Is it time for another peace speech?


Did you see it? Did you notice it? It was unbelievable. The Olympic Games brought together 11,000 athletes from 200 countries to mingle, share and compete with one another. They hugged each other, kissed each other, lived, talked and ate together and, guess what, no one was shot or killed. How do you explain that?

Wikipedia lists around 40 ongoing wars and conflicts. There is also a major ongoing drug-war in Mexico not to mention the hundreds of deaths that occur every week due to gun violence in the United States. So how is it possible for athletes of all shades of color and who are from many of these same countries to eat, play and live together for two weeks? What is it about the Olympic games that people can forget their hatred and come together?

In June of 1963, then President John F. Kennedy gave a commencement address at the American University in Washington D. C.  It has become known as Kennedy’s “peace” speech.  Kennedy said, “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.”

It’s interesting that whereas “peace” is the key for the survival of human kind, it’s the least talked about on the campaign trail and it’s way down on the list of topics discussed on news channels. What if it were given just a third more time than it is now given, would it make a difference?

At one time there was a proliferation of “Peace Studies” not only in colleges but also in high schools. Students were talking about “peace”. Since I was around at that time, I can attest to the fact that peace was becoming part of the culture. Remember the peace signs that were on buttons, posters, box cars, vacant walls—they were all over? They were just symbols but there was definitely an awareness that some changes needed to be made.

Kennedy went on to say, “I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces.”

Remember the song, “War, what is it could for? Absolutely nothing.” Edwin Starr sang this hit song in the 60’s. Really, what is war good for? Some people in power like it because it gives them more power. Without war or violence or retribution in some form, they can’t maintain their power. For these minute few, war is everything, but they are just a few and we are many.

Kennedy continues, “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.”

If the athletes can do it for two weeks and the world remains calm for those two weeks, why can’t we do it for three or four weeks and just keep adding on? Maybe we need the Olympics more often. Maybe we need the athletes to show us how to run our world. Think of the money we would save in weaponry and defense. What if we put that same money into solving poverty and providing a free college education?

Kennedy goes on to say, “Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it 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 manmade–therefore, they can be solved by man.”

Global warming is largely a manmade problem so we should be able to solve it. Poverty and homelessness are manmade,so we should be able to solve them. Young people dropping out of school is a manmade problem so we should be able to solve it. Violence in society is a manmade problem we should be able to solve it.  We created safer autos. Why can’t we create a safer world?

Kennedy said, “Finally, my fellow Americans, let us examine our attitude toward peace and freedom here at home. The quality and spirit of our own society must justify and support our efforts abroad. We must show it in the dedication of our own lives–as many of you who are graduating today will have a unique opportunity to do, by serving without pay in the Peace Corps abroad . . .”

Twenty some returned Peace Corps volunteers from all parts of the United States came to Bemidji this past week for a reunion. Fifty-six years ago they joined the Peace Corps to support efforts to create a peace filled world. Part of their activities was week was to dedicate an International Peace Pole, which was planted in front of Sunnyside School at the fairgrounds. On the pole are the words, “May peace prevail on earth” in four languages—English, Ojibwa, Norwegian, and Spanish.

“Confident and unafraid, we labor on–not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.” It’s long overdue. May peace prevail on earth.


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