Fascinating and contradictory character, John F. Kennedy is one of the most remembered American politicians of the second half of the 20th century. After becoming the first Catholic to become president of the United States, he promoted a policy of reforms aimed at recovering world primacy for his country, put in doubt by the Soviet space successes. His political projects were cut short by his assassination in 1963, an assassination whose motives have never been fully clarified and which has given rise to multiple conjectures. The premature death of the president (whose family has been surrounded by an aura of doom, since several of his members died in tragic circumstances) contributed to giving him a mythical character.
The American history of the Kennedy clan dates back to 1848, when an Irishman named Patrick Kennedy arrived in the promising land of the United States and established himself as a cooper. One of his grandsons, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, took over more than half a century later from the discreet estate put together by his grandfather and his father and built with it one of the greatest fortunes in America.
a mighty clan
Joseph Patrick Kennedy, familiarly called Joe, showed from childhood a great aptitude for business and a determined desire to prosper. Married to Rose, an enterprising young daughter of John Fitzgerald, former mayor of Boston, he began to amass his wealth in this city, building it up in housing management, stock market speculation and the film industry. Joe was shrewd, cool, and extremely smart when it came to money; as he had helped Theodore Rooseveltduring his presidential campaign, he obtained a special permit to import liquor for «therapeutic purposes» during the Prohibition period; when his cellars were full, the law was repealed and Joe was able to ship off all his cheap liquor like gold. When the economic crisis of 1929 broke out, he was one of the few who came out on top, and was even able to make some profits.
One of his sons, named John Fitzgerald Kennedy after his maternal grandfather, was born on May 29, 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts. The future president of the United States was the second brother in a long line of Joe, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Pat, Jean, Bobby and Teddy. In order to prepare them from early childhood to become true Kennedys, the father took it upon himself to foster in all of them a firm discipline and a healthy spirit of competition: «I don’t care what you do in life, but do what whatever you do, be the best in the world. If you have to break stone, be the best stonemasons in the world.»
For John, it soon became clear that he had nothing to do with his brother Joe, a muscular, intelligent young man with a brilliant speech and great personal magnetism; John, on the other hand, was rather weak, shy and introverted. While studying at the Canterbury School in Connecticut and later at Harvard University, the shadow of «preferred» Joe continually hovered over the conscience of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. At the same time that his brother was achieving academic success in Britain, John contracted hepatitis and was forced to interrupt his studies for long periods. He eventually recovered, but despite his efforts to stand out, he never had much success in the classroom. At Harvard he only got outstanding grades late in his career and only in economics and political science. Sport managed to interest him more than these intellectual disciplines and at no time was he attracted to a political career, for which his older brother seemed destined.
In 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for president, his father paid off his campaign determined to try his luck in politics. He managed to be president of the federal merchant marine commission, and later, in 1937, he was appointed ambassador to Great Britain. That descendant of immigrants, fervent Catholic and always ambitious, had made an enormous fortune and now he also triumphed in the field of politics. His two eldest sons accompanied him to Europe as helpers, and John was able to travel to the USSR, Turkey, Poland, South America, and other regions, the status of which he promptly reported to the family patriarch.
It was as a result of this tour that John began to take a serious interest in politics. Back in the United States, he threw himself into his studies and managed to improve his academic grades considerably. He was interested in the different conflicts that would lead to the Second World War, and especially in the attitude of Great Britain towards Europe. From all these notes came the subject of his thesis, Why England slept ( Why England slept ), a title taken from Churchill ‘s speeches and which earned him a magna cum laude graduation in June 1940. He later published the book that summarized this investigation, and came to sell eighty thousand copies.
Commander in World War II
The optimistic life of the Kennedys suffered, after World War II , a sharp turn. Joseph Patrick Kennedy’s isolationist stance and his lack of collaboration with the British government forced him to leave the embassy. His sympathies for General Franco were well known , and on his return to Boston he earned a well-deserved reputation as an anti-Semite for his animosity toward the many European Jews who had taken refuge in his land.
At the start of World War II, his brother Joe enlisted in the air force and John wanted to join the Navy, overcoming medical obstacles stemming from a childhood back injury. He was twenty-five years old when he received his commission as commander of a torpedo boat operating in the Pacific.
The two officers and ten soldiers under him shared numerous successes with him fighting the Japanese. But on August 2, 1943, while he was on a mission for which he had volunteered, a Japanese destroyer boarded them in the middle of the night and split the patrol boat in half. Several crew members died in the crash. The survivors drifted for fifteen hours and John was commendable in dragging one of his wounded soldiers to shore. Although some have attributed the mishap to John’s recklessness, the truth is that the young Commander Kennedy was considered a war hero.
The convalescence was long. His back injury had worsened and John thought that his battered physique was not up for too many dreams of political glory. However, fate came to meet him: his brother Joe his died on August 12, 1944 in a plane crash, when he was trying to destroy the German bases of the V-1 and V-2 flying bombs. The patriarch turned his eyes towards him and decided that he should fill Joe’s vacancy in the fight to win the presidency of the United States.
In 1945, when John was working as a correspondent for William Randolph Hearst ‘s «empire»and had already covered several international conferences, Joseph Patrick Kennedy expressed his wish that he take Joe’s position and dedicate himself to politics. John had to learn to overcome his shyness and his aloofness to become a professional politician. Shaking hands with strangers, smiling at journalists and always having a more or less ingenious phrase on his lips for them began to be his daily bread. His broad smile, boyish looks, and wistful eyes soon found adherents within the Democratic Party and among voters, fascinated by his youth and by his image as a bright, upstanding college student. After an exhaustive campaign in which he was always financially and doctrinally supported by his family,
A brilliant political career
John F. Kennedy quickly rose to prominence on the American political scene. His legislative action, however, was discreet. He was characterized, first, by a retroactive disapproval of the Roosevelt government and by the presentation of several projects with a social content, rejected in most cases. The most remarkable thing about this first stage of his political life was his open support for all international aid: the loan granted to Great Britain, the aid to Greece and Turkey, the Marshall Plan and other related measures. In 1949 he surprised with a speech hostile to US policy in China, because of which, he claimed, the United States had lost the chance of achieving a non-communist China.Joseph McCarthy.
-Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope or dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our Nation.
-The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.
-Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.
-A child miseducated is a child lost.
-The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a ‘Harvard man’ is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.
-Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another.
-Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.
-The greater our knowledge increases the more our ignorance unfolds.
-Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.
-Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.
-The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.
-For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won—and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier…. But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.
-Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.
-The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is unchangeable or certain.
-Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
-Life is never easy. There is work to be done and obligations to be met – obligations to truth, to justice, and to liberty.
-I would rather be accused of breaking precedents than breaking promises.
-Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.
-The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.
-If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.
-Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.
-Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.
-Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.
-If not us, who? If not now, when?
-We choose to go the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.
-For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.
-Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past are certain to miss the future.
-Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot. There’ll be great presidents again … but there will never be another Camelot.
-A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.
-Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.
-Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.