Fidel Castro

  15219505_373294583012630_3794604011135677008_nIn 2006, President George W. Bush said, “One day the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away.” On November 25, 2016, to the delight of Cubans both on the beautiful island nation and all over the world, Raul Castro announced the death of his brother, 90-year old dictator and former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born on August 13, 1926, in Birán, a village in the province of Holguín to a wealthy family. His father was a well-respected and successful farmer – in fact, he owned a 23,000 acre plantation in the village. Castro then went on to study law at the University of Havana in 1945, where he was a classmate of my grandmother. While studying at the University of Havana, he began to develop leftist ideals and began to rebel against the imperialist notions of his family and the Cuban government, led by then-President Fulgencio Batista.
After developing more and more left-leaning policies and notions, Castro did not immediately rebel against his own country. He first led rebellions against right-leaning governments in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, honing his strategies for the day he would overthrow his own country’s government. Castro had always been a charismatic man, and he did not have much trouble gaining followers and convincing others to join his militia. In 1953, Castro returned to Cuba and attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, an attempt that failed miserably. He was imprisoned for a year.

Upon his release from prison, Castro traveled to Mexico and joined forces with his brother Raúl Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The trio called their group the 26th of July Movement. As more and more Cubans were tiring of the imperialistic rule of Fulgencio Batista, his rag-tag group gained more and more members. My great-uncle was one of those members. He later told me that he felt that the ideals Castro first espoused to his followers would be good for the nation, and would finally give the Cuban people the freedoms and independence they craved. The group hid in the Sierra Maestras and waged guerilla warfare upon Batista’s troops. While hiding in the Sierra Maestras, Castro and his leaders would summarily shoot any of their own men who showed any dissent or doubt about their leader’s true intentions. Che Guevara proved himself to be quite enthusiastic about permanently silencing any of those with doubts. Thus began Castro’s habit of murdering those who did not agree with him or completely support him.
After several battles and skirmishes, Castro and his men were ultimately successful, and on January 1, 1959 former President Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba. The nation was officially in the hands of Fidel Castro.

Following his decisive victory, Fidel Castro named himself Prime Minister of Cuba. Slowly but surely, Castro turned Cuba into a Communist nation, which would be the first in the Western Hemisphere. He began to limit freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and turned to a socialist form of government. As my great-uncle saw that his former hero had no intention of fulfilling his promises to aid the Cuban people and become a better, more empathetic leader to his countrymen, he began to fight against his former friend. My great-uncle and several other brave men and women formed the Contra-Revolución (Counter-Revolution) in an attempt to force Castro to live up the promises that had led so many to support Castro’s overthrow of Batista. He had seen too many of his friends and relatives killed because they had voiced a simple opinion, and he knew that Castro’s government would not be any different. Dissidents would be dealt with harshly. However, Castro had gained too much power by then, and a bounty was put on my great-uncle’s head. Castro wanted him dead, and he was hunted, his family threatened, and he was eventually forced to flee to the Brazilian Embassy and seek asylum there. Through the gates of the Embassy, he was able to kiss his wife and young children good-bye, and was given safe passage to the United States. It was a harrowing nightmare, fought by a brave man who had the foresight to see that Castro would become a dictator like his predecessor. He was not the only one who fought against Castro – however, he was one of just a few who survived speaking out against Castro. Others who were not so lucky were led to el paredón – a wall where they would face a firing squad for voicing their dissent or displeasing their leader in any other way.15181656_373294576345964_8870135671016597505_n

The members of the Contra-Revolución were not the only ones who did not have faith in the future of Castro’s leadership. The United States began to grow more and more worried about a Marxist leader only ninety miles to the south of Florida. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy were not going to allow such a government to exist in such close proximity. In 1961, the United States government began to gather Cuban exiles who opposed Castro’s rule and barely escaped with their lives to the United States, in order to plan an invasion and overthrow Castro’s regime. These Cuban exiles were poorly trained, poorly instructed, and poorly armed, and the Bay of Pigs invasion was a stunning loss of life and an incredible failure on the part of the United States government.

