Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam

Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam

Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam

Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam


In his thousand-day presidency, John F. Kennedy led America through one of its most difficult and potentially explosive eras. With the Cold War at its height and the threat of communist advances in Europe and the Third World, Kennedy had the unenviable task of maintaining U.S. solidarity without leading the western world into a nuclear catastrophe. In Kennedy's Wars, noted historian Lawrence Freedman draws on the best of Cold War scholarship and newly released government documents to illuminate Kennedy's approach to war and his efforts for peace. He recreates insightfully the political and intellectual milieu of the foreign policy establishment during Kennedy's era with vivid profiles of his top advisors--Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, Robert Kennedy--and influential figures such as Dean Acheson and Walt Rostow. Tracing the evolution of traditional liberalism into the Cold War liberalism of Kennedy's cabinet, Freedman evaluates their responses to the tensions in Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. He gives each conflict individual attention, showing how foreign policy decisions came to be defined for each new crisis in the light of those that had gone before. The book follows Kennedy as he wrestles with the succession of major conflicts--taking advice, weighing the risks of inadvertently escalating the Cold War into outright military confrontation, exploring diplomatic options, and forming strategic judgments that would eventually prevent a major war during his presidency.


John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the second of nine children. His father, Joseph Kennedy, was the grandson of an Irish immigrant who had made his fortune by the time he was forty. Well established in Boston and a substantial contributor to Democratic Party funds, he had a succession of appointments under Roosevelt, culminating in his appointment as American ambassador to London in 1937. After the fall of France in the spring of 1940 his open view that a German victory was all but inevitable became deeply unpopular in Britain. After he resigned from the post at the end of that year he devoted himself to the political careers of his sons.

When Joseph junior, who shared his father's isolationist views, died in action in 1944, hopes came to rest upon John, until this point more prepared to be a playboy journalist than a serious politician. John graduated from Harvard in 1940, having spent some time in London before the war. He joined the navy in 1941 and two years later was almost killed when the patrol torpedo (PT) boat he was commanding in the South Pacific was rammed and severed by an enemy destroyer. He still managed to lead his crew to safety. The PT boat provided some long-lasting friendships (including later members of his administration) and served as a formidable symbol of personal courage. After a brief spell as a journalist, during which he covered the opening session of the United Nations, he began his meteoric political rise. He never lost an election. He reached the House of Representatives in 1946, at the age of twenty-nine. Six years later he won election to the Senate, and after another eight years he won the November 1960 presidential election. On 20 January 1961, at the age of forty-three, he was inaugurated as the thirty-fifth president of the United States. An assassin cut him down on 22 November 1963.


While he lived, with the aid of Jacqueline, whom he had married in 1953, Kennedy's life invited adjectives invoking charm, charisma, gaiety, vigor . . .

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