The Kennedy Clan: Dynasty and Disaster 1848-1984 by John H. Davis (Sidgwick & Jackson, £15.00).
THE KENNEDY family dominated American consciousness during the sixties as few, if any, families in the history of that nation, while the election of John Kennedy as President effectively ended the WASP domination of the social and political life of the United States.
This rather lengthy history of the family begins with a somewhat romantic account of its Irish origins and ends with the tragedies and promise of the contemporary younger generation. Written by a first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, it is an absorbing family history as well as a fascinating tale of political intrigue, though inevitably there is much speculation and conjecture in view of the fact that most important resources in the John F Kennedy Library are closed to the public and other vital material has not yet been released. The author covers all the major events of the story in some detail — the assassination of Robert, the second marriage of Jacqueline, Chappaquiddick — but it is the presidency and assassination of John Kennedy that are given most attention.
The first American Kennedy died poverty-stricken of cholera exactly a hundred and five years to the day before the assassination of his greatgrandson, the President. However Patrick's grandson Joseph was already a budding capitalist in his twenties and would later become involved in bootlegging and the liquor business, even pro'spering from the Wall Street crash.
Joe Kennedy's support for F D Roosevelt was eventually rewarded when he became American ambassador to Great Britain where he totally misread the situation developing in Europe and became increasingly unpopular at the White House as well as in Downing St.
During the war Jack Kennedy, then in naval intelligence, was living with a married woman suspected of being a Nazi spy — a fact known to J Edgar Hoover. Kennedy was transferred to sea duty where, in spite of "a distinctly checkered naval career" and what was essentially "a minor naval disaster", he became the "war hero" that launched his political career.
As a congressman Kennedy was essentially a political
pragmatist and his effectiveness was limited by what seems to have been Addison's disease. However, it was during a convalescence from a dangerous• back operation that he "wrote" Profiles in Courage which was to win a controversial Pulitzer Prize.
Kennedy's election as President owed much to his father's millions but the margin of victory was so small that he would have been defeated if Johnson had not "delivered" Texas and Mayor Daley Chicago where political corruption and organised crime went hand in hand. The youth of the Kennedys and their political allies made for an impulsive brand of government that attempted to circumvent con ventional channels in favour of short cuts, secret if necessary, and even action of its own sake. Kennedy also set out to create an appearance of drive and hope, and a personal image of attractiveness and mastery through the press and television. Unfortunately much of the
image-building was contrived and on the ninetieth day of his presidency Kennedy experienced the bitter failure of the Bay of Pigs, an event which was to be followed by further counterinsurgency in Cuba and intervention in Vietnam.
The Bay of Pigs fiasco earned the President the lasting emnity of Castro as well as his Cuban opponents, Dulles and the CIA. At the same time the FBI and organised crime joined the ranks of Kennedy's enemies as a result of Robert's anticrime programme. Civil rights policies alienated southern whites, intransigent blacks and the FBI whose director kept files on Jack's more significant affairs.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that "the Kennedy brothers had been playing some very dangerous games,. and almost no one, not even some of their closest aides and advisors, knew anything about them." In the event the glorification of Kennedy following his death prevented an adequate investigation into his assassination, though what was being covered up after the assassination was not so much the immediate circumstances but the possibility that assassination plots against Castro or Kennedy's dubious affairs might have been related to his murder.
In spite of what must seem to he harsh, if inevitable, criticisms, it must be emphasised that the author is not personally hostile to the Kennedys nor is he unappreciative of their positive achievements. He has attempted to write an accurate and balanced critique on the evidence' available. hi any case the whole truth might never be revealed, not even when or if all the existing evidence is finally produced.
J Derek Holmes