John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on 29th May, 1917. His great grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, had emigrated from Ireland in 1849 and his grandfathers, Patrick Joseph Kennedy and John Francis Fitzgerald, were important political figures in Boston. Kennedy's father was a highly successful businessman who later served as ambassador to Great Britain (1937-40).
In 1940 Kennedy graduated from Harvard University with a science degree. The same year saw the publication of Why England Slept (1940), a book on foreign policy. He joined the United States Navy in 1941 and became an intelligence officer. After the United States entered the Second World War, Kennedy was transferred to the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron where he was given command of a PT boat.
Sent to the South Pacific, in August 1943, his boat was hit by a Japanese destroyer. Two of his crew were killed but the other six men managed to cling on to what remained of the boat. After a five hour struggle Kennedy, and what was left of his crew, managed to get to an island five miles from where the original incident took place.
Kennedy suffered a bad back injury and in December 1943 was sent back to the United States. When he recovered he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and became a PT instructor in Florida. After a further operation on his back he returned to civilian life in March 1945. For the next twelve months he worked as a journalist covering the United Nations Conference in San Francisco and the 1945 General Election in Britain.
A member of the Democratic Party, Kennedy won election to the House of Representatives in 1946. Over the next couple of years he established himself as a loyal supporter of Harry S. Truman. In Congress he advocated progressive taxation, the extension of social welfare and more low-cost public housing. He was also a leading opponent of the Taft-Hartley Bill.
Kennedy took a strong interest in foreign policy and in 1951 toured Europe visiting Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia and West Germany. On his return he told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that the United States should maintain its policy of helping to defend Western Europe. However, he argued that the countries concerned should contribute more to the costs of the operation.
Kennedy took a strong interest in foreign policy and in 1951 toured Europe visiting Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia and West Germany. On his return he told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that the United States should maintain its policy of helping to defend Western Europe. However, he argued that the countries concerned should contribute more to the costs of the operation.
In the autumn of 1951 Kennedy visited the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Indochina, Malaya and Korea. An opponent of colonial empires, Kennedy urged that France should leave Algeria. He also argued for increased financial aid to underdeveloped countries.
Kennedy was elected to the Senate in 1952. The following year he married Jacqueline Bouvier, the daughter of a New York City financier. Over the next few years four children were born but only two, Caroline and John, survived infancy. Kennedy continued to suffer from back problems and had two operations in October 1954 and February 1955. While recovering in hospital he wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning Profiles in Courage (1956).
Kennedy was a strong advocate of social welfare and civil rights legislation in the Senate. Kennedy also sponsored bills for providing Federal financial aid to education, liberalizing United States immigration laws and a measure that required full disclosure of all employee pension and welfare funds.
In March 1960, Henry Brandon contacted Marion Leiter who arranged for Ian Fleming to have dinner with Kennedy. The author of The Life of Ian Fleming (1966), John Pearson, has pointed out: "During the dinner the talk largely concerned itself with the more arcane aspects of American politics and Fleming was attentive but subdued. But with coffee and the entrance of Castro into the conversation he intervened in his most engaging style. Cuba was already high on the headache list of Washington politicians, and another of those what’s to-be-done conversations got underway. Fleming laughed ironically and began to develop the theme that the United States was making altogether too much fuss about Castro – they were building him into a world figure, inflating him instead of deflating him. It would be perfectly simple to apply one or two ideas which would take all the steam out of the Cuban." Kennedy asked him what would James Bond do about Fidel Castro. Fleming replied, “Ridicule, chiefly.” Kennedy must have passed the message to the CIA for on as the following day Brandon received a phone-call from Allen Dulles, asking for a meeting with Fleming.
In 1960 Kennedy entered the race to become the Democratic Party presidential candidate. Kennedy won Democratic primaries in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Oregon, Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia. At the national convention in July 1960, Kennedy was nominated on the first ballot. He selected Lyndon B. Johnson, as his running mate.
Harris Wofford claims in his book, Of Kennedys and Kings (1980), that Sargent Shriver phoned him with the news that he had discovered from Johnson's camp that "Johnson will accept the vice-presidential nomination if Jack offers it to him." Shriver told Wofford to wake Kennedy up early so that we can "warn him before any move is made". Despite this, Kennedy did offer the post to Johnson. Kenneth O'Donnell told Kennedy: "This is the worst mistake you ever made. You came here... like a night on a white charger... promising to get rid of the old hack machine politicians. And now, in your first move after you get the nomination, you go against all the people who supported you." Kennedy replied: "I'm forty-three years old, and I'm not going to die in office. So the vice-presidency doesn't mean anything."
Kennedy's candidacy was controversial because no Roman Catholic had ever been elected president. It was generally believed that this had played an important factor in the defeat of Al Smith in 1928. Kennedy decided to tackle this issue head on and in a speech in Houston on 11th September, 1960, Kennedy attacked religious bigotry and he explained how he believed in the absolute separation of church and state.
If elected, Kennedy, at 43, would be the second youngest president in United States history (Theodore Roosevelt was only 42 when he replaced the assassinated William McKinley in 1901). In contrast, Richard Nixon, the Republican Party candidate, had served for eight years as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower.
As Richard D. Mahoney points out in Sons & Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, during the campaign, Kennedy used “Cuba as an illustration of Republican weakness against communism. In campaign speeches Kennedy would charge that the threat of communism was now only 'ninety miles from our shore’.” This upset some of his advisers. Harris Wofford, argues in Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties (1980) that “during the 1960 campaign, Kennedy seemed to relish taking rhetorical shots at Castro and competing with Republicans over who would take the strongest action against the new Cuban regime.” Wofford “was most disturbed” when Kennedy issued a statement calling for the United States “to strengthen the non-Batista democratic anti-Castro forces in exile, and in Cuba itself, who offer eventual hope of overthrowing Castro.” Kennedy then went onto say that “thus far these fighters for freedom have had virtually no support from our Government.”
Richard Helms claims in A Look Over My Shoulder (2003) that the leadership of the CIA favoured Kennedy over Richard Nixon. He admits that it was possible that CIA Director Allen Dulles leaked information to the Kennedy team via Stuart Symington, which allowed the “Democrats to blame the Eisenhower administration for the famous missile gap – that is, permitting the Soviets to outdo the United States in the production of long-range missiles.”During the campaign Nixon highlighted his opponent's lack of experience but when the votes were counted, Kennedy won by 34,226,925 votes to 34,108,662.
