In 1961, Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev called Berlin “the most dangerous place on earth.” He was right. The “Checkpoint Charlie” crisis turned out to be the only time during the entire Cold War when Soviet and U.S. tanks actually confronted one another.
Frederick Kempe’s new book, “Berlin 1961,” delves into why this was so perilous. It also discusses why President John F. Kennedy’s first year in office was a disaster — and how he might have even given Khruschev the de facto blessing to construct the Berlin Wall.
Kennedy, of course, later rebounded during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During our conversation, Kempe argued President Obama could learn some important lessons from Kennedy.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Sen. Joe Biden warned “It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy,” adding, “We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America.” Like Kennedy, Obama initially projected a weak image to the world.
Fifty years after the Berlin crisis, Kempe argues that President Obama might learn from Kennedy’s early mistakes, and repeat his success in transforming his administration: “The Osama bin Laden moment for President Obama is not unlike the Cuban Missile Crisis moment for President Kennedy,” he said.