William F. Buckley
I was asked by a television network to comment on the career of President Kennedy. I agreed to do so and do not know how many other views were solicited, or when the program was aired. I have to assume that it went out because the 40th anniversary of the assassination seemed to wipe out all unrelated television fare with the exception of Michael Jackson, who got if not equal time, very nearly that.

Curiosity just goes on and on about Mr. Kennedy, and I subscribe to it, having recorded (but not yet seen) the two-hour show presided over by Peter Jennings at which we shall have one more chapter of the Grassy Knoll. The advertisements promise a computer re-creation of the assassination. I think it's about as clearly established that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy as that John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln, but seeing it all again, you can use up a little agnostic curiosity on that morbid episode, draining it for a year or two. It is always exciting to read about the assassination of Julius Caesar, particularly when the tale is told by the greatest tale-teller in dramatic literature, never mind that we know that Brutus did it. It goes that way, also, for JFK.

But the question I was asked didn't have to do with who killed JFK, but with what was his legacy. It was, said I, entirely personal. Nothing that Mr. Kennedy did in the way of public policy was either singular or enduring in effect. In foreign policy, he lost out on Berlin, presiding over the death of the Four Power Agreement over that city.

Kennedy did not consummate his war against Castro at any level. At the military level, he failed at the Bay of Pigs. At the dirty-dog level, he failed in four or five attempts to assassinate Castro; failed with toxic cigars, impregnated wet suits and poison pills. At the diplomatic level, we focus more appropriately on the arrival of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba than on their withdrawal. It is acknowledged by everyone that we very nearly had a nuclear exchange in October 1962, and historical adjudications correctly deal with the fact of the missiles being deployed there, rather than of the fact that they were finally shooed away.


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

Be the first to read William Buckley's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.