It has been argued that hardliners in the CIA were more impressed with Kennedy than they were with Nixon during the 1960 Presidential campaign. Richard Bissell commented in his book, Reflections of a Cold War Warrior (1996): “The inauguration of John F. Kennedy provided the prospect of a new beginning for the nation. His vision and message and the vigour with which he undertook his responsibilities created high expectations. While his hard-line rhetoric was inspiring, it also served to raise the stakes in America’s global confrontation with the Soviets.”
At his inaugural address on 20th January, 1961, Kennedy challenged the people of the United States with the statement: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country." Kennedy also wanted the young people of the country to help the undeveloped world. He announced the establishment of the Peace Corps, a scheme that intended to send 10,000 young people to serve in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Kennedy argued that this "practical, inexpensive, person-to-person program will plant trust, good will and a capacity for self-help" in the underdeveloped world.
In the first speech he made to the American public as their President, Kennedy made it clear that he intended to continue Eisenhower's policy of supporting the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem. He argued that if South Vietnam became a communist state, the whole of the non-communist world would be at risk. If South Vietnam fell, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Philippines, New Zealand and Australia would follow. If communism was not halted in Vietnam it would gradually spread throughout the world. This view became known as the Domino Theory. Kennedy went on to argue: "No other challenge is more deserving of our effort and energy... Our security may be lost piece by piece, country by country." Under his leadership, America would be willing to: "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty."
Kennedy's speech had a considerable impact on many young Americans. Philip Caputo was one of those who traced back his decision to join the US Marines to Kennedy's inauguration speech: "War is always attractive to young men who know nothing about it, but we had also been seduced into uniform by Kennedy's challenge to "ask what you can do for your country" and by the missionary idealism he had awakened in us... we believed we were ordained to play cop to the Communists' robber and spread our own political faith around the world."
When Kennedy replaced Dwight Eisenhower as president of the United States he was told about the CIA plan to invade Cuba. Robert Kennedy admitted in an interview with John Bartlow Martin on 1st March 1964, that John Kennedy agreed with the Bay of Pigs invasion. He argues that of his senior advisers, the “only person who was strongly against it was Arthur Schlesinger.” Kennedy had some doubts about the venture but he was afraid he would be seen as soft on communism if he refused permission for it to go ahead. Kennedy's advisers convinced him that Fidel Castro was an unpopular leader and that once the invasion started the Cuban people would support the ClA-trained forces.
On April 14, 1961, B-26 planes began bombing Cuba's airfields. After the raids Cuba was left with only eight planes and seven pilots. Two days later five merchant ships carrying 1,400 Cuban exiles arrived at the Bay of Pigs. The attack was a total failure. Two of the ships were sunk, including the ship that was carrying most of the supplies. Two of the planes that were attempting to give air-cover were also shot down. Within seventy-two hours all the invading troops had been killed, wounded or had surrendered.
Kennedy privately vowed after the failure to overthrow Fidel Castro, that he would “splinter” the CIA into “a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds”. While it is true that Richard Bissell and Allen Dulles did lose their jobs over the failed invasion, Kennedy did not change his policy towards Castro. As David Corn has pointed out in Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades (1995): “The Kennedy brothers, particularly Robert, the Attorney General, would soon be back knocking on the Agency’s door, demanding something be done about Castro.” In fact, Kennedy recruited, that well-known Cold War hardliner, General Edward Lansdale to come up with a strategy for the removal of Castro’s government.
Lansdale’s biographer, Cecil B. Currey, argues in Edward Lansdale: The Unquiet American (1988): “It is odd that Kennedy, distrustful of the CIA in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, still sought out Lansdale – a former CIA agent – to help organize his next Cuban endeavour.” Robert Kennedy argues in his interview with John Bartlow Martin that the reason Kennedy was angry with the CIA was not because it was immoral but because it had been an “amateur operation”. That is why he suggested to President Kennedy that Lansdale should “take this on”. He argued: “I thought he’d (Lansdale) done so well in the Philippines and was impressed with him, so I got the President to assign him.”
Harris Wofford supported this view. After the failure of the Bay of Pigs he hoped Kennedy would change direction. Instead, he “lashed out" at Chester Bowles "for allegedly leaking to the press his opposition to the Cuban invasion”. It was important to Kennedy that he continued to be seen as a “Cold War Warrior”. As Wofford points out, after the Bay of Pigs: “John and Robert Kennedy committed themselves to counter-insurgency, covert action, and increased military effort as the way to counteract the Cuban defeat and to win in Vietnam.”
At the beginning of September 1962, U-2 spy planes discovered that the Soviet Union was building surface-to-air missile (SAM) launch sites. There was also an increase in the number of Soviet ships arriving in Cuba which the United States government feared were carrying new supplies of weapons. President Kennedy complained to the Soviet Union about these developments and warned them that the United States would not accept offensive weapons (SAMs were considered to be defensive) in Cuba.
As the Cubans now had SAM installations they were in a position to shoot down U-2 spy-planes. Kennedy was in a difficult situation. Elections were to take place for the United States Congress in two month's time. The public opinion polls showed that his own ratings had fallen to their lowest point since he became president.
In his first two years of office a combination of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats in Congress had blocked much of Kennedy's proposed legislation. The polls suggested that after the elections he would have even less support in Congress. Kennedy feared that any trouble over Cuba would lose the Democratic Party even more votes, as it would remind voters of the Bay of Pigs disaster where the CIA had tried to oust Castro from power. One poll showed that over 62 per cent of the population were unhappy with his policies on Cuba. Understandably, the Republicans attempted to make Cuba the main issue in the campaign.
This was probably in Kennedy's mind when he decided to restrict the flights of the U-2 planes over Cuba . Pilots were also told to avoid flying the whole length of the island. Kennedy hoped this would ensure that a U-2 plane would not be shot down, and would prevent Cuba becoming a major issue during the election campaign.
On September 27, a CIA agent in Cuba overheard Castro's personal pilot tell another man in a bar that Cuba now had nuclear weapons. U-2 spy-plane photographs also showed that unusual activity was taking place at San Cristobal. However, it was not until October 15 that photographs were taken that revealed that the Soviet Union was placing long range missiles in Cuba.
President Kennedy's first reaction to the information about the missiles in Cuba was to call a meeting to discuss what should be done. Fourteen men attended the meeting and included military leaders, experts on Latin America, representatives of the CIA, cabinet ministers and personal friends whose advice Kennedy valued. This group became known as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council. Over the next few days they were to meet several times.
