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tv   The Presidency John F. Kennedy - Legacy Myths  CSPAN  June 2, 2022 2:35am-3:43am EDT

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professor discusses the presidency of john f. kennedy and the myths that surround it. this video is courtesy of the university and is from their great mind lecture series. >> and welcome everybody to the last of our talks in the great presidential lives series. and john f. kennedy, surely one of the most intriguing and controversial american presidents. certainly a few of them have generated such diverse and partisan appraisals. as an example, one of the classes that i taught
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for many years was the u.s. since world war ii. and on the first day of the class i would often ask the students, just for fun, a little quiz, a few questions, one of which was, who do you think was the greatest president since world war ii? and invariably, let answer was john f. kennedy. along that same line and on a larger scale, a few years ago, a reputable national survey asked respondents to decayed hubei believed to be the greatest all american president? kennedy was voted number one. ahead of such consensus as washington, and fdr. well, no. on the other side of that divide, there was, for a personal example, a time when i was going to talk about
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kennedy. i was discussing the topic with one of my colleagues. and she said, with some indignation, can you tell me one single thing he did? i knew i was not going to win that argument, i would not pursue it with her. but i think the point is, opinions i have encountered very dramatically, both in his own times and since his death. now, the fundamental complaint, criticism of kennedy has always been that his presidency was more a matter of style than substance. the glow of camel, and his personal term blended the public to the absence of any significant achievements. well, as to style,
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he did have that. handsome, energetic, enthusiastic, charming, witty. in short, charismatic, a word, the probably the first time i heard that word used was by robert kennedy, it seemed almost synonymous with him, charismatic. he seemed to epitomize, and they often also applied to his personality, biggeh. that's how he would've pronounced, it is new england accent would've pronounced in party, that vigor, is how i say it. but put me in mind, that someone in new england would have a similar tendency to drop the rs. we do have problem with those rs! but new englander's compensate dropping the rs sometimes for putting them where they don't belong. and
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kennedy was a classic example of adding on r to the end of words. his was cuber -- most pronounced cuba. but it was a place as we will see it, he had quite a few problems with it, when he would talk about "cuber". and another anecdote, i always thought was cute. the story is, maybe this is probably true, he was speaking in the midwest, iowa or some such place, with an accented people. he was talking about the problems that area, and is it i can't really do the accent, but what is wrong with the american farmer today? somebody in the back, said we are starving. so you can see the humor that some people found, that was rather interesting,
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the boston accent. it was not only his personal style that attracted attention, but the style of his administration, one that matched his own energy and activism. but as to his opponents, to what purpose, as one critic commented, the kennedy administration was like watching the harlem globe-trotters, passing forward, backwards, high, side, underneath. but nobody missed a basket. or as another had suggested, a rocking chair. which was a kennedy favored, as he used it frequently for his bad back. the rocking chair was a perfect symbol h presidency. because, quote, it gives the appearance of constant motion, without ever going anywhere. well, now to try to come to a reasonable assessment of the kennedy presidency, let's take a few minutes to examine some of this major developments, including foreign policy, which is paramount, and its domestic policy, as well as considering
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some of his personal characteristics, taking into account the views of his sometimes idolatrous advocates, and his equally vehement adversaries. jack kennedy's political pedigree was impressive. his maternal grandfather, honey fits fitzgerald has been a colorful boston mayor. on the kennedy side, there was money. lots of it. indeed, in 1957, fortune magazine estimated his family wealth to be between 200 and $400 million, the 12th largest in the nation, ahead of individual rockefellers, ford's and so forth. presiding over the kennedy clan was joseph kennedy, who despite his wealth, because he was irish, he felt was never fully accepted to the proper boston society. his financial standing did, however, helping to secure an apartment from fdr as an american ambassador to england in the 1930s. some speculated that
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ambassador kennedy hoped to be elected president. that event, highly improbable, under any circumstances, became unthinkable. after he was tainted with appeasement, as world war ii approached, he was in fact called upon from london, rather much disgraced. it was then that in the view of many observers, joe kennedy looked towards his sons as a means of fulfilling his own large dreams. surely he had inculcated in all of them the necessary sense of drive and ambition, competition. indeed, perhaps excessively so. as he once said, quote, i do not think much of people who have it in them to be first, but finish second. with kennedys, it's either the outhouse or the council, no in between. and remember, he told them, if you cannot be a captain, do not fly. in pursuit of that dream, it was his eldest son, joe junior who was regarded as the
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most promising over the lot, until, in one of the truly incredible number of tragedies that was to strike that family, he was killed while flying emission in europe during world war ii. the mantle fell to the shoulders on the next son, john fitzgerald, otherwise known as jack. notwithstanding in fact, he was much less of the politician type of ben's late brother had been. jack, in retrospect, surprisingly, but as a child, he was rather sickly. this was a serious flaw among the gung ho kennedys. he was quote, shy, withdrawn, quiet, said his mother. his mother and i could not picture him as a politician. we were assured he would be a good teacher or writer. all of that changed after the death of his elder brother, and as his father explained a few years later, quote, young jo was going to be the politician of the family, when jack died, he took his place. i got jack into politics, i told him joe is