Meanwhile, Castro began to reorganize the country and place an emphasis on the social aspect of the nation, while mostly ignoring the economic needs of the people and the country at large. While Castro did build many schools and expand and nationalize health care, which led to a drastic drop in the infant mortality rate, the country was still reliant on its allies for any economic support. At the same time, Castro quickly began to deny his citizens their basic human and civil rights, and many innocent Cubans were jailed and even killed for showing any political dissent. The notion of free speech was quickly cast aside, and religion was soon to follow. Cubans were not allowed to celebrate Christmas and any who did were thrown in jail. He also instituted a network wherein neighbors would spy on one another. In every neighborhood, a designated “watcher” would walk around, covertly listen in on conversations, watch their friends and loved ones, and report any “anti-government” behavior. Cubans would be sent to prison for owning a television when they were not supposed to, making a comment that could be construed as an insult towards their exalted leader, or even complaining that they did not have enough food to feed their family that week.

In retaliation for the Bay of Pigs, Castro began to ally himself with the Soviet Union. Of course, this made the United States government quite nervous, and thus began several decades of Cold War, with Cuba squarely in the middle. Throughout his alliance with the Soviet Union, Castro survived assassination attempt after assassination attempt, from an exploding cigar to a sniper attack. Somehow they were all bungled and Castro continued to reign.

In 1962, Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, asked Castro to store Soviet missiles in Cuba. While at first nervous at the thought of having these missiles on his lands, Castro eventually agreed, as he thought it would enhance his country’s safety against his mortal enemy, the United States. The storage of these missiles led to the Cuban Missile Crisis from 1962 through 1968, a time of great fear and anxiety throughout the world.

Although the Cuban Missile Crisis ended peacefully enough, the United States eventually instituted an embargo against Cuba. Americans were forbidden to buy Cuban goods, and any trade between the two nations completely ceased (if it had even existed before).

The Cuban people lived on a system of rations, and because they lived in a Communist society, where a doctor would earn as much as a store clerk, many Cubans lost the incentive and drive to work. Why work hard (or work at all) when you would receive a check no matter how many hours you worked? Cubans who had been doctors would leave their jobs to become taxi drivers, because their fares and customers would pay in the currency of their home nations, which were worth more than Cuban pesos any day and would buy much on the black market. Cubans would stand in line for hours at a rations depot, and certain foods were reserved for certain members of society. For example, only new mothers and the elderly were granted access to milk. If a Cuban waited in line and the rations store was out of any item on their shopping list, they were out of luck until the next month. As I was told by Cubans who had come to the United States within recent years, many Cubans turned to eating stray cats or other animals because there was not enough meat.

15179205_373294573012631_39285926675322933_nAs Castro grew older, he took a less active role in politics but continued to give hours-long speeches to his people. In 2006, he stepped down and designated his brother Raúl as the Cuban president. Although Raúl announced the death of his brother and called it a “sad day” for the Cuban people, instituting a nine-day period of mourning, no cause of death has been announced.
To end on a personal anecdote – my grandparents left Cuba with their children in the 1960s, when, in a deal with the United States, Castro “opened the door” and let out those Cubans with family members in the United States who were willing to sponsor them. Once a Cuban was granted permission to leave, a barrage of military would arrive at the Cuban’s home and take inventory of every item in the home – after all, it was property of the state, not of the individual. On the day before the family was to leave for the United States, that same group of military men would return to the home. If one item was missing – one spoon, one picture frame – their permission was rescinded and they would be jailed. Additionally, the children of the families were treated as outcasts at their schools once it was announced that they were leaving. My mother, who was 8 years old when they began the process of leaving Cuba, was called a gusano (worm) by her classmates and was not allowed to participate in any school activities. This behavior was encouraged by the teachers and administration of the schools, as anyone who wanted to leave was seen as unpatriotic and traitorous. On the day they were to leave, each individual was allowed one small suitcase with one change of clothing, and any jewelry worn would be surrendered to the military at their leisure. My grandparents and their children survived this harrowing experience, but have never been able to return to the beautiful country of their roots.


