Air University Review, March-April 1967
Dr. Jean Edward Smith
John F. Kennedy’s concern with military affairs is well known. His early
exposure to wartime diplomacy in
But to say that one is interested in national security says little about the
nature of that interest. General Curtis LeMay and Bertrand Russell are also
interested in national security—and there the similarity ends. President
Kennedy’s interest differed from both theirs. As a Harvard undergraduate he had
seen the price
Kennedy’s discussion of
Because of her unpreparedness, Kennedy was reluctant to criticize
In the debate that followed the agreement,
When he returned from the war in February 1945, John Kennedy turned his
consideration to the question of peace. Stung by a strong preparedness plea
that Harry Hopkins had written in the American Magazine,7
Kennedy composed a rejoinder: “Let’s Try an Experiment in Peace.” Still
unpublished, the article suggested an arms control agreement among the Big
Indeed, it was the preparedness argument which most distressed Kennedy. To
At the end of this war we shall have only three
Likewise, we will have to demonstrate to the
Soviet our willingness to try to work out European problems on equitable lines
before the Russians will put any real confidence in our protestations of
friendship. The Russian memory is long, and many of the leaders of the present
government remember the years after the last war when they fought in the Red
Armies against the invading troops of many nations, including
If armaments could not be controlled, said Kennedy, the prospects for peace were dubious. “Science will always overtake caution with new terrors against which defense cannot be anticipated. . . . Into the orthodox picture of classical warfare, comes the ‘V’ bomb, which raises a spectre of destruction almost beyond the human mind to grasp. . . . It is not an exaggeration to expect these missiles will be developed to a point where theoretically any spot on the globe can send to any community in the world, with pinpoint accuracy, a silent but frightful message of death and destruction. . . . Detection of their source may be difficult. One does not have to be a Jules Verne to visualize the death of the human race, a victim of science and moral degeneracy.”
Two months later John Kennedy was in
The stormy sessions of the first week confirmed his opinion that
we have a long way to go before
To a PT-boat friend who inquired about the conference, Kennedy (as quoted by. Schlesinger) was eminently realistic:
It would be very easy to write a letter to you
that was angry. . . . When I think how much this war has cost us, of the deaths
of Cy and Peter and Orv and Gil and Demi and Joe and Billy and all those
thousands and millions who have died with them—when I think of all those
gallant acts that I have seen or anyone has seen who has been to the war—it
would be a very easy thing to feel disappointed and somewhat betrayed. . . .
You have seen battlefields where sacrifice was the order of the day and to
compare that sacrifice to the timidity and selfishness of the nations gathered
Nevertheless, said Kennedy, a decision could not be forced from the top. The World Federalists had an answer, but things were not that easy. The idea of sovereignty was still too strong. “We must face the truth that the people have not been horrified by war to a sufficient extent to force them to go to any extent rather than have another war. . . . War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” What the conference had done, he concluded, was not to make war impossible—which was clearly beyond its powers—but to make it more difficult. “A truly just solution,” he confided to his notebook, “will leave every nation somewhat disappointed. There is no cure all.”
John Kennedy arrived in Washington in January 1947, a freshman congressman
of twenty-nine. Friends and critics generally agree that he was little
prepared.8 But this is much truer of his legislative perspective
than it is of his conception of foreign affairs and national security. To
measure Kennedy’s stature as a legislator, one must compare him to his fellow
freshmen of 1946. The roster is impressive, including Jacob Javits and Kenneth
“Politics,” as Arthur Schlesinger has suggested, “perhaps attracted him less as a means of saving this world than of keeping it from getting worse.”
Kennedy’s committee assignments reflected his junior status: Education and
Labor (along with Richard Nixon), and
Kennedy’s House record was basically internationalist, although as his
freshman term wore on, advocacy of international peace and great-power
cooperation yielded increasingly to a revived concern for security. There was
ample reason. It seemed that Communism was on the offensive everywhere. The
Balkans became a Soviet appendage,
Kennedy supported aid to
We have only to look at the map to see what might
At that time,
The second danger stemmed from miscalculation.
The Russian information and intelligence services are, I believe, among the poorest in the world despite all the glamorous nonsense which seems to be written about them. The reports which these services supply to the Kremlin cannot be checked against any independent sources of information. . . . The Kremlin’s view of world affairs, therefore, is bound to be limited.
Kennedy’s faith in the United Nations continued. Many people, he said, feel that the U.N. has been slighted.
I think the feeling arises from some confusion as
to what the United Nations can do. It is not equipped to deal with every
problem in international affairs nor is there anything in the concept of the
United Nations which precludes one nation from asking another for assistance as
Moreover, we must remember that the whole concept of the United Nations is that of the evolution of law backed up by force utilized under the guidance and restraint of the Security Council.
The United Nations is the great hope for the future. . . . It would, however, mean an early collapse of the United Nations organization if we were to place on its infant shoulders a burden which it cannot yet bear and with which it was, in fact, never intended it should deal.
