In this essay, it will be argued to what extent was Kennedy a great President? In order to answer this question properly, one must first consider the following points.
Kennedy was more interested in the way things looked than the actual substance of it. When Kennedy first came to power he wanted the nation to see that he achieved the ‘American Dream’, the idea that no matter how poor anyone was they could if they worked hard enough make it to the top. In truth Kennedy did not achieve the American dream he was not a ‘self-made millionaire’ even though he had come from Ireland and was a devout Roman Catholic (which made him a very unusual candidate for President, he was also the first American President who was Roman Catholic). Kennedy’s Grandfather had emigrated to America in the late Nineteenth Century and settled down in the industrial north-east. By marrying carefully and continuing business expansions meant that his father Joseph P Kennedy had risen to become on of America’s richest men.
Kennedy was very young, energetic and full of enthusiasm, when he took office in 1961 he declared that ‘the torch had been passed on to a new generation’. Kennedy set about making his White house a very different one compared to his those who had come before. He invited many experts in fields such as economics, history and philosophy so that he could learn from their wisdom. So glittering did his White House seem it was nicknamed Camelot after King Arthur’s castle. He tried to put out a very good media image of himself; he used his overall appearance as someone who was youthful, strong and full of energy. Kennedy also tried to present himself as a family man, who to a certain degree he did well but behind the man there were numerous affairs the most famous of all being with Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe plus he was also known to be tied with the Mafia.
Many people believed that Kennedy was more interested in foreign affairs than things that were going on closer to home.
‘Kennedy called his domestic policy the ‘New frontier’, and he hoped to recreate the spirit of Roosevelt’s Hundred days. But foreign affairs tended to dominate events.’
R. Cornwell World History in the Twentieth Century
When someone becomes President they make a big speech to the nation this is called an Inaugural address where the President lays out his plans for the future, says what he is going to do for his country and other countries. During Kennedy’s Inaugural speech he promised to improve the economy, to reduce unemployment, to tackle poverty through housing programmes and urban renewal projects and to take action against organised and juvenile crime. The most controversial of his pledges was his support to the civil rights movement. Kennedy was President for roughly three years and yet he had failed to do hardly any of his promises except for those about the civil for black people in America, but that took the courage and the deaths of many black people to make him take action. In June 1963 a civil rights bill was put before congress, it eventually passed stopping individual states to choose their own racial policy; many of the major parts of this bill were not carried out until after his death.
‘He was responsive, sensitive, humble before the people, and bold on their behalf’
Martin Luther King talking about Kennedy
One thing Kennedy did do a lot for though was the space program; this was one of the few things the congress agreed with unlike the most of his other ideas. By 1969 six years after Kennedy’s assassination America landed the first man on the moon. Although Kennedy did follow up on some of his promises, he fell short on the rest. Had Kennedy lived any longer then his goals may have been achieved. He did promote economical growth and unemployment did fall, but many people criticised him for failing to doing more during his time as President. In the 1970’s the British Journalist Henry Fairlie described the Kennedy record on domestic policy as on of ‘Absolute failure’.
Kennedy made some progress in trying to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. Certain parts of Vietnam and the surrounding areas were pro-American. To help them the Americans sent money and thousands of military advisers. Basically he was sending in troops to stop the spread of communism. In Laos the communist group Pathet Lao were putting pressure on the government. In Laos Kennedy had to accept that a comprise that the government shared power with the Pathet Lao. In the Vietnam the Americans were uncomfortable about the fact that the Diem’s government was corrupt and unpopular, in November 1963 Kennedy secretly gave the go ahead for a coup that overthrew and killed Diem. This did not help and led to full-scale war, which America eventually lost.
‘The view of Kennedy as the man of peace and the father of Dï¿½tente does not fit well when one considers his role in the escalation of activity in southeast Asia and his stubbornness over Cuba which brought world annihilation in the realm of distinct possibility’
Possibly the most dramatic part of Kennedy’s presidency was the Cuban Missile Crisis which began on 12th October 1962 and lasted for fourteen days. The Cuban Missile Crisis didn’t just appear from nowhere there many things leading up to it, Communism, Fidel Castro and the Bay of Pigs. In 1959 communist rebels in Cuba whom were led by Fidel Castro managed to overthrow the evil dictatorship of President Batista. Although President Batista’s regime had been a cruel one, Cuba had been dominated America and had been commercialised so rich American’s could have fun.
