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PRESIDENT JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY(JFK)

JFK JFK

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or JFK as he was fondly referred to, still remains one of the most popular Presidents in U.S. history. He was especially beloved by minorities, and blacks in particular because of his administration's pro-civil rights policies. The sad thing about it is that it is these pro-civil rights policies that might have led to his assassination. You will recall that his Presidency was in the early 1960's, when America was embroiled in social turmoil, with civil rights protests left, right and center. President Kennedy drew a lot of support from blacks because of his strong ties with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who at that time was the face of black America. In fact a lot of people still believe that it was the black vote that saw him triumph over Richard Nixon during the 1960 U.S. Presidential elections. The interesting thing about President Kennedy that still endears him to a lot of people is that eventhough he came from a family of such high social standing, he still managed to connect with the poor and down-trodden in society. One of his biggest fans President Bill Clinton tried to follow in his minority empathy footsteps, and did pretty good, but his was easy to understand because he grew up poor.

He was born John Fitzgerald Kennedy on May 29th 1917 in the U.S. city of Brookline, Massachussetts, to Joseph Patrick Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. His father was an Irish Catholic and wealthy businessman. At the time of Kennedy's birth his father was President of Boston Bank. He had ascended to that post at the tender age of 25, making him one of the youngest Bank Presidents in the country at that time. His mother Rose Fitzgerald, also came from a very reputed family in Boston. Her father John Fitzgerald was mayor of Boston. Kennedy was therefore in many ways, born into royalty. JFK or Jack as he was called by family and close friends was the second born in a family of 9 children. Other children in the Kennedy household in order of seniority were, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr.(Joe, Jr.), Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Robert, Jean and the last born, Edward Kennedy.

JFK's childhood reports indicate that he grew up quite a sickly child. He was always skinny and frail with a bad back. Their family doctor could never quite explain the source of his medical problems. It was only later in the Fall of 1947 that doctors diagnosed him with Addison's disease, a deadly but rare disease that affects the adrenal gland, causing it to produce insufficient hormones. This seriously hinders the body's metabolic rate and resistance to infection. Even with a bad back however, the young JFK was known to "tough it out" in the football fields, often going against stronger and healthier opponents. His toughness earned him his father's respect quite early in life. His elder brother Joe, Jr., was every parent's dream. He was a strong, intelligent and very well groomed boy, who had his parents bragging about him at every social event. But something about the "sickly and frail" JFK caught his father's eyes---he was very well liked and respected by his peers. He had this silent power around him that drew his classmates to him. Whatever ideas he came up with, cheeky or otherwise, his friends went ahead and executed. In fact some of the childhood pranks he masterminded almost got him expelled from school. While his father outwardly expressed great displeasure at this, he secretly rejoiced at the fact that he had a born leader in the family---one who might one day carry the Kennedy family legacy.

JFK enrolled at Dexter Elementary in Brookline, Massachussetts in 1922. He stayed there until 1926 when his family moved to Riverdale-on-Hudson near New York City where he enrolled at Riverdale Country Day School. He stayed there until 1929 when his family again moved, this time to Bronxville, New York. Shortly after their move to Bronxville, his father bought a large house in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, that later became the family home. In 1930 he was shipped to Choate School, a boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut. He graduated from Choate School in 1935, after which he joined the prestigious Harvard University. In 1939, while a junior at Harvard, he spent one year working in his father's London Office. His father had been appointed Ambassador to England by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a return favour for his help during Roosevelt's 1932 election victory. JFK graduated from Harvard with a B.S. Degree in 1940. He graduated with Honours on the strength of his senior thesis Appeasement at Munich. His thesis which was later published, in a book called Why England Slept came out to rave reviews, thanks of course to Joe, Sr.'s string pulling. It explained how England had sat silent as Hitler and his Nazi forces swept through Europe. There was widespread speculation however swirling around his blockbuster thesis with some arguing that it was not his original work, but that of his father's London staff. True or false his book wound its way into New York's best-seller list. So by 1940, the sickly, and often mischevious JFK had not only bagged a Harvard Degree, but was a best-selling Author too. He might not have realized it then but Joe, Sr. was already planning bigger things for him--way much bigger than he could ever imagine.

