John F. Kennedy on War & Peace



FactCheck: RFK hid truth of Cuban Missile Crisis until 1997

Robert McNamara wrote in the introduction to "Thirteen Days" (pp. 14-6): "it was Robert Kennedy's suggestion, when we received two contradictory messages from Khrushchev, the first favorable and the second unfavorable, that we reply to the first and not the second. He drafted the reply; they were the terms on which the settlement ultimately was based." That is the theme of the RFK's book; it was intended to be the theme of his presidency; it is based on a falsehood.

In fact, JFK accepted the "second unfavorable message," which would remove Soviet missiles in Cuba in exchange for removing US missiles in Turkey. RFK negotiated that secret deal with his Soviet counterpart; that deal remained secret until 1997. But because the book was published in 1969, and the secret kept for decades, our generation was taught that falsehood as political fact. OnTheIssues calls this "biggest lie perpetrated by the American government on the American people in the 20th century" with full details in our book review.

Source: Thirteen Days, by Robert Kennedy, p. 93-5 , Dec 1, 2018

Any Cuban missile launched anywhere is an attack on the US

[On Oct. 22, 1962, President Kennedy reported on TV that the Soviet Union was deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba:
    I have directed that the following steps be taken immediately:
  1. A strict [naval] quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba.
  2. Increased close surveillance of Cuba and its military buildup.
  3. It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response.
  4. As a necessary military precaution, I have reinforced our base at Guantanamo
  5. We are calling for an immediate meeting of the Organization of American States, to consider this threat to hemispheric security.
  6. We are asking that an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council be convoked.
  7. Finally: I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace.
Source: Grolier Encyclopedia article on JFK , Nov 8, 2016

1963: Negotiated first, limited Nuclear Test Ban

[On July 26, 1963, President Kennedy delivered a TV address on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty]:

Since the advent of nuclear weapons 18 years ago, all mankind has been struggling to escape from the darkening prospect of mass destruction on earth. Both sides have come to possess enough nuclear power to destroy the human race several times over.

Yesterday, negotiations were concluded in Moscow on a treaty to ban all nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water. For the first time, an agreement has been reached on bringing the forces of nuclear destruction under international control--a goal first sought in 1946.

The treaty is a limited treaty which permits continued underground testing and prohibits only those tests that we ourselves can police, [in the air or under water]. It requires no control posts, no onsite inspection, no international body. Nevertheless, this limited treaty will radically reduce the nuclear testing which would otherwise be conducted on both sides.

Source: Grolier Encyclopedia article on JFK , Nov 8, 2016

1961: U2 spy planes spotted offensive missile sites in Cuba

A U2 spy plane captured images of a missile site in Cuba. The discovery became public when Pres. Kennedy addressed the nation: "Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island," he said.

Commercial air travel to Cuba was suspended. The world was on the brink of nuclear war for another 6 days, until Soviet premier Nikita Krushchev announced that the missiles would be removed.

Source: The Rise of Marco Rubio, by Manuel Rogi-Franzia, p. 47-48 , Jun 19, 2012

Commanding PT-59 in WWII, sank three Japanese barges

New PT boats were being fitted out with heavier guns, and he wanted command of one. He got the 1st gunboat, PT-59. His crew were all volunteers, 5 of them from PT-109. His new executive officer later said that "what impressed me most.was that so many of the men that had been on PT-109 had followed him to the 59. It spoke well of him as a leader."

Kennedy had 6 weeks of action on PT-59, on one occasion sinking 3 Japanese barges. Finally, he was no longer able to walk without the aid not only of a back brace but of a cane as well, he was terribly thin, and his stomach pain had become so intense that he had to see Navy doctors, who found "a definite ulcer crater." X-rays of his back found a chronic disk disease that had obviously been aggravated by the pounding inflicted in the boats. Shipped home, he had his back operated on in June 1944.

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. 38-39 , May 1, 2012

1962: Rejected faking Gitmo attack as war pretext with Cuba

The American military had planned fake terrorist attacks on our own citizenry at Guantanamo. Operation Northwoods was approved in 1962 for action against Cuba.

Here was the background: At a White House meeting in Feb. 1962, when various covert action plans seemed to be going nowhere, Robert Kennedy ordered a stop to all such anti-Castro efforts. The Joint Chiefs decided the only option was to trick the American public and world opinion into a justifiable war.

When the document was presented that March, JFK [concluded] that there was virtually no possibility of our using overt force to take Cuba. So operation Northwoods remained secret for 35 years.

It seems that all through history, wars and takeovers are started with false flag operations: the Reichstag fire, the Chinese supposedly attacking Japan, the Gulf of Tonkin incident with Vietnam. The list goes on and on. History has a way of repeating itself, like that old cliche: if it works once, let's try it again.

