John F. Kennedy - so much has been written about him - many authors disparaging him and/or his policies, others praising him without apology. In truth he's probably somewhere in the middle but he undoubtedly had incredible political courage and put humanity and environment among other things at the top of his list of priorities.
I confess, I am a JFK fan - not in the pop-culture sense, I mean I have read a great deal about JFK and his time in office. My personal library boasts over 300 volumes on Kennedy. I have come away with the opinion that - during his 1,000 days in office - he did all he could to stem the problems that came with the cold war - missile crisis, Berlin Crisis, Vietnam, big business, etc. He met incredible resisitance both politically and militarily.Above is the official JFK portrait hanging at the White House.
He stood tough yet was able to hold dialogs with Nikita Khrushchev and yes Fidel Castro - though much of the talks were through the back door (read the book "JFK and the Unspeakable" for a fascinating look his administrations quest for peace) - he was for co-existence not annihilation. Yes, publicly he held the line against Russia and Cuba but he conducted secret negotiations with both countries - both Castro and Khrushchev while understanding Kennedy's desire for a constructive peace and needless conflict, also realized that all 3 leaders were up against political resistance on all fronts.
He ushered in the space age - who doesn't remember the excitement we felt as kids watching the exploits of the 7 Mercury astronauts as they slowly began to push the envelope of space exploration - every minute of every space flight - it seemed - was on tv and we were impressed!
He fought for civil rights - though politically he navigated it carefully. He held big business up to higher standards than they held themselves to and his biggest achievement was probably the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. While the test ban treaty succeeded it was not without incredible political maneuvering - but all great political acvhievements are never met without passion and hard work.
JFK once said, "If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place in which to live." He said this in an address at Harvard University in 1956. There is something to be said about intelligence in politics - an appreciation of history and events past - of reflection about one's intent - not reacting in a way that has regrettable results.
Please forgive my digressing about JFK here - opinions are held strongly about his presidency and I promised myself that I woud not write a blog to express my opinions particularly when they might be political. I simply want to lead into a memory I have of Septemeber 1960.
On thursday morning September 15, 1960 my mom and I took a trip to the Bergen Mall - I didn't go to school that day - we may have been off or perhaps my kindergarten class was just afternoons? In any event, John F. Kennedy was running for president and he was visiting Paramus, NJ - in particular the Bergen Mall - to make a speech and rally the local Democratic troops.
Above is a cropped version of a Bergen Mall postcard from the 60's.
Obviously at the age of 4 (almost 5 - I started kindergarten early) - I have no memory of actually seeing JFK, hearing him, etc. but I do remember my mom being handed a JFK button and clearly remember going the mall that day.
I have always had an amazing memory for most things - and I remember years later telling people the story of my mom and I going to see JFK at the Bergen Mall. Many told me that it simply didn't happen - I don't why - some were adamant about it. JFK at the Bergen Mall?! They said he never gave a speech there but he certainly did.
A funny story about the presidential campaign of 1960 is that my mom was a staunch Nixon supporter - yet she was willing to hear both sides. My dad had told my mom that he was voting for Nixon - however he later confessed to my mom that he actually voted for Kennedy. It wasn't that my mom expected my dad to vote the same way as she did but she did assume he voted for Nixon! My father was a thoughtful man - he had common sense (I'm not saying he had common sense to vote for JFK) - I'm just saying that my dad was not part of the herd - he gave thought to those running and made his decision - he was crushed like so many when JFK was assassinated.
I write about JFK here because this past November 8, 2010 marked 50 years since JFK was elected president! Wow - things like this always help to remind you how old you are!
Our early Glen years were clearly marked by the JFK administration - kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade and part of 3rd grade. The thought back then was that as a country the possibilities were limitless and that the future held incredible potential for us as a nation. For us kids at that time, the space program was easily how we saw JFK's challenge to always reach for greatness.
On November 22, 1963 - the day JFK died - I recall coming home from school with friends and talking about what we thought we just heard.
For me - when I got home - my mom basically gave me a snack and pushed me out the door where I hooked up with the usual friends, the Meneghins, Pomeroys and Jim O'Brien - we played football as we always did til it got dark. Cindy Pomeroy probably sat on the curb and watched as she did so often - Cindy even at that young age was my Winnie Cooper - we had promised each other that we would get married one day! My mom tried desperately (almost to a fault) to protect me from such painful things as the death of JFK depsite my already knowing about it and despite the fact that I had so many questions about it. Of course from friday through monday you couldn't avoid the coverage about JFK.
