JOHN SHATTUCK: So, good evening. Good evening all, and welcome to the John F. Kennedy Library. I’m John Shattuck, the CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and I want to, on behalf of myself and Tom Putnam, the Director of our Library, say how pleased we are to have you all in this wonderful intimate setting here in our theater for this very special forum on the Kennedy Family in London on the eve of World War II. Let me first express our thanks, as I always do, to the organizations that make these forums possible, starting with our lead sponsor, Bank of America, as well as our other generous forum supporters: Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, the Boston Foundation, and, our media sponsors, Boston Globe, NECN, and WBUR -- one of our panelists is from WBUR and I’ll introduce him in a moment -- which broadcasts these Kennedy Library Forums on Sunday evenings at 8:00.
In February, 1938, Joseph P. Kennedy was named by President Roosevelt to be the United States Ambassador to Great Britain. War clouds loomed over Europe, and many Americans were wary of being drawn into another European conflict. Joe Kennedy had served earlier in the Roosevelt administration as the first chairman of FDR’s new Securities and Exchange Commission, and he had had a brilliant career in business and in politics, but no experience whatsoever in diplomacy.
When he left for England, he was determined to protect what he saw as the overriding American interest in preserving the peace and avoiding new military entanglements. The new Ambassador set sail with his large and charming family, and when they landed the Kennedys were an immediate hit with the British public and the upper strata of British society. But as the prospects for war grew more ominous and Hitler made more and more menacing moves in Central and Eastern Europe, things got complicated for Ambassador Kennedy. And eventually his family returned to the US and he remained in London to maneuver through the complexities of pre-war British politics and US-British relations.
But I’m not going to spoil the story by telling you any more. You will hear much more. I’m going to leave the telling to tonight’s distinguished speaker. Will Swift is a distinguished historian who has written extensively about American leaders and British royalty of the 19th and 20th centuries. He is the author of The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm: A Thousand Days in London, 1938-1940. The Washington Post has praised the book for doing an admirable job of depicting Kennedy the man, an Irish-Catholic outsider who spent most of his life trying to defuse his profound sense of being a second class citizen by seeking acceptance from the WASP establishment.
The Boston Globe says, “Dr. Swift’s book succeeds where so many biographies of Joseph Kennedy have failed. It is delightfully readable.” And he will be available to sign copies -- it’s on sale in our bookstore -- after this forum. Dr. Swift is also the author of an earlier, highly-acclaimed study of this period, The Roosevelts and the Royals: Franklin and Eleanor, the King and Queen of England, and the Friendship That Changed History. A prominent reviewer called this book “a splendid addition to our understanding of the extraordinary Anglo-American partnership,” and Arthur Schlessinger, Jr., praised it as “an excellent book.”
Our moderator this evening is our own Fred Tyse, an award-wining political news reporter for WBUR. In recent months, Fred has covered everything from the struggles of presidential candidates in the New Hampshire primary to the struggles of Massachusetts dairy farmers to keep from going under financially. He spent time covering the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the lives of people in New England, and the effects of the 9/11 attacks on the families of victims. Before joining WBUR, Fred was the NBC News bureau chief in Mexico City and a field producer for CNN in New York.
So please join me in welcoming Will Swift and Fred Tyse to the Kennedy Library. [applause]
FRED TYSE: So before we begin, I think, Will, you’d like to say something.
WILL SWIFT: Yes, I wanted to dedicate tonight’s forum to Ted Kennedy and for three reasons. As I mention in the book, and as many of you know, Time Magazine said of him that he has had a titanic record of legislation that has affected the lives of every single American, and I think that’s very important. Secondly, I hear many stories of the wonderful things he’s done for people on a private basis that aren’t publicized. My son, for instance, was a teacher at a prep school in upstate New York and one of his students broke his leg in many places. Ted arranged to have the kid flown immediately to Boston so he could get the surgery to save his leg. And, thirdly, because he was so helpful and kind to me, as was his assistant, Melissa Wagner, in helping me make this book the best that it could be. So this is for Ted, this talk tonight.
And just one personal indulgence, it’s Father’s Day on Sunday, and my father is 83. He’s in the back row, and I’m glad he’s here. [applause]
FRED TYSE: Your book debunks a lot of myths about Joseph Kennedy. One of the prejudices I had about him was that he was, some time during the 1930s at least, an admirer of Adolf Hitler’s. That is not something that comes out at all in here, very much to the contrary. I wonder if we might start by your elaborating on that a little bit.
WILL SWIFT: Yes, I would say that one of the myths about Joe Kennedy that needs to end, starting today, is that he was pro-Hitler and pro-Nazi. That’s not true. While as a man steeped in economics, he was fascinated by and interested in the economic miracle in Germany in the early 1930s, but he never had the sense that Hitler was anyone he wanted to identify with. And he very soon saw that Hitler was not someone who would be at all helpful to Europe or the United States. When Joe went over to London, he was there for only one week -- as an untrained diplomat – when Hitler invaded Austria. Talk about a training on the job!
He felt constrained during his ambassadorship that he should not speak out too directly about his negative feelings toward Hitler, because he thought it was not appropriate to his role, but also because he feared, interestingly enough, that if people spoke too negatively, Hitler would crack down further on the Jews. This book shows how he tries to work with the Nazi government to find a path to peace. But that’s not the same thing as being for them.
FRED TYSE: You mention the Jews. This is another preconception that people have about Joseph Kennedy, that he was anti-Semitic. There are elements in your book that explain why people might have thought that of him, and then there are other parts where you go to great lengths to debunk that idea about him. And I wonder if you could go into both those sides.
WILL SWIFT: Yes. Certainly, another myth about Joe Kennedy is that he was entirely anti-Semitic. What I found is an extremely complicated picture. For instance, in Rose Kennedy’s autobiography, she mentions that he did a lot to help Jewish refugees. But, initially, I couldn’t find anything written by other historians to document exactly what he did. I knew that people wouldn’t necessarily take Rose’s word for it without evidence. So I did a very careful study, and found a number of things that he did.
There was a Jewish man, Alan Stein, on his diplomatic staff, and there was a tradition in court that no Jewish diplomat had ever been presented to the King and Queen. Joe was outraged by this, and he worked it and worked it until finally the people in charge of protocol gave in and allowed Alan Stein to be presented at court. In terms of Jewish refugees, many of you know that in the spring of 1939 many German and Austrian Jews were getting on ships, trying desperately to get to other parts of the world. There was a famous ship called the St. Louis, which had gotten permission ahead of time to go to Cuba. But when they arrived in Havana, the Cuban government suddenly decided they didn’t want them. So they were going to be then sent back to Europe, which was obviously a very dangerous situation for them. Roosevelt at that time did not feel he had the political clout to take them in. Roosevelt turned them down, because he thought it would be too unpopular, but Joe Kennedy worked very hard to help get 300 of them situated in England. He also worked in concert with other diplomats to make sure the rest of them were put in places like France and Belgium. Unfortunately, many of the people who didn’t go to England ended up dying in concentration camps when countries like France were taken over by the Nazis.
There were constant negotiations to get some of the Jewish children out of Germany. And it was just torturous. Joe, from July, 1938, had been vice chairman of the Evian Commission that worked on how to help Jewish refugees emigrate. He found the situation very painful because things were going so slowly. As a man who grew up feeling like an outsider, he was concerned about the plight of the refugees.
