John Kennedy: mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind

Office, Level 400, The Diefenbunker, Ottawa 2010

© Leslie Hossack

At the height of the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September 1961.

Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind… Unconditional war can no longer lead to unconditional victory … a nuclear disaster, spread by winds and waters and fear, could well engulf the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the committed and the uncommitted alike. Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind … Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.

Kennedy’s remarks help us understand the tremendous tensions that characterized this period of history. The political dialogue of the day fostered fear in order to promote preparation. The poster in the office shown in the photograph above reads: So it can’t happen here, eh? Plan for tomorrow … today!

Canada’s Central Emergency Government Headquarters, aka the Diefenbunker, became operational in December 1961. In the event of a nuclear attack, designated government officials would report to Canada’s flagship bunker in Carp. It contained over 300 rooms and was designed to shelter 535 individuals. Built secretly between 1959 and 1961 just outside of Ottawa, the Diefenbunker was nicknamed after Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker.

The Diefenbunker was closed in 1994 and it is now home to Canada’s Cold War Museum. For more information visit

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