I don’t watch a ton of television but I do think flopping onto the couch, clicking on the tube and mindlessly flipping through channels every now and again can be a very healthy activity for the human psyche. I did exactly that last night, discovering an incredibly intriguing documentary called JFK: A President Betrayed. Born in 1967, four years after Kennedy’s assassination, I, like you, have always been well aware of Kennedy’s greatness as a leader, but have never been clear on the exact reasons why. What made the patterns of his presidency so exceptional, especially to us, today,at a time when politicians and public service have lost much of their appeal amongst people?
The film makes the point that Kennedy was willing to mitigate conflict and avoid taking up arms against aggressors at almost all cost, never giving up on efforts to resolve a problem before going to war. While ready to preserve American interests, he constantly strove for peace. Unaccepting of Fidel Castro’s alliance with Russia, he still held a disposition to dialogue with the Cuban dictator and other world leaders on an idealogical divide, pointing out that Yugoslavia’s Tito was a communist, and that communism per se was not the problem, that the world was rapidly evolving, making tolerance paramount to preserving mankind’s future. All this while surrounded by pressures from advisers who were military luminaries from the second World War like General Curtis Lemay, leader of the bombing squads over Nazi Germany.
Kennedy constantly stood his ground and upheld his agenda, doing what he knew to be right, even in the face of enormous political risk. One nice clip exhibited the young Senator from Massachusetts making the point that the decisions of big government must be guided by the conscience of the people, vis-a-vis lack of support for the conflict in Vietnam, stating his desire for America to pull out before the clash escalated into full scale war. Along with rare interviews with Cold War interpreters Alexander Akalovsky (Kennedy’s) and Viktor Sukhodrev (Nikita Khrushchev’s), the documentary highlights many of Kennedy’s outstanding orations. “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate” is a line now recalled, along with, “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No matter of human destiny is beyond human beings.” The filmmakers were inspired by writings on Kennedy by Japanese Buddhist Philosopher Daisaku Ikeda, an excellent subject for an upcoming post.
Above all, JFK: A President Betrayed drives home the point that John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency exuded the principle that one individual can have a profound effect on the whole. His leadership empowers us to recognize the value of the single human being, offering up one of the finest historical examples of guidance by a man marked by true individuality. The story proves the power of the individual, the individual being the engine of progress. Check it out.