Massachusetts Peace Action and the Peace Community Fondly Remember Senator Edward Kennedy

 In peace history

Across Massachusetts and around the world, Senator Kennedy is being remembered for his generous service to constituents and unwavering commitment to social justice. We at Mass Peace Action are particularly grateful for Senator Kennedy’s courageous leadership for peace, human rights, and nuclear disarmament. He has long decried the recklessness of war and nuclear weapons, and was the Congressional leader of the Nuclear Freeze campaign, from which Peace Action was born. Along with our colleagues across the national Peace Action network, we deeply appreciate the support, wisdom, and collaboration extended on so many occasions by Senator Kennedy and his staff. We offer our sincere thoughts and sympathies to his family.

Senator Kennedy’s work for peace spans the many years he served in the Senate. At the height of the Cold War, Senator Kennedy emerged as a powerful voice for cooperative security and sane foreign policies. Envisioning a world free from weapons of mass destruction, he worked with us as an early opponent of nuclear testing, and built support for both the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and international protocols to stop the spread of biological weapons. In the early 1980s, at a time when nuclear war seemed imminent, Senator Kennedy joined Republican Mark Hatfield in sponsoring the Nuclear Freeze amendment, which would halt the build-up of nuclear arsenals and start comprehensive disarmament talks between the U.S. and Soviet Union. As the most prominent politician to promote this position, he galvanized the grassroots Freeze Movement in Massachusetts and nationwide, leading to successful passage of a similar amendment in the House and pushing forward diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

Post Cold War, Senator Kennedy led the fight for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; while it remains un-ratified, he worked diligently for a global moratorium on nuclear testing. Quick to make connections between the costs of militarism and the importance of investing instead in meeting human needs, he supported the movement for a peace dividend that would benefit causes dear to his heart, such as health care, education, and social welfare.

His work to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons has continued in recent years, as he’s led numerous legislative efforts to cut funding from proposals to expand the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. In debating funds for a new generation of “mini-nukes”, Senator Kennedy combined his trademark wit and visionary analysis to argue, “You’re either for nuclear war, or you’re not. We don’t want it anywhere, anytime, anyplace… No Congress should be the Congress that says, ‘Let’s start down this street,’ when it’s a one-way street that can lead only to nuclear war.”

With support from the peace movement and his allies in Congress, Senator Kennedy repeatedly won these recent battles against new nuclear weapons spending. Following one such victory in 2005, he hosted a celebration reception on Capitol Hill, where he personally greeted and thanked the activists from Peace Action and other allied peace groups that were in attendance.

Senator Kennedy’s voice has also emerged as one of the most thoughtful and vocal opponents to U.S. involvement in several armed conflicts, from Central America to the Middle East. Of his vote against authorizing an invasion of Iraq, he declared, “My vote against this misbegotten war is the best vote I have cast in the United States Senate since I was elected in 1962.”

He has since cast many more anti-war votes and has led Congressional efforts toward reconciliation, reconstruction, and the resettlement of Iraqi refugees. When Massachusetts Peace Action helped host a delegation of Iraqi labor leaders in 2007, Senator Kennedy’s staff met with them in Boston, warmly and generously conveying his deep support for the concerns of Iraqi civil society, and for workers everywhere. On this occasion and many others, his compassion for all who suffer the effects of violence, oppression, and injustice was powerfully evident.

As we mourn this great loss, we have many opportunities to honor his legacy by advancing the causes he championed. Let us work, in his memory and in the spirit of President Obama’s stated commitment to nuclear disarmament, for the successful passage of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and other international agreements to eliminate global nuclear stockpiles. Let us extend Senator Kennedy’s compassion to the civilians of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan who continue to suffer under occupation and attack, and let us not forget the needs of U.S. veterans, military personnel, and their families who are also devastated by these wars. A world at peace and without nuclear weapons is part of Senator Kennedy’s dream that must not die. His enduring inspiration will help Peace Action and our allies across the movement make this dream a reality.

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  • Kevin

    My heroes are activists, not politicians, but among politicians, Sen. Kennedy certainly stood out for his many good works on behalf of social justice and peace. I only ever spoke to him once, and it was an interesting exchange.

    Three years or so ago, the senator was at a reception to receive an award for his work on peace and disarmament issues over the years. He showed up with his dogs Sunny and Splash, which I thought was funny. After gracious, collegial remarks that made it clear he was very grateful to accept the reward, I shook his hand and asked him what more we could do to move Congress to end the war in Iraq. He was very concerned about my question, and stopped to chat a bit even though he was on his way out.

    He said many of his Senate colleagues were not hearing much from their constituents in terms of opposition to the war, which troubled him (and me of course but it wasn’t a surprise to hear this). The other thing he said was his perception was the public was not exposed to the war the way it was during Vietnam, and so the human cost of the war was “hidden” from many people.

    What impressed me was he was speaking with obvious sincerity and pain about the war’s continuation, not giving me political talking points or excuses the way many politicians do. Of course he knew I was an ally, but still he talked to me like anyone concerned with ending the war would, there was no pretense or calculation about him at all. And of course it reminded me why me must always keep the human cost of war, which is of course incalculable, at the forefront of our arguments for peace.

  • Cole Harrison

    Isn’t this glowing evaluation of Sen. Kennedy a bit one sided? Kennedy cast votes for peace, but others for war. For example, he supported:

    – the U.S. attack on Afghanistan in 2001 and the war effort there
    – funds for the Iraq and Afghanistan war (while voicing opposition ot the war)
    – sanctions and pressure on Iran
    – promoting wasteful military spending so long as it supported Massachusetts industries.

    The liberal positions he championed were often more acceptable to the peace movement than those of his Republican adversaries, but it’s also important to make clear that Sen. Kennedy supported some, not all, of the positions of the peace movement.

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