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that and therefore it was his responsibility to run for congress. he did not want to. you told he did not have the ability, he still feels that way. but i told him he had to. and what did jack himself have to say about the matter? quote, it was like being drafted, he said. my father wanted his eldest son in politics, not wanted, demanded it. you know my father. and so was launched, the career of john fitzgerald kennedy. he has many assets, including a harvard education, and was captain by the senior ceased thesis titled, while england slept, which is chose as the book of the month club selection, which is a remarkable achievement for a 23-year-old. as even ambassador kennedy wrote to his son, quote, you will be surprised how a book, really makes the grave of high class people stands you in good stead for years to come. and incidentally, one of the more interesting statements in that book, compared with some events, to what i will say
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today, was kennedys observation there in that quote, personalities have always been more interesting to us then facts. but the american entry into world war ii, you young jack joined the navy. and measured it, with his father's pulling the right strings to ensure that you got see duty rather than a desk job the fear that he might be relegated to it because it was bent back. in the course of the pacific, the curve the upper soda which perhaps, more than any other earned him the reputation of hero and that is the fair the p. t. 109, subsequently memorialized in song, story and full length movies. the basic facts are, on this august 9th and 1943, commanded by katie, was rammed inversely sliced in half by a japanese destroyer. two members of the crew were killed, another son badly wounded. -- a flame with burning gasoline, kennedy managed to tow one of the injured man to safety by
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gripping the end of the man's life jacket in his teeth. through his greatest leadership, in the hours that followed, helped secure the survival of the members of the crew. it was according to preeminent kenny biographer, one of the authentic passages of heroism in the war. revisionist however, and the bunkers of kennedy had not agreed, -- not questioning his currents once the accidents has occurred, what they do suggest is that kennedy was irresponsible. allowing himself to get into the situation where such an event could happen. although he later denied having made the comment, general douglas reported to him, that kennedy had quote should have been court marshaled, for landing a japanese destroyer lower him down. the matter of kennedys heroism related to p. t. 109 presents a sort of historical and blocked the scene either way. to be condemned as a bumbler who is
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unhappiness cause much suffering and the loss of lives, or as a courageous hero whose bravery under distress or circumstances helped save the lives of the main crew members. kennedy himself did not actively extolling this exploit, when asked about his alleged terrorism, he said, with typical kennedy pelt after getting wet, it was involuntary. and any case, it certainly did his subsequent political career no harm. as -- p. t. why don't i type class during the campaign. it occurs to me, when was the last time you saw a tight class? i don't know if they still make them. and those days, a lot a man or tie class the pt109 was -- they went about his political career, it began successfully after the war after is elected to the house of representatives in 1946, where he remained until he was elected to the u. s.
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senate from massachusetts in 1952. kennedy's new years in the senate deserve brief comments concerning his personal life and his politics. with regard to the former he married jack movie which he was to have two children with. while his devotion to her has been the subject of considerable speculation, -- i think she was 29 years old when he became president, dwight young. secondly, with regard to his years in the senate, he under went and 19 to 2, are a serious back operation, one that brought himself close to death, you -- the illness has been debated, he himself quoted somerset mom, to the extent
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that suffering does not ennoble it embitters, apparently it did not in better him. even his critics can see that he endured with great stoicism a life injured with pain. arthur slash unger who chronicled both of the men, compared kennedys back ordeal to fdr's fight against polio. quote, like roosevelt kennedy emerged with focus more purposeful and more formidable. it was during his lengthy convalescence, it was profiled encourage, the study of leaders who have acted from the sense of the national welfare rather than from a sense of political expediency? even to the
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detriment of their careers. although the book want to play surprise, the critics notice the irony, and that his own political career in the senate seem predicated on -- to the exclusion of philosophical principles, be they the liberal or conservative. let's look at the record, focusing on two of the most controversial issues, mainly mccarthy-ism. as tim mccarthyism, kennedy failed to take unequivocal stand. he later claims to propose -- when the vote was taken in december of 1954, kennedy was hospitalized with his back surgery, he as he was always -- he said, quote, to understand my situation, you must remember that my father was a friend of mccarthy,'s as well as my sister eunice, and my brother bobby work for him. i had all those family pressures. and then two, there was the simple political fact that mccarthy had a considerable falling in
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massachusetts, kennedy was reluctant to alienate that element of his constituency. the same cautious attitude prevailed and kennedys approach to civil rights during his senatorial career. i many occasions, kenny -- as it were, sufficiently so to cause the associated press to report that you would think that he was dixie born, a sudden of robert e. lee, the man -- the reason i bring this up, is not to suggest that kennedy was by any means racist, or that he was philosophically opposed to the civil rights movement. the reason i bring it up, it's a pointed out there is little in the senate records to consent to -- being hammered great -- perhaps it was unfair to say of him some critics say that the senate, playing the title of his own book, that in the
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senate he displayed not a profile of courage but a profile in cowardice. it is fair to say, has one story and did say, that he had a profile in caution, in moderation. kennedy figured this was essentially if he would ever -- when he endeavor to do, and what he did with great success was to capture the broad center of american politics. as one historian critical of kennedy has put, it quote, the liberals, are reconciled by his aspirations. which he closed in their vocabulary. conservatives took note of his deeds, which rarely challenge their opinions or interests. so, in spite his senatorial career, the cell that -- the level of mediocrity in the eyes of most observers, kennedy found himself poised to run for the nation's highest office in 1960. having narrowly, but fortunately as it turned, out lost the bid for the vice presidential nomination in 1956, which would have put him on the failed ticket, headed by -- that was his career problem, he did not get that vice presidential nomination the 56.
