Chance for Peace
April 16, 1953
President Bryan, distinguished guests of this Association,
and ladies and gentlemen: I am happy to be here. I say
this and I mean it very sincerely for a number of reasons.
Not the least of these is the number of friends I am honored
to count among you. Over the years we have seen, tanked,
agreed, and argued with one another on a vast variety of
subjects, under circumstances no less varied. We have met
at home and in distant lands. We have been together at
times when war seemed endless, at times when peace seemed
near, at times when peace seemed to have eluded us again.
We have met in times of battle, both military and electoral,
and all these occasions mean to me memories of enduring
I am happy to be here for another reason. This occasion
calls for my first formal address to the American people
since assuming the office of the presidency just twelve
weeks ago. It is fitting, I think, that I speak to you
the editors of America. You are, in such a vital way, both
representatives of and responsible to the people of our
country. In great part upon you-upon your intelligence,
your integrity, your devotion to the ideals of freedom
and justice themselves-depend the understanding and the
knowledge with which our people must meet the facts of
twentieth-century life. Without such understanding and
knowledge our people would be incapable of promoting justice;
without them, they would be incapable of defending freedom.
Finally, I am happy to be here at this time before this
audience because I must speak of that issue that comes
first of all in the hearts and minds of all of us-that
issue which most urgently challenges and summons the wisdom
and the courage of our whole people. This issue is peace.
In this spring of 1953 the free world weighs one question
above all others: the chances for a just peace for all
To weigh this chance is to summon instantly to mind another
recent moment of great decision. It came with that yet
more hopeful spring of 1945, bright with the promise of
victory and of freedom. The hopes of all just men in that
moment too was a just and lasting peace.
The 8 years that have passed have seen that hope waver,
grow dim, and almost die. And the shadow of fear again
has darkly lengthened across the world. Today the hope
of free men remains stubborn and brave, but it is sternly
disciplined by experience. It shuns not only all crude
counsel of despair but also the self-deceit of easy illusion.
It weighs the chances for peace with sure, clear knowledge
of what happened to the vain hopes of 1945.
In that spring of victory the soldiers of the Western
Allies met the soldiers of Russia in the center of Europe.
They were triumphant comrades in arms. Their peoples shared
the joyous prospect of building, in honor of their dead,
the only fitting monument-an age of just peace. All these
war-weary peoples shared too this concrete, decent purpose:
to guard vigilantly against the domination ever again of
any part of the world by a single, unbridled aggressive
This common purpose lasted an instant and perished. The
nations of the world divided to follow two distinct roads.
The United States and our valued friends, the other free
nations, chose one road.
The leaders of the Soviet Union chose another.
The way chosen by the United States was plainly marked
by a few clear precepts, which govern its conduct in world
First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to
be an enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger
for peace and fellowship and justice.
Second: No nation's security and well-being can be lastingly
achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation
Third: Every nation's right to a form of government and
an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.
Fourth: Any nation's attempt to dictate to other nations
their form of government is indefensible.
And fifth: A nation's hope of lasting peace cannot be
firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon
just relations and honest understanding with all other
In the light of these principles the citizens of the United
States defined the way they proposed to follow, through
the aftermath of war, toward true peace.
This way was faithful to the spirit that inspired the
United Nations: to prohibit strife, to relieve tensions,
to banish fears. This way was to control and to reduce
armaments. This way was to allow all nations to devote
their energies and resources to the great and good tasks
of healing the war's wounds, of clothing and feeding and
housing the needy, of perfecting a just political life,
of enjoying the fruits of their own toil.
The Soviet government held a vastly different vision of
the future. In the world of its design, security was to
be found, not in mutual trust and mutual aid but in force:
huge armies, subversion, rule of neighbor nations. The
goal was power superiority at all cost. Security was to
be sought by denying it to all others.
The result has been tragic for the world and, for the
Soviet Union, it has also been ironic.
The amassing of Soviet power alerted free nations to a
new danger of aggression. It compelled them in self-defense
to spend unprecedented money and energy for armaments.
It forced them to develop weapons of war now capable of
inflicting instant and terrible punishment upon any aggressor.
It instilled in the free nations-and let none doubt this-the
unshakable conviction that, as long as there persists a
threat to freedom, they must, at any cost, remain armed,
strong, and ready for the risk of war (applause).
It inspired them-and let none doubt this-to attain a unity
of purpose and will beyond the power of propaganda or pressure
to break, now or ever.
