John F. Kennedy photo

Address at the University of Maine

October 19, 1963

President Elliott, Governor Reed, Senator Smith, Senator Muskie, Congressman Tupper, Congressman Mclntire, ladies and gentlemen:

I feel honored to join you at this distinguished university.

In the year 1715, King George I of England donated a very valuable library to. Cambridge University--and at very nearly the same time had occasion to dispatch a regiment to Oxford. The King, remarked one famous wit, had judiciously observed the condition of both universities--one was a learned body in need of loyalty, and the other was a loyal body in need of learning.

Today some observers may feel that very little has changed in two centuries. We are asking the Congress for funds to assist our college libraries, including those in Cambridge, Mass., and it was regrettably necessary on one occasion to send troops to Oxford, Miss. And, more generally speaking, critics of our modern universities have often accused them of producing either too little loyalty or too little learning. But I cannot agree with either charge. I am convinced that our universities are an invaluable national asset which must be observed, conserved, and expanded.

I am deeply honored by the degree which you award me today. And I think it is appropriate to speak at this university, noted for both loyalty and learning, on the need for a more exact understanding of the true correlation of forces in the conduct of foreign affairs.

One year ago this coming week, the United States and the world were gripped with a somber prospect of a military confrontation between the two great nuclear powers. The American people have good reason to recall with pride their conduct throughout that harrowing week. For they neither dissolved in panic nor rushed headlong into reckless belligerence. Well aware of the risks of resistance, they nevertheless refused to tolerate the Soviets' attempt to place nuclear weapons in this hemisphere, but recognized at the same time that our preparations for the use of force necessarily required a simultaneous search for fair and peaceful solutions.

The extraordinary events of that week and the weeks that followed are now history--a history which is differently interpreted, differently recounted, and differently labeled among various observers and nations. Some hail it as the West's greatest victory, others as a bitter defeat. Some mark it as a turning point in the cold war, others as proof of its permanence. Some attribute the Soviet withdrawal of missiles to our military actions alone, while some credit solely our use of negotiations. Some view the entire episode as an example of Communist duplicity, while some others abroad have accepted the assertion that it indicated the Soviets' peaceful intentions.

While only the passage of time and events can reveal in full the true perspective of last October's drama, it is already clear that no single, simple view of this kind can be wholly accurate in this case. While both caution and commonsense proscribe our basting of it in the traditional terms of unconditional military victory, only the most zealous partisan can attempt to call it a defeat. While it is too late to say that nothing is changed in Soviet-American relations, it is too early to assume that the change is permanent. There are new rays of hope on the horizon, but we still live in the shadows of war.

Let us examine the events of 12 months ago, therefore, and the events of the past 12 months, and the events of the next 12 months, in the context of calm and caution. It is clear there will be further disagreement between ourselves and the Soviets as well as further agreements. There will be setbacks in our Nation's endeavors on behalf of freedom as well as successes. For a pause in the cold war is not a lasting peace--and a detente does not equal disarmament. The United States must continue to seek a relaxation of tensions, but we have no cause to relax our vigilance.

A year ago it would have been easy to assume that all-out war was inevitable, that any agreement with the Soviets was impossible, and that an unlimited arms race was unavoidable. Today it is equally as easy for some to assume that the cold war is over, that all outstanding issues between the Soviets and ourselves can be quickly and satisfactorily settled, and that we shall now have, in the words of the Psalmist, an "abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth."

The fact of the matter is, of course, that neither view is correct. We have, it is true, made some progress on a long journey. We have achieved new opportunities which we cannot afford to waste. We have concluded with the Soviets a few limited, enforceable agreements or arrangements of mutual benefit to both sides and to the world.

But a change in atmosphere and in emphasis is not a reversal of purpose. Mr. Khrushchev himself has said that there can be no coexistence in the field of ideology. In addition, there are still major areas of tension and conflict, from Berlin to Cuba to Southeast Asia. The United States and the Soviet Union still have wholly different concepts of the world, its freedom, its future. We still have wholly different views on the so-called wars of liberation and the use of subversion. And so long as these basic differences continue, they cannot and should not be concealed. They set limits to the possibilities of agreements, and they will give rise to further crises, large and small, in the months and years ahead, both in the areas of direct confrontation-Germany and the Caribbean-and in areas where events beyond our control could involve us both--areas such as Africa and Asia and the Middle East.

