John F. Kennedy


Over 50 years after the assassination of JFK, join Active Minds for a look at his life and legacy.  Kennedy’s brief presidency coincided with some of the most dramatic foreign policy events of his time including the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the escalation of the Vietnam War.  In this program, we will cover these milestones, and also seek to go beyond them toward a deeper understanding of the man behind the public image.

Key Lecture Points

  • John F. Kennedy was born in 1917 to a wealthy Irish Catholic family in Boston.  He was chronically ill as a child and an indifferent student.  JFK ruptured a disk in his back while playing football at Harvard—an injury that would plague him for the rest of his life.
  • After graduating, Kennedy served in the Navy during WWII.  Assigned to a torpedo patrol boat in the Pacific, his craft was attacked and he suffered further damage to his back.  He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for saving the life of one of his crew.
  • Kennedy served in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate before running for and winning the Presidency in 1960. and won the election due to his easy use of the new medium of television.
  • The major foreign policy events marking Kennedy’s presidency were the Bay of Pigs debacle, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the creation of the Peace Corps, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  During the Kennedy years, the Cold War became more belligerent and both sides possessed enough nuclear arms to destroy the world.  Meanwhile at home the desegregation and the civil rights movement were the major domestic issues of his presidency.
  • Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 while riding in a motorcade during a political appearance in Dallas, Texas.  His assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed by Jack Ruby before standing trial.  The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald acted alone, but conspiracy theories continue to circulate.
  • Kennedy continues to fascinate us as a compelling charismatic leader who served during a period of immense foreign policy challenges and during a time of tumultuous generational change.  Serving as President for only 1000 days before his assassination, Kennedy is remembered as much as an icon of his generation as for his foreign and domestic policy achievements.

Exploration Questions

  • What were the major policy issues Kennedy faced in his tenure as President?
  • Why is the Cuban Missile Crisis such a pivotal point in the Cold War?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you think Kennedy was one of our best presidents?  Why?  Why Not?
  • Where were you when Kennedy was shot?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Widmer, Ted and Caroline Kennedy. Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy.  Hyperion, 2012. 320 pages.  JFK installed recording devices in the Oval Office and Cabinet Room to insure there would be an accurate record of his decision-making.  These CDs provide a insider account of the Kennedy Presidency.
    Click here to order
  • Kennedy, Robert F. and Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr. Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. 185 pages. Robert Kennedy’s own account of the crisis and his insights as to the thoughts and actions of his brother, the President.
    Click here to order