Historians, I find, tend to put all their focus on how ambitious he was for himself and his family. But I don’t think people adequately see how delicately his ambition was entwined with his compassion. The feeling of being an outsider and the great pain that caused in his life not only led him to be ambitious, but also to feel compassionate about people who are in a difficult situation. And he tried to impart that to his kids. So he did work with the situation with the Jewish children. He helped arrange for 190 Jewish children to be brought into Boy Scout camps in England. And these are just a few of the things that he did.
Just one more comment. He was also involved with the situation in Palestine. When the Jewish immigration to Palestine was limited by the British government in the spring of 1939, under the so-called McDonald White Paper, there was tremendous outrage in the Jewish community worldwide. But the interesting thing is he worked so hard on behalf of the Jews that a Palestinian organization called him “a Zionist Joe McCarthy.” And for a man used to being accused of being anti-Semitic, it must have been a relief to be called a Zionist Joe McCarthy.
FRED TYSE: On a personal note, here on Cape Cod, or down in Cape Cod, we just heard about a situation regarding Henry Morgenthau. Joe had a chance to show that he was not an anti-Semite.
WILL SWIFT: Yes. Henry Morgenthau wanted to join a yachting club, I believe it was, on Cape Cod, and they weren’t allowing Jews in. Joe made a stink, saying that he would drop out of the club, and they finally invited Morgenthau in. Now, one further thing I should say is that Joe Kennedy did have a strand of anti-Semitism in him. And being raised as an Irish-Catholic in Boston at the time, you couldn’t help but be exposed to that. But it only came out, as I could see, in this period that I’m writing about, when he felt threatened.
For instance, when he felt attacked by Jewish organizations or members of the media after all he’d done to try to help. The other thing that would threaten him was the fear that Jewish outrage was going to lead the United States into a war that he didn’t think that they could win. So at times like that, a strain of anti-Semitism came up. But it was only when he was threatened, not in a general sense.
FRED TYSE: Why did you want to write this book?
WILL SWIFT: It’s a fair question. I wanted to have an argument with myself, and the noted Dutch historian Pieter Geyl said -- and I love this phrase -- “History is argument without end.” I felt that it was time to argue with some of the historians who paint Joe Kennedy in black and white terms. But when I wrote my book on the Roosevelts, I portrayed Joe Kennedy from the Roosevelt point of view.
In the Roosevelt book, I portrayed Joe Kennedy as an opportunistic thorn in Roosevelt’s side. And as the book came out, I became uncomfortable, thinking, “I wonder if I have been fair to Joe Kennedy? I should really investigate the whole story and find out.” Secondly, I thought this period from 1938 to 1940 was one of the most fascinating times in all of history. It was a time when democracy was on the defensive, totalitarianism was on the rise, and London was the pivot point. London was the most alluringly energetic, attractive, and largest city in the world. And, interestingly enough, there were 8 million people in London at that time and only 7 million in New York City.
I was fascinated that the New York daily papers carried the society news from London. That shows how we were hooked into London at that time in a way I hadn’t imagined.
FRED TYSE: Maybe we could continue with that theme? One of the things that’s really wonderful in this book is that it’s not just about Joe Kennedy, it’s about the Kennedys, the entire family over there, and obviously they have different experiences. The children in particular, the three eldest children -- Jack, Kick and Joe Kennedy, Jr. -- are accepted into the highest levels of British society, were embraced into it, and I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about their experience?
WILL SWIFT: Sure. First of all, before the Kennedys went to London, the word went out in British aristocratic and social circles: These are the friends of Roosevelt. This family, and particularly Joe Kennedy, represent our chances for Anglo-American unity as we face the trials that are coming our way from Europe, and particularly from Germany. And so, welcome this family with totally open arms in every circle. And, interestingly enough, at this time, the British were a little bored with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and their two daughters, because they had been used to Edward VII, who was quite spicy and charismatic. When they started to see pictures in the papers of the Kennedy family with their wonderful smiles and their charm and their handsome faces, they fell in love with the Kennedys, who took London by storm.
Among the four oldest kids, Kathleen (who was known as Kick, and I love that nickname for her because it really captures her) had such an ebullient spirit. She got a kick out of everything. Kick came over early with some of her younger siblings; Joe, Jr., and Jack -- the two oldest -- were still at Harvard, so they didn’t come over until classes ended at the end of June. Their father returned to the U.S. and brought them back. But Kick came over with Eunice and Rosemary in the spring of 1938, just in time for the arcane ritual of the London season, which was really quite extraordinary.
Kick had this ability -- and it’s too bad that Joe didn’t have a little bit more of what she had -- to take the British to the edge of impropriety and get away with it and make them laugh. She transmitted this wonderful, fresh American energy without offending them. For instance, she used to call the Duke of Marlborough “Dookie Woogie.” And he was a very stiff character, but somehow she charmed him.
Kick and Rosemary were the first to come out in society, and they were presented at court. Presentation at court was a very strange ritual where you had to curtsey and slide. It was very complicated. There is a story from Lawrence Leamer’s book on the Kennedy women, based on an interview with a member in the palace staff, that Rosemary tripped when she was being presented to the King and Queen, but she caught herself just in time so that she did not fall. You can imagine Rose Kennedy sitting there watching her daughters and how she must have felt. She had taken a real chance presenting Rosemary, who was mildly mentally retarded, at court.
But it was unfortunate for Rosemary that her younger sister, Kick, was a star of London society. In fact, she was voted in 1938 as the most exciting debutante of that year. They had coming-out parties with many aristocratic and political figures in attendance. And then finally Jack and Joe Jr. came over. There’s an interesting story about them. Jack and Joe were very good friends, but they were also very competitive -- not surprising to people who know about the Kennedy family -- and right before they came over Joe Jr. had wangled a date with Katherine Hepburn.
Well, Jack wasn’t going to let that go unchallenged, so he hooked up with Gertrude Niesen, who was just starring in the movie Top of the Town. Jack brought her to a nightclub where he knew Joe Jr. hung out. He wanted to show his brother that he too was doing fine with women. Joe Jr. arranged for Jack to be summoned to take a phone call, bushwhacked him, and ran out with Gertrude Niesen and spent the evening with her. [laughter] Joe Jr., of course, was strapping, handsome, very athletic, and, when they got to London, he couldn’t figure out why the British women liked Jack more. Jack was skinny and boyish, whereas Joe was energetic and vital. But Jack’s wonderful sense of humor and his wry, detached style absolutely charmed the British. Joe was a little more on the aggressive side, and he didn’t go over as well. I could probably say more, but I don’t want to talk too much at one time.
FRED TYSE: No, this is great. Can I ask you, why on earth did President Roosevelt choose this huge potential rival of his to go represent him in London, in a place where he might shine a little bit too much and possibly challenge him in 1940?
WILL SWIFT: I love that question: Why on earth? I’ll have to answer that. First of all, Joe Kennedy very early on saw Roosevelt as a star, and he hitched his star to Roosevelt. He supported him financially in the 1932 campaign. In 1936, he wrote a book called Why I Am For Roosevelt, and he did a tremendous amount to help the President get reelected. So, in one sense, Roosevelt owed him. In another sense, Roosevelt's support of Irish-Catholics in general and Irish-Catholics was quite shaky, and by choosing an Irish-Catholic to go to the extremely staid and Protestant Court of St. James he certainly was making a statement to Catholics.
