What if JFK had lived? Historian Andrew Roberts 50 years on from Kennedy becoming president by Andrew Roberts, Daily Mirror 20/01/2011 PRESIDENT John F Kennedys electrifying inaugural address was delivered half a century ago today, and it still resonates. He was the first US president not to have been born in the Victorian age his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower had been born in 1890 and his assumption of office at the age of only 43 heralded a new era in US and world politics. Until then it had been the old, the experienced and the substantial who had dominated American politics. Suddenly there sprung on to the national and international scene a handsome, virile young man. Americans were voting for hope and change over the tried and tested. JFK crafted a new kind of politics, which might indeed have been his longest-lasting legacy. But he was prevented from winning a second term by his horrific assassination in Dallas in November 1963. CHARISMA So much about modern politics came in with JFK; he brought a new style, in which smiles and charisma and resounding soundbite phrases meant almost as much at the polls as solid legislative achievement. From the very first sentence of his inaugural address, it was clear American politics had changed for ever. And not just American politics, for the message it contained was also intended for the world. He concluded with the most famous phrase of any inauguration: And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America can do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of Man. With his assassination, the world lost much more than an orator, however, for in the short period of his presidency he had already shown the general areas where he wanted to take America and humankind. And as a vibrant, charismatic, youthful leader, he still provides the template for those who came after. The careers of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Barack Obama, for example, were deeply affected by the phenomenon that was JFK. It is impossible to know what would have happened had Lee Harvey Oswald missed what was, after all, a difficult, long-range, moving target on that fateful day in Texas. But Kennedy would undoubtedly have played a powerful role in US politics, probably up to and including 9/11, when he would have been 84 years old. One of the greatest lines of his inaugural address implies that he would also have taken a very tough line against al-Qaeda. Let every nation know, he said, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to ensure the survival and success of liberty. Kennedy, 24 at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour which killed 2,386 Americans would have immediately recognised the significance of 9/11, when 2,973 died. Advertisement - article continues below » As a result of Pearl Harbour, he joined the US Navy and fought in the Pacific, where the motor torpedo boat he captained was cut in half at night by a Japanese destroyer. When asked years later how he became a war hero, he replied: It was involuntary. They sank my boat. If JFK had lived six more years, he would have seen the fulfilment of his famous promise, made to Congress in 1961, of achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to earth. Instead, it was Richard Nixon who celebrated that great achievement, in phrases far less impressive than the ones Kennedy would doubtless have uttered. In Vietnam, however, it is hard to see how he would have extricated himself from what by the time of his death was already starting to look like a quagmire. Yet his botched invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year, and his Berlin speech of June 1963, in which he declared himself to be a citizen of that city Ich bin ein Berliner shows he felt a strong anti-Communism, which would have seen no lessening of Cold War pressures on the Soviet Union, pressures that were relaxed in the era that followed him under Nixon. It is not too fanciful to suggest that the Berlin Wall might even have fallen earlier than 1989, had Kennedy survived. A major problem for his political survival in later years would have been his outrageous private life. In the 1960s, political journalists overlooked presidential peccadilloes, and editors did not print the stories. But in the post-Watergate era where politicians were fair game, the married JFKs serial relationships with attractive women perhaps even including Marilyn Monroe and with girls who had links to the Mafia, would have destroyed him. Even Bill Clintons affair with Monica Lewinsky and several others do not begin to equate with the Kennedy sexual shenanigans. He once told British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan he got headaches if he didnt have sex with a new woman every three days. NUCLEAR Nuclear disarmament talks would undoubtedly have focused the attention of the man who said to the United Nations in September 1961: Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to Mankind. Kennedy would undoubtedly have moved to make the world safer as soon as the scourge of Soviet Communism was defeated. His tough and ultimately successful actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis imply he would be stronger than President Obama is presently being over Irans nuclear ambitions. In the area of civil rights, which JFK was clearly leaving to resolve in his second term, it would probably have been he and his brother Bobby, along with Martin Luther King, who would have brought full equality for American blacks. Yet by the end of 1968, all three leaders were dead. Had he lived to 91, he would have undoubtedly welcomed the election of the first black president, Barack Obama, in 2008. Half a century on, America is still trying to live up to the words of Kennedys inaugural speech, but as he himself said: All this will not be finished in the first 100 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin. 3Andrew Roberts is a British historian living in New York.