I’m in the midst of tearing through, “JFK’s Last Hundred Days,” by Thurston Clarke.
Well, my fellow Americans, this new book contains a mother lode of new, eyewitness accounts and evaluations from those who moved in Kennedy’s professional, and personal, inner circles during the last two-and-a-half months of his life.
The book examines:
– Vietnam: Every insider was 100 percent convinced JFK hated our growing entanglement, and was poised to remove all 16,000 Americans advisers and troops after winning the 1964 election.
-Civil Rights: MLK’s historic March on Washington, highlighted by his “I have a dream” speech completely changed JFK’s views. He immediately introduced a sweeping Civil Rights bill that, had he lived, would never have been enacted into law. But, LBJ adroitly used our country’s national mourning after JFK’s death to steer it through Congress.
– Womanizing. I knew JFK had strayed, but I had no idea of the frequency or variety of his dalliances. To wit, he engaged in sexual relations with strippers, call girls, White House secretaries and Hollywood starlets alike. And, he did so virtually every day!
– His place in history. JFK made decisions based on two overarching guidelines:
1.) Was he doing what was in the best interests of his country?
2.) How would future historians evaluate his decision-making?
According to those who knew him best (and no one TRULY) knew the man, JFK was driven by ambition and not achievement. He not only aspired to be ranked alongside FDR and Lincoln. He wanted future historians to call him THE greatest U.S. president.
Many who witnessed those last 100 days believed JFK had elevated himself to a much higher level and, if given the chance to serve five more years, may very well have been ranked among our country’s greatest presidents.
Regardless of what might have been, I believe JFK’s greatest legacy was his pursuit of excellence. As he told Lem Billings, a close friend, “Once you say you’re going to settle for second, that’s what happens to you in life.”
And, that statement, my fellow Americans, is more important today than ever before.