President John F. Kennedy
Among my recent book purchases is a tome by John Corry, then a New York Times reporter, entitled The Manchester Affair and published in 1967. The book details the battle by Robert F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy against the late William Manchester, historian and biographer. Prior to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Manchester had published a laudatory look at Kennedy, A Portrait of A President. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, both Robert F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy were looking for an author to give an “official” Kennedy view of the death of JFK. Manchester, who was the third author the offer was made to, jumped at the chance.
The book became something of a chase after the White Whale by Manchester who read the 26 volumes of the Warren Commission several times before it was published, interviewed well over a thousand people, including both Jackie Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy twice, and suffered a collapse from exhaustion. He finished writing the book, The Death of a President, in 1966 during an eight week stay at a hospital in Portland, Connecticut.
The Kennedys were dismayed by the volume: Robert F. Kennedy by the hostile attitude in the book towards President Johnson and Jackie by too much blood and gore in the depiction of the assassination, and by Manchester revealing too much of her private thoughts, which she had confided in him, during the day of the assassination and the days following. (Robert Kennedy hated LBJ, a sentiment returned with interest by LBJ. However, he understood that a book that would appear to be a hired Kennedy “hit” against LBJ would do him no good if he decided to run against him in 1968.)
Manchester, who viewed his work with the love of a parent for a child, was willing to make some revisions, but not nearly enough to placate the Kennedys. The Kennedys foolishly filed suit to enjoin the publication on the grounds that Manchester had violated the terms of his original agreement with the Kennedys, (he hadn’t), thus greatly enhancing the interest of the public in the book. The suit was settled by Manchester in January 1967 agreeing to cut some 1600 words and seven pages from the 654 page book. Manchester described the cuts at the time as “harmless” and the settlement was a face saving device for the Kennedys retreating from a legal fight they could not win. The book was a massive best seller, selling over a million copies, and Look magazine paying the then unheard of price of $650,000.00 for serialization rights. Manchester went on to write such acclaimed works as his biography of Douglas MacArthur, American Caesar, still the best of the many books on MacArthur in my opinion, his two volume look at Winston Churchill up to 1940, subsequently completed after Manchester’s death by another author, and his haunting memoir of his service as a Marine in World War II, Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War. Continue reading
A trifle over 62 years separated the assassination of William McKinley and that of John F. Kennedy. The American people had grown perhaps complacent in the thought that presidential assassinations were a thing of the past, although Giuseppe Zangara could easily have assassinated President-Elect Roosevelt instead of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak in 1933, and Puerto Rican terrorists came perilously close to assassinating Harry Truman in 1950. Nevertheless, the assassination of John F. Kennedy hit America hard.
Back in 1963 I was in second grade, but I was not in school. Sick with pneumonia, my mother had taken me to the doctor and he had prescribed penicillin. After getting my prescription filled my mother took me home. She turned on our television set and I planted myself on the couch to watch it. As we watched television we saw the initial news flashes that President Kennedy had been shot. This was on a Friday, and the remainder of that day and the weekend, my mother, father and I and my brother practically lived in front of the television set, riveted by the around the clock coverage, something unprecedented in this country before that dreadful day.
Conspiracy theories have flourished almost before Kennedy’s corpse was cold, a great many people unwilling to accept that a frustrated loser like Lee Harvey Oswald could have been the assassin of Kennedy. Continue reading
The world came very close to nuclear war half a century back. The above video is of the speech that President Kennedy gave fifty years ago on October 22, 1962. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in placing nuclear missiles in Cuba brought the world to the brink. The crisis was ultimately resolved by the removal of the Soviet missiles in exchange for two agreements between the US and the Soviet Union: 1. No invasion of Cuba by the US; and 2. The removal of obsolete American Jupiter nuclear missiles from Turkey and Southern Italy. Unsurprisingly the US kept secret the removal of the Jupiter missiles. Surprisingly the Soviets also kept mum about the removal of the Jupiter missiles which led to the perception abroad and within the Soviet Union that Khrushchev had lost his confrontation with Kennedy, and paved the way for the Central Committee coup led by Leonid Brezhnev which toppled Khrushchev from power in October 1964. Here is the text of the speech: Continue reading