Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Legacy of JFK

I attended a conference last week on John F Kennedy's Presidential Heritage. It was hosted by the excellent Eccles Centre in the British Library. I hope that, in the not too distant future, recordings and possibly transcripts from the conference will be available on their website.

Going down, I feared that it might be an extravagance on my part - JFK has always fascinated me - but that era is just outside my areas of research (US Congress and UK Parliament 1974-date), and there was to be nothing related to the current work I'm engaged in. I need not have felt guilty - it was a thought provoking day - covering the role of "Action Intellectuals" in the White House; Civil Rights; Economics; the Vietnam War; the role of Lyndon Johnson; and Kennedy's death. I took pages of notes - but most importantly, have had lots to think about since.

In the evening David Miliband gave an inspiring talk about America; Britain & Europe: Lessons from JFK. At its heart was Kennedy's recognition of "Double-Pull" - the pull of both national political identity and the search for unity and co-operation between states. Kennedy was attracted by the idea of European Integration - and encouraged Britain to get involved. He liked the idea of strong European institutions to act as umpires in the disputes over national interests.

Do look out for the papers from the conference - they were excellent.

1 comment:

Christopher Boocock said...

whether or not JFK was outside your normal field of research is irrelevant. For all of us, whether we be private citizens or policy makers, our attitudes, behaviour, motivations and perceptions are governed by our experienced antecedents and precedents. Therefore current thinking has been governed as much by the First World War - from which the Treaty of Versailles led to the Second World War, whose ending led to the Cold War.
So, our current Political Leaders have been just as much influenced by General Foch, David Lloyd George & Winston Churchill (twice) as they have been by the reaction to Adolf Hitler and the leadership of Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower & Kennedy, but I would argue, less so than Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Thatcher & Blair.
The passing of time provides for a more considered view of our political ancestors, whereas elections are fought on reactions to the incumbents.
JFKs legacy is subtle but extraordinary - in the same way that the First World War destroyed the Class System which had dominated in Britain. JFK changed the way people thought - he broke down their reasoning for established racism and xenophobia.
Sometimes the true legacy of a great man isn't realised until the freedoms they have won, are taken away.