June 10, 1963: A profile in courage with lethal consequences

President Kennedy’s speech to the graduating class of American University in Washington DC on June 10, 1963, represented the beginning of his “strategy for peace”  to wind down the Cold War. His bold proposal for a joint U.S.-Soviet moon flight was part of this strategy.

Kennedy’s vigorous style and clear mind never had a more important goal — or more powerful enemies.


  1. Early Detente with the USSR sure took a bullet in the head on 11/22/63, didn’t it? And that was courtesy of Lyndon Johnson & the US national security state.

    William Kelly:

    When Mikhail Gorbachev visted Dallas in 1998 he stopped by Dealey Plaza and at the Sixth Floor Museum he called attention to the AU speech when he wrote into the guest book:

    “I’ve long been interested in the life of John F. Kennedy. He was certainly a great president of the United States. For us who live in a complicated time of transition of great importance is the vision of John F. Kennedy, his thoughts about peace and about how to live in the world.

    President Kennedy’s remarks on June 10, 1963 at American University are of even greater importance today than then. Thirty five years ago he already saw what we have come to understand only now.

    The best memory of this man would be to understand his deeds and thoughts and to translate them in policies and more importance in the life of nations. He looked far ahead and he wanted to change a great deal. Perhaps it is this that is the key to the mystery of the death of President John Kennedy.”


    The President of the USSR
    Mikhail Gorbachev
    October 12, 1998

    Web link: http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=10105

  2. Bob Truitt says:

    Thank you researchers for going to American University today for the 50th anniversary of JFK’s speech. I wish I could have made it. Your dedication is remarkable.

    • LMB says:

      Thanks Bob. I am not a researcher, just a concerned American citizen seeking the truth and trying to remain hopefully for this great country.

  3. Jonathan says:

    JFK’s call for peace, of course, was a call to turn away from the use of nuclear weapons in war.

    Hard to believe many well-meaning people of the time were unsure it was the right call. In this context, and given the likes of Curtis LeMay, it was a bold call.

    Having been in war, JFK was a realist about war. Too bad he wasn’t a realist about those in government who opposed him.

  4. Ronnie Wayne says:

    Jeff, Rex, ? This video does not play for me. Just a black screen that says This Video Is Private when I click play. FYI, just my connection?

  5. As good as this speech is, and it is quite good, I actually think the speech he made on the floor of the senate, about Algeria on July 2, 1957 was even better.

    In fact, that I think is the best speech he ever gave that I know about.

    To take on Eisenhower, Nixon and Foster Dulles over the issue of colonialism in Africa, back then, I mean that took guts. ANd to read the insights in that speech for today’s world about the threat of unleashed and uncontrolled Arab nationalism, I mean, the guy was right on the money, and about 25 years ahead of the curve.

    Kennedy was the most far sighted foreign policy visionary to man the White House since FDR.

    If you can believe it,in his debate with me, McAdams said both LBJ and Truman were ore liberal than Kennedy. Uh professor, why not say that to the surviving children from Hirsohima and Nagasaki. Or the survivors of that horrific cataclysm LBJ unleashed in Indochina.

    • mball says:

      LBJ’s conduct of the war in Viet Nam was incompetent and therefore far more costly than it should have been. But the cataclysm was already afoot in Indochina. I think that the worst, Pol Pot, would have happened had we never been there.

      • Barbara says:

        LBJ micro managed the fighting of the troops. He told the generals which direction the planes were to fly, at what time, how far off the ground, etc.. It did not matter how the weather changed, if they were flying into the sun. The predictability of when and direction of the planes helped the NVA shoot down more planes.
        He used the Gulf of Tonkin was used as an excuse to escalate the war.

  6. Shane mcBryde says:

    Every time I hear that speech I think to myself General Curtis LeMay and them guys must have thought Kennedy had really fliped his lid with this one. The very idea that the president thought he could just bend back 20 years of foreign policy which had been guided, manipulated and managed ever so craftily by wise men like Keenan, Harriman and Nitze who were working on behalf of The Greats, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower.

    Live in harmony with our sworn enemy? What, are you kidding me? And, Castro! Well, was Castro ready to give back all the businesses it flat out stole from under so many American business giants? Hell no he wasn’t.

    Here’s an old interview of Lemay http://youtu.be/iTlbhcksugk from some time well after Kennedy, but he’s very clear that he did not, nor did he at the time of this interview see the whole nuclear exchange thing is as gloomy terms as JFK did. He must’ve really thought Kennedy was completely soft in the head hearing that A.U. speech.

    It would’ve been bad, a nuclear exchange that is, but Lemay thought in the end we’d have won.

    • thomas tucker says:

      Yes, a Pyrrhic victory.

    • Julio Guerra says:

      Actually, based on currently available literature it appears that LeMay was a hothead who had zero compunction towards nuking our enemies and constantly urged that level of response to JFK, to the point that he became insufferable and was demoted. A scene at the choreographed autopsy (Military Command Officers were dictating to the Medical Examiner that standard procedures need not be followed “…for appearances’ sake…,” despite the fact that it was going to be “closed casket”) clearly captures the disdain that the military brass (and most likely the notorious cigar-smoker, LeMay) had for the freshly-assassinated President: in the gallery during the autopsy, an unidentified General was requested by the Medical Examiner to douse his cigar as smoking was not permitted…this inglorious officer, who in all likelihood was LeMay, refused.

  7. Dave says:

    Watching what is arguably Kubrick’s best film and blackest satire, Dr. Strangelove, one is reminded of the obvious similarities between the twisted nuclear strategic logic of General “Buck” Turgidson (George C. Scott) and his military colleagues, and the equally insane thinking of “first strike” LeMay and the JCS which Kennedy had to listen to and firmly reject. Kubrick and Kennedy were both ahead of their time in warning the world of the dangers of the arms race and nuclear war, and effectively expressing their fears, hopes and visions in the arts and in politics.

  8. […] marks the anniversary of one of the most important and remarkable speeches in American history — President John F. Kennedy’s speech at American University on June 10, 1963 — what has become known as the “Peace Speech.” Two excellent books have been […]

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