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Kennedy's international legacy, fifty years on



    1. Professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth, University of Wales, and currently a Braudel visiting fellow at the European University Institute in Florence
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  • The author is grateful to Fredrik Logevall and Andrew Preston for their enormously helpful and timely comments, and to Gerry Hughes for expert historiographical consultation.


This article explores historical assessments of the foreign policy of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated fifty years ago. It traces the evolution of JFK historiography from the uncritical so-called ‘Camelot’ school to harsh revisionist critiques in the 1980s and 1990s, and on to the current ‘third wave’ of scholarship. The article focuses in particular on new work concerning JFK's handling of the Berlin and Cuba superpower crises, his role in expanding the United States’ involvement in Vietnam (and whether blame for this war can be assigned to him) and larger questions about his approach to the danger of nuclear holocaust and the possibility of defusing Cold War tensions. The conclusion to the article examines his various peace-seeking initiatives in the months following the Cuban Missile Crisis, and suggests that Kennedy may have been turning towards a more critical view of American Cold War politics when he was killed in Dallas in November 1963.

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