“No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings”: John F. Kennedy and the Spirit of the 1960s
Presented by Dr. Edmund Wehrle, professor of history
For many, President John F. Kennedy remains synonymous with the youthful, activist spirit of the global 1960s. Yet most historians view the 35th president as an aggressive, cold warrior who endangered the world and a conservative Democrat who proved painfully slow to respond to the challenge of the civil rights movement. In truth, Kennedy was barely a liberal and certainly no radical. International communism, he believed, presented a grave, existential threat, and he showed little real interest in domestic reform. Nevertheless, Kennedy’s rhetoric and carefully cultivated image inspired many — especially young people around the world. To some extent, in fact, Kennedy grasped the aspirations for positive change enveloping youth both at home and around the world. While he had no patience with revolutionary activism, he recognized and sought to respond to yearnings for change swirling throughout the world. In that sense, he did, in fact, help inspire the tumult and even the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s.