John F. Kennedy’s Childhood and Education

John F. Kennedy, or Jack as his family called him, was born on May 29, 1917. He had an older brother, Joe Kennedy Jr. and seven younger siblings. He spent the first decade of his life in Brookline, Massachusetts. JFK’s father Joseph Kennedy Sr. didn’t play an active role in young Jack’s life since he was often away on business. His mother, Rose Kennedy, did have help with the children though. She needed it since Jack was often ill. The family joked that if a mosquito bit Jack, it would be sorry because it would catch whatever illness he had at the time.

Eventually the Kennedys moved to Bronxville, New York. Thanks to his father’s successful business ventures, the family could afford several different homes. They spent summers in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Easter and Christmas holidays took place at their home in Palm Beach, Florida.

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Kennedy family at Hyannis Port Sept. 4, 1931. JFK at left in white shirt, Joe Jr. far right

Jack and his older brother were extremely competitive. Joe Sr. encouraged this quality in his sons. He often said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Unfortunately for Jack, his brother was both two years older and stronger, so if they fought Jack got beat up. Jack couldn’t best Joe as a student, either. Joe had ambition. Since childhood Joe said that he wanted to become the first Catholic President of the United States. While Joe worked hard in all his subjects, Jack tended to pay attention only to the ones that interested him, such as English.

When he enrolled at Choate boarding school in ninth grade, Jack found other ways of distinguishing himself from Joe. While Joe was the better student and an accomplished athlete, Jack became the class clown. He formed a group at Choate called the Muckers, which was responsible for many school pranks. Most memorably, they exploded a toilet seat with a firecracker. Jack was nearly expelled for that incident. Instead, poor health interfered with his studies. He was diagnosed with colitis. It made him tired and he also lost his appetite. He got well enough to graduate in the middle of his class. Despite his mediocre performance as a student, his classmates voted him most likely to succeed.

Jack’s colitis interfered again when he entered Princeton and had to quit after six weeks. In 1936, he enrolled at Harvard. While there, he produced a campus newspaper called the “Freshman Smoker” and got a spot on the varsity swim team. He wanted to play football, too, but he ruptured a disk in his spine. From then on JFK always lived with back pain.

In 1938, Joe Sr. served as President Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to Great Britain. Both Jack and Joe Jr. went to Great Britain to work with their father. To prepare for his senior thesis, Jack traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Soviet Union. He returned to London on September 1, 1939—the same day that World War II began. Jack’s thesis pointed out that Great Britain was unprepared for war because it had neglected its military. Published as Why England Slept, his work became a bestseller. He used the money he made from the book to buy a Buick convertible, but he also gave the royalties he made from Great Britain to charity.

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Lt. John F. Kennedy, 1942

After graduation, Jack joined his brother in the U.S. Navy. Joe was a flyer and Jack was a Lieutenant assigned to the South Pacific. Only Jack came home. Joe Jr. died when his plane blew up during a mission in Europe.

Joe’s death changed everything for JFK. With his oldest son gone, Jack’s father encouraged him to abandon his interests in writing and teaching to run for Congress. JFK won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1946. His political career had begun.

Making Sense of Election 2016

For the past week I have been trying to process what happened in last week’s presidential election. I apologize for the misleading title, but I haven’t been able to make sense of it. For those who study history, the past 9 days have seemed like we stepped into a time machine and traveled to the 1960s, and that’s on a good day.

I know people in their 90s who voted for Hillary Clinton, and people in their 30s who voted for Donald Trump. I also know people who didn’t vote at all. Now I’m not suggesting that everyone in their 90s supported Hillary, but of those who did, I think I understand why. They lived through the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, World War II, and plenty of other wars. Having lived through so much history, they don’t wish to relive it. As one senior citizen told me, the good old days sucked.

America currently offers more freedoms to more people than ever, regardless of gender, race, class, religion, or sexual preference. More than ever, people feel that these rights are threatened since the election.

I can only encourage people who support equal rights for all to put their money or their time into organizations that will protect these rights. There are more comprehensive lists of organizations that other writers and bloggers have put together, but I will mention a couple of examples. If you’re concerned about First Amendment rights, visit the ACLU website at https://www.aclu.org. To combat anti-Semitism, visit the Anti-Defamation League www.adl.org; for African American rights, visit the NAACP www.naacp.org. Call your representatives to support or oppose legislation. Online petitions are great, but old fashioned phone calls stand out.

