John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev
Following World War II, the world felt the intensifying of the Cold War. Although the primary players were the United States and Russia, countries around the globe sat on the edge of their seats, waiting for the tension to rupture and a third World War to erupt. Two leaders had the fate of the world in their hands, during this era of world history, Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy.
This paper will begin by overviewing each of these powerful leaders. Following these overviews, the leadership styles will then be compared and contrasted. In so doing, a clearer understanding will be developed of how two very different leaders could so effectively lead the two most powerful nations, during one of the most intense times in world history.
John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States, leading the nation from 1961 until his assassination on November 22nd, 1963. He was the youngest person ever to have been elected as President, and the youngest President to die. He is often seen as an American martyr (“John F. Kennedy”, 2005).
Kennedy is known for his strong domestic and foreign policies. Although most of his civil rights policies didn’t come into full fruition until his successor, Lyndon Johnson, came into office, due to his untimely death, Kennedy was an innovator both within and outside of America’s borders. He was a visionary that had a the dedication needed to bring these visions to life. His leadership skills would be honed when a young Kennedy was finally accepted into the U.S. Navy, in 1941, where he earned the rank of lieutenant and commanded a patrol torpedo boat, or PT boat (“John F. Kennedy”, 2005).
In 1943, Kennedy’s leadership skills would be demonstrated, 18 years prior to his holding office and leading a nation in a tumultuous time. Kennedy’s boat, the PT-109 was rammed while involved in a military raid near the Solomon Islands. Although Kennedy was thrown across the deck and injured his back, which had previously plagued him with problems, he was able to tow a wounded man three miles across the ocean to an island. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, with the following citation that sums up his exemplary leadership. “During the following 6 days, (Kennedy) succeeded in getting his crew ashore, and after swimming many hours attempting to secure aid and food, finally effected the rescue of the men. His courage, endurance and excellent leadership contributed to the saving of several lives and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service” (as cited in “John F. Kennedy”, 2005).
Following World War II, Kennedy began his career in politics. In 1946, Kennedy won the vacated seat of Representative James M. Curley, by a large margin. He was reelected to this position twice, but his voting record was often contradictory to President Harry Truman, as well as divergent from the Democratic Party as a whole (“John F. Kennedy”, 2005). This voting record was a demonstrative example of a Kennedy who would go on to prove that he was a man unto himself, as a future President.
In 1952, Kennedy moved his political career one step forward with the defeat of Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. for Senator of Massachusetts. His bid for the position of Vice President nomination at the Democratic National Convention, in 1956, although turned down, also bolstered his career. He also adroitly handled the Civil Rights Act of 1957 by voting for final passage, but also earlier had voted for the jury trial amendment which would have made the Act quite ineffective (“John F. Kennedy”, 2005).
Nikita Khrushchev was born in the village of Kalinovja, in what is now known as Kursk Oblast of the Russian Federation. He was originally trained and worked as a pipe fitter for a variety of mines, but it was during World War I, that Khrushchev’s leadership would begin to emerge, as he began to be involved in trade union activities, following the Bolshevik revolution, in 1917. A year later, Krushchev became a Party member and held various management and Party positions in both Donbass and Kiev. In 1931, he transferred to Moscow, and four years later, he became 1st Secretary of the Moscow City Committee. In 1938, he was given the position of 1st Secretary of the Central Committee of the Ukranian Communist Party. Krushchev continued to work his way up the Party ladder and was a member of the Politburo from 1939 (“Nikita Khrushchev”, 2005).
During the Second World War, Khruschev served as a political officer, holding a rank similar to Lieutenant General, in the United States. He coordinated the defense of the Ukraine and then was the senior political officer in the South of the Soviet Union throughout the war. Stalin’s death in March of 1953 instigated a power struggle between several different factions within the Party. Khrushchev prevailed and became Party leader on September 7th, 1953 (“Nikita Khrushchev”, 2005).
A Comparison of Kennedy Versus Khrushchev:
Khrushchev was a powerful leader of Russia during a chaotic time. He immediately began to seek a course of reform, which was exemplified in his famous Secret Speech, that was given to the 20th Party Congress, in 1956. Khrushchev alienated himself from the more conservative members of his Party, speaking out against Stalin’s actions, especially those crimes committed during the Great Purges (Khrushchev, 1956).
This is in direct comparison to Kennedy’s early leadership style. Kennedy too refused to simply do as the Democratic Party demanded. He often voted against Party lines, to the chagrin of traditional Liberals. Although both men would alienate themselves from some of their Party members, both would gain increased acceptance from more moderate Party members, and respect from many because of their willingness to do what they felt was right, not what was popular.
Their dedication to their visionary leadership goals was a similarity, while their personal styles were in severe contrast. Khrushchev was often seen as uncivilized and boorish. He had a reputation for his significant temper and often resorted to interupting speakers to insult them. Khrushchev was known for pounding his fists on the table and shouting during a United Nations conference in 1960, and even taking off his shoe and pounding it violently on the table, when asked how he could oppose Western captilist imperialism given his actions to rapidly assimilate Eastern Europe (Khrushcheva, 2000). Whereas Kennedy grew up in a wealthy, refined family and would never have considered to resort to such measures to get his point across.
Yet, both men were incredibly charismatic, able to eloquently express themselves and rally their citizens behind them in a call of patriotism. Although both men had significantly different styles, they were both able to manipulate the emotions of their citizens to secure their leadership position and accomplish tasks such as the development of space programs, that others afterwards were able to complete. Even today, Kennedy receives much of the credit for great steps that he only had a small part in, such as the Civil Rights Act, which was conceived by his brother Robert Kennedy, and implemented by Lyndon Johnson. Yet, because of their ability to lead, in a difficult time, both men will be remembered as powerful opposing leaders who had much in common.