Shriver on Nuclear War

“If ... countries start thinking that a nuclear attack is thinkable, the thought may father the deed.”
Sargent Shriver | Washington, DC | November 23, 1975

Our Quote of the Week cautions us about the worst-case scenario of war: a nuclear attack. As we continue to witness violent conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, may our actions support a path towards a more stable, peaceful future for all of us.

In 1975-76, Sargent Shriver made a bid for the presidency, running to become the Democratic candidate. As part of his campaign, he published a series of position papers, including Toward a Democratic Foreign Policy, from which this quote is taken. In the paper, Shriver presents a thorough assessment of the issues that a country as influential as the United States should consider when protecting its national interests, and hence, its people. Among the points that Shriver covers in the statement are:

  • that leading by instilling fear can only cause dysfunction;
  • that stressing our common existence is crucial when dealing with international issues;
  • that our contemporary challenges, which he lists as “world recession and inflation, food and fuel distribution, environmental decay and population growth” are rapidly evolving and affect the international community as a whole; and
  • that the United States must do better at safeguarding democracy.

In this context, he raises the risk that nuclear weapons pose when they are employed as deterrents or as any part of a “thinkable” arsenal of war.

By the time he ran for president, Sargent Shriver had worked for decades to ensure that people in the United States and around the world could lead more secure, peaceful lives. From his time leading the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty, and in his role as US Ambassador to France, his focus was on building stable environments in which people could thrive. Following his bid for president, he dedicated himself to the issue of nuclear disarmament, convening a group of leaders including Pete Scoville, long-time expert on weapons technology; Robert McNamara, former Johnson Defense Secretary and then-head of the World Bank; William Colby, former head of CIA; and Father Bryan Hehir, director of policy for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, to discuss the threat posed by nuclear arms. Their collaboration resulted in their public support of a “No First Strike” policy, in which the United States would not be the first to deploy nuclear weapons in a conflict.

Shriver’s interest in nuclear disarmament is evident in this week’s speech, and his words continue to ring true. We know all too well that violence begets violence. In this moment of heightened tensions and escalating violence, may we do all we can to discourage conflict and pursue peace.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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