(Originally posted on Tuesday, June 2, 2009)
by Gerald Boerner
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 – 1963)
“If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all — except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty.”
— John F. Kennedy, from the Saturday Review (29 October 1960)
Our 35th president had a well-known service record in the Pacific (PT-109) and knew the price paid for liberty. But he was a learned man, irrespective of his personal entanglements. He was learning from his mistakes, and could have proven a great as well as a charismatic leader if he had not been assassinated in Dallas on that fateful day in November, 1963. Not all war heros make good leaders. What makes the difference? I think that learning has a lot to do with it.
War should teach us lessons about what we should fight for and what we should learn to adapt to. We have a great object lesson when we look at the aftermath of the first and second world wars. After the first WW, the British and the French were focused upon retaining and extending their colonial empires. In addition, they were intent on punishing Germany, their traditional enemy, for the war. What did this yield us? World wide economic chaos and exteme instability in the conquered Germany. And, above all else, the seends of the second WW!
After the second WW, the United States was more powerful and, by virtue of leadership, the atomic bomb, and lessons learned from the first WW, to was able to create a environment in which the conquered (Germany and Japan) were rebuilt and became members of the world community. Yes, there was retaliation against the leaders who imposed the atrocities and inhumanity upon their neighbors. But we did not try to demonize the county itself; in fact, in Japan, we were wise enough to keep the Emporer in place so that the order of the Japanese culture was not destroyed. I would like to think that we LEARNED our lesson from the first WW.
These lessons were also applied when the communist stranglehold on eastern Europe was broken in 1989 as symbolized by the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. When we were in Berlin in 2005, it was sobering to see the remnants of the wall and think about what it had stood for.The US along with the European community have tried to apply the same lessons learned bron the first half of the 20th century to the new eastern European states.
“For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each of us, recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state, our success or failure, in whatever office we hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions: First, were we truly men of courage… Second, were we truly men of judgment… Third, were we truly men of integrity… Finally were we truly men of dedication?”
— John F. Kennedy, from a speech to the Massachusetts State Legislature (January 9, 1961)
Let’s hope that we will continue to exercise wisdom like this when future battles are fought and won. Without learning, without understanding the lessons of history, we will be bound to repeat the mistakes and to suffer the consequences of these mistakes…
[Biographical information is from the Wikipedia article on John F. Kennedy that can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy ]