The Life and Legacy of President John F. Kennedy

October 2, 2008
By Deanna Kovach, Charlotte, NC

Many people are interested in the life and legacy of President John F. Kennedy. His youthful charisma and many promises and plans to improve the lives of Americans and the country itself seemed to attract voters. The people of the United States were excited and enthusiastic about having President Kennedy guide them into a “New Frontier”.

President Kennedy’s “New Frontier” program had many goals. First, President Kennedy wanted to help further the country’s development and improve technology; he had a strong desire for the United States to prosper and always be more advanced than the Russians. Second, he wanted to prevent the spread of Communism, help the people suffering under Communist rule to achieve their independence, and help free nations fight Communists. Third, President Kennedy thought it was necessary to eliminate any possibilities of nuclear war by limiting the use of atomic weapons. Fourth, he wished to maintain good relationships with each NATO member country. Fifth, he wanted to use government funds to provide equal educational opportunities in every state as well as improve the school systems. Sixth, President Kennedy believed in providing every American with all their rights; the President thought everyone should have the right to vote, equal job opportunities, and equal educational opportunities. Seventh, Kennedy wished to eliminate poverty and help older Americans receive better medical care. Eighth, he had several plans to control the economy, prevent inflation, and reduce taxes. Last, President Kennedy’s planned to put a man on the moon by 1970; he wanted the United States to be ahead of the Soviet Union as well as the entire world in the space race.

Since President Kennedy was very active in foreign affairs, there were many parts to his foreign policy. The major goal or theme in this policy was to contain Communism and prevent Communist takeovers by getting rid of poverty and promoting equal rights. The first challenge to this idea came when Communist groups were becoming prominent in Laos; fourteen countries tried to keep Laos neutral before the Communists gained power. Kennedy also tried to prevent Communism in Cuba with the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion and he showed the world that he wanted to help free those under Communist rule when he sent over a thousand American troops to Germany after a wall was built in order to keep West Berlin free. His approach to world conflicts, which was called “flexible response”, was to allow the military to respond based on the magnitude and the risks involved. One of the most important parts of Kennedy’s foreign policy was the concept of “MAD”, which was sometimes called “Mutual Assured Destruction” or “deterrence”; this idea called for the United States to have enough nuclear weapons to annihilate the enemy, which was the Soviet Union during Kennedy’s term, whether or not they strike first; because he ordered a blockade of Cuba during the missile crisis, Kennedy showed the Soviet Union that the United States was powerful enough to fight for their cause. The idea of “deterrence” led to the creation of ICBMs, or intercontinental ballistic missiles, Polaris missiles, and nuclear submarines. President Kennedy was known for being kind to other nations and wanting world peace. He wanted to bring both parts of Vietnam together under non-Communist rule. The African nations that just achieved their independence admired the American President and considered him a great friend and ally. President Kennedy presented his “Grand Design” plan in an effort to lower taxes in Europe and strengthen the relationships between the NATO member countries; he also devised a plan, the “Alliance for Progress”, to assist the economies of Latin American countries with American financial help in order to prevent Communism. Also, members of the newly created Peace Corps were sent around the world to eliminate poverty and help the destitute.

The domestic programs in Kennedy’s New Frontier were similar to programs in Roosevelt’s New Deal. Since the prosperity of the United States was an important part of the New Frontier, President Kennedy aimed to advance the development of the nation’s economy and businesses and eliminate poverty. In an effort to regulate prices, he suggested the use of “wage-price guideposts”, which made it mandatory for salaries to increase whenever the production increased; this concept allowed prices to remain the same. President Kennedy was a firm believer in equal rights for all Americans, so naturally the New Frontier called for equal treatment, rights, and opportunities for everyone; he formed the Committee on Equal Employment to help everyone have the same job opportunities.

The New Frontier had many achievements. In the Housing Act of 1961, the government gave billions of dollars to improve urban homes. The Area Redevelopment Act was passed in order to make new industries, which created new jobs for the unemployed; more unemployed people received insurance. The passing of the Revenue Act helped companies that were modernizing their machines and technology because it reduced their income taxes. President Kennedy helped the American economy by spending a lot of money for military and space projects. Also, the minimum wage increased. The New Frontier brought much advancement concerning civil rights. The Twenty-fourth amendment, which abolished poll taxes and gave more people the ability to vote, was created. Hotels, bus terminals, theaters, restaurants, housing developments, and universities were all desegregated. President Kennedy even helped more blacks get government jobs and better educational opportunities.

Unfortunately, the New Frontier had some failures. At one point, the stock market suffered after the United States Steel Company increased their prices, which caused all the other prices to increase, and later decreased them; the stock market would not have plummeted if they followed the example of other companies that used the “wage-price guideposts”. The taxes were never lowered like planned. Even after fourteen countries (including the United States) tried to keep Laos neutral, the government of Laos became unstable and eventually Communist. When the United States government would aid Latin American countries in the “Alliance for Progress” program, sometimes dictators would receive large amounts of American aid just because they were not Communist. The biggest failure of Kennedy’s New Frontier was the Bay of Pigs invasion; President Kennedy planned to train a large group of Cuban refugees from Central America to attack Cuba and get rid of the new Communist dictator, Fidel Castro. The invasion did not go well because the refugees were defeated and were not released until the United States paid Castro millions of dollars. Also, some people consider the Peace Corps a failure because it cost a lot of money, most Americans did not have the qualifications or experience to help, and several countries did not want American help.

No one really knows why President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. The entire nation, including all the people who never really supported him, was surprised, disappointed, and terrified; their morale was lowered because they were now without their smart, young leader who was also the first President of the United States to be born in the twentieth century. Although John F. Kennedy was President of the United States for less than one term, everyone still thought of him as a great leader. He will always be known for his part in the Cold War: promoting the freedom of Berlin, fighting Communism, and the space race. Americans will always remember him as a bold, young leader with a lot of potential who wanted to make a difference.

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