Source: 63 Documents, by Gov. Jesse Ventura, p. 37-38 , Apr 4, 2011

1963: Planned to remove all troops from Vietnam by 1965

Vietnam was a sham from the get-go, trumped up by the military industrial complex. If President Kennedy had lived, we'd have started withdrawing troops by late 1963 and had all our servicemen out of there by the end of 1965. The idea that JFK was responsible for having escalated the war is simply bogus. It's obvious his plans were to pull us out, but he'd said behind the scenes he had to wait until after the next election to do it.

When the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) official file from those years was declassified in 1997, it contained a memorandum of conference on May 6, 1963. That one and a follow-up memo from late October (less than a month before JFK was assassinated) clearly show we were starting to get out of Vietnam and leave matters in the hands of the South Vietnamese, where they belonged. Unfortunately, this is again a case of misleading the people for years, by keeping the true thoughts of John F. Kennedy out of the public realm.

Source: 63 Documents, by Gov. Jesse Ventura, p. 46 , Apr 4, 2011

1940: best-seller, "Why England Slept"

Jack was fearless enough to tear around Europe in his own convertible in 1937; and, amid the tensions of 1939, to explore the Soviet Union, the Balkan countries, parts of the Middle East, Czechoslovakia, and Germany, returning to London on September 1, the day Germany invaded Poland. The book that resulted from these travels--an expansion of his Harvard senior honors thesis and titled "Why England Slept"--was published in 1940 and became a best-seller.
Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p. 24 , Sep 14, 2009

1943: PT-109 rammed; crew rescued from South Pacific

In 1943, Jack got himself assigned as commander of a patrol torpedo boat. PTs were small, often badly built, lightly armed craft deployed to prowl combat-zone waters at night in search of Japanese destroyers and cruisers.

On Aug. 2, as part of a squad of 15 such craft sent to intercept a Japanese convoy, PT 109 was rammed by an enemy destroyer and sliced in half. Two of the 13-man crew were killed. My brother exhorted the survivors to swim toward a flyspeck island, personally towing the badly burned engineer for 5 hours by clamping the man's lifeboat straps in his mouth. Jack then swam back out into the ocean to try and signal a passing boat. Unsuccessful, he swam back to his men half unconscious. The ordeal continued for a week, with Jack directing swims to larger islands. On Aug. 9, the party made contact via a message Jack had scraped into a coconut shell. (That coconut is now in the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.) The message made it to an American base, which sent a PT to rescue the men.

Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p. 74-75 , Sep 14, 2009

1961: Accepted sole responsibility for Bay of Pigs disaster

In 1960, one year after Fidel Castro had overthrown the corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista, Cuba began shipping millions of tons of its most lucrative crop, sugar, to the Soviet Union in return for oil and grain. In May, Cuba established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

Each of these moves accelerated the collision course of Castro's regime with American security interests. Eisenhower had approved a CIA-drafted paper, "A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime" [which Jack inherited].

Jack, feeling his way through the opening weeks of his presidency, grew skeptical of the ever more ambitious and complex Cuba invasion plan: defections from Castro's army would follow; the population would rise up to embrace the invaders; and the hated regime would be ousted with minimal casualties. As history shows, the invasion was a failure.

On April 21, Pres. Kennedy stepped before the microphones at a press conference and accepted sole responsibility for the Bay of Pigs disaster.

Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.174-176 , Sep 14, 2009

OpEd: Vietnam war restored the French colonial empire

Enthused over the Green Berets, JFK dispatched them to Vietnam where the US was supporting the restoration of the French colonial empire. In that inglorious adventure, more than 50,000 soldiers lost their lives, the US squandered no less than $500 billion, killed millions of Vietnamese and expanded the solidarity with that poor Third World country. Conscripts had to be replaced with professional soldiers, separating the people from military training and thus weakening the nation.
Source: Obama and the Empire, by Fidel Castro, p. 55 , Apr 15, 2009

1960s: Increased US troops in Vietnam from 900 to 16,000

In 1962, Vietnam had not yet become a hot discussion topic; after all, when Kennedy had been elected in November 1960, only 900 US military personnel were stationed in Vietnam. By 1963, there were some 16,000 American troops there.

On May 11, 1961, President Kennedy had issued National Security Administration Memo 52, committing the US to the prevention of the Communist domination of South Vietnam. The President increased the number of US personnel, designated an additional $42 million/year in financial support for the government at Ngo Dinh Diem, and approved the CIA's plans to carry out commando raids in North Vietnam.

