I spent Christmas in Boston, and on December 26 I diverged from family and went (by myself) to the JFK Presidential Museum and Library. First, the location… Easily accessible by public transit. Whenever the Library is open, a free shuttle bus takes visitors to and from the Transit stop (named JFK/UMass, so you can’t miss it) to the Museum.
So what’s in the Museum? In the waiting area for the introductory film, videos of Kennedy’s funeral play continuously. The casket, the riderless black horse, Jackie and her children… Real tearjerker moments. But the rest of the Museum isn’t like that.
The introductory film discusses Kennedy’s family and major life events. His assassination is downplayed. After a set of roughly chronological displays, visitors pass under a sign that says “November 22, 1963”. In a dimly lighted corridor, TV screens play two videotapes over and over – Walter Cronkite’s announcement of the President’s death, and a bumpy, grainy, chaotic video of the motorcade in the first minute after the shooting. That’s it. Nothing about Lee Harvey Oswald. Nothing about conspiracy theories. I was relieved.
The next room is a brightly lighted display about the heritage of the JFK years. Computers are available if you want to browse the archives.
I was interested in the special exhibit about the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember watching the President address the nation on October 22, 1962. I was frightened. Nuclear annihilation felt like a real possibility.
So how close did we come? REALLY, REALLY CLOSE. Several of Kennedy’s advisors advocated unannounced bombing of the missile sites and the Cuban bases housing Russian “military advisors”. Others said that would be as dishonorable as Pearl Harbor. But Kennedy had accepted military advice that led to the earlier Bay of Pigs Invasion, an embarrassing failure. This time he chose the most modest possible response, a naval blockade. Khrushchev continued to threaten, then reversed himself and “caved in”. Castro was furious. At one point, a Russian submarine armed a nuclear weapon, but, following orders, did not launch it.
During the two weeks of the crisis, communications between Kennedy and Khrushchev suffered from a 12 hour delay. The famous “red phones” came later. Much of the special Cuban Missile Crisis museum exhibit was based on tapes made by Kennedy without the knowledge of his advisors. I heard Curtis Lemay advocating for bombing and possible invasion.
Other important things were taking place during the short Kennedy years, especially concerning civil rights.
I recommend the Museum highly. Presidential decision making is important to all of us.