On the 50th commemoration of his tragic and conspiracy-inviting assassination–a “Homeric myth”-inspiring tale according to historian Robert Caro— does JFK deserve the accolades for accomplishing important things in his short presidency?
Others note that Kennedy had other achievements. Robert Dallek makes the case that Kennedy’s greatest contribution was his negotiations that averted a global thermonuclear war:
Most notably, he saved the world from a nuclear war with his astute diplomacy during the October 1962 confrontation with the Soviet Union over Cuba. As he privately said at the time, the military leadership wanted to bomb and invade, but no one alive then would survive to tell them they were wrong.
And while critics focus on the minutiae of those 13 days, Kennedy’s real success was what came after.
The young president waxed idealistic–a charge some say created unrealistic expectations not only for future successors but for the body politic. But even if this is true, he certainly scores points for inspiring oratory:
“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war, not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace — the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living — and the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women — not merely peace in our time but peace in all time,” Kennedy said with the Cuban Missile Crisis behind him, the nuclear threat of the Cold War still casting a shadow on the geo-political landscape and the fateful intervention in Vietnam looming on the horizon.
That speech captured the heart and soul of Kennedy as well as any other, a speech about what he called “a more practical, more attainable peace.” It was a new approach to the world and solving its problems, and one that would greatly inform this moment in American history.
This, from the president who said: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” Diplomacy may not always work–but it is a far better alternative to open conflict, even if it must be leveraged with hard power and coercion to be effective.