But beyond that, he saw Joe as a very tough negotiator, and this was a time when a lot of things like trade agreements and various other agreements had to be negotiated, and he felt that Joe would be a very good man for that. He didn’t quite fully take into account, perhaps, Joe’s maverick qualities. But he did also feel that Joe, as a blunt, outspoken Irish-Catholic man, wouldn’t be taken in by the British, and that he could probably get very accurate reports. That was the positive side. Now, some people say he sent him to London because he wanted to get rid of him and get him out of his hair. Roosevelt didn’t like competitors, people whom he thought might be gunning for the presidency. Some observers thought that Joe might be trying to gear up for a run in 1940. So some people say he just sent him to London, across the pond, so he wouldn’t be able to make any trouble. But I’m not sure about that.
FRED TYSE: You have pictures, and we both thought that we could use some of the pictures to prompt some further conversation.
WILL SWIFT: Thank you. I get so busy talking I forget. Here’s a great picture of the family in London. This is taken by Dorothy Wilding. You can see Jack is at the far right with Rosemary and Joe, the father, and there’s Kathleen and Joe Jr., and Eunice, Jean, Pat, Teddy, and Bobby. Here’s Joe going to court to be presented to King George VI, very formal as you see. Very interestingly, when Joe met the King, he thought the King was actually eager to please him. He could sense how much the King wanted Joe to like him, because, again, of the need for American support.
FRED TYSE: We saw Joe there how we would expect to see him, which is in a suit, if you will, I don’t know if it’s … Yeah, it’s white tie, perhaps. But he wasn’t supposed to go that way. Can you tell us a little bit about what happened there?
WILL SWIFT: How many of you know about the initial interview that Joe Kennedy had with Roosevelt about taking this job in London? Does anybody know about that? Well, it was probably the most amazing job interview a president ever conducted. Roosevelt said to Joe, “Go stand up against the fireplace.” Joe, eager to get the job, would do just about anything. He went to the fireplace and -- now, remember, Roosevelt is sitting in a wheelchair -- he says, “Drop your pants.” Joe was probably flabbergasted, but he was going to London, so he dropped those pants. Roosevelt started laughing. “You’re too bowlegged,” he said. “You’ll never be able to make it in knee britches in the court at London. You can’t possibly have this job.”
Now, you can imagine how humiliated Joe felt. But whenever Joe felt humiliated, he got all the more determined. So he worked it out, he worked out with officials that he wouldn’t have to wear the knee britches, so he wouldn’t appear bowlegged, and he went back to Roosevelt and said, “I can go.” He says, “All right, I guess I’ll have you go.”
Let’s see, a couple of more pictures. Again, as we mentioned, the Kennedys were photographed endlessly in London. This is the first group that came over. And there’s Kick, Pat, Jean, Teddy and Bobby. They’re photographed on the embassy lawn. Here’s Teddy mugging for the cameras as Bobby and Jean are taking photographs, perhaps of Buckingham Palace. This is one of my favorites. I was alerted to this photograph by Senator Kennedy’s office. This is Teddy and Bobby at the zoo. I think this is quite an adorable picture. And this is a photograph that Ted Kennedy sent me. It’s his favorite picture in London, working with his father at his father’s desk.
FRED TYSE: Perhaps I can prompt you there to talk about the letter that Joe Kennedy sent to Ted Kennedy once Joe Kennedy had sent his family home during the Blitz, and here he was, all alone in London. It was a letter that made quite an impact on Senator Kennedy in later years.
WILL SWIFT: And I’m just going to look to see if I have the exact quote.
FRED TYSE: I can give it to you.
WILL SWIFT: Because I think it’s worth reading. I have it written down here somewhere. Oh, here it is. “I hope when you grow up you will dedicate your life to trying to work out plans to make people happy instead of making them miserable, as war does today.” And he wrote this in October, 1940. Ted Kennedy cites this letter as one of the reasons that he went into a career in politics, working for the disadvantaged. And also this letter is one of the reasons why he’s been hesitant to support Bush’s intervention in Iraq.
FRED TYSE: And this is obviously a big part of your book, that this period was formative in many ways on the Kennedy children as they went into public life, and maybe you could talk about some of those ways?
WILL SWIFT: Sure. One of the things I like most about this period is what it shows about Jack Kennedy. In 1938, when his father went to London, who was Jack Kennedy? Jack Kennedy was a slacker sophomore at Harvard who was interested in chasing women. By the end of this period, he had written a bestselling book, Why England Slept, that warned America how to avoid the pitfalls that England fell into through failing to re-arm. Jack became an internationalist American who had a very broad and deep world view. He became an adviser to his father at the end of the ambassadorship, writing this incredibly poignant letter telling his father how he could position himself as a courageous man like Churchill, saying the truths that people didn’t want to hear in order to rebuild his reputation.
During this time, he matured. He served as his father’s assistant at the embassy. By the way, both Joe Jr. and Jack served at the embassy, in the footsteps of John Quincy Adams and John Francis Adams, so you could see Joe had some real ambitions. But he sent them on fact-finding missions throughout Europe as war went on, and they visited Russia and Poland, and Jack went to Palestine -- I’ll have a picture later of that -- and absorbed what was happening. And right before war was declared in September of 1939 both Jack and Joe, separately, were in Berlin, and in Germany, and in Poland, watching the extraordinary propaganda that the Germans used to incite the German people and incite the Polish people toward war. They were just amazed by it.
Jack actually bought a movie camera to record the last days in Berlin before war was declared. Joe Jr. and Jack were always enamored of danger and drama, and they were both almost killed at this time. Joe Jr. went off to Spain to watch the end of the Spanish Civil War. He was traveling with a group of Franco’s Nationalists when he was stopped by some Loyalists, lined up against a wall. They were just about to shoot them when Joe reached into his pocket, pulled out his passport, and turned around; at the last second, they held off.
Jack had become very close friends with David Ormsby-Gore, who would later be his Ambassador to the United States from England. They traveled throughout Germany driving in a car with British license plates. They stopped to see a monument to a Nazi hero. And what happened? Storm troopers, who had spotted them and the British license plates, started pelting them with stones and bricks, and tried to kill them. They just got away with their lives. So the impact of these years can’t be underestimated.
FRED TYSE: What do we see here?
WILL SWIFT: We’re seeing the Kennedy family at dinner, and part of the Kennedy family mythology is about everyone sitting around at dinner, discussing political events, including young Teddy -- and, if you see, he’s at the far left, peeking out at the camera in his devilish way. Ted Kennedy told me how important these dinners were. It’s not like today when many families don’t actually take the time to sit together and dine. This was an important part of their learning and their family togetherness.
If you go to London, you can arrange to visit Prince’s Gate, which was the home of the Kennedys. It’s now the Royal College of General Practioners, but the actual place is intact. It’s right by Hyde Park. Here we have Rose having a tea party with the children in the Pine Room, which is one of the rooms upstairs. And, of course, I took a tour of that, and I love going into places where you can imagine historical figures gathering. It’s quite a thrill.
