President John F Kennedy


Acres of column inches will be written this week by the world’s media marking the anniversary of the death of JFK.

I still remember the sense of shock and dismay at the sudden loss of this iconic figure, resolute and alone it seemed in confronting the threat of the Russian nuclear arsenal. Hard to feel it now, but there was a very real sense at the time that the world was on the edge of nuclear obliteration, catalysed by this clash of systems.

I don't propose to reprise events; others who are better equipped will do that. But what does strike me, reflecting back over 50 years, is the corrosive desire to divide, that Kennedy would have referenced had he lived to deliver his address, is alive and flourishing today.

“Voices are being heard in the land,” he wrote "voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness."

 "At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.

"We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will 'talk sense to the American people.' But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense."

Fast-forward 50 years and the American President again has a fractious relationship with the GOP, manifesting in partial shut down of the administration as the he wrestles with Congress over the levers of power, with accusation and counter accusation plumbing new depths of vitriol.

This side of the Atlantic, left and right strive to do each other down with bitter recrimination and invective, calculated to harm and hurt. Others chisel false divides between rich and poor, with bankers and energy chiefs the latest to be demonised and demoted to a sub human mischaracterisation

Like us all, Kennedy had feet of clay, but his vision could soar beyond the limitations of his own humanity: –

"First examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that forces grip us we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, man can solve them. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings."

"For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."

In a sad and tragic twist of irony the Philippines disaster last week has reinforced how fragile our hold on shelter, security and life itself can be.

Darkness and hate snatched John F Kennedy from us prematurely, but his vision of peace, a vision that pulled the world back from the brink of disaster all those years ago lives on.

How poignant then that the no 1 chart topping record that week in November 1963 was 'You'll Never Walk Alone.

How good it would be this week to remember the message of JFK, as we mourn the man.