John F. Kennedy's Involvement with the Cold War

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The 35th U.S. President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, born on May 29th 1917 in Massachusetts was the second born in the family and his father, Joseph Kennedy was an ambitious politician from a humble background as his father was a pub keeper. Kennedy went to Harvard, and upon graduation, he served in the military. He became the senator of Massachusetts in 1952 and won the reelection in 1958 with 875,000 votes that made history in Massachusetts as the largest majority win[1]. In November 1960, Kennedy he defeated Richard Nixon and became the youngest president of America at forty-three years in the American history till then. The paper aims at exploring on John Kennedy involvement with cold war and Cuban missile crisis.

Involvement in the Cold War

Even before he could gain the presidency, Kennedy was an active Cold Warrior. His first Congressional campaign contributed to him successfully winning over the anti-Cold War Democracy Party group that was led by Henry Wallace. As a Congressman, Kennedy keenly associated himself with the people who believed that the Truman Administration was not taking enough tough measures and again willingly attached his name to the “Who Lost China’s” demanding chorus[2]. In all his campaign, Kennedy played the “tough on communism” issues and in 1952 when he was running for the Senate seat in Massachusetts, he proudly stated how his work on a labor committee convicted a communist union official. After joining the Congress, Kennedy was among those in the first line to support the U.S. in all the overseas activities in fighting the Cold War.

In 1960 when he was running for the presidency, John Kennedy appealed to the issue of the ‘tough on the Soviets’ by continuously waging Eisenhower due to the idea that American lacked strong leadership and was hence falling under the Soviets. Kennedy promised more money to spend on defend after charging Eisenhower after he allowed a non-existent “missile gap” to emerge between American and the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. During the debates with Nixon, Kennedy associated the loss of Cuba with the Eisenhower policy.

After assuming the presidential office, his Inaugural speech was aggressive as he stated that America was ready to pay the price, support its allies and fight the opposing nations to ensure that success of liberty. Later on, John Kennedy gave an order to increase the spending on nuclear missiles that projected the arms race that shows the U.S losing its superiority in the nuclear arsenals in a decade[3]. He took this action to credibly claim that he was acting against the “missile gap.” JFK wanted to ban nuclear activities due to environmental reasons and not because he wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons.

John Kennedy made significant efforts in reducing the direct tension with the Soviets after the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved. However, this does not mean that he wanted to back away from the fundamental principle of repression first articulated in the Truman Doctrine[4]. The idea of America backing away was impractical as Kennedy believed in David Brinkley’s “Domino Theory” for national security and political purposes. For such reasons, Kennedy deemed it was important to hold the line in Vietnam hence increased the American’s military troops from five hundred to sixteen thousand. Besides, he repeatedly insisted that the U.S was not there to lose the war even when Vietnam was in the final analysis of their war. Kennedy disagreed with the people who suggested that he should pull out the American troop from Vietnam. John Kennedy overthrew Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem; he left Lyndon Johnson with unpleasant choices of going in with full force or pulling out entirely in 1964 when the decision on military action in Vietnam was made. Lyndon Johnson was faced by detrimental political risks that influenced Kennedy, and had no choice but increase the American military role in Vietnam. The decision was made through the legacy left behind by John Kennedy and not through the military industrial complex.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis created tension form thirteen days as the U.S, and the Soviets were on a standoff over placing the nuclear missiles in Cuba. The experience faced by John Kennedy and his administration has been described as the Cold War era’s most dangerous crisis in the human history, particularly regarding the appalling loss of life inevitability in a nuclear war. On 22 October 1962, Kennedy declared to the public that the Soviets had directed nuclear arms to Cuba[5]. In response, America decided to block military equipment shipments from Cuba. The U.S. was against Cuba becoming a missile base for the Soviet Union. In this regard, America stated that any missile that will be launched from Cuba would be perceived as an attack by the Soviets on the U.S. and such would call for a full military response. For a while, the details on the Cuba missile situation was regarded as the best-kept secret in the history of the American government.

In seven days, JFK Administration acted as everything was as usual as they maintained an outward appearance of normal political and social activities. Meanwhile, America took this time to alert all the military units from all over the word about the issue. Through a volunteer peacemaker, Pope John XXIII, communication messages were sent back and forth between Kennedy and Khrushchev administration. During this time, the Soviet Union ships were approaching the blockade area in the Atlantic Ocean, so they had to slow down and stop. On 28 October 1962, the Soviets agreed to remove their missiles from Cuba. The Cuban crisis outcome was a treaty to ban all the nuclear tests between the Soviets and U.S- an agreement, which Kennedy regarded as the first stage to achieving peace.” On 25 July 1963, both parties signed the treaty that also set up a hotline for emergency communication between Moscow and Washington D.C. Therefore, the Cuban missile crisis presents one of the many occasions when Kennedy and his administration had to provide sturdy and effective leadership.

Summarizing, Kennedy left behind a great legacy as he accomplished a lot like the president of the U.S. before his assassination on 22 November 1963. Kennedy’s iconic reputation was more important than his legislative actions. How he handled the Soviets challenge on launching a missile base in Cuba won many hearts as Kennedy vowed to defend American at any cost. John Kennedy could probably be the most remembered president following his election as the youngest Catholic President, glamorous family life, inspiring speeches, and his tragic death.



O'Brien, Michael. John F. Kennedy: a biography. Macmillan, 2005.

O'Donnell, Kenneth P., and David F. Powers. "Johnny, we hardly knew ye": memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Open Road Media, 2013.

Parmet, Herbert S. JFK: the presidency of John F. Kennedy. Doubleday, 1983.

Walton, Richard J. Cold War and counterrevolution: The foreign policy of John F. Kennedy. Viking Adult, 1972.

[1] Walton, Richard J. Cold War and counterrevolution: The foreign policy of John F. Kennedy. Viking Adult, 1972.

[2] Schlesinger, Arthur M. A thousand days: John F. Kennedy in the White House. HMH, 2002.

[3] Walton, Richard J. Cold War and counterrevolution: The foreign policy of John F. Kennedy. Viking Adult, 1972.

[4] O'Brien, Michael. John F. Kennedy: a biography. Macmillan, 2005.

[5] O'Donnell, Kenneth P., and David F. Powers. "Johnny, we hardly knew ye": memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Open Road Media, 2013.

November 13, 2023

Government History War

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John F. Kennedy Cold War

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