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JFK vs. JKF

In response to:

Who Was JFK? from the February 20, 2014 issue

To the Editors:

Frank Rich is correct to sum up JFK as contradictory and elusive as well as inspiring [NYR, February 20]. While Kennedy projected a hopeful idealism, he remained deeply conservative on China, bearing out part of Ira Stoll’s case.

As the Truman-Acheson White Paper of 1949 on the “loss of China” unleashed a furious postmortem, JFK, then in the House of Representatives, wrote a letter out of the blue to Professor John [King] Fairbank of Harvard, later my teacher. “I feel that the policies of yourself and others in the State Department contributed much more heavily than the White Paper would indicate to the downfall of our position in China. Therefore in view of the sorry record I cannot put any degree of faith in your plans for the future.” President Kennedy would later dismiss Fairbank as a Communist sympathizer, which was hardly true.

The Harvard professor wrote back in an unfortunately flippant tone to the future president: “I think you will be amused to realize that while you have been blaming me for our disaster in China, I on the other hand have been blaming you and Mr. [Walter] Judd.”

There indeed was a conservative strand in JFK’s complex thinking about the world—documented by Seymour Hersh in The Dark Side of Camelot—especially on Cuba, China, and anything to do with communism.

Ross Terrill
Fairbank Center
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts

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