Episode 36: President John F. Kennedy

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 36: President John F. Kennedy

This podcast deals with President John F. Kennedy, the 35th US president.

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John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or JFK, was the 35th president of the United States, and he was elected in 1960. He was the youngest president to ever be elected to the office, and the first Roman Catholic as well. It is safe to say that JFK is still one of America’s most beloved presidents.

Known to his family and friends as Jack, JFK was born into a wealthy, politically powerful family in the Boston, Massachusetts, area. JFK was born in 1917, the second of nine children. His older brother, Joe, had a life goal of being the first Roman Catholic president.

However, during WWII, when Joe and Jack were both in the military, Joe was killed. Jack had become a hero during the war when the ship he was commanding, PT-109, was hit by a Japanese destroyer. JFK managed to lead the 11 survivors to rescue.

Because of Joe’s death, Jack reconsidered his career goal and changed it from becoming a teacher or writer to becoming president. In 1946, JFK, a Democrat, was elected to the US House of Representatives and served six years. Then, in 1952, he was elected to the Senate.

In 1960, he was elected president. When he took office in 1961, he delivered his inaugural speech that contained the famous line, “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

When JFK moved into the White House, he was married with two young children. His wife, Jacqueline, or Jackie, set about restoring all the rooms to reflect American history and artistic creativity. She even created a kindergarten for Caroline, the oldest child. Jackie Kennedy was very popular and famous for her style and sophistication. The Kennedy White House was famous for its youthful spirit and activities. In fact, many people referred to the Kennedys’ time in the White House as Camelot, a reference to the mythical King Arthur legend.

Less than three years after JFK became president, he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. The world was in total shock. The killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself killed by Jack Ruby two days later. The reason for the assassination has never been fully explained, leading to many conspiracy theories which are still discussed today.

JFK accomplished a lot in the few years he was in office. At the time, there was a struggle between the US democratic system of government and the Soviet Union’s communistic system. This is known as the Cold War because there was no shooting in this conflict. However, since the Soviets were propagating communism in eastern Europe after WWII and building up their nuclear weapons, JFK authorized sending military forces to Europe and building up US nuclear weapons as a safeguard against attack. Each side continued to build up weapons, and this became known as the arms race.

Another big event in the Cold War for JFK was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cuba had become allies with the Soviets and installed missiles there, only 90 miles from Florida. JFK threatened to invade Cuba if the missiles were not removed. There was a 13-day standoff between the USA and the Soviet Union, and then the missiles were removed on the condition that the US would not invade Cuba. This explains why Cuban – US political relations were so bad until just recently.

Not all of Kennedy’s actions involved the military. He started the Peace Corps early in his administration. And, largely because the Soviets were the first to launch a man into Earth orbit in 1961, JFK promised that the USA would put a man on the moon before the Soviets. That happened in 1969, six years after his death.

Racism was an even bigger issue in the early 1960s in America than it is today. Civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., asked JFK to openly support civil rights. In the beginning he was reluctant for many political reasons, but by June 1963 he proposed a new Civil Rights bill to Congress and gave a televised speech asking for support of it. The bill passed in 1964, the year after he died.

JFK is still admired for his politics, his eloquence and his style. There have been many books and films about him and his legacy. You can find mountains of information online or visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston to see exhibits and documents from his life and presidency.


That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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Theme music for this podcast is written and performed by SW Campbell and used by permission. Find more music by this artist at www.Soundclick.com/swcampbell.

This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.