For those of you who feel that America is in crisis, remember John F. Kennedy said, “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters–one represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” Take the opportunity today to give someone who is hurting hope.

 

“We Like Ike”: The Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower

Dwight Eisenhower already had his famous nickname while growing up in Kanas. “Little Ike” also had such a temper that he once beat his fists against a tree until he started bleeding. His mother bandaged up his hands and tried to teach him to control his temper. Ike took the lesson to heart. Throughout his life Ike would reign in his emotions because he wanted people to like him.

He did not, however, share his mother’s pacifist views. The only time Ike remembered making his mother cry was when he left for West Point. After World War II, General Eisenhower returned home as a hero. Ike’s popularity was so great that both political parties wanted him to be their candidate for president. Ike didn’t want to declare his politics right away. By 1952, Eisenhower felt disenchanted with the policies of President Truman and agreed to run as a Republican.

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Official Portrait of Dwight Eisenhower

Unlike other presidential candidates, Eisenhower was not an intellectual. The only books he enjoyed were western novels. Instead of great speeches, Eisenhower preferred to use sayings such as “Everybody ought to be happy every day. Play hard, have fun doing it, and despise wickedness.” A war-weary public found his simple style appealing.

Eisenhower won the election by promising to end the Korean war. He even vowed to go there himself. Though he did end the fighting, he did so by stepping up aerial bombardment of North Korea and threatening to use the atomic bomb. Whether he would have used the bomb is questionable, but Eisenhower’s tough talk led to a peace agreement. From that point on Eisenhower liked to say he was “waging peace” by keeping America out of foreign wars.

The supposedly peace loving president allowed America to stockpile nuclear weapons, however. He also secretly authorized spying on Russian nuclear missile sites. Meanwhile, he invited Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to a summit that would have limited nuclear testing. During the summit, an American spy plane was shot down by the Soviets. Eisenhower had to admit that he knew about the spy mission. An angry Khrushchev left the peace summit. No agreement on nuclear testing was reached.

Eisenhower’s administration has been criticized for failing to respond to domestic issues, especially civil rights. During his presidency the Supreme Court decided that public schools should be desegregated. Eisenhower didn’t believe that a law would change the hearts of Southern whites. When nine African American students tried to integrate a white high school in Little Rock Arkansas, a white mob threatened the students’ safety. Despite his disagreement with the Supreme Court, Eisenhower sent in the National Guard to protect the students.

Although Eisenhower believed in saving money, he also believed in many of the FDR’s programs. Eisenhower expanded the number of people eligible for Social Security and left labor laws in place. He also added a project of his own. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 pledged federal funds would be used to build interstate highways. The highways insured that the automobile became the primary means of travel for Americans instead of trains.

 

“Give-’em-hell-Harry” The Presidency of Harry Truman

Future president Harry Truman had a difficult childhood. A kid wearing glasses was a rare thing in the farm town of Independence, Missouri, and his schoolmates teased him. Since he was not very tall, they nicknamed him “little four eyes.”

Young Harry Truman also had different goals than most other children. He loved music and hoped to become a concert pianist. As a result of his father’s bad investments Truman could no longer receive piano lessons or even apply to college. Although he hated it, he worked the family farm until his father died. Truman then tried his hand at various business ventures, all of which failed.

Despite his poor eyesight and the fact that he was past the draft age, Harry managed to serve as a combat artillery captain in World War I. He discovered his ability to lead other people and gained the respect of his men. The experience boosted his confidence. He returned to Missouri as a war hero and married his sweetheart Bess Wallace.

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Official Presidential Portrait of Harry Truman

Truman needed to support his family and had to find work. After another business failure, he decided to try politics. It helped that he had kept in touch with the other veterans he served with during World War I. With the help of his friends and Democratic Party boss Tom Pendergast, Harry got elected first as a judge and later to other county offices. Despite his association with Pendergast, who had criminal ties, Harry became known for his honesty and his desire to help the common man during the Great Depression.

