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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Invention of a flawed hero?, 24 May 2012
This review is from: The Dark Side of Camelot (Paperback)
What are politicians for? Do we need them for inspiration - to lead us. Or perspiration, to make things work? After his assassination a young and photogenic John Kennedy (JFK)the best of America's brightest, the flawless Irish Catholic family man, has been idealised. But it took a sniper to win him such adoration.

Having watched the movie "J Edgar" which alluded to the power that the Director of the FBI had over JFK I revisited Seymour Hersh's book. It is a compelling story, the power of the Presidency compromised by the behaviour of the President. What I concluded was both JFK and Hoover chose to serve their own self interest above that of the nation. History has yet to adequately expose both of them, wisely they had loyal staff to destroy the incriminating files.

What Hersh does is to show what John Kennedy did. If you like prurient sexual scandal, did not know JFK had venereal disease, took drugs, habitually consorted with prostitutes, it is well documented. Equally he explains financial and electoral fraud, cohabitation with organised crime and the highest levels of corruption (the deal to dump the General Dynamics F111 - a rotten plane - on the Air Force).

What Hersh does not really explain is how he got away with it. Read the book and try and understand it for yourself. For me Kennedy was a man of his time, a privileged and arrogant risk taker. That was an age where men 'conquered' women and slapped them if they complained, they liked it that way and "no" meant "yes." People smoked between courses at the dinner table and every issue was either black or white. Winning was the American way, and you did not get in their way. What continues to puzzle me - even viewed from where we are now - was how the press corps were so compliant. Ask Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon (if he were alive) what they think.

Gunman /men aside, there were many people lining up armed with politically fatal facts. I doubt - and Hersh seems to prove it - Kennedy could have won the 1964 election vulnerable from so many directions. And having lost his reputation would then have been substantially tarnished. As it is the adoration of Kennedy continues, we all need heroes and it is easier to invent JFK than accept the real one. Also read more, I liked Ted Sorensen's homage or Lawrence Freedman (Kennedy's wars). Would JFK have confronted China with American military might? And what of his domestic policies? The reality of Kennedy is that his personal behaviour aside his foreign policy was flawed, confrontational and dangerous. His domestic polices showed a marked disparity between his gilded rhetoric and the lives of ordinary Americans. Read this book then look at his political legacy. From that you can balance, but not excuse, the Kennedy presidency.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 Jul 2012, 05:41:58 BST
Feedback68 says:
Good review. I have only started reading the book but have read a review where its says that Hersh states that Pres Kennedy endorsed the assissnation of Lumumba of the Congo but since Lumumba was killed three days before Kennedy became Pres, Hersh has got his chronological dates wrong. Some historians in recent years, since this book was written in 1997, have queried some of the accuracy of his sources.

I'm not really interested in conspiracy books but James Douglas book "JFK and the Unspeakable" is worth a look regarding the Diem assassination. In 1972 Nixon was so convinced of JFKs part in Diems assassination that he set up a secret team (Watergate people) to get the evidence and they couldnt find a shred on Kennedy so I'm always a bit cautious with claims of Kennedys part in having people killed.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jul 2012, 19:19:07 BST
Last edited by the author on 7 Jul 2012, 09:48:02 BST
Thank you, Hersh is a good background read but the basic facts of the flawed JFK are now widely known (if curiously ignored).
I spent time in Vietnam (and Indonesia cf 1965 bloodbath) so have very strong views on American policy and actions.
I have read a fair amount on the CIA.
Simply we will never really know - too little information/too much disinformation, shine a mirror into a mirror and where does it end?
But look at the man, look at America at that period and what they felt they could do, should do. Masters of the universe ... but for those Communists.
For JFK there were no constraints, a Cold War hawk.
The greatness of America is it "can do" country. In the 1960s they could put a man on the moon, and a bullet in the back of someones head.
JFK was there for both and a lot more.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Jul 2012, 07:12:48 BST
Feedback68 says:
I agree with the too little, too much.

Hersh suggests that JFK, once he got into the Whitehouse was going to be a hardman on poltical assissnations and first up was Lumumba.
But its on record of Kennedys support of African Nationalism, even as a senator. And Adal Stevenson says that when he informed Kennedy of Lumumbas killing Kennedy went into despair. But Hersh doesnt mention Kennedys African National support whatsoever even though there is a book on it "Ordeal In Africa".
Some believe the opposite to Hersh and that Lumumbas killing was quickened before a Pres. who believed in decolonisation took office. I wouldnt be surprised.

The whole sexual scandal in the book is probably 95% accurate but its old hat now, in 2012, but I suspose it was bigger news in 1997.

It also seems that Hersh criticises Kennedy for using back channels to communicate with Khruschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, something he did to improve his standing with the American people. But he fails to mention some of the psychos who were breathing down his back urging him to let off nukes. People like Curtis Le May and Lemnitzer. Eisenhower warned the world of the rise of the Military Industrial Complex, but he waited until his last day in office to do it, which meant Kennedy had to try and deal with it.

The only other thing I have noticed is that, even though they were friends of John Kennedy, Hersh did not interview-Dave Powers, Arthur Schlesinger, Ted Sorenson or Pierre Sallinger, all of whom have since died. Maybe he attempted to and they declined but some of the people Hersh quotes from seem a little dodgy like guys who were reporters in the early 60's, people who knew Mob people, women who knew the women Kennedy went to bed with.

There was a dark side to Kennedy, but there was probably a darker side to a whole lot of other areas of US Political life, Johnson, Nixon, CIA, but John F Kennedy seems to be the one to zero in on.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jul 2012, 08:29:09 BST
Last edited by the author on 15 Jul 2012, 10:42:42 BST
There was in the 1950s a strong American anti Empire/colonial idealism - rooted in the Atlantic Charter August 1941 and Dumbarton Oaks (and for example applied to the Anglo French / Israeli Suez attack). JFK (in 1957) spoke out in support of Algerian independence, the war was possibly the nastiest colonial fight of the post war period with France asserting it was a bastion of the West against the global advance of communism (cf fast forward to Vietnam). A new American led world order was in play, soon thwarted by self interest and the dismal performance of the former colonies.

Although not accurate have you seen the movie "Thirteen Days"? It shows the hard liners, civilian and military and the battle to control them before confronting the Russians. It is generous to the image/ideal of JFK but despite that a good period piece.

For me it is not what JFK and his brother did (much of it outrageous) but how they got away with it. Those that came after had dirty hands but were exposed, Nixon and Clinton (less so LBJ who was a world class SOB). JFK - and I have read Sorensens' and Robert McNamara etc - inspired immense loyalty and affection from their subordinates (in contrast to Nixon and Kissinger who were/are detested by those who worked for them). When you get shot young it "freeze frames" your achievements and protects your reputation. A whole swathe of interest groups have have a vested interest in preserving the myth (Catholic church for example),

My view is had he not been shot, JFK would have been exposed (politically and personally), not got a second term and today been reviled in much the same way as we see Richard Nixon - a driven man but a flawed human being who put self interest above all else and was both ruthless and paranoid in dealing with any form of opposition.
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