The mountain of news coverage devoted to the life and death of John Kennedy over the last few weeks proves to anyone under the age of 50 that he was a magnetic leader able to communicate and personally connect with people.
As a nation, we haven't really felt the kind of optimism or national pride that JFK inspired since the assassination in Dallas. While Nov. 22, 1963 is a dark date frozen in our memories, the Cuban missile crisis was an earlier moment in his presidency that also commanded world attention.
The announcement of a breakthrough last weekend regarding Iran's nuclear program jogged our memories back to 1962 when Kennedy's diplomacy was able to head off nuclear war with Russia. When JFK told the nation on Oct. 22, of that year that the U.S. would use a Naval blockade around Cuba to stop Russian missiles from reaching that country, the world held its breath.
The tense two-week standoff between the Cold War superpowers was diffused when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to the U.S. offer to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the U.S. promising not to invade Cuba.
Five months into his presidency, Kennedy and Khrushchev met in Vienna regarding Berlin, which the Communists had made a divided city. Khrushchev walked away from that summit feeling that he had put the upstart young president in his place.
But 16 months later, the Russian leader found a more confident Kennedy who showed a steely resolve to protect American democracy. This time, it was Khrushchev who blinked. Russia agreed to Kennedy's demands that all Soviet supply ships move away from Cuban waters and remove the missiles from Cuba's mainland.
President Kennedy's ability to negotiate us through the Cuban missile crisis a half century ago saved us from a planet-changing nuclear holocaust. We're hopeful that sane minds prevail can once again prevail when there's a nuclear flareup such as the current one with Iran.
As was the case 51 years ago, the fate of the global community will be at stake.
By Jim Zbick