History of John F Kennedy


For one brief shining moment…

On November 22, 1963, a shot rang out in Dallas, Texas, ending the life of John F. Kennedy, the most popular post-WWII President.

He was the youngest American President voted to the office, having succeeded Dwight D Eisenhower, the oldest President at the time. Kennedy was attractive, winsome, and exuded youth and vitality, despite his health problems. Kennedy was supremely confident. The celebrities he courted in the public eye were American royalty.



Eisenhower and Kennedy


Kennedy Campaign

For the presidential campaign, Kennedy did not use the Democratic Party machine but appealed directly to young people through television. The first-ever live TV election debate was held between JFK and Richard Nixon. Nixon had a face for radio. Kennedy appeared young and vibrant on television; he knew how to talk to the camera, while Nixon visibly sweat on air. Those who listened to the radio debate thought Nixon won, but it was the opposite of the televised debate.



Kennedy-Nixon Debate


I had asked my mother who she was going to vote for in the 1960 election. She said,

“Kennedy, he’s so good looking.”

I’m sure she had more serious reasons, like being a lifelong Democrat. But he only won by a majority of 0.25% of the popular vote. His inaugural address declared:

“The torch had been passed to a new generation.”


Kennedy Firsts

He represented a number of firsts for an American president. He was Catholic at a time when 1/4 of the electorate said they would not vote for a Catholic. In 1960 Martin Luther King Jr. said he “could not in good conscience” vote for a Catholic.

Three years earlier, the Soviets had launched Sputnik, the first space satellite, into orbit, and the space race began in 1957. America was made aware of Civil Defense (CD) in booklets, pamphlets, and flyers. People were building bomb shelters; schoolchildren were drilled to seek protection from nuclear bombs by hiding under their desks.


Kennedy Creations

He is remembered not so much for what he accomplished but for what he started. Though he served only 1,000 days in the Oval Office, he started the Peace Corps, created security links with Israel, pushed the nuclear test ban treaty, and spoke out on civil rights and affirmative action in hiring. At his peak, he had an 83% approval rating (by comparison, the current administration: 38%).

He created a mission for the American people. In 1961 the first man in space was Soviet Yuri Gagarin. Predating the 5-year mission of Star Trek‘s USS Enterprise, Kennedy announced in 1961:


President John F. Kennedy, May 25, 1961

President John F. Kennedy, May 25, 1961

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Though he would not live to see it, the U.S. beat that goal in 1969 when Apollo 11 landed at Tranquility Base on the Moon.


Kennedy Challenges

Yet his Presidency was not without its challenges. His meeting with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna was a personal and professional failure, which subsequently saw the erecting of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the Iron Curtain. Kennedy expanded our role in Vietnam. The failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba was a disaster.

While the Kennedy presidency continues to capture the imagination of new generations of Americans, older ones look back in nostalgia. I was a boy when he was assassinated, and I remember, as if it was yesterday, writing down on a piece of school paper which I still have:

“Today President John F. Kennedy was killed.”


Kennedy Legacy

Kennedy started his Presidency by saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you,” and ended it in Dallas, where he was to give a speech to propose “cutting personal and corporate income taxes.”

His Presidency has often been compared to that of King Arthur’s Camelot. His wife, Jackie Kennedy, refurbished the White House, making a Versailles in D.C., and subsequently filmed a tour of the Presidential mansion seen in 106 countries.


Kennedy Blue Room

Kennedy Blue Room

The handsome and charming prince of a prominent Boston family married the beautiful French-educated princess of elegance and grace. JFK often played the title song from the then-popular stage musical before going to bed.

The musical ends with King Arthur singing:

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment
That was known as Camelot


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian


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About billpetro

Bill Petro has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

1 Comment

  1. Bill Petro on November 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Headline in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal above picture of Kennedy: “Fifty Year’s Ago Today, One Brief Shining Moment, Then a Deep Gloom”

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