The Life and Legacy of John F. Kennedy

Indisputably one of the greatest visionaries of the twentieth century, John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America, inherited some of the most challenging domestic and foreign policy problems this country has seen when he entered office. A young, Catholic man of Irish descent, Kennedy served in the United States Military during World War II, commanding torpedo boats in the South Pacific. JFK’s eldest brother, Joseph, died during that conflict, and their parents’ hopes passed to their second son as a result. Both of John F. Kennedy’s other brothers, Robert and Edward, also became prominent political figures in the United States, with Robert Kennedy even running for President in 1968. After World War II, Kennedy rose to become a Massachusetts congressman and later a Senator, running on a center-left platform. At the age of 43, he decided to run for President and was inaugurated by the Democratic Party in the 1960 presidential election. JFK’s main opponent in this presidential race was Richard Nixon, a Republican, who would be elected President just eight years later. Kennedy, a down to earth, handsome, and likable candidate, gained the support of the American people, and both he and his wife Jackie were perceived to be the quintessential American couple that common working class citizens respected and truly connected with. Eventually, he and his running mate, Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, won the presidency in a very close 303-219 electoral victory; Kennedy became the first Catholic President and the first President to have been born in the twentieth century.

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

As President, Kennedy faced some of the greatest challenges the United States had ever experienced. An optimist and visionary, he ran into many legal and monetary barriers to his plans by disagreeing with Congress and approaching policy in his own particular way. The Cold War with the Soviet Union essentially dominated his foreign policy, and in addition, Kennedy often ran into hostile encounters with Fidel Castro’s Communist Cuba. The 1960s were some of the roughest years in the Cold War, with tension building around the nuclear arms and space race with Russia. Even through this turbulent period, JFK continually advocated for world peace and nonviolence. In his 1963 “Peace Speech,” Kennedy proclaimed that the U.S. would be the first nation to stop the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, setting the stage for the Soviet Union to follow suit. Kennedy also urged young people to join the Peace Corps, which he helped organize in 1961. He had a vision for the end of the Cold War and peace with the Soviet Union. His optimistic view on foreign policy, and his strong conviction that mankind was capable of solving its own problems, showed his strong resolve and unfettered passion for a better world.

In addition, America’s youngest president also faced many problems at home with respect to civil rights. The controversial Civil Rights Act spearheaded by JFK prompted many state governments to take strong positions against his administration. Kennedy, a staunch proponent of racial equality, was unpopular among Southern conservatives, mainly from Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas. Many believe that this hatred of Kennedy’s stance on civil rights led to his assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Dallas, a more conservative city, despised him for his liberal views; some Dallas citizens even called him a socialist and a helper of communists. After his assassination, a multitude of conspiracy theories arose, one of which revolved around a member of JFK’s own inner circle. Some believe that Vice President Johnson, a Texan who supposedly hated Kennedy, arranged for his assassination in Dallas. No matter the true cause of Kennedy’s assassination, an entire nation was heartbroken, as for many JFK had represented the true essence of American culture and politics at the time, and was considered a maverick in many ways.

Since the fifty year anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination passed last Friday, many Americans still ask themselves how different the world would have been if Kennedy had served two terms as President. For instance, many believe that Kennedy would have been less aggressive about Vietnam than LBJ had been. Some speculate that he possibly would have sent less soldiers to the country, and therefore would have avoided the collateral damage done by Johnson’s offensive strategy. Perhaps Kennedy’s vision of Camelot, a perfect world, would have been realized, and perhaps world peace would have been attained.

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