There remained, however, one thing essentially unchanged
and unaffected by Soviet conduct. This unchanged thing
was the readiness of the free world to welcome sincerely
any genuine evidence of peaceful purpose enabling all peoples
again to resume their common quest of just peace. And the
free world still holds to that purpose (applause).
The free nations, most solemnly and repeatedly, have assured
the Soviet Union that their firm association has never
had any aggressive purpose whatsoever. Soviet leaders,
however, have seemed to persuade themselves, or tried to
persuade their people, otherwise.
And so it has come to pass that the Soviet Union itself
has shared and suffered the very fears it has fostered
in the rest of the world.
This has been the way of life forged by 8 years of fear
What can the world, or any nation in it, hope for if no
turning is found on this dread road?
The worst to be feared and the best to be expected can
be simply stated.
The worst is atomic war.
The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension;
a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all
peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American
system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true
abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every
rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from
those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and
are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of
its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern
brick school in more than 30 cities.
It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of
60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.
It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.
We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million
bushels of wheat.
We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could
have housed more than 8,000 people.
This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on
the road the world has been taking.
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under
the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from
a cross of iron.
These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point
the hope that come with this spring of 1953.
This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when
the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning
toward a just and lasting peace.
It is a moment that calls upon the governments of the
world to speak their intentions with simplicity and with
It calls upon them to answer the question that stirs the
hearts of all sane men: is there no other way the world
The world knows that an era ended with the death of Joseph
Stalin. The extraordinary 30-year span of his rule saw
the Soviet Empire expand to reach from the Baltic Sea to
the Sea of Japan, finally to dominate 800 million souls.
The Soviet system shaped by Stalin and his predecessors
was born of one World War. It survived with stubborn and
often amazing courage a second World War. It has lived
to threaten a third.
Now a new leadership has assumed power in the Soviet Union.
Its links to the past, however strong, cannot bind it completely.
Its future is, in great part, its own to make.
This new leadership confronts a free world aroused, as
rarely in its history, by the will to stay free.
The free world knows, out of the bitter wisdom of experience,
that vigilance and sacrifice are the price of liberty.
It knows that the peace and defense of Western Europe
imperatively demands the unity of purpose and action made
possible by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, embracing
a European Defense Community.
It knows that Western Germany deserves to be a free and
equal partner in this community and that this, for Germany,
is the only safe way to full, final unity.
It knows that aggression in Korea and in southeast Asia
are threats to the whole free community to be met only
through united action.
This is the kind of free world which the new Soviet leadership
confronts. It is a world that demands and expects the fullest
respect of its rights and interests. It is a world that
will always accord the same respect to all others.
So the new Soviet leadership now has a precious opportunity
to awaken, with the rest of the world, to the point of
peril reached and to help turn the tide of history.
Will it do this?
We do not yet know. Recent statements and gestures of
Soviet leaders give some evidence that they may recognize
this critical moment.
We welcome every honest act of peace.
We care nothing for mere rhetoric.
We care only for sincerity of peaceful purpose attested
by deeds. The opportunities for such deeds are many. The
performance of a great number of them waits upon no complex
protocol but only upon the simple will to do them. Even
a few such clear and specific acts, such as Soviet Union's
signature upon an Austrian treaty or its release of thousands
of prisoners still held from World War II, would be impressive
signs of sincere intent. They would carry a power of persuasion
not to be matched by any amount of oratory.
This we do know: a world that begins to witness the rebirth
of trust among nations can find its way to a peace that
is neither partial nor punitive.
With all who will work in good faith toward such a peace,
we are ready, with renewed resolve, to strive to redeem
the near-lost hopes of our day.
The first great step along this way must be the conclusion
of an honorable armistice in Korea.
This means the immediate cessation of hostilities and
the prompt initiation of political discussions leading
to the holding of free elections in a united Korea (applause).
It should mean, no less importantly, an end to the direct
and indirect attacks upon the security of Indochina and
Malaya (applause). For any armistice in Korea that merely
released aggressive armies to attack elsewhere would be
a fraud. We seek, throughout Asia as throughout the world,
a peace that is true and total.
Out of this can grow a still wider task-the achieving
of just political settlements for the other serious and
specific issues between the free world and the Soviet Union.
None of these issues, great or small, is insoluble-given
only the will to respect the rights of all nations.
