“The only permanent alternative to war”

“No matter how many bombs we drop, no matter how skillfully our soldiers fight, we are not responding to the ultimate challenge until we show the world how and why we must all learn to live in peace, until peace becomes the only permanent alternative to war.”
Sargent Shriver | New Haven, CT | November 10, 2001

Our Quote of the Week expresses a basic principle that we can’t afford to forget now: no amount of violence can lead to a more peaceful world.

Sargent Shriver spoke these words at the Yale University Daily News Annual Banquet, just two months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 killed 2,977 people on US soil. The United States had responded to the attacks by launching a so-called “global war on terror,” which, at the time, was predicted to be “nasty, brutish and long”, and whose overall impact, according to a 2023 report from the Watson Institute at Brown University, has included the indirect deaths of 3.6 to 3.8 million people over the past 22 years.

In his speech, Shriver broaches the topic of war, stressing that as a strategy, it is severely limited in its ability to bring about what all human beings ultimately need: a state of sustained peace. His words show consistency of thought with his early work on the Peace Corps. They also show his ability to think critically about the contemporary challenges that the world faced in 2001--and that we continue to face today.

The speech includes several passages that call for reflection:

“Today, it has become easier to stand up for military defense and also for aggressive action against enemies of our nation, especially if you are a New York policeman or fireman, a postal worker or a mayor of any city under attack. But it may not be so easy to stand for peace in a nation darkened by conflict, and looking to war for quick solutions.”
Sargent Shriver

“Peace is much more than the mere absence of war. 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.”

It’s notable that, 40 years after his founding of the Peace Corps, Shriver asserts that the organization can still be an instrument for peace building.

“Why look to the Peace Corps in a time of such extreme danger? I believe it’s necessary to do so, because we’re now living in a new world; and without peace, the new world will have no future, except death!”

He does not, however, remain fixed on the ideas that brought the Peace Corps to life -- he suggests a much bolder approach to citizen diplomacy and peace building.

“You may think these are just the rantings of an old man defending his outdated ideas. But I’m not defending the old Peace Corps – I’m attacking it! We didn’t go far enough! Our dreams were large, but our actions were small. We never really gave the goal of “World Wide Peace’ an overwhelming commitment. Nor did we establish a clear, inspiring vision for attaining it. If we had, the world wouldn’t be in the mess we are in. We may have only one more opportunity to get it right.”

“When we proposed legislation for the original Peace Corps, we came up with only three goals: (1) to provide technical assistance to poor people; (2) to promote better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and (3) to bring the world home to America. Forty years later, we could probably question some of these goals, or scrap them altogether. But I propose that we renew our vision by concentrating on a new Fourth Goal. We’ve struggled with words for the Fourth Goal, but let me give you the sense of it: to bind all human beings together in a common cause to assure peace and survival for all.”

We share these words with heavy hearts as we mourn the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians killed in this week’s attacks in Israel and we urge our leaders to do everything they can to achieve peace: lead with diplomacy, de-escalate tensions, and forge partnerships with other leaders on the issues that will make all human beings safe and prosperous.

Like this quote? Read the speech and subscribe to receive our Quote of the Week by email.

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
Get the Quote of the Week in Your Inbox