Countdown to the Apocalypse – The Doomsday Clock

It has been maintained since 1947 by the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who are in turn advised by the Governing Board and the Board of Sponsors, including 18 Nobel Laureates. The closer they set the Clock to midnight, the closer the scientists believe the world is to global disaster.The Clock originally hung on a wall in the Bulletin’s office in the University of Chicago and represented an analogy for the threat of global nuclear […]

4482081_origIt has been maintained since 1947 by the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who are in turn advised by the Governing Board and the Board of Sponsors, including 18 Nobel Laureates. The closer they set the Clock to midnight, the closer the scientists believe the world is to global disaster.
The Clock originally hung on a wall in the Bulletin’s office in the University of Chicago and represented an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war. An international group of researchers called the Chicago Atomic Scientists who had participated in the Manhattan Project came up with idea of an actual doomsday clock. After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they started to publish a newsletter and then a bulletin. The Clock has been depicted on every cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Since 2007 the clock also now reflects climate change and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict severe harm to humanity.

In 2009, the Bulletin stopped its print edition and was one of the first print publications in the US to become entirely digital. The clock has been adjusted 21 times since 1947, when the Clock was initially set to seven minutes to midnight. Today it stands at 3 minutes til midnight.



Bay of Pigs Invasion

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro

On New Year’s Day 1959, Cuban Dictator, FuIgencio Batista was overthrown in a revolt led by Che Guevara, a military rebel commander of Fidel Castro’s. Castro was a communist supporter with ties to Nikita Khrushchev, After seizing power and running a corrupt capitalist government for seven years funded by business dealings with American corporations and links to the Mafia who controlled prostitution, drugs and gambling particularly in Havana, Batista fled for protection to his old ally Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic before claiming political asylum in Portugal. During his time as dictator, thousands of Cubans were oppressed, tortured and murdered. Freedom of speech and the right to strike were removed.

American officials were concerned with the spread of Communism, and the threat posed by the Russians in the midst of the Cold War, and didn’t trust the new Cuban Leader, who quickly set about reversing all the repressive and anti-communist policies of his predecessor. America responded by placing a trade embargo on import and export with Cuba, including their biggest trade, sugar. Castro retaliated by seizing control of American companies and interests in Cuba, and nationalising them for Cuba. These included Coca-Cola, Shell oil and others. Castro also contacted Khrushchev who agreed Russia would take over and import American shares of the sugar productions, which represented 80% of Cuba’s export market.


The following year, in 1960 a proposed covert operation by the CIA was approved by President Eisenhower to invade a small beach known as the Bay of Pigs. Using Cuban exiles from the Miami area, who were to be trained especially for the operation and based on an expected measure of support from Cuban Nationals, particularly those who stood to lose financially under Castro’s new rule, the operation was supposed to be carried out in complete secrecy without direct assistance or intervention by American forces. Before his inauguration in February 1961, the new American President John F Kennedy was made aware of the plan, and gave it his continued support. Unfortunately the plan was doomed before it started as word spread amongst the exiles and as early as October 1960, whilst training was carried out in Guatemala, not only was Castro aware of the progress, but Cuba had regular updates in the press.

Two days before the planned invasion obsolete American B26 bombers which had been re-painted to look like Cuban Air Force were sent from Nicaragua to bomb the airfields in Cuba, putting Castro’s Air Force out of action. Unfortunately, Castro was aware of this aspect of the plan, and had moved his air force to safer ground. The Americans missed most of their targets and photographs taken of the raid exposed the involvement of the Americans. A second air strike was cancelled.

The invasion comprising roughly 1400 men took place two days later on April 17th. But things went wrong immediately. Two support ships were sunk on coral reef, and the exile force were quickly bogged down in swampy territory with insufficient equipment, as Castro’s pre-warned Air Force shot at them from above. In just a few short hours, over a hundred were dead, and Castro’s army of 20,000 men moved in and took a further 1200 prisoners. Around 100 men managed to escape into the sea.

John F Kennedy
John F Kennedy

Kennedy was forced to approach pharmaceutical companies and baby food manufacturers for donations of $53million of these essential items for export to Cuba as negotiated terms for the release of the prisoners. The negotiations took over 20 months to settle. The day after the failed invasion Kennedy wrote a letter to Khrushchev which heavily stressed his hope that Russia would not use the Cuban situation to further his own ambitions within a Cold War context.

