The decades since President John F. Kennedy’s assassination have provided time for studious Americans to learn that JFK was a number of things. Throughout this time of learning, one fact has remained constant–Kennedy was a Cold Warrior, and willingly so.
When he accepted the nomination for the presidency in 1960, it was clear that Cold War policies would be part of his platform and, ultimately, part of his presidency.
He intimated as much via the men he quoted–like Winston Churchill–and the men he was proud to have campaigning beside him–like then-President Harry S. Truman. But he made this point most clearly with his explanation for the why the Cold War was important:
Abroad, the balance of power is shifting. There are new and more terrible weapons–new and uncertain nations–new pressures of population and deprivation.
…Communist influence has penetrated further into Asia, stood astride in the Middle East and now festers some ninety miles off the coast of Florida. Friends have slipped into neutrality–and neutrals into hostility.
…The world has been close to war before–but now man, who has survived all previous threats to his existence, has taken into his hands the power to exterminate the entire species seven times over.
By acknowledging the dangers that had to be confronted in the Cold War–dangers evident not simply in the threat of nuclear proliferation but in Communist expansion as well–Kennedy put himself against other members of his own party. He stood against “the anti-Cold War faction of the [Democrat] Party led by Henry Wallace.”
During his first year as President, Kennedy sent advisers to Vietnam to try to prevent the spread of Communism from North to South Vietnam. Following his death, President Lyndon Baines Johnson (D) fought the Vietnam War in a way that all but guaranteed the failure of JFK’s goal. But this does not diminish the reality of JFK’s desire, nor does it erase his effort as a Cold Warrior.
Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter @AWRHawkins.