Did President Kennedy have a clear vision of
foreign policy objectives during his short term in office?
John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts
on 29 May 1917. His father, Joseph Kennedy, was an energetic businessman
who became a multimillionaire, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission
and ambassador to Great Britain under President Franklin
In 1936, Kennedy entered Harvard University
and graduated four years later. In 1941, shortly before World War II, Kennedy
joined the US Navy. While on active duty in the Pacific in 1943, PT-109,
the boat he commanded, was rammed by a Japanese destroyer off the Solomon
Islands. Kennedy performed heroically in rescuing several of his crew, but
he aggravated a severe back injury and contracted malaria. After recovering,
Kennedy was discharged from the Navy in early
In 1946, Kennedy ran successfully for a seat
in the House of Representatives (reelected in 1948 and 1950). As a congressman,
Kennedy backed social legislation that benefited his working-class constituents.
Although he generally supported President Truman's foreign policies, he
criticized the administration's stand against Communist
In 1952, Kennedy ran and won a seat in the Senate,
but he was an ineffectual seNator. During parts of 1954 and 1955 he was seriously
ill with a variety of ailments and was therefore unable to play an important
role in government. While sick, Kennedy worked on a book of biographical
studies of American political heroes. Published in 1956 as Profiles in
Courage, it won a Pulitzer Prize in
In 1960, Kennedy put together a well-financed,
highly-organized presidential campaign. He especially performed well in a
series of unprecedented television debates with his opponent Richard Nixon.
While Nixon emphasized the experience that he had gained during his eight
years in the Eisenhower administration and reminded voters of the "peace
and prosperity" achieved under Republican leadership, Kennedy called
for new, forward-looking leadership and more effective use of the country's
human and economic resources.
Kennedy promised tougher defense polices and
progressive health, housing and civil rights programs. His New Frontier program,
he said, would bring the nation out of its economic slump. Kennedy defeated
Nixon by fewer than 115,000 popular votes, but he lacked a reliable majority
In his inaugural address, Kennedy, the youngest
President ever elected in the United States, set the tone of youthful energy
and dedication that was to mark his administration. "The torch has been
passed," he said, "to a new generation of Americans." Indeed,
his Cabinet and his White House advisers made up the youngest group of top-level
officials in the country's history.
- 1941-45, Kennedy served in the
U.S. navy in the Pacific.
- 1952, Kennedy won election to
- 1960, Kennedy won the presidential
- August 1961, Berlin Wall
- October 1962, Cuban Missile
- 22 November 1963, Kennedy assassinated
in Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald, who had defected to the USSR in 1959
but returned in 1962, was arrested.
- 24 November 1963, Jack Ruby, a
Dallas nightclub owner, shot Oswald.
- 14 March 1964, Ruby sentenced
to death by a Dallas jury. The conviction was reversed 5 October 1966,
but Ruby died 3 January 1967 before a second trial could be
- September 1964, Warren Commission
report issued concluded that Oswald acted alone.
You can read Kennedy's
Inaugural Address (an alternative site is the Inaugural
address) of Friday, 20 January 1961 or listen to excerpts:
"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country"
(sound bite). A variety of sound recordings is also available from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. A
portion of the Nixon-Kennedy
Debate (long--you can also check www.museum.tv/debateweb/html/greatdebate/index.htm) from the 1960 campaign is available as is the Zapruder
Film (0:26, AVI ), taken by an amateur photographer Abraham Zapruder,
which actually shows Kennedy's
assassination. Some other documents include
Official sites include the official White House
page on Kennedy and the John F. Kennedy
Presidential Library, which includes archives, sounds, documents and
images, such as the John F. Kennedy
Good reference sites are the John F.
Kennedy contains a detailed biography written by Frank Freidel, Jr. of Harvard
University and suggestions for further reading; and John
F. Kennedy from Character Above All in the PBS series with an essay by
Richard Reeves that discusses some of the issues and events that molded Kennedy
(Reeve makes some very interesting points about Kennedy's health.).
Finally, there is yet another Kennedy site and a page of JFK
Resources Online, as well as the Kennedy Assassination page.
Sympathetic studies include William Manchester, The Death of a President (1967); Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand
Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965); Pierre SAligner, With Kennedy (1966); and Theodore Sorensen, Kennedy (1965)
and The Kennedy Legacy (1969).
Among the many studies of the Kennedy White
House, see: Irving Bernstein, Promises Kept: John F. Kennedy's New
Frontier (1991); Paul Henggeler, In His Steps: Lyndon Johnson and
the Kennedy Mystique (1991); Thomas Reeves, Question of Character:
Image and Reality in the Life of John F. Kennedy (1991); Lewis Paper, John F. Kennedy: The Promise and the Performance (1980); Herbert Parmet, Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980); Theodore White, The
Making of the President, 1960 (1961).
On the assassination, see: Jim Moore, Conspiracy of One: The Definitive Book on the Kennedy
Assassination (1990); Warren Commission, The Official Warren Commission
Report on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1964).