Almost 54 years later, on April 12th 2015, American President Obama, and Cuban President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, met in Panama, the first time two leaders of these countries have met since Nixon met with Fidel Castro after his revolution in 1959. As a side-line in the Summit of the Americas the two leaders held talks to attempt to finally put aside the residual mistrust and work together to move forward.


Coco Chanel – The Icon, the spy and the little black dress.

Coco Chanel 1920
Coco Chanel 1920

Born to an unmarried woman, Eugenie Jeanne Devolle, who worked as a laundry assistant in a convent poorhouse on 19th August 1883, Gabrielle was Jeanne’s second daughter, her older sister Julia having been born almost a year before. Following her birth, in Saumur, France, Jeanne’s family contributed all the money they could raise and gave it to the girl’s father, Albert Chanel, as a bribe for him to marry their mother. Chanel was a travelling salesman, somewhat of a vagrant, selling cheap clothing to the working class. The couple had several more children, three of whom – another daughter and two sons – survived. The family lived in a one roomed dwelling, until at the age of 32 Jeanne died of bronchitis.

Following her mother’s death, at the age of 12 Gabrielle, Julia and their younger sister were sent by their father to a Catholic convent orphanage in Aubazine to live. Their brothers were sent to work as farm laborers. At the age of 18, Gabrielle was too old to remain within the orphanage and was transferred to a Catholic hostel in Moulins. Having learned to sew whilst at the orphanage, Gabrielle managed to find work as a seamstress during the day, and topped up her income by working in the café-concert of La Rotonde as a “filler” during the breaks between turns, singing a couple of songs. It was during this time that she earned the nickname “Coco” ostensibly due to the titles of the songs that she sung, but more likely a derivative of ‘la coquette’ (kept woman), in reflection of her flirtatious nature with the military who frequented the Pavillion. In later years Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel would embellish stories of her childhood, to give it more glamour and more tragedy.

Five years later saw Coco living in Vichy, where she attempted to find work on the stage as a performer, but although charming, her voice was mediocre and she took seasonal work as a water girl in one of the spa cafes famous in the area for the allegedly healing properties of the water. At the end of the season she returned to Moulins and took up her old position at La Rotonde, where shortly after she met Etienne Balsan, heir to a textile fortune and ex-cavalry officer. Balsan was already in the companionship of mistress Emilienne d’Alencon, a well-known courtesan and dancer with the Folies Bergere. Balsan soon replaced her with Chanel and moved her into his chateau near Campiegne, where he lavished expensive gifts, clothing, jewelry and so on, on her.

It is claimed by some sources that Coco’s sister Julia had at this point committed suicide leaving a young child, Coco’s nephew Andre Palasse. Andre is thought by some to have been not Julia’s child, but Coco’s from her relationship with Balsan. Either way, Coco took the boy on as her own, although using her wealth sent him to an English boarding school for his education. Within a couple of years, Chanel had begun a new relationship with her lover’s friend Captain Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, an upper class, wealthy English Army officer. After some time playing the alluring young lady pursued by two devoted rivals, she left the chateau and moved into a desirable Paris apartment provided by Capel, who also provided Chanel with her first shops in the city. Capel was later credited with the influence of the design in Chanel’s first ventures, particularly the famous glass bottle shape of the perfume Chanel No.5. said to be inspired by his Charvet toiletries. Balsan meanwhile continued to pay for Chanel’s living expenses.

Chanel with the Duke of Westminster
Chanel with the Duke of Westminster

For nine years Chanel was devoted to Capel, entertaining the notion that one day he would give up his inherently unfaithful ways and settle down with her, even when he married Lady Diana Wyndham. It is true Capel was clearly happy to keep Chanel as his mistress, and provide materially for her – in that he was extravagant- but he didn’t seem to have any intentions of viewing her as anything more than his “bit on the side”. In 1919, the year after he was married, Capel was killed in a car accident in Switzerland. Chanel later paid for a memorial at the site of the crash.