At the first meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, the CIA and other military advisers explained the situation. After hearing what they had to say, the general feeling of the meeting was for an air-attack on the missile sites. Remembering the poor advice the CIA had provided before the Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy decided to wait and instead called for another meeting to take place that evening. By this time several of the men were having doubts about the wisdom of a bombing raid, fearing that it would lead to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The committee was now so divided that a firm decision could not be made.
The Executive Committee of the National Security Council argued amongst themselves for the next two days. The CIA and the military were still in favour of a bombing raid and/or an invasion. However, the majority of the committee gradually began to favour a naval blockade of Cuba. Kennedy accepted their decision and instructed Theodore Sorensen, a member of the committee, to write a speech in which Kennedy would explain to the world why it was necessary to impose a naval blockade of Cuba.
As well as imposing a naval blockade, Kennedy also told the air-force to prepare for attacks on Cuba and the Soviet Union. The army positioned 125,000 men in Florida and was told to wait for orders to invade Cuba. If the Soviet ships carrying weapons for Cuba did not turn back or refused to be searched, a war was likely to begin. Kennedy also promised his military advisers that if one of the U-2 spy planes were fired upon he would give orders for an attack on the Cuban SAM missile sites.
The world waited anxiously. A public opinion poll in the United States revealed that three out of five people expected fighting to break out between the two sides. There were angry demonstrations outside the American Embassy in London as people protested about the possibility of nuclear war. Demonstrations also took place in other cities in Europe. However, in the United States, polls suggested that the vast majority supported Kennedy's action.
On October 24, President Kennedy was informed that Soviet ships had stopped just before they reached the United States ships blockading Cuba. That evening Nikita Khrushchev sent an angry note to Kennedy accusing him of creating a crisis to help the Democratic Party win the forthcoming election.
On October 26, Khrushchev sent Kennedy another letter. In this he proposed that the Soviet Union would be willing to remove the missiles in Cuba in exchange for a promise by the United States that they would not invade Cuba. The next day a second letter from Khrushchev arrived demanding that the United States remove their nuclear bases in Turkey.
While the president and his advisers were analyzing Khrushchev's two letters, news came through that a U-2 plane had been shot down over Cuba. The leaders of the military, reminding Kennedy of the promise he had made, argued that he should now give orders for the bombing of Cuba. Kennedy refused and instead sent a letter to Khrushchev accepting the terms of his first letter.
Khrushchev agreed and gave orders for the missiles to be dismantled. Eight days later the elections for Congress took place. The Democrats increased their majority and it was estimated that Kennedy would now have an extra twelve supporters in Congress for his policies.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was the first and only nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. The event appeared to frighten both sides and it marked a change in the development of the Cold War.
In October 1961, Mary Pinchot Meyer began visiting Kennedy in the White House. It was about this time she began an affair with the president. Mary told her friends, Ann and James Truitt, that she was keeping a diary about the relationship. Kennedy aide, Meyer Feldman, claimed in an interview with Nina Burleigh that the president might have discussed substantial issues with her: "I think he might have thought more of her than some of the other women and discussed things that were on his mind, not just social gossip."
In 1962 Mary made contact with Timothy Leary, the director of research projects at Harvard University. Leary supplied LSD to Mary who used it with Kennedy. Leary also claimed that Mary helped influence Kennedy's views on nuclear disarmament and rapprochement with Cuba. It was later discovered that the FBI was keeping a file on Mary. Later, James Angleton, head of counterintelligence at the CIA admitted that the agency was bugging Mary's telephone and bedroom during this period.
During this period Kennedy made it clear that he intended to continue the policy of supporting the South Vietnam's government. He argued that if South Vietnam became a communist state, the whole of the non-communist world would be at risk. He went on to claim that: "No other challenge is more deserving of our effort and energy. Our security may be lost piece by piece, country by country." Kennedy added that under his leadership, the United States would be willing to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty".
President Charles De Gaulle of France, warned him that if he was not careful, Vietnam would trap the United States in "a bottomless military and political swamp." However, most of his advisers argued that with a fairly small increase in military aid, the United States could prevent a NLF victory in South Vietnam.
Kennedy had a good relationship with Ngo Dinh Diem, the leader of the South Vietnamese government and in 1961 he arranged for him to receive the money necessary to increase his army from 150,000 to 170,000. He also agreed to send another 100 military advisers to Vietnam to help train the South Vietnamese Army. As this decision broke the terms of the Geneva Agreement, it was kept from the American public.
In 1962 the Strategic Hamlet Programme was introduced. For sometime the governments of South Vietnam and the United States had been concerned about the influence of the National Liberation Front (NLF) on the peasants. In an attempt to prevent this they moved the peasants into new villages in areas under the control of the South Vietnamese Army. A stockade was built around the village and these were then patrolled by armed guards.
This strategy failed dismally and some observers claimed that it actually increased the number of peasants joining the NLF. As one pointed out: "Peasants resented working without pay to dig moats, implant bamboo stakes, and erect fences against an enemy that did not threaten them but directed its sights against government officials." In the majority of cases the peasants did not want to move and so the South Vietnamese Army often had to apply force. This increased the hostility of the peasants towards Ngo Dinh Diem's government.
In the majority of cases the peasants did not want to move and so the South Vietnamese army often had to apply force. This increased the hostility of the peasants towards the Ngo Dinh Diem government. The peasants were angry at having to travel longer distances to reach their rice fields. Others were upset for religious reasons for they believed that it was vitally important to live where their ancestors were buried.
Kennedy became worried when he was informed that despite the Strategic Hamlet programme, the membership of the National Liberation Front had grown to over 17,000 - a 300 per cent increase in two years - and that they now controlled over one-fifth of the villages in South Vietnam.
These details were used to pressurise Kennedy into supplying more military advisers. This he agreed to do and by the end of 1962 there were 12,000 in Vietnam. Kennedy also made the decision to supply South Vietnam with 300 helicopters. Their American pilots were told not to become "engaged in combat" but this became an order that was difficult to obey. Although Kennedy denied it at the time, American soldiers were becoming increasingly involved in the fighting in Vietnam.
In January, 1963, Philip Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, attended a convention of American newspaper editors in Phoenix. Graham, who was suffering from alcoholism, disclosed at the meeting that Kennedy was having an affair with Mary Pinchot Meyer. No newspaper reported this incident but Kennedy decided to bring an end to the affair. However, they continued to see each other at social functions.