In 1941 with prospects of the U.S. entering World War II soaring, JFK enlisted in the Navy. Thanks to his father's political clout, he got assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, DC, basically analyzing reports from foreign stations, summarizing them and rewriting them into weekly intelligence bulletins. His father's influence also meant that he passed all physicals eventhough he had poor health. When the U.S. finally entered WWII following the December 1941 Pearl Harbour attacks, Kennedy was sent to train on the use of PT(Power Torpedo) Boats. In 1943 he was sent to Solomon Islands where he was given command of his own boat, PT109. Apparently he had done pretty well in PT training because he was placed in charge of his fellow Navy men(crew of 13). On August 2nd 1943, disaster struck his PT109 when it was sunk by a Japanese ship, killing 2 of his crewmen. The 11 others including himself, amazingly survived the attack and swam to a nearby island. After literally surviving on coconuts for 4 days in the wild, he finally got some village islanders to contact friendly Navy commanders to come and rescue them. When they were finally rescued, JFK, an American Hero was born with the political floodgates wide open to him. This was especially so after his PT109 incident was published in The New Yorker magazine in mid 1944. It was now only a matter of time before JFK made his political debut, and Joe, Sr. sure couldnt wait.

Disaster struck the Kennedy family in 1944 when the first born child Joe, Jr. died after the bomber he was flying exploded over England. Like JFK, he had also enlisted in the military during the run up to the U.S. entry into WWII. His death obviously took a huge toll on the family, and especially his parents, who now began looking more and more to JFK to bear the family's torch. JFK began seriously considering politics and in 1946, made his debut when he made a run for the U.S. Congress to represent Massachusetts' 11th District. In this hugely Democratic District, he faced off against 9 other Democratic Party challengers in the Primaries and came out victorious. His June 18th 1946 victory at the Democratic Party Primaries all but secured his Congressional seat because there was no serious threat from the Republicans. So in January 1947, JFK became a Congressman for Massachusetts' 11th District. 1947 turned out not to be as great as JFK had anticipated. His performance in Congress during his first term can best be characterized as lucklustre. This was due to the fact that he was mostly ill plus the fact that as a rookie, he was kept out of the powerful committees like the Foreign Relations Committee, which were reserved for senior members of Congress. The only good thing that happened to him in 1947, and probably the best thing in his life thereon, was that his doctors finally diagnosed him with the deadly Addison disease. This diagnosis marked a turning point in JFK's life both personally and politically. Now that doctors could identify the source of his medical problems, it became easier to treat him. JFK soon lost that sickly frail face he had carried all along and became an attractive and powerful prescence in Washington, DC, especially with the television revolution sweeping across America at that time.

Eventhough JFK got re-elected to Congress in 1948, this was all in all a horrible year for him. His favourite sibling Kathleen was killed that year in a plane crash in France. Kathleen and JFK had been very close and her death had a profound effect on him. JFK however carried on with his political activities and secured a second re-election in 1950. In 1952, his eyes were set on the U.S. Senate, thanks to Joe, Sr. of course, who had never been too taken with the House of Representatives anyway--too mediocre for him. JFK's challenger for the U.S. Senate was a powerful incumbent by the name Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. During the run-up to the election, the incumbent Senator made a major blunder by spending most of his time campaigning for 1952 Republican Presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower thinking he would easily defeat Kennedy back home. He had not anticipated that while away with Eisenhower, the entire Kennedy family, father, mother, siblings etc, would canvas the state of Massachussetts for their beloved brother's votes. Kennedy beat him big time by a margin of some 70,000 votes to become a U.S. Senator for Massachussetts in November 1952.

On September 12th 1953, JFK married Jacqueline Bouvier(Jackie Kennedy). She was the step-daughter of Hugh Auchincloss, a wealthy oilman. So like JFK, Jaqueline was also part of "high society". Her biological father John Bouvier was also once a wealthy man but had reportedly squandered his wealth and ruined his marriage. With JFK's much improved health, rising star in the Senate, and Jackie by his side, his eyes, and those of Joe, Sr. began looking to the U.S. Presidency. During the 1956 Democratic National Convention, JFK tried unsuccessfully to secure the Vice-Presidential spot to become Adlai Stevenson's running mate for President. JFK was pitted against Estes Kefauver and Albert Gore, Sr. both Tennesse Senators. Kefauver won the Democratic Party's Vice-Presidential nomination. They however lost the Presidential race to Republican challengers Eisenhower & Nixon.

In 1958 JFK was re-elected to the Senate by a million votes. He won more than 73% of the vote--the largest majority ever won by any candidate for office in Massachussetts. On January 2nd 1960, he formally announced his bid for the the U.S. Presidency. His basic message to Americans was that under the Eisenhower administration, the country had stalled and that his new leadership would "get the country running again." This of course was good old Kennedy spin because facts have it that America thrived in the 1950's under Eisenhower, both economically and militarily. But given his charisma, his spin resonated with a lot of voters anyway. His challenger for the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination was Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. Humphrey attacked Kennedy on his Catholic background, figuring that a large portion of Americans were protestants. His ploy however backfired because he was perceived to advocate religious intolerance. In July 1960, with JFK ahead of the Democratic Party pack, veteran Senator Lyndon B. Johnson joined the race. LBJ's entry was very late into the game and just 5 days before the Democratic National Convention. The senior Senator attacked JFK of inexperience, claiming he was best suited for the highest office given his 23 years in Congress. Kennedy however managed to secure the Democratic Party nomination and as a sign of good faith chose Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate. This was a hard sell for Bobby Kennedy, JFK's brother and campaign manager, who couldnt stand LBJ. Bobby was however smart enough to put his personal feelings aside because he realized that JFK needed that southern vote which LBJ could deliver. So the stage was set for a battle for the U.S Presidency between the Democrat JFK and his Republican challenger Richard Nixon.

