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Columnists Pat Hynes and Frances Crowe: Trump’s road leads to hate, hostility and peril

  • President John F. Kennedy proclaimed in a commencement speech at American University  on June 10, 1963, that world peace is “the most important topic on Earth.”

  • President Donald Trump applauds during a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 28 in Arlington, Va. AP FILE PHOTO



Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Fifty-five years ago on June 10, President John F. Kennedy delivered a commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C., that, in fewer than 30 minutes, turned traditional national security policy on its head.

Kennedy proclaimed that world peace is “the most important topic on Earth … not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women — not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”

His speech was hailed by then Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev as “the greatest speech by any American president since Roosevelt.”

Eight months earlier, both men had faced the terrifying possibility of nuclear holocaust in a showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union, remembered to history as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Shaken but emboldened by it, Kennedy laid out a principled, strategic and humanistic vision for ending the arms race and dissipating the hostile Cold War rhetoric and culture. He led by example in honoring the Russian people “for their many achievements — in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in acts of courage” (alluding to 20 million Russians killed during World War II). And he announced a proposed direct line of communication between Moscow and Washington.

Within two months of his commencement address, both former Cold War antagonists and Britain signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, prohibiting nuclear testing in the atmosphere, outer space and under water, resulting in substantial reduction of radioactive contamination.

Kennedy was assassinated before being able to construct a path toward complete and permanent disarmament.

Let us contrast Kennedy’s words and convictions expressed on June 10, 1963, with our present government’s national defense posture. These two diverging roads — Kennedy’s, the one less traveled — lay before us.

JFK

“What kind of peace do we seek…” Not one “enforced on the world by American weapons of war … I am talking about … the kind of peace … that enables people … to hope and to build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women.”

Stockpiling weapons, nuclear and nonnuclear, “is not the only” nor the most efficient means of achieving peace, he continues. Both the United States and the Soviet Union “are devoting massive sums of money that could be better devoted to combating ignorance, poverty, and disease … New weapons beget new counterweapons.”

The Pentagon

This year opened with a new national defense posture: The greatest threat to U.S national security and prosperity is now Russia and China, with terrorism relegated to a second tier.

Elsewhere, the Pentagon speaks of threats from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and terrorism. Its chief concern is that the 2018-19 defense budget — morbidly obese by comparison with the funds dedicated to diplomacy — is not large enough for conducting war on all these fronts.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the next fiscal, recently passed overwhelmingly by Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives, year allocates 18 times more funding ($716 billion) to military defense than to diplomacy ($39 billion).

China’s response to U.S. war talk? The United States has unparalleled military might, spending three times more on military than China, remarks Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. Yet its sense of insecurity is “beyond comprehension.” He urged the United States to abandon its confrontation mind-set and move with the trend of the times — multipolarity, or numerous power centers in the world. Bluntly put: get used to sharing power with other regions, alliances and countries.

JFK

“The pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war … but we have no more urgent task … Too many of us think it is impossible … But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief … Our problems are man-made – therefore, they can be solved by” us.

Resolving to end war for good is not a perfect guarantee, he continues, but it does offer “far more security and far fewer risks than an unabated, uncontrolled, unpredictable arms race.”

“… We can seek a relaxation of tensions without relaxing our guard … we are willing and able to engage in peaceful competition with any people on earth.” What will this require? “Increased understanding” with our enemies, which requires “increased contact and communication.” The goal is complete disarmament achieved in stages while building “new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms.”

The Pentagon

Since 9/11 we have expended more than $250 billion on training soldiers and security officers from at least 150 countries in the name of combating terrorism and promoting democracy, international peace and security. The results: no tangible national security benefit in Middle East and African countries, and no evidence of an increase in democratic values and civilian control of armed forces.

If anything, the opposite has occurred: a doubling of military-backed coups in the home countries of militaries we have trained. The program, according to the highest U.S. commanding officer for Africa, succeeded in transmission of military skills, but failed to spend enough time on promoting good governance and democratic values.

Vietnam veteran and foreign policy historian Andrew Bacevich asserts that the goal of the U.S. since the fall of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War has been to remake the world in its own image: to “align everybody from A to Z — Afghanistan to Zimbabwe with American values and the American way of life.”

With this goal, the U.S. embroiled itself for decades now in “a series of costly, senseless, unsuccessful and ultimately counterproductive wars.” Millions have been killed; countries broken; trillions accumulated in U.S. war debt; and terrorism fueled abroad and at home.

JFK

If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can focus on our “common interests” and work to “make the world safe for diversity” of ideas, beliefs, forms of economy and government. “For in the final analysis, we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

How far we have diverged as a country from this principled, strategic and humanistic vision for our national security toward one of moral collapse.

The road taken by Trump and his administration — clutching to military superpower status, abandoning the multiparty nuclear agreement with Iran and the Paris climate agreement, threatening to use nuclear weapons, and eroding years of environmental protection — leads only to hate, hostility and extreme peril.

Pat Hynes, a retired environmental engineer and professor of environmental health, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice of western Massachusetts in Greenfield. Frances Crowe, of Northampton, is a lifelong peace activist.