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well, now, the first step towards securing a democratic nomination was, the first step along the way, was to secure the democratic nomination. that was by no means certain. given the popular long term minnesota -- who pose a serious alternative, as did texas senator lyndon johnson, who is the majority leader of the senate. had a much stronger senator -- kennedy especially increasingly imported area of civil rights. the main issue, the primary campaign, it would continue to be so in the general election, a big issue, not the main one, the matter of kennedys catholicism. no catholic had ever been elected president. most recent catholic nominee had been new york governor, al smith, who had been defeated by herbert hoover
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in 1928. there was a lingering fear amount democrats that if nominated, kennedys religion would be a significant impediment to his election in november. during the primary campaign, candidates decided to address the issue head-on, setting to audience time and time again, i've used to believe that it was denied the night to be president on the day i was baptized. the effectiveness of that approach was demonstrated by kennedy's victory in the west virginia primary, particularly significant because that was a state whose population was 95% protestant. boasted by that victory, kennedy went on to win the democratic nomination the first ballot. the most controversial developments of the democratic convention involved kennedy's choice of lyndon johnson as his vice presidential running mate. the choice was repugnant, that was some reasons behind, it the first johnson was undeniably the man of genuine ability in
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real power. he was an energetic and effective campaigner. perhaps most importantly, he provided the ticket of geographic balance, lost in austin. to which was considered important, and those days, important to kennedy because the polls had shown and the primary elections showed that he had some problems in the south. there is no better person to provide help in that area then lyndon johnson. interestingly, one of kennedy's aides lit later revealed there was a reason to choose johnson. kennedy wanted to get him out of the powerful position that he then held as majority leader. so, -- he would be out of the way in the senate. well, such an action would put johnson in dangerously close to the white house itself. kennedy
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allegedly replied angrily, words that seem eerie light in terms of subsequent events, quote, i'm 43 years old, i am the healthiest candidate for president of the united states. i am not going to die in office. the vice presidency doesn't mean anything. whatever the case, the democratic ticket was to be kennedy johnson. and his acceptance speech before the convention, kennedy sounded the theme for his campaign, and so doing came up with the phrase that he would frequently you subsequently to characterize his administration when he said, quote, we stand today on the edge of a new frontier. the frontier of the 1960s. a frontier of unknown hopes and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. the new frontier of which i speak is not a set of promises, it is a set of challenges. it
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sums up not what i intend to offer the american people, but would i intend to ask others. kennedys opponent and that general election, richard nixon, observe the previous eight years as eisenhower's vice presidents, as such he was probably best known person in america save ike him self. which is not to say that he was the best loved. he was not. the main issue and foreign affairs during the campaign was cuba. a country that had been formally a friend of the united states, by having recently been taken over by the leftist fidel castro. kennedy took a hard line in the campaign, urging american action to oust castro. when nixon knew that such action was always planned, in fact, he could not reveal. it was ironic that when the plan did go into effect, it was under the administration of kennedy, which, as we will, see caused him great embarrassment. there was the charge that there was a missile gap, which the u.