Kennedy had little success in persuading Congress to accept his plans for Medicare. Kennedy's proposals would have provided health coverage for persons over 65 years of age. The insurance was to be financed by increases in the social security payroll tax. Medicare would also offer basic hospital care for 60 days as well as the payment of doctor's fees.
Medicare was popular with the Trade Union movement but was vigorously opposed by private insurance companies. The American Medical Association were also against it, describing the measure as an example of socialism and Kennedy was unable to persuade Congress to pass the bill.
In the 1960 presidential election campaign John F. Kennedy argued for a new Civil Rights Act. After the election it was discovered that over 70 per cent of the African American vote went to Kennedy. During the first two years of his presidency, Kennedy failed to put forward his promised legislation. However, in 1961 he sent 600 Federal marshals to Alabama to protect the Freedom Riders. They were also used to protect the rights of African American students at Mississippi University.
Kennedy's civil rights bill was eventually brought before Congress in 1963 and in a speech on television on 11th June, Kennedy pointed out that: "The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day; one third as much chance of completing college; one third as much chance of becoming a professional man; twice as much chance of becoming unemployed; about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year; a life expectancy which is seven years shorter; and the prospects of earning only half as much."
On 11th June, 1963, Thich Quang Due, a sixty-six year old monk in Vietnam, sat down in the middle of a busy Saigon road. He was then surrounded by a group of Buddhist monks and nuns who poured petrol over his head and then set fire to him. One eyewitness later commented: "As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him." While Thich Quang Due was burning to death, the monks and nuns gave out leaflets calling for Diem's government to show "charity and compassion " to all religions.
The government's response to this suicide was to arrest thousands of Buddhist monks. Many disappeared and were never seen again. By August another five monks had committed suicide by setting fire to themselves. One member of the South Vietnamese government responded to these self-immolations by telling a newspaper reporter: "Let them burn, and we shall clap our hands." Another offered to supply Buddhists who wanted to commit suicide with the necessary petrol.
These events convinced Kennedy that Ngo Dinh Diem would never be able to unite the South Vietnamese against communism. Several attempts had already been made to overthrow Diem but Kennedy had always instructed the CIA and the US military forces in Vietnam to protect him. In order to obtain a more popular leader of South Vietnam, Kennedy agreed that the role of the CIA should change. Lucien Conein, a CIA operative, provided a group of South Vietnamese generals with $40,000 to carry out the coup with the promise that US forces would make no attempt to protect Diem. At the beginning of November, 1963, President Diem was overthrown by a military coup. After the generals had promised Diem that he would be allowed to leave the country they changed their mind and killed him.
Kennedy now had serious doubts about his Vietnam policy. He told Kenneth O'Donnell and Mike Mansfield that he intended to get out of Vietnam. Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense, also thought that Kennedy would withdraw once he was re-elected.
On 10th June, 1963, Kennedy gave a speech at the American University that included the following passage: "Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need them is essential to the keeping of peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles - which can only destroy and never create - is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace. I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. Some say that it is useless to speak of peace or world law or world disarmament, and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitudes, as individuals and as a Nation, for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward, by examining his own attitude towards the possibilities of peace, towards the Soviet Union, towards the course of the cold war and towards freedom and peace here at home."
However, as James W. Douglass has pointed out in JFK and the Unspeakable (2008): “Only nine days after his American University address, Kennedy had ratified a CIA program contradicting it. Kennedy’s regression can be understood in the political context of the time. He was, after all, an American politician, and the Cold War was far from over. For the remaining five months of his life, John Kennedy continued a policy of sabotage against Cuba that he may have seen as a bone thrown to his barking CIA and military advisers but was in any case a crime against international law. It was also a violation of the international trust that he and Nikita Khrushchev had envisioned and increasingly fostered since the missile crisis. Right up to his death, Kennedy remained in some ways a Cold Warrior, in conflict with his own soaring vision in the American University address.”
On 22nd November, 1963, President John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas. It was decided that Kennedy and his party, including his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Governor John Connally and Senator Ralph Yarborough, would travel in a procession of cars through the business district of Dallas. A pilot car and several motorcycles rode ahead of the presidential limousine. As well as Kennedy the limousine included his wife, John Connally, his wife Nellie, Roy Kellerman, head of the Secret Service at the White House and the driver, William Greer. The next car carried eight Secret Service Agents. This was followed by a car containing Lyndon Johnson and Ralph Yarborough.
At about 12.30 p.m. the presidential limousine entered Elm Street. Soon afterwards shots rang out. John Kennedy was hit by bullets that hit him in the head and the left shoulder. Another bullet hit John Connally in the back. Ten seconds after the first shots had been fired the president's car accelerated off at high speed towards Parkland Memorial Hospital. Both men were carried into separate emergency rooms. Connally had wounds to his back, chest, wrist and thigh. Kennedy's injuries were far more serious. He had a massive wound to the head and at 1 p.m. he was declared dead.
Within two hours of the killing, a suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, was arrested. Throughout the the time Oswald was in custody, he stuck to his story that he had not been involved in the assassination. On 24th November, while being transported by the Dallas police from the city to the county jail, Oswald was shot dead by Jack Ruby.
All morning they watched for the plane which they thought would be looking for them. They cursed war in general and PTs in particular. At about ten o'clock the hulk heaved a moist sigh and turned turtle. McMahon and Johnston had to hang on as best they could. It was clear that the remains of the 109 would soon sink. When the sun had passed the meridian, Kennedy said, "We will swim to that small island," pointing to one of a group three miles to the southeast. "We have less chance of making it than some of these other islands here, but there'll be less chance of Japs, too." Those
who could not swim well grouped themselves around a long two-by-six timber with which carpenters had braced the 37-millimetre cannon on deck and which had been knocked overboard by the force of the collision. They tied several pairs of shoes to the timber, as well as the ship's lantern, wrapped in a life jacket to keep it afloat. Thorn took charge of this unwieldy group. Kennedy took McMahon in tow again. He cut loose one end of a long strap on McMahon's Mae West and took the end in his teeth. He swam breast stroke, pulling the helpless McMahon along on his back. It took over five hours to reach the island. Water lapped into Kennedy's mouth through his clenched teeth, and he swallowed a lot. The salt water cut into McMahon's awful burns, but he did not complain. Every few minutes, when Kennedy stopped to rest, taking the strap out of his mouth and holding it in his hand, McMahon would simply say, "How far do we have to go?"
Kennedy would reply, "We're going good." Then he would ask, "How do you feel, Mac?"
McMahon always answered, "I'm OK, Mr Kennedy. How about you?"
