For Americans who remember Nov. 22, 1963, there is an understandable temptation to dwell on the nearly unbearable tragedy of that day. I remember vividly the shock and confusion of a 7-year-old, refusing to believe it was true until I ran home from school to find my mother in tears. The entire nation and much of the world was thrown into mourning for a young, charismatic president who had led us all too briefly. But with the passage of a half century’s time, it is possible now, and certainly more sensible, to reflect more on the life — and not just the death — of John F. Kennedy.
He has lingered long in our memory and imagination, especially here in Massachusetts where he was born. And it is remarkable that he remains to this day a significant figure in the national and global conversation. Witness the extraordinary number of articles and television retrospectives alone this anniversary week. Historians will ultimately deliver the final verdict on his promising but imperfect and truncated Presidency. Yet there are lessons we can learn from how he played the role he loved best — his stewardship of American foreign policy at the very height of the Cold War. Three come readily to mind.