June 10: A Day of Boldness and Beginnings (Part 2 – Kennedy at AU)

June 10: A Day of Boldness and Beginnings

(Part 2 – Kennedy at AU)


June 10th is marked by several notable firsts and acts of boldness including: (i) the first graduation of the Naval Academy, (ii) the launch of Alcoholics Anonymous; (iii) the release of the first Saab car; (see Part 1) (iv) President Kennedy’s Nuclear Test Ban speech at American University and (v) the New York Cosmos signing Pele (see Trophy Lives).

By June 10, 1963, President Kennedy had already delivered two major addresses that year – (1) his Oval Office speech in support of Civil Rights legislation; and (2) his speech at the Berlin Wall – and yet it was his speech on this day that many consider to be the most important of his presidency.

One scholar explained

In his American University address, Kennedy employed epideictic progression, a pedagogical process drawing upon dissociation and epideictic norms to convince listeners, gradually, to embrace a new vision—in this case, a world in which a test-ban treaty with the U.S.S.R. was possible. To do so, Kennedy’s words: (1) united the audience behind the value of “genuine peace”; (2) humanized the Soviets as worthy partners in genuine peace; (3) established the reality of the Cold War and the credibility of U.S. leadership; and (4) connected lessons on genuine peace to domestic civil rights.

The scene – a commencement address at my Alma mater The American University  – where one of the graduates was none other than Senator Robert Byrd (“my old colleague, Senator Bob Byrd, who has earned his degree through many years of attending night law school, while I am earning mine in the next 30 minutes”).

Kennedy began his address explaining “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.”  He explained, “some say that it is useless to speak of peace or world law or world disarmament, and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitudes, as individuals and as a Nation . . . towards the course of the cold war and towards freedom and peace here at home.

On peace, Kennedy noted:

  • 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 man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man.

Kennedy asked listeners to “reexamine our attitude towards the Soviet Union.”

  • So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. 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.

Kennedy then called for a reevaluation of the Cold War and negotiations with the Soviet Union,”[f]or we can seek a relaxation of tensions without relaxing our guard.”  Kennedy then announced that he was seeking a treaty to ban atmospheric nuclear tests and was suspending all such tests in the interim.  That treaty would be signed months later.

. . . While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both. No treaty, however much it may be to the advantage of all, however tightly it may be worded, can provide absolute security against the risks of deception and evasion. But it can, if it is sufficiently effective in its enforcement and if it is sufficiently in the interests of its signers, offer far more security and far fewer risks than an unabated, uncontrolled, unpredictable arms race.

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 be prepared if others wish it. We shall be alert to try to stop it. But 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 labor on-not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.


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