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s. had fallen behind the soviets in that fraud category, kennedy must be elected in order to reestablish american military superiority. the truth is more likely that the u.s. was actually head of the soviets, but at that time kennedy is the charge to his advantage. on the emerging hard but an issue of civil rights, both candidates avowed support for black rights, but neither emerged as a spoken advocate for change. as the democrat kennedy probably had greater profit to -- profit religion threatened once again tomorrow the campaign, after meeting with prostate leaders, nationally kennedy managed to essentially to defuse the church and state issue. it may have bubbled along beneath the surface during the campaign. another factor of the election was a serious economic crisis
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during the time of the election would hurt nixon, as did his own decision not to open eyes on iran for greater support. -- it turned out it was too late. the single most significant aspect of the campaign, and the one which automatically comes to mind, the minds of those remember the 1960 election, concerns the historic televised debates between the two men. it was a first in the history of presidential elections. the first one was considered the most important. it was far more people than the rest of. them the fact, it had an audience, the largest television audience in history but that time, 70 million viewers. on all accounts, it was a kennedy trial. not so much because of what he said, but because he projected a much more appealing image. interestingly, most of those who heard the debate on radio thought that nixon had
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won. unfortunate for nixon, the radio on small television. nixon who was not a particularly handsome man anyway, showed up poorly in contrast to kennedy, dark complexion, loss away from recent illness. all these factors made nixon project the image of the have in contrast to the youth and vigorous looking kennedy. >> above all, the debates give kennedy an opportunity to destroy one of nixon's main campaign themes, which was that kennedy was not mature, experienced enough to handle the presidency. even staying on even terms with nixon in the debate would have discounted that charge. but in the eyes of many observers, kennedy more than held his own. in newsweek, the magazine put it, kennedy did not show that he was nixon's, master but they show that he was nixon's match. and that was enough. subsequently, kennedy recognized that nixon's willingness to debate him was quote, an enormous break for him, and he later told one news
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man that nixon " was a fool to agree to a debate with me on tv ". well, election results were to prove the accuracy of kennedys judgment. so it might seem superficial, the fact that much of kennedy's success was attributed to his immense personal appeal. at a time when tv was getting paramount performance, kennedy's physical charm and charisma were terrific assets. according to a reporter who covered the kennedy campaign, kennedy acquired a " star quality, previously reserved only for movie idols nothing like the atmosphere of a political atmosphere, and rock performances, including screaming, jumping young women ". then there was kennedys with, typically quick and dry. his next man, always under meticulous restraint. one standard line of kennedys was
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quote, " mr. nixon has been calling me an ignoramus, a pied piper like all of the rest. i can find myself to calling him a republican. he says that is getting low ". another kennedy says, in comparison with the eisenhower nixon republican team to a parade of circus elephants. " you have seen elephants in the circus and said, they have heads of ivory, thick skin, no vision, long memory. and when we move around during, they grabbed the tale of the elephant in front of them. " nixon grabbed that tail in 1952 and 1956. in 1960, he is running. not eisenhower. the final gallup poll before the election turned it too close to call, so it was. the votes were finally counted, john f. kennedy had won the presidency by the narrowest popular vote in american history. both kennedy and nixon received slightly over 34 million votes. so our total of over 68 million votes, the largest turnout in american history at that time. kennedy had won by the
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incredibly narrow margin of slightly over 100,000 votes out of 68 million. or one tenth of 1%. to put it another way, he won by a margin of less than one half vote per precinct across the country, spread out. the electoral vote was not as close, because kennedy was on a number of the large states. but even that was closer than it seemed. an analysis of the terms in various states, show the shifting of 20,000 votes, from kennedy to nixon in five key states would have thrown the election to nixon. and the possibilities were fascinating, and became even more so in light of alleged voter fraud in some of those states. well, in any case, john fitzgerald kennedy took the oath of office in january, 1960, becoming the youngest president ever elected
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at the age of 43. the event seemed almost like a coronation, more than an inauguration. the poet robert frost composed a poem specifically for the occasion, which read in part, " it makes the profit in us all presage, the glory of a new blessed age. for a power, leading from the strength and proud and young ambition, eager to be tried. the golden age of poetry and power, at which this new day is the beginning hour. the golden age was to be, or so many americans hoped. " it was regarded by many as the dawn of a new camelot, to be as glorious as the camelot of king arthur's days of chivalry and knight hood, as the are three and legends said, fresh winds were blowing, surely the inaugural address that kennedy had on that cold, january day led one to believe that the new
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day was truly ahead. few lines in american history are better known than kennedys famous challenge. everybody my age of course, or older, if there are any of them. they will remember this very clearly. so my fellow americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. then, he concluded, " my fellow citizens of the world, ask not what america will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. ". amidst the glamour's surrounding of a new leader and his lovely wife, the energy and the enthusiasm, so in contrast to his immediate predecessors, the elegance and the eloquence. it did indeed seen too many, in particular the young, the liberal, the intellectual, it
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was almost too good to be true. as it turned out, it was. now, when kennedy reached the white house, he inherited from eisenhower, the plan for freeing cuba, or as i should say, ousting castro. it became known as the bay of pigs fiasco. the scheme began at the direction of the cia in late 1960. it called for the training -- training of a small group of cuban refugees, training them in guatemala, with advisers, armed with american weapons. these men were to be led, landed secretly in a remote area of cuba, or they would set up a counter revolutionary movement that would overthrow castro. now, when kennedy became president, he could have stopped the plan, but he did not. no doubt, to regret. as he said afterwards,
