Saturday, August 26, 2006

Speaking to the Trek Future

Listen carefully to what JFK said that day, and see in your mind's eye how these words were played out in the Star Trek saga...

In calling for peace, Kennedy quickly set new terms, both realistic and bold. “What kind of peace do I mean?” Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war…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.”
“Total war makes no sense,” Kennedy said, repeating the phrase several times, emphasizing devastation so extensive it would be visited on “generations yet unborn.” “I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men.”

“I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war. But we have no more urgent task.”
Some opponents regarded negotiating arms agreements as a sign of weakness—to them, the test ban efforts were “defeatist.” Kennedy deftly reversed the charge. He said believing peace is impossible is defeatist, because it means “that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. ” Then he used the phrase that more than any other sums up the Kennedy faith: “Our problems are man-made; therefore they can be solved by man.”
Though he acknowledged the value of dreams and hopes, he advocated an attainable peace “based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions…Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts…For peace is a process, a way of solving problems.”
Kennedy called for cooperation based on a certain historical objectivity that has since been borne out more dramatically than he could have dreamed. “However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem,” he said, “the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbors.”
For many Americans at the time, Soviet Communists were incomprehensible and threatening. But Kennedy suggested that, just as the Soviets misunderstood America, Americans had a distorted view of them. “No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue.”

Kennedy acknowledged the evils of Communism, but also complimented the Soviets on their achievements in science and culture. In speaking of the abhorrence of war that the two nations had in common he eulogized Soviet suffering in World War II. No act of honoring could have meant more to the Russian people.

The speech subtly linked this theme of suffering with an assertion of mutual interest in ending the arms race itself. Kennedy pointed out that both nations are “devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combating ignorance, poverty and disease.”

Kennedy added the “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 twenty-four hours.”

Peace, he concludes, is a primary interest for both nations---indeed for all nations. In the most quoted phrases of the speech, Kennedy said: “For in the final analysis our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
The American University speech became instantly famous around the world. In England, the Manchester Guardian called it “one of the great state papers of American history.” Most importantly, the full text was printed in the Russian press, and its Russian language broadcast by the Voice of America was the first western program in fifteen years the Soviets did not attempt to jam. Khrushchev told Averell Harriman, in Moscow to negotiate the test ban, that it was the best speech by an American president since Roosevelt. Negotiations moved swiftly forward. Some six weeks after the American University address, the nuclear test ban treaty was signed.

It was, Kennedy told the nation on July 26, “an important first step---a step toward peace, a step toward reason, a step away from war.” But the treaty required Senate confirmation, and conservatives as well as prominent military figures were decrying it as a threat to national security. Kennedy invited public debate, “for the treaty is for all of us. It is particularly for our children and our grandchildren, who have no lobby here in Washington.”
While it became clear by the fall that the test ban treaty and Kennedy’s advocacy were enormously popular with the American people, it was not so easy a victory that summer. The treaty had to be ratified by the U.S. Senate, and there was substantial opposition. Even Kennedy’s speech did not have the same impact within the U.S. as outside it, partly because the nation was gripped by its major internal issue of moral and political consequence, and Kennedy made a groundbreaking speech on that subject the very next day.

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