Again we say: the United States is ready to assume its
We have already done all within our power to speed conclusion
of a treaty with Austria, which will free that country
from economic exploitation and from occupation by foreign
We are ready not only to press forward with the present
plans for closer unity of the nations of Western Europe
but also, upon that foundation, to strive to foster a broader
European community, conducive to the free movement of persons,
of trade, and of ideas.
This community would include a free and united Germany,
with a government based upon free and secret ballot.
This free community and the full independence of the East
European nations could mean the end of the present unnatural
division of Europe.
As progress in all these areas strengthens world trust,
we could proceed concurrently with the next great work-the
reduction of the burden of armaments now weighing upon
the world. To this end we would welcome and enter into
the most solemn agreements. These could properly include:
1. The limitation, by absolute numbers or by an agreed
international ratio, of the sizes of the military and security
forces of all nations.
2. A commitment by all nations to set an agreed limit
upon that proportion of total production of certain strategic
materials to be devoted to military purposes.
3. International control of atomic energy to promote its
use for peaceful purposes only and to insure the prohibition
of atomic weapons.
4. A limitation or prohibition of other categories of
weapons of great destructiveness .
5. The enforcement of all these agreed limitations and
prohibitions by adequate safeguards, including a practical
system of inspection under the United Nations.
The details of such disarmament programs are manifestly
critical and complex.
Neither the United States nor any other nation can properly
claim to possess a perfect, immutable formula. But the
formula matters less than the faith-the good faith without
which no formula can work justly and effectively.
The fruit of success in all these tasks would present
the world with the greatest task, and the greatest opportunity,
of all. It is this: the dedication of the energies, the
resources, and the imaginations of all peaceful nations
to a new kind of war. This would be a declared total war,
not upon any human enemy but upon the brute forces of poverty
The peace we seek, founded upon decent trust and cooperative
effort among nations, can be fortified, not by weapons
of war but by wheat and by cotton, by milk and by wool,
by meat and timber and rice. These are words that translate
into every language on earth. These are the needs that
challenge this world in arms.
This idea of a just and peaceful world is not new or strange
to us. It inspired the people of the United States to initiate
the European Recovery Program in 1947. That program was
prepared to treat, with equal concern, the needs of Eastern
and Western Europe.
We are prepared to reaffirm, with the most concrete evidence,
our readiness to help build a world in which all peoples
can be productive and prosperous.
This Government is ready to ask its people to join with
all nations in devoting a substantial percentage of any
savings achieved by real disarmament to a fund for world
aid and reconstruction. The purposes of this great work
would be to help other peoples to develop the undeveloped
areas of the world, to stimulate profitable and fair world
trade, to assist all peoples to know the blessings of productive
The monuments to this new war would be roads and schools,
hospitals and homes, food and health.
We are ready, in short, to dedicate our strength to serving
the needs, rather than the fears, of the world (applause).
I know of nothing I can add to make plainer the sincere
purposes of the United States.
I know of no course, other than that marked by these and
similar actions, that can be called the highway of peace.
I know of only one question upon which progress waits.
It is this: What is the Soviet Union ready to do?
Whatever the answer is, let it be plainly spoken.
Again we say: the hunger for peace is too great, the hour
in history too late, for any government to mock men's hopes
with mere words and promises and gestures.
Is the new leadership of the Soviet Union prepared to
use its decisive influence in the Communist world, including
control of the flow of arms, to bring not merely an expedient
truce in Korea but genuine peace in Asia?
Is it prepared to allow other nations, including those
in Eastern Europe, the free choice of their own form of
Is it prepared to act in concert with others upon serious
If not, where then is the concrete evidence of the Soviet
Union's concern for peace?
There is, before all peoples, a precarious chance to turn
the black tide of events.
If we failed to strive to seize this chance, the judgment
of future ages will be harsh and just.
If we strive but fail and the world remains armed against
itself, it at least would need be divided no longer in
its clear knowledge of who has condemned humankind to this
The purpose of the United States, in stating these proposals,
is simple. These proposals spring, without ulterior motive
or political passion, from our calm conviction that the
hunger for peace is in the hearts of all people- those
of Russia and of China no less than of our own country.
They conform to our firm faith that God created man to
enjoy, not destroy, the fruits of the earth and of their
They aspire to this: the lifting, from the backs and from
the hearts of men, of their burden of arms and of fears,
so that they may find before them a golden age of freedom
and of peace.