JFK: ‘…and we are all mortal.’

“…So, let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to 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 future. And we are all mortal.”

— JFK’s commencement speech at American University, June 10, 1963.

President Kennedy chose the commencement address at American University to give a “peace speech” devoted to the need for peaceful co-existence with the Soviet Union, and used the speech to announce talks that would rapidly culminate in a Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, ratified by the Senate in September.

Read and listen to the entire speech at the JFK Library and Museum website.

14 thoughts on “JFK: ‘…and we are all mortal.’”

  1. Isn’t the evidence for Kennedy as budding peacenik pretty weak? My impression is that he was incredibly cautious and political about just about everything. For example, whatever else you may say about Johnson, he took a much firmer and more courageous stand on civil rights than Kennedy ever seemed prepared to do. On issues of war and peace, my guess is Kennedy would have acquiesced to the pressure to preserve South Vietnam (which was overwhelmingly popular with the public at first), although maybe he wouldn’t have gone “all in” with half a million troops, the way Johnson did.

  2. Douglass may be correct, but it’s just speculation. I also find it hard to believe that hawks would go to war just to enrich industry. I think it’s more likely that hawks both in government and out of government (working in the military industries) all agreed on the aggressive anti-communist policy.

    Also, you have to take history done on speeches with a grain of salt, though this goes more for conventional historians than for conspiracy buffs. It’s a curious way to do history. On the surface, you can justify it by saying, look it’s a primary source, etc. But it doesn’t account at all for the reality that politicians don’t say what they really think publicly (JFK rarely seemed to).

    The interesting thing about JFK’s later speeches is how they are different from his early speeches. Historians and people like Chomsky don’t seem to put much stock in this, though they rely on early speeches in trying to paint JFK as a Cold War liberal (though in reality he was just saying what he had to say to beat Nixon, etc.)

    In this time period, there is also clear concern from a number of Presidents (JFK, Eisenhower and Truman) over the growth of the military/spy complex. It was certainly a dark time in our history, and the Douglass book in a nice contribution to understanding the period.

    1. Some hawks were principled idealists.

      But there were corporate greed seekers aligned with the hawks.

      Imagine every soldier in Viet Nam carrying an M-16.

      Many like me rode Hueys.

      Pacific Architects & Engineers (PS&A) built the American infrastructure in Viet Nam. One of PSA’s principal shareholders was Ladybird Johnson.

      The profit-motive there was obvious even to the 19-year-old draftee from some ghetto in L.A. or Detroit.

  3. According to James Douglass (“Unspeakable”), this speech sealed JFK’s doom. It was, says Douglass, a signal to the warhawks that JFK was turning away from war with the Soviet Union and toward peace.

    Peace was bad business. Bell Helicopter made a billion or two off of Huey helicopters. Colt Arms must have made a similar amount off of the M-16. Even Anheuser-Busch made a bundle from Bud near-beer shipped on pallets to the Nam. And the auto companies. They had reps in Viet Nam selling muscle cars to would-be survivors.

    Stereo gear was a big item as well. I bought a Pioneer receiver, turntable, and speakers on the Bien Hoa Army Base. All items shipped to the US of A.

    Viet Nam was very big business. For the U.S., Japan, Hong Kong (tailors), Taiwan (R&R women), and Thailand (beaucoup R&R women).

    JFK was an idealist, not a pragmatist. He saw war as evil. Run the right way, war is a huge profit machine.

  4. I think Ted Sorensen had a hand in this one, if I’m not mistaken.

    I’d love to see Obama make a speech about the serious threat of global warming like this Kennedy speech!

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