Lost Potential and Controversy: Reflecting on JFK’s Diplomacy and Assassination.

JFK Diplomacy

Many scholars and admirers of JFK have wondered what might have been had he not been removed from his appointed journey so tragically in 1963. Some have argued that Kennedy would have forged stronger international ties.

He would have endured a tense summit meeting with Khrushchev over Berlin, but he might have forged a path toward detente.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)

Jack Kennedy grew up in a wealthy, politically connected Boston family of Irish Catholics. He attended elite private schools, sailed on his father’s yacht and vacationed at their summer home in Hyannis Port. His parents established trust funds that ensured financial independence for their children. After graduating from Choate, he worked briefly in newspaper work and enrolled at Harvard, two years behind his older brother Joe. In the Navy, he served as a lieutenant on PT 109 in the South Pacific, where he was rescued from a harrowing ordeal when his ship was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. After college, he entered politics and was elected to Congress, then the U.S. Senate.

He and his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier, had two children. He was in his early thirties when he suffered from the back injury that would plague him throughout his life. While recuperating, he wrote a book about acts of political courage by senators, which won a Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957. After his death, his mother donated his childhood home at 83 Beals Street in Brookline to the National Park Service and opened it to the public as a memorial to her son. It was remodeled to look as it did on the day of his birth.

PT 109 Flag

After PT-109 had escorted US transports for the invasion of the Russell Islands and aided the landings in New Georgia-Rendova, its crew began nightly offshore patrols to guard against Japanese warships and destroyer raiders making their way through the dangerous waters of Blackett Strait. PT boats were vulnerable to any number of large-bore guns on the enemy vessels and could be quickly defeated by even one salvo from a battleship or cruiser. The only weapon the PTs had was speed.

On August 1st, 1943, PT-109 was on one of those patrols. Its skipper, Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, was an exceptionally bright and talented officer who had earned high marks during his PT training in Rhode Island.

That night he was leading 14 PT boats in an attack against the ships of the Japanese “Tokyo Express” supply convoy. After firing their compliment of torpedoes, the PT boat attack force separated.

About 2 a.m. Kennedy noticed a shape approaching his boat in the darkness. He at first thought it was another PT boat, but it soon became clear that the shape was a massive Japanese destroyer. Before Kennedy could react, the Japanese ship rammed PT-109 and cut it in half. Two men aboard were killed and four others wounded, including Kennedy.

Assassination

In an era of short news cycles and rapid changes in the political landscape, Kennedy’s death was a shock that threw America into a frenzy. The assassination prompted Americans to question their sense of security, their notions of freedom and their ideas about democracy.

The day of the assassination loomed large over the lives of millions of people, triggering a national trauma that would linger throughout American history. The assassination spawned conspiracy theories and a mythology that has never faded.

Despite the CIA’s attempts to bury the evidence, there are still many who doubt the official story of what happened in Dealey Plaza. Historian Philip Shenon points out that a few key CIA documents have been released in recent years. They’re available on the non-governmental transparency website National Security Archive and also from the Assassination Records Review Board.

In 1992, partly as a result of Oliver Stone’s controversial JFK film, Congress passed the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act. Millions of documents relating to the assassination have been released over time, with Joe Biden authorising the release of the last batch this year. Every new burst of information feeds the speculation and conspiracy theories that surround the assassination. This includes the latest revelation by Paul Landis, a former Secret Service agent who was detailing to Jackie on the day of JFK’s assassination.

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