The central theme of American foreign policy, said Kennedy, was “the
prevention of Russian domination of Europe and
As the Eightieth Congress continued, Kennedy drifted further from the Administration position. Doubtless, some of this drift reflected a change of attitude on his part. Some also reflected an adjustment to his new surroundings, for the Eightieth Congress was overwhelmingly Republican and anti-Truman. Much more, however, seems due to Kennedy’s inability to “find himself” as a freshman congressman, to his feeling of insignificance, and to his marginal involvement in the affairs of the House. It was difficult for someone not deeply committed to the Democratic Party organization to support the interim Administration of Harry Truman in 1948, particularly when the world seemed to be coming apart at the seams.10
In his votes, JFK supported European recovery, foreign aid, and the
peacetime draft.11 But offstage, the rumblings of his
dissatisfaction grew louder.12 For alongside Kennedy’s revived
interest in security traveled a new companion: a vigorous anti-Communism with
strong nationalist (some might say isolationist) overtones. Doubtless, much of
this reflects the tenor of the times. When the 81st Congress convened (Kennedy
had been unopposed in both the primary and general elections), the situation in
With the attack on Korea, Kennedy’s interest in national security intensified.14 He criticized the tardiness of U.S. rearmament, condemned Defense Secretary Louis Johnson’s retrenchment policies, and supported a 70-group Air Force rather than the 55 groups requested by the Administration. Much of this was the conventional response in a Congress caught off guard: a Congress that had applauded the Truman economy moves when they were made, yet drew back in anger when danger threatened.
Kennedy also advocated greater American effort in Europe, including the use
We must be able to put sufficient American
divisions in the field in that area to demonstrate to the Europeans that we
The plain truth, and we all must know it, is that the forces that we now have and that we are planning to raise do not begin to meet the commitments that have been made.15
Kennedy’s support for troops in
Doubtless challenged by his father’s views, Representative Kennedy spent six
Already the question of sending troops to
In his statement to the committee, Kennedy indicated the need for additional
Senator Wayne Morse (R., Ore.) was appalled. We were involved in Europe, he
said, “because we recognize the loss of Europe to
“I am not advocating a ratio system in order to limit our contribution to
Senator Morse: Do you think that there is any danger. . . in respect to European public opinion in adopting a ratio system that would be interpreted. . . as an indication. . . that we questioned their good faith unless we make them sign on the dotted line. . . ? Don’t you think that would have a rather undesirable effect both on their morale and on our relations with them?
Mr. Kennedy: Well, they are not going to be happy about it, obviously, but after all, we are sending six divisions; we are going to equip these countries and I think we have a right to insist that they do a proportionate share.
But, Morse persisted, would not Congressional supervision intrude on the
constitutional right of the Executive as Commander in Chief? Kennedy
equivocated: it was a constitutional issue, he said, which Morse could probably
answer. “I wish I could,” the Senator from
Senator Tom Connally, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was also dubious.
Chairman Connally: I am sorry, Mr. Kennedy, but I
was not here at the beginning of your testimony. I think you testified awhile
ago that you thought
Mr. Kennedy: Yes, sir.
* * * * *
Chairman Connally: If that is true, are you not in
favor of strengthening
Mr. Kennedy: I am in favor of sending these troops
that we are talking about to
Chairman Connally: These four divisions?
Mr. Kennedy: Yes, sir.
Chairman Connally: You said something about the rest of the nations might not go along, might not provide what is expected of them. As I recall the testimony of General Eisenhower, he said he was going to constantly insist on these other governments doing their part, and if they don’t we can probably withdraw.
Mr. Kennedy: General Eisenhower, in the speech made before Congress, said he would like to have brought back comparable statistics so he could give us some idea of the effort these European countries were making. But he said he could not do so. I feel that these statistics would have told a revealing story about the degree of effort that these European countries are making, and in not bringing them back, General Eisenhower was not completely frank with Congress. . . .
* * * * *
Chairman Connally: Do you think that all of the troops over there, and what they do, should be controlled by Congress?
Mr. Kennedy: I think the ratio should be controlled by Congress, that this plan of setting up a ratio of 6 to I will have to be put through by the Congress. I think that otherwise it will not be done.
Chairman Connally: Are you a lawyer?
Mr. Kennedy : No, I am not.
Chairman Connally: You are aware. . . of the constitutional provisions that the President is Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy and so on, are you not?
Mr. Kennedy: Yes.
Chairman Connally: Do you want the control of the Army turned over to Congress?
Mr. Kennedy: I would want the Congress to set the policy of six European divisions for everyone we sent there. I would put no limit on the number of American divisions we send so long as this ratio system was in effect. I am not trying to limit the American effort. I am trying to bring the European effort up to match it, considering that we have responsibilities elsewhere and that most of their equipment is going to come from the United States, I do not think that is unreasonable.
