Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam

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9780195134537: Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam
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In his thousand-day presidency, John F. Kennedy led America through one of its most difficult and potentially explosive eras. With the Cold War at its height and the threat of communist advances in Europe and the Third World, Kennedy had the unenviable task of maintaining U.S. solidarity without leading the western world into a nuclear catastrophe.
In Kennedy's Wars, noted historian Lawrence Freedman draws on the best of Cold War scholarship and newly released government documents to illuminate Kennedy's approach to war and his efforts for peace. He recreates insightfully the political and intellectual milieu of the foreign policy establishment during Kennedy's era with vivid profiles of his top advisors--Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, Robert Kennedy--and influential figures such as Dean Acheson and Walt Rostow. Tracing the evolution of traditional liberalism into the Cold War liberalism of Kennedy's cabinet, Freedman evaluates their responses to the tensions in Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. He gives each conflict individual attention, showing how foreign policy decisions came to be defined for each new crisis in the light of those that had gone before. Readers will follow Kennedy as he wrestles with the succession of major conflicts--taking advice, weighing the risks of inadvertently escalating the Cold War into outright military confrontation, exploring diplomatic options, and forming strategic judgments that would eventually prevent a major war during his presidency.
Kennedy's Wars offers a dynamic and human portrait of Kennedy under pressure: a political leader shaped by the ideas of his time, conscious of his vulnerability to electoral defeat but also of his nation's vulnerability to nuclear war. Military and Kennedy enthusiasts will find its balanced consideration of the president's foreign policy and provocative "what if" scenarios invaluable keys to understanding his accomplishments, failures, and enduring legacy.

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John Kennedy's presidency has taken a beating in the historical literature of the past few years, in what Lawrence Freedman wryly calls "the drive to replace history as celebration by history as indictment." Kennedy's performance was, Freedman holds, mixed at best, but it reveals a complex personality and an equally complex set of viewpoints over how the United States could best maintain its role as world leader and contain communism.

Drawing on a wealth of new material--including a 25-volume official documentary history of U.S. foreign relations under Kennedy and declassified transcripts of Cabinet meetings held during the Cuban missile crisis--Freedman examines the intellectual and political contexts of the Kennedy administration, giving attention to largely overlooked actors such as Dean Acheson, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Theodore Sorensen, and Walt Rostow, all of whom influenced the conduct of the administration as it confronted military and political foes around the world. Freedman scrutinizes Kennedy's efforts to stabilize fledgling democracies and thwart communist designs in Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Some of those efforts led to disaster, including Kennedy's misguided actions in Vietnam (which, the author argues, "compounded the folly of the Eisenhower administration"). Still, by the time of Kennedy's death, in November 1963, some of the administration's efforts had paid off. As Freedman notes, in October 1963, Nikita Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy to propose not only a program of arms control, but also a relaxation of tensions over the Soviet encirclement of Berlin, opening the way to the détente that would come only much later. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:


Lawrence Freedman has been Professor of War Studies at King's College, London since 1982. He has written extensively on nuclear strategy and the Cold War, as well as commentating regularly on contemporary security issues. Elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1995, he was appointed by Prime Minister Tony Blair as Official Historian of the Falklands Campaign in 1997.

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