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how could i have been so stupid to let them go ahead. but in any case, the plan proceeded, the americans trained cuban exiles, carried in american ships, covered by american planes, waited at the shore of the bay of pigs in 1961. castro crushed them completely. american aid was not sufficient to turn the tide, and to the surprise of many in the u.s., the cuban people showed no tendency to join this planned counter revolution against fidel. the whole affair was an utter defeat for american plans, as one historian said, " kennedy played a delicate game, trying to give enough support to make his base work, but not enough to make the americans -- " he failed on both accounts. the main fruits of this fiasco reverse the tarnishing of candidate previously shiny reputation, and somewhat more importantly, but tightening of
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the military ties between cuba and russia, which had great significance as we will see. and also, it seemed to secure castro's control of cuba, as much as it lead us into decades of thereafter. meanwhile, in order to try and resolve some of the major points of friction between the u.s. and the soviet union, a summit was held between kennedy and kristen f indiana, 1961. while counts, but young american came out second best in that confrontation. most observers believe that -- got to vienna, kennedy was weak and indecisive, an opinion that was truly bolstered by kennedys apparent lack of strength in the bay of pigs crisis. for every reason, the russians made strong, more direct demands on the u.s., the most sense series of which was the in seriousness that the united states virtually abandon west berlin, the presence of a democratic city like west berlin, behind the iron curtain,
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was a thorn in the side of russians. they were determined to force the americans out. apparently, khrushchev believed kennedy would yield. however, he was mistaken. kennedy stood firm in defense of west berlin, and as a result, and the possibility of nuclear war seemed all only to likely. fortunately, for world peace, it left of the east germans, a solution of sorts came in august of 1961, when the east german government suddenly closed off the border between east and west berlin and proceeded to erect the subsequently famous berlin wall, which of course became an enduring symbol of the cold war, for three decades. while, the u.s. protested building the wall, but ultimately, it was unwilling to risk a war to tear it down. it was during this time that the field wore reached such heights in this country, that one of the most national priorities seemed to
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be the construction of fallout shelters. although few are actually constructed. now, ultimately, the berlin crisis simmered down, and the danger of war in europe decreased, only to be superseded by a potentially much more severe threat, much closer to home, specifically, 90 miles off the coast of florida, in cuba. in october, 1962, aerial photographs taken from the high flying u2 spy planes revealed that the russians were building launching pads into cuba, missile launching sites. they had already delivered at least 42 missiles, which had an approximate range of 1000 miles. the two weeks that followed were among the most tense in history. and i think it is safe to say that world war iii, nuclear war, this might have destroyed civilizations. it was closer at that time then going to the atomic age. now for the russian
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put the missiles in cuba drop time to examine that today one suggested is that kushner party can get away with it because he thought that kennedy would be too weak to respond for such challenges. whatever the reason behind that move, once the missiles were found in cuba, once the american public knew about them, the stage was set for the greatest crisis of the cold war. and his mom wires khrushchev acknowledge the threat he made, we had in -- chicago and the other industrial cities, not to mention a village like washington. i don't think a america face such a real threat of destruction. certainly, he understood the seriousness of the crisis, as he later recalled, quote, i slept on an office couch. i kept my clothes on. i was ready for alarming news to come at any moment. obviously, the future of world peace depended to a great extent on what response kennedy
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would make to the missile threat. he basically consented three alternatives, the most dangerous alternate was the u. s. to launch a nuclear attack on the missile sites. -- it would have eliminate the source of the problem, the downside of this the threat of russian retaliation was so strong that this option was quickly eliminated. the second possibility was to launch a conventional air attack upon cuba and follow this up with an invasion and in fact forces began to gather in florida for the attack. plans were made to formulate a government for cuba after the invasion and occupation. in the end, it was a third alternative that won. it was an alternative strongly backed by kennedys, jack vanities, very -- that was to order a naval blockade of cuba to prohibit for shipments of weapons and then to demand the
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removal of the missiles already there in return for calling off the blockade. that was indeed a very tense moment. there were pictures i, remember seeing them of russian ships laden with more missiles, hit right straight for the american blockade. fortunately, russian ships turned and went back. one person at the time, i think it was, it might have been robert mcnamara, and he, case where we were eyeball to eyeball. the
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other fellow blinked. sometimes, events, in retrospect seemed to have been less serious than they appeared at the time. the cuban missile crisis was just the opposite. various documents since uncovered and subsequent testimonies from various participants indicated the launching of a nuclear attack on the united states was even more likely then believed at that time. i think it is true that the commanders of those sites had been authorized under certain conditions to actually fired missiles. well, in any case, the afterglow of this apparent success, kennedy was widely praised or having stood up boldly to the russians and having forced them to back down. almost everybody looked around this is a great trial for kennedy. however, subsequent historians have questioned that actions, and suggested that he was wrong, dangerously wrong, and taking an action with so directly threaten the russians and enforcing khrushchev to bite down and that's lose faith. the key to this argument, the position taken by some that the
