First U.S. President to be born in the 20th century. John
Fitzgerald’s birthplace was in Brookline, Massachusetts, was of Irish
descent, and was the second child among siblings. His parents had powerful
political connection. His schooling started in Brookline, continued at
Riverdale, NY and was completed at Choate School, Wallingford, Connecticut. In
1936 he enrolled at Harvard University and graduated in 1940 in International
Affairs. During this period, he traveled extensively in Europe and South
American countries and later assisted his father pen a memoir as the U.S.
Ambassador to Great Britain.
Kennedy’s military career was initiated in 1940 under his
father’s influence and he joined the U.S. Navy. He was assigned to the
Pacific Theater after Pearl Harbor bombing and was the commander of a Navy
patrol torpedo vessel named P T 109. During action in 1943, the warship was
rammed by the Japanese destroyer, Armagiri injuring him and his crew severely.
This spinal injury troubled him for the rest of his life. But he managed to swim
ashore with his crew in spite of the severe injury and this heroic act earned
him the “Naval and Marine Corps Medal”. His other decorations during
World War II constituted of Purple Heart, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and
World War II Victory Medal.
After the 2nd World War, Kennedy’s interest in political career was given
a thrust when he became the Democrat Mayor of Boston in 1946. In 1952, he became
a Senator defeating the Republican candidate, Henry Cabot Lodge. He married
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in 1953. In 1955, while recuperating from spinal surgery,
he wrote “Profiles in Courage”, which won the Pulitzer Prize in
history. He was re-elected in the Senate for a 2nd term in 1958. He declared his
intention to contest the Presidential election in 1960 and defeated his
Republican rival Richard Nixon in a closely contested poll in 1961. He was the
youngest and the first Roman Catholic President in U.S. history. His first
speech, as the President, electrified his constituencies and the phrase “ask
not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”
became an instant hit through out the world!
His foreign policy included “Bay of Pigs” invasion, the Cuban
Missile Crisis, building of the Berlin Wall, the Space Race, American Civil
Rights movement and the beginning of the Vietnam War. In the “Bay of Pigs”
mission, he permitted a band of Cuban exiles to invade Cuba to facilitate the
overthrow of Fidel Castro. The mission failed. Shortly, afterwards, the Soviet
Union launched a campaign against West Berlin.
Kennedy reinforced the Berlin garrison by increasing the U.S. military strength
which compelled the Soviet Union to relax its pressure on Central Europe. This
was followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962 when the Soviet Union
sought to install nuclear armed missiles in Cuba. He imposed blockade of Cuba
and also banned movement of weapons. This forced the removal of missiles from
Cuba and highlighted the futility of nuclear blackmailing. This event satisfied
Kennedy to initiate the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963. This helped in slowing
down the nuclear arms race in the world.
His domestic program was called “New Frontier” where he propounded
the steps to equalize citizens and promised to end racial discrimination. His
support of the Civil Rights movement remained intact in spite of fierce
opposition. One of his first Presidential Act was the creation of Peace Corps.
Through this program, the Americans extended help and assistance to the
underdeveloped nations of the world. Kennedy was staunch in his support of the
U.S. space mission and promised the first manned landing on Moon within the 60s.
His economic policy earned him distinction as it headed America towards
sustained expansion since World War II. One of his objectives was to eradicate
pockets of privation and poverty. With his tragic assassination on November 23,
1963 at Dallas, Texas, his grandiose plans for the American nation and the world
came to a sudden halt.