In times such as these, therefore, there is nothing inconsistent with signing an atmospheric nuclear test ban, on the one hand, and testing underground on the other; about being willing to sell to the Soviets our surplus wheat while refusing to sell strategic items; about probing their interest in a joint lunar landing while making a major effort to master this new environment; or about exploring the possibilities of disarmament while maintaining our stockpile of arms. For all of these moves, and all of these elements of American policy and allied policy towards the Soviet Union, are directed at a single, comprehensive goal--namely, convincing the Soviet leaders that it is dangerous for them to engage in direct or indirect aggression, futile for them to attempt to impose their will and their system on other unwilling people, and beneficial to them, as well as to the world, to join in the achievement of a genuine and enforceable peace.

While the road to that peace is long and hard, and full of traps and pitfalls, there is no reason not to take each step that we can safely take. It is in our national self-interest to ban nuclear testing in the atmosphere so that all of our citizens can breathe more easily. It is in our national self-interest to sell surplus wheat in storage to feed Russians and Eastern Europeans who are willing to divert large portions of their limited foreign exchange reserves away from the implements of war. It is in our national self-interest to keep weapons of mass destruction out of outer space, to maintain an emergency communications link with Moscow, and to substitute joint and peaceful exploration in the Antarctic and outer space for cold war exploitation.

No one of these small advances, nor all of them taken together, can be interpreted as meaning that the Soviets are abandoning their basic aims and ambitions. Nor should any future, less friendly Soviet action-whether it is a stoppage on the autobahn, or a veto in the U.N., or a spy in our midst, or new trouble elsewhere--cause us to regret the steps we have taken. Even if those steps themselves should be undone by the violation or renunciation of the test-ban treaty, for example, or by a decision to decline American wheat, there would still be no reason to regret the fact that this Nation has made every responsible effort to improve relations.

For without our making such an effort, we could not maintain the leadership and respect of the free world. Without our making such an effort, we could not convince our adversaries that war was not in their interest. And without our making such an effort, we could never, in case of war, satisfy our own hearts and minds that we had done all that could be done to avoid the holocaust of endless death and destruction.

Historians report that in 1914, with most of the world already plunged in war, Prince Bulow, the former German Chancellor, said to the then Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg: "How did it all happen?" And Bethmann-Hollweg replied: "Ah, if only one knew." If this planet is ever ravaged by nuclear war, if 300 million Americans, Russians, and Europeans are wiped out by a 60-minute nuclear exchange, if the survivors of that devastation can then endure the fire, poison, chaos, and catastrophe, I do not want one of those survivors to ask another, "How did it all happen?" and to receive the incredible reply, "Ah, if only one knew."

Therefore, while maintaining our readiness for war, let us exhaust every avenue for peace. Let us always make clear our willingness to talk, if talk will help, and our readiness to fight, if fight we must. Let us resolve to be the masters, not the victims, of our history, controlling our own destiny without giving way to blind suspicion and emotion. Let us distinguish between our hopes and our illusions, always hoping for steady progress toward less critically dangerous relations with the Soviets, but never laboring under any illusions about Communist methods or Communist goals.

Let us recognize both the gains we have made down the road to peace and the great distance yet to be covered. Let us not waste the present pause by either a needless renewal of tensions or a needless relaxation of vigilance. And let us recognize that we have made these gains and achieved this pause by the firmness we displayed a year ago as well as our restsaint--by our efforts for defense as well as our efforts for peace.

In short, when we think of peace in this country, let us think of both our capacity to deter aggression and our goal of true disarmament. Let us think of both the strength of our Western alliances and the areas of East-West cooperation.

For the American eagle on the Presidential seal holds in his talons both the olive branch of peace and the arrows of military might. On the ceiling in the Presidential office, constructed many years ago, that eagle is facing the arrows of war on its left. But on the newer carpet on the floor, reflecting a change initiated by President Roosevelt and implemented by President Truman immediately after the war, that eagle is now facing the olive branch of peace. And it is that spirit, the spirit of both preparedness and peace, that this Nation today is stronger than ever before--strengthened by both the increased power of our defenses and our increased efforts for peace--strengthened by both our resolve to resist coercion and our constant search for solutions. And it is in this spirit, I can assure you, that the American eagle still faces toward the olive branch of peace. In the months and years ahead, we intend to build both kinds of strength, during times of detente as well as tension, during periods of conflict as well as cooperation-until the world we pass on to our children is truly safe for diversity and freedom and the rule of law covers all.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at the university stadium in Orono after receiving an honorary degree of doctor of laws. In his opening words he referred to Dr. Lloyd H. Elliott, president of the university, and to Governor John H. Reed, U.S. Senators Margaret Chase Smith and Edmund S. Muskie, and U.S. Representatives Stanley R. Tupper and Clifford G. McIntire--all of Maine.

John F. Kennedy, Address at the University of Maine Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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