I’ve never been interested in politics, except to, maybe, know which party is in power, who is heading the party, the opposition, and some of the influential party members. Nothing more. National or state. It was one of those lazy afternoons when I was lounging in the living room, zapping channels while my mum complained that I was getting way too lethargic for her liking, that I found ‘The Red Carpet’ on HBO showcasing some new Kevin Costner movie. With absolutely no interest I watched the interview with Mr. Costner, whose only other movie I liked was The Bodyguard, and then a Bruce Greenwood and then on came Steven Culp !! Not many people know that I completely adore this man for the CIA agent he portrayed on JAG some years ago, and I faithfully followed his career in Desperate Housewives and The West Wing as well. So it was only for the reason that one of my favorite actors was in the movie that I rented and watched Thirteen Days.
I was speechless. Confounded, even, as my interest in the only politician I’d ever liked came alive on the screen. An exaggeration? No, not for me. John F. Kennedy is the man I’m talking about. Probably the only politician I will ever like as much as I do. So much so that I read up every scrap of information I could get about him, his brother, Robert (that’s who Steven Culp plays in the movie 😉 ), and his son, John Jr.
The movie dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962, when American intelligence discovered that the Russians were constructing offensive missile sites in Cuba. Nikita Khrushchev, the then Premier of the Soviet Union, was considered, at the time, as the chief adversary of Kennedy, and this move by the Soviet to make Cuba a missile site only heightened Kennedy to show his resolve. Air and naval quarantines were ordered on all ships bound to Cuba, and ships suspected of carrying offensive weapons were to submit to an inspection by the U.S. Navy at or before the quarantine line. Just as an armed conflict seemed inevitable the Soviet’s pulled back promising not to set up missiles in Cuba and the U.S. responded by saying that it wouldn’t attack Cuba.
The movie beautifully dramatizes the entire situation. So much so that the viewer is captivated by the bureaucracy, military and politics of the time in the Kennedy administration. Notable characters, other the the President himself, his brother, the Attorney General and Kenneth O’Donnell (Kevin Costner’s character) Special Assistant to the President, would have to be the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara and the ambassador to the U.N. Adlai Stevenson. —- In truth this post wasn’t supposed to be about the movie, it’s about the President 😉 My apologies but this has become one of my all time favorite movies, having already watched the DVD more than 25 times. I never tire of it and I almost know all the dialogs by heart.
Anyway, a brief sketch about John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America, and the youngest, at the age of 43, to be elected into office.
Born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29, 1917, to a businessman (a multi-millionaire in later years), who later became an ambassador to Great Britain, John F. Kennedy was the second of nine children. He graduated from Harvard College in 1940, joined the U.S. Navy (shortly before the United States was involved in World War II). While on active duty in the Pacific in 1943, the boat he commanded was sunk by the Japanese and he performed heroically by rescuing his crew. He was discharged in 1945. In 1946, Kennedy successfully ran for a Boston based seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (he was re-elected in 1948 and 1950). As a congressman he backed social legislation that benefited his working class constituents. Although generally supporting President Harry S. Truman’s foreign policies, he criticized what he considered the administration’s weak stand against the Communist Chinese. He continued to advocate a strong, anti-Communist foreign policy throughout his career.
Kennedy challenged the incumbent Republican senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and won in 1952. Though he was ineffectual in the senate due to serious illness with back ailments (from his years in the Navy), he worked on a Pulitzer Prize winning book (1957, for biography) of biographical studies of America’s political heroes, entitled Profiles in Courage. Like his earlier book on English foreign policy, it revealed his administration for forceful political figures. This faith in activism was to become a hallmark of his presidency.
In 1956 Kennedy bid unsuccessfully for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination, and thereafter set his sights on the presidency, especially after his re-election to the senate in 1958. He continued during these years to support a firmly anti-Communist foreign policy. A cautious liberal on domestic issues, he backed a compromise civil rights bill in 1957 and devoted special efforts to labor legislation.
By 1960, Kennedy was but one of many Democratic aspirants for the party’s presidential nomination. He put together, however, a well-financed, highly organized campaign and won on the first ballot. As a northerner and Roman Catholic, he recognized his lack of strength in the south and shrewdly chose Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas as his running mate. Kennedy performed very well in a series of unprecedented television debates with his Republican opponent, Vice-President Richard M. Nixon.
Kennedy won the presidential election by a narrow margin on popular vote, to become the youngest man to win the presidency at the age of 43. He lacked reliable majorities in Congress. Primarily for these reasons, most of his domestic policies stalled on Capitol Hill. When advocates of racial justice picked up strength in 1962-63, he moved belatedly to promote civil rights legislation. He also sought a tax cut to simulate the economy.
Kennedy’s eloquent inaugural address – in which he exhorted the nation: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” – sounded cold war themes. Soon thereafter, the president acted on his anti-Communism by lending American military assistance to the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. The amphibious assault had been planned by the CIA under the Eisenhower administration. The actual invasion, however, was Kennedy’s decision and he properly took the blame for its total failure.
Next came the Cuban Missile Crisis, already outlined, where Kennedy’s stern mettle and prowess to deal with matters was brought out. As if chastened by the Missile crisis, the most frightening of the cold war, the Soviets and Americans in 1963 signed a treaty barring atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. Kennedy nevertheless remained as ready as before to stop Communist advances. He continued to bolster American defenses and stepped up military aid to South Vietnam.
By this time Kennedy was thinking ahead to the presidential campaign of 1964. In order to promote harmony between the warring factions of the Democratic party in Texas, he traveled there in November 1963. While driving in a motorcade through Dallas on November 22, he was shot in the head and died within an hour. The Warren Commission set up by President Lyndon B. Johnson, to investigate the assassination, concluded that the killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, 24 years old, had acted alone. No motive was established. Speculation persisted, however, that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy.
Kennedy’s funeral was held on November 25, 1963, the birthday of his son, John. F. Kennedy Jr. The final salute the young John Jr. gave as his father’s flag-draped casket was being carried out of St. Matthew’s Cathedral became one of the most iconic images of the 60’s. His body was moved to Arlington National Cemetery in 1967. He and Howard Taft are the only two president’s to be buried at Arlington.
Kennedy left behind a legacy, despite his short term in office and the lack of any ground breaking legislations during the time. However, people (not only Americans) still vote him as one of the best President’s in American history, ranking him in the leagues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Kennedy Space Center, named after him, is the chief civilian space launch facility in the United States. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1963, and since 1964, Kennedy’s portrait ( a profile) appears on the half-dollar coin. Other than the JFK airport in New York, there are several schools, highways, and even an island and an aircraft carrier (of the U.S. Navy) named in his honor.
[His brother, who took to him and followed in his footsteps, was also, sadly, assassinated after he won four of the five presidential primaries he stood for, while bidding to be the Democratic nominee for president.]
Despite the controversies that were showered on him, even to this day, in my eyes, he remains the best politician that ever was. I end with a quote of John F. Kennedy, also the tag line of the movie Thirteen Days.
“You’ll never believe how close we came.”