Over the following years, Chanel had significant relationships with a number of high-profile men, including the Duke of Westminster, poet Pierre Reverdy and designer Paul Iribe. During this period, she met Samuel Goldwyn and accepted an offer to work part of the year in Hollywood, designing for movie stars. Although her work was ultimately unsuccessful in movies – it was considered too plain – she did gain the patronage of a number of well-known actresses, particularly Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. Chanel claimed later to loathe Hollywood as ‘vulgar’. She repeated a similar enterprise in Paris, working alongside Jean Cocteau, in stage where her designs met with more success.

It was at some point during this period, that Chanel became the lover of Abwehr officer Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, following the sudden death of Iribe in 1935. At the outbreak of war, and following Nazi occupation of Paris, Chanel closed her Paris outlets, and moved from her apartment to the Hotel Ritz, a favourite with Nazi military. It has been speculated that her explanation of the war not being the time for couture was a cover up for her motives in getting rid of over 3000 female employees who had recently used strike action over pay and conditions during the wider general strike. Her blatant anti-Semitism was a strong factor; Chanel was known to have bought into the propaganda of Jewish collaboration with Communism in Russia.

Although it has been vehemently denied in recent years, by the Chanel corporation, a de-classified document revealed in a 2011 book that Chanel was given a suspect file by the French Prefecture de Police, Chanel was code-named “Westminster” after being admitted as an agent by the Nazis, hinting at the possibility that she was actively engaged as a spy. Chanel was still in contact with certain members of the British Royal Family and government, and it is alleged that Churchill himself was aware of her Nazi involvement and refused to allow the knowledge to become public on the grounds that it may have incriminated the same. To all intents he, with the assistance of other high-profile leaders, made the accusations “go away”.

A plot was apparently discovered by which Chanel’s boss, Nazi intelligence leader General Walter Schellenberg, with Chanel’s help would use her (allegedly lesbian) relationship with Italian socialite Vera Bate Lombardi, who was born in Britain and became an Italian citizen by way of her second marriage to offer a separate peace deal between the British government and the Nazi SS. The plan was to use Lombardi as a courier to deliver a letter from Chanel to Churchill via the British consulate in Madrid. Lombardi was in fact working for British intelligence, and allowed Chanel and Schellenberg to believe she bought their story that the letter was regarding establishing some of Chanel’s business in Spain. When she got to the consulate, instead of handing over the letter in innocence, she denounced Chanel as a Nazi collaborator along with several others.

Chanel with Nazi intelligence officer Dincklage, Switzerland 1951
Chanel with Nazi intelligence officer Dincklage, Switzerland 1951

In September 1944, Chanel was interrogated by the Free French Purge Committee regarding the suspicions of her involvement with the Nazis. Unfortunately, they were unable to prove any solid wrong-doing, and were forced to release her. Chanel would later claim her freedom was organized by Churchill. Chanel however was not as squeaky clean as her associates would have you believe. In 1941, Chanel contacted the German government regarding the Parfums Chanel business, of which control had passed to the Wertheimer family, who were Jewish. When it became unlawful for Jews to own business, and the Nazis forced them to hand over their businesses, the Wertheimers had unbeknown to Chanel made an agreement with a French Christian businessman, Felix Amiot, to take over the company for the duration of the war.

Denouncing the Wertheimers as Jewish and claiming they had abandoned their business, Chanel highlighted her own connection with the company in an effort to regain control of it. Her efforts were in vain of course, but in a conciliatory move, in 1947 the Wertheimers agreed to give Chanel a share of the wartime profits, which amounted to $9million in 21stC terms, 2% of future projections and agreed further to Chanel’s demand for her living expenses to be paid for her lifetime. The concern appeared to be not an attempt to appease Chanel, rather an effort to distance Gabrielle Chanel’s name from the company to prevent any connection with her Nazi affiliation which could affect the business adversely.

In 1946, Schellenberg was tried by the Nuremberg committee for war crimes and sentenced to six years in jail. He was released due to ill-health and during both his imprisonment and subsequent decline Coco Chanel supported his family financially and took care of his medical expenses, and his funeral in 1952. In 1949, Chanel was forced herself to answer charges made during the war crimes trial of French Traitor Baron Louis de Vaufreland, who worked in the highest echelons of Nazi intelligence for the duration of the war. She defended her proclaimed innocence, offering a character witness from former British secretary of state for war Alfred Duff Cooper, Viscount Norwich, who we must assume she was acquainted with due to his extra-marital affair with the wife of her former lover, Arthur Capel. Chanel was acquitted of the charges.It has since been claimed that Chanel may have been working as a double agent, that she used her inflitration within the Nazi party to assist her nephew Palasse, who was at this time imprisoned in a POW camp, and that her interests went only as far as her romantic involvement with Dincklage.