The television revolution sweeping across America in the 1950's seriously helped JFK's campaign. The televised Presidential debates between him and Richard Nixon were the first ever in U.S. history. During these debates, the handsome and photogenic JFK trounced the almost boring and official demeanoured Richard Nixon. The sad part about it was that Nixon actually made more sound arguments than JFK and thus did very well on radio. But television killed his campaign because he just couldnt match JFK's charm and good looks. America thus fell in love with JFK and on November 8 th 1960, then just 43 years old, he was elected America's 35 th President. He was officially sworn in on Jan 20th 1961 during which he delivered his now famous inauguration speech, Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty. He was of course aiming at the Soviet Union and its allies. Later in 1961, his administration suffered a major setback during the now infamous Bay of Pigs fiasco. During this incident some Cuban dissidents under the tutelage of the CIA had been sent to Cuba to destabilize Castro's government and eventually topple him. The CIA's assumption was that Castro wasnt that popular or strong in Cuba and that a little insurgency would stir other Cubans to revolt against his government. This as we now know turned out to be a very wrong assuption because Castro ruthlessly crushed this insurgency and solidified his grip on power. On a positive note however for his administration in 1961, JFK established the Peace Corps. These were basically American volunteers who would be sent to various parts of the world to provide the needed skills for development. Many Americans took him up on the offer and volunteered. Also in 1961 JFK initiated a program to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade. For his efforts, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was named after him.

In 1962 JFK was in the middle of a firestorm that almost brought the world to a standstill. This was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The CIA discovered that the Soviets were planting long-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. As a result, JFK instituted a blockade on all Soviet vessels approaching the Cuban coast, a violation of which would have provoked U.S. Navy retaliation. It was common knowledge that a direct military confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviets would all but certain degenerate into a nuclear war. This nerve-wrecking controversy however ended up being resolved diplomatically, giving JFK a major boost both militarily and diplomatically. He was perceived as a President who never wrote off prospects of U.S. military intervention but still pursued peace at all costs, and this endeared him to many Americans. On June 11th 1963, JFK was again at the center of another burning issue, this time involving American civil rights. Two black students had been accepted at the University of Alabama but they met a lot of resistance from their white counterparts. JFK was thus forced to mobilize the Alabama National Guard to ensure the safe admission of the 2 black students. An almost similar incident had occured in 1962 at the University of Mississippi where another black student, James Meredith had been denied admission. The Mississippi incident however was more violent because the resultant riots left two people dead. After the University of Alabama incident,President JFK addressed the nation and delivered delivered this powerful speech which also expressed his stand on civil rights, We are confronted primarily with a moral issue....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 enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the colour of his skin changed and stand in his place? One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free......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 ......It is a time to act in Congress, in your state and local legislative body, and above all, in all of your daily lives. A few days after this speech, on June 22nd 1963, he proposed to Congress the most sweeping civil rights legislation in history, which would later become the landmark Civil Rights Act(1964) and Voting Rights Act(1965). Unfortunately he didnt live long enough to see Congress pass the two pieces legislations.

In August 1963, pro-civil rights activists elated by JFK's sweeping proposals organised the now famous March on Washington which drew people from all across America. Some 200,000 people turned out for the march, making it one of the largest civil rights gatherings at that time. At this gathering, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I have a Dream speech. JFK followed this accomplishment by signing a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets on October 7th 1963. This was aimed at reducing nuclear arms between U.S. and the Soviets. As a result, he became perceived as a Peacemaker and Statesman. Tragedy however struck on Nov 22nd 1963 in Dallas, Texas when JFK was assassinated, robbing the U.S. and indeed the world of one of the its best leaders in recorded history. JFK or Camelot as he was called, also definitely rounds up as one of the most fascinating personalities of the 20th century. It is sad to many that he never lived long enough to see his sweeping civil rights proposals pass into law. But there is one other speech that JFK delivered on June 10th 1963 at the American University in Washington, DC which I just cannot leave behind, especially now that "war and peace" seems to be a recurrent theme. He was addressing the question of peace between the U.S and Soviets, which to many at that time seemed impossible. Its amazing how things JFK envisioned way back in the 1960's still fully apply today. He said, Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself....Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable--that mankind is doomed--that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view....No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable--and we believe they can do it again. Now that was a GREAT President!!!

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