The following year me, Cindy Pomeroy, Maryanne Pomeroy, Melanie Teasley and Bruce Meneghin (and Mark, Kent and Brian too!) ran a fair for the neighborhood kids to raise money for the JFK Library. We had all sorts of games, baked goods and toys for sale - we had a lot of business but raised $5.35 - it was a lot of nickels and pennies!
Below I am reprinting the speech Kennedy made at the Bergen Mall on September 15, 1960. It is supplied by the JFK library in Boston.
This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. Two texts of the speech, a reading copy and a press release of excerpts, exist in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library. This transcription is based on the reading copy. The parenthetical notes at the end of the speech are as they appear in the original reading copy.
The above photo is NOT JFK giving his speech at the Bergen Mall but during the campaign at one of many similar locations around the country.
His Bergen Mall remarks are below:
"Governor Meyner, David Amster, Thorn Lord, and candidates for Congress James Dobbins and Vincent T. McKenna: I've been complaining in California and Texas. People settle there because they were not satisfied with things as they were. You came to Bergen County because you wanted to build a better life for your children. Americans are never satisfied with things as they are. They never settle for second-best.
People in California and Texas are worried about their farms. You are worried about your homes, your children, your schools, medical care for your aged parents, and the growing pains of an exploding population.
What unites us all, in every section of the country, Democrats and Republicans alike, is concern over our nation's position in the world. I am not talking about world politics. I am talking about peace - our future - and our children's future.
Everywhere I go in this campaign I find people asking: What's the matter with America? Why are we slipping? Why are we losing friends around the world? Why are we losing the lead to Russia? Why aren't we meeting the communist challenge - from Cuba to the Congo, from India to Indonesia?
Four years ago the cold war was being carried on thousands of miles away. This year it spread to within 90 miles of Florida, to Cuba. And next week when Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Castro arrive in New York they will bring the cold war to within 12 miles of the Bergen Mall.
And yet the administration has told us that all is well.
In the 1930's while England slept, Hitler armed.
Today while we stand still, Khrushchev moves.
We must learn to face the truth about our situation. You can't stand still in the eye of a hurricane. And hurricane winds of change are sweeping the world.
It is tempting to try to hide in the storm shelter - or the bomb shelter - tempting to try to escape the winds of change. But it cannot be done. We have to act - and to act along new lines. Francis Bacon tells us, "He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils, for time is the greatest innovator."
How can we reverse direction? How can we move ahead?
First, we must set our own house in order. A nation that intends to lead the world must live a creative national life at home. We must re-establish and extend the rights of man - the right of workingmen and businessmen to earn a decent living; the right of children to a decent education in the American tradition; the right of older people to an old age free of the cost of chronic ill health; the right of immigrants to enter our land; the right of all of us to think as we please, say what we please, worship as we please, and go where we please, whether to schools or jobs or lunch counters.
Second, we must stop deluding ourselves about our situation abroad. The collapse of the summit, the fiasco in Japan, the hostile mobs around the world - these are not diplomatic triumphs for America, they are diplomatic disasters, and we may as well face the unpleasant unpopular truth. For as Demosthenes said, "If you analyze it correctly, you will conclude that our critical situation is chiefly due to men who try to please the citizens rather than to tell them what they need to hear." I think the American people want to hear the truth.
Third, we must rebuild our defenses on land and sea, in air and space. The Russians understand strength. It is not a question of quarreling with Mr. Khrushchev. It is a question of making ourselves stronger than Russia. Talk is cheap.
Fourth, we must help the rising peoples in the underdeveloped regions of the world to find their way to free self government. We must range ourselves on the side of freedom, not the side of dictatorship. And we must remind the rising peoples - and remind ourselves - that it is not Karl Marx's manifesto but the American Declaration of Independence which said, "We hold these truths to be self evident - that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men."
Fifth, on a broad front ranging round the world we must seize the initiative in the cold war with bold imaginative programs launched with good will and launched from strength. We need to launch missiles, yes; but we also need to launch programs for freedom and justice and peace.
When Woodrow Wilson was pleading the cause of the League of Nations in 1920, he said, "My clients are the children; my clients are the next generation."
It is for our children, for peace in our children's world, that I plead in this campaign.
It is up to us to win it.
The New Frontier is not what I offer you. It is what sacrifices I ask you to make for your country."
My classmates and I started school in September 1960 - we were known as the space age kids. As kids there was nothing we thought this country couldn't do. We were leaders in everything - education, business, space, technology, building - we were living the American dream - JFK saw this and wanted us - wanted the nation kids to strive for more - to be better, to be stronger, to be leaders in a world full of fears - I do remember those first few school years as ones that were exciting and fun - we believed that anything was possible.
Kennedy's gravesite at Arlington Cemetery in winter.