FRED TYSE: And you point out in your book that Rose then took a lesson from this in 1946, when John Kennedy first ran for Congress?
WILL SWIFT: Isn’t he a good reader? As an author, there’s nothing more refreshing than talking to somebody who has carefully read your book and really digested it. Yes, I would have not thought to say that. Rose Kennedy began to throw tea parties at the London embassy as part of her role as the Ambassador’s wife. She took to the campaign trail. You’ve all heard about the famous tea parties where the Kennedy women campaigned for Jack as a candidate for Congress and the presidency. They came right out of London.
Here’s a picture of Rose with Rosemary and Kick, who were getting ready to be presented at court. Now, this picture has never been published. I like it because the photo captures the excitement of the press. It gives you the sense of the intense interest in the Kennedys. Now, speaking of Kick, the Irish-Catholic Kennedys came to Protestant London hoping to get away from some of the prejudice against them at home. And one of the things they encountered even as social doors were opened wide for them was extraordinary anti-Catholic prejudice in England as well.
And who did Kick fall for but the scion of the most Protestant, most anti-Catholic family in all of England. And he was Billy Hartington, the heir to the Duke of Devonshire. And I want to read a letter. The Duke of Devonshire was a close friend of Nancy Astor, who is one of the great characters in the book. Nancy Astor also was very anti-Catholic, but because she was American-born, she took to the Kennedys nonetheless, and she became very close to Kick.
The Duke was very fond of Kick, but wary of her. What he wrote captures the kind of attitude that Joe and Rose were fighting against. It helps explain why they were so ambitious. Here’s what he said, writing to Nancy Astor about Kick: “She’s very sharp, very witty, and so sweet in every way. The Irish blood is evident, of course, and she is no great beauty, but her smile and her chatty enthusiasm are her salvation. I doubt, of course, she’d be any sort of match for our Billy” -- and this is the key phrase -- “even if we managed to get her out from under the Papal shadow.”
FRED TYSE: But in later years, maybe you can tell people what happened?
WILL SWIFT: Sure. Here’s another picture of Billy and Kick. Now, she had her revenge on the Duke of Devonshire. Here they are at the Café de Paris nightclub, one of the fashionable London clubs of that era. They went there one night, and who did they see but the Duke of Devonshire having dinner with his mistress. So she had a leg up on him. Now as you can imagine, Rose Kennedy was horrified that Kick was interested in Billy, as were his parents. But they underestimated Kick. She had that same determination that Jack Kennedy had, and she won over Billy. She had to go back to America for most of the war, but she kept pushing her father and eventually she went back to work for the Red Cross. They were married in 1944. And, of course, as many of you know, tragically he was killed in the war six weeks later.
Kick’s life ended in tragedy, as well. Her death was an indirect result of the ambassadorship, because she formed such a love for England and stayed there. In 1948, she died in a plane crash with a rakish character, Peter Fitzwilliam, while they were flying to Paris to try to get her father’s permission to marry. Here’s Jack behind Prince’s Gate.
FRED TYSE: One of the things that struck me about your book is, I knew that Kathleen Kennedy, Kick Kennedy, was very much in this society in England, but I was struck by how worldly John Kennedy was even as a sophomore in college.
WILL SWIFT: Yes, for instance, Jack Kennedy’s best friend, Lem Billings, was gay, and this is something that was not openly talked about until fairly recently when a book came out about their friendship. And he was exposed to all kinds of things like this, and he was very open-minded, I think. Here’s Jack and Bobby on the balcony of Prince’s Gate. Then Joe skiing in Switzerland. In one week, three Kennedy boys managed to injure themselves in Switzerland. One broke an arm, another injured a leg. Here’s Joe, in 1940, looking very dashing. I don’t think this picture has been seen before. Here’s the Kennedys with the King and Queen.
FRED TYSE: Can you tell us a little bit more about Joe Kennedy’s rapport with the King and Queen?
WILL SWIFT: Yes. Joe Kennedy, early on, saw how extraordinary the King and Queen were. He was particularly taken with Queen Elizabeth. He was the one who initially broached the idea of making a royal tour of the United States. As he said to Queen Elizabeth, “You could charm them as you’re charming me.” And she liked the idea. Unfortunately, Roosevelt didn’t want to give Joe an opportunity to “grandstand.” So he insisted that Joe could not come over in June, 1939, with the King and Queen on their famous visit to Washington and Hyde Park, where they had that hot dog picnic.
But they had a good relationship. And in 1940, during the last year of the ambassadorship when Joe’s reputation had taken quite a hit, the upper classes said something rather cruel about him. Their jibe was, “I thought my daffodils were yellow until I met Joe Kennedy.” He went and talked to the Queen and the King about how the aristocrats of Mayfair and Belgravia were talking about him, and they said, “Never mind. WE support you. It doesn’t matter what they have to say.”
Here’s Jack in Palestine, gathering information. It’s a great picture. He looks very serious and very tall. Here’s Joe with Tony Biddle. He was the ambassador to Poland from the Biddle-Drexel family. I found some of the interrelationships in the aristocracy to be fascinating. For instance, Biddle’s son married the daughter of William Bullitt, who was the Ambassador to France. And Jackie Kennedy was actually related to Tony Biddle. So you see the close connections.
As someone who has written some on royal history, I found it interesting that Joe and Rose went to one of the last great parties in the British aristocracy in June of 1939. And whose party did they go to? Rosalind Shand. Some of you may know that Rosalind Shand is the mother of Camilla Parker-Bowles, who is now married to Prince Charles. But Rose also was an equal opportunity social climber. She also had dinner with Lord Fermoy, who was Princess Diana’s grandfather. So you see the interrelations here.
FRED TYSE: Once Joe Kennedy had sent his family home before the Blitz, after England had declared war on Germany, he seemed to have lost something. You talk about it in the book with the fact that Rose was now in the United States. How had she helped him to be a good ambassador?
WILL SWIFT: Well, Rose had extraordinary gifts as a diplomat. She knew how to say things in a way that wouldn’t be offensive to people. She always tried to tone down his bluntness and get him to consider the impact of what he would say. Unfortunately, when she went back, she didn’t have as much influence, and sometimes he said things that got him in trouble. Rose loved politics. I found it sad that Joe Kennedy didn’t want Rose talking about politics with people like Neville Chamberlain, with whom they were both close. This was probably true of many men in that era. When they dined with the Chamberlains, Rose, under orders from Joe, would talk about birds, bees and trees. But interestingly enough, she loved watching Winston Churchill debate in Parliament. Rose was addicted to self-improvement. She was always trying to grow and learn about politics.
FRED TYSE: Do you want to go through more pictures?
WILL SWIFT: We can try. The war comes on, despite Joe Kennedy’s efforts supporting Neville Chamberlain’s attempt to forge some kind of accommodation with Germany. Joe realized by the end of ’38 that they weren’t going to be able to accomplish that. He saw that Hitler was a liar and a bully. War was declared on September 3, 1939, after Hitler invaded Poland. Now, here is a famous picture. This is Joe and Jack and Kick walking to Parliament to hear the declaration of war. An air raid alarm went off as they were walking to Parliament.
