Berlin 1961

Kennedy’s “Dr. Feelgood”

May 26, 2011

Paris, France

May 31, 1961

Historians haven’t done well over the years in answering an awkward question: when do the personal quirks and unusual habits of American presidents have historic consequences? Tabloid reporters salivate over salacious stories such as Monica Lewinsky’s affair with President Bill Clinton, but when do these become matters of state?

Kennedy’s secret use of a Soviet spy

May 24, 2011

Justice Department, Washington D.C.

May 9, 1961

Wearing a white shirt, a loosened tie, and a jacket held casually over one shoulder, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy bounded down the steps of the side entrance to the Department of Justice on Pennsylvania Avenue and extended his hand to Soviet spy Georgi Bolshakov.

President Kennedy’s amateur hour

May 23, 2011

The Kremlin, Moscow

April 20, 1961

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev could hardly believe his good fortune.

He had known from his intelligence that Kennedy was planning some sort of Cuban operation aimed at unseating Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Yet never in his fondest dreams had he anticipated the incompetence of the botched Bay of Pigs invasion.

Acheson fills a Kennedy power vacuum

May 19, 2011

The White House, Washington, D.C.

Monday, April 3, 1961

Dean Acheson knew a White House policy vacuum when he saw it, the absence of any Kennedy administration Berlin policy, and he was determined to fill it with the rapier brilliance that had already made him an historic figure.

A bumper crop of Soviet humor

May 18, 2011

Novosibirsk, Siberia

May 1961

Some of the best political humor grew out of Eastern Europe during the Cold War, when tens of millions of oppressed people let off steam through laughter.

Khrushchev to Kennedy: You can’t escape Berlin

May 17, 2011

Novosibirsk, Siberia
March 9, 1961

America’s ambassador to Moscow had never seen Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev so fixated on the Berlin issue nor so determined to bring the crisis to a head.

The snubbed Soviet strikes back

May 16, 2011

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was still waiting for John F. Kennedy’s answer to his multiple pleas for an early summit when the U.S. president delivered his apocalyptic State of the Union address, which spoke of the Soviet and Chinese quest for world domination, as the first of several perceived indignities.

An interview with Frederick Kempe about “Berlin 1961″

May 13, 2011

The ever-resourceful Ayana Morali found a chunk of the Berlin Wall in mid-Manhattan, the perfect locale to interview Frederick Kempe about his fascinating book, BERLIN 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth. Here’s a video of our conversation:

Kennedy’s first mistake

May 12, 2011

It was the first, live televised press conference in U.S. history, and President John F. Kennedy beamed his 200-watt smile as he looked across the assembled media gathered in the cavernous, newly opened State Department auditorium.  He had real news for them: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had released two captured American airmen, which Kennedy could sell as an early demonstration that he could handle Moscow more effectively than had his predecessor Eisenhower.

The East German puppet pulls the Soviet strings

May 11, 2011

East German leader Walter Ulbricht had never written a letter of greater consequence. He wanted Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to quit making excuses, to quit dithering and to finally launch a bold Berlin move that would stop the refugee bleed and his country’s economic decline.