Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Commencement Address at Catholic University.

June 06, 1965

Bishop McDonald, Bishop Swanstrom, Speaker McCormack, Mrs. McCormack, Mr. Norris, my fellow countrymen:

On this campus dedicated to the glory of God, it is fitting that we meet on this first day of the week. For this is the day kept by Christendom as a day of remembrance, a day of renewal, a day of rededication to the moral values by which we guide our lives.

In our temporal affairs--no less than in the affairs of the spirit--this is a season for remembrance, for renewal, for rededication to the moral values by which men guide the course of their governments on this earth.

On this occasion, then, I come to speak, at this time and at this place, about the morality of nations. For while I believe devotedly in the separation of church and state, I do not believe it is pleasing in the sight of God for men to separate morality from their might.

Your Nation is a mighty nation--the mightiest in all the millenniums of man. But let none who would measure that might--or test it--be deceived and let us never deceive ourselves.

The strength of our society does not rest in the silos of our missiles nor lie in the vaults of our wealth--for neither arms nor silver are gods before which we kneel.

The might of America lies in the morality of our purposes and their support by the will of the people of the United States.

It was Mr. Jefferson who said that: "Our interests . . . will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties."

That standard guides us still.

For America's only interests in the world today are those we regard as inseparable from our moral duties to mankind.

This is the truth--the abiding truth-about your land, America. Yet all through this century, men in other lands have--for reasons of their own--elected to discount moral duty as the motivation that moves America.

In its place, they have erected and embraced myths of their own creation--the myths of American isolationism and imperialism, the myths of American materialism and militarism.

I would recall the words that were once spoken by a man who deeply understood these times, this land, and the truth about them--our late, beloved President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. For he once said:

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the He--deliberate, contrived, and dishonest--but the myth--persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic."

If we cannot persuade other men to disbelieve their own persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic myths about America's motivations, we at least can urge them to seek after the truth--for the truth about America has been chronicled on every continent in this century.

Twenty-one years ago today, on the 6th day of June 1944, it was neither isolationism nor imperialism that sent our sons ashore in Normandy to intervene in the destiny of the continent of Europe where our culture was cradled.

Nor was it materialism that moved this Nation to the works of the postwar world-committing her crops to the care of the hungry, dedicating her dollars and determination to reconstruct the ruined lands of friend and foe, sharing her skills and resources to strengthen the foundations for emerging nations all around the globe.

Neither was it militarism that motivated this Nation to dismantle her arms in good faith when victory was won and offer up the atom in good faith for control by all nations. Nor is it militarism now that motivates America to stand her sons by the sons of Europe and Asia and Latin America in keeping a vigil of peace and freedom for all mankind.

What America has done--and what America is doing around the world--draws from deep and flowing springs of moral duty, and let none underestimate the depth of flow of those wellsprings of American purpose.

On this, let me speak forthrightly--to you and to the entire world.

All through history the doubt of men for the morality of their own generation has been exceeded only by their doubt for the morality of the next generation. As long ago as ancient Chaldea, when history was just beginning, there was a popular verse, saying:

"We are fallen upon evil times, And the world has waxed very old and wicked,

Politics are very corrupt,

The sons of men are not so righteous

As their parents were."

Whatever some may say, you of this class of '65 know that words such as these do not describe your America in these times. This is a new time in our land--a time that is young in spirit, a time of renewal, a time of resurgence for those forces which fashion a finer and a fairer society.

The people in their politics are keeping faith with American ideals as never before. They are doing it in education, in health, in the human environment. That great American commitment to equality for all men-in the sight of the law as in the sight of God--is, at last, being fulfilled. Sons of men--and daughters, too--are giving of themselves as volunteers for good and noble works in a manner their parents never thought of doing.

So, if men elsewhere say they have never met such an America before, they are right-and we are honored and proud.

For this is an America morally aware, morally aroused--an America determined to end at home the compromise of its own moral duty which has, for much too long, given credence to those who would doubt us or misrepresent us elsewhere in the world.

Myths, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings are enemies of truth--and enemies of America--but they shall not be masters of either.

The truth of America's purposes cannot be veiled.

Sure of its moral purposes--surer of its own moral performance--America shall not be deterred from doing what must be done to preserve this last peace man shall ever have to win or lose.

We have--as our forefathers had--a decent respect for the informed opinions of mankind, but we of this generation also have an abiding commitment to preserve and perpetuate the enduring values of mankind.

And we shall keep that commitment.

Our purpose, our policy--our constant and continuing commitment--was set forth just 18 years ago this weekend by the then great Secretary of State, George C. Marshall.

In a speech the world will never forget, that great citizen of war and peace said this for the United States:

"Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, and poverty, and desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be . . . to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist."