By this point, Chanel was residing in Switzerland, however by 1954, She felt the time was right to re-invent her former couture business, and launched a new line, stepping away from the usual stiff costumes that had become de rigeur, in favour of more fluid lines. The venture was paid for by the Wertheimers, as per their post-war agreement, but the line was not greatly received by Paris, who had lost their love for her brand due to her wartime activities. Britain and America however were not going to let a little thing like Nazi affiliation get in the way of their love affair with Chanel. She moved back to the Hotel Ritz.

Chanel with Winston Churchill
Chanel with Winston Churchill

On January 10th, 1971 aged 87, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel passed away after retreating to her bed the previous evening complaining of feeling tired and unwell. Her funeral was held at the Eglise de la Madeleine and she was interred in the cemetery of Bois-de-Vaux, in Lausanne, Switzerland. As a fashion icon she will be remembered for her use of jersey fabrics in day wear complete with useful pockets, her Naval influence with sailor stripes and wide pants, her iconic Chanel purse, and the famous little black dress. For historians however, she will be remembered as the woman who made her way in life with the patronage of extremely influential men and their money, and for her infamous connections with anti-Semitism and the Nazi party during the war. Chanel never married, but had many high-profile sexual liaisons in a time where, for the affluent, moral boundaries were for other people, it seems. Aside from the rumours of her alleged love child, passed off as the son of her sister, Chanel left no heirs. Chanel’s personal fortune and influence was far-reaching, despite her less than glamorous beginnings.


John F Kennedy

John and Jackie taken in late 1962/ early 1963 with John Jr and Caroline.
John and Jackie taken in late 1962/ early 1963 with John Jr and Caroline.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born May 29th 1917, the second son of Businessman and politician Joseph Kennedy and his wife Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald. He had an older brother, Joe Jr and two younger brothers, Robert (Bobby) and Edward (Ted) and five younger sisters, Rose, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia (Pat) and Jean.

The family moved a number of times in John’s early years, leading to his frequent changes of school, until he settled at the Choate School in Wallingford Connecticut, following a bout of appendicitis in 1931. Joe Jr had already attended the school for two years before John arrived, playing football. Whilst Joe was a talented student, John was somewhat in his brother’s shadow. Coming from a family with a heavy political inclination, it was felt that Joe Jr would eventually follow his father in to politics and was being groomed as a future senator and Presidential candidate. Sadly this dream was cut short with the advent of World War 2, when pilot Joe was enlisted as a Naval aviator flying top secret missions as part of Operations Aphrodite and Anvil, carrying a large amount of explosives on board his adapted Liberator, when it was detonated prematurely over Suffolk near the Coast of the English Channel.

John and Joe had undertaken a tour to London with their father during his role as US Ambassador for the Court of St James, prior to the outbreak of war, during which he travelled to the Soviet Union, the Balkans, the Middle East before returning via Czechoslovakia and Germany, arriving back in London. The next day Germany invaded Poland and war was declared. During the war, JFK saw his own action during which he was injured and received amongst others, the Purple Heart and the Naval and Marine Corps Medal, for saving the lives of a number of the crew on board his patrol torpedo boat PT-109 when it was rammed during a night-patrol off New Georgia in the Solomon Islands area. He was later asked what he had done to receive his award, to which he replied “It was easy, they cut my boat in half!”
During the incident, JFK had offered his men the choice of fight or surrender. In the end the survivors had decided to swim for it. Despite injuring his back, (further to a pre-existing complaint, John towed an injured man while he swam, by a lifebelt strap hooked in his teeth, until they reached an island. When they made the choice to head for a second land, he repeated the exercise. The group were later rescued. Alas the repeat strain on his back eventually led to further treatment and convalescence culminating in an Honourable discharge shortly before Japan’s surrender.

