Prelude to Leadership: The European Diary of John F. Kennedy : Summer 1945

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As World War II was ending and the cold war was just beginning, a twenty-eight-year-old naval hero, decommissioned before war's end because of his crippling injuries, traveled through a devastated Europe. During that trip, John F. Kennedy kept a diary, never before published and until now unknown - even to Kennedy scholars. As the diary makes clear, that European trip was a turning point in the future President's life.
The scion of one of America's wealthiest families, Jack Kennedy had grown up in the shadow of an adored older brother destined for greatness. For himself, Jack had intended a quiet career as a college professor or perhaps as an author.
But when Joe Kennedy, Jr. was killed in the skies over the English Channel, the expectations of his family and the mantle of leadership passed on to JFK. Would he accept them? That was the question that confronted Kennedy as he traveled in the company of cabinet secretaries and generals, future presidents and prime ministers, toured a humbled Germany, and faced for the first time the power of post-war Russia and the perfidy and bloody-mindedness of Communists in power.
It was on this trip, the diary shows, that Kennedy first confronted the "long twilight struggle" for the preservation of Western freedom that would define his Presidency. In these few months an agenda for a Presidency began to be forged.
For as the closing pages of the diary make clear, it was at this time that the challenge was accepted, the mantle taken up, and Kennedy began laying plans for his first run for Congress, the first step in his journey to the White House.
Prelude to Leadership offers, as Hugh Sidey says in his Introduction, an "intriguing new trove" of insight into the mind of a future president preparing himself for a "still distant challenge." It reveals a man who, not yet thirty, understood not only that a new world drama was taking shape, but that he was destined to play a great role in it.

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About the author (1995)

When he was elected the nation's thirty-fifth President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the youngest man and the first Roman Catholic elected to the Oval Office. Some Americans had opposed his candidacy because they feared that his religion would influence his decisions as President. Yet fascination with his personality, style, intelligence, wit, and character overshadowed these fears for many people. Articulate and forward looking, but with a great sense of the past, Kennedy was the only U.S. President to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize in biography. He won the prize in 1957 for Profiles in Courage (1956), a book about several Americans who had made courageous decisions. Kennedy wrote the book while recuperating from surgery to repair a spinal injury. Born in Brookline, Massuchusetts, to a wealthy and politically ambitious father, Kennedy received a Harvard education. In 1940, while acting as secretary to his ambassador father in London, he wrote Why England Slept, an interpretation of England's failure to recognize the danger of the Nazi menace. As a PT-boat commander in World War II, he was seriously injured when his boat was cut in half and sunk. After the war, in 1946, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he served three terms in the House of Representatives before election to the Senate in 1952 and again in 1958. Elected President in 1960 in a close victory over Richard Nixon, Kennedy hoped to move the nation to a "New Frontier." He urged legislative programs to spur the economy, expand federal aid to education, renew blighted urban areas, eliminate racial segregation in public places, and institute medical care for the aged. But most of Kennedy's programs were stalled in Congress when he was assassinated in November 1963. It was left to Lyndon B. Johnson - Kennedy's successor in the presidency - to get Congress to enact the New Frontier legislation. In foreign affairs, Kennedy did not fare well in the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, but he acted strongly in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, averting a military confrontation with the Soviet Union. His call to commitment in his inaugural speech - "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" - inspired many young people in developing nations, and other areas of government service. Kennedy's presidency was cut short on November 22, 1963, when he was shot to death while riding in an open car during a political visit to Dallas, Texas. A shocked nation watched as he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Hugh Sidey joined the LIFE magazine staff in 1955 & began reporting on the White House in 1957. He has been writing his column "The Presidency" for TIME since 1966. Sidey has served as the president of the White House Historical Association since 1998 & in 2000 was featured as the narrator & interviewer in the popular PBS television series The American President.

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