Kennedy, John F.


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Kennedy, John F. (Fitzgerald)

(1917–63) thirty-fifth U.S. president; born in Brookline, Mass. Descended from Irish-Americans who had shown a talent for politics, he studied at Harvard; his senior thesis became the best-selling Why England Slept (1940). (His 1956 Profiles in Courage would win the Pulitzer Prize.) He enlisted as a seaman in the U.S. Navy and after Pearl Harbor was commissioned as an ensign, given command of a PT boat, and assigned to the South Pacific. He was wounded when his boat was cut in two by a Japanese destroyer. (The public would never really be aware of the extent of his various medical problems.) Returning to Massachusetts after the war, he was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives (1947–53) and the U.S. Senate (1953–61). Having failed in his 1956 bid for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination, in 1960 he became the youngest man, and first Catholic, to be elected U.S. president. His short term in office would become one of legendary high hopes that was not always matched by tangible accomplishments. His liberal slate of social programs, called the "New Frontier," largely faltered in Congress, although he gradually did actively support desegregation. In 1962 he went to the brink of nuclear war in the Cuban missile crisis, but in 1963 he secured an important nuclear test ban treaty with the U.S.S.R. He also established the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps, and above all he inspired a whole new generation to seek to better their world through government service. Kennedy's maturing command of his powers was cut short by his assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald, as determined by the Warren Commission. Revelations in later years of Kennedy's steady series of sexual liaisons with women tarnished his image in the minds of some Americans, but most people around the world continued to think of him as the fallen prince of Camelot.