- - Thursday, December 29, 2016

I suspect you may not be aware of the similarities between Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President John F. Kennedy.

While most observers will be most impressed by their differences, I note a significant similarity: their determined purposefulness.

I have had the good fortune to know Ban Ki-moon for several decades, since he showed up as a student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard of which I was the “founding dean.”

At an opening reception in which I shook hands with and chatted with each of the new students, when he arrived at the front of the line, he introduced himself as: “JFK.”

I reacted with predictable surprise. He responded with a wry smile: “Just from Korea.” Thereafter, among his classmates, he was nicknamed “JFK.”

His path from the foreign service in Korea to foreign minister and then secretary-general of the U.N. reminds us again of the role of accidents of history.

In the early 1960s, as a young foreign service student touring the U.S., Ban Ki-moon had a chance to visit the White House, where President Kennedy spoke to the group.

When Ban Ki-moon became secretary-general, Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy found in the JFK Library archives a photo from that event that included both the former president and Ban Ki-moon, and gave it to the secretary-general. He has always kept it as a valued memento in his office.

Graham T. Allison, Jr., Ph.D., is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

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