In 1934 Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate. He served as chairman of a committee that uncovered the Defense Department’s wasteful spending. The public found Truman’s honesty and even his swearing so refreshing that they nicknamed him “Give-’em-hell-Harry.”

During the 1944 presidential election Truman was selected as President Franklin Roosevelt’s vice-president. Only a few months after he became vice-president, Roosevelt died and Truman had to take over. At the time he thought, “There must be a million other men more qualified for the presidential task. But the work was mine to do, and I had to do it.”

Chief among Truman’s tasks was to bring World War II to a successful conclusion. Even after Germany surrendered, the fighting with Japan dragged on. Truman believed that if the war in the Pacific continued, up to 100,000 American soldiers could die. He decided that if Japan refused to surrender, he would use the new atomic bomb.

On July 26, 1945, Truman warned Japan that it would be destroyed if it continued to fight. The Japanese Emperor still would not give up. In August, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs, one on the town of Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki. Finally, the Japanese Emperor surrendered and the war was over.

Truman received criticism in later years for using the atomic bombs, which mostly killed Japanese civilians. He never regretted his decision, however. As Truman put it “The greatest part of the president’s job is to make decisions…he can’t pass the buck to anybody.”

After World War II Truman turned his attention to stopping the spread of communism. The start of a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union worried voters, and Truman’s popularity suffered. In 1948 he was probably the only person who thought he would be re-elected president. He took the campaign seriously and made hundreds of speeches throughout the country on his “Whistle-stop campaign” tour. Truman’s confidence proved to be prophetic when he won.

Truman’s second term was dominated by his decision to support South Korea when it was invaded by communist North Korea. He never asked Congress for a declaration of war because he feared the public would be reminded of World War II. As the war went on, Truman’s popularity took a nosedive.

Even though he had a poor approval rating, the public was still shocked when he announced that he didn’t plan to run for president again. He took delight in returning to Missouri and becoming “Mr. Citizen.” Truman lived to see much of his reputation restored. He became known not only for overseeing the end of World War II but also for desegregating the military and banning racial discrimination in the federal government.

 

American Politicians and Immigration Policy: A Troubled History

Inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty are these words: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” The poet should have put an asterisk after these lines that read “unless politicians find it inconvenient to admit certain refugees; in that case the door is closed.”

U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY DURING WORLD WAR II

In the 1930s and 1940s, the door to the United States was closed to Jewish immigrants fleeing the Nazis. With the exception of the work done by the War Refugee Board in 1944 (by which time most of Europe’s Jews were dead), President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration stood by while 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

U.S. State Department excuses for not loosening immigration quotas included the possibility that Jews might be acting as spies for the Nazi government. Despite this theory, the record indicates that only one enemy agent entered the country as a refugee, and that refugee was not Jewish.

In order to enter the U.S., Jewish refugees had to endure so much government red tape that by the time the State Department approved a visa, the applicant had often been deported to a concentration camp. Even a congressional bill to accept 20,000 Jewish children was rejected because, as President Franklin Roosevelt’s cousin Laura Delano stated, “twenty thousand charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.”

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Syrian Refugees at Budapest Railway Station, 4 Sept. 2015. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

CURRENT U.S. POLICY ON IMMIGRATION

At the moment, Syrian refugees are the most unpopular group in the United States. A few months ago, Mexican immigrants, all of whom politicians like Donald Trump seem to think are rapists or drug dealers, were enemy Number One, but opinions change quickly. The terror attacks in France gave U.S. politicians who did not want immigrants entering the country the perfect excuse to say, “We do not want Syrian immigrants in America. They are coming to attack us.”

Yet out of 784,000 refugees that have entered the U.S. since September 11, 2001, only three were arrested for planning terrorist activities. Only one of the three spoke of targeting the U.S., and even he had no specific plan. People risking their lives to get out of their country (and plenty, including young children, have died in the attempt) are unlikely to target a country that provides them with food and shelter.

Despite the fact that the U.S has pledged to admit only 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, even this number is too large for some politicians. Last week in the House of Representatives, 47 Democrats and 242 Republicans voted to put new security limits on those immigrants. Apparently these representatives are unaware that the security screening process is already so complicated that it takes 18-24 months (more than a year) before a refugee from Syria can ever enter the U.S.

