John and Robert Kennedy: Men of Triumph and Tragedy

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If you were to ask someone about the Kennedy family they would probably tell you about John Kennedy and his achievements as President of the United States in the early 1960s and his assassination in 1963. You may also hear about Robert Kennedy and his Presidential run and his assassination. These two men were massive political figures in the 1960s. They lived a life of triumph and tragedy.

To learn how John and Bobby became the way they were you need to know about their father. The patriarch of the Kennedy family was Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. He was a businessman and more importantly a politician. He managed to make a large fortune by investments, most noticeably in Hollywood studios and alcohol. But his biggest claim to fame was in 1938 when under President Franklin Roosevelt he was to become the ambassador to Great Britain.

It was during his time as ambassador though he created a large amount of political baggage for his children as he did not see Nazi Germany as a threat and with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to appease Nazi Germany. It was during the Munich Agreement2 that allowed the German Military to maintain control of already conquered land and leave the land of Czechoslovakia up for debate on what should be done. This plan ultimately failed, but, he stayed on as ambassador as it helped President Roosevelt maintain the Irish Catholic vote, thus helping the president win reelection.

But it was shortly after that Joe Kennedy handed in his resignation and was only used as a rallying point for Irish and Roman Catholic Democrats. It was clear to him that he could never hope to win the White House so he shifted his Presidential aspirations to his oldest son Joe Jr. But unfortunately, this plan could not happen though as during a bombing run over Germany Joe Jr, was shot down and was declared dead. This would be only the beginning of the bad luck of the Kennedy’s.

The burden of politics then fell to the next oldest son John. JFK is most likely the most well known Kennedy. He was the first Irish Catholic President and is best known for his leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis and his advancement of Civil Rights. But his road to the presidency was paved with trials and tribulations. He was no stranger to the world of politics. When his father was the ambassador to England he served as his secretary for six months,3 and for most of his life, his father would teach him about politics and religion.

Once he left to pursue his academic career. 3It was while at Harvard that he wrote his senior thesis that would then become a best-selling book, Why England Slept. 4It was in the fall of 1941 that John joined the Navy and two years later served in the South Pacific. It was in 1943 that he was a Lieutenant and commander of a PT-109 that on a near impossible attack on Japanese Destroyers to disrupt supply routes, but the destroyer crashed into his PT-109 killing two of his crewmen and injuring himself. He managed to find the other eleven members of his crew and he decided that they should swim to an island three miles away.

One of his crewmen was still badly injured so John had to carry him on his back for three miles, then once they got to the island they spent many days trying to get off the island. One break came when they met some islanders who would get a message to the Naval base, but they spoke no English so Kennedy took a coconut and carved a message for them to give to the base. Soon after they were saved. John kept that coconut on his desk as a paperweight, and he received two medals and when asked about his heroism he said “ I had no choice”. They sunk my boat.”. After he left the Navy he began his political career.

In 1946 he ran his first Congressional campaign as a Democrat from Massachusetts and even though he was physically weak from his time in the war and his Addison’s Disease. Despite these setbacks, he ran the campaign viciously and won at only the age of 29. He served three terms and advocated for better working conditions, more public housing, and higher wages. He was also a huge supporter of the Cold War, including the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, but was critical of President Truman’s plans for Asia. It was in 1952 that he ran for the Senate against an incumbent Harry Cabot Lodge Jr., who he defeated by 70,000 votes. It was also around this time that he also met his future wife, a socialite name Jacqueline Bouvier and they later married.

Then in 1960 that he ran his Presidential campaign against the vice president Richard Nixon. The campaign was brutal and many did not trust JFK because he was Irish-Catholic. He eventually won the election by a very thin margin of victory. Despite his Presidency lasting only three years he manages to accomplish many things. Such as creating the Peace Corps, increasing our Space Program and limiting nuclear testing during the height of the Cold War and civil rights measures that would not pass until after his death.

But his administration was also filled with moments that made the world stop. These moments include the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, he also led to an escalation in the Vietnam War. But despite these trials, he manages to get through these crises with a calm, cool demeanor. It had to come to an unfortunate end while in Dallas, Texas he was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 19637. His assassin was caught later but then shot by Jack Ruby while he was in police custody.

His death led to Lyndon B. Johnson becoming president, which led to even more escalation in Vietnam but also passing the Civil Rights Act that JFK had championed for so long. So through JFK’s death led to more triumph and tragedy emerged but through his death change did happen.