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missiles in cuba really constituted no threat to the united states, that is they did not change the strategic balance of power that already existed. even without putting missiles in cuba, the russians already had missiles that could reach the righted states from other bases, and indeed for itself. >> kennedy's secretary of defense robert -- or focus on mr. fencing amy so it is a missile. it makes no great difference whether you are killed by missile fired from the soviet union or from cuba. well i think there are several problems with that interpretation. even strategic considerations involved with national security were not at stake. so what was at stake? the answer, quite simply seems to have been prestige. but to understand this, it must be remember that kennedy had been criticized as weak ever since the bay of pigs disaster, when he was acutely conscious of any questioning of his personal courage. moreover as a politician, he wanted to be reelected in 1964 and knew the public was like to the charge
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that he was not strong enough to lead a national international crisis, unless he took further action in cuba. so it seems kennedy may have taken the world dangerously close to possible destruction, largely for political purposes. in addition to the berlin and cuba problems, can be faced growing concerns in vietnam. pressure was increasing from some quarters for american military involvement to prop up the weakening anti communist regime that is being threatened both for the communist north of vietnam and by the pro communist vietcong internally. kennedy was reluctant to commit with military personnel. but he did agree to send so-called military advisers. this included special forces units. henry had persuaded the military brass to allow them to where their distinctive green berets. this will things would've appealed to kennedy's sense of glamour and intrigue. he was a great fan of ian
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fleming, the james bond novels. this was the kind of thing that sort of appeal to him. in any case, some critics claimed it was kennedy who was initially responsible for american involvement in the war, which is vastly increased of course, on the behest of lyndon johnson. the argument, controversy remains, as to what would have happened. what if kennedy had lived? what would happen in vietnam? well, there's no consensus on that, his supporters say undoubtedly he would have gotten us out of that. he was too smart to be dragged into a protracted war and so forth. in fact, i think on one occasion he said something like, i think he said, i will get us out of vietnam. when it happens, i will be as a communist appeaser, but i can
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do it. we have to be reelected first, and that was a paraphrase. others who we of course do not know, but the fact but others, the spectacle of that, pointed out something i never thought of all along, which is you know, the same people that were advisers to lyndon johnson, with the escalation, they were the same advisers that he had. i mean, if they advise kennedy to do differently than they advised johnson, with the war have escalated even under kennedy? it is an unknown. it will remain so. now, having surveyed kennedys foreign policy involvement, let's now look at his domestic power. it will not take long. well, it is blank. actually, i am kidding. it was better then that. but they were
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not too terribly dramatically significant consequences. there were some, like the peace corps, that was established to send young americans to underdeveloped nations to help improve themselves, a lasting program, as you well know. and sort of an aside, i think this is true, we boasted about this for many years, with mary washington. mary washington has sent more volunteers into the police corps than any college in the united states, the inverse of the of the united states. certainly based as a percentage of this student population. i cannot believe it is a total number situation, it's a small school. but proportionately, we have sent a lot of graduate students into the peace corps, and some faculty members. somewhat less successful was his alliance for progress program. it was a ten-year, 20 billion dollar program to aid
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latin american nations. sort of a martial plan for latin america, a design to head off a more castro-like regimes in that area. the most spectacular legislative achievement was securing the passage of trade expansion act of 1962. an act which gave the president increased power to mow tariffs, and in some case, and paradigm to eliminate tariffs altogether. and one facet of the kennedy administration not to be overlooked was that he persuaded congress to pass the original appropriations for the man on the moon program, thus beginning that adventure which culminated before the end of the decade, as he called for, culminated in neil armstrong's famous one small step. still, despite the successes, the kennedy new frontier program achieved far less than his supporters had hoped for. two of kennedy's pet projects,
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medicare, and federal aid for public schools, which was rejected by congress, also under's leadership, little significance, civil rights legislation was enacted. although the bill that would become the civil rights act of 1964, under lyndon johnson was already in congress and on its way to passage with kennedy's support. although not with any great enthusiasm. but perhaps the most significant development of his administration was his signing of the nuclear test ban treaty with the soviet union. and an agreement on banning atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. if it was the most important achievement of his presidency, it was also to be the last. in late november of 1963, kennedy went to texas on a political mission to try to aid democratic candidates in that state. he had been warned against hostility against him, towards him in texas, about the
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possibility of violent demonstrations against him. but as it turned out, the early reactions to his visit or generally positive. indeed, things are going so well that on the morning of number 22nd, he remarked that this trip is turning out to be terrific. here we are in dallas. looks like everything in texas will be fine for us. but within hours, he was dead. lyndon johnson has been sworn in as president of the united states. one historian put it, this simply. " the assassination affected america -- and the world -- unlike any other single event in modern history. ". well, i have to steele myself against aggressions with some of this. but as one who is old enough to remember it, i can recall what a sense of
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unreality there was about it. it is hard to describe. since then, so many things have happened, it is like nothing you can't believe. among other things. but this one, you could not believe. i could not believe it. the president of the united states was killed? it just didn't seem possible. certainly, no single event in modern times has been the subject of such intense controversy as that assassination. few events have produced so much confusion, probably to the point, that answers to many questions regarding that event will never be answered. basic facts, most people agree on, well not everybody agrees on. but it is generally believed that at least one shot that killed him was fired from the sixth floor
