“Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” — John F. Kennedy speech to the UN General Assembly, 1961.
“They talk about who won and who lost. Human reason won. Mankind won.” — Nikita Khrushchev, on the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962.
At the latest CIGI Signature Lecture, audience members were reminded that there’s no better approach to reflection than putting yourself in the mindset of those who changed the course of history.
On November 7, renowned historians and faculty at the Balsillie School of International Affairs James Blight and janet Lang were joined by a very special guest, Sergei Khrushchev — son of the former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev — to discuss the impact of the decisions made by US President John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Premier Khrushchev.
As Lang explained, the lecture was an opportunity to go from history to virtual history and to think about the very provocative question of what might have been had they stayed in power. The discussion during “Kennedy, Khrushchev and ‘Six More Years’: What They Might Have Accomplished, 1963-1969,” offered deep insight into the minds of two world leaders who found themselves at the brink of a war that neither wanted. Key events (and how both JFK and Khrushchev reacted to them) during the 1960s — from the Bay of Pigs Invasion and construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 — illustrate that both leaders were driven to prevent Cold War tension from getting out of control. Confronted with political parallels, JFK and Khrushchev — who, as Blight explained, came from different cultures and experiences — understood the magnitude of their reality: just one shot fired would cross the line of no return.
During the lecture, Lang drew candid and insightful commentary from Sergei Khrushchev, who offered a lens into the state of mind of the former premier — a leader who looked beyond U.S. mythology and saw negotiation with JFK as a real possibility for progress between East and West. Blight recounted the tension and strain JFK faced, as a new president who grew increasingly wary of the advice from his hawkish advisers.
What do you think would be different today, had JFK not been assassinated and Khrushchev remained in power beyond 1964?
HAVE YOUR SAY: If you attended this lecture, caught the webcast or watched the archived video, we would love to hear your thoughts on the discussion. Start a dialogue by adding your comments below.