History through the Looking Glass: JFK Saint or Sinner?

As The United States of America and many of its allies acknowledge, honour and remember the late president John F Kennedy through observing the 50th anniversary of his assassination the question ‘What if JFK had lived’ has been raised. ‘What if’ questions from an historical perspective are well worth asking because they require an analysis of the past from a number of different perspectives. For example, what if Japan hadn’t bombed Pearl Harbour? Would the United States have maintained its policy of isolation? Where and when would have the nuclear bomb been tested in the theatre of war? (It would have only been a matter of time). Some of the most fascinating historical ‘what if’ questions are in regards to Adolf Hitler. What if Hitler hadn’t survived the numerous attempts to assassinate him? What if the Soviet armies hadn’t been able to repel Hitler’s Wehrmacht? Would Stalin have shaped up to be a more humane leader?
While ideological movements like National Socialism require the inspiration and momentum of charismatic leaders, once they are well established they develop a momentum all of their own. Hitler established a hierarchy which allowed him to be above the brutality and ruthlessness of his own political party and its various divisions, and while giving tacit, often silent agreement to its actions he was adept and astute at avoiding full accountability. Sir Ian Kershaw makes this point well in arguing that Hitler had plenty of people to carry out ‘The Final Solution, and that Himmler and Heydrich were at the end of the day its main architects. (Rees, 2013) For every Hitler that is assassinated or hadn’t existed others were sure to arise-as events since WWll have shown us. The world is never spared its suffering at the hands of madmen.
Good men throughout history are perhaps more difficult to locate. Shakespeare reminds us so “The evil men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with the bones” (Shakespeare, 1999). John Fitzgerald Kennedy was considered an extraordinary man for his time. A WWll veteran, who unlike many of his successors saw action in the theatre of war, went on to become the 35th president of the United States. He is most remembered for navigating his country through the perilous difficulties of the Cold War with the USSR, the Civil Rights movement, The Bay of Pigs Invasion, The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space race, and the Apollo space exploration program. Like all people who hold political office he was subject to public scrutiny of his private life and it was well known at the time that J Edgar Hoover –his arch nemesis kept a detailed file of JFK’s private life. In the 50 years since he died there’s been a lot of research and study into Kennedy’s private life and attempts by some to discredit him as a weak moral leader. But despite these attempts at sullying his reputation, John F Kennedy remains one of the few contradictions to Shakespeare’s view that the good men do is lost on their death, because a lot of the good JFK began lives on to this present day. In particulars it was his hope for a better future which resonates with millions today when his named is invoked. In reality John F Kennedy is neither saint nor sinner-he is a dead man who continues to inspire hope in a secular world seemingly desperate for something positive to grasp and hold on too. There’s no doubt that if the US congress instituted the processes of beatification and canonisation JFK would be on top of their list.
Rees, L. (2013, November 23). Hitler and the Holocaust. Retrieved from WW2 History.com: http://ww2history.com/experts/Sir_Ian_Kershaw/Hitler_and_the_Holocaust
Shakespeare, W. (1999). Julius Caesar, Act 3, Sc. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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