John F Kennedy was born in Brookline and attended Devotion School. Our kids are attending Devotion this year and our third-grader took part in a lovely event at JFK’s birthplace last week. There were some nice speeches, including one by the head of the JFK Presidential Library . It involved this story:
When Jack was quite young but old enough to ride a bike, he played a game of Chicken with his older brother Joe, perhaps on the very street of his birthplace. In classic fashion, they raced towards each other on their bikes. Joe expected some respect from his younger brother. Joe thought Jack would swerve and let him win the game. No such luck. They slammed into each other and had to go to hospital.
I had never heard this story before. I mentioned it to several Americans but they had never heard it either. Everyone knows the famous Chicken story: Khrushchev vs Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Schelling could always take commonplace strategic interactions and draw fundamental lessons from them. Similarly, it would be nice to think that JFK’s childhood experience gave him some insight into how to play Chicken when the stakes were high.