Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and from the political left as well as the right, ‘Kennedy worship’ has been in overdrive. The airwaves are full of tributes of that ‘magical’ time of “Camelot” with that darling liberal family becoming American royalty. The tales of perfection are never ending. How the Kennedy clan is the quintessential American story, poor Irish immigrants, fleeing British oppression, coming to America for freedom, working hard, becoming extremely wealthy and entering politics to “give back” to the country that has made their success possible. Frankly, it’s enough to make me sick. I will not be joining in with this Kennedy love-fest and the most simple answer as to why should be clear enough. I am a monarchist and heaping adulation and hero worship on a republican politician is not on my list of priorities. I consider the list of American presidents to be a sorry collection overall and even the few I consider comparatively better than others I could never bestir myself to actually admire, defend or praise and commemorate. However, to my surprise, some monarchists apparently adore JFK and the Kennedy clan that has remained in power ever since, benefiting from the myth-making surrounding their fallen hero. This surprised me, especially coming from admirers of the British Empire (something Kennedy opposed) and the tenacious defense of Kennedy by some. Having taken on other beloved American presidents in the past, not excluding Washington and Lincoln, perhaps I should explain what some of my problems with Kennedy are. His sincere worshippers will surely not be moved by this, most have no recollection of the “Camelot” days and even then it was more form than substance but, just in case there are some open to persuasion, here are the reasons why this monarchist has no love for the late President Kennedy.
First of all, I am no fan of the nest that Kennedy hatched from. The rise of the family under Joe Kennedy was no success story of hard work and fair play but rather of political intrigue, corruption and making a fortune on bootlegging during prohibition. Joseph and John F. Kennedy, however, had relatively little in common save for the fact that no woman was safe around either of them. JFK was born in 1917 and named after his grandfather, Boston mayor and later Congressman John F. Fitzgerald who was a lifelong supporter of Irish republicanism and published a weekly newspaper devoted to denouncing the British monarchy called “The Republic”. Joe Kennedy, who hungered for recognition and acceptance from the elites of Wall Street and London, tried to distance himself from his Irish dissident background but John F. Kennedy was the total opposite. Still, his father helped get him elected to Congress and later the Senate by building him up as a war hero. He had earlier purchased John a commission in the Navy and when sent to war his torpedo boat was run over by a Japanese destroyer and cut in half. And, when you’re a Kennedy, getting run over by a ship larger and slower than your own is enough to qualify for “war hero” status.
From his earliest days in office, touring Asia and the Middle East in 1951, JFK was an avowed enemy of the British Empire. In his radio report to the home front, he decried, “Our intervention in behalf of England’s oil investments in Iran” referring to the aid the U.S. and U.K. gave to the restoration of the Shah of Iran who had been driven out by his premier who had nationalized the oil industry, most of which was British-owned. The depth of opposition to the British Empire Kennedy had can be seen in the pages of his book, “Profile in Courage” in which the nominally Catholic Kennedy praises the Puritanical John Quincy Adams for his refusal to, “yield his devotion to the national interest for the narrowly partisan, parochial and pro-British outlook which dominated New England’s first political party”. In a St Patrick’s Day speech in Chicago in 1956 he called on the local Irish-Americans to broaden their opposition to the British Empire in Ireland to revive the American ‘revolutionary heritage’ and apply it around the world against all empires. The following year, in a speech called “Imperialism the Enemy of Freedom” in the Senate, he demanded that the U.S. take the side of the Algerian rebels against the French and decried the resources the Eisenhower administration had given to support the French in Vietnam and the last Vietnamese Emperor.
Anglophiles in the Democratic Party disapproved as of course did the French and the British who were trying to maintain themselves. However, not long after, Charles de Gaulle became President of France, gave up on Algeria and withdrew France from its imperial alliance with Great Britain. This was nothing new however. In his very first political speech, Kennedy said that the only solution to the problems in Ireland were for the end of partition and the removal of the British Crown from any part of the island. For the sake of good relations, he avoided the subject publicly after becoming president, but from his earliest speeches throughout his political career there is no doubt he wanted the British Crown out of Ireland and most anywhere else in the world as well. As an admirer of the British Empire, that does not impress me much, nor does his much vaunted record of anti-communism. Kennedy was elected to office promising to negotiate a peace with the Soviet Union and the first fiasco he had to deal with was the Bay of Pigs invasion. He did not plan it, nor has he ever been held responsible for it but it was Kennedy who called off the scheduled air strikes so as to boost his absurd claim that ‘America had nothing to do with it’. All this accomplished was to make the communists view Kennedy as someone they could push around, and they were not incorrect in that assessment.
