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JFK's 'Peace Speech' and The Road Not Taken

US President Kennedy's Peace Speech of 1963 marked a critical moment in history and leaves us wondering would have happened had he not been assassinated. Historian Peter Kuznick joins John Wight to discuss the significance of the speech as he reveals the challenges faced by Kennedy were not so different from those faced by US leadership today...

On 10 June 1963, just a few months prior to his assassination, US President John F Kennedy gave a commencement address to the students and faculty of the American University in Washington.

Over the course of the address — known to posterity as his 'Peace Speech' — the 35th President of the United States outlined a vision and path towards ending the Cold War with the Soviet Union that stands today as one of the most enlightened and moral speeches ever delivered by any US president at any time.

The speech radiates the wisdom of a leader who'd looked into the abyss of nuclear war with the Soviets before turning back, doing so in defiance of hawks within a Washington political and military establishment who viewed what was an act of sublime courage as an example of miserable cowardice and treason.

The abyss had come with the Cuban Missile Crisis, which unfolded over thirteen days in October 1962. It was an experience which imbued Kennedy with the determination that nothing like could or would happen again. From then on he worked in conjunction with his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, to push back the frontiers of the Cold War, regardless of opposition within their respective camps.

The Peace Speech of 10 June 1963 came as the culmination of this journey, with the vision outlined standing in sharp and sad contrast to what came after and what we have now.

On this episode Hard Facts is joined by US author and historian Peter Kuznick, co-author of The Untold History of The United States.

Hard Facts is out every Wednesday. You can join in the conversation here.

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