opposed to the freely-elected Batista regime, well known for its support of human rights and democratic ideals.

you should perhaps abandon your current citizenship and become a cuban citizen

Wow, you're right, it is that simple.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:06 AM on June 10, 2003


If you find yourself faced with an enemy whose aim is your own destruction, destroy or incapacitate it first with no hesitation whatsoever, no matter if it's a bear, a serial killer, communism or fundamentalist terror. It's that simple.

Actually that's not the advice most often given to survive a bear attack. Attacking bears by yourself generally gets you killed. I believe you're supposed to try to let it know you're not a threat, walk slowly away, and if necessary throw yourself on the ground and cover your neck.

The best advice is to try to avoid the bear attack in the first place by letting the bear know you're coming. For instance, by tying a bell to your backpack if you are hiking.

Just saying. Wouldn't want anybody to get their bear-attack advice from our fucked-up foreign policy. Sure, pre-emptive attacks may work in 99.9% of cases (scientific fact, as you point out!!!), but there's always that one little contingency that our fearless leader might not have planned for.
posted by Hildago at 9:58 AM on June 10, 2003


"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."

heh.
posted by iamck at 11:47 AM on June 10, 2003


Attacking bears by yourself generally gets you killed.
Hidalgo, not if you have the right kind of weapon. There's an interesting parallel made by Robert Kagan ("Of Paradise and Power"): if you find yourself in front of a bear but you have a gun (USA's case), you kill it; now if you find yourself in front of a bear but you only have a knife (Europe's case), you try to back off and slowly walk away.

If this person walks away, the bear's still around, and he's likely to live in fear. But then again, when people are cowardly they'll find all kinds of excuses not to fight back and defend themselves and their own kind. Fortunately for the world, the United States and other countries fought and won whenever the threat arose.

Armitage, get this: any kind of fundamentalism (political or religious) is not self-contained. It eventually tries to invade your territory and goes after you. Choose wisely!
posted by 111 at 12:36 PM on June 10, 2003


Still, probably you shouldn't attack bears.
posted by Hildago at 3:45 PM on June 10, 2003


Unless they're thinking about attacking you.
posted by 111 at 3:52 PM on June 10, 2003


Wait, who's the bear? And how exactly do we know what the bear is thinking? Does the bear have Claws of Mass Destruction?

it's difficult to mention the Bay of Pigs without recalling the missile crisis

And how the Soviet Union started moving missiles into Cuba after we surrounded them with missiles, including the ones in Turkey we had to remove in exchange for the Soviets removing theirs.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:20 PM on June 10, 2003


Unless they're thinking about attacking you.

No, even then. Unless you've got a license and a gun, and it's bear huntin' season.

Bears don't just sit there and contemplate killing people. At least, not that I have read. I'm not a bear expert though.
posted by Hildago at 7:16 PM on June 10, 2003


any kind of fundamentalism (political or religious) is not self-contained. It eventually tries to invade your territory and goes after you. Choose wisely!

ah, the old, wonderful, and oh-so-effective "domino theory"

ps I think we can all agree that Kagan (his brother and father, too) is a very smart, often interesting writer. can we please drop the bear thing, which is one of his lamest, silliest ideas ever? it's simplistic macho bullshit worthy of a talk-radio caveman, not of a man of Kagan's intellect.
posted by matteo at 6:07 PM on June 11, 2003


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