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Waging Peace: 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy's Visit to Ireland

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Date:
Location: Dublin, Ireland

Thank you very much. A daoine usaile. Thank you Secretary General Cooney for your very kind introduction.

Distinguished Members, Deputies, Senators. Mr. Tubridy that outstanding book on the Kennedy visit -- I enjoyed every page. Distinguished Members of the Press, members of the Kennedy family, Ambassador and Mrs. Rooney, Ambassador Jeanne Kennedy Smith, Ambassador Michael Collins, Congressman Patrick Kennedy,… the women and men who form the core of Ireland, and the young people who hold its future -- I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the chance to speak here today.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh,…

Introduction

When John F. Kennedy came here fifty years ago, he shook this country's soul out.
He drove around in an open-top car and addressed the Irish people with an open heart,… he even defied the rain.

He asked his listeners keep a sense of hope alive in the expectation, and the belief, that it would triumph.

Oppression covered half the world. A hunger gnawed at so many places.
Nuclear weapons put the very existence of human life on this planet in jeopardy.
The world's climate had begun to cough.

And yet there is always a yet.

President Kennedy offered words of hope and optimism.

He had recently offered the world a new strategy for peace -- a peace that could save human life on this planet from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

At American University in Washington, he said, "our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet," breathe the same air and cherish our children's future.

At the Berlin Wall, he spoke of "peace with freedom."

And here in Dublin, he talked of an Irish destiny: a vision of an Ireland that would be not merely be "a peaceful island in a sea of troubles, but,… a maker and shaper of world peace."

President Kennedy did not live to see the Berlin Wall fall, but he believed that it would.

He would not see his country land a man on the moon, but he believed it could.
He did not see the internet and advances in technology that would bring our world together, but he believed such things could be achieved.

Connection

His brief visit to Ireland connected our countries vividly,… connected us vitally,… connected us spiritually.

From New Ross to Hyannis, from the Oireachtas to the White House, John F Kennedy planted a vision that would link us, not only to the past but to the deep, deep roots of the future.

And the harvest of that faith remains here today; more vibrant now than ever.
More needed now than ever.

America. Ireland. The world we see-- from both sides of the Atlantic -- is a continuous circle of humanity; a circle broken only by the walls we build between, and the darkness our compassion has yet to overcome.

That infamous wall in Berlin has fallen. But still today, there are many walls of conflict. Walls of fear.

There are walls that blind us to the needs of others.

Walls that we foolishly imagine separate our fate from the fate of the other living systems of this planet.

Walls that must be overcome, by Ireland and America, together -- for the future of our shared humanity.

Ireland and America

Ireland and America. For centuries we have been word-linked. We have been freedom-linked. We have been linked by our imaginations. We have been linked by our histories. We are linked by the sacrifices of those who have gone before us.
There are no two countries more bound to each other. There are no two countries more grounded in the fact of their reaching out to the world.

Our shared experience is that we share our experience -- of democracy, of generosity, of bravery, of hope.

Perhaps nowhere in its recent history has Ireland been stronger than as a "maker and shaper of peace."

Peace. We in America look to it and are thankful for it. We know that we can always learn from it. In Colombia they can take great inspiration from it. In the holy grounds of the Middle East. In all areas of conflict around the world.

Here in Ireland, the Peace Process is one of our century's great breakthroughs. One to be admired,… emulated,… nurtured.

While the United States played an important and helpful role, the drive for peace actually came from the hard-working people of this Island who saw the necessity of change.

You brought "peace" to life. You raised it from the ground up. You cultivated it.
What has been achieved -- through the patient work of so many -- is something that most thought was impossible.

And yet, you have dissolved the walls of old hatreds, and made greater room for your children's future.

Peace. "A process," Kennedy called it. An idea we must continue to wage.

The Seed of Opportunity

To be Irish,… to be American,… to be human,… is to know that every challenge, however great, holds the seed of opportunity.

It is suggested by some that a small country can do little in a world that seems increasingly dominated by the very large few. But the reality is that Ireland is often the fore-runner of truly democratic aspirations and realizations.

This is the Irish example that President Kennedy celebrated and extolled during his visit: that a nation and a people need not be large in size, or powerful in force of arms, in order to influence,… the conscience of the world.

Look at what Ireland has done over the years.

Ireland has been pivotal in the disarmament debates at the United Nations.

In the European Parliament and beyond, Ireland has stood up for the cause of civil rights, especially on behalf of women and minorities.

Ireland has sent more help than other countries, both in terms of money and compassionate hands, to troubled areas of the world to alleviate the most excruciating human suffering.

Ireland has contributed troops to peacekeeping missions across the globe -- from Central America to the former Yugoslavia, from Cambodia to Liberia, from the Middle East to East Timor to the UN's Headquarters on the East River. Senior Ireland Defence Forces officers have commanded UN operations in Cyprus, along the Syrian-Israeli border, in Lebanon, and along the border between India and Pakistan.

Ireland has been noble. Ireland has been generous. Ireland has been brave.

