The beginning of the 1960’s was like a new dawn for the Western World. The men and women who had fought the 2nd World War, when young, were coming to maturity. The Baby Boomers who followed the War were becoming adults. Into this bright new future strode JFK.
He replaced the ageing Eisenhower as President of the USA in 1960. Narrowly beating tricky Richard Nixon. His good looks, charm, intelligence, vision and commitment were evident for all to see. His glamorous wife Jackie brightened the World Stage as the 1st couple were the new kids on the block.
His family were rich Massachusetts Catholics, a religion not elected to such a high office before. His father a successful investor and Ambassador to the UK, set a path for all his sons, particularly in politics.
JFK sustained a serious back injury when his torpedo boat was rammed in WW2. He struggled with it constantly, but kept it a secret. During his freezing inauguration speech, he wore a brace under his suit and no overcoat. He stood and challenged America to stick to its Constitutional principles and that change must come. Attacking poverty, racial injustice, expanding world communism, disease and famine. He set up the peace corps where Americans could travel the world and fight poverty with their skills and resources.
He had been in Congress and the Senate, and he was elected to the Presidency aged 44. He recognised the role of the media, easily adapting to the television debates. He championed the role of science, in fighting disease and poverty, the space race and the arms race. He stood up to the Communists, knowing that having a strong armed forces would send a message to the USSR and China, that he would not be pushed around.
He set the political tone for the decade, but there were many who opposed him. In the house there were Southern Conservative Democrats who did not share his views. They allied with Republicans to block many of his bills. The Civil Rights bill, which would after his death, give greater protection to the hard-won freedoms of the Negro, was very contentious.
The most important moment for him was a vital one for the future of the human race. NATO had installed nuclear missiles in Turkey, targeting southern USSR. With a flight time of 4 minutes, the Russians acted. Their new friends were the Cubans, who had a revolution in 1959. A popular rising led by Fidel Castro ousted the corrupt Batista regime. Castro was rejected by the USA as a communist, so he turned to the USSR.
U2 reconnaissance planes spotted a nuclear base being built in the hills of Cuba. Russian cargo ships were carrying missiles across the Atlantic. Kennedy demanded that these actions were reversed. The world held its breath as a wrong move could start a nuclear holocaust that would end life on earth.
Kennedy was aided by bright young men such as Bob MacNamara, Dean Rusk and his brother Bobbie. They negotiated with Russian foreign minister Gromyko to end the crisis. The American Air Force Generals were all for bombing Cuba. Castro was for bombing the USA. The danger was palpable, the whole world literally faced death at any moment.
Kennedy held his nerve, common-sense prevailed and the Russians backed down. Kennedy kept his promise to Khrushchev and removed the Turkish missiles.
The lesson was that they needed better communications between the world powers and to reduce the nuclear arsenals.
But before the bright new dawn could become reality, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on 22 November 1963. Conspiracy theories abound, but few really know what happened. Maybe there were those who did not like his direction, the pace of change or maybe they were just jealous.
The USA was dragged into the hell of the Vietnam War. The new president, ex VP, Lyndon Johnson was unable to carry out Kennedy’s programme due to this diversion. The American dream became a nightmare.
But new dawns come every morning. There can be no giving up. The American dream of freedom, justice, entrepreneurial spirit, scientific advancement and the opportunity for anyone to make it, is still out there.
Go out and get it America, don’t let failure bring you down. Pick up the flag and carry it until you can no more. You are the standard bearer for a better world. It is the principles you fought and died for. Do not let JFK’s life be in vain.
You may not be the World’s policeman anymore, but you can still be the World’s conscience.
So, “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans-…….ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
Go on America, pick up the ball and run with it. All you got to lose is your life!