Former Special Counsel & Advisor to President John F. Kennedy
From the Edge of History
In January 1953, freshman Senator John F. Kennedy hired 24-year-old Ted Sorensen as his number two legislative assistant. Over the next 11 years he became known as Kennedy’s “intellectual blood-bank” and “top policy aide.” He will talk on a variety of subjects including the McCarthy era, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and the period following the assassination of JFK.
Mr. Sorensen will personally sign copies of his recently published memoir titled Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, which will be available for purchase.
Throughout his long professional relationship with first Senator and then President John F. Kennedy, from 1953 to 1963, Theodore C. Sorensen witnessed many of the decade’s pivotal events first-hand, including:
•The Bay of Pigs Invasion. Prior to Kennedy’s ascension to the presidency, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration formulated a plan to overthrow Cuba’s Communist leader Fidel Castro. Due to Cuba’s strategic location astride the access points from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean, it is in a position to prevent exports from the American Midwest. A pro-Soviet regime in Cuba therefore represented a geopolitical nightmare for U.S. policymakers. On April 17, 1961, President Kennedy ordered the invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro Cubans to proceed. However, the invasion failed and proved a great source of embarrassment to the new administration.
•The Cuban Missile Crisis. On October 14, 1962, American U-2 spy planes observed Soviet missiles in Cuba. The Kennedy administration confronted a serious dilemma: if the U.S. failed to act, it faced the threat of nuclear weapons capable of reaching the East Coast of the U.S. within minutes. However, an attack on the missile sites in Cuba could have led to nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Despite pressure for an air assault on Cuba, President Kennedy instead instituted a naval blockade of the island to prevent the delivery of more missiles. He also negotiated with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to remove the missiles from Cuba. President Kennedy’s actions were instrumental in alleviating the crisis.
•Kennedy’s assassination. During a political visit to Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot as he waved to crowds from a presidential motorcade. Lee Harvey Oswald, the principal suspect in Kennedy’s murder, was immediately arrested, but was killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby on November 24 before his indictment or trial. Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded President Kennedy as the 36th President of the United States.
About the Speaker
Theodore C. Sorensen, former special counsel and adviser to President John F. Kennedy and a widely published author on the presidency and foreign affairs, practiced international law for more than 36 years as a senior partner, and now of counsel, at the prominent U.S. law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. The former chairman of the firm’s International Practice Committee, he represented U.S. and multinational corporations in negotiations with governments all over the world and advised and assisted a large number of foreign governments and government leaders, ranging from the late President Sadat of Egypt to former President Mandela of South Africa.
In 2002, Mr. Sorensen was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Sorensen is on the advisory board of the Foreign Policy Leadership Council, a director of the Council on Foreign Relations (until 2004) and the Century Foundation, a member of the advisory board of the Partnership for a Secure America and an honorary co-chair of the ABA Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the legal profession. Mr. Sorensen is the author of the 1965 international best seller Kennedy, seven other books on the presidency, politics or foreign policy and numerous articles on those subjects in Foreign Affairs, The New York Times and other publications. As an active figure in the Democratic Party, he has participated in 10 of the last 12 Democratic Party National Conventions and served in a number of governmental, political and civic posts.
Mr. Sorensen was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1928. He is father of three sons, one daughter and is married to Gillian Martin Sorensen, a former New York City commissioner, a former United Nations under-secretary general and current senior advisor and national advocate at the United Nations Foundation.
Mr. Sorensen’s memoirs, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, were published by HarperCollins in May of 2008.