Well, that is America's purpose now--our only purpose--in the hungry and poor and desperate and chaotic lands to the farthest corners of this earth. In the policies that guide us abroad--as in the principles that govern us at home--we of the United States cherish the right of others to choose for themselves what they shall believe and what their own societies and institutions shall be.

On this right rests all morality among nations, and we intend to guard and defend this right for others as for ourselves.

But the shade of a shield is not enough to cause stable societies to grow and free institutions to flower in integrity.

Pope John XXIII reminded us that peace would be only "an empty-sounding word" unless it rested upon, as he put it, "... an order founded on truth, built according to justice, vivified and integrated by charity, and put into practice in freedom."

That is the next imperative of morality among nations--to integrate the system of nations and peoples by charity, not the charity of callous and calculating dole, but the compassionate charity of learning and love.

This, too, has been--and will continue to be--the purpose of the American people: to maintain in our policies toward all nations a spirit of compassion and caring. For we believe, as Pope John said, "there is an immense task incumbent on all men of good will, namely the task of restoring the relations of the human family in truth, in justice, in love, and in freedom."

And that, finally, is the highest morality of nations--the noblest purpose to which great powers can put their great persuasion: to restoring relations between the human family.

Our world has been scarred and sundered by war since the beginning of time and man. On every continent, men of every color--and every creed--live with memories of wars that are past and they dread of wars yet to come.

Peace is still a stranger, knocking at the door.

We of America--and we of all the free world--are ready, as we are always ready, to open that door and invite peace to enter, to dwell in the house of all nations forever.

So on this Sunday morning, as you are here to bear witness, then, I would say to the people, and to the leaders, of the Communist countries, to the Soviet Union, to nations of Eastern Europe and southeast Asia; we extend to you our invitation--come, now, let us reason together.

As peace knocks, our door is unlatched.

Our table is set.

We are ready, and we believe mankind is ready with us.

So, we wait only for those of the human family who have barred their doors and closed their windows to pull back your curtains and signify to mankind that you are ready, too, to welcome peace to the table of man.

A great American President--Franklin Delano Roosevelt--once said, "The most serious threat to our institutions comes from those who refuse to face the need for change."

Today, in both the open world of freedom and in the curtained world of communism, men and their families are enjoying the comfort and the contentment of a life none have ever known before.

There is still discontent, but there is less despair. There is still need, but the wants are not so mean. There is still futility today, but there is much more faith for tomorrow.

The most serious threat--the only threat-to this improving condition of all peoples lies with those who refuse to face the need for change, and who refuse to face the need for renouncing war in all of its ugly guises.

The will of the world--the great and growing moral force of mankind--presses for that renunciation. For men know today, as they have not been able to know before, that war serves no necessary end of any nation anywhere on earth.

Only a few days ago, an American son stepped out into the void of space and walked his way from the coast of the Pacific to the coast of the Atlantic over this continent. When his walk was complete, he did not want to return to the capsule from which he had emerged.

And, in many ways, this epitomizes our age.

The peoples of earth--in lands that are old and young--are today enjoying experiences that man has never known before, and they will not willingly return to the old world of war from which they have finally emerged.

On this campus, then--on this day of peace and promise--I would offer one message to men everywhere and to their leaders in every nation.

We of the United States welcome the gains and the progress that all people have realized since the brutal and bitter years of war and devastation and exploitation.

We are grateful for the progress that we ourselves have achieved. We are blessed, and we are determined to press forward-not for our gain and our greatness alone, but rather for the gain and the good of all mankind everywhere.

But the need of man--the need of these times--is not for arms races or moon races, not for races into space or races to the bottom of the sea. If competition there must be, we are ready and we are willing always to take up the challenges and to commit our country to its tasks. But this is a moment when the opportunity is open and beckoning for men of all nations to come and to take a walk together toward peace.

The stranger knocks. Peace seeks admission at all our doors. Let us then open our doors and go forth together to walk at each other's side toward peace.

For let us never forget, the longest journey begins with a single step.

Note: The President spoke at 10:55 a.m. in the gymnasium on the campus at Catholic University in Washington, after being awarded an honorary degree of doctor of laws. In his opening words he referred to Bishop William J. McDonald, Rector of the University, Bishop Edward E. Swanstrom, General Secretary, Catholic Relief Services, National Catholic Welfare Conference, Representative John W. McCormack of Massachusetts, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and his wife, and James J. Norris, prominent Catholic layman and official of Catholic Relief Services.

Later he referred to Maj. Edward H. White 2d, the astronaut who left the spacecraft and walked in space during the Gemini 4 flight (see Item 304).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Commencement Address at Catholic University. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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