Cold War: Cuban Missile Crisis to Detente
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was the 35th president of the United States. Elected in 1960 at the age of 43, he became the youngest person ever to be voted into the White House. Kennedy served from 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. To this day, many Americans remember Kennedy as an idealistic champion of freedom at home and abroad, despite the fact that his policies on civil rights, Vietnam, and Cuba sometimes failed to live up to his soaring rhetoric.
In the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy positioned himself to the right of the Republican Eisenhower Administration by promising to close the "missile gap," the supposed Soviet superiority in long-range nuclear missiles. In fact, Kennedy's "missile gap" charges were false; the US always had many times more intercontinental ballistic missiles than the Soviets. Still, Kennedy's promises of a strong and aggressive Cold War posture appealed to voters, who narrowly elected him over vice president Richard Nixon. Kennedy's reputation as a strong Cold Warrior soon ran aground in Cuba, where he was humiliated in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion and where the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis nearly led to nuclear holocaust. Spooked by the near-disaster of the Missile Crisis, Kennedy subsequently pursued more moderate policies with regard to the Soviet Union.