John worked as a specialist correspondent under William Randolph Hearst for a number of years following his military career, which tied in with his Graduation as a specialist in political affairs, his thesis on the Munich Agreement later being published under the title “Why England slept”. He also later helped his father write his own memoirs. John’s career in politics was starting to take off and in 1952 following six years as Congressman in Massachusetts, he was elected to US Senate. In 1953 after a courtship lasting approximately a year, John married Jacqueline Bouvier, a French Literature Graduate, working as a photographer for the Washington Times-Herald.

Following their marriage, John and Jackie moved into a house at Hickory Hill. They had a miscarriage in 1954 followed by four children, Arabella in 1955 who was stillborn, and sold their house to Bobby Kennedy and his wife Ethel, whose family were growing quite rapidly. John and Jackie moved to a townhouse in Georgetown. Their first daughter Caroline was born in 1957, followed by their son John Jr in 1960, and Patrick in 1963 who was born prematurely and died of respiratory distress two days later.

Jackie was not initially a major player in her husband’s political career, but as a result of the time they spent apart in the first few years of the marriage, following Caroline’s birth, Jackie agreed to accompany him on parts of his re-election tour. It was noted that at every event Jackie attended, the crowd was always much bigger. She may have been a reluctant campaigner but she was popular with the public, which did nothing to hinder his career.

In January 1960 he announced plans to run for Presidency, shortly afterwards Jackie found she was pregnant. In response to previous problems her doctor advised her to rest. She accompanied her husband on occasion, and spent the rest of her time at home organising his administration, answering letters, arranging interviews and so on. Her pregnancy was announced in the July, and in November shortly after John won the Presidential election, she gave birth to John Jr.

Jackie and John, Dallas. Moments before his assassination.
Jackie and John, Dallas. Moments before his assassination.

His Presidential career though short-lived was filled with memorable events, from the slide into the Cold War when USSR premier Nikita Khrushchev announced plans to sign a treaty with East Berlin, causing strain in the West, and mass upheaval for the residents of Germany as many fled to the American controlled West in response to statements made by the USSR which concerned them greatly. It wasn’t long before the infamous Berlin wall was built in an effort to prevent any more East German residents migrating to the West. Khrushchev claimed to like Kennedy but found him weak as a political opponent. To Jackie, he gifted a puppy.

This was followed up with the problems faced in Vietnam between the Us Supported South Vietnamese, and the Communist Viet Cong in the North led by Ho Chi Minh. Despite attempts to resettle many peasants and thus remove them from the communist threat they faced, the efforts lost momentum only to resurface two years later.

This tense time continued very rapidly with the Cuban crisis, inherited from the tenure of his predecessor Dwight D Eisenhower. Plans had been drawn up in Eisenhower’s term by the CIA for an invasion of Cuba to oust Communist Dictator Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs Invasion took place in April 1961when 1500 Cubans trained by US Forces landed on the beach with the instructions to overthrow Castro. It was a poorly organised invasion and Castro’s forces were given ample warning of the attack. Nearly 400 of the invading force were killed, and the rest were taken prisoner. It took nearly two years of negotiations before the hostages were released.

Matters were to get worse when surveillance footage revealed Soviet missiles being assembled and stockpiled in Cuba the following year. Fearing a downward slide into nuclear war, Kennedy implemented a stop and search policy on Soviet ships in the area. After UN involvement and the exchange of letters between the two leaders, agreement was reached where the Soviets were to dismantle the missiles, in return Kennedy agree to remove similar (but now obsolete) weapons he had in Turkey and promised not to invade Cuba again. Crisis was averted.

In August 1963, Jackie gave birth to their second son Patrick by emergency caesarean at Otis Air Force Base. The baby was diagnosed with respiratory distress and transferred to Boston. Kennedy went with his son whilst Jackie remained at Otis to recover. Two days later their son died. Devastated, Jackie removed herself from public life and went for a quiet vacation with her friend Aristotle Onassis on board his yacht suffering from depression. She returned in October.
At the beginning of November the situation in Vietnam was descending into outright conflict. Kennedy’s administration had agreed on supporting the South through covert means, which cut everybody but the President and his closest advisors out of the situation and left no traceable paper-trail. Just a few days into November, Big Minh made contact through the private channels to notify the CIA that he was about to overthrow the Diem government, and had taken Diem and Nhu prisoner. He asked for passage out of Vietnam for his two prisoners, but the CIA stalled saying they couldn’t organise transport for 24 hours. Big Minh stated he didn’t have that long, and instead killed the two men.