For the remainder of his service in the House, Kennedy held to the position
From the author of Why England Slept, Kennedy’s position on European
rearmament seems clear. His concern with security was of long standing, as was
his awareness of public indifference. Unlike his father, he interpreted
Two further aspects of Mr. Kennedy’s Congressional career deserve comment:
his growing hostility to things Communist, and his increasing impatience with
colonialism. Kennedy’s hostility to Communism—the handmaiden of his concern
for security-led him at times to embrace virtually any ally. Support for Chiang
was clear from the beginning, as perhaps was Kennedy’s acceptance of the belief
Shortly afterwards Kennedy introduced a bill to curb commercial traffic with
Communist China. Not only would
By late summer, Kennedy’s concern for
Following an inspection trip to
We cannot reform the world. . . . Uncle Sugar is as dangerous a role for us to play as Uncle Shylock. . . . The thirty billions of dollars we are spending in Europe have yet to prove that they have made for self-defense in that area; but whatever is true there, to repeat such a procedure in Asia or the South Pacific is impossible.
We cannot abolish the poverty and want that for centuries have characterized this area. There is just not enough money in the world to relieve the poverty of all the millions of this world who may be threatened by Communism. We should not attempt to buy their freedom from this threat. All we can do is help them achieve that freedom if they really wish to do so.
Our resources are not limitless. We must make no broad unlimited grant to any government. Aid and help in the matter of techniques is a different thing. But as some of our recent experiences demonstrate, mere grants of money are debilitating and wasteful. Moreover, we ought to know that more expenditures bring no lasting results—people who are with us merely because of the things they get from us are weak reeds to lean upon.
The vision of a bottle of milk for every Hottentot
is a nice one, but it not only is beyond our grasp, but is not only beyond our
reach. Because of naive belief that the export of dollars would solve the world’s
Kennedy’s nationalist fervor subsided as rapidly as it arose. The following
summer, in a moving mea culpa, he recanted completely. 23 The
reasons for the sudden about-face are as elusive as those for his economy
binge. Kennedy himself attributed the change to his autumn tour of
One thing his trip to
“Our prestige was high at one time due to the liberation of the
To Ralph Blagden of The Reporter, Kennedy was explicit. “He told me
with a rather sour grimace,” wrote Blagden, “that we are now so deeply extended
“Somehow,” said Blagden, “such retreats and advances, such reservations and contradictions suggest that Kennedy has not yet achieved very solid convictions. Is he a parvenu in world thinking who will find sure footing, or will he develop into a ‘reservationist’ whose reservations could represent the margin of failure?”24
Elected to the Senate in 1952, John Kennedy pursued his concern for national
security. At first, this concern focused on three areas: the war in
Kennedy’s concern with
Much the same was true in
Kennedy’s Algerian speech, when it was delivered in 1957, caused a momentary
Appointed to the Foreign Relations Committee in January 1957, Kennedy soon
became chairman of the Subcommittee on African Affairs. In that capacity he
labored diligently to promote
The role of
Kennedy’s concern for
In his concern for the underdeveloped world, Kennedy recognized that
conditions there often precluded liberal, democratic solutions.
Self-determination, independence, and financial aid on the order of the
Marshall Plan frequently were insufficient in an environment empty of positive
On military policy Kennedy’s views remained fixed: the
Like many, Kennedy was incredulous. At what point, he asked, would the
threat of atomic weapons be used in the struggles in
Thus Kennedy resisted all efforts by the Eisenhower Administration to
It was also Kennedy who dramatized what Lieutenant General James A. Gavin and others labeled the “missile gap”: a period, in Gavin’s words, “in which our own offensive and defensive missile capabilities will lag so far behind those of the Soviets as to place us in a position of great peril.” The cause for the impending gap, as Kennedy saw it, was national complacency and “our willingness to place fiscal security ahead of national security. We tailored our strategy and military requirements to fit our budget—instead of fitting our budget to our military requirements and strategy. . . . We have been passing through a period aptly described. . . as ‘the years the locusts have eaten.’ “29
While the approaching missile gap was the most startling, Kennedy found
similar inadequacies in virtually every category of the American arsenal. In
1953, said Kennedy, both the Russians and the
To meet this threat
As 1960 approached, the question of
The difficulty with our defense effort, according to Kennedy, was that reliance on massive retaliation had stultified the development of any alternative. The United States, he charged, had developed a Maginot Line mentality by concentrating on a strategy which may never be used, which may collapse in crisis and which dooms us either to inaction or the acceptance of inevitable defeat.
We have extended our commitments around the world, without regard to the sufficiency of our military posture to fulfil those commitments. Changes in our defense status are rarely reflected in our diplomatic policies, pronouncements and planning. The State and Defense Departments negotiate with each other at arm’s length, like so many Venetian envoys, without decisive leadership to break through the excess of bureaucratic committees, competition, and complacency. We think of diplomacy and force as alternatives to each other—the one to be used where the other fails—as though such absolute distinctions were still possible.
