Kennedy's "New Frontier" Spirit
President Kennedy, the youngest president to take office, assembled one of the youngest cabinets, including his brother Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, who planned to reform the priorities of the FBI. Kennedy's new challenge of a "New Frontier" quickened patriotic pulses. He proposed thePeace Corps, an army of idealistic and mostly youthful volunteers to bring American skills to underdeveloped countries.
The New Frontier at Home
Southern Democrats and Republicans despised the president's New Frontier plan. Kennedy had campaigned on the theme of revitalizing the economy after the recessions of the Eisenhower years. To do this, the president tried to curb inflation. In 1962, he negotiated a noninflationary wage agreement with the steel industry. When the steel industry announced significant price increases, promoting inflation, President Kennedy erupted in wrath, causing the industry to lower its prices. Kennedy rejected the advice of those who wished greater government spending and instead chose to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes and putting more money directly into private hands. Kennedy also proposed a multibillion-dollar plan to land an American on the moon.
Rumblings in Europe
President Kennedy met with Soviet leader Khrushchev at Vienna in June 1961. After making numerous threats, the Soviets finally acted. In August 1961, the Soviets began to construct the Berlin Wall, which was designed to stop the large population drain from East Germany to West Germany through Berlin. Western Europe was prospering after the Marshall Plan aid and the growth of the Common Market, the free-trade area later called the European Union. Focusing on Western Europe, Kennedy secured passage of the Trade Expansion Act in 1962, authorizing tariff cuts of up to 50% to promote trade with Common Market countries. American policymakers were dedicated to an economically and militarily united "Atlantic Community" with the United States the dominant partner. President of France, Charles de Gaulle, was suspicious of American intentions in Europe and in 1963, vetoed British application for Common Market membership, fearing that the British "special relationship" with the United States would allow the U.S. to indirectly control European affairs.
Foreign Flare-ups and "Flexible Response"
In 1960, the African Congo received its independence from Belgium and immediately exploded in violence. The U.N. sent in troops while the United States paid for it. In 1954, Laos gained its independence from France and it, too erupted in violence. Kennedy, avoiding sending troops, sought diplomatic means in the Geneva conference in 1962, which imposed a peace on Laos. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara pushed the strategy of "flexible response" - that is, developing an array of military options that could be precisely matched to the necessities of the crisis at hand. President Kennedy increased spending on conventional military forces.
Stepping into the Vietnam Quagmire
The doctrine of "flexible response" provided a mechanism for a progressive, and possibly endless, stepping-up of the use of force (Vietnam). In 1961, Kennedy increased the number of "military advisors" in South Vietnam in order to help protect Diem from the communists long enough to allow him to enact basic social reforms favored by the Americans. In November 1963, after being fed up with U.S. economic aid being embezzled by Diem, the Kennedy encouraged a successful coup and killed Diem.
In 1961, President Kennedy extended the American hand of friendship to Latin America with the Alliance for Progress, called the Marshall Plan for Latin America. A primary goal was to help the Latin American countries close the gap between the rich and the poor, and thus quiet communist agitation. Results were disappointing as America had few positive impacts on Latin America's immense social problems. On April 17, 1961,...
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