Personal Characteristics: Directory of Personalities of the Cuban
There are many definitions of politics, but they usually involve intense awareness, meticulous alliance building, and shrewd use of power. JFK had an instinctive political and practical knowledge. He understood that things go wrong likely stemming from his experience as a Naval officer in World War 2. He also understood that politics is a team sport and although he relished roles of leadership, he consciously knew that team designation and support are necessary qualities. But, ultimately, he was able to wield power in a way that was clear and definite. These qualities probably fueled his reticence for an initial military response to the Soviet missile placement. He described himself as the first “nuclear age” president. With such potential catastrophic consequences, he knew there was no second chance; he had to negotiate and ultimately find common ground.
The Vienna Summit in 1961 soon after the Bay of Pigs incident was widely regarded as a disaster for JFK who came across as naïve and inexperienced in the matters of international relations. He was bullied by Premier Khrushchev and appeared weak among the allies of the United States. As a result, JFK felt that he had to confront the Soviets someplace to correct this impression, but also, according to Richard Reeves, he learned that “even the Premier of the Soviet Union is a practicing politician” with whom he would develop a relationship that would serve the world very well, as evidenced in October, 1962. A primary reason that nuclear war was avoided during the Cuban missile crisis is that the President, not the members of the ExComm, wanted to give Khrushchev an exit opportunity that was politically acceptable. Kennedy immediately recognized the potential for disaster and understood that an action must be swiftly undertaken. He purposely developed a very long policy formation period with the ExComm and inherently realized that a blockade had significant advantages over a first-strike attack. It would be seen as reasonable and prudent, as opposed to an airstrike which would be seen as a “sneak” attack reminiscent of Pearl Harbor some twenty years earlier. President Kennedy’s goal was not to force Khrushchev to choose between two undesirable option: surrender or fight. To accomplish this end, it was necessary for the President to avoid reflexive behavior and empathize with his adversary, and in so doing, he orchestrated a scenario to both solidify the United States position and encourage the Soviet Union to remove its weapons from Cuba. Removing the intermediate-range “Jupiter” nuclear missiles that the United States had installed in Turkey in 1961, adjacent to the Soviet Union, allowed Premier Khrushchev a respectful exit. In fact, the quarantine against incoming Soviet ships containing nuclear weapons was primarily an active strategy, but it also allowed time to elicit a response from the Soviet Union. This course also permitted the use of additional steps as part of the resolution process.
On Sunday night of Oct. 28, 1962, the day concluding the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s relief would be expressed to his brother, Robert, ‘This is the night I should go to the theater,’ a reference to Lincoln’s visit to Ford’s Theatre after the Civil War was won. Comparisons to Abraham Lincoln constantly filled Kennedy’s mind. Abraham Lincoln died in office in 1965 at the age of 56 years. Although JFK was a decade younger, he harbored thoughts of death due to his battle with Addison’s disease, a condition where the adrenal glands are unable to produce adequate amount of hormones. Prior to 1930, when medical treatments became available, it was associated with a very high mortality rate. Even with treatment, John Kennedy dealt with illnesses that almost cost him his life on several occasions. He once remarked, “The doctors say I’ve got a sort of slow motion leukemia, but they tell me I’ll probably last until I’m 45.” Not surprisingly, John Kennedy became very fatalistic and knew he had to achieve any greatness in the limited time he had available. He was “very impatient, addicted to excitement, living his life as if it were a race against boredom’. The goals he set, the ambitions he sought, and risks he took all were governed by his certainty of an early death. Ironically, John Kennedy’s 1960 Presidential campaign stressed the importance of youth and “vigor.” It should not be surprising that this obsession would lead him to become the youngest elected President of the United States. According to Geoffrey Perret, historian and Kennedy biographer, during the Cuban Missile when the world held its breath, here is John Kennedy, “Where life lived as a challenge to death had brought him, not away from oblivion but straight towards it, his family, his country and his species crowded at his back, needing him to find a way out. This was a life lived intensely, taken as far as it could go’.
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There are many definitions of politics, but they usually involve intense awareness, meticulous alliance building, and shrewd use of power. JFK had an instinctive political and practical knowledge. He understood […]