In recent years, said Kennedy, the U.S. has heard a good deal about an alleged quotation from Lenin that the destruction of the capitalist world would result from overspending on armaments. “I would say that has probably been the most valuable quotation the Communists have had other than ‘Workers of the World, Unite.’” As a result the United States emphasized economic security instead of military security, and “this policy will bring us into great danger within the next few years.”
“For the next President of the United States, whoever he may be, will find that he has considerably more to do than ‘stand up to Khrushchev,’ balance the budget, and mouth popular slogans, if he is to restore our Nation’s relative strength and leadership.” Unless immediate steps are taken, the failure to maintain our relative power of retaliation will “expose the United States to a nuclear missile attack.” Until our new solid-fuel missiles are available in sufficient quantities, we will be compelled to make do with an inferior weapon system. There are no Polaris submarines on station for an emergency, no hardened missile sites, and no adequate air defense. “Our missile early warning system. . . is not yet completed. Our IRBM bases—soft, immobile, and undispersed—invite surprise attack. And our capability for conventional war is in sufficient to avoid the hopeless dilemma of choosing between launching a nuclear attack and watching aggressors make piecemeal conquests.”
“The hour is late, but the agenda is long,” Kennedy said. “First, we must make invulnerable a nuclear retaliatory power second to none—by making possible now a stopgap air alert and base-dispersal program—and by stepping up our development and production of the ultimate missiles that can close the gap and will not be wiped out in a surprise attack—Polaris, Minutemen, and long-range air-to-ground [Skybolt] missiles—meanwhile increasing our production of Atlas missiles, hardening bur bases, and improving our continental defense and warning systems. . . .
“Second, we must regain the ability to intervene effectively and swiftly in any limited war anywhere in the world, augmenting, modernizing, and providing increased mobility and versatility for the conventional forces and weapons of our Army and Marine Corps. So long as those forces lack the necessary airlift and sealift capacity and versatility of firepower, we cannot protect our commitments around the globe—resist nonnuclear aggression or be certain of having enough time to decide on the use of our nuclear power.
“Third, we must rebuild NATO into a viable and consolidated military force capable of deterring any kind of attack, unified in weaponry and responsibility.”
Fourth, we must improve our capability for antisubmarine warfare; restore our merchant marine; expand our space and military research; and institute a realistic fallout shelter program.
Fifth, “we must reorganize our Defense Department—allocations, roles and missions—in accordance with the logic of modern weapons systems and technology, transforming the Joints Chiefs of Staff into a defense level staff rather than the representatives of the three services, creating an authority which will be directly responsible for stimulating scientific research and discovery and eliminating the duplication of function which has resulted in 39 separate civilian status offices in the Pentagon.”32
Sixth, we must “reexamine the farflung overseas base structure on which much of our present retaliatory strength is based. We must contribute to the political and economic stability of the nations in which our vital bases are located—and develop alternative plans for positions which may become untenable.”33
Impressive as this agenda was, it would be incorrect to paint John Kennedy as an intransigent cold warrior. For during his Senatorial career the strains of international cooperation, disarmament, and peace had nurtured and flourished. When he was elected to the Senate in 1952, Kennedy was still an unformed man in many respects. He had eschewed his youthful idealism, so dominant at San Francisco, and had embraced a considerably more militant nationalism and anti-Communism. To be sure, these crested in 1949 and 1950 with Kennedy’s denunciation of the State Department and his votes against development aid, but even in 1952 the traces of neo-isolationism remained strong.
The reasons for Kennedy’s return to his earlier liberalism and internationalism were manifold. Doubtless his severe illness in 1954 played an important role. Like Roosevelt’s polio, Kennedy’s nearly fatal operations probably accelerated a crisis of identity from which he emerged more focused, more purposeful, and more formidable. His Pulitzer Prize account of Senatorial courage34 clearly contributed, for it emancipated him from the narrow conception of a politician’s responsibilities to his district. It reopened the vista of political leaders willing to defy public opinion when the cause they stood for demanded it—a theme that had once been so familiar to the author of Why England Slept.
His baptism in national politics at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1956 further removed him from the parochial influences of his Massachusetts constituency. His subsequent campaign for the Presidency, his concern with the larger issues of the day, his expanding audience, and his need to appeal to voters in all regions of the nation widened his horizon further, for what could be so universal to the American electorate as questions of foreign policy and survival? His frequent trips throughout the country and abroad also helped. As he climbed the political ladder, Kennedy also ascended the intellectual ladder. Always an avid reader, his selections—if we are to believe his many biographers—became more purposeful and pointed.
