As the world’s peoples watch the conflict in Ukraine with fear and uncertainty, I was thinking of the lost opportunities that could have prevented this situation.
Perhaps the most opportune would have been had George H. W. Bush in 1989 (and all subsequent Presidents of the United States) been reminded of the speech John F. Kennedy gave in 1963. Doing so, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Soviet Union would have been a time of reflection and assessing the costs to both countries involved in the long and costly Cold War. Instead, triumphalism and a sense of “we won” pervaded all discussions of our supposed “leaders”.
That set the stage for all that followed. It was the “end of history” and the start of the “uni-polar” moment for a county that saw itself as “indispensable” and “able to see farther”.
No matter that economic dislocations had begun, that over the next 30 years to the present saw a majority of US citizens falling behind while a small subset accumulated Midas-like riches. No matter that the physical and social infrastructure were unable to be maintained. No matter that our supposedly superior society failed to address issues of basic equality for all its citizens. And no matter that other countries were not treated as equals on our shared planet, but only as pawns or tools in the obsessions of our various “leaders” of both parties.
As to JFK’s speech, it was made at the American University commencement on June 10, 1963 – eight months after the terrors of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The world then faced a very real threat of nuclear war, narrowly averted by back-room diplomacy and the wisdom of one man on a Russian submarine.
JFK’s words are as relevant today as they were then – some excerpts:
No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements, in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in acts of courage.
Among the many traits the peoples of our two countries have in common, none is stronger than our mutual abhorrence of war. Almost unique among the major world powers, we have never been at war with each other. And no nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union suffered in the course of the Second World War. At least 20 million lost their lives. Countless millions of homes and farms were burned or sacked. A third of the nation’s territory, including nearly two thirds of its industrial base, was turned into a wasteland, a loss equivalent to the devastation of this country east of Chicago.
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.
You can read the whole speech here.