Friday 18 September 2015

Jacqueline Kennedy's Letter to Khrushchev

"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."  
(Jacqueline Kennedy)

On December 1, 1963, the tears had barely dried on her cheeks when Jacqueline Kennedy sat down and drafted a letter to Premier Krushchev, thanking him for sending a representative to her husband's funeral.  Although hundreds of thousands had lined up to view President Kennedy's coffin while it lay in the Capitol, although hundreds of thousands more had lined the route of the President's caisson, and millions had watched the funeral procession on television, this mourner stood out (  Only a year before, Kennedy and Krushchev had faced off at the brink of World War III.  

In a delicate hand, Jacqueline wrote:

"I send it [the letter] only because my husband cared so much about peace and how the relation between you and him was central to this care in mind.  He used to quote your words in some of his speeches:  'In the next war, the survivors will envy the dead.' (

It had only been a little over a year since President Kennedy had looked out his Oval Office window, his arms folded, worry etched on his face, agonizing over how to react during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  For thirteen days, the world stood at the brink of war.  Kennedy and Krushchev drafted and exchanged several letters, carefully measuring each word (see "Building Missiles Like Sausages" at  The exchanges brought new meaning to the term Cold War.

The former First Lady continued:

"The danger which troubled my husband was that war might be started not so much by the big men but by the little ones.  While big men know the needs for control and self-restraint  -- little men are sometimes moved by fear and pride.  If only in the future the big men can continue to make the little men sit down and talk, before they start to fight."

Just over a week before, Jacqueline Kennedy had been living in the White House, the wife of a president, raising their son and daughter.  But on November 22, 1963, all that changed.  Jacqueline sat beside her husband as he was gunned down in a Dallas motorcade by an assassin.  She watched the priest stand over the President's bullet-ridden body and administer the last rites at Parkland Hospital. She laid her husband to rest on a hill at Arlington overlooking Washington D.C. (

And now she was drafting an eloquent letter to a Soviet leader, even offering political advice, challenging him to be the "bigger man", all on the heels of the personal tragedy.  Jacqueline ended her letter with a nod to Kruschev's wife:  

"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."  

Eloquence, grace, class:  that sums up Jacqueline Kennedy.

Three-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr., salutes his father's casket in Washington three days after the president was assassinated in Dallas. Widow Jacqueline Kennedy (center) and daughter Caroline Kennedy are accompanied by the late president's brothers Sen. Edward Kennedy, left, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

A veiled Jacqueline Kennedy waits for the Presidential caisson, her daughter Caroline on her right, and John Jr. on her left, saluting his father's coffin as it heads to Arlington Cemetery on November 26, 1963 courtesy

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