recent events in the courtrooms of Florida have dredged up bad memories of a far greater political tragedy, and one that still casts its shadow over American politics-the double assassination of Jack Kennedy in 1963 and Robert Kennedy in 1968.
The assassinations ensured there would no Kennedy dynasty-the fairy story began and ended with two men; one a charismatic world leader, the other his younger brother, Robert, who should have been his successor.
Like many people of my generation in the west, I was drawn into politics by JFK. It is hard to convey to people who have only known politics in a more cynical age just how he came to have this impact-you had to be there to feel it. But JFK also has many more tangible achievements to his name.
His handling of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, in which a nuclear conflagration between the world’s superpowers seemed inevitable, was exemplary. He was cautious as well as courageous. He repeatedly ignored the military experts around him who advocated an invasion of Cuba and opted instead for a naval blockade. The manner in which he made a belligerent Soviet Union peacefully withdraw its nuclear missiles from Cuba was crisis handling at its best.
In 1963 he took the heat out of the cold war with the first test ban treaty between the two superpowers. This was a direct consequence of the US’s success over Cuba and established a process of nuclear collaboration which lasted through to the end of the Soviet Union, and continues with Russia to this day. (This argument has recently been supported by the historian Lawrence Freedman, in his book Kennedy’s Wars, which concludes: “Jack Kennedy left the cold war in a far less dangerous state than he found it.”)
Further, against the advice of his generals and senior advisers-including Lyndon Johnson-Kennedy refused to send official ground troops into Vietnam and Laos. The first introduction of US military advisers actually began in the late 1950s under President Eisenhower and there were still only advisers in South Vietnam when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. (Johnson was responsible for an about face two years later and by 1968 there were 500,000 US ground troops in Vietnam.)
In terms of economic diplomacy, too, he went some way to claiming back the moral high ground from communism. Capitalism was then widely regarded as a purely selfish economic doctrine. But…