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, 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. 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 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. 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, defeated him main opponent, Lyndon B. Johnson, and was nominated on the first ballot. 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 vigor 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 aircover 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 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 endeavor.” 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 was 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 favor of a bombing raid and/or an invasion. However, the majority of the committee gradually began to favor 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 wins 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. 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, and 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 Program 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 program, 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 pressurize 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. 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 was 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.
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