His election to the Harvard Board of Overseers in 1956 brought him into immediate contact with the Cambridge academic community. His Senate speeches drew on the collective expertise of Harvard and M.LT.: Galbraith, Schlesinger, Cox, Kissinger, and Rostow. Interest, necessity, and old acquaintances introduced him to the leaders of the national press corps: Krock, Lippmann, Reston, and the Alsops. And perhaps most important, at a time when Kennedy had been unsure, when he was grappling for a place to stand, Theodore Sorensen became a member of his Senate staff. The year was 1953, and Kennedy was in transition. That he would have traveled the course he did, regardless, is likely; but Sorensen’s presence no doubt accelerated and reinforced the movement. 35
That Kennedy moved decisively after the early Fifties is clear. The purpose of our military policy, he told the Senate in 1960, is peace, not war. The heart of the debate on national security was peace, not politics. “We arm—to parley,” he quoted Churchill as saying. For our real goal is “an end to war, an end to the arms race, an end to these vast military departments and expenditures. We want to show our greatness in peace, not in war. We want to demonstrate the strength of our ideas, not our arms.” The sentiment had been that of John Kennedy in 1945, but it was now tempered with a new and deeper awareness of what peace involved.
In certain areas Kennedy was explicit. In Berlin, for example, he said we must plan a long-range solution. “We must show no uncertainty over our determination to defend Berlin and meet our commitments—but we must realize that a solution to the problems of that beleaguered city is only possible. . . in the context of a solution to the problems of Germany and, indeed, the problems of all Europe.”
Quemoy and Matsu were something else again. A way must be found to reduce tension in the Formosa Strait without involving the United States in a major war. As he was later to chide Vice President Nixon during the campaign: “He [Nixon] wants us committed to the defense of every rock and island around the world, but he is unwilling to admit that this may involve American boys in an unnecessary or futile war.”36 Clearly, Kennedy was not going to become engaged in any war—if he could avoid it.
As for the underdeveloped areas, we must greatly increase the flow of capital—”frustrating the Communist hopes for chaos in those nations—enabling emerging nations to achieve economic as well as political independence and closing the dangerous gap that is now widening between our living standards and theirs.” We must reconstruct our relations with Latin America; we must formulate, with both imagination and restraint, a new approach to the Middle East; and we must greatly increase our efforts to encourage the newly emerging nations of the vast continent of Africa. 37
These were the ideas with which John Kennedy approached the Presidency in 1960, and they were the ideas which would guide his subsequent tenure as President. Some were successful, and some decidedly less so. But for the New Frontier they constituted a call to battle.
1. And like both Churchill and Roosevelt, Kennedy was skeptical of military rank. “He was unawed,” writes Ted Sorensen, “by generals and admirals (even more so once he was President) and had grave doubts about military indoctrination. When still hospitalized by the Navy in 1944, he had written to a friend concerning the super-human ability of the Navy to screw up everything they touch. ‘Even the simple delivery of a letter frequently overburdens this heaving puffing war machine of ours. God save this country of ours from those patriots whose war cry is “What this country needs is to be run with military efficiency.”‘” Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), p. 18. For an earlier and more sympathetic view, compare John F. Kennedy, Why England Slept (New York: Funk, 1940), pp. 222-31.
2. For an impression of Kennedy’s Harvard years, see Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), pp. 77-85. The Harvard thesis was titled: “Appeasement at Munich: The Inevitable Result of the Slowness of the British Democracy to Change from a Disarmament Policy.” James MacGregor Burns, John Kennedy: A Political Profile (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1959) remains the best Source for Kennedy’s early years. For an insightful political commentary, see Selig Harrison, “Kennedy as President,” New Republic, 27 June 1960. Opponents have their day in Victor Lasky’s JFK: The Man and the Myth (New York: Macmillan, 1963), pp. 24-69. For Kennedy’s wartime service, see Robert J. Donovan, PT-I09: John Kennedy in World War II (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961); and John Hersey, “Survival: Lieut. J. F. Kennedy, a P.T. Skipper in the Solomons,” New Yorker, 17 June 1944, p. 31 ff. Of Kennedy’s White House office, William Manchester writes: “Every detail of the office is clear: the naval paintings on the gently curving wall, the framed union jack, Commodore John Barry’s sword, the ship model on the mantel. . . .” in Portrait of a President (Boston: Little-Brown, 1962), p. 197. For a description of Kennedy’s similarly decorated Senate office, see Burns, pp. 201-2. Also see Theodore H. White, The Making of the President: 1960 (New York: Atheneum, 1961), p. 371.
3. Said Kennedy, “I feel that Chamberlain is to be condemned more as a member of the Baldwin cabinet, which had done so little to wake up the country, or for his own pre-Munich and post-Munich failure to bring to the country the realization of the great dangers with which it was faced, than for the part he played at Munich.” Why England Slept, p. 193.
4. The most detailed survey of Ambassador Kennedy’s views appears in Richard J. Whalen, The Founding Father (New York: New American Library, 1964), pp. 225-351. As for his own position, John Kennedy is quoted as follows: “The subject interested me ever since I was over there to see the results of the Chamberlain thing. I wouldn’t say that my father got me interested in it. They were things that I saw for myself. No, the book didn’t contain anything that differed with my father’s opinions at the time except perhaps in the final part. There was the Chamberlain episode in Munich and all that resentment in America about Munich and I didn’t think that it was justified on our part in view of the fact that we weren’t prepared to get involved. What right did we have to criticize or be resentful? Then you remember all those fake wooden gun emplacements, decoys and all that? You could see that they weren’t prepared.” Ralph G. Martin and Ed Plant, Front Runner, Dark Horse (Garden City: Doubleday, 1960). pp. 127-28.