In spite of his burden, Kennedy beat the other men to the reef that surrounded the island. He left McMahon on the reef and told him to keep low, so as not to be spotted by Japs. Kennedy went ahead and explored the island. It was only a hundred yards in diameter; coconuts on the trees but none on the ground, no visible Japs. Just as the others reached the island, one of them spotted a Japanese barge chugging along close to shore. They all lay low. The barge went on.
I was impressed with Kennedy. I remember liking his face, which was sometimes stern but which often broke into a good-natured smile. As for Nixon... he was an unprincipled puppet, which is the most dangerous kind. I was very glad Kennedy won the election... I joked with him that we had cast the deciding ballot in his election to the Presidency over that son-of-a-bitch Richard Nixon. When he asked me what I meant, I explained that by waiting to release the U-2 pilot Gary Powers until after the American election, we kept Nixon from being able to claim that he could deal with the Russians; our ploy made a difference of at least half a million votes, which gave Kennedy the edge he needed.
Khrushchev had studied the events of the Bay of Pigs; he would have understood if Kennedy had left Castro alone or destroyed him but when Kennedy was rash enough to strike at Cuba but not bold enough to finish the job, Khrushchev decided he was dealing with an inexperienced young leader who could be intimidated and blackmailed.
Neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev emerged victorious or defeated cheerful or shaken. Each had probed the other for weakness and found none. Khrushchev had not been swayed by Kennedy's reason and charm. Kennedy had not been panicked by Khrushchev's tough talk.
There is reason to believe that Khrushchev took Kennedy's measure at their Vienna meeting in June 1961, and decided this was a young man who would shrink from hard decisions... There is no evidence to support the belief that Khrushchev ever questioned America's power. He questioned only the President's readiness to use it. As he once told Robert Frost, he came to believe that Americans are "too liberal to fight.'
John F. Kennedy called the best brains he could assemble. He gathered them from as far away as Moscow. Every embassador that served in Moscow that was still alive was present. The brightest people that understood the Soviet Union were present. They met every day for three weeks. They became so cozy that President Kennedy began calling them his crisis club. His crisis club. And they warned. They said, "Mr. President, don't back Khrushchev in to a corner. He is an impulsive man. He is an impulsive man. You remember when he took a shoe off at the United Nations and banged on a desk. He might very well push a button that will send missiles toward the United States. Don't back him in to a corner. Give him room to maneuver." That was their advice.
John F. Kennedy did not take it. He decided, he went before the crisis club after about three weeks and he said, "Gentlemen, I have decided on a boycott. We are going to have to stop any more missiles from going in to Cuba, and we are going to call upon the Soviet Union to withdraw the missiles that they have already planted there." One in the crisis club said, "Mr. President, what you are describing is an act of war. Are you prepared to wage war with the Soviet Union?" The president said, "We'll make it as easy as we can on the Soviets. We'll offer to take our missiles back from Turkey and Greece. They are worn, useless missiles that we were going to take back anyway, but on the world's stage, it may give them, save them some loss of faith. So we will offer to take back our missiles from Turkey and Greece, but we will insist that they remove their missiles from Cuba, and if they don't, we will have to stop them."
One of the members of this group said, "Mr. President, what if they don't stop? What if the Soviets turn you down, and continue sending missiles to Cuba, and you order them to stop, and what if they don't stop?" The president said, "We will follow the procedures of the sea. We will fire a warning shot across the bow, and if they don't stop then, we will attack." One of the members said, "Mr. President, what if the situation were reversed? What if the Soviets tried to stop our ships on the high seas and maybe even fired a warning shot. What would you do?" Jack Kennedy thought that over a bit. "Well," he said, "it would depend on the circumstances, of course, but most likely I would have to take military action." And this man said, "And what makes you think the Soviets won't do the same?" Now there were a lot of Monday morning statesman afterward that said they knew that the Soviets would back down. I am here to report to you, because I had sources in that meeting, in those meetings. They told me exactly what was said. President Kennedy said, "I don' t know what the Soviets will do."
Kennedy recognised the barbaric aspects of racial injustice, but it was an appreciation that remained as removed from personal experience as the poverty that Kennedy had confronted while campaigning in West Virginia. The desperation itself was not felt, and the moral fervor of a Martin Luther King, left him cold. Asked on January 15, 1962 about his campaign promise on civil rights, Kennedy explained that "we are proceeding ahead in a way which will maintain a consensus and will advance this cause."
One hundred years ago the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by a President who believed in the equal worth and opportunity of every human being. That proclamation was only the first step. Through these long 100 years, while slavery has vanished, progress for the Negro has been too often blocked and delayed. Equality before the law has not always meant equal treatment and opportunity. And the harmful, wasteful, and wrongful results of racial discrimination and segregation still appear in virtually every aspect of national life.
Racial discrimination hampers our economic growth by preventing the maximum development and utilization of our manpower. It hampers our world leadership by contradicting at home the message we preach abroad. It mars the atmosphere of a united and classless society in which the nation rose to greatness. It increases the costs of public welfare, crime, delinquency, and disorder. Above all, it is wrong.
This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal; and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.
It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops. It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants, and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street.
And it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal.
It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color.
This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every state of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety.
Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis, men of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics.
This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level. But law alone cannot make men see right.
We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities; whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.
If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public; if he cannot send his children to the best public schools available; if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him; if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place?
Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay? One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice; they are not yet freed from social and economic oppression.
And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.
Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise.
The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.
The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South. Where legal remedies are not at hand, redress is sought in the streets in demonstrations, parades and protests, which create tensions and threaten violence - and threaten lives.
We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your state and local legislative body, and, above all, in all of our daily lives.
I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public - hotels, restaurants and theaters, retail stores and similar establishments. This seems to me to be an elementary right.
I'm also asking Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to desegregate voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence.
Other features will also be requested, including greater protection for the right to vote.
But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.
In this respect, I want to pay tribute to those citizens, North and South, who've been working in their communities to make life better for all.
They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human decency. Like our soldiers and sailors in all parts of the world, they are meeting freedom's challenge on the firing line, and I salute them for their honor - their courage.
Someone should do a study on charm in politics. People like my father, like Franklin, like Jack Kennedy were very engaging to begin with. When you add to that the glamor attached just to being in the White House, they become almost irresistible. The particular charm of the Kennedys was that they had a good deal of fun and often had their tongues in their cheeks at the same time. The Nixons didn't.
