Before he became Senator Kennedy and before he became President Kennedy, John F. Kennedy was Congressman Kennedy from Massachusetts. Elected in 1948 Kennedy, like many of his wartime contemporaries (i.e. Congressman Richard M. Nixon), Kennedy had eyes to go further, and it was only a matter of weeks before he let his intentions officially known he would run for Senate.
But this was 1951 – the political playing field was still up in the air. President Truman hadn’t yet announced his decision not to run for a second full term. General Eisenhower was still a General in charge of a Military presence in Europe and hadn’t made up his mind as to which party he was going to be affiliated with, let alone run for President. There was the Red Scare to contend with, of which President Truman had been criticized for his seeming lack of interest in actively pursuing alleged Communists in government. There was also a war raging in Korea, and despite a tentative truce, and numerous other attempts at a ceasefire and negotiations, the war had all the earmarks of a protracted one.
So anyone entering into the Political arena this December of 1951 had a considerable plate of issues to deal with.
Because, not only were the issues of the Red Scare and Korea commanding attention, there were also possible future hotspots; the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Having just returned from a trip to the Middle and Far East, Kennedy is asked about our comparative lack of friends in the region, despite spending billions of dollars in aid. Kennedy responds that, most of those countries in question have been under the dominance of a European power for a number of years, and our association with those powers puts American leadership under suspicion and animosity, particularly when the U.S. has attempted to impose influence on those countries. Two cases in point were brought up; Indochina and Iran. Kennedy responds that, if we chose not to side with the French, but rather persuade France to grant Independence to that country, allowing them the right of self-determination, it would improve our chances of friendly relations with Vietnam and Laos. But our strong military support of the French in their war against Communist insurgents was seen by the Vietnamese as our support of continuing Vietnam as a French colony. Likewise with Iran, whose control over the country by Britain and its vast oil reserves created a goodly amount of tension in that part of the world, which America had little chance of gaining Iranian support.
A fascinating and tightly packed panel discussion which, even at a half-hour could have gone longer. But gives some idea of American positions in the world and JFK’s understanding of the political climate.
For those of you who only know JFK by his Presidential speeches or even his period as a Senator, this glimpse into the early political life of John F. Kennedy adds a further dimension into the man and politician and further evidence that knowledge of the intricacies of the world are essential if any sort of peace is to be obtained. Just saying.
Here is that episode of Meet The Press, as it was originally broadcast on December 2, 1951