This picture is less well-known. I don’t think I had ever seen it before I found it in the archives here. This is Joe and Rose walking to Parliament. Look at Rose’s face. To me, she looks like someone who has a premonition of all that’s going to come down for her family and for the world in the coming months.
I’ll go back for a second. The day that war was declared was chaotic. When the air raid alarm went off in London, terrified Americans rushed into the entrance of the American embassy. There was no bomb shelter there, so Joe sent everybody across the street, downstairs to the dressmaker, Molyneux, into their basement. And the family went down there as well. There were many white-faced Americans who were starting to scream, “Get me ships. Get me out of here right away.”
Also, that night at Prince’s Gate there was chaos, because Teddy left the curtains open. The air raid warden called and said, “Your light is shining out the window, this is dangerous, you must shut the light off immediately.” So they shut the light off. Jean tripped and fell down the stairs and sprained her ankle.
In mid-September 1939, Joe Kennedy sent the family home. And the only person who stayed was Rosemary. I find the story of Rosemary in London to be touching, because this was the zenith of her life. She was up in the countryside with Eddie Moore and his wife. Rosemary was studying to be a Montessori teacher, and she was doing really well. And here is one picture of her with kittens. And here’s a picture of Rosemary that’s never been published before. I worked hard to get permission to use this because it shows how lovely she was. She was very touched that her father had kept her in London. She didn’t understand that she was there because she was thriving in school. She believed that her father had specially chosen her. And Joe was extraordinarily lonely when the family went home. He said it was a miserable life. But he had Rosemary there.
I want to read a couple of brief letters that haven’t been published before. They’ve been recently released in the archives. You hear about Rosemary, but you never get a real feeling for her. So, I think it’s important. In the winter of 1939, she wrote, “I’ve been taking alloquation (she meant elocution) lessons, but it is wonderful to get a diploma. Then I will be a school teacher. I have been taking first aid and practicing bandages.” The she told her dad that she was following an Elizabeth Arden diet. “Living on salads and egg at night, and I’ve lost five to seven pounds.” Sadly, she added, “I will be thin when Jack sees me.” I think this letter conveys her sense of being inadequate, and her belief that she had to be careful to keep up with the family.
In March, 1940, she wrote the following to her father: “Mother says I am such a comfort to you, never to leave you. Well, Daddy, I feel honored because you chose me to stay.” And, again, a poignant postscript: “I am so fond of you. I love you so very much. Sorry to think that I am fat, you think.” And I think those two letters give you a feel for Rosemary at this time, at the zenith of her life.
Now, when Joe Kennedy came to London, he had a choice. He could ally himself with Neville Chamberlain, who was the Prime Minister, or Winston Churchill, who was the lonely outsider. He was saying, “You’re not paying attention to the Nazi menace, you’re not building up the military the way you should to be able to be equal to Germany.” And, as we know, Joe felt like an outsider. And so was he going to ally with Winston Churchill? No. He allied himself with Neville Chamberlain, because he felt that his economic policies and negotiation strategies would give America the best chance. And, of course, Joe made the wrong choice. Forever after he has been criticized for following the wrong man.
FRED TYSE: Can you tell us a little bit more about the extraordinary access he had, though, as a result of being friends with the Prime Minister?
WILL SWIFT: Sure. Joe, in that first year in London, provided the kind of inside information about what was going on in the Chamberlain government that had rarely been seen before. He became close friends with Chamberlain. They trusted each other and relied upon each other for advice. And by the time of the Munich Agreement in 1938, Roosevelt was delighted with Joe’s cables with the moment by moment machinations of the British government. When Churchill joined the government at the advent of war in the fall of 1939, Neville Chamberlain and Churchill grew closer, and Kennedy became the odd man out.
This book is a story of triangles. You have Roosevelt, Kennedy and Chamberlain. You have Churchill, Chamberlain and Kennedy. And as we know about human triangles, they’re very difficult things. Somebody always gets left out. Well, in the end, Joe Kennedy was left out when Churchill finally became the Prime Minister. And, interestingly enough, Churchill and Chamberlain, who had been very much at odds with each other politically, worked very well together after war was declared.
FRED TYSE: What was the relationship like between Winston Churchill and Joe Kennedy?
WILL SWIFT: Good question. It was a fascinating relationship, because, of course, they had different agendas. Joe’s agenda was to keep America out of the war. He felt that America needed time to build up its military power to get in the best possible position to protect itself. Churchill wanted to get America in the war as quickly as possible.
Now, I want to read you a quote that Joe wrote about Churchill. In October ’39, he said about Churchill: “He is just an actor and a politician. He always impressed me that he would blow up the American embassy and say it was the Germans if it would get the US in the war. Maybe I do him an injustice, but I just don’t trust him.” He wrote to Rose, “He has energy and brains, but no judgment.”
I found it fascinating that Joe and Winston’s feelings about each other came out through alcohol. Joe would get irritated when he went to see Winston Churchill, and what was Churchill doing? He was having his Scotch highball. Joe had foresworn drinking for the war. He had a bad stomach like his son, Jack. He would become irritated because he’d think the guy is getting drunk and he has bad judgment and he’s running this war. He never realized that Churchill watered down his Scotches. If he’d known that, it might have made a slight difference. He believed that Churchill was getting too drunk.
On the other hand, Churchill could never remember that Joe didn’t drink. So every time they met, he would offer Joe a Scotch highball. That irritated Joe and made him feel completely unseen, which was not something that Joe Kennedy liked to feel. When they were meeting to discuss the Lend-Lease agreement, Churchill offered him a drink for the 100th time. Joe told him for the 100th time, “I don’t drink.” Churchill said, “You know, Joe, you make me feel like I should go around in sack cloth and ashes.” I think he was conveying his feeling that Joe was a drag. So that’s their relationship -- good friends! But I will say that Churchill needed Kennedy, because he knew Kennedy could advise him how best to manipulate Roosevelt to get the arms, the destroyers, and the military equipment that he needed to help Britain survive. So he was very good to Kennedy. And on the other hand, Roosevelt humiliated Kennedy from the beginning of their ambassadorial relationship when he asked him to drop his pants. Roosevelt did humiliate Kennedy on a relatively consistent basis in the latter half of the ambassadorship. He sent letters to Churchill and the King. He would make Joe carry sealed letters, like an errand boy not knowing what was in them, to Churchill and the King. They would be kind enough to Joe to actually tell him what was in the letters.
Roosevelt sent emissaries to check on the situation in England and did not tell Kennedy about it. Churchill would include him in dinners with these emissaries. And finally it got so bad, that on September 22nd, 1940, Roosevelt heard rumors and decided that the Nazis were going to invade that day. He contacted the British government to tell them, but he didn’t tell Joe Kennedy. So, you see, people often think of Joe Kennedy as having been difficult for Roosevelt, but Roosevelt really wasn’t very fair to Joe, I don’t think.
But here they are, Winston and Joe getting honorary degrees together, so they did fraternize a lot. Here’s Joe looking over some of the bomb damage during 1940 in the war. Joe and Rose raised money to bring ambulances to England. Here he’s presenting an ambulance to the town of Windsor, which had been very good to the Kennedys.
FRED TYSE: Shall we open it up to questions?
WILL SWIFT: Sure. Any questions?