The Kennedys reminded me of all those Irish who came over in the 1840s. They seemed to have a rather special quality. There were all these marvelous-looking kitchen maids and policemen, who might easily be Sargent Shriver. I'm not being snobbish. It's just that rare quality which the Irish and no other nation seem to have. I never had much time for old Joe Kennedy but I've always thought Rose Kennedy is an extraordinary woman and it was fun to see her delightful offspring enjoying themselves.
The Kennedys were a fascinating, incredible outfit. There hasn't been anything like them since the Bonapartes. I had great fun with them, especially Jack. He loved to tease and he could be very amusing. He also had a real feeling for learning. Both he and Bobby were eager to supplement their education by learning more. They really wanted to know.
For the first time in twenty years Americans can carry their head high because the president of the United States had stood up to the premier of Russia and made him back down.
The accounts of the crisis did not make clear that it was a power confrontation, that the power of the USA was incomparably superior to that of the USSR, and that the leaders of both nations knew this to be a fact. The United States, it is worth repeating, could have erased every important Soviet military installation and population centre in two or three hours while the strike capability of the USSR was negligible. Although Kennedy held the trump cards, he granted the Communist Empire a privileged sanctuary in the Caribbean by means of the "no invasion" pledge.
Jack Kennedy was one of the two Presidents of the United States whom it has been my privilege to know well. I came to love and admire him in the sense that I did Gaitskell. He was generous, very warm-hearted and a great humanitarian. As I came to know him better, I got to feel less and less that he was a doer. A thinker, a man of imagination, a man of inspiration, a man of feeling - yes. But even though I be in a minority, here again I think he was not what I regard as a great doer. I know that in writing this I shall be reminded of Cuba, where Kennedy seemed to act with the utmost decisiveness. Yet I have a nagging feeling that Cuba was in a way a decision made for him. But he charmed Khrushchev as he charmed me and as he charmed everybody else. All I can say here is that there has been no politician, Gaitskell apart, in whose presence I have felt more fascinated, charmed and excited about the possibilities of power.
The domino theory... was the primary factor motivating the actions of both the Kennedy and the Johnson administrations, without any qualification. It was put forward by President Eisenhower in 1954, very succinctly: If the West loses control of Vietnam, the security of the West will be in danger. "The dominoes will fall," in Eisenhower's words. In a meeting between President Kennedy and President Eisenhower, on January 19, 1961 - the day before President Kennedy's inauguration - the only foreign policy issue fully discussed dealt with Southeast Asia. And there's even today some question as to exactly what Eisenhower said, but it's very clear that a minimum he said... that if necessary, to prevent the loss of Laos, and by implication Vietnam, Eisenhower would be prepared for the U.S. to act unilaterally - to intervene militarily.
And I think that this was fully accepted by President Kennedy and by those of us associated with him. And it was fully accepted by President Johnson when he succeeded as President. The loss of Vietnam would trigger the loss of Southeast Asia, and conceivably even the loss of India, and would strengthen the Chinese and the Soviet position across the world, weakening the security of Western Europe and weakening the security of North America. This was the way we viewed it; I'm not arguing (we viewed it) correctly - don't misunderstand me - but that is the way we viewed it. ...
There were three groups of individuals among his advisers. One group believed that the situation (in South Vietnam) was moving so well that we could make a statement that we'd begin withdrawals and complete them by the end of 1965. Another group believed that the situation wasn't moving that well, but that our mission was solely training and logistics; we'd been there long enough to complete the training, if the South Vietnamese were capable of absorbing it, and if we hadn't proven successful, it's because we were incapable of accomplishing that mission and therefore we were justified in beginning withdrawal. The third group believed we hadn't reached the point where we were justified in withdrawing, and we shouldn't withdraw.
Kennedy listened to the debate, and finally sided with those who believed that either we had succeeded, or were succeeding, and therefore could begin our withdrawal; or alternatively we hadn't succeeded, but that ... we'd been there long enough to test our ability to succeed, and if we weren't succeeding we should begin the withdrawal because it was impossible to accomplish that mission. In any event, he made the decision (to begin withdrawing advisers) that day, and he did announce it. It was highly contested...
Kennedy hadn't said before he died whether, faced with the loss of Vietnam, he would (completely) withdraw; but I believe today that had he faced that choice, he would have withdrawn rather than substitute US combat troops for Vietnamese forces to save South Vietnam. I think he would have concluded that US combat troops could not save Vietnam if Vietnam troops couldn't save it. That was the statement he in effect made publicly before his death, but at that time he hadn't had to choose between losing Vietnam, on the one hand, or putting in US combat troops on the other. Had he faced the decision, I think he would have accepted the loss of Vietnam and refused to put in US combat troops.
Kennedy had told (Kenneth O'Donnell) in the spring of 1963 that he could not pull out of Vietnam until he was reelected, "So we had better make damned sure I am reelected." ... At a White House reception on Christmas eve, a month after he succeeded to the presidency, Lyndon Johnson told the Joint Chiefs: "Just get me elected, and then you can have your war."
During those hectic months of late summer in 1963 when the Kennedy Administration appeared to be frustrated and disenchanted with the ten-year regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon, it approved the plans for the military coup d'état that would overthrow President Diem and get rid of his brother Nhu. The Kennedy Administration gave its support to a cabal of Vietnamese generals who were determined to remove the Ngos from power. Having gone so far as to withdraw its support of the Diem government and to all but openly support the coup, the Administration became impatient with delays and uncertainties from the generals in Saigon, and by late September dispatched General Maxwell D. Taylor, then Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and Secretary of Defense McNamara to Saigon.
Upon their return, following a brief trip, they submitted a report to President Kennedy, which in proper chronology was the one immediately preceding the remarkable one of December 21, 1963. This earlier report said, among other things "There is no solid evidence of the possibility of a successful coup, although assassination of Diem and Nhu is always a possibility." The latter part of this sentence contained the substantive information. A coup d'état, or assassination is never certain from the point of view of the planners; but whenever United States support of the government in power is withdrawn and a possible coup d'état or assassination is not adamantly opposed, it will happen. Only three days after this report, on October 5, 1963, the White House cabled Ambassador Lodge in Saigon: "There should be... urgent covert effort . . . to identify and build contact with possible alternate leadership." Knowledge of a statement such as this one made by the ostensible defenders and supporters of the Diem regime was all those coup planners needed to know. In less than one month Diem was dead, along with his brother.
