Fifty years ago today, the President of the United States was assassinated. It was a moment that devastated America. President John F. Kennedy was beloved by the majority of Americans. His family had become American royalty, and the press was his faithful servant. With charm and good looks, President Kennedy had won a close election against Richard Nixon, and had taken leadership of a nation divided almost perfectly in half. Nixon had conceded defeat, thought the vote count was close enough that he could have demanded a recount. Through Nixon’s magnanimous example and President Kennedy’s naturally beguiling personality, a divided nation healed after a contentious Presidential race.
JFK was an imperfect man, as we all are. He was personally immoral, and he consorted with criminals (who likely helped him defeat Nixon). On foreign policy he was a novice and he made mistakes – like allowing the Bay of Pigs assault but not following through on the promised support. This mistake would doom a small island nation to despotism for the next 60 years (at least), and almost lead the world into nuclear destruction.
But his most important moments in office were victories.
He was a champion for racial equality, working closely with Republicans to push forward the Civil Rights Act. His own party was woefully divided over the Civil Rights issue, so JFK leaned on the Republican Party, who were united in their support for the Civil Rights Act, to make sure that the legislation moved forward.
In 1962 he faced down Nikolai Khrushchev and the might of the Soviet Empire during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He made America look strong while forcing Krushchev to submit and withdraw from Cuba.
His crowning moment may have come just a few months before his death as he stood before the people of Berlin and reminded the world that we all stood on the brink of disaster because of the danger posed by the Soviet Union.
Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was “civis Romanus sum.” Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass’ sic nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.
Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years.
Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.
All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
Then, in Dallas, just over three years into his Presidency, JFK was gunned down on November 22, 1963, as he rode through the streets with his wife.
In my opinion, President Kennedy was not a great President nor a moral, upright man. However, he was the President of the United States and for that deserves the respect of his fellow Americans. He had many flaws but also great accomplishments.
Fifty years later we remember his life and legacy and we reject the violence that took him from us.
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