It was 1961, a time of great international division and peril that found Kennedy speaking at the United Nations about how that body might halt the spread of nuclear weapons and contain the Cold War threat. But rather than draw hard lines between “us” and “them”, he painted the world, nations, and humankind as a single community.
Even as Kennedy speaks of the world and nations, his message reveals striking parallels to our nation, its political parties, and its citizens.
“…I come here today to search beyond this world of threats to a world of peace. In that search we cannot expect any final triumph for new problems will always arise. We cannot expect that all nations will adopt like systems for conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth. Nor can we expect to reach our goal by contrivance, by fiat, or even by the wishes of all.
But however close we sometimes seem to that dark and final abyss, let no man of peace and freedom despair for he does not stand alone. If we all can persevere, if we can in every land and office look beyond our own shores and our own ambitions, then surely the age will dawn in which the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.”
Kennedy proclaimed that peace in the world must begin with “us” – introspecting our own biases, identifying our fears, and recognizing our misconceptions of the Soviet Union. Stepping firmly into that belief, he acknowledged that all nations will not, and necessarily must not, adopt America’s democratic systems. Instead, he invited us to peer with him over the horizon, intuiting that a new age will dawn only when countries and leaders are able to see beyond their own borders and concerns.
The test of truth in his words can be measured in the timelessness of their message. Even after 50 years, the parallels to our political parties cannot be ignored; the Cold War-era divisiveness and fear-mongering he described starkly mirror our current political state.
And regardless of the decades between, the solution remains the same. If we wish to bind our national wounds and create a land in which every person is secure from need, the first step must be to look beyond our self-centered fear, political parties, and personal interests. We must, instead, reach out to understand our fellow citizen – and from that place of understanding, reinvigorate an American society in which a compassionate balance between the strong and the weak is born, and thus a true peace realized.
Kennedy died just five weeks after I was born, so I never got to know the promise of Camelot. I do cherish his recorded legacy as increasingly I find it a guiding beacon. His words remind me that our common humanity is the first step on the path towards embracing each other.
Kennedy stood for peace. He felt the potential in togetherness. He believed in the human bond.
I think President Kennedy believed in the power of Love.
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