‘Virtual JFK’ asks, ‘What if Kennedy had lived?’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, December 11, 2008 5:56pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

It presents itself as a piece of “virtual history,” that is, speculation about how things might have turned out if one important event had not happened. But a new documentary isn’t really about that.

“Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived” does wonder about what might have happened if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated in November 1963. Would Kennedy’s personality and judgment have avoided the large-scale quagmire of the Vietnam War?

But in fact, the movie doesn’t invent a parallel history. It uses film clips and transcripts to establish a pattern in Kennedy’s behavior during his presidency, particularly during a series of crises that hit him almost immediately after taking office—and then allows you to draw your own conclusions.

These crises included the Bay of Pigs fiasco (when, much to the fury of U.S. hawks, Kennedy declined to support the CIA-trained anti-Castro force with a full-scale military action), Communist incursions in Laos, and the building of the Berlin Wall. And that was just 1961; the Cuban missile crisis would come the next year.

In all of these situations, Kennedy was prudent and skeptical, but steadfast. His maneuverings during the Cuban missile crisis were bold, but they also involved a lot of backstage negotiation (something the film doesn’t go into).

All of which kept the country out of war, but allowed JFK’s opponents to accuse him of weakness. This time-honored tactic is still around — the enemies might change, but the tricks remain the same.

A remarkable taped meeting during the Cuban crisis contains Kennedy’s extremely shrewd calculation that aggressive U.S. military action in Cuba would be a way for the Soviets to justify taking West Berlin. At that same meeting, ultra-hawk Gen. Curtis LeMay tells Kennedy that a lack of military action in Cuba would be akin to the appeasement of Hitler at Munich (an all-purpose insult still much in use today).

But Kennedy was right. Whether he would have been right on Vietnam is a mystery, since the president himself was partly responsible for sending U.S. military there during his term.

A single talking head, Brown University’s James G. Blight, takes us through the JFK chronicles — and his opinion on Kennedy’s Vietnam behavior isn’t hard to guess.

The most impressive thing about the movie is not the “what if” game, but director Koji Masutani’s marshaling of newsreels and documents. (It appears that the Vietnam footage has been artificially “aged” with dirt and scratches, a device as puzzling as the use of Satie music.)

Finally, “Virtual JFK,” with its vision of an articulate commander-in-chief who counsels caution and long-range planning, is undoubtedly intended to contrast with recent history. Mission accomplished.

Talk to us

More in Life

Photos by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times 

The Jacob and Sarah Ebey House will open to public visitors Memorial Day weekend.
A landmark steeped in 19th century history reopens on Whidbey

Beginning May 28, you can venture inside one of the state’s oldest buildings: The Jacob and Sarah Ebey House, which dates from the 1850s.

Caption: Incorporating frozen vegetables into your menu plan is a fast and cost-effective way to save money on rising food costs.
The secrets of cheap meals: frozen veggies and slow cookers

They not only stretch your food budget, but also timesaving godsends for busy parents. Here are three recipes to try.

Cinderella_Red.jpg: Red Riding Hood (Katelynn Carlson) gets advice from Cinderella (Grace Helmcke) in Red Curtain’s production of Into the Woods, running May 20-June 5 at the Red Curtain Arts Center, 9315 State Ave. in Marysville.
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Marysville troupe stages a Stephen Sondheim musical masterpiece. Jazz, featuring the sons of legend Dave Brubeck, takes over Edmonds. And there’s this music festival in downtown Everett …

Navigating the rough, often scary seas of a hospital stay

After helping a friend who underwent major surgery, Paul Schoenfeld reflects on ways to cope for patients and their loved ones.

Sam Bowles records the run off the water from a chalk drawing with friend and co-artist, Rhyanna Mercer, Tuesday afternoon in Everett, Washington on May 10, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jackson High’s global TikTok star is chalk full of ideas

Sam Bowles, 18, uses vibrant videos and social media fame to raise awareness of autism.

I canceled my flight to Frankfurt, but now I can’t use my credit

Melissa Crespo receives a $2,060 ticket credit when she cancels her flights to Frankfurt, Germany. But now her online agency has told her she can only use 25% of the credit at a time. Can it do that?

Lonicera ciliosa, commonly called orange honeysuckle or western trumpet vine. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: orange honeysuckle

Its orange trumpets announce spring is here, and hummingbirds are irresistibly drawn to it.

Home & garden happenings in Snohomish County

The Mill Creek Garden Tour will return this summer after a two-year absence due to COVID-19.

Photo Caption: Would you believe a zipper sold for $18,450 at Morphy Auctions? What about a diamond necklace that looks and works like a zipper?
X-Y-Z spells ‘big money’ with this high-fashion zipper

It’s actually a necklace, but the zipper function works. Someone paid nearly $18,500 for it at a recent auction.

Most Read