Becoming JFK: A Profile in Communication

By Vito N. Silvestri | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 20
Epilogue: John F. Kennedy As a
Communicator

Just as he learned to campaign by campaigning, so Kennedy learned to communicate by communicating, in a trial-and-error process. He spent the final eighteen years of his life as a public communicator, speaking informally and formally about problems and issues, using print and electronic media to communicate his message.

Much of Kennedy's public discourse was dominated by three broad ideas: the preparedness limitations of democratic governments he discussed in Why England Slept; his belief that Americans could make progress and perfect their democratic way of life; and the prevailing premise that mankind's problems are manmade, therefore, they are resolvable by man.


I. PREPAREDNESS IN A NUCLEAR AGE IS THE BEST DEFENSE
AGAINST TOTALITARIAN GOVERNMENTS

As a scholar studying England's predicament in 1939, Kennedy learned that democracies needed to be vigilant against attack by totalitarian governments. During his presidency he lived this idea: 1. he increased ground forces for a flexible response to the Berlin crisis, and 2. during the chilling days of the Cuban Missile crisis, he learned that the United States' fifteenminute response time was insufficient to meet ICBMs with nuclear warheads from Cuban soil. The missiles could reach targets in the United States within three to eight minutes. His strategies of secrecy, surprise, and negotiation put the United States in a winning position.

But his larger ideas about democracy emerged from having lived in a democracy, from his eyewitness comparisons of that democracy with governments in Europe and Asia, from his extensive reading, from his experiences of World War II in the South Pacific, and from understanding the meaning of victory over Germany and Japan.

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