Q: Having read your book, one of the characters that I had never heard of was someone named Tyler Kent. Would you comment on him, please?
WILL SWIFT: Sure. Tyler Kent was an employee in the embassy. Joe had him photocopying all the diplomatic cables and his letters to Roosevelt and some of Roosevelt’s letters to Churchill. Tyler Kent was against the United States coming into the war. He became aware of the secret correspondence occurring between Churchill and Roosevelt. And so he decided that he was going to make copies for himself. And he was going to try to alert people in the British government, in the Parliament, and also in the United States about this correspondence to try to expose Roosevelt as a duplicitous man who was trying to get America into a war.
MI-5, British military intelligence, was investigating people like Oswald Mosley, who was working against the government when they uncovered connections with Tyler Kent. He was arrested and taken to the embassy where he was interviewed by Joe Kennedy. They were going to ship him home, but Roosevelt did not want him in America because he didn’t want to take any chance that this information would be revealed. They terminated his contract and waited until October 1940 -- right before the election -- to try him under the Official Secrets Act and the Larceny Act. He was put in prison for seven years.
Joe Kennedy knew all this and he had an opportunity to cause a lot of trouble for Roosevelt. But Joe Kennedy was a very loyal man. As unhappy as he was with the way he was being treated, he could never be disloyal to Roosevelt in any direct or obvious way.
FRED TYSE: If I remember correctly, it was determined that somebody in Washington figured out that the Germans were getting the cables from the embassy, and the communication between Churchill and Roosevelt. Did they figure out it was Tyler Kent?
WILL SWIFT: Yes, it’s pretty horrifying to imagine that this information was going to the German government, yes.
Q: Hello. My name is Phil Budden, I’m the British Consul General here in Boston. I’m delighted. [applause]
WILL SWIFT: We’re delighted to have you.
PHIL BUDDEN: I’m delighted to hear about the role of the Kennedys and my hometown of London. As a diplomat here, I know diplomatic postings are not always straightforward, and it turns out now, having looked at your book and heard you this evening, that Joe Kennedy, whatever the ups and downs with Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill, actually presided over a critical period for British and American relations. And at the end of his two years or so, Britain and America seemed to be on the same page and working together, and we’ve never really looked back. But do you think Joe Kennedy sensed quite what a historical moment he’d lived through and quite what a personal contribution he’d made towards the close relationship between these two countries?
WILL SWIFT: I think he did. From the beginning of his ambassadorship he kept a diary. He knew that this was a crucial time and that he was in the plum diplomatic post in the world. He’d originally wanted to be Treasury Secretary, but that was taken and Roosevelt wasn’t going to remove his friend Morgenthau. Joe set his sights on London because it offered an opportunity to be at the center of world events. As you read his diaries, you can sense at times he’s writing with an eye to history. You have to take some of the things he says with a grain of salt. He wants to look good, but he’s also aware that he wants to put as much on the record as possible. And, of course, a week after he got there, Hitler invaded Austria. If he didn’t know how crucial the times were before, he certainly knew it that week.
I did a lot of the research for the book here at the Library. Rose Kennedy is a biographer’s best friend because she was compulsive about taking notes and writing careful diaries. She would paste in articles from the newspapers that were relevant to what she was writing about. Now, you can imagine for a biographer what a treat that is. For instance, at one point she was writing that the American government was balking about paying for gas masks for Bobby and Teddy. She pasted in articles with pictures of the available British gas masks – ones that did not fit her sons. She was wonderful.
Kick Kennedy’s private diary, which has not been seen before, is also in the book. It brings a little life to the story. A researcher has to apply to the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation to get the right to look in the Joseph P. Kennedy papers, and I found the Library enormously cooperative in that regard.
FRED TYSE: If anybody else has any questions, please go ahead. But in the meantime, I wanted to ask you, one of the other myths that you debunk, really, is this idea of the authoritarian father. And I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about that?
WILL SWIFT: There’s the common picture of Joe as someone who egotistically pushed his sons to do what he wanted them to do. Rose parented from the head in terms of intellectually stimulating the family, but Joe, in a certain way, came more from the heart. Joe was a real hugger. He was extremely encouraging, and they could come to him and talk about any problem. Rose was always educating them, providing experiences for them. But it was their father, often, to whom they went to for emotional support.
And, interestingly enough, when Jack ran for Congress in 1946, when he was first in politics, he often felt very disappointed about his speeches. He would go and talk to his father, saying, “I can’t do this. I just can’t give speeches. I’m so discouraged. ” Joe was his number one cheerleader. He gave him the sense that, “Yes, you can do it. We’re going to figure it out.” In a wonderful way, he was heartfelt, supportive and encouraging. And I think that, yes, he was a powerful man, he was dominating in a number of ways, but he also gave them a sense that he wanted them to have their own lives.
For instance, he sent his two oldest sons to study with the socialist, Lasky, whose philosophy certainly didn’t mesh with his own. I think that each of his sons developed their own independent identity, even though they had a strong father.
FRED TYSE: Great, yeah, this lady?
WILL SWIFT: Roosevelt wanted him to stay in England until after the 1940 election. Joe came home because he had had it. He was suffering profound battle fatigue. At one point, he stayed up for nine nights in a row with very little sleep. He went through 244 bombings. He was nearly killed several times, and he was just completely exhausted. He said, “I’m coming home, and I’m sending my reports about what’s really going on home with Eddie Moore, and if you don’t let me come home then I’m going to have things you don’t want published in the papers right before the election.” So Roosevelt said, “Come home, come home!”
There’s a famous incident. Roosevelt asked Joe to call him from Bermuda on the way home. Roosevelt, interestingly enough, was meeting with Lyndon Johnson and another congressman when he picked up the phone to talk to Joe. Roosevelt said, as he made a motion slitting his throat, “Oh, Joe, we’re so glad to have you home. Come see me right away when you’re at the White House.” And that’s what he did. Roosevelt was such a canny manipulator. He figured out a strategy to appease Joe, who was very angry about how he’d been treated. Roosevelt invited several of Joe’s friends to the White House for dinner. He let Joe vent. Roosevelt had persuaded one of the guests to say, “Oh, Joe, wouldn’t it be great if you gave a speech in favor of the President’s reelection.” As Joe complained, Roosevelt said, “Oh, I can’t believe people treated you like that. Heads are going to roll. They treated my premier envoy like this. I had no idea. This is terrible.”
Joe knew that, “This guy’s manipulating me.” But Joe wanted the president’s approval. He went and gave the famous “Nine Hostages to Fortune” speech, in which he defended Roosevelt and said that Roosevelt would not send “our boys” into war. And that speech helped win Roosevelt the election a few days later. After that point, that was pretty much it. Roosevelt cut him off, even though Joe Kennedy would send entreaties to him, saying, “I’m willing to serve in any way.”
Joe left government. He did work on a commission in Massachusetts reorganizing government, and he worked on the Hoover Commission, but he mainly focused on his business and philanthropic interests, and supported his children thereafter. And I think it isn’t commonly known how big a philanthropist Joe was. Through the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation many hospitals and schools were built. He was honored by the Pope for his contributions to charity.
FRED TYSE: This lady there?
Q: Give us a sense of his views towards women, particularly in terms of gender equality?
