Forty-nine years ago today, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation to announce that the United States and the Soviet Union had concluded negotiations on a limited nuclear test ban treaty. President Kennedy told the nation that the treaty was a “shaft of light cut into the darkness” of tense relations between the two countries. He called the treaty “a step towards reduced world tension and broader areas of agreement,” “a step towards freeing the world from the fears and dangers of radioactive fallout,” and “a step toward preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to nations not now possessing them.” Kennedy had taken a strong position on the treaty in the 1960 presidential election and envisioned it as a step toward disarmament.
Particularly during the Cold War, nuclear weapons played a prominent role among issues in presidential campaigns. In light of the anniversary, I thought I would point out my top picks of campaign ads that highlight the role of presidential leadership on nuclear weapons issues in past campaigns. Take a look and tell us what your favorite ad is or point out one we missed!
- "Football/Peace," Eisenhower, 1956. This ad was presented to “thinking voters, regardless of party affiliation." Eisenhower tells the public:
We witness today in the power of nuclear weapons a new and deadly dimension to the ancient horror of war. Humanity has now achieved, for the first time in its history, the power to end its history. This truth must guide our every deed. It makes world disarmament a necessity of world life. For I repeat again this simple declaration: the only way to win World War III is to prevent it.
- "Peace Little Girl (Daisy)," Johnson, 1964. This ad is perhaps one of the most famous campaign ads, juxtaposing a scene of a little girl happily picking petals off of a flower (actually a black-eyed Susan), and an ominous countdown to a nuclear explosion. The implication of the ad was that Senator Barry Goldwater would be reckless in foreign affairs.
- "Bomb (Nuclear Treaty)," Humphrey, 1968. This ad juxtaposes an image of a nuclear weapon detonation with the candidates positions on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The ad notes that Richard Nixon is “in no hurry to pass it,” while Hubert Humphrey supports it now, “as do the eighty countries who have already signed it.” The ad concludes: “Let's stop the spread of the bomb, now. Humphrey: There is no alternative.” In another ad from the 1968 election, a narrator asks a man what has Nixon done? “Nixon, Nixon... Well, the bomb, the nuclear bomb! No, that was Humphrey's idea to stop testing the bomb.”
- "Flipflop," Carter, 1980. Carter reminds the nation of his “deep commitment to controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” while Reagan flip-flopped his position.
- In "Arms Control 5," the Mondale campaign in this 1984 election ad refers back to President Kennedy’s leadership on the partial test ban. Mondale tells the public:
I don't believe this administration understands how most Americans feel about arms control. We know that if those bombs go off, that's probably the end, it's over. We're the first generation to have the capacity to destroy all life. And that's why this is not just another problem--it's THE problem. I've been involved in every arms control fight over twenty years. I know what I'm doing. I've dealt with the Soviets. I've worked with our friends. I know how to get arms control. We must have that kind of leadership in the White House.
- "Crisis B," Bush, 1992. By the 1990s, campaign ads reflected a shift in the debate over nuclear weapons. The focus shifted from the need for arms control between the powers that had weapons to preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons.
- "2013," McCain, 2008. If elected president, by 2013, John McCain will have “REDUCED” the nuclear terror threat.