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John F. Kennedy understood humanity's shared values
by George Cassidy Payne
2018-06-19 09:24:05
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John F. Kennedy understood, on a very basic level, that our shared hopes and values are far greater than the isms that keep us divided. In his now famous American University speech- delivered just five months before his public execution-JFK referred to the Soviet Union in a way that no other American politician had up until that point. “Today, should total war ever break out again—no matter how—our two countries would become the primary targets. It is an ironic 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 24 hours…. [W]e are both devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combating ignorance, poverty, and disease. We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle in which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons beget counter-weapons.”

jfk01_400His words could not be more relevant. Due primarily to the threat of nuclear proliferation that warned about, the world itself has become a target. If there is a conventional nuclear war today, it will not be the United States and Soviet Union which suffers alone. Every nation will be at risk. Every city will be threatened. Every island will be under siege. Every wilderness will be under attack. The stakes have never been higher, Kennedy’s vision has never been more vital.

In hindsight, what made Kennedy such a gifted leader was his understanding. He understood that we all share the same earth. We all share the same drinking water. We all breathe the same air. We all rely on the same oxygen to exist. We all need food to survive. We all need birds and sunlight. We all need the love of friends and family. We all need a spiritual connection to a force more powerful than our own selfish desires. Kennedy understood in the most pragmatic terms conceivable, that so little separates humanity when it comes to what is needed for our species to thrive. Even as a consummate politician and devoted man of faith, he understood that politics and religion can, if used deceptively and corrosively, make us sick of being in the world. Even as a great economist and strategist of warfare, he understood that these elements in society, if used callously and haphazardly, will make the human race scared to dream. So seep was this man’s understanding of the human condition.

Now is the time to heed Kennedy’s warnings, to use his words as signposts. We must proceed with confidence that we have the power to resist self-destruction. The human heart is capable of tremendous displays of compassion, bravery, and excellence. It is also capable of genocide.  Humanity has built metropolises that befuddle the mind with their ambition and ingenuity. But humanity has also carried out the most ghastly acts of cowardice. How will we choose? What direction will we go? Who will we ask to lead us? What responsibility are we willing to take to make the future one we want to live in. The decision is entirely up to us, it always has been.

Elsewhere, Kennedy spoke in the most positive terms when he said, “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder.

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