When we think of John F. Kennedy, we often remember him as the charismatic 35th president of the United States and the man who, along with his elegant wife, Jacqueline, brought a touch of glamour to the White House. However, there’s a lesser-known side to JFK’s life that often gets overshadowed by his political career—a side that involves writing, reflection, and intellectual pursuits. In this article, we will explore the intriguing journey of John F. Kennedy as a writer, thinker, and statesman, shedding light on the lesser-known facets of his life that contributed to his enduring legacy.
Before ascending to the highest office in the land, John F. Kennedy had already made a name for himself as a writer. His writing journey began during his formative years when he embarked on a trip to Europe with his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, in 1938 and 1939. At that time, Joseph Kennedy served as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and young John witnessed firsthand the failure of Britain’s appeasement strategy in the face of rising Nazi aggression.
This experience left a deep impression on the young Kennedy, and upon returning home, he channeled his observations and reflections into his graduate thesis. The result was the book “Why England Slept,” published in 1940, which became an instant success. It was a prescient analysis of the political and military missteps that had led to World War II. Even before entering the political arena, JFK had already proven himself as a thoughtful and accomplished writer.
The trajectory of John F. Kennedy’s life took a different turn during World War II when he joined the United States Navy. His service in the Navy would later elevate him to the status of a national hero. In 1943, as the commander of the PT-109 patrol boat in the South Pacific, Kennedy’s boat was struck by a Japanese destroyer, and he led the crew to safety. His bravery and leadership earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism.
After the war, Kennedy’s focus shifted to politics. In 1946, he was elected as the Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts’ 11th congressional district, marking the beginning of his political career. He served three terms in the House of Representatives before moving on to the Senate in 1952.
It was during his time in the Senate, while recuperating from a back procedure in 1956, that Kennedy embarked on another significant writing project that would solidify his reputation as a writer. He began crafting his book “Profiles in Courage,” a collection of biographical sketches of U.S. Senators who had displayed exceptional courage in the face of political pressure and adversity.
“Profiles in Courage” was published in 1957 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1958. The book explored the challenges faced by politicians in remaining true to their principles while navigating the pressures exerted by constituents, political parties, and their own personal ambitions. It remains relevant today, offering valuable lessons about the complexities of political life and the necessity of compromise in a democratic system.
Kennedy’s message in “Profiles in Courage” resonates with the ongoing challenges faced by politicians who must find a delicate balance between competing interests in order to govern effectively. He argued that politicians who are willing to compromise and adapt their positions in response to changing circumstances display a certain kind of bravery, rather than being mere opportunists.
Kennedy wrote, “The art of conciliation, balancing, and interpreting the forces and factions of public opinion is an essential skill for keeping our nation united and enabling our government to function.” In a world where political polarization often dominates the discourse, these words serve as a reminder of the importance of finding common ground.
In “Profiles in Courage,” John F. Kennedy provides readers with historical examples of political bravery and principled leadership. The stories of these figures mirror the challenges faced by politicians in today’s Washington, D.C., and offer valuable insights into the nature of public service.
One such example is that of John Quincy Adams, who, in 1807, served a short term in the Senate and defied the wishes of both his constituents and his party, the Federalists, by endorsing a Republican trade embargo in response to British aggression. His principled stance led to his loss of the Senate seat the following year, demonstrating the personal sacrifices often required of those who stand by their convictions.
Another contemporary example is that of Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator who, during his second term in 2006, called for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq and, in 2007, referred to the surge in Iraq as the most significant foreign policy mistake since Vietnam. Despite facing criticism from his own party, Hagel maintained his stance, emphasizing the importance of political courage in the face of divisive issues.
Interesting Facts About JFK
Author of Several Books: While “Profiles in Courage” is his most famous work, JFK wrote other books as well. One notable example is “A Nation of Immigrants,” published in 1958, where he explored the contributions of immigrants to the United States.
Health Struggles: Throughout his life, Kennedy battled various health issues. He suffered from Addison’s disease, a condition affecting the adrenal glands, which he managed with medications and regular treatments. His health challenges were kept relatively secret during his political career.
The First Catholic President: Kennedy was not only the youngest president but also the first and, to date, the only Catholic to hold the office. His Catholic faith was a topic of discussion during his campaign, with concerns raised about potential religious influence on his presidency.
Pulitzer Prize: In addition to “Profiles in Courage,” JFK received a Pulitzer Prize for another work. His book “While England Slept,” which expanded on his college thesis, earned him the prize in 1957.
Hobbies and Interests: Beyond politics and writing, JFK had a keen interest in various hobbies. He was an avid sailor and often spent time on his yacht, the Manitou. He also enjoyed golf and is said to have played frequently, even while in office.
PT-109 Incident: Before his political career, Kennedy served in the Navy during World War II. His patrol boat, PT-109, was famously rammed by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy’s leadership helped save his crew, and this incident became a significant part of his personal lore.
Space Exploration Advocate: Kennedy’s presidency saw the United States making significant strides in space exploration. He was a strong supporter of NASA and is remembered for setting the ambitious goal of landing a man on the moon and bringing him back safely before the end of the 1960s, which was achieved with the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
White House Swimming Pool: To help alleviate his back pain, JFK had a swimming pool installed in the White House. This pool allowed him to engage in water therapy exercises, which were essential for his physical well-being.
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: One of Kennedy’s significant achievements in foreign policy was the signing of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. This treaty marked a step towards nuclear disarmament and prohibited nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, underwater, and in space.
Peace Corps: Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, a program that encourages Americans to volunteer and provide assistance in developing countries. The Peace Corps has since sent thousands of volunteers around the world to promote peace and development.
John F. Kennedy’s legacy extends far beyond his presidency. He was not only a charismatic leader but also a skilled writer and thinker who grappled with the complexities of political life. His book “Profiles in Courage” remains a timeless work that offers valuable insights into the challenges faced by politicians and the importance of principled leadership.
As we reflect on the life and contributions of John F. Kennedy, we should remember not only his famous speeches and presidential achievements but also his early writings, his service in the Navy, and his dedication to the principles of political courage. These lesser-known aspects of his life serve as a testament to his multifaceted character and his enduring impact on American history.