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The Kennedy Temptation

NEW YORK – Fifty years ago this month, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Many Americans believe that this tragic event marked the loss of national innocence. This is nonsense, of course. The history of the United States, like that of all countries, is soaked in blood.

But, seen from today’s perspective, Kennedy’s presidency seems like a high point of American prestige. Less than five months before his violent death, Kennedy roused a huge gathering of Germans in the center of Berlin, the frontier of the Cold War, to almost hysterical enthusiasm with his famous words, Ich bin ein Berliner.

For many millions of people, Kennedy’s America stood for freedom and hope. Like the country he represented, Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, looked so young, glamorous, rich, and full of benevolent energy. The US was a place to look up to, a model, a force for good in a world full of evil.

This image would soon be battered badly by the murders of Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and by the war in Vietnam that Kennedy had initiated. If Kennedy had completed his presidency, his legacy almost certainly would not have lived up to the expectations that he inspired.