BY JOSH MERLO
Fifty years ago on Nov. 22, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. Charismatic and charming, a PT boat commander, a Democratic Catholic and the leader of the free world during some of the most trying moments of the Cold War, Kennedy is, unfortunately, not usually remembered for his many accomplishments. Rather, JFK – as he is popularly referred to – has a negative stigma associated with his name. Whether criticized for his marital infidelities, his religious orientation, or the few major mistakes of his presidency, Kennedy is not given the credit – or respect – that is his due.
So, as America solemnly looks back at the day that marked the extinguishing of one of the brightest lights of the 20th century, I ask you to do the same. Remember JFK; remember the man who wrought so many works that have distinguished America long after his death.
Three things bear highlighting from the short-but-storied presidency of Kennedy: the Cuban missile crisis, the Apollo program and the beginnings of the civil rights movement. The first forestalled what could have led to the violent, bloody conclusion of the Cold War. The second lifted science from its terrestrial limits. The final continued the work of Eisenhower (and ultimately Lincoln), corralling an ugly sentiment of racism and bigotry with federal strength.
Consider a United States of America today without Kennedy. First, without JFK’s superb handling of the missile crisis, there might not be a U.S.A. Dancing on a dangerously thin tight rope, Kennedy finagled his way out of a situation that would have shifted the balance of power in the Cold War.
What about the Apollo program? Why was it important? Besides the obvious benefits of putting things in space before the Soviets did – read: spy satellites for mapping – the Apollo program also launched a revolution within science. The galaxy beyond Earth was opened, for the first time, to man. The Apollo program brought back from the Moon knowledge, practical technology and a new spirit of wonder toward the overall universe. Without JFK’s vision, none of the above would have come when they did, if they came at all.
Finally, the civil rights movement was pushed along by JFK despite Southern objections. Granted, Kennedy was a reluctant champion; when he needed to, though, he stood against discrimination and prejudice. Segregation had finally begun weakening when Ike ordered the racial de-segregation of schools. Kennedy continued that legacy to further the breakdown of one of the vilest American institutions in the Union’s history.
There is a point to this historical interlude. Foremost, it is a memorial to a good leader who is too often denied lauds. However, this should also serve as a pointed reminder. Heroes do make mistakes; they are not perfect. This should never dilute the importance of their deeds. Yes, JFK was not a shining model of spousal fidelity. Yes, he argued that his duties to the country outweighed his duties to his religion – is this necessarily a bad thing for a political leader to hold? Yes, he did many things that modern commentators can ridicule. Does this diminish what he did rightly before he was murdered? Show some respect. JFK may not have been perfect, but he was not elected to be perfect. He was elected president to do the job of leading the U.S., and he did that pretty well. So, thank you, John F. Kennedy, and rest in peace.