If the Cuban Missile Crisis had happened in the summer of 1961, rather than 1962, the outcome would have been a nuclear exchangeThese were the words last night of British politician Lord Owen, formerly Foreign Secretary David Llewellyn Owen of the Labour and Social Democratic parties. At a talk based on his new book, In Sickness & In Power: illness in heads of government during the last 100 years, Owen went on to explain:
Kennedy had been receiving daily injections of amphetamines for a month before a key meeting with Khrushchev [in Vienna in 1961]... He received an intravenous injection only 45 minutes before the meeting itself which, the President himself admitted, was a disasterDoctors gradually gained control over Kennedy's level of drug-taking. He went on to handle the Cuban Missile Crisis with competence and firmness. Owen's point, however, is the then president's debilitated physical and mental condition could easily have led to nuclear devastation. Indeed, had records been made public, he may never have been elected.
From an early age Kennedy had suffered from Addison's Disease, a condition affecting his adrenal glands. He developed osteoporosis as a recult of steroid use during his time in the navy and also had back problems resulting in regular injections of procaine, a cocaine deriviative. Despite all this, Kennedy managed to deny or deflect allegations of major health problems and pursue a dynamic political career, until his assassination in 1963.
He was not alone in this regard. Here are just a few other examples of political leaders from the last 100 years who, according to Lord Owen, have hidden their bodily defects from the public:
- Anthony Eden, former British Prime Minister, experienced complications with a routine gall bladder operation and had a resulting serious liver infection during the Suez crisis in 1956. He had a fever of 106* centigrade at the time and was allegedly on a course of amphetamines and barbituates.
- Richard Nixon's alcoholism reached a peak during the Arab-Israeli war of 1973 when he was "not capable of making decisions". Secretary of State Kissinger and Chief of Staff Haig put the military on full-scale alert while Nixon was asleep upstairs drunk, later commending the president for his handling of the crisis.
- Francois Mitterand had a variety of health problems including deep vein thrombosis. He was secretly receiving radiotherapy and oestrogen treatment for 11 years out of the 14 he led France as president.
- Woodrow Wilson had a severe stroke during the US Congress debate on the Paris Treaty in 1919. According to Owen, his wife and doctor were effectively governing at this time, while keeping knowledge of the president's true condition from the cabinet.
- Tony Blair and George W. Bush are among a number of politicians listed by Owen as having suffered from an as yet undefined condition he calls 'hubristic syndrome'.
- Both John McCain, a cancer survivor, and Barack Obama, a lifetime smoker, have so far failed to produce complete medical records.
Humour, a dose of cynicism, a firm and clear-headed spouse, a balancing political force, and a serious and critical press