Thus, what was considered to be a first prerequisite for a more favorable climate in Vietnam was fulfilled. With the Ngo family out of the way, President Kennedy felt that he had the option to bring the war to a close on his own terms or to continue pressure with covert activities such as had been under way for many years. Because the real authors were well aware of his desires, there was another most important statement in the McNamara-Taylor report of October 2, 1963: "It should be possible to withdraw the bulk of U.S. personnel by that time...." (the end of 1965).
What if the Russians had refused to back down and remove their missiles from Cuba? What if they had called our bluff and war had begun, and escalated? How would the historians of mankind, if a fragment survived, have regarded the events of October?... Since this is the kind of bluff that can easily be played once too often, and that his successors
may feel urged to imitate, it would be well to think it over carefully before canonizing Kennedy as an apostle of peace.
In spite of having lead a rather reckless personal life of apparent sexual excess - something I do not care about personally one way or the other - JFK's popularity continues to grow. I think this is for substantial, not insubstantial, reasons.
It is now apparent, with the release of many classified documents, the writing of many memoirs, and the release of many secret office recordings, that JFK was a real skeptic about the use of military force in combat, and that although he believed in a very strong military readiness posture for the United States, and took his Cold War responsibilities extremely seriously, he repeatedly used military force, or rather was prepared to use it, only as a last resort, if all other options had been exhausted. For example:
(1) He refused to bail out the failed CIA Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba with U.S. troops, as the JCS desired him to do;
(2) He ultimately refused to either bomb or invade Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He made all preparations to do so, and made sure the USSR saw these preparations, and used this impending readiness as a powerful diplomatic tool to leverage Kruschev, but his daily strategy during this crisis was to continue to prepare for military action, while daily stalling the hawks who demanded the use of military force. In doing so he probably prevented a nuclear war, for we now know that the Russian rocket forces in Cuba had permission to use tactical nuclear weapons (launched by FROG missiles) against any US invasion forces, WITHOUT the advance permission of Moscow. As Robert McNamara said in 1992, if thousands of US sailors and Marines and Army troops had been "fried" invading Cuba, it would have demanded a retaliatory response by JFK and the nuclear war with the USSR would then have probably been unstoppable, escalating day-by-day into a true Armageddon. Ted Sorenson, who knew JFK's political instincts better than anyone else, has said that even though the Cuban invasion was "imminent" at the time Kruschev capitulated and agreed to remove the missiles, he was confident JFK would have found ways and means to stall the hawks in the USG and delay, or forestall, an invasion on a day-by-day basis, even though it was theoretically approved for Tuesday (I think), 2 days after Kruschev capitulated.
(3) JFK clearly was intent on withdrawing form Vietnam in 1965; he was disgusted with the entire military and political situation in Vietnam, was angry that we had become enmeshed and entrapped there with so many advisors, and was determined to right this error after his re-election.
(4) JFK took the Cold War seriously, but in the right way, and over the right issues. Berlin was important (because it did involve serious issues of not appeasing a superpower bully, whose appetite might then only be whetted for more); Vietnam (which was increasingly apparent to be a local civil war and not truly a vital superpower issue) was not. JFK wanted to defeat communism, but NOT on the battlefield...he wanted to defeat them in the Space Race, the ultimate superpower propaganda contest in which national greatness and the validity of two competing systems were going to be measured by technological prowess and economic strength, not by a destructive war. JFK wanted to promote the positive values of the West and the USA through volunteer service...through the Peace Corps.
(5) JFK wanted above all else to avoid an accidental, unintentional World War in the Nuclear Age. His own WW II experiences (in which he learned to be very skeptical about military leadership and so-called expertise), his study of Barbara Tuchman's book "The Guns of August" about WW I, and the fresh memory of the Korea stalemate in Asia all made him very cautious about the use of military force. He wanted to go to war only if we HAD TO...not because the hawks in the USG wanted to. And if we "had to" go to war, he wanted to ensure it was over a vital interest like Soviet aggression in Europe, not over a sideshow in Southeast Asia where US interest were not directly threatened.
(6) This man chose a life of public service, when he could, instead, have rolled up in a ball of self-pity and lived a selfish life of luxury all alone, feeling sorry for himself because of his serious illness (addison's disease) and his back pain (which was constant and unremitting). Yet all those who knew him well said he never uttered a word of self-pity, and had a genuine optimism about the future of man, about the positive role [and great responsibility] of the United States in the 20th century, and genuinely believed in the credo of public service that he so openly promoted.
(7) JFK became very courageous on civil rights in 1963, after a couple of years of dithering in 1961 and 1962. He could not duck the issue any longer, and strongly and firmly came down in favor of equal opportunity in education and proposed a very bold civil rights bill which LBJ got passed in his memory as part of the JFK legacy after his assassination.
(8) JFK's Peace Speech at the American University in June 1963 was a truly remarkable document, just as the Test Ban Treaty in September of 1963 was a noteworthy accomplishment. The Test Ban Treaty was his proudest achievement, and the Peace Speech (which rejected a military PAX AMERICANA and asked Americans to re-evaluate their altitudes about the Soviet Union) challenged both Americans and the Soviets to end the Cold War...a full generation before it finally happened.
In conclusion, regardless of whether people have advanced degrees or not, or think about politics frequently or infrequently, they have a pretty good sense of these things today in America; following the disaster of LBJ's War in Vietnam, and the current disillusionment over America's Iraq adventure, JFK's sober caution in foreign affairs looks pretty good to most Americans. (His one big screw-up was the Bay of Pigs; he openly acknowledged this, and he learned valuable lessons from it about being cautious about the so-called expertise of others, and about the limits of military power.) So does his intelligent, well-informed and reasoned (but not jingoistic) patriotism, his encouragement of public service, his insatiable curiosity, his support of the arts in America, and his optimism. So does his correct and courageous (if a bit belated) stand on civil rights in America.
America was on the right road in 1963 when he died. After his death, with the exception of the Apollo Moon Landing program and other space initiatives which he began, everything else went downhill fast in the 1960s. Americans know, and appreciate these facts. It is the mainstream historians who get it wrong when they say JFK was not a great President; the man in the street knows better. If he had lived to serve a full 8 years, I think the mainstream historians would treat him more kindly because they would have more concrete, completed accomplishments to write about. (Mainstream historians recognize concrete accomplishments rather than potential, and possibilities, and could-have-beens.) JFK was great because he had the country going in the right direction, avoided a nuclear war (and appeasement) through his caution and firm resolve during the missile crisis, promoted public service and the arts, and was responsible for the robust space program which may be the principal accomplishment for which the the post-WW II USA is remembered 500 years from now (as JFK himself predicted).