In contrast to the reluctance of the U.S. to admit Syrian refugees, Germany is projected to take in 800,000 refugees by the end of this year. Germany–a country Jewish refugees tried to flee from in the 1930s and 1940s–is now taking in hundreds of thousands more refugees than the U.S. ever planned to welcome.

France, the country with the most recent terror attacks and the country that gave the U.S. the Statue of Liberty, has promised to continue accepting immigrants from Syria. America, the nation of immigrants, is becoming the nation of exclusion.

My Book FREE on Amazon Kindle

To my readers: My book, Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II will be free on Amazon Kindle September 16th and 17th here:

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If you don’t have a Kindle but know someone who likes free books, please spread the word!

Book Review of Holocaust Memoir Dry Tears by Nechama Tec

In contrast to other Holocaust memoirs that describe what it took to survive the concentration camps, Dry Tears is the story of a Jewish young girl with blond hair and blue eyes trying to pass as a Christian in Nazi-occupied Poland. At the beginning of the book, Nechama’s father worries that she and her sister will fall behind in school. Of course, her learning cannot take place in a traditional school since the Nazis have closed them to Jews. Even private tutoring becomes impossible.

Yet Nechama acquires different kinds of knowledge during the war years. Nazis made it extremely difficult for Poles to find enough to eat because of the activities of the Polish underground. Jews were not supposed to be in Poland at all, so there were no food rations for them. Since she looked Aryan, Nechama could pass for a Pole and venture out of her family’s hiding place. She learns to bargain for the cheapest food prices on the “black market.” Later, she learns to sell her mother’s rolls at the same market when the family finances are low.

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Child vendor in ghetto during the Holocaust (Nechama is not living in a ghetto, but she still sells food illegally to other Poles)

Nechama also acquires knowledge about human nature most eleven year olds do not. The Christian family that takes her and her family into their small home in the Polish countryside do not do so out of charity, but out of their own self-interest. Poles were unpopular with the Nazis as it was, and hiding any Jew was punishable by death. However, no one could survive on the wages that Nazis provided to Poles, so families like the Homars decide to “keep cats,” meaning that they took in Jews in return for handsome sums of money.

Some of the members of the Homar family treat Nechama very well. Helena, the family matriarch, even encourages the girl to call her Grandma. Yet despite her affection for Nechama, Helena says that she initially disagreed with having Jews come to stay in her home because Christian blood should not be spilt for Jewish blood. The Homars, like most other Polish families, are anti-Semitic. They emphasize that Nechama and her family are “not really Jewish” because “real Jews were greedy and dishonest”–qualities that Nechama’s family abhors.

Nechama cannot understand how the Homars could like her family and still think bad things about Jews. Her father tells her that the Homars’ anti-Semitism comes from hating an abstraction, a caricature of Jews that does not exist. Soon Nechama discovers that adults are not the only ones who think Jews are evil. Children that she socializes with in the small Polish village of Kielce also make anti-Semitic remarks. She says, “in a sense, they were unconsciously telling me that I was their friend only for as long as they thought I was one of them.”

As Nechama gains knowledge, the reader learns that a trying to pass as a Christian in Poland during World War II is fraught with almost as many dangers as trying to survive a concentration camp. There are random raids on Poles that threaten to deport even Aryan looking Jews. Certain members of the Homar family are less trustworthy than others, making their hiding place precarious. Nechama’s efforts to get food and money for her family place her in special danger since Nazis hate the Poles’ black market activities.

The fact that her looks give her the opportunity to pass does not ensure her survival or her family’s. Nechama’s unique struggles make this memoir a must-read for anyone with an interest in the Holocaust years or students of human nature.

My History Book FREE on Amazon Kindle

To my readers: My book, Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the US war Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II, will be FREE from Thurs. April 9 through Saturday April 11 here:

http://amzn.to/1GDI2qq on Amazon Kindle. If you don’t have a Kindle but know someone who likes free books, spread the word! Thanks.

My History Book FREE on Amazon Kindle this Sunday

To my readers: My book, Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the US war Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy during World War II, will be FREE Sunday, March 29 here:

http://amzn.to/1GDI2qq on Amazon Kindle. If you don’t have a Kindle but know someone who likes free books, spread the word! Thanks.