On February 12th, the President of the United States will deliver his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. Passages about nuclear dangers are usually included on these occasions. I asked Stimson’s Jonathan Fox to read all of these speeches, going back to President Truman, and to pass along the choicest quotes. Truman had surprisingly little to say on this subject, despite presiding over one of the most unsettling chapters of the first nuclear age. The most evocative passages of the lot, in my view, are those of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, and Obama. The most newsworthy passage came courtesy of George H.W. Bush. Have a look:
We are concentrating on producing the newest types of weapons and producing them as fast as we can.
– Harry S Truman, 1951
From 1945 to 1949, the United States was sole possessor of the atomic bomb. That was a great deterrent and protection in itself… But when the Soviets produced an atomic explosion–as they were bound to do in time–we had to broaden the whole basis of our strength. We had to endeavor to keep our lead in atomic weapons.
– Harry S Truman, 1953
The world cannot afford to stand still on disarmament! We must never give up the search for a basis of agreement… But a disarmament proposal, to hold real promise, must at the minimum have one feature: reliable means to ensure compliance by all. It takes actions and demonstrated integrity on both sides to create and sustain confidence. And confidence in a genuine disarmament agreement is vital, not only to the signers of the agreement, but also to the millions of people all over the world who are weary of tensions and armaments… I say once more, to all peoples, that we will always go the extra mile with anyone on earth if it will bring us nearer a genuine peace.
– Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1958
I have already taken steps to coordinate and expand our disarmament effort–to increase our programs of research and study-and to make arms control a central goal of our national policy under my direction. The deadly arms race, and the huge resources it absorbs, have too long overshadowed all else we must do. We must prevent that arms race from spreading to new nations, to new nuclear powers and to the reaches of outer space. We must make certain that our negotiators are better informed and better prepared–to formulate workable proposals of our own and to make sound judgments about the proposals of others… I have asked the other governments concerned to agree to a reasonable delay in the talks on a nuclear test ban–and it is our intention to resume negotiations prepared to reach a final agreement with any nation that is equally willing to agree to an effective and enforceable treaty.
– John F. Kennedy, 1961
The world was not meant to be a prison in which man awaits his execution. Nor has mankind survived the tests and trials of thousands of years to surrender everything-including its existence–now. This Nation has the will and the faith to make a supreme effort to break the log jam on disarmament and nuclear tests–and we will persist until we prevail, until the rule of law has replaced the ever dangerous use of force.
– John F. Kennedy, 1962
People of the Soviet Union, there is only one sane policy, for your country and mine, to preserve our civilization in this modern age: A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?
– Ronald Reagan, 1984
Tonight I can tell you of dramatic changes in our strategic nuclear force. These are actions we are taking on our own because they are the right thing to do. After completing 20 planes for which we have begun procurement, we will shut down further production of the B-2 bombers. We will cancel the small ICBM program. We will cease production of new warheads for our sea-based ballistic missiles. We will stop all new production of the Peacekeeper missile. And we will not purchase any more advanced cruise missiles.
– George H.W. Bush, 1992
Now, even as we prosecute two wars, we’re also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people, the threat of nuclear weapons. I’ve embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons and seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at April’s Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring 44 nations together here in Washington, DC, behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in 4 years so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.
– Barack Obama, 2010
Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better. And if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.
– Barack Obama, 2012