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This wonderful lady is a force of nature and an American treasure. The attention she is getting now is long overdue. A Betty White Calendar is at the top of my Christmas list. In fact, if it was the only gift I received, I would be perfectly happy.
And if anyone out there doesn't like Betty White, I have to ask... What's the matter with YOU? ;p
First published in 1997, this book is a companion to Thomas C. Reeves' equally fine book, "A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy," which was published in the same year. To have two truly outstanding books introduced at the same time, on the same subject, is interesting unto itself. My earlier review of the Reeves book for Amazon.com appears online as well.
Like Reeves, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hersh lays bare the myth of "Camelot" for all to see. The Kennedy family and its sycophants have attempted to perpetuate that myth since the day John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas--as well as myths surrounding the entire family, which is surely the most dysfunctional family ever to achieve significant political power in American history. Indeed, when one finishes reading both books, one wonders whether there was anything decent or moral about the family, certainly the male Kennedys.
Unlike Reeves, Hersh does not mention Ted Kennedy's culpability in the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969, just as she was about to celebrate her 29th birthday, and the ensuing Kennedy cover-up. Similarly, Hersh makes scant mention of Marilyn Monroe, with whom both JFK and, after him, Bobby had affairs, nor does Hersh discuss the possibility that she was murdered. Instead, he discusses JFK's long-time relationship with Judith Campbell Exner, as well as his affair with an East German "prostitute" by the name of Ellen Rometsch. The thread that runs through Hersh's writing and through JFK's life is utter recklessness--which not only endangered his life, but the lives of those with whom he came into contact, and every living American.
Perhaps the most vivid example is the "Cuban Missile Crisis" that Hersh documents in considerable detail, which might have been averted if JFK and Bobby had used their back-channel communications effectively with Nikita Khrushchev and the Kremlin. Instead, the two Kennedy brothers turned it into a grand display of American military might--to further JFK's political ambitions--which constituted recklessness that might have brought about a "nuclear winter." Hersh states emphatically: "[Jack] Kennedy did not dare tell the full story of the Soviet missiles in Cuba, because it was his policies that brought the weapons there" (p. 343).
Those Americans who believed in JFK, as yours truly did--and to a lesser extent, Bobby--were deceived with respect to almost every issue. The public perception bears almost no relationship to the actual facts. Indeed, thirty-four years after his death, the American people finally learned the truth about JFK (and his "hatchet man," Bobby) from these two books and other sources. Even then, as Hersh describes in considerable detail, Kennedy operatives may have destroyed large amounts of documents; and massive amounts are still held by the Kennedy Library with respect to both JFK and Bobby, which have never been made available to the public. Not the least of these are medical records about JFK's health, which have only been reviewed by a