It was during JFK’s rise that Robert Kennedy also became involved in politics. He was the third youngest boy of the Kennedy family and was not particularly cared for by his father. But even though he was considered the runt of the Kennedy Family, so he had to find his own way. He began by joining the Navy but he never saw any action in World War 2. After his brief stint in the Navy, he went to Harvard University where he was the only Kennedy to Letter in football at the school. He then went to the University of Virginia to obtain his law degree.

In 1951 he began a job at the United States Justice Department but the left to work on as his brother John’s campaign manager. The campaign proved to be successful and it rose his brother to national fame. Then in 1952 at the wishes of his father, he began working on the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations under Senator Joe McCarthy. The object of this committee was to find Communists living in the United States. It was after six months that Bobby left the committee as he did not agree with the controversial tactics of Sen. McCarthy.

He returned shortly to work on the committee to serve as the Democratic minority and then wrote a paper condemning the committee and how they had handled a case of Communists in the United States Army. It was in 1957 when he made a name for himself. While serving as the chief counsel to the Senate’s McClellan Committee. The largest part of the investigation came when Bobby had to go against Teamster, Jimmy Hoffa. In a famous scene, Kennedy squared off with Hoffa during the antagonistic argument that marked Hoffa’s testimony. He left the committee in 1959 to work on his brothers’ campaign5.

6It was in 1960 when he joined his brother John’s campaign for president as the campaign manager. He worked tirelessly and effectively to defeat Vice President Richard Nixon. He managed to shift a large majority of African-American voters to John by being able to get Martin Luther King Jr. out of prison after he had been imprisoned in Atlanta. It was perhaps one of the closest races in American history winning by only 0.17 % of the popular vote.

When the campaign was over and John had won Bobby was appointed to the position of Attorney General and immediately began working on the problems of civil rights in America. His biggest achievement came in 1963 when he helped two black students gain admittance to the University of Alabama. The governor of Alabama had said that he wouldn’t allow the students and Kennedy had sent the National Guard and they managed to enter the school without violence.

But in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated it affected Bobby in a very dramatic way. He served out his term as Attorney General and then ran a Senate race in New York. He was uncertain of his ability to win as he was considered a Carpetbagger from New Hampshire and did not understand the needs of New Yorkers. He managed to win the race and immediately began to work for those less fortunate in New York. His largest project was the Bedford-Stuyvesant renovation. He was known for his very hands-on approach to helping minorities and other types of downtrodden people. He was also very opposed to the Vietnam War as he believed that we could talk the North Vietnamese into a piece but his father’s legacy of appeasement came back to haunt him as he was not able to gain any traction in these ideas.

Although he had remained adamant about not running for president he saw the candidates for the Democratic party and did not trust the way the party was going and on March 16, 1968, on the same Senate step that his brother announced his candidacy, he also announced that he would run for president.

Less than a month into his campaign he had received news that Martin Luther King Jr had been shot in Memphis, Tennessee. He gave an impassioned speech in Indianapolis that night in the ghetto telling young African Americans that they should not react with violence or hatred but as Martin Luther King Jr did through peace and love6. While all other major cities in America rioted that night Indianapolis remained calm. Even though he had entered the race later than other candidates he managed to win both the Nebraska and Indiana5 but the largest blow in his campaign when he lost the Oregon Primary, the first time a Kennedy has ever lost in an election.

He thought that if he won the California primary he could surge ahead in the race. He won the California Primary and was holding a party at the Ambassador Hotel. After the results came in he went to the kitchen to talk with the staff, when Sirhan Bishara Sirhan shot Bobby with a 22 caliber revolver which hit him three times6. Just two months after Martin Luther King Jr. died, at 1:44 AM on June 6, 1968, Robert Francis Kennedy was declared dead. The result of his death was the Democratic Party being thrown into turmoil in the 1968 Election and the election of Richard Nixon.

Both of these men exemplify the best qualities and American leader can have. Compassion for all and the willingness to sacrifice all for their country. The life of these men was a tale of triumph and tragedy and they deserve to be remembered for generations to come.

Cite this paper

John and Robert Kennedy: Men of Triumph and Tragedy. (2021, Jun 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/john-and-robert-kennedy-men-of-triumph-and-tragedy/

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