5. “We must always keep our armaments equal to our commitments,” wrote Kennedy. “Munich should teach us that; we must realize that any bluff will be called. We cannot tell anyone to keep out of our hemisphere [italics added] unless our armaments and the people behind these armaments [italics in original] are prepared to back up the command, even to the ultimate point of going to war. There must be no doubt in anyone’s mind, the decision must he automatic: if we debate, if we hesitate, if we question, it will be too late.” (pp. 229-31)
6. Kennedy, pp. xxviii-xxix; also see pp. 185-86.
7. According to Hopkins, “ . . . we did everything possible to prevent war—except prepare for it. We know now that those who labor for peace must implement their desires with force. The strength of peace lovers must be greater than that of gangsters.” Harry L. Hopkins, “Tomorrow’s Army and Your Boy,” American Magazine, March 1945, p. 104.
Major excerpts of Kennedy’s rejoinder are presented in Selig Harrison, “Kennedy as President,” New Republic, 27 June 1960.
8. According to his campaign biographer, “Kennedy did not arrive in Washington with a full and rounded set of principles. On some issues he was ill-informed; on others he was unsure of his position and would allow events to rule.” Burns, p. 83.
Ted Sorensen concurs: “His performance in the House of Representatives had been considered by most observers to be largely undistinguished—except for a record of absenteeism which had been heightened by indifference as well as ill health and by unofficial as well as official travels.”
“The fact of the matter is,” Sorensen quotes Kennedy as saying, “that I fiddled around at Choate and really didn’t become interested until the end of my sophomore year at Harvard.” Sorensen himself is a harsher judge: “Some might say that he fiddled around as a Congressman and really didn’t become interested until his sophomore year in the Senate.” Sorensen, p. 27. Also see Martin and Plant, pp. 148-55; Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Kennedy or Nixon; Does It Make Any Difference (New York: Macmillan, 1960). p. 24; Manchester, p. 189; Whalen, p. 403: Lasky, pp. 107, 137.
9. In addition to Foreign Affairs, Kennedy pursued a seat on the Armed Services Committee. And like many of his Congressional contemporaries, Kennedy kept his splendid war record in the foreground. His cryptic, seven-line autobiographical sketch in the Congressional Directory referred prominently to his military service: “joined Navy in September 1941; served in P.T. boats in Pacific; retired on April 1945; received Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart; . . . .” By 1950, reference to the decorations had been deleted. U.S. Congress, Congressional Directory, 80th Congress, 1st Session, p. 51; 81st Congress, 2d Session, p. 53.
Sorensen says much the same thing:
“Clearly he was proud of his military service; his Purple Heart and his Navy and Marine Corps Medal. As a constant reminder of that brush with death, he kept on his desk preserved in plastic the coconut shell on which he had scratched his message of rescue from that far-off Pacific island. As a young Congressman he had been a leader in postwar efforts of the more progressive veterans’ organizations to secure passage of a Veterans’ Housing Bill. But he was neither a professional warrior nor a professional veteran. He never boasted or even reminisced about his wartime experiences. He never complained about his wounds. When a flippant high school youth asked him, as we walked down a street in Ashland, Wisconsin, in 1959, how he came to be a hero, he gaily replied, ‘It was easy—they sank my boat:’” (pp. 18)
10. Burns explains Kennedy’s independence as follows:
“It was not surprising that Kennedy could ignore the weak party leadership in his district. But how could he dare defy national party leaders like McCormack and Truman, who had the power to help or hurt a young man’s national career? ‘For one thing,’ Kennedy says, ‘we were just worms over in the House—nobody pays much attention to us nationally. And I had come back from the service not as a Democratic wheelhorse who came up through the ranks—I came in sort of sideways. It was never drilled into me that I was responsible to some political boss in the Eleventh District. I can go it the hard way against the politically active people. I never had the feeling I needed Truman.” (pp. 100)
11. During the first session of the 80th Congress, Kennedy voted for Greek-Turkish aid (9 May 1947); against the Colmer-Smith-Mundt amendment to the Relief Aid Bill (H.J.Res. 153) prohibiting funds to Russian-dominated countries—an amendment which carried 324-75 and which was supported by his fellow Massachusetts congressman, Christian A. Herter (30 April 1947); against a cut of $150 million in the European aid program, which carried 205-170 (21 May 1947); and in favor of authorizing legislation (H.R. 3342) for a foreign information service (24 June 1947). During the second session, Kennedy voted in favor of the European Recovery Program (31 March 1948) and the peacetime draft (18 July 1948).
His attendance record, while not perfect, was hardly as bad as one might expect. Of 83 roll call votes during the first session, Kennedy voted “yea” or “nay” on 63 and was paired on 15 others. During the second session, with 162 roll call votes, Kennedy voted on 121 and was paired on 33 others.