Castro started taking over the American companies and conversing with his fellow communists in the Soviet Union. This was one thing the Americans did not like. When Eisenhower was in charge he had the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) make plans for a group of anti-communist Cubans to return to Cuba and start a revolt to overthrow Fidel Castro, there was by no means enough Cubans to start a full scale revolution, and no one was particularly sure if the rest of Cuba would follow suit.
The only way it would ever work would be if there were huge amount of help from the Americans with things such as air strikes to knock out the Cuban Air Force. At the time there was no evidence that Eisenhower would even launch such a strike, but Kennedy looked at the plans and decided to launch immediately. Officially it was going to be the Cubans only who would start this uprising, calling on the Americans if they needed help. The Americans even fixed so that a Cuban air force plane landed on an American airfield making it seem like the Cubans were losing support.
When it landed the reporters could tell it was not a plane the Cubans flew and the machine guns still had the wrapping on. The revolt was a fiasco; the attackers landed at the Bay of Pigs and fired at everything sight eventually running out of ammunition. American ships that were supposed to bring supplies never came, the attackers had to surrender. Fidel Castro had a great deal of fun revealing to the world that it was the CIA who had plotted this attack. Now there was no chance of America and Cuba ever having any kind of relationship.
‘The abrupt failure of the Bay of Pigs resulted in personal embarrassment for the president.’ Encarta 1995
In the run up 2 the election Kennedy claimed that there was a great missile gap between America and the Soviet Union, where by the Soviets had more missiles than America, later on Kennedy found this to be untrue. In an attempt to catch up with the Americans the Soviets began to station missiles on communist Cuba. American spy planes flying over Cuba took photos of these sites which when fully operational could take out most major American cities in a matter of minutes. As soon as Kennedy saw the evidence he demanded that the sites be dismantled and no more ships would be aloud through because the Americans would put up a blockade. The Russian ship’s stopped. Moscow and Washington started sending messages across to each other; if America attacked Cuba then the Soviet Union would be prepared to launch a nuclear strike against America and it’s allies, Kennedy made it clear that he to would retaliate and if it became necessary he would strike the Soviet Union first. The Soviet Union denied the existence of any weapons on Cuba until the Americans showed them photographic evidence, which they also showed to the UN Security Council.
It seemed that war was imminent but Khrushchev (Russian President) sent a letter to Kennedy, saying that he would dismantle the missiles in Cuba and sent another letter saying he would only dismantle the missiles on Cuba if they dismantled theirs in Turkey. Kennedy replied to the first letter accepting Khrushchev’s first offer but ignored the second letter completely. Khrushchev did not say anything about the second letter and began to dismantle their missiles on Cuba. The crisis was now over, possibly the closest the world has been to all out nuclear war. A year after the crisis America and Russia decided to stop testing nuclear weapons. At the time Kennedy was considered a hero and took the credit for handling the crisis so well and keeping his nerve throughout. Many historians say that he took some very big risks and didn’t try to find a peaceful solutions to the crisis which could have very easily started nuclear war.
President Kennedy was shot dead whilst riding in an open top car on the 22nd of November, during a drive through Texas. He was supposedly shot by Harvey Lee Oswald, but there has been much speculation over this. For a long time after his death nobody said anything slanderous about him, he was put on a pedestal people said nothing but good things about him. It has only been in recent times that Historians have started to reveal the truth about him, his numerous affairs and his ties with the mafia. At the time of his death there was no criticism about the way he ran things but years later people are complaining about how little he did. We will never now if he would have kept by his promises.
Over his life Kennedy excelled in certain areas yet failed in others, he did numerous things for the space program and although he took dangerous risks during the Cuban Missile Crisis he managed to get through it without a nuclear war starting. Although Kennedy did manage to get bill passed for the civil rights campaign it took a few years after his death to get the major parts sorted. Many other things such as his promise to sort out poverty in America never happened, maybe because he didn’t have enough time, but during his three years as President he should have been able to achieve more.
I feel that Kennedy was to a small extent a great President, although he did not achieve much during his time as President, his ideas made other people going for the Presidency think about what they were going to achieve. In America today many of the issues that Kennedy addressed during his inaugural speech such as the black civil rights. Yet I still believe he could have done more during his time as President, if he had more time the issues he had addressed would be sorted out