Modern Wisdom on War and Peace

Dwight D. Eisenhower | John F. Kennedy | Gandhi | Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

From Presidential Farewell Address, “Military-Industrial Complex Speech,” 1/17/61 (excerpts, emphasis added).

The “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience.  The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual —  is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. ”

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”

“As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war, as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years, I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.”

“You and I, my fellow citizens, need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation’s great goals.”

“To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing aspiration: We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its . . . spiritual blessings. Those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; and that the scourges of poverty, disease, and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth; and that in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”


John F. Kennedy

From address to the UN General Assembly September 25, 1961. (Excerpts, emphasis added.)

 “In the development of this organization rests the only true alternative to war and war appeals no longer as a rational alternative.”

 “Mankind must put an end to war — or war will put an end to mankind.”

“Let us call a truce to terror. Let us invoke the blessings of peace. And as we build an international capacity to keep peace, let us join in dismantling the national capacity to wage war.”

“Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman, and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.

“The mere existence of modern weapons ten million times more powerful than any that the world has ever seen, and only minutes away from any target on earth is a source of horror, and discord, and distrust. . . Disarmament must be a part of any permanent settlement.”

“For fifteen years, this organization has sought the reduction and destruction of arms. Now that goal is no longer a dream, it is a practical matter of life or death. The risks inherent in disarmament pale in comparison to the risks inherent in an unlimited arms race.”

“The program to be presented to this Assembly for general and complete disarmament under effective and international control moves to bridge the gap between those who insist on a gradual approach and those who talk only of the final and total achievement. . . . It would achieve under the eyes of an international disarmament organization, a steady reduction in force, both nuclear and conventional, until it has abolished all armies and all weapons except those needed for internal order and a new United Nations Peace Force. . . .”

“In short, general and complete disarmament must no longer be a slogan . . . It is now a realistic plan . . . Such a plan would not bring a world free from conflict and greed but it would bring a world free from the terrors of mass destruction.”

“To destroy arms, however, is not enough. We must create even as we destroy – creating worldwide law and law enforcement as we outlaw worldwide war and weapons. “

“Peace is not solely a matter of military or technical problems, it is primarily a problem of politics and people. And unless man can match his strides in weaponry and technology with equal strides in social and political development, our great strength, like that of the dinosaur, will become incapable of proper control and like the dinosaur, vanish from the earth.”

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From Mohandas Gandhi Essential Writings, John Dear, ed., Orbis Books 2002.  Excerpts.

 “There is no escape for any of us save through truth and non-violence. I know that war is wrong. It is an unmitigated evil. I know too that it has got to go.”

“The way of peace is the way of truth. Truthfulness is even more important than peacefulness. Indeed, lying is the mother of violence.”

“If there were no greed, there would be no occasion for armaments. . . When the spirit of exploitation is gone, armaments will be felt as an unbearable burden.

“Nonviolence is not merely a negative state of harmlessness, but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evildoer. But it does not mean helping the evildoer to continue the wrong or tolerating it by passive acquiescence. On the contrary, love – the active state of nonviolence – requires you to resist the wrong-doer by dissociating yourself from him, even though it may offend him.”


Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”

The following quotes are from “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence,” Dr. King’s speech at Riverside Church, New York, 4/4/67. [Excerpts.]

“A time comes when silence is betrayal. And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

With “the buildup in Vietnam . . . I watched the [poverty] program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.”

“I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – – my own government.”

“If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over.”

“America has spoken peace and built up its forces.”

“The most powerful nation of the world speak[s] of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation. “

“Somehow this madness must cease.”

“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”

“Our nation has taken the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. . . . If we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.”

“We must rapidly begin . . . the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’”

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

“There is nothing but a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”

“A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole . . .”

“This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.”

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. . .”

“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

“Now let us begin.”


Note: Permission of copyright holder to use above excerpts from Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech pending.  


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