I was born twenty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, so I can’t really tell what impact the death of this iconic American President had on me personally. But an icon he was. Listening to Dutch people remembering JFK in Coen Verbraak’s documentary ‘De Dag dat Kennedy werd vermoord’ (The Day Kennedy was killed) I was reminded once again that also in the Netherlands people looked at this man as nothing less than a saint. ‘Savior of the world’, is how former TV host Koos Postema (81) recalls thinking of JFK. Even though he was living in a country at the other side of the Atlantic, as a young man he actually wished Kennedy could have been the president of the Netherlands. Former Dutch politicians across the spectrum from left wing to right wing all had very fond memories of this American president who became a historical figure and a symbol of the hopes they had in their own youth.
The closest I ever came to Kennedy, except for visiting his grave in Arlington, was his Presidential Library and Museum in Boston when I was there for a holiday this past September. There was a special exhibit titled ‘To the Brink’ telling the story of how the world was on the eve of destruction during the Cuban missile crisis. Centrepiece of the exhibit was a series of secret White House recordings of President Kennedy discussing the standoff with Khrushchev, talking to his Joint Chiefs of Staff. Against their advice, Kennedy refused to bomb Cuba. Also on display: the speech he would have given in case he would bomb Cuba. Impressive items, and I couldn’t help but think of Barack Obama who was contemplating military action in Syria and dominating the headlines when I was vacationing in Boston.
Different times, different men, but the comparison between JFK and Obama is easy to make. Both were once viewed as saviors. Young, charismatic men with lofty ideals that promised hope and change for America, and the rest of the world. Was JFK the Obama of the sixties, or Obama the JFK of our time now? Evaluations of both presidents now are no where near what they used to be. Of course we don’t believe in political saints, and they all have to fail at some point. But if there ever was a ‘savior of the world’ maybe John F. Kennedy could be called one, at least in those near fatal days in 1962.
Bertine Moenaff is a journalist for Radio 1, covered US politics for various media during the 2012 elections and was a Lantos/HIA Fellow in the US Congress in 2010.