A tale of two backbones, one physical and one metaphorical. JFK used his multitude of physical illnesses, near death experiences (receiving last rites at least four times) and lifelong horrific back pain as a form of ju-jitsu, by which he transformed his physical weaknesses and defects into the psychological steeliness he demonstrated as a presidential decision-maker. Doctors thought he would die in childhood; then they predicted that he would never live to be thirty years old. And so on. But all during his formative years (including his service in WWII), he seems to have been using his periodic isolation in hospitals and his overall frailty to construct, from scratch, JFK’s metaphorical backbone that he exhibited as president. Its components were: (1) his unwillingness to take the advice of his hawkish advisers to go to war; and (2) the steely spine it took to keep saying no to the hawks over and over again. Out of weakness, strength; from a disfigured, collapsing, painful, physical backbone arose a leader with a metaphorical backbone that bent when necessary, but never broke, never caved in to what we now know would have been the disastrous advice of his hawkish advisers.


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