President Kennedy faced a foe more relentless than Khrushchev, just across the Potomac: the bellicose Joint Chiefs of Staff argued for the deployment of nuclear weapons and kept pressing to invade Cuba. A presidential historian reveals that Kennedy's success in fending them off may have been his most consequential victory.
In West Berlin in 1963, President Kennedy delivered his most eloquent speech on the world stage. The director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum tells the evocative story behind JFK’s words.
During the Kennedy years, The Atlantic regularly published unsigned reports that provided an insider's perspective on the mood in Washington. Here, the column described Kennedy's political ruthlessness, which helped him secure the Democratic nomination for president in 1960.
In assembling the youngest Cabinet in generations, the 43-year-old president insisted that his appointees think along similar lines and communicate easily. For the first time since the New Deal, an administration was in the hands of intellectuals.
The president's brother came to be considered one of the nation's most effective attorneys general. His interest in organized crime, dating to his Senate staff work during the 1950s, led him to crusade against illegal gambling, which was known to finance criminal enterprises.
"My father always told me that all businessmen were sons of bitches, but I never believed it until now," President Kennedy famously said when he felt steel executives had double-crossed him by raising prices.
In 1961, when President Kennedy declared that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, critics complained about the cost. In response, two scientists argued that the endeavor shouldn't be thought of in terms of budgets or even science, but rather in terms of pursuing a "great adventure" on behalf of mankind.
In 1960, Kennedy campaigned hard against the Republican negligence that had allowed the Soviet Union to overtake the United States in producing missiles. Once in office, however, JFK learned that there was no missile gap—which gave him an opening to negotiate with Moscow from a position of strength.
Every president of the postwar era longed for the approval of Walter Lippmann, the voice of the Eastern establishment. Here, Lippmann praised Kennedy for avoiding nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.
Conventional wisdom has tended to rank the Cuban missile crisis as the Kennedy presidency's highest drama and grandest success. Drama, yes. But this provocative recounting of the administration's policy toward Castro's Cuba suggests that Kennedy brought the crisis on himself.
"Many in government or close to it," The Atlantic noted in 1968, "will read the following article with the shock of recognition." An insider explained the bureaucratic imperatives that muzzled dissenters and kept policy makers ignorant of foreign cultures.
By shoring up U.S. military strength and resolve, President Kennedy persuaded the Soviet Union to back down in Berlin and Cuba, bringing a measure of peace to a world frightened about the threat of nuclear war.
"It is in keeping with the Atlantic tradition that we should strive to give the long view of our late president," the magazine noted shortly after Kennedy's tragic death. "We turn to Harvard's leading historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, for an estimate of President Kennedy's place in history."
In 1966, The Atlantic assigned the NBC News correspondent Douglas Kiker to take the measure of the late president's brother and political heir, who, seeing the presidency as his destiny and his due, was biding his time until Lyndon B. Johnson was out of the way.