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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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