History, History Column

Visionaries Never Go Out of Style JKF@100

By Sarah Becker ©2017

Born in 1917—100 years ago—President John F. Kennedy (D-MA) died in his prime. On November 22, 1963 an assassin shot Kennedy dead. He died of a wound in the brain caused by a rifle bullet. Kennedy was the fourth U.S. President to succumb to such wounds.

For Kennedy, the past was prologue. It included wealth: he received a $1 million trust fund from his father in 1938. Also education: Kennedy studied at the London School of Economics in 1935, and graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 1940. His first book, While England Slept, was published in 1940 at age 23.

He took his first political step in 1946. Kennedy represented Massachusetts 11th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953, elected to the US Senate in 1952, and passed over as a Vice Presidential nominee in 1956.

On August 24, 1960 candidate Kennedy launched the southern leg of his Presidential campaign from Alexandria, Virginia. The Alexandria Gazette reported:

“With presidential candidate Kennedy in the fore…politicos…will stage what promises to be the largest political rally ever held in the city of Alexandria. The rally sponsors…hope that spacious George Washington High School stadium, which seats 14,000 persons, will be jam-packed to a standing room only condition.”

“The affair will launch the Democrats’ national campaign in the south…The oratory, to which all else was a prelude, indicated the issues which will be most stressed…these bore down on the experience of [his opponent] Richard M. Nixon, the matter of foreign policy and the Communist threat. It avoided the grating problems of [a divided] political party…the [Democrat] Party platform on civil rights and sociological issues.” Virginia Dixiecrats “deplored the Democratic Party’s reckless disregard for constitutionality; principles in the Civil Rights Plank and inflationary Federal spending.”

“The Republican orators are fond of saying that experience in foreign policy is a major issue in this campaign,” Senator Kennedy told the Stadium crowd. “I agree. But the issue is not merely the experience of the candidates. It is the experience which the whole Nation has gone through in the last 8 years…”

“Never before have we experienced such arrogant treatment at the hands of our enemy,” Kennedy continued. “Never before have we experienced such a critical decline in our prestige, driving our friends to neutralism, and neutrals to our outright hostility. Never before have the tentacles of communism sunk so deeply into previously friendly areas—in Iraq and the Middle East, in the Congo and Africa, in Laos and Asia, and in Cuba, 90 miles off our shores, and elsewhere in Latin America.”

“Mr. Nixon is experienced—experienced in politics of retreat, defeat, and weakness.” Kennedy concluded. “The facts are there. They must be faced. The answers are not easy.” Governor J. Lindsay Almond described the launch as “the most enthusiastic rally of my political experience in Virginia.”

President-elect John F. Kennedy was welcomed to office in November 1960. At age 43 JFK was the youngest President ever elected; also the first Roman Catholic. He argued separation of church and state, eschewed McCarthyism, and defeated Richard M. Nixon.

Kennedy, a pragmatic liberal, also defeated Virginia Dixiecrat, Southern Conservative Democrat Harry F. Byrd, Sr. “Byrd offered usual denunciations of the Supreme Court, civil rights legislation, Federal spending and foreign aid,” The Washington Post reported.

Like Presidents Truman and Eisenhower before, Kennedy understood the geopolitical changes associated with World War II. In 1943 an injured JFK received the Navy and Marine Corps medal for his military conduct while commander of the PT-109, a boat sunk in the Pacific by the Japanese. Two years later citizen and Hearst reporter John F. Kennedy walked the Berlin ruins with Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“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—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed,” President Kennedy said on January 20, 1961.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” Kennedy continued. Communism was the enemy, freedom the goal.

As President, Kennedy challenged the Soviets in Cuba; then to a space race. “Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors,” Kennedy exclaimed. “Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage arts and commerce.”

Kennedy witnessed the east-west construction of Germany’s Berlin Wall; embraced an emerging Third World and established The Peace Corps. “To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny,” Kennedy continued.

President Kennedy signed the women’s Equal Pay Act and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. “Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms—and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the control of all nations,” Kennedy declared.

Kennedy commemorated the Civil War centennial and welcomed leaders of the Negro March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. “The main target of the demonstration was Congress, where committees are now considering the Administration’s civil rights bill,” The New York Times reported. “The legislation faces a filibuster by Southerners.”

“The civil rights bill sent to Congress by President Kennedy was the most comprehensive package of civil rights proposals since Reconstruction,” Andrew Young wrote 1996. “The Birmingham movement had given civil rights the moral high ground, but the crafting of legislation was in the hands of the Justice Department and the NAACP’s Clarence Mitchell.”

“So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof,” Kennedy concluded. “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

“In looking back I would say that I have never regretted my choice of profession, even though I cannot know what the future will bring,” candidate Kennedy told Cannon. Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier in1953 and received the Pulitzer-prize for Profiles in Courage in 1957. His last book, A Nation of Immigrants, was published posthumously in 1964.

Only his daughter Ambassador Caroline Bouvier Kennedy [Mrs. Edwin Schlossberg] lives on. President and Mrs. Kennedy are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007. Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com

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