JFK’s Trailblazing Speech and Current Day Implications

Peace Advocate December 2022

By Molly McGinty

Based on remarks at 21 November event, which can be found here.


It was an honor and privilege to join Most Reverend John Wester and the Mass Peace Action team on 21 November for President Kennedy’s Trailblazing Vision of World Peace: How It Can Help Us. Throughout this year, my generation, Gen Z, and our millennial friends are experiencing the terrifying realities of our global nuclear architecture for the first time. As a generation which has already organized en-masse to combat the climate crisis and intertwining systems of injustice, many of us are stepping up to reject a future which relies on nuclear weapons for security and calling on leaders to end this madness. In order to move forward, we must work alongside long-time movement leaders and learn from the past. President Kennedy’s speech is, while albeit not perfect, a powerful grounding force.

I am incredibly moved by his remarks given almost 60 years ago, all of which sadly resonate with the threat we are facing today. President Kennedy questioned our continued reliance on nuclear weapons as a viable form of security, and even highlighted how the funds allocated to maintaining and increasing our nuclear arsenal would better be spent on human needs; on healthcare, education, housing, and more. Kennedy encouraged us to look beyond ideological binaries and find commonalities amongst the citizens of our nations. As Most Reverend Wester said, we must move beyond villainizing our common human beings.

It is our job as activists, and merely stewards of this land, to pull back the veil and demystify nuclear weapons. We cannot actualize the goals outlined in President Kennedy’s speech without nuclear weapons out of the abstract. During the Cold War, the humanitarian and planetary impacts of nuclear war were by and large discussed — and feared — by the public. This was seen in music, major motion pictures, and more. Until the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent threats to use nuclear weapons, the nuclear taboo was off the table, while the threat continued overhead. Many in my generation have assumed they were an issue of the past, or merely something not worth worrying about.

As such, it is essential that we continue to educate the public and our colleagues on what we are referring to when we talk about the “nuclear threat”. Today, there are approximately 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Nuclear weapons are the world’s most destructive weapons of mass destruction, which know no borders, ideology or limits. If a nuclear weapon were detonated over a city today, the consequences would be far worse than the almost incomprehensible devastation seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and could lead to uncontrollable risks of escalation from other nuclear armed states leading to a nuclear war.

Let’s use the hypothetical scenario of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, two nuclear armed countries which continue to have deadly skirmishes at the Kashmir border. In an Indian-Pakistan nuclear war using just 3% of the world’s nuclear arsenals, smoke and soot from the nuclear fires rises into the stratosphere. It is lofted around the world and stays there for years, blocking out the sun’s warmth and destroying the ozone layer. Global temperatures drop rapidly, resulting in global crop production collapse and available food calories plummeting worldwide. We would face a man-made humanitarian catastrophe that the world has never before seen, leading to food hoarding and a halt of food exports. This scenario, which again is considered a “limited” nuclear war using about 3% of the world’s arsenals, could kill up to every 3rd person on earth. A full scale nuclear war between the US and Russia, the two nations which own ~90% of the world’s arsenals, would kill an estimated 5 billion people, threatening human survival. All nine nuclear weapon states and their allies uphold this system and keep us on the brink of disaster.

President Kennedy’s speech reminds us that this is not the future that must be. The risks that nuclear weapons pose to humans is one that is entirely man-made. This man-made existential problem can be solved by humans, we simply need the political will. We can, and must, eliminate this threat. And we have the tools at our disposal to do so.

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in January of 2021 and held its successful first Meeting of States Parties in Vienna earlier this year, is the first international agreement to comprehensively ban the development, testing, production, possession, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons. The TPNW is the key to our common future. The Ban Treaty, with the support of the majority of the world’s nations, is a product of what Kennedy referred to as “genuine peace”.

I echo the calls from Mass Peace Action on how to get involved, and call on everyone to get involved in whatever avenue best speaks to them to advance abolition and a more sustainable future.

While we as individuals don’t have control over what is going on the ground in Ukraine, or the decisions world leaders are now taking in regard to their arsenals, we must utilize this dangerous moment to educate a new generation and ensure we never again find ourselves on the cusp of a disaster of our own making. Whether that be through petitions, talking to decision makers, educating your community, protesting on the street, using art, or anything else. Doctors, religious leaders, students, concerned citizens. Each and every one of us has a role to play in working towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The peace that President Kennedy speaks of is possible. And I believe it is something that we can achieve within all of our lifetimes. Let us ensure future — and current — generations are given the right to a healthy, secure future without fear of devastation, as President Kennedy so clearly called for. Thank you.


Molly McGinty, Associate Program Director, IPPNW, mmcginty@ippnw.org.