The entire world knows that today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK and the end of the country's innocence. And while some American outlets are okay with airing out some of Kennedy's dirty laundry—his infidelities, his political misfires—the general tone in the states has been mournful. Where were you when you heard the news? Who really killed Kennedy? Major media outlets around the world aren't quite as enamored by the myth of the Kennedy family. They're more free to criticize him and the U.S. enduring fascination. The world is a little less forgiving, even 50 years later.
JFK: "A greater president dead than alive"
During an interview with France's TF1 — the country's most popular station, though its news tends to lean to the right — historian Thomas Snégaroff said that Kennedy's record was weak both domestically and internationally. He goes on to say that the media's current obsession with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination is partly due to the fact this is "one of the last chances for the media to interview" the eye witnesses. Also, our nostalgia for Kennedy and the '60s is also evident from the popularity of Mad Men, or Stephen King's 11/22/63 time travel novel. Not because he was killed on national television or anything. But really, it's all just a myth, as America longs for a bygone era:
All this has led to a kind of mystification of reality based on the youth, heroism, glamor and even physical courage of JFK while suffering a lot because of his [spinal injuries]. This myth of a strong and virile America partly explains why, paradoxically, Kennedy was a greater president dead than alive.
Yep, he went there. Snégaroff also doubts the necessity of an eternal flame, and thinks Kennedy's burial at Arlington gives a false sense that he's a war hero. He also credits President Obama for reigniting the American Dream, though that's not really a compliment.
JFK: Kind of overrated
There were two big presidential landmarks this week, and policy consultant and commentator Terry Barnes, writing for Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, thinks Lincoln didn't get enough attention. He writes:
But overshadowed in the nostalgia for JFK and Camelot is a far more significant US presidential anniversary, which not only defined a nation-shaping conflict, but rededicated high ideals on which the United States was founded: values Australia shares as a freedom-loving and democratic nation.
One hundred and fifty years ago today, Abraham Lincoln spoke briefly in a field in rural Pennsylvania, to dedicate a new war cemetery. The place was Gettysburg: Lincoln's speech was the immortal Gettysburg Address.
Kennedy's death "marked" the end of an era in America. Lincoln's speech "defined" the beginning of a new era.
JFK: The "insatiable" betrayer
Corriere della Sera, a Milan-based paper that garners about 1.6 million visits a day, featured both a slideshow of Kennedy's lovers and an essay from an admirer in its coverage. The slideshow wasn't as in depth as this one from the New York Post, but it picked a pretty evocative Marilyn Monroe photo:
"Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." I was a girl when I heard these words from an American politician whose image, transmitted by the TV in black and white, was one of a kind, handsome, athletic [man], with laughing eyes and class to spare, who was to become president of the United States. His name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It was love at first sight.
After he died the nation mourned, she wrote, but eventually the stories of his infidelities popped up. "Year after year, sprang memorials of women with whom the most fascinating politician of the world had largely betrayed Jacqueline Bouvier, before and after marriage," she writes. Modignani says she doesn't believe the rumors, though she lists a lot of them: how Kennedy snuck girls into the White House when Jackie wasn't there, how Jackie signed a contract with Kennedy's father to stay with him through the cheating, how Jackie was only upset when JFK bedded her friends. It's lyrical, and reminds you that Modignani is a romance novelist.
For her the affairs don't smear Kennedy's reputation because of his political works, but because he was the sort of cheater with a heart of gold. "Among the interns overwhelmed by the charm of the young president, there was also Mimi Beardsley Alford, who wrote his memoirs about their meetings, stating that, in the end, Kennedy loved only one woman, his wife," Modignani notes.
JFK: Definitely, definitely a cover-up
Given that Fidel Castro and JFK didn't get along, it makes sense that the major Cuban papers (heavily controlled by the government) wouldn't pay tribute on the 50th anniversary of his death. That's not to say that they don't remember. An October piece in Granma, the newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, outlined the various CIA and military officials responsible for Kennedy's murder, then added in a warning for the current president:
LBJ had not only overturned JFK’s decision to downscale the war in Vietnam, but expand it, and had also refused to improve relations with Cuba, as Robert [Kennedy] proposed to do when he assumed the Presidency.
Something similar to Johnson’s approach is now being undertaken by President Obama, insisting on attacking Syria and maintaining the blockade of Cuba, despite Kennedy’s legacy.
Cuba did acknowledge one anniversary, however. On February 3, 2013 Juventud Rebelde (a communist paper for the youth) published an article marking the 51st anniversary of the day Kennedy signed a bill continuing the U.S. blockage of Cuba. "The president's decision did little more than formalize hostile policies and sanctions that Washington applied to the island since the triumph of the Revolution, on January 1, 1959," argues Juventud. But then what else would we expect after the Bay of Pigs?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.