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  3. Introduction

Amazingly, although John F. Kennedy spent only a thousand days in office, he has become one of America's most admired presidents. He is the subject of numerous books and films, and yet people never seem to tire of hearing his story. The allure of his story and his presidency still appeals to people more than forty years after his assassination.

Some people consider Kennedy one of the most beloved and admirable presidents, while others cast him as a seriously flawed and overrated leader. Nevertheless, what is true about Kennedy is that at a time when a Catholic in the White House was hardly imaginable, he achieved it. Although many of the old suspicions about Catholics still ran rampant, Kennedy convinced Americans that Catholics were no less dedicated to the well-being of the country than Protestants or any other religious persuasion. This, by any account, paved the way for anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or religion, to participate in the political system at its highest level.

Kennedy's leadership in regard to the civil rights movement is one of the most controversial facets of his presidency. Although he proclaimed himself a committed proponent of the cause, his immediate actions as president failed to show this dedication. Kennedy did propose civil rights legislation, but only after the world had witnessed egregious acts of violence perpetuated against civil rights protestors. It was Kennedy's stance on civil rights that was certainly his moral failing.

It was not that Kennedy viewed equality as unimportant, but fierce anticommunist sentiments of the time influenced him to put a higher priority on preventing the spread of communism. It was exactly this concern that moved him to support the South Vietnamese government against the communist North Vietnamese. This action would prove to be one of the most momentous of Kennedy's presidency, especially when his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, led the country further into a war that became hugely controversial.

Kennedy had much more success in his policies when it came to peace. The nature of the Cold War fostered an arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Kennedy, a World War II veteran, knew exactly the price of war. With this experience in mind, when the Cuban missile crisis nearly brought about a nuclear war, Kennedy handled the situation with caution and calm. This was most notably his shining moment.

Kennedy had visions that reached far beyond his concern over nuclear war. He believed that one of the greatest achievements in space would come when America landed a man on the moon. Although this accomplishment would occur after his death, his push and promotion of the Apollo project was an important step in the end result. But even more than his advocacy for space exploration, it was Kennedy's establishment of the Peace Corps that truly reflects what is most remembered about his legacy — his call for Americans to serve.

This book, while it is a biography about John F. Kennedy's life, is more than that. It is also a look at the history of the time in which he lived. As you explore Kennedy's life, you will come away with a better understanding of a chaotic period when the Cold War, civil rights, nuclear war, and communism all vied for the attention of Americans. The knowledge of these events is important to understanding the country and world we live in today.

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  2. John F. Kennedy
  3. Introduction
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