This elegantly constructed if misleadingly titled class lecture, written and delivered by Brown professor of international relations James G. Blight and directed by a former student, Koji Masutani, asks the question: Can an individual leader take a nation to, or keep it from, war? The conclusion: Individual temperament matters, and John F. Kennedy's example proves it. Professor Blight, an associate of Kennedy's defense secretary Robert McNamara, argues that Kennedy's Thousand-Day reign was basically one continuous crisis, with Cuba, Berlin, and Indochina as a cycle of blinking flash points. Kennedy was traumatized by the Bay of Pigs debacle and was thereafter, per Blight, the most pressured president in U.S. history. Regarded by the military brass as a "young punk" and taunted by Republican opponents as a wimp, Kennedy was put to the test six times and each time successfully avoided armed confrontation with the Soviets—at odds not only with the Pentagon but also his own advisors. As Wilson's Ghost, a treatise on idealism and American foreign policy that Blight wrote with McNamara, was haunted by Kennedy, so Virtual JFK conjures the specter of George W. Bush. There's no need to raise the question of whether Al Gore would have responded to 9/11 by going to war in Iraq. In the current context, Virtual JFK is a virtual paid political ad for Barack Obama.
Kennedy as subject of alternate history.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Dec. 12–Thurs., Dec. 18. Not rated. 80 minutes.