31 March 2009

"Profiles in Courage" Memorial Editon by John F. Kennedy

Profiles in Courage - Memorial Edition
John F. Kennedy
Special Foreword by Robert F. Kennedy
Date of Publication: 1964
Cover Price: 75 cents
238 pages

Profiles in Courage was originally written by President Kennedy during his senatorial days and published in 1957. There are eight United States Senators profiled in this heavily researched volume. Mr. Kennedy acknowledges in his introduction the scholarly assistance he had while planning this work, and takes full responsibility for any errors in historical accuracy. The error, I am sad to say, may well be in our history books frequently failing to include these incidents.

Kennedy's focus on U.S. Senators, of course, reflects his own status as one. Perhaps he was trying to find solace in a bothersome period of his own; perhaps he longed to see himself one day admitted to the annals of history favorably. (On that count, of course, he need not have worried.) The fact that we do not know, from this volume, his motives is actually apropos. Mr. Kennedy himself dismisses the relevance of the motives--or the outcomes--of the detailed acts he recounts as relevant, arguing instead that courage ought not be decided based on the outcome of one's actions. Right or wrong can be determined by the passage of time, but courage must not be linked to that judgment.

It is almost a shame that John F. Kennedy pursued a political career, because he would have made a wonderful historian. His characterizations of these courageous men are related in seemingly effortless prose. Profiles in Courage rarely feels like a work of non-fiction, so dedicated was Kennedy in his intent to take us to the moments at hand. I actually felt the anguish, the dread and the isolation of these men as I read their tales. Lest anyone expect these profiles to be concerned only with Senators who rose above controversy to do the right thing with the approval of history, Kennedy's conclusion passes judgment on these eight and does not write glowingly of how they ought to be remembered for their actions or personal character. It would be too easy to leave us with the impression that these eight men were all paragons of virtue; rather than do so, Kennedy bursts the very bubble he crafts.

It is in this context that Profiles in Courage reveals something about its author. At no point does this become an autobiography of our slain President. His thoughts on courage, democracy and legacies, though, tell us about himself. They reveal a man capable of seeing people as complex and complicated; a man who could recognize even in opponents something to admire. And it is evidence that he himself would very likely prefer his public legacy be linked to the truth of who he was. President John F. Kennedy was, by most accounts, a bright, optimistic young man plagued by physical ailments. He will forever be linked to his family, yet his image as a family man tarnished by his womanizing ways. In short, a flawed human being who, at times, displayed courage.

For those interested in knowing, the eight Senators are:
  1. John Quincy Adams
  2. Daniel Webster
  3. Thomas Hart Benton
  4. Sam Houston
  5. Edmund G. Ross
  6. Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar
  7. George Norris
  8. Robert A. Taft

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