Walter Cronkite, the long-time anchorman for CBS Evening News, was the most trusted man in America. People believed in him. He was an honest newsman who became an American icon. He stood for what was decent and solid in the American heartland. But Walter Cronkite was more than an anchorman on the evening news. Like many of his generation, who had lived through World War II, he was deeply committed to building a peaceful world.
In May 2004, Cronkite gave the commencement address at Pomona College, in which he criticized the Iraq War and encouraged the students to engage in a campaign for peace. He said to them, “the odds are high that you can gain immensely by participating in the campaign for peace – an experience that will profit you handsomely in the work-a-day world. The glory, though, is in playing an important role in history. I urge you not to believe that this dream of peace – and the way to achieve it – is without reality or a solid foundation.”
Leaving no doubt where he stood in his commitment to peace, he continued, “You will be among those making a major contribution toward achieving what realists would say is impossible – a permanent peace among the peoples of our globe. I happen to believe we’ve got to put idealism on at least an equal footing with practicality. We’re going to make it, we human beings — if we cling to the belief — if we work for, bringing to reality the achievement of peace.”
Later that year, in October, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation honored Mr. Cronkite with our Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. In actuality, he honored us by accepting the award. When he was interviewed by Sam Donaldson after receiving the award, he shared a proposal for having a new president organize a panel of retired generals to prepare a plan “to get out of Iraq with honor, to get our troops home and have them do this within the next six months. Unfortunately, there was no new president as a result of the 2004 election, and the war continued.
Soon after the award presentation, Walter Cronkite became a member of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Advisory Council. The next summer, nearing the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Cronkite joined a Foundation panel at the United Nations. Expressing his concern for future generations, he told the audience, “The best security, perhaps the only security, against nuclear weapons being used again, or getting into the hands of terrorists, is to eliminate them. Most of the people of the world already know this. Now it is up to the world’s people to impress the urgency of this situation upon their governments. We must act now. The future depends upon us. Anything less would be to abandon our responsibility to future generations.”
In 2007, still disturbed by the illegal war in Iraq, Cronkite wrote an article with me, emphasizing his long-standing concerns about the Iraq War. The article, which was published in the Santa Barbara News Press, was titled, “Time to End U.S. Presence in Iraq.” The article provided a three step program to end the war: “Step one is to proceed with the rapid withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and hand over the responsibility for the security of Iraq to Iraqi forces. Step two is to remove our military bases from Iraq and to turn Iraqi oil over to Iraqis. Step three is to provide resources to the Iraqis to rebuild the infrastructure that has been destroyed in the war.”
The article ended with an expression of faith in the American people: “It is not likely, however, that Congress will act unless the American people make their voices heard with unmistakable clarity. That is the way the Vietnam War was brought to an end. It is the way that the Iraq War will also be brought to an end. The only question is whether it will be now, or whether the war will drag on, with all the suffering that implies, to an even more tragic, costly and degrading defeat. We will be a better, stronger and more decent country to bring the troops home now.”
Walter Cronkite was a strong advocate for a U.S. Department of Peace. He wanted our nation to display its “determination to give to peace the full attention we now give to war. We would honor Walter Cronkite’s memory and what he stood for by deepening our own commitments to building a more peaceful world.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org) and a councilor on the World Future Council.