JFK: hawk or a dove?

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable:”

In this well-edited YouTube piece, Eytmon reminds us that President Kennedy was a “dove,” a leader more inclined to restrain U.S. military power than to unleash it. While JFK was often aggressive in rhetoric, he also emphasized peace was “necessary and rational.” It was his experience as a Navy lieutenant in World War II who repeatedly faced death in battle that made the cause of peace personally urgent to him. It also distinguished him from the hawks of his day

There people on the left (Noam Chomsky) and right (George W. Bush) insiste that JFK was a “hawk,” meaning he was a militaristic defender of American interests in the world. This caricature leaves out an important dimension of JFK’s life and his actions in office.

Consider the non-profit National Security Archive’s latest revelations about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. As the Kennedy White House debated whether to invade Cuba or blockade the island without military action, Robert F. Kennedy made a note of where all the president’s men stood. The hawks favored a “strike.” The doves favored “blockade.”

In the end, JFK sided with the doves. He disregarded the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and other military advisers to invade Cuba — at the cost of an estimated 18,500 lives. He negotiated a peaceful settlement instead. In the most important moment of his presidency, JFK was a dove.


  1. david t.krall says:

    From David T. Krall
    email: truthatlarge@hotmail.com
    JFK, Hawk or Dove???, As each situation warranted it….
    More like an owl or an eagle…seriously…JFK, while no dove, far from it, was killed because he did not meet the level or thresh-hold, or litmus test time and time again of his domestic rivals and enemies. To put more accurately, it wasn’t about withdrawl
    from SE asia, is was more about non-escalation, and “pressures”
    relating to it. As stated in “Choosing War” (an excellent book on the Vietnam Quaigmire, regarding JFK’s unfullfiled plans, “There commitments, …and then there are commitments”…so true.
    JFK was not going to tie or hitch his wagon or legacy to any future war, in SE Asia or in the Carribean. He saw how such a war ruined Truman’s pesidency and HST’s plans domestically and an early “out” of the cold war and He, JFK, saw and realized the futility and folly of the French, not just in SE Asia, but in Algeria as well. Time and time again, especiaally during the “CMC” of Oct. of 1962, He continuously outmanuevered
    those who were trying to deceive and manipulate him (& his brother)…He was truly a hands-on-manager type president, best exemplified via RFK, an extension of his eyes and ears. LBJ, even more then RMN had a totally world-differnt view, based on completely different persepectives, insights, and personality traits.

    I know…I have researched him, JFK, his presidency and assassination for almost 40 years. He one told his friend Paul (“Red”) Fahy (in so many words) “I won’t be pushed or rushed into a war just to satisfy some national pride”. So much data and facts…No more charletons and fake tonic salesman like Bill O’ Reilly traveling from town to town…sorry I mean from talk show to talk show…
    1/9/13-More to follow…thank you !
    From: David T. Krall

  2. Andrew Everett says:

    “necessary and rational” link unavailable…is this from “Evidence of Revision” ?

  3. Jonathan says:

    It’s important to look at what JFK did or did not do. And not just consider his words. His words in some cases (Nixon debate, inaugural speech) are warlike. In deed, JFK deliberately avoided conflict, except he got caught up with RFK in covert efforts to assassinate Castro; those efforts were small potatoes compared to what the military wanted to do.

    My take on JFK at the time and since has been that he was a somewhat inept and naive president — not ruthless like LBJ or Nixon. But he valued peace over war. A man of his times, he believed in “Make Love Not War”.

  4. Gerry Simone says:

    Everyone should see the documentary Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived.


  5. Arnaldo M. Fernandez says:

    Dove does not mean chicken. The key seems to be JFK growing conflict with the typical Dulles/Eisenhower/Nixon approach to the Third World.
    After his 1951 meeting with Edmund Gullion in Saigon, for instance, JFK speeches were clearly against US foreign policy by both parties regarding the Third World. JFK was opposed to Operation Vulture, the solution given by the Dulles Bros to save the French colonial order in Indochina: dropping 3 bombs A against General Giap’s army close to Dien Bien Phu in 1954. JFK wasn’t eager to be directly involved in Vietnam as LBJ was.
    Another illustrative example is JFK speech on Algeria in 1957, in which he even warned against the dangers of Arab radicalism breaking out against America if Washington stayed on the wrong side of the conflicts overseas. And so on, until the American University speech in 1963, JFK style of thinking was far away from the mindset of the military-industrial complex.

  6. “It was his experience as a Navy lieutenant in World War II who repeatedly faced death in battle that made the cause of peace personally urgent to him. It also distinguished him from the hawks of his day.”

    Yes. One is reminded of Lieutenant Fitzgerald’s dilemma in “The Purple Testament” http://tinyurl.com/pqhkrx9

    With it’s shattered mirror and distant explosion,the episode seems darkly prophetic in retrospect.

    Rooting for success of your law suit, Jeff. It is a good and historically important cause.

  7. Michael Boyer says:

    you people are re-writing history. JFK was an anti-communist war hawk. Go look at his Senate voting record and his 1960 campaign to raise the military and nuclear arsenal, which he did. He was more hawkish than Ike and Ike was a General in WW 2. By the actions of JFK of invading Cuba and increasing intercontinental ballistic missile forces and added to the Air Force and Reserves and five new army divisions he caused the Cuban missile crisis. He ordered the Cuban blockade which is an act of war and when Nikita called his bluff he in a secret deal with Nikita agreed not to invade Cuba and also agreed to takeout the intercontinental missiles in Turkey that he placed before the Soviets put their missiles in Cuba. The Soviets got what they wanted. JFK didn’t invade Cuba because he was a dove. if he invaded Cuba with Soviets advisers on the island then that would be an act of war and the Soviets would run over Germany and the NATO firewall would fall and put in jeopardy our military bases in Europe. JFK knew if he invaded Cuba, the Soviets would retaliate in Europe. That’s the reason he had to make a deal with Nikita in secret of taking out the missiles in Turkey and leave Cuba alone. Nikita called his bluff……….by the way, JFk was a war hawk. he increased military spending compared to IKE and he also JFK had increased American aid and U.S. military advisers to more than 16,000 in Vietnam. So please stop with the myth that JFK was a man of peace not war. That’s a Hollywood and liberal media lie to re-write history to remake JFK and his legacy in something he wasn’t.

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