12. To an irredentist Polish audience in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in June 1948, he charged the late President Roosevelt with being soft on Communism. According to the Boston Herald: “Kennedy Says Roosevelt Sold Poland to Reds” FDR had done so, Kennedy alleged, “because he did not understand the Russian mind.” Also in June he spoke on the House floor urging the admission of displaced Polish war veterans to the U.S. “The United States,” said Kennedy, “has a real obligation to the valiant Polish soldier. . . . By admitting some of them to the United States we can atone in a small manner for the betrayal of their native country of Poland.” Congressional Record, 11 June 1948.
13. Congressional Record, Vol. 95, Part 1, 25 January 1949, pp. 532-33. At his press conference on 29 November 1961, President Kennedy was asked about his criticism of the Truman Administration’s China policy. His answer was as follows:
“I always have felt that we did not make a determined enough effort in the case of China. Given the problems we now see. I think a more determined effort would have been advisable. I would think that in my speech in ‘49 I placed more emphasis on personalities than I would today.
“And I would say that my view today is more in accordance with the facts than my view in ‘49. But my—I’ve always felt, and I think history will record, that the change of China from being a country friendly to us to a country which is unremittingly hostile affected very strongly the balance of power in the world. And while there were, there is still, of course, room for argument as to whether any United States actions would have changed the course of events there. I think a greater effort would have been wiser. I said it in ‘49, so it isn’t totally hindsight.”
According to Arthur Schlesinger, these early Kennedy speeches “were out of character and remained on Kennedy’s conscience for a long time. As late as 1960 he separately expressed both to Theodore H. White and to me his sorrow that he had ever given them.” A Thousand Days, p. 13 n.
14. Although, curiously, his initial support of President Truman’s action was grudging and qualified. Kennedy’s early skepticism of U.S. involvement in Korea (a sentiment which quickly faded) is understandable on two counts. First, if there was to be a war in Asia he felt it should be fought by the remnants of the Chinese nationalist army under Chiang Kaishek. Second, he feared extended U.S. commitment in Asia would curtail resources urgently needed in Western Europe, and Europe, he felt, was by far the more important. See New York Times, 13 December 1950. Cf. John P. Malian, “Massachusetts: Liberal and Corrupt,” New Republic, 13 October 1953, pp. 10-12.
15. Congressional Record, 25 August 1950. During the 81st Congress, Kennedy voted consistently for foreign aid. On 18 August 1949 he voted against the amendment offered by Representative Richards (Dem., S.C.) to cut arms aid to Western Europe from $635,840,000 to $580,495,000. The amendment carried 209-151. During the second session he voted to include Korea in the Marshall Plan (H.R. 5330), rejected 191-192 (19 January 1950); in favor of Point Four aid (31 March 1950); against a cut of $40 million in aid funds for the Far East (31 March 1950); and in favor of the $1 billion, plus, extension of the Mutual Defense Assistance Act (19 July 1950).
16. U.S. Congress, Senate, Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Armed Services, 82d Congress, 1st Session (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1951), pp. 434-35.
17. In Kennedy’s words:
“So concerned werp our diplomats and their advisers, the Lattimores and the Fairbanks, with the imperfection of the democratic system in China after 20 years of war and the tales of corruption in high places that they lost sight of our tremendous stake in a non-Communist China.
“Our policy, in the words of the Premier of the National Government, Sun Fo, of vacillation, uncertainty, and confusion has reaped the whirlwind.
“This House must now assume the responsibility of preventing the onrushing tide of Communism from engulfing all of Asia:” Congressional Record, 29 January 1949.
18. “I believe that the armies of Spain could make a substantial contribution to the defense of Western Europe,” said Kennedy, “and thus I believe they should share in the arms and equipment we are distributing abroad.
“I can understand the reluctance of some Members to assist Spain. They have two chief objections as far as I can tell: First, by giving Spain military assistance we are strengthening Franco; second, if we help Spain we will lose the support of some Western Europeans.
“I think the answer to the first question is obvious—Franco has been in power for 12 years and he is as strong as ever. As to the second, the situation is so critical . . . that we can no longer afford the luxury of omitting Spain from our defense plans. . . .
“There should only be one qualification before a country becomes eligible for military assistance, and that is: Are they guilty of aggression against other countries? Spain is not:” Congressional Record, 19 July 1950.
19. Congressional Record, 17 August 1951. By $350 million. Mutual Security Act of 1951 (H.R. 5113), 17 August 1951. The motion was agreed to 186-177.
20. Said Kennedy: “I believe in military assistance to this area and that it is a good thing, but I do not think that we can afford in this country to raise the standard of living of all the people all over the globe who might be subject to the lure of Communism because of a low standard of living: Congressional Record, 17 August 1954.
21. “I do not object to giving them economic assistance, but I see no point in giving them $40 million of military assistance when they are countries not in the line of the Soviet advance. . . . What is the use of tying up $40 million worth of military equipment in Central and South America?” Ibid.
