JFK death left us with a mixed legacy, but idealism shines on

The China Post news staff

Fifty years ago today, the world was sent into shock as Americans grieved over the loss of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. “Anguish and unbelief, sorrow and depression, dismay and alarm sweep over the Nation in a vast wave of shock as the dreadful news from Texas penetrates the consciousness of the country,” opened the editorial of The Washington Post on Nov. 23, 1963. More than 40,000 books written about the 35th president of the United States is a number that captures obliquely the indelible mystique and scintillating charisma that surrounded the man. While the world still ponders the veracity of government investigations into his assassination, and a majority of Americans do not believe the Warren Commission’s findings that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone to kill Kennedy, that question should be demoted in favor of the more relevant questions about Kennedy’s legacy. How much did the man contribute, and how much was he worth to his nation and to the world?

The steadfastness of Kennedy’s performance in the Cuban Missile Crisis, as he stood firm to Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev, should not be exaggerated, but be firmly cast in the realist wisdom and craving for peace that the two men displayed during an hour when the world could very easily have fallen into a nuclear exchange. However, Kennedy was himself responsible for escalating tensions to the point that led to the missile crisis, so we have to be careful in granting credit for defusing a crisis of his (namely through the “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba) own making. Arguments about whether Kennedy would have committed as many troops as his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, to the lost enterprise of the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam are difficult to answer as they would have to rely on projecting a hypothetical course of history. What we do know is that under Kennedy, the beginnings of the bloody two-decade long quagmire that wounded a generation of Americans in lives lost and idealism torn up were initiated. The president sent military advisers to South Vietnam, and allowed President Ngo Dinh Diem to be overthrown.

Yet Kenney’s idealism still beckons us to take a look at what it has achieved. Kennedy’s rhetorical power, and the degree to which that power translated into practical change, is a debated link that determines the worthiness, the goodness of his presidency. Three speeches in 1963 encapsulated the soul of his presidency, each earning its place in history for its power and impact — his speech to American University’s convocation about peace on June 10, a hastily arranged but firmly conceived radio address to the nation on race on June 11, and the “Ich Bin En Berliner” address on June 26. Kennedy’s words left a lasting mark on a demoralized West Berlin population and became a milestone in the city’s resistance against communist forces. He is remembered by Germans to this day, according to Der Spiegel.