The Kennedy administration went on to condone the overthrow of South Vietnamese President Diem, to dispatch the US Army Green Berets to Southeast Asia, and to commit American-manned helicopters and tactical aircraft to help defeat North Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh.

Source: Tour of Duty, by Douglas Brinkley, p. 41-2 , Jan 6, 2004

In early 1960s, nobody protested US attacks in Vietnam

The Vietnam War actually began for the US in 1950, and from 1954 to 1960, the US had a kind of Latin American-style terror regime in place. And it wasn't any joke; they killed about 60,000-70,000 people. But there was no protest. Zero. When Kennedy took over, they escalated it, and pretty soon it became a direct US attack. Still no protest. Through the early 1960s, you couldn't get anybody to sign a petition. By 1966, Vietnam was becoming a big issue. But protests were met with extreme hostility.
Source: Power and Terror, by Noam Chomsky, p. 25 , May 21, 2002

Avoid mistake of WWII by stopping Soviet advance in Europe

Truman called on Congress to stop the Red advance across Europe by approving US military aid to help governments in Greece and Turkey resist left-wing insurgencies. Jack Kennedy thought stopping the Soviet advance in Europe was the only way to avoid repeating the mistake of not stopping the Nazi advance at the Munich Conference of 1938. Having lived through prewar appeasement and its consequences, the WWII generation had come home from the South Pacific and Europe determined to prevent a sequel to the tragedy that had interrupted and harrowed their lives and erased so many others. This time, the dictator must be stopped in his tracks. To young men like Kennedy and Nixon, the Yalta conference of February 1945, which divided up postwar Europe, had the stench of another Munich, another buckling under to an aggressor.

The stop Stalin, Kennedy accepted the mission to seek out and destroy this allies here in the country.

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 48 , Jun 3, 1996

Pouring money into jungles of Indochina is self-destructive

The Democrats had lost China. The Republicans could not afford to lose Indo-China. For the 1st time, however, Kennedy broke with the hard line. "To pour money, material and men into the jungles of Indo-China without at least a remote prospect of victory would be dangerously futile and self-destructive. I am frankly of the belief that no amount of military assistance in Indo-China can conquer an enemy that is everywhere and at the same time nowhere."

With France's final capitulation, which forced a division in Vietnam between a Communist North and pro-Western South, Jack Kennedy now saw the non-Communist South Vietnamese as a people worthy of American help. "Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the keystone in the arch, the finger in the dike," Kennedy said. "It is our offspring. We cannot abandon it, we cannot ignore its needs."

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 95 , Jun 3, 1996

1962: Supported anti-Diem coup as means to win Vietnam War

Kennedy's Aug. 24 cable read "Diem must be given chance to rid himself of Nhu & his coterie and replace them. If Diem refuses, then we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved. We will back you to the hilt on action to achieve our objectives." Ambassador Lodge took the cable to be a direct presidential order to encourage an anti-Diem coup.

Diem now posed a double jeopardy to Kennedy. He might lose the war to the Communists. Or he might sign a separate peace with Hanoi, making the US look irrelevant. Kennedy had sized up the predicament. "I can't give a piece of territory to the Communists and then get the American people to reelect me." To ensure plausible deniability, he ordered his people to destroy all records of cable traffic, starting with the fateful Aug. 24 order.

In a press conference Kennedy made the point: "We want the war to be won, the Communists to be contained, and the Americans to go home. Taken from a Catholic church, Diem and Nhu were shot repeatedly.

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p.229-231 , Jun 3, 1996

Defend vital interests while preventing nuclear holocaust

[When confronting the USSR preparing missiles in Cuba, JFK] saw that the air and ground strikes favored by so many would have brought death to thousands. And he opposed a massive surprise attack by a large country on a small country because he believed such an attack to be inhuman, and contrary to our traditions and ideals. He understood that above all else a U.S. President must, while defending our vital interests, prevent the confrontations between nuclear powers which can lead to nuclear holocaust.

His objective was to force the missiles out of Cuba without war. That objective was accomplished. It was accomplished by a strategy which he helped shape and which his brother directed.

As a matter of fact, it was Robert Kennedy's suggestion, when we received two contradictory messages from Khrushchev, the first favorable and the second unfavorable, that we reply to the first and not the second. He drafted the reply; they were the terms on which the settlement ultimately was based.

Source: Thirteen Days, by Robert Kennedy, p. 14-6 , Jan 1, 1969

Pressure the USSR without causing them public humiliation

The final lesson of the Cuban missile crisis is the importance of placing ourselves in the other country's shoes. During the crisis, President Kennedy spent more time trying to determine the effect of particular course of action on Khrushchev or the Russians than on any other phase of what he was doing. What guided all his deliberations was an effort not to disgrace Khrushchev, not to humiliate the Soviet Union, not to have them feel they would have to escalate their response because their national security or national interests so committed them.

