“Together we must combat the evil problems of war, poverty and injustice which plague the world. We must strive together for the dignity of man.”
Our Quote of the Week celebrates the 52nd anniversary of Sargent Shriver’s appointment as US Ambassador to France. On May 8, 1968, Sargent Shriver spoke these words in his arrival ceremony in Paris, as he officially presented his credentials to French President Charles de Gaulle. With these two short sentences, the quote reveals the major challenges that Sargent Shriver saw as being fundamental for world leaders to tackle: war, poverty, and injustice.
At his arrival ceremony, Sargent Shriver was speaking as the US’ lead diplomat in France during a violent and tumultuous time. Protests were occurring at home as well as on the streets of Paris, as people demonstrated against racial and class discrimination in both countries. The war in Vietnam was continuing to escalate. In this context of increasing frustration, rage, and violence, Sargent Shriver arrived in Europe with a simple message: that at a basic level, if leaders work together to preserve dignity for all human beings, we can tackle even our most overwhelming challenges. These were not just words for Sargent Shriver. As the architect of the Peace Corps as well as the War on Poverty, he had seen first-hand how protecting human rights by expanding opportunity and safeguarding justice could transform the world, one community at a time.
A few words about Sargent Shriver’s time in France: Sarge served as France’s ambassador for less than two years, from May 1968 to January 1970. In that time, he was responsible for a significant shift in US/France relations. When he arrived in France, the two countries were not on good terms: France was critical of the US’ actions in with the Vietnam War, and the US was unhappy with France’s ties to China. The relationship between the two countries was fragile, but Sargent Shriver strengthened the bonds between them during this challenging time. He established Paris as a center for the Vietnam War peace negotiations, and although the war continued after the end of his tenure, Paris remained the home of the negotiations until the end of the conflict, culminating in the Paris Peace Accords of 1973. Sargent Shriver also laid the groundwork for a meeting between President Nixon and Charles de Gaulle. The meetings between the US and French leader softened Nixon’s view of China and would play a substantial role in the President’s renewed relationship with the Communist nation -– which to this day is considered one of Nixon’s foreign policy accomplishments.
As we continue to combat the coronavirus and to deal with other global challenges, our Quote of the Week is a good reminder for our leaders and for all of us. In all we say and do, we must act with the dignity and well-being of our fellow human beings in mind.