Kennedy had been undergoing a process of change in US policy through the summer of 1963 whereby withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam was discreetly scheduled for the end of the year, and negotiations with USSR were ongoing for the mutual nuclear disarmament would remove the threat of Nuclear war between the two superpowers. It was also felt that Kennedy’s continued involvement with US interests in West Berlin would help appease the ongoing situation there. In June 1963, Kennedy travelled to Berlin and delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, reaffirming his criticism of Communism, using the Berlin Wall as his example of why Democracy isn’t perfect but it allows freedom.

John Jr saluting at the funeral of his father
John Jr saluting at the funeral of his father

Earlier in the year he had backed the coup against the leader of Iraq, Abd Al-Karim Qasim by Ba’ath leader President Abdul Salam Arif. Qasim had himself assumed power just five years previously with his own coup which had removed the Iraqi monarchy who were allied with the West. Further in the Middle East, Kennedy continued to support the Israeli government, but the situation was deteriorating as Israel were surreptitiously trying to manufacture their own nuclear arms despite treaty dictating otherwise. When pushed, Ben-Gurion repeatedly claimed that their experiments were purely for peaceful reasons, Kennedy pushed for UN inspections of the facilities in Tel-Aviv. Kennedy was well aware Israel were blatantly trying to mislead the Americans, by temporarily shutting down developmental units of the facility prior to inspection, but Kennedy was also focused on his own agenda of not finding a reason to press the issue into a public show of taking action against the Israeli weapons program.

On November 22nd 1963, Kennedy was travelling through Texas to attend a meeting between the Democrat candidates, two (unrelated) liberals, Ralph and Don Yarborough and their Conservative rival, John Connally who were squabbling over points. At 12.30 the Presidential motorcade drove through Dallas, they passed the Texas Book Depository, where employee Lee Harvey Oswald fired shots which hit Kennedy in the neck and head. Following the first shot Jackie, who was sitting next to her husband stood and turned, reaching back for the security detail, when the second shot hit John blowing a huge hole in the back of his skull close to his ear.

His bodyguards put their foot down and sped the fatally wounded President to Parkland hospital where he was pronounced dead an hour later. An hour after the shooting, and following a radio description of the suspect, Police Officer J D Tippit spotted a man matching the descripton and hailed him from his car. Following a brief exchange through the car window, Tippit opened the door and climbed out to detain the man further. At this point, Lee Harvey Oswald drew a gun from his coat and fired three shots in rapid succession into the policeman’s chest. As he slumped to the ground, Oswald leaned over him and shot him once more in the head. Tippit died approximately 15 minutes after the President.

Oswald denied any involvement in the Tippit murder. Conspiracy theorists have spent fifty years trying to prove that Officer Tippit played a role in a wider cover-up of this conspiracy, that he was possibly either an accomplice of Oswald’s or that he was part of the plot to later remove Oswald from the picture and that he was tasked with silencing him. Just 36 hours later, Oswald too was dead, shot in the stomach by Nightclub owner Jack Ruby, during the prisoner’s transfer from the city jail to the county jail. He was taken to the same hospital where his own victim has died just two days before. Ruby died from stomach cancer whilst awaiting trial. He too has been linked to the conspiracy.

Kennedy, Tippit and Oswald were all buried on the same day. Oswald’s brother had to ask journalists there to cover the funeral to act as pall-bearers. Attendance was minimal. Kennedy’s funeral was in comparison a huge state affair, made all the more poignant as his young son, three year old John Jr saluted his father’s coffin as it passed. Following his internment in a small plot in Arlington, in 1967 a permanent memorial and grave were constructed and his two children were later re-interred next to him along with Jackie. Kennedy’s two younger brothers are also buried nearby, around fifty and 100 yards away.