Berlin 1961: Reuters Interview

Berlin 1961 Frederick Kempe

A great interview with Jim Ledbetter of Reuters on my new book, Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth. (I have mentioned that I have a book out, right?) It runs 8 minutes, 18 seconds and is set, appropriately enough, in front of the Berlin Wall—or, at least, the parts of it that were moved to midtown Manhattan in 1990.


Some key takeaways:

  • Despite intense pressure from hardliners, Nikita Khrushchev made serious goodwill gestures to John F. Kennedy upon his taking office, including releasing captured American pilots and the unprecedented step of publishing his inaugural speech in its entirely. Rather than taking this outstretched hand, Kennedy obsesses about a speech Khruschev gave to placate his domestic audience, shows it to everybody, and then gives an apocalyptic State of the Union speech just ten days into his presidency—forcing Khruschev to also take a hard turn.
  • Kennedy’s first year was botched—the worst inaugural foreign policy performance of any modern American president, which wrote the script for the Berlin Wall going up in August.

The Berlin crisis was more decisive than the Cuban Missile Crisis and, indeed, set the stage for it. One nervous commander at Checkpoint Charlie could have started a nuclear war.

Fred Kempe is president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. His latest book, Berlin 1961, was published May 10. This blog series originally published by Reuters.


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