Reagan’s 1987 UN speech on ‘alien threat’ resonates now
On Sept. 21, 1987, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave an address to the United Nations General Assembly. In an often-quoted section of his speech, Reagan asked rhetorical questions and commented about the nations and cultures of the world uniting in common efforts to live in peace and avoid wars and bloodshed.
“Cannot swords be turned to plowshares? Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity,” Reagan said.
“Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond,” Reagan proposed.
“I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”
In these statements, Reagan seems to be noting that in addition to the diverse cultures and societies around the world, we should also keep in mind the larger human culture. And despite conflicts and wars throughout human history to the present day, this larger human culture has many unifying elements.
Among these are the major accomplishments of humanity, including the survival of our human species on this planet over hundreds of thousands of years. The development of agriculture, language, education, art, music and technology are common to most human cultures.
Reagan urged us to see the big picture – “how much unites all the members of humanity.” He warned us to take the long view instead of “our obsession with antagonisms of the moment.”
Of course, the nations of the world already engage in significant cooperation on many levels. These include efforts to improve trade and economic prosperity, share cultural resources and viewpoints, protect global public heath, and respond to disasters and humanitarian challenges.
Yet, there is room for significant improvement in how nations and cultures interact, and how individual humans treat one another.
These conflicts, of course, are not just between countries and cultures. Within the many nations and cultures on Earth, we often see internal conflict and strife when people within a society are divided and angry about real or perceived injustice, oppression, ethnic and religious differences or some other cause.
In his address, Reagan theorized that these many sources of discord and conflict around the world “would [quickly] vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” And, he put forth the idea that, “Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond.”
Was Reagan correct? Would certain adverse developments help bring the human race together? Would the human race unify in the face of a devastating impending meteor strike, severe global disease pandemic, worldwide natural disaster or other threat?
THREAT OR BREAKTHROUGH
Reagan appeared to hold an optimistic view of humanity. He seemed to indicate that he felt the human race would pull together in greater unity in the face of a larger danger. As a result, a greater awareness about what we have in common as humans would help us overcome the perpetual wars, death and destruction that have been a large part of the experience of the human race on Earth.
Implicit in his speech, the former president told us that we have the potential to transcend these destructive behaviors and seize opportunities to focus on unifying instincts, developments and events.
Would it really require “an alien threat from outside this world” for the people of Earth to make significant progress toward peace and prosperity instead of perpetual conflict?
Or, might we stumble on this truth without an impending disaster? Can we reach a tipping point when it becomes evident and obvious that our “universal aspirations” are more important and fundamental than war and destructive competition?
Instead of “an alien threat,” what if a positive kind of development emerged? Such a development could include scientific discovery of a remarkable nature or a change in global human psychology and consciousness.
Instead of Reagan’s concept of an “outside, universal threat,” what might happen if there was an inside, universal breakthrough that takes the human race on to the next levels of our development?
Hammons is the author of the novel "Mission Into Light" and the sequel "Light's Hand." The novels follow the adventures and discoveries of members of a small, San Diego-based U.S. defense/intelligence research and operations team, the Joint Reconnaissance Study Group, as they explore fascinating mysteries affecting the human race and planet Earth.