WILL SWIFT: Complicated. Well, I did refer to that earlier when I said that he didn’t want Rose to be talking politics. There are certainly stories that he was a little loose with some of the female friends of his kids. I think that he had a patriarchal attitude that would come out towards women. He was involved with Clare Booth Luce and he appreciated her political mind. And so it wasn’t that he saw all women as stupid, I think, but he did see them as having their own role, and that was different than the role that a man should have.
FRED TYSE: But then talk a little bit about his daughter, Pat.
WILL SWIFT: In terms of …?
FRED TYSE: Pushing her to go to Hollywood.
WILL SWIFT: He actually said that Pat had the best business brains in the whole family, and that she could really do wonders if she wanted to in business. She went to Hollywood and she got involved in some television and other programming.
FRED TYSE: But she ultimately … it seems like he believed in her business acumen. It was Hollywood that wasn’t ready to let a woman take charge.
WILL SWIFT: Yes, they weren’t willing to let her have the kind of directorial roles that she was capable of. Although they sent the sons to Harvard and the daughters to Catholic schools, Joe certainly supported Eunice, who, as we all know, was extraordinarily accomplished. She was the wife of a vice-presidential candidate, the wife of the Ambassador to Paris, and she founded the Special Olympics. So he supported his daughters. And I think it’s very telling that the kids loved their father. Eunice said, I believe, that she would be very lucky to find a man to marry who was as wonderful as her father. And, of course, Jean Kennedy Smith was the Ambassador to Ireland under Clinton. If anything is a legacy of their time in London, it’s the extraordinary public careers of the children. For those who are critical of Joe Kennedy, I think you really have to look at what he accomplished with his family and put the rest in perspective.
FRED TYSE: This lady over here.
Q: I saw in your biography that you are a psychologist. I was wondering if that impacted your re-interpretation of Joe Kennedy?
FRED TYSE: So for the radio audience, how did the fact that your clinical psychologist affected your view of Joseph Kennedy?
WILL SWIFT: Well, first of all, as a clinical psychologist, I’m accustomed to looking for the filters through which people see the world and the themes that are elaborated throughout people’s lives. This gives me a leg up in trying to understand the through-line of a story. I saw Joe Kennedy as an outsider who felt underneath, based on his early experiences, that he was not good enough. For instance, he was rejected from the Porcellian Club at Harvard. That was a great wound for him. And he experienced all kinds of social rejection as a young man and as a young husband.
He was very brash. He didn’t seem like a sensitive person. But he was in reality extraordinarily sensitive and he was enormously wounded by prejudice he encountered. In fact, the tragedy of his ambassadorship in London was that his attempts to overcompensate for feelings of being an outsider led him tragically to end up as an outsider. Sometimes people do end up leading themselves right into the mix they’re trying to get out of. So I think being a psychologist, you have to be very careful. In fact, there’s a wonderful thing that you can subscribe to called “Biographer’s Craft.” It’s an email you get monthly. It’s a little magazine online, and it’s for readers of biographies and also for historians and biographers.
And I’m doing an article this month on combining psychology and history, and one of the things that I point out is how important it is for a psychologist not to make history sound like a case study. Instead of telling about Joe’s childhood and the influence of his mother and father and the early years and telling the whole story like a case history, you weave that material in at subtle moments in the text when it becomes relevant.
When Joe, in 1938, comes back to America to attend the graduation of Joe Jr. from Harvard, I tell the story of his rejection at Harvard as a younger man. It fits with the story and it illuminates what’s happening. That, by the way, was probably Joe’s lowest moment as a father. You all know how proud he was of Joe Jr. and how much he wanted him to succeed and perhaps be the next president in the future. Joe got permission to come home from London to attend his son’s graduation, but he was hoping that Harvard would give him an honorary degree. And on the train ride from New York to Boston he learned that not only was he not being given the honorary degree, it was going to Walt Disney, another person who had been in the film business, and John Buchan, who was a fellow diplomat. He was so wounded. For him, this was like all that early rejection smacking him right in the face. He was so upset that he didn’t even go to his son’s graduation.
Now there’s a psychological moment that is brilliant. When someone who loved his son so much doesn’t go to the graduation, you know a profound wound has got to have been triggered. That’s an important moment. Thank you for asking the question.
FRED TYSE: Anyone else? I do have one more question for you, Will.
WILL SWIFT: While they’re all thinking.
FRED TYSE: And this ends very badly for Joe Kennedy. This is the source of his disgrace, these two years, these 1,000 days in London. Can you talk a little bit about how that happened?
WILL SWIFT: Sure. When Joe first came over he was seen as the hope for Anglo-American unity. By the time he left, he symbolized the intransigence of the American government that was not giving Britain enough military supplies fast enough to suit their taste. Once he had symbolized great hope, but now he was represented as not giving enough.
And Clare Booth Luce wrote Joe, “Confucius say: ‘Man who wants to be American ambassador had better decide whether he looks better in pine or mahogany,’” i.e. in a coffin. He spoke very bluntly and at times he spoke about his pessimism. He believed in being a realist. When he saw that the British Empire perhaps might become financially bankrupt or that it might not win the war, he said so. Rose probably wouldn’t have been that blunt. He became very unpopular because of what he said.
And so by the time he came back, he already had created a reservoir of negative feelings about him. He gave an interview to the Boston Globe, off the record he thought, in which he made comments like, “Democracy is dead in England, and it may be here soon as well.” Well, the reporter published his comments and there was outrage on both sides of the Atlantic. That was the final death knell of his ambassadorship. It was a little bit unfair, because the reporter didn’t give the context. You, as a reporter, know you can really mess someone up by not putting something in context.
Joe had seen that the democratic way in London had been shut down. They’d taken a lot of individual rights away and given the government much more power and, essentially, totalitarian power over individual lives. He was talking about what he had actually seen in London, saying, “If it comes to war here, we may have to shut down some individual rights for a while to get through this.” He was aware how Germany was reducing rights and getting a lot accomplished. But he was taken out of context, and that was it.
In terms of talking about the effect of the ambassadorship, I’m very interested in the effect it had on the family. I think the children, and particularly Jack Kennedy, learned several important things. Number one, courage must be paired with moral vision. Joe was a very courageous man, but he didn’t articulate a moral vision to go with it. He supported giving away Czechoslovakia to Hitler. And so Jack, during his presidency, always made a point, when he did make courageous stands, to tie them to a moral standard.
Joe Kennedy was a realist. He believed in describing things as they were. But he didn’t leaven his realism with optimism. And we like a sense of optimism in our leaders to give us hope and make us feel better. Jack Kennedy learned that lesson. Throughout his presidency, he tried to give hope to people.
Henry Luce had a very interesting comment. He’d said about Joe Kennedy, who was a friend of his, “It would take a great dramatic novelist to describe the mix of earthly selfishness and higher motivations, lofty motivations that defined Joe Kennedy.” Jack was bequeathed this conflict between selfishness and lofty aspiration. One of the tragedies, I think, of the assassination was that the two greatest days of Jack Kennedy’s presidency came only a few months before the assassination. He was beginning to put it all together. That was June 10th and June 11th, 1963. On the first day he gave his great American University Peace speech, when he said we’ve got to de-escalate the culture of fear and crisis and stop demonizing the Russian people because we all live and breathe the same air and we all want our children to do well. That led to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. That was extremely important. Think of it? He was steeped in anti-communism by his father and Churchill, yet he was the one who said, “We’ve got to de-escalate this with the Soviet Union.” That was a major healing in international relations.
