A Tense Relationship:
Kennedy and Khrushchev
The relationship between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev was difficult and strained however, each leader had the responsibility of managing one of the most powerful countries on earth. Each leader had the capability to initiate nuclear war, destroying the other and ending life, as it was known on earth. Therefore, it was necessary that actions taken by both leaders be carefully analyzed, as to not antagonize the other into launching nuclear missiles. Unfortunately, as communism continued to spread throughout the world the actions of leaders in smaller countries also came to define how the great powers would respond to one another. Miscommunication, misinformation, third party advice, regional war hawks, and foreign policy, all complicated a tense relationship that tested the capabilities of each leader.
Political cartoons are an excellent way to gauge the political atmosphere. Examine the cartoons below and think about the following:
Letter from Jacqueline Kennedy
Letter sent to Chairman Khrushchev by Mrs. Kennedy after the assassination of President Kennedy.
Washington, December 1, 1963.
DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN PRESIDENT, I would like to thank you for sending Mr. Mikoyan as your representative to my husband's funeral.
He looked so upset when he came through the line, and I was very moved.
I tried to give him a message for you that day--but as it was such a terrible day for me, I do not know if my words came out as I meant them to.
So now, in one of the last nights I will spend in the White House, in one of the last letters I will write on this paper at the White House, I would like to write you my message.
I send it only because I know how much my husband cared about peace, and how the relation between you and him was central to this care in his mind. He used to quote your words in some of his speeches-"In the next war the survivors will envy the dead."
You and he were adversaries, but you were allied in a determination that the world should not be blown up. You respected each other and could deal with each other. I know that President Johnson will make every effort to establish the same relationship with you.
The danger which troubled my husband was that war might be started not so much by the big men as by the little ones.
While big men know the needs for self-control and restraint--little men are sometimes moved more by fear and pride. If only in the future the big men can continue to make the little ones sit down and talk, before they start to fight.
I know that President Johnson will continue the policy in which my husband so deeply believed--a policy of control and restraint--and he will need your help.
I send this letter because I know so deeply of the importance of the relationship which existed between you and my husband, and also because of your kindness, and that of Mrs. Khrushcheva in Vienna.
I read that she had tears in her eyes when she left the American Embassy in Moscow, after signing the book of mourning. Please thank her for that.
/Source: William Manchester, The Death of a President, November 20-November 25, 1963 (New York, 1963), pp. 653-654. No classification marking. The original letter has not been located. The authenticity of the text printed here has been verified by comparing it to the Russian translation in the Department of History and Records of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mrs. Kennedy wrote the following note on a folder in which she presumably put the letter but which is now empty: "Important: Mrs. Lincoln/This is my letter to Khrushchev to be delivered to him by Ambassador Thompson." (Kennedy Library, President's Office Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence) According to Manchester, the handwritten letter was forwarded to Khrushchev by McGeorge Bundy after clearance at the Department of State by U. Alexis Johnson. Two undated typed drafts of the letter are at the Johnson Library. On one draft Bundy crossed out several words and added several other words in his hand. These revisions were incorporated in the second typed draft. (Bundy Files, Chron) In the final version, one phrase in the second typed draft was reworded and one sentence added.