In this episode of Talks at GS, historian Fredrik Logevall discusses John F. Kennedy’s rise in American life and the ways in which Kennedy’s personal journey reflected the broader political and geopolitical story of America in the mid-20th century.
On how Kennedy’s life reflected the broader story of America in the mid-20th century: “I had a sense that this is one of the great American stories -- that the story of the Kennedy family and of him, in particular, tells us so much and that connects to the time in which he lived… I thought I can use Kennedy’s life, tell the story of his rise, but then also use it to tell the story of America’s rise because it’s quite remarkable, the United States in 1917 – the year in which he’s born is – kind of a junior member of the great power club, but it’s not really a member. It’s kind of in the wings of history… And then by 1963, when he’s killed, it’s the greatest military, economic power the world has ever seen. How does that happen? So, in that half century, I think we can tell that story.”
On how Kennedy developed his political philosophy: “We often say that the reason why [Kennedy] is so popular among Americans in recent decades is the glamour of the Kennedy White House, his beautiful family, Jackie and the kids, or it’s about his speechmaking, or it’s about the circumstances of his death… I’m sure it all does contribute to his legacy. I think more important though is… what I refer to as this political philosophy that he developed. I see it already in 1945 and 1946 – so when he’s running for Congress. It’s a capacious vision, which envisions an important leadership role for the United States abroad.”