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Personal Actions of John F. Kennedy leading to his Assassination (Fall 2012)

             There are many forces that affect and shape the course of history. These forces have been studied by historians and narrowed into nine categories. One of the forces that is studied is the role an individual plays. The actions of a specific individual can be a major influence throughout history. The role a President plays in America is vital and John F. Kennedy had his roles to say the least. He had numerous crises and critical events to deal with. He made many decisions for the country that ultimately lead to his assassination. It is crucial to understand the personal role Kennedy played in America during his presidency to understand events and theories about his assassination. 

        It is very important to understand the role of a person before and during a major event in history. The individual’s role my not be the main force of change but it is undoubtedly a critical part of it. To understand the feeling of Americans and the countries America had contact with, it is important to know the role JFK played. He obviously had great influence and ideologies since he was assassinated for them. Almost certain of Kennedy’s reelection, the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald took matters into his own hands, as he believed that Kennedy’s power and charisma would surely captivate the nation which Oswald could not let happen. It is important to understand what decisions and ideas Kennedy had that led to him being killed. Three major events that Kennedy had to handle were the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.

        The first major event in Kennedy’s presidency was the Bay of Pigs Invasion. This was an event involving American attempts to intervene in Cuba. Fidel Castro just had gained power in Cuba and the United States did not trust Castro. Since Cuba was so close to America, Eisenhower believed they should intervene. Kennedy was briefed by the CIA at his inauguration of the secret invasion to Cuba to attempt to overthrow Castro and the Cuban government. Kennedy authorized the plan and stressed the importance of secrecy, so he decided to invade at the Bay of Pigs, a swampy, deserted area of Cuba. The JFK library online recaps the main points of what happened at the invasion; The bombers missed many of their targets and left most of Castro's air force intact. As news broke of the attack, photos of the repainted U.S. planes became public and revealed American support for the invasion. President Kennedy cancelled a second air strike. On April 17, the Cuban-exile invasion force, known as Brigade 2506, landed at beaches along the Bay of Pigs and immediately came under heavy fire. Cuban planes strafed the invaders, sank two escort ships, and destroyed half of the exile's air support (John F. Kennedy, Presidential Library and Museum Online). 

            Because of the mistakes by America, Cuba was irate. Castro responded with reinforcements of troops, weaponry of all varieties, and violent tactics. He took many prisoners and held them as punishment. This failure would loom as a dark shadow over Kennedy’s presidency. The event was a bad decision by the U.S. and would complicate foreign affairs for America in the future.

        Kennedy’s presidency started off hot and heavy. He was making important and critical choices for the country in only his first few days in the office. He was not too popular in America for that decision to invade. Although it wasn’t his idea, he approved it and was in charge when it happened and that’s what is important in the eyes of the people. He wasn’t making friends anywhere really, especially not in Cuba. He invaded the country to help, assuming he would have their support. The failure of the mission caused great conflict and struggle in Cuba and the people were not happy about that. This event made Kennedy distrusted and not liked in many peoples’ eyes.

        The second major event the Kennedy had to deal with was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy’s presidency was during the Cold War, a competitive, non-violent conflict between the Soviets and Americans, and the crisis occurred when the Soviets were trailing America in the arms race. The Soviets knew they were behind America in terms of weapon production, but they believed that their missile arsenal was powerful if used in the right way. After negotiating with Castro, the Soviets begin to secretly build and transport arms to Cuba. The United States discovered these missiles in Cuba because of photographs taken. Immediately, Kennedy went into crisis management mode. He assembled a group of twelve advisors to help him during a time of great scare in America. The whole country was terrified and they needed a strong presence of a leader. Kennedy was that leader America needed. Oracle Education Foundation illustrates Kennedy’s important response to the crisis when it says, “He also proclaimed that any nuclear missile launched from Cuba would be regarded as an attack on the United States by the Soviet Union and demanded that the Soviets remove all of their offensive weapons from Cuba” (St. Olaf Education Foundation). This is significant because he threatened the Soviet Union with retaliation efforts.  Russia eventually decided to remove the weaponry from Cuba, and the crisis was absolved. Because of this threat by Kennedy, the crisis is the closest the world has been to nuclear warfare.

        Kennedy’s actions and decisions in this crisis had effects on multiple countries and its people. First of all, Americans received Kennedy’s actions extremely well. Their country was under nuclear war threat and Kennedy stood up for them in the face of danger. Naturally, the country was very happy with that and with its leader. However, the Soviets felt differently about the situation. They had to admire his fortitude, but they felt he was a hypocrite. He was causing uproar about their missile production in Cuba, while America had the same thing going on in Turkey against the Soviets. This couldn’t make them too happy as they felt as though they were returning the favor to the United States. Cuba was caught in the middle of the conflict between the two world powers, however not to suggest that Cuba was completely innocent. Cuba agreed to the deal with Russia because of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. They felt anger and spite towards the U.S and Kennedy. His actions did not help his image among Cubans. He responded powerfully and threatened war on both Cuba and the Soviet Union and Cubans were not thrilled by this possibility. This stage in his presidency, he gained American support while creating more distance between foreign affairs.