Ireland's impact is not measured only in currency but in its cultural influence, in its moral reach and in the open hearts of her emigrants and indeed her immigrants.

What can a small nation do,…? What difference can one person make,….?

Quite possibly,… all the difference.

Education. Economic Opportunity. Security. Life Science. The development of artistic and literary voices. The dignity of every individual,… The common good we share,… the greater good we seek.

Our circle is unbroken. And our relationship must constantly be renewed for the greater service of our one human family and this one planet we call home.

Fifty years since,… fifty years forward,…

Climate Change

"The supreme reality of our time," President Kennedy said, "is our indivisibility as children of God and our common vulnerability on this planet."

The threat of global, thermonuclear war hung like a cloud over Kennedy's generation.

Today, our planet once against finds itself in a grave crisis of our own human making.

Climate change,…The doomsday clock has been slowed; climate change marches on, unabated.

This is not just about icebergs melting, or polar bears drowning.

The carbon content of the earth's atmosphere is higher now than it has been at any time in 3 million years.

Our industrial era legacy of burning fossil fuels for energy is the cause.

As the dominant species on this small planet, we are driving the earth into uncharted territory.

The effects -- sea level rise measured in meters. Severe weather events with hurricanes and tornados dwarfing all weather experiences in human memory; exacting massive destruction of property and huge losses of human life.

The vast majority of the world's scientists predict an accelerated loss of bio-diversity -- the loss of entire species of plants and animals.

Droughts across whole swaths of the planet. "Great Hungers" of famine death in continental proportions.

Clear the Way

No nation, big or small -- rich, poor, or fast-developing -- can escape the urgent responsibility of this moment.

As a global community, we must turn the deep underwater of our collective imaginations into stronger collaborations, better innovations, better choices.

We must move from economies of global depletion to localized economies of renewal and regeneration.

Innovations that figure out better ways to feed, fuel, and heal this world of ours. Sustainable innovation economies -- whose jobs and prosperity cannot be off-shored.

A country like Ireland can become a leader in moving a larger world to care and to act. Together with a growing consensus in the United States and the will of other nations, we can focus our progress in science and technology.

Every positive change is needed. Renewable Energy. Solar power. Geothermal power. Wind power. Wave energy. Carbon capture. Green design. Net-zero energy homes. Smart grids.

What we stand for is what we stand on.

And our young people understand this reality more clearly than we do.

Hanging in the balance of this great global collaboration is the very future of life on our planet.

Adversity is not our Enemy

Is this easy? Of course not. It is life and death hard.

But out of difficulty comes great promise -- the promise of a more secure world,… a more plentiful and prosperous world,… a healthier and more just world. A better world for our children and grandchildren.

Adversity is not our enemy.

Adversity is the catalyst of all human progress.

We become who we are in our stance against difficulty.

Arresting climate change is the new frontier in our search for peace with freedom.
We have to go beyond the bare acceptance of today's brooding clouds of self-defeating pessimism.

True optimism is brave. True optimism digs deeper.

True optimism understands in the words of the Irish poet, John O'Donohue, that "darkness is the great canvass against which beauty becomes visible."

The world does not make progress without the belief that tomorrow can be better.

Space

A final thought, by way of a story,… thanks in part to President Kennedy's vision -- and the talented nation of people who made his belief in space exploration a reality -- we are now among the first human beings to view the earth from outer space,…
Recently a Canadian-born astronaut, Chris Hadfield, spent five months as commander of the International Space Station.

As he floated above Ireland, strumming his famous guitar, he sent down satellite pictures of a country steeped in beauty against the dark ocean all around.

The images took the world's breath away. Even from the distance of space, one could see what a gorgeous country Ireland is.

While he was circling above us, Chris Hadfield also tweeted about his daughter, Kristin, who was studying psychology in, of all places, Trinity College Dublin.
All of our stories are connected.

As the future rolls on, the present grows larger, and our past becomes more vital.

Conclusion

John F. Kennedy believed there would always be a springtime -- no matter how long it might take to return.

His visit here made visible, and solidified, a growing confidence in this new country of an ancient people being an important actor on the international stage; an important catalyst in the on-going heart-work of humanity.

Kennedy could intuit that we Irish, and we Americans, had an ocean between us not to separate but to allow. For all its depth and darkness… this is what the Atlantic does -- it joins us.

We cannot afford to quarantine the better part of our desires on either side of the Atlantic.

There is nothing wrong with the extravagance of aspiration when it is manifest in the right direction for mankind.

There is nothing wrong with wanting things to be better when "the better" is for everyone: not just ourselves, but the wider and further world,…

America and Ireland,… the Irish diaspora and the American dream of "peace with freedom",.. they have become a world power; a power -- potentially -- of the most far reaching kind.

A force for compassion and healing; for transforming our grief,… our wounds,… and our loss into a new tomorrow. These things do not die -- our concern for the people of our one earth,… our care for the well-being of the next generation,…. our love for one another.

And in this powerful sense, and in the work we do for that new tomorrow,… we will all,…."be back,… in springtime."


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