Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Many Faces of Joseph P. Kennedy V


February opens.  Leaves have started dropping around the live oaks.  The earth creaks on its axis.

I am especially appreciative of the responses I keep gettting, even the occasional challenges.  One friend wrote back recently:  "Your quest for truth and attention to myth-busting detail are very refreshing.  Being something of a contrarian myself, your point of view is very refreshing to read."

Obviously, I liked that.  My one hesitation centered on the word "contrarian."  The truth is, it has never been my intention to pound away on the conventional interpretation of any public event except where a constant barrage of new evidence makes such a reading more and more incomprehensible. In time the accumulation of detail and fresh information erodes the established version.  For example, by now even such a spokesman for the Kennedy family as Robert Kennedy, Jr. has come forward to the press and conceded that he -- and, more surprising, his father before him -- had come to believe that there were several gunmen in Dealey Plazy -- i.e., there was a conspiracy, as I projected in detail in Bobby and J. Edgar. Increasingly, the ragged defenders of the Warren Commission Report are coming through in the media as the badly confused "contrarians," and the much-maligned "conspiracy theorists" are increasingly regarded as the repositories of well-substantiated facts.  Our day is coming, shortly.  See the new Preface to Bobby and J. Edgar in the edition to be published by Basic Books in the fall.

Even more interesting are the current attempts to revise history, to clean it up.  I have dealt in some detail with the effort by David Nasaw in his new biography of Joe Kennedy, The Patriarch, to discredit earlier biographers like myself when we insist that both reliable testimony and official documents repeatedly establish the facts that Kennedy was not only a bootlegger early in his career but maintained an umbilical relationship with top Mob figures throughout his working life.

A number of hard-core liberals can't deal with that, while others, reviewing Bobby and J. Edgar, seem to have a hard time accepting my presentation of Hoover as much more than a cross-dressing monster preoccupied with hounding progressives.  When I pointed out that Hoover probably saved FDR's regime from a hard-right putsch and -- as Morris Dees makes clear in his autobiography -- broke up the Ku Klux Klan, one half-baked reviewer accused me of going "soft on Hoover."  Another contrarian exhibition, a violation of the standard left-wing cliches.  Can't I get anything right?

I found myself skeptical as I was reading Nasaw's biography of Kennedy of the one fault of character Nasaw has been ready to admit:  Joe's alleged anti-Semitism.  The truth is, it would be hard to find a major public figure, especially in Joe Kennedy's generation, whose life was more tangled up with Jewish colleagues, patrons, and, especially toward the end, very close friends.  The financier was heard to boil over regularly with anti-Semitic bromides.  But from his early days dodging the draft as a ship-builder, when he prevailed on Honey Fitz to set him up with Bernard Baruch, the head of Woodrow Wilson's War Production Board, to his sponsorship of the Yiddish-speaking studio heads at Harvard, to his key business collaboration with David Sarnoff, to his deep, autumnal friendship with Carroll Rosenbloom -- many of Kennedy's closest and most durable associations were with Jews.  Arthur Krock, the doyen of The New York Times, was Kennedy's intimate literary collaborator.  They wrote an unpublished book together about Joe's ambassadorship to Great Britain, which I have read.

Simultaneously -- when he became vociferous about the way the Jews had supposedly driven America into war against the Nazis, or out-foxed him in a business deal, or weren't lining up fast enough behind JFK -- Joe gave a lot of offense.  Rose later confided to one of her secretaries that she regarded her husband's tirades against World Jewry as indicative of an oncoming instability.  The next day he would be ranting about joining a synagogue because the Cardinals were also holding back when it came to supporting Jack, or playing golf at his Palm Beach country club -- he was the only non-Jew -- or helping organize an interfaith meeting between prominent Catholic and Jewish leaders to improve fellowship.  Nasaw seems to have missed almost all of that.

So, am I a contrarian because I got into the complex and ambivalent way Joe Kennedy seemed to deal with Jews?  Confused by too many facts, was I insensitive to the prevailing cliche?  Read Bobby and J. Edgar and find out.

Meanwhile, persevere.  The light will continue breaking in the East.


1 comment:

  1. I'm reading Bobby and J. Edgar. Wow, what a great book! The only problem I'm having with it is trying to put it down long enough to do the other things one has to do in the course of the day.

    It's like I've taken off on a literary bender, spending every minute I have reading the book, throwing caution to the wind. I'll likely need some re-hab when all this is over, so I can reacclimate to the world.

    What a rush, man!


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