Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe’s new book, BERLIN 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth, will be released May 10 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons. A starred review in Publishers Weekly calls it “a gripping, almost day-by-day chronicle of colorful, often clueless leaders and their byzantine maneuvers.”
Among Kempe’s conclusions in this ground-breaking book are that President Kennedy’s inaugural year was one of the worst of any modern presidency, resulting in what Kennedy himself described as a “string of disasters” – the Bay of Pigs invasion, the failed Vienna Summit, the Berlin Wall, and a tank showdown at Checkpoint Charlie.
Kempe demonstrates that Kennedy gave Khrushchev a de facto blessing for the construction of the Berlin Wall through messages sent during the Vienna Summit and thereafter that he would accept Soviet action if it did not disrupt West Berlin access or freedom. Basing his conclusions on documentary evidence, Kempe argues it was Khrushchev’s perception of Kennedy’s weakness in 1961 that convinced the Soviet leader that he could place missiles in Cuba without penalty a year later, prompting the missile crisis.
In his foreword to the book, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft said, “Fred Kempe’s contribution to our crucial understanding of that time is that he combines the ‘You are there’ storytelling skills of a journalist, the analytical skills of a political scientist, and the historian’s use of declassified U.S., Soviet, and German documents to provide unique insight into the forces and individuals behind the construction of the Berlin Wall – the iconic barrier that came to symbolize the Cold War’s divisions.”
Said Senator Chuck Hagel, Atlantic Council chairman, “Fred Kempe has masterfully captured the dramatic dimensions of a great story that shaped our world order for twenty-eight years. Berlin 1961 is an important achievement.”
Said Henry Kissinger, who served in the White House during the Kennedy administration, “As time passes and the political geography of world power mutates, it is easy to forget the most fraught and dangerous crisis of the Cold War, which brought U.S. and Soviet tanks facing each other at close range. Berlin 1961 is a gripping, well-researched, and thought- provoking book with many lessons for today.”