22. Boston Globe, 19 November 1951.
23.”Mr. Chairman, [the House was sitting in Committee of the Whole] last year when the bill was before the House, I offered a motion to cut technical assistance in the Middle East. But, this fall, I had an opportunity to visit that area and Southeast Asia and I think we would be making a tremendous mistake to cut this money out of the bill.
Many of us feel that the United States has concentrated its attention too much on Western Europe. We will spend several billions for Western Europe in this bill. Yet, here is an area, Asia, where the Communists are attempting to seize control, where the money is to be spent among several hundred million people, and where the tide of events has been moving against us. The Communists are now the second largest party in India. The Communists made tremendous strides there in the last election. The gentleman from Montana [Mr. Mansfield] pointed out that the life expectancy of people in India is 26 to 27 years, and they are increasing at the rate of 5 million a year—at a rate much faster than the available food supply.
“The Communists have a chance of seizing all of Asia in the next 5 or 6 years. What weapons do we have that will stop them? The most effective is technical assistance. The gentleman from Michigan [Mr. Crawford] is right, that the amount of money involved here is not sufficient to prevent their being attracted to the Communists, but it gives them some hope, at least, that their problems can be solved without turning to the Communists. We are planning to spend a very large amount of money in this area for military assistance, which is of secondary importance compared to this program. To cut technical assistance when the Communists are concentrating their efforts in this vital area seems to me a costly and great mistake.” Congressional Record, 28 June 1952.
24. Ralph Blagden, “Cabot Lodge’s Toughest Fight,” The Reporter, 30 September 1952.
25. Congressional Record, 1 July 1953. In addressing the 54th Annual Dinner of the Cathedral Club of Brooklyn, N.Y., on 21 January 1954, Kennedy said: “Indochina is probably the only country in the world where many observers believe the Communist-led element would win a free election.” Congressional Record, Appendix, 1 February 1954.
26. Congressional Record, 6 April 1954. Said Kennedy: “I am frankly of the belief that no amount of American military assistance in Indochina can conquer an enemy which is everywhere and at the same time nowhere, ‘an enemy of the people’ which has the sympathy of the people.”
27. “If we are to secure the friendship of the Arab, the African and the Asian—and we must, despite what Mr. Dulles says about our not being in a popularity contest—we cannot hope to accomplish it solely by means of billion-dollar aid programs. We cannot win their hearts by making them dependent upon our handouts. Nor can we keep them free by selling them free enterprise, by describing the perils of communism or the prosperity of the United States, or limiting our dealings to military parts. No, the strength of our appeal to these key populations—and it is rightfully our appeal, and not that of the Communists—lies in our traditional and deeply felt philosophy of freedom and independence for all peoples everywhere.” John F. Kennedy, “Algeria,” Congressional Record, 2 July 1957.
28. Congressional Record, 17 June 1959. Also see John F. Kennedy, “A Democrat Looks at Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, October 1957, pp. 44-59; and “General Gavin Speaks His Mind,” The Reporter, 30 October 1958.
29. Congressional Record, 14 August 1958. The description was by Stanley Baldwin to the House of Commons in 1936. See Why England Slept, pp. 140-41. Cf. John F. Kennedy, The Strategy of Peace (New York: Harper and Bros., 1960), Popular Library Edition, p. 235, in which Kennedy curiously attributes the quotation to Winston Churchill.
30. Matthew B. Ridgway, Soldier (New York: Harper and Bros., 1956); Maxwell D. Taylor, The Uncertain Trumpet (New York: Harper and Bros., 1959); James A. Gavin, War and Peace in the Space Age (New York: Harper and Bros., 1958); John Medaris, Countdown for Decision (New York: Putnam, 1960).
31. Especially Henry Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (New York: Harrer and Bros., 1957); William W. Kauffmann, “Limited Warfare,” in Kauffmann (ed.), Military Policy and National Security (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956); Robert E. Osgood, Limited War: The Challenge to American Strategy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957); and Bernard Brodie, Strategy in the Missile Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959). All cited by Kennedy in his review of James Gavin’s “War and Peace in the Space Age,” The Reporter, 30 October 1958, p. 35.
32. Advance text of address by Kennedy to the American Legion Miami Beach, Florida, 18 October 1960.
33. Missiles and Rockets, 10 October 1960, pp. 12-13.
34. John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York: Harper and Bros., 1956).
35. See Alan J. Otten, “Theodore Sorensen” in Lester Tanzer ed.), The Kennedy Circle (Washington: Luce, 1960).
36. New York Times, 10 (11?) October 1960.
37. Congressional Record, 14 June 1960.
Dr. Jean Edward Smith (A.B., Princeton University; Ph.D., Columbia University) is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto. He previously taught at Dartmouth College and in 1965-66 was a member of the Institute for Defense Analyses, Arlington, Virginia. Dr. Smith is the author of The Defense of Berlin (1963) and is a frequent contributor to service and professional journals. The present article is part of a larger study now in progress.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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