Kennedy wanted to show he was tough and thought Indochina would be the place to do it. First up was the Kingdom of Laos where a communist insurgency was underway. However, Kennedy could not bring himself to support the King of Laos who was tainted by being royal and by having been friendly with colonial France, so he made a 2-front war into a 3-front war. Rather than supporting the royalist faction of Prince Souvanna Phouma, he funded the formation a more faithfully pro-American faction under General Phoumi Nosovan. The result was a civil war no side had the strength to win until the victory of the communists in Vietnam allowed them to dominate the region and turn Laos into a puppet state. In Vietnam itself, Kennedy began by aiding the Catholic and strongly-nationalist President Ngo Dinh Diem, praising him as someone untouched by colonialism (unlike the former emperor). However, when the media (two individuals in particular) began to portray Diem in a negative light, opinion was shifted against him and his regime. When Diem refused to take orders from the United States government, Kennedy gave the word to the generals in Vietnam that U.S. aid would stop unless Diem was removed. Diem was not only removed but brutally assassinated along with every member of his family in the country at the time. South Vietnam never had a stable government again and the communists were elated, astonished that America could be so stupid as to remove their most dangerous enemy for them. No, a successful anti-communist crusader Kennedy was certainly not.
On other fronts, as soon as he gained office Kennedy began a personal correspondence with Gamal Abdel Nasser, the man who planned the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy and an avowed enemy of Great Britain as well. Kennedy reversed the policy previously favored by Democrats Truman and Dulles and he actively took the side of Nasser and the Arab nationalists against the British and Saudi allied Arab royalists of the Middle East. He was also good friends with President Sukarno of Indonesia who brought an end to the reign of the Dutch monarchy in the East Indies. Even after being betrayed by their American allies, something Queen Wilhelmina had threatened to abdicate over, the Dutch monarchy of Queen Juliana still reigned over half of New Guinea. Sukarno wanted that for the Republic of Indonesia and President Kennedy was ready to help him out. He sent his brother Robert to the Netherlands to demand an immediate evacuation of Netherlands New Guinea and with Kennedy backing Sukarno who was threatening invasion, the Dutch were furious but had no choice but to comply. Afterward, the first lavish aid package for Sukarno’s government was passed a few days before Kennedy was assassinated.
Kennedy had opposed British influence in Asia, Africa and Ireland but for many Brits who had given up on the idea of the glory days of empire, that was not terribly important. Many probably never heard about it or would have cared if they did. They probably didn’t care that when Kennedy visited Ireland he took the time to meet with his cousins who served in the Irish Republican Army, after all, they were so charming and as long as he did not mention the problem directly it could all be overlooked. However, some people in Britain did manage to work up some anger when it came to Kennedy taking over British defense. It seemed to many in Britain that Harold Macmillan had signed over British security to President Kennedy with the Nassau Agreement by which American missiles would be used for Britain’s nuclear deterrent and the U.S. gained a submarine base in Scotland. The British nuclear subs were then to be assigned along with British bombers to a joint NATO task-force that would be under United States control, keeping all nuclear capacity for the alliance in American hands, something Kennedy justified as preventing “nuclear proliferation”. Many in Britain, however, saw it as the loss of British independence in military affairs and it helped encourage the decline of the Tory party. Kennedy would have been thrilled. Kennedy appointees Bob McNamara and Dean Acheson were both of the opinion that Britain was old news and in the words of Acheson, the “’special relationship’ with the United States…is about played out”.
All of that would be sufficient, I would think, in discouraging any monarchist and certainly any British, Dutch, Laotian, Egyptian etc royalist from being part of the Kennedy fan club. For myself, it certainly is and I can add to that my opposition to almost the totality of his domestic policies as well. I don’t approve of his economic intervention, I don’t approve of his immigration plan to shift from Europe to Central and South America, I don’t approve of how he dealt with Native Americans and I don’t approve of his social policies. I do not like how he distanced himself from his religion while running for office and I can certainly not approve of the flagrant immorality of his private life. Were there other American presidents who were worse? Certainly. There were also some who were better. What is more frustrating about Kennedy than other presidents who have been deified and have their own cult-like following such as Lincoln or Washington or FDR, Kennedy had a whole family to come after him and who have benefited from the myth-making surrounding their slain relative. The adulation he received and the elevation of his family to "royal" status allowed a slew of disreputable characters with the Kennedy last name to hold positions of power and influence such as little brother Ted Kennedy, an alcoholic who got a woman killed and who arranged for Gerry Adams to come to the USA for St Patrick’s Day, or daughter Caroline Kennedy who stood up at the last Democrat National Convention to voice her support “as a Catholic woman” for birth control and abortion being part of the Obamacare health plan. The idea that President Kennedy, who did little and even less of any good, while in office or his dysfunctional family in general could have so many ardent admirers astounds me. It always will and if some wish to join in the worship of him or any other politician, I cannot stop them. However, I will be having no part of it myself nor will I ever hold a romantic view of any presidential figure.