May 29, 2009

Progress Does Not Always Come Easy

by Jimmy Carter

"Progress Does Not Always Come Easy" by Jimmy Carter, from Always A Reckoning. © Random House, 1995. (buy now)

It's the birthday of comedian and actor Bob Hope, born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, England (1903).

It's the birthday of G.K. Chesterton, (books by this author) born in London (1874). Chesterton is best known for his stories about Father Brown, a crime-solving priest who appears to know nothing, who is clumsy and constantly misplacing his umbrella, who has a habit of falling asleep during police interrogations, but who in fact knows more about crime than the criminals who surround him. Chesterton got the idea for Father Brown when he converted to Catholicism and realized that Catholic priests, who listen to confessions all day long, know more about depravity than almost anyone else in society.

One of his favorite authors was Charles Dickens, and he said that anyone who didn't enjoy Dickens's novel The Pickwick Papers wouldn't enjoy heaven.

It's the birthday of novelist T(erence) H(anbury) White, (books by this author) born in 1906 in Bombay, India, educated at Cambridge, and best known for his novels about the Arthurian legend: The Once and Future King (1958) and the children's classic The Sword in the Stone (1937).

It's the birthday of John F. Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, born in Brookline, Massachusetts (1917). He went to Catholic grade school, a prestigious prep school, and then headed off to Princeton University. But at Princeton he got so sick that he had to drop out. When he got better, he attended Harvard, where he studied politics and wrote a senior thesis about British appeasement and the tensions in Europe that were leading to World War II. The thesis formed the basis for Kennedy's best-selling book Why England Slept (1940), published the year he graduated from Harvard with honors. For the Harvard yearbook, Jack Kennedy had been voted "Most likely to become president."

The fall after graduating, in mid-September of 1940, Kennedy moved out to California. He drove into Palo Alto in a brand-new Buick convertible, cactus green on the outside and red on the inside. When he arrived, he got a room at the President Hotel on University Avenue. He later rented a one-bedroom cottage near campus for $60 a month, and slept on a plywood board hoping to strengthen his back.

He enrolled in graduate classes at Stanford's business school, and he also sat in on several of the school's political science seminars. He was auditing the classes, not headed toward a degree program, and the future president, age 23, seemed to be trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life. He was considering law school, or becoming a writer, or pursuing a career in business. He was intensely interested in politics, and thought that it was a career option further down the road.

In the meantime, he was doing a lot of fast driving and a lot of dating.

As war raged in Europe, the entry of the United States into the fighting appeared to be imminent. Kennedy wanted to enlist in the Army, but the Army declared that he was physically unfit because of a bad back.

He took a break from Stanford and went to Massachusetts to help his dad write his memoirs. Then, he headed to South America. Kennedy was determined to join the military, and he started doing physical therapy exercises to strengthen his back. The Navy took him in as an intelligence officer, and he was stationed in Washington, D.C. After Pearl Harbor, he asked to be transferred to active sea duty. It was in August of 1943 that Kennedy's PT boat was attacked by a Japanese destroyer, and Kennedy heroically saved his wounded crewmen, getting them to shore and ensuring that they were rescued.

In 1946, at the age of 29, Kennedy ran for Congress, as a Representative from Massachusetts. In 1952, he won a seat in the U.S. Senate. In 1960, he defeated Richard Nixon and became the youngest elected president of the United States, age 43.

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