JFK: A President Betrayed Synopsis
The Kennedy Administration, the golden days of our American “Camelot”, is one of the most written about and popular periods of American history. But there is one profound and moving story still waiting to be told.
JFK: A President Betrayed uncovers new evidence that reveals how President John F. Kennedy boldly reversed deeply entrenched pro-war government policy to embark on secret back-channel peace efforts with Russian President Nikita Khrushchev, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and other “enemies” of the United States. The film raises many questions as to whom his real enemies were.
JFK: A President Betrayed offers a poignant look at the 35th president’s desperate, solitary struggle to mitigate armed conflict and makes clear the extent to which he risked political capital – and, ultimately, his life – to pull the world back from the brink of war and possible nuclear annihilation. Featuring new, probing interviews with advisors to Kennedy and Khrushchev, JFK: A President Betrayed is a meticulously well-researched portrait of a president who refused the counsel of powerful, hawkish government officials advocating for, among other things, a U.S. nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. Instead, Kennedy learned to trust his gut – instincts forged by the considerable suffering he experienced during the Second World War, and tested by the early crises of his administration.
In 2010, when producer Darin Nellis and I began research for JFK: A President Betrayed, we wanted to investigate Kennedy’s record in foreign policy to see how far he deviated from the Cold War script, which insisted that the Communists were our mortal enemies, and the only way to deal with them was through the threat of military force.
Specifically, we were curious to what degree President Kennedy, in his efforts for peace abroad, provoked adversaries in the United States to view him as a threat to national security. Did President Kennedy possess the forethought to understand the possible dangers?
We were eager to uncover something new in the record. We soon found out that many important details had been hiding in plain sight for decades.
Through the work of authors like John Kenneth Galbraith, Norman Cousins, Gareth Porter and Peter Kornbluh, we discovered lost episodes of Kennedy’s presidency – details that demonstrated JFK’s commitment to peace was much greater than people realized. For instance, who knew Kennedy was interested in pursuing a negotiated settlement in Vietnam? Who knew JFK was willing to speak with Fidel Castro? In these moments and others, the President displayed a remarkable ability to empathize with his enemies; to put himself in their shoes. The most famous example was the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Kennedy, together with Nikita Khrushchev, circumvented a dangerous nuclear confrontation.
Thanks to the firsthand recollections of people like Dan Fenn, Thomas Hughes and William Vanden Heuvel, we were able to uncover a substantive portrait of President Kennedy that helps explain his actions, why he had so many enemies, and why his assassination in Dallas was so impactful. We believe audiences will appreciate these new details and likely come to see President Kennedy differently after watching the film, just as we did when we were making it.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the peace activist and Buddhist philosopher Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, whose writings on President Kennedy inspired our efforts to make this film, and to share it particularly with young adults who will shoulder the future.
“JFK: A President Betrayed”
(In order as first seen in 91 min. version of film)
James Galbraith, Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government & Business Relations and Professor of Government, Univ. of Texas at Austin. Son of John Kenneth Galbraith, Ambassador to India and Advisor during John F. Kennedy’s administration
Warren Kozak, Author LeMay The Life And Wars of General Curtis LeMay
Frederick Kempe, Former Senior Editor of the Wall Street Journal and Author of Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth
Dan Fenn, Special Assistant to President Kennedy and the first director of the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Ambassador William Vanden Heuvel, Special Assistant to Robert Kennedy, author of On His Own: Robert F. Kennedy, 1964–1968 and former U.S. Ambassador to the European offices of the UN and U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the UN
Nancy Dutton, Assistant to John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Cabinet. One of the youngest secretaries on staff at the Kennedy White House and wife of the late Fred Dutton, Special Assistant to John F. Kennedy.
Tazewell T. Shepard Jr., Naval Aid to President Kennedy, two-star Navy rear admiral and author of John F. Kennedy, Man of the Sea. Awarded the Navy Cross for heroism in World War II, died June 21, 2013 at a rehabilitation center in Huntsville, Ala. He was 92.
Lee C. White, Asst. Special Counsel to President Kennedy
Robert Schlesinger Jr., Author of White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters. Managing Editor of Opinion at U.S. News and World Reports and son of Kennedy advisor and historian Arthur Schlesinger
Sid Davis, Former Kennedy White House Correspondent for NBC News and Westinghouse Broadcasting
Sergei Khrushchev, Senior Fellow at Brown University, author of Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev and son of Nikita Khrushchev.
Günter Bischof, Professor of History, University of New Orleans, recipient of The Gordon “Nick” Mueller International Leadership Medallion in 2013 and editor of The Vienna Summit and Its Importance in International History
Thomas Hughes, Former State Department Director, Bureau of Intelligence and Research during the Kennedy administration. From 1971 Hughes was President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Viktor Sukhodrev, Interpreter for Nikita Khrushchev and first laureate of the national “Interpreter of the Year” award
Evan Thomas, Professor Princeton University, award-winning Assistant Managing Editor at Newsweek magazine and author of six books including Robert Kennedy: His Life and The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made
Gareth Porter, Investigative journalist and author of Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam,
an analysis of how and why the United States went to war in Vietnam. He was the 2012 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, which is awarded annually by the Frontline Club in London to acknowledge reporting that exposes propaganda.
General William Smith, Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When General Maxwell Taylor became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1962, Smith worked in a dual capacity as an assistant to the Chairman, and as a staff member on the National Security Council under McGeorge Bundy.
Peter Kornbluh, Author and Senior Analyst, National Security Archive, where he currently directs the Archive’s Cuba and Chile Documentation Projects
Barbara Stetzl-Marx, Deputy Director, Ludwig Boltzman Institute, Austria
Alexander Akalovsky, Russian language interpreter for John F. Kennedy and State Dept. Arms Control and Disarmament Asst. Political Chief
Jörg Hildebrandt, Resident, East Berlin and first-hand witness to the building of the Berlin Wall
Manfred Wilke, Former Professor, University of Berlin
Michael Dobbs, Journalist and former reporter for the Washington Post and author of One Minute to Midnight Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War
Viktor Yesin, Russian Deputy Commander of Nuclear Missiles (Lieutenant while deployed to Cuba during Missile Crisis in 1962)
Candis Cousins Kerns, Daughter of journalist and peace activist, Norman Cousins
Andrea Cousins, Daughter of journalist and peace activist, Norman Cousins