        The final major event in the time Kennedy was president was the Vietnam War. Kennedy’s motivation behind joining the South Vietnamese war efforts was simple: contain the spread of communism. He knew the North Vietnamese army would overpower the South’s and communism would spread. Not allowing this to happen, he decided to put funding and troops to help the effort. The “History Learning” website explains Kennedy’s orders by stating, “Kennedy agreed that America should finance an increase in the size of the South Vietnamese Army from 150,000 to 170,000. He also agreed that an extra 1000 US military advisors should be sent to South Vietnam to help train the South Vietnamese Army” (History Learning online). The reason he was dedicated to helping South Vietnam was because he knew if they fell, there would be a domino effect by the other regions around Vietnam. Ignoring all critics or advisors, he sent the U.S. army in to help. The next effects are all gruesome. Warfare began and it was a long, difficult conflict. Many South Vietnamese people began to support the North because of policies and control by the helping United States militia. The war stretches on, as it is known, for quite some time and yields no clear victor. 

        The Vietnam War, like the Bay of Pigs, was an event that made Kennedy fairly unpopular with most peoples. First, he brought America into a grueling war for many years for reasons that many people do not have full support of. Looking back at the war and its effects and losses, the choice is easily second guessed. Lots of Americans were lost in a unpopular war effort in Vietnam. He went into war to help the South Vietnamese but he turned them against him as well. The policies to remove South Vietnamese people from their villages was not taken well by the people and forced many into support of the North Vietnamese who were invading them. When the nation you are helping is skeptical of your choices shows the conflict Kennedy was involved in. Obviously the North was not happy that he involved himself in their business and was not well liked by the North Vietnamese. 

        With all of these events that occurred in the time he was President, he made some good and bad decisions. The peoples he was involved with all had different opinions of him. Americans grew to love him. He was a great leader in a time where great strife and trial engulfed America. He led the nation forward amongst all the conflicts. It was a time where America needed a good, strong leader because these conflicts could have put America into many difficult binds. A way to measure his popularity was the fact that he was believed to regain office in America, had he not been assassinated. 

        The Soviets were not huge fans of Kennedy. They were competing with him throughout the Cold War and had constant foreign affair dilemmas with him and the United States. He made enemies there but he did it for the maintenance of his own country. Russia was an enemy of America and Kennedy was the leader of the Soviets enemy so it was not expected that he would be well liked. However, events like the Cuban Missile Crisis did not help Kennedy’s cause in the eyes of Russians.

        The remaining countries that Kennedy most closely dealt with were also not supporters of Kennedy either. Cuba was irate with him from the start for invading the country to attempt to overthrow its rulers. The threat of nuclear warfare soon after that did not help any either. The Vietnamese came to resent him because of the choice to invade and help in the Vietnam War. The South Vietnamese were being helped out by Kennedy but they felt the U.S. was taking too much control of their own area in helping them out. The North did not appreciate America assisting the South out in the war. Especially for the reason that they believed the war did not concern the U.S. at all.

        This leads to the topic of his assassination. The choices he made as President were not easy and were very large scale. In doing so, he made many enemies. Assassination theorists suggest a larger conspiracy to his assassination. Their ideas are not fact but provide interesting thought. They believe that his assassination was not just a simple man gone mad. Rather, they believe many other forces could be behind Lee Harvey Oswald. Some argue that the Soviet Union was behind Oswald and assisted him in taking out the president, which the Soviets had plenty of reasons they may want to. Oswald had lived in Russia for a while and was an expert marksman. Other theorists believe the CIA is behind the plot. The reason people believe that is because Kennedy was not actively involved in the CIA and actually was rumored to be shutting down the infrastructure of the CIA had he not been killed. Whatever the motivation or the conspiracy, Kennedy had a presidency filled with big events that called for important decisions. He benefitted America in many ways, so much so that he was viewed as a threat to outside countries. 

  1. "Cuban Missile Crisis: Summary." ThinkQuest. Oracle Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.
  2. "John F Kennedy and Vietnam." John F Kennedy and Vietnam. History Learning Site, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2012.
  3. Kennedy, Robert F., Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: 1969.
  4. "The Bay of Pigs." - John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. John F. Kennedy, Presidential Library and Museum, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2012.