The next day he made another courageous speech. He came late to civil rights, partially because the country was divided on the question, but also because on a selfish level he knew it might be very difficult to get reelected in 1964 if he alienated the South by taking a strong stand on desegregation. But he finally saw that it made sense. He made a great speech in which he said that it is a moral imperative to end segregation, and we must do it. And this was the time when he put together the lessons of optimism and vision and courage in one component to heal, internally and externally, two major conflicts the world was facing. It is a great tribute to his father that he got to that point.
FRED TYSE: There’s someone back there.
Q: You talked about the relationships between Joe and Teddy and Joe and Jack and Joe and Joe Jr. What about Bobby? What about the relationship between Joe and Bobby?
FRED TYSE: So the question is, what about the relationship between Joe and Bobby Kennedy?
WILL SWIFT: Well, first of all, Bobby Kennedy, like Jack, matured late. When they went to London he was about 13. And at first, he didn’t have friends at school and he wasn’t very happy in London. His father gave him a great deal of encouragement and the confidence that he would make friends and that he would be able to do well in school. I think in some ways Bobby was very much like Joe, in that he could be very passionate about a cause. Early in his career, particularly where he supported Joe McCarthy, he would sometimes engage in black or white thinking like his father did. You know, things are morally right or they’re morally wrong, and there’s no in between.
Over time, Bobby actually became much more nuanced in his positions and outgrew his father. But he, like Jack, felt that his father was someone that he could go to for support and he very much appreciated it.
FRED TYSE: Back there.
Q: I just wondered if you might have any information pertaining to the ambassador’s involvement in the liquor business, because there’s just so much, even today, derogatory talk about him as a bootlegger.
FRED TYSE: So this is a question about Joe Kennedy’s involvement in the liquor business, which would have been before this period. I don’t know whether you want to address it. It’s not in your book at all.
WILL SWIFT: This is a question I happily punt. There’s a wonderful man named David Nasaw, who has been chosen by the Kennedy family to be the official biographer of Joe Kennedy. I’ve done 25 radio interviews on this book so far, all over the country, and I often get that question or questions about mob involvement. And the truth is, I really don’t know the story, and so I’m not going to speculate. But I’m going to tell you that David Nasaw is the kind of writer who gets to the bottom of everything, and he will find out, and he will tell you. Buy his book. [laughter] Yes?
FRED TYSE: How about you? Yes?
Q: I’ve always been fascinated by Kick, and I was wondering if you could say a little bit more about her relationship with Joe and Jack in London?
FRED TYSE: So another question about, elaborate a little bit about Kick’s relationship with Joe and Jack.
WILL SWIFT: Sure. Kick and Jack were extremely close, and they shared a number of things in common. They had a detached and witty style that was very appealing. Many people wanted to date them because they were so alluring. You know when somebody is charming but a little distant, people get very interested in getting close to them. Kick and Jack were very much like that. And they were great friends.
Kick went over a few months before Jack and became friends with a group of kids who were at the heart of the British aristocracy, not just Billy Hartington, but David Ormsby- Gore and some of the Cavendish and Salisbury cousins. When Jack came over, she welcomed him into the circle of some of the greatest young political minds in England. On his second night in London, she took him to a party at Londonderry House, which was the home of the dominating and fascinating Lord and Lady Londonderry, who were cousins of Winston Churchill. At these parties, politicians would gather to discuss the great issues of the day -- the conflict between honor and pragmatism in foreign relations. Jack, of course, was absolutely in his glory.
Kick was really his lead-in to the people who expanded his mind. Kick later married Billy Hartington, who was the heir to the Duke of Devonshire. They dreamed that when they became the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, they would return Chatsworth, the family seat, to its glory in the Whig days, 200 years before. They were going to make it one of the great political centers of England. And, of course, Billy died in the war. She was an important political hostess in London until she died in 1948 in a plane crash.
FRED TYSE: And you mentioned David Ormsby-Gore. Of course, he began a friendship with John Kennedy, and they would meet later.
WILL SWIFT: Absolutely. They continued their friendship. Senator Kennedy told me an interesting story about Jack and David Ormsby-Gore. They were going traveling in Europe in the summer of ’39. David arrived at Prince’s Gate and when he opened his suitcase, which had in it about 35 books, two shirts, and a pair of pants, Rose was impressed. When Jack came downstairs, Rose said, “Let me see your suitcase.” And she was mortified to find there were hardly any books in his. She made it a policy thereafter that whenever her kids went anywhere, she would check the suitcase and make sure they had enough books to learn something.
FRED TYSE: He subsequently became Ambassador to the US, right?
WILL SWIFT: Yes. And he became Ambassador to the United States. He was an important adviser to Jack Kennedy during his presidency, helping him with his relationship with the Soviet Union and advising him how to be courageous while not being foolhardy in international relations. He facilitated Kennedy’s relationship with Prime Minister McMillan, who became a confidante and friend of Kennedy. David and Jack were very close, and it was a wonderful relationship.
Just one further note on Kick. I had a letter two weeks ago from Debo Mitford. The Mitford family lived around the corner from the Kennedys at Prince’s Gate. The Mitfords were a famous political family because the sisters all had differing political persuasions. Debo was apolitical. She married Billy Hartington’s younger brother Andrew, who later became the Duke of Devonshire. One sister, Jessica, was a communist. Her older sister, Diana, was a Nazi-sympathizer and her sister, Unity, was in love with Hitler. It was quite a complex family, but they mirrored the complex political ideologies at that time. Two weeks ago, I got a letter from Debo about my book. She said, “This is the 60th anniversary’s of Kick’s death, and I want you to know that the weather and the wisteria at her grave is exactly as it was 60 years ago that day of her funeral, and it brings back such poignant memories. It was so difficult for all of us to lose her.”
FRED TYSE: Well, thank you very much. Thank you so much. [applause] Will will be signing books just in a few minutes down here, and you can bring your book and he will sign them.
JOHN SHATTUCK: I just wanted to thank you officially on behalf of the Kennedy Library. This is really an extraordinary tour into an area of family relationships and history that rarely has been explicated the way you’ve done so well, Will. I particularly appreciate it. And I have to say that it occurred to me that Ambassador David Ormsby- Gore really became the kind of ambassador I think Joe Kennedy would have liked to have been in London, and to have him, in essence, invited by President Kennedy, and it was President Kennedy to some extent who arranged, or at least requested, that that appointment be made. It was a fascinating way for his father’s legacy, as you quite rightly pointed out, to sort of come together in his own presidency with a close friend as ambassador.
And I have to say it’s a great privilege to have my friend Phil Budden, our Consul General, here from Great Britain. We were very fortunate just a month and a half ago to host Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The Consul General was extremely helpful in that. So I think this relationship between the Kennedy Library, the Kennedys, and Great Britain, all brought together so effectively in your book, is very much alive and well in the present day. So please join me in thanking again Will Swift and Fred Tyse for coming to the Kennedy Library. [applause]