Collision between past and future

JFK pencil

Perhaps wanting to emulate Doris Kearns Goodwin’s very successful Team of Rivals, political biographer Robert Dallek (responsible for Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, a biography of JFK, and a two volume biography of LBJ) has released Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House, which aims to shed light on JFK’s team of bright young things, including Arthur Schlesinger, Ted Sorensen, and Robert McNamara. Dallek certainly sheds some light on these personalities, but the book does go over the same ground as his biography of Kennedy, unsurprisingly perhaps.

Funny that JFK won the election by one of the smallest margins in history, considering his later stature. One of the things more recent historians have been going over is the fact that he was inexperienced when he became president, as opposed to, say, his rival Nixon. In the end though, Kennedy’s character, especially when it came to the Cuban Missile Crisis, may have mattered more than his experience. Though he also learnt very quickly on the job, as his behaviour during the Cuban Missile Crisis, where he basically wrote the Joint Chiefs off as insane warmongers, testifies.

This is a fascinating era. It is a tautology to say that the present sometimes feels like a collision between past and future, but surely the JFK presidency was one of those times most intensely felt, as the US rudely awoke from the Eisenhower presidency and the affluence of the 50s to NASA programs, Civil Rights issues and nuclear crises. Then there are the endlessly fascinating figures of JFK and Nixon, the twin nexuses of triumph and tragedy.

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