Much has been written about the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy of the United States in Dallas, Texas, fifty years ago on November 22nd 1963. My father contributed this letter to the Irish Times in response to an interesting article by Dennis Staunton in a special supplement marking the anniversary.
‘Sir, – Denis Staunton’s interesting article (JFK, 50 Years after Dallas supplement, November 22nd) on JFK’s presidency rightly credits his “patience, caution and willingness to compromise with his Soviet counterpart Nikita Khrushchev” as helping to avert a nuclear war over the Cuban crisis in 1962.
It would, however, be wrong to give Kennedy all the credit for saving the world from nuclear war 50 years ago. His diplomatic skills were hard-learned. Only six months in office and still a novice in international politics, the US president faced the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, in a summit meeting in Vienna.
The summit’s main issues were the Soviet threats to close off Berlin to the Western powers and to locate nuclear weapons in Cuba, only 90 miles from Florida. Deadlock on both matters culminated in the world’s two most powerful leaders threatening nuclear war, Kennedy warning of “a long, hard winter” and Khrushchev adamant that “If the US wants war, that’s its problem”.
As the Irish Press’s London editor, I was covering the meeting and succeeded in getting an exclusive interview with the White House press secretary, Pierre Salinger. His version of the meeting was that Khrushchev gave Kennedy a frightening picture of the likely consequences of a nuclear war, with the major American cities being flattened like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a picture that the gung-ho US military top dogs had hidden from him .
That evening Kennedy told the New York Times top reporter, James “Scotty” Weston, that “he (Khrushchev) beat the hell out of me . . . the worst thing of my life”. It was Kennedy’s real introduction to diplomacy. – Yours, etc
DESMOND FISHER, Roebuck, Dublin 14′.