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of the texas book depository. and there, investigators found a rifle, the rifle that fired that shot, it belonged to lee harvey oswald, who was arrested. and while in custody, and in the process of being transferred to another prison, lee oswald was shot and killed by jack groovy, the dallas nightclub operator, with connections to the mafia. and ruby was convicted in early of 1964, died in prison in 1967. well, lyndon johnson moved quickly to appoint a blue ribbon committee to investigate strange involvement, unexplained circumstances surrounding the assassination, shared by chief justice warren, who saved many americans, including future president gerald ford. they wanted to put
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the matter to rest as quickly as possible. so enormous amounts of evidence were considered. the warren commission issued its final report in september of 1964. 900 pages of the actual report, with 6710 footnotes, and an additional 26 volumes, that is 20,000 pages, evidence, the main conclusions being number one, that lee harvey oswald acting alone killed kennedy. secondly, jack ruby acting alone killed oswald. third is that there was no credible evidence for a conspiracy, domestic or foreign. they concluded all of the shooting came from that dallas book depository window. despite this overwhelming documentation, the american people were highly skeptical of these conclusions which many regarded as quote, blue ribbon whitewash. the gallup poll indeed indicated that an approximate 80% of the
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american people did not believe that. why such skepticism? well one reason is human nature, the desire to seek a natural explanation, for horrific events like this one, there must be something to it, you might not want to know what those regions are behind it, but at least you might make some sense. this made no sense. technical matters, questions arose about whether oswald had a technical ability to fire those shots. the eyewitnesses claimed they were other shots fired from the so-called grassy knoll, an area in front of the motorcade, people in an area said they heard shots, they docked, hit the ground when they fought shots were fired from their. but no gun was ever found there. but that was something that the people
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brought up. in any case, as a result of such questions and many other ones, in 1978, congress established a committee, a house collect committee on assassinations to reopen the investigation. the following year, six billion dollars later, the committee issued this report with these major conclusions. lee harvey oswald did indeed fire three shots from that window. one of them killed kennedy. scientific acoustical evidence established a quote, high probability noted, and certain high probability, that a second gun was fired from the front but missed. nobody was ever found, as i said. and on the basis of available evidence they concluded that kennedy again quote, was probably assassinated. as a result of a conspiracy, the extent of which the committee could not determine. well, despite such indeterminate findings, the
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american public apparently has had no wish to pursue the matter. incredibly, even though the vast majority still seems to believe that oswald did not act alone, and there was indeed a conspiracy, subsequent polls have shown as much as 70% of the american public is opposed, has been opposed to reopening the case. well, maybe indifference to the family, maybe fear that they might be found, certainly, i think at the futility of it all, it gets greater and greater as time goes by. well, ladies and gentlemen, i wish i knew the answer, but i do not, and you do not. and i don't know if we ever will. now, now that we have examined kennedy's presidency, with both foreign and domestic affairs, let's finally turn into an overall assessment of his contributions,
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or lack thereof, as a revisionist would have it. although kennedy had his critics, while he was alive, it was only after his death that certain facts came to light, or at least certain allegations were made that tended to tarnish his reputation. among the matter of such revelations, was one that kennedy put most eloquent of public speakers, could be gross, crude and vindictive in his private conversations. this came out of ben riley, the washington post, then bradley in his 1975 book conversations with kennedy. more substantive and significant, we're charged later that said kennedy had authorized illegal wiretaps by the fbi on martin luther king, because he believed that his entourage had been infiltrated by communist agents. additional bugs were also planted in king's bedroom, prompting one observer to comment that quote,
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nothing that occurred out of nixon was as sleazy and reprehensible as this activity that began with kennedy. even more damaging perhaps, a more ironic, the allegation that during the kennedy administration, the cia was deeply involved in conspiracies to assassinate certain world leaders. sometimes those assassination plots were successful, particularly, in the murder of the army in south vietnam, and then in the dominican republic. most notably, with regard to fidel castro, unsuccessful. just how much kennedy knew about these efforts is uncertain. it seems that the cia sometimes operated pretty much on its own in those days. but one critic goes so far to say, slightly quoted, " it seems clear from the record at jfk himself was involved in these assassination plots. and wraps the closest confirmation comes from his vice president, lyndon johnson, who was quoted
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as having leaders said, " we have been operating a murder incorporated at can't be. " the process involved a legislation, association with a mafia. still worse was the revelation that kennedy himself may have had ties, indirect though they would have been, to certain mafia leaders, because he shared with at least two of them, an attractive young woman by the name of judith campbell. in 1975, she revealed that she had an intimate affair with kennedy, which had been carried on in various locations, up to and including the white house itself. and those were also allegations about marilyn monroe, and so forth. this brings us to the controversial matter of kenny's alleged womanizing. in her psycho historical study, revisionist writer nancy clinch goes as far to say that kennedy -- kennedy was an intensely sex driven man who showed hyperactive sexuality, in the form of an obsessive need to conquer a multitude of women. it was all part of the macho atmosphere in
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which he was reared. she claims, one in which all of the kennedy boys were expected to live up to the masculine mystique. it is fairly clear kennedy was not given to monogamy. it is clear from most people who had the knowledge of what was going on in washington those days, there were indeed many, many sexual escapades that were kept quiet, that would not be kept quiet in our times. the assumption is that all such escapades were consensual. no allegation to the contrary. but nonetheless, in our times, this sort of behavior certainly would not go to kennedy's credit. if you are interested in this salacious