This was why he was so reluctant to stop and search a Russian ship; this was why he was so opposed to attacking the missile sites. The Russians, he felt, would have to react militarily to such actions on our part.

Thus the initial decision to impose a quarantine rather than to attack; our decision to board a non-Russian vessel first; these & many more were taken with a view to putting pressure on the Soviet Union but not causing public humiliation.

Source: Thirteen Days, by Robert Kennedy, p.124-5 , Jan 1, 1969

Trading missiles in Cuba for Jupiters in Turkey is a threat

On Oct. 27, 1962, a formal letter arrived from Khrushchev. "We will remove our missiles from Cuba, you will remove yours from Turkey. The Soviet Union will pledge not to invade or interfere with the internal affairs of Turkey; the US to make the same pledge regarding Cuba."

The fact was that the proposal the Russians made was not unreasonable and did not amount to a loss to the US or to our NATO allies. The Jupiter missiles in Turkey were obsolete, and our Polaris submarines in the Mediterranean would give Turkey far greater protection.

[But with the USSR demanding their removal], the President was angry. He obviously did not wish to order the withdrawal of the missiles from Turkey under threat from the Soviet Union. On the other hand, he did not want to involve the US and mankind in a catastrophic war. He pointed out that, to reasonable people, a trade of this kind might look like a very fair suggestion, that our position had become extremely valuable, and that it was our own fault.

Source: Thirteen Days, by Robert Kennedy, p. 93-5 , Jan 1, 1969

Increased anti-guerilla forces; founded the Green Berets

His pride was the Army Special Forces, rapidly growing to a level some five or six times as large as when he took office. The President directed that the Special Forces wear green berets as a mark of distinction. He wanted them to be a dedicated, high quality elite corps of specialists, trained to train local partisans in guerilla warfare, prepared to perform a wide range of civilian as well as military tasks. He personally supervised the selection of new equipment--the replacement of boots with sneakers for example. "The new anti-guerilla forces proved one of his most important military contributions. In South Vietnam, they delivered babies, chopped trails, dug wells, prevented ambushes, raised morale and formed effective bands against the Communist.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 632-633 , Jan 1, 1965

USSR removes missiles from Cuba; US ends blockade & invasion

President Kennedy's statement on Cuba: "I have today been informed by Chairman Khrushchev that all of the IL-28 bombers now in Cuba will be withdrawn in 30 days. He also agrees that these planes can be observed and counted as they leave. I have this afternoon instructed the Secretary of Defense to lift our naval quarantine.

"Chairman Khrushchev agreed to remove from Cuba all weapons systems capable of offensive uses, to halt the further introduction of such weapons into Cuba, and to permit appropriate United Nations observation and supervision to insure the carrying out and continuation of these commitments. We on our part agreed that, once these adequate arrangements for verification we would remove our naval quarantine and give assurances against invasion of Cuba."

[OTI note: President Kennedy omitted from this public message that the United States agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey, which threatened the Soviet Union from a similar distance as Cuba was from the U.S.]

Source: Thirteen Days, by Robert Kennedy, p.216 , Nov 20, 1962

Defend Quemoy and Matsu if Communist China attacks Taiwan

NIXON: President Eisenhower was correct in his policy in the Formosa Straits, where he refused to follow the recommendations which Senator Kennedy voted for in 1955; and again made in 1959; recommendations with regard to slicing off a piece of free territory [the Chinese islands of Quemoy and Matsu], and abandoning it to the Communists.

KENNEDY: Let me try to correct the record on the matter of Quemoy and Matsu. I voted for the Formosa resolution in 1955. I have sustained it since then. I agree with the Administration policy to defend Quemoy and Matsu even if the attack on these islands, two miles off the coast of China, were not part of a general attack on Formosa [Taiwan]. I indicated that I would defend those islands if the attack were directed against Formosa, which is part of the Eisenhower policy. I've supported that policy.

Source: The Fourth Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate , Oct 21, 1960

  • Click here for definitions & background information on War & Peace.
  • Click here for VoteMatch responses by John F. Kennedy.
  • Click here for AmericansElect.org quiz by John F. Kennedy.
Other past presidents on War & Peace: John F. Kennedy on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Past Vice Presidents:
V.P.Joseph Biden
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole

Political Parties:
Republican Party
Democratic Party
Libertarian Party
Green Party
Reform Party
Natural Law Party
Tea Party
Constitution Party
Civil Rights
Foreign Policy
Free Trade
Govt. Reform
Gun Control
Health Care
Homeland Security
Social Security
Tax Reform

Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022