As a boy, I liked to read. Things started pretty small – the Hardy Boys, Goosebumps, Eric Wilson mysteries. But even from an early point I loved non-fiction too. Every boy goes through phases of fascination with different subjects – for me, these ended up being about trains (obviously), dinosaurs (another no-brainer), outer space, and finally, military history.
If I’m going to be perfectly honest, my love of history was initially sparked by a video game. Medal of Honor was a popular series in the early days of Sony Playstation, set in Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War. At first, like any boy, I was attracted to the game by its fast-paced, shoot-em-up style. But as soon as I found out that many of the ‘missions’ were modeled after events which had actually taken place during the war, I was compelled to find out more.
By the age of 15, I had pretty well exhausted the Kitchener Public Library’s section on the Second World War, but that came too late for me – I’d caught the history bug.
My scope broadened quickly to include medieval European history, the crusades, classical history (Greek and Roman), as well as more modern subjects. As my focus shifted to the Cold War and the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, my attention settled upon one of the most dramatic and dangerous episodes of the 20th century: the Cuban missile crisis.
Central to this period of the Cold War was John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States (1961-1963), and also an Irish Catholic.
With a name like Brendan Murphy, you’d probably expect that I grew up steeped in Irish lore… and you’d be right. It was only natural, therefore, that with my passion for history and a new found fascination with politics, JFK would assume an important position in my view of 20th century politics.
In his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, A Thousand Days, noted American thinker and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote of Kennedy:
“The Irishness remained a vital part of his constitution. It came out in so many ways – in the quizzical wit, the eruptions of boisterous humor, the relish for politics, the love of language, the romantic sense of history, the admiration for physical daring, the toughness, the joy in living, the view of life as comedy and tragedy.”
In so many ways, I think this neatly sums up Kennedy’s draw for me as an American icon, a historical figure, and as a role model. I might well be flattering myself to think so, but in his vivid description of the President’s character, Schlesinger reminds me of myself.
I finally picked the book up last week, after browsing past it at the local Indigo a few times this year.
Hey – it’s tough to justify spending $40 on mere ‘pleasure’ reading when you’re a student.
I’m currently 200 pages deep in the book… out of more than 1000. But I’m already drawn into Schlesinger’s narrative. Why did Kennedy choose politics after his stints at Harvard and in the Navy? How did he come out on top against such Democratic Party heavyweights as Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson in the 1960 L.A. convention? What motivated his foreign policy? How did his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, end up as his Attorney General?
These questions are being answered one by one, and I’m enthralled as each explanation has been revealed. Finally taking the time to learn about Kennedy’s presidency in more depth than ever before is a tremendous pleasure for me, and I can only hope that the book doesn’t distract me too much from my studies in this last month of my Journalism degree.
Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!