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topic, you might be interested in a recent book by steven watts, university of missouri historian, talks of jfk and the masculine mystique. professor watts spoke in our late live series in 2020, and if you would like to hear his lecture on the subject of kennedy and the masculine mystique, you can access it by going to the great lives website, news slash great lives, and in archives for 2020, you can find professor watts's interesting lecture on this topic. now, in addition to the accusations regarding excessive, well, extensive shall we say, extensive womanizing, recent
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allegations have asserted that an examination of kennedy's medical records indicates that he was very often ill and relied heavily on drugs to the point but might reasonably be called an addiction. i will clean the language up for you a little bit, one story is that his brother bobby once confronted him with the dangers implicit with certain such drugs. kennedy replied inwards like, i don't care what it is. it makes me feel better. i'm going to take it. well all of this, i have been saying the last few minutes, is part of the revisionist assessment that so many historical figures are subjected to. as one of the revisionist's herself, says in her interpretation, they result " from the biographer or historian who feels compelled in his or her pursuit of truth, not to omit or to distort, but
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to tell everything. " in light of that, what can we conclude? the greatness of john fitzgerald kennedy. it clearly depends on what yardstick we choose by which to measure him. and it is interesting, that he stated his own view on that matter quite clearly and succinctly. the true measure of presidential success, he said, " is concrete achievement ". by that yardstick, his own, he could hardly qualify as great. although his tangible accomplishments were more significant than many revisionist's have admitted, even the most avid historical supporters claim they were sufficient to be considered to be truly great in and of themselves. what they unanimously contend with is that his greatness consisted largely on intangibles. the promise of great things yet to come, which were an achieved because of a life cut short. so the literature is filled with
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phrases, to quote a few, he was not so great for what he did, as for what he was about to do. what was killed in dallas was not just a president, but the promise. he planted seeds of hope but did not live to reap the harvest, so forth and so. on now the revisionist on the other hand do not accept this view. one put it this way. not by accident is hope a recurring word among its admirers. for if ever there was a politics of hope, it was that practiced by kennedy. our hope that he had a remedy for the social ills that he described so graphically. his hope that we would be patient while he figured out what to do. the legacy he left was the enduring hope that some of things would have been better, were he still alive. some critics go so far as to even reject the notion that kennedy brought significant new energy and attitude it to the white house. one of them referred to slash unger's comment, fresh winds were blowing and so forth, said that
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we now know that those fresh winds were blowing hot air. a good many of those new ideas, tired clichés, and vile wrappings but some of those new men brought disaster. their excitement came from a lust of power. but in any event, the revisionist's have still not totally dominated the historical graphical field. even one of them are gradually admits, quote, the kennedy legend lives on. one diminished by promises unfulfilled, mistakes better forgotten and doubts steeled or the cold hand of death. well, while we may ask, why is this continuing era of greatness, in absence of any truly great achievement? perhaps because greatness lies after all, not necessarily in good figures, in what they say or embody, or what they seem to be. jack kennedy presented to
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the american people the embodiment of a great deal that was american life, as well as the province of even better things to come. it did not always work out that way, but that is where the image endures. his greatness then, to quote his adviser, historian, theodore sorenson maybe, as sorenson says, no more summed up in a book, then most arts concerto could be summed up in a series of notes. he seemed to truly greater than some of this parts, then the character is complete. was john f. kennedy than a great president? perhaps not really, perhaps there were too many shortcomings. and so if used to be considered a great, heroic figure, it must be as a hero, unfinished and flawed. on the other, and perhaps he's the closer the country came, in the 20th century to achieving presidential greatness. as one journalist expressed it, he was the last president of the american people looked up to, the old unquestioning way. he was in short, the last leader
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in a time where americans were eager to follow. and so in part because we have changed, our heroes may be hard to come by. certainly, there has been no one to replicate him, not an observer of affluence, and someone put it this way, the country since his death has known goodman. and it has known strong men. but there has been no one since prince jack, who could make the poor folks hope, the smart folk laugh and the womenfolk faint. from today's vantage point, it seems difficult into grant status and true greatness to kennedy, he was certainly no saint in his personal life. he showed significant shortcomings in his political career. and, yet he undoubtedly had the ability to instill courage, inspire hope. and so even if he did not meet his own expressed standard of greatness, concrete achievement, there are many who still contend he provided significant characteristics of leadership
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to warrant admiration. and in that light, threw him purely on his tangible achievement, it seems somewhat unfair. his greatest achievement i think, is transformation of the american spirit. he's reawakening of the american dream. historian author speak to that when he wrote, quote, the energy that he released, the standards he set, the purposes he inspired and the goals he established will guide the land he loved for years to come. so the contribution of john f. kennedy transcended the tangible accomplishments, not which by greatness is often judged. thus, he remains now as he was then, the symbol of the promise of america, which is after all, not just the very essence of america. and with those qualities that he embodied have been to the decades since his death, often seemed in such
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3:42 am >> good evening. i'm associate professor and chair of the presidency program at the university virginia public affairs. on behalf of the center the lbj's foundation, like to welcome you to the lyndon b. johnson in the white house takes on the ground jewel in the archives. president johnson he declared it is all here, the story of her time. there's no better example of that history is 650 hours of telephone conversations that lbj's did covering key issues of


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