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was shot during a motorcade drive through downtown Dallas this afternoon. He died in the emergency room of the Parkland Memorial Hospital 32 minutes after the attack. He was 46 years old. He is the third President to be assassinated in office since Abraham Lincoln and the first since President McKinley in 1901.
In the late afternoon the Dallas police took into custody a former Marine, one Lee H. Oswald, aged 24, who is alleged to have shot a policeman outside a theatre. He is said to have remarked only, "It is all over now." He is the chairman of a group called the "Fair Play for Cuba Committee," and is married to a Russian girl. He is described at the moment as "a prime suspect."
The new President is the Vice-President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a 55-year-old native Texan, who took the oath of office in Dallas at five minutes to four at the hands of a woman judge and later arrived in Washington with the body of the dead President.
This is being written in the numbed interval between the first shock and the harried attempt to reconstruct a sequence of fact from an hour of tumult. However, this is the first assassination of a world figure that took place in the age of television, and every network and station in the country took up the plotting of the appalling story. It begins to form a grisly pattern, contradicted by a grisly preface: the projection on television screens of a happy crowd and a grinning President only a few seconds before the gunshots.
The President was almost at the end of his two-day tour of Texas. He was to make a lunch speech in the Dallas Trade Mart building and his motor procession had about another mile to go. He had had the warmest welcome of his trip from a great crowd at the airport. The cries and pleas for a personal touch were so engaging that Mrs Kennedy took the lead and walked from the ramp of the presidential plane to a fence that held the crowd in. She was followed quickly by the President, and they both seized hands and forearms and smiled gladly at the people.
The Secret Service and the police were relieved to get them into their car, where Mrs Kennedy sat between the President and John B. Connally, the Governor of Texas. The Dallas police had instituted the most stringent security precautions in the city's history: they wanted no repetition of the small but disgraceful brawl that humiliated Adlai Stevenson in their city when he attended a United Nations rally on October 24.
The motorcade was going along slowly but smoothly three muffled shots, which the crowd first mistook for fireworks, cracked through the cheers. One hit the shoulder blade and the wrist of Governor Connally who was taken with the President to the hospital, where his condition is serious.
The other brought blood trickling from the back of the sitting President's head. His right arm flopped from a high wave of greeting and he collapsed into the arms of Mrs Kennedy, who fell unharmed. She was heard to cry "Oh, No" and sat there all the way cradling his head in her lap. As some people bayed and screamed and others fell to the ground, and hid their faces, the secret service escort broke into two groups, one speeding the President's car to the hospital: and another joined a part of the heavy police escort in wheeling off in pursuit of a man fleeing across some railroad tracks. Nothing came of this lead.
The President was taken to the emergency room of the Parkland Hospital and Governor Connally was taken into the surgery. Mrs Kennedy went in with the living President and less than an hour later came out with the dead man in a bronze coffin, which arrived shortly after two priests had administered the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church.
The body was escorted by Generals Clifton and McHugh, the President's chief military and air force aides, to the Dallas Airport and flown thence to Washington.
Within an hour of the President's death, the Secret Service had found a sniper's nest inside the building from which the first witnesses swore the bullets had been fired. It is a warehouse for a school text book firm, known as the Texas School Depository, on the corner of Elm and Houston Streets.
In an upper room, whose open window commanded the route of the Presidential motorcade, the Servicemen found the remains of a fried chicken and a foreign-made rifle with a telescopic sight. Alongside it lay three empty cartridges.
Only nine days after his American University address, Kennedy had ratified a CIA program contradicting it. Kennedy’s regression can be understood in the political context of the time. He was, after all, an American politician, and the Cold War was far from over. For the remaining five months of his life, John Kennedy continued a policy of sabotage against Cuba that he may have seen as a bone thrown to his barking CIA and military advisers but was in any case a crime against international law. It was also a violation of the international trust that he and Nikita Khrushchev had envisioned and increasingly fostered since the missile crisis. Right up to his death, Kennedy remained in some ways a Cold Warrior, in conflict with his own soaring vision in the American University address.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is convinced that a lone gunman wasn't solely responsible for the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and said his father believed the Warren Commission report was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship."
Kennedy and his sister, Rory, spoke about their family Friday night while being interviewed in front of an audience by Charlie Rose at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas. The event comes as a year of observances begins for the 50th anniversary of the president's death.
Their uncle was killed on Nov. 22, 1963, while riding in a motorcade through Dallas. Five years later, their father was assassinated in a Los Angeles hotel while celebrating his win in the California Democratic presidential primary.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said his father spent a year trying to come to grips with his brother's death, reading the work of Greek philosophers, Catholic scholars, Henry David Thoreau, poets and others "trying to figure out kind of the existential implications of why a just God would allow injustice to happen of the magnitude he was seeing."
He said his father thought the Warren Commission, which concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president, was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship." He said that he, too, questioned the report.
"The evidence at this point I think is very, very convincing that it was not a lone gunman," he said, but he didn't say what he believed may have happened.
Rose asked if he believed his father, the U.S. attorney general at the time of his brother's death, felt "some sense of guilt because he thought there might have been a link between his very aggressive efforts against organized crime."
Kennedy replied: "I think that's true. He talked about that. He publicly supported the Warren Commission report but privately he was dismissive of it."
He said his father had investigators do research into the assassination and found that phone records of Oswald and nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald two days after the president's assassination, "were like an inventory" of mafia leaders the government had been investigating.
He said his father, later elected U.S. senator in New York, was "fairly convinced" that others were involved.
The attorney and well-known environmentalist also told the audience light-hearted stories Friday about memories of his uncle. As a young child with an interest in the environment, he said, he made an appointment with his uncle to speak with him in the Oval Office about pollution.
He'd even caught a salamander to present to the president, which unfortunately died before the meeting. "He kept saying to me, 'It doesn't look well,'" he recalled.
Rory Kennedy, a documentary filmmaker whose recent film Ethel looks at the life of her mother, also focused on the happier memories. She said she and her siblings grew up in a culture where it was important to give back. "In all of the tragedy and challenge, when you try to make sense of it and understand it, it's very difficult to fully make sense of it," she said. "But I do feel that in everything that I've experienced that has been difficult and that has been hard and that has been loss, that I've gained something in it."
"We were kind of lucky because we lost our members of our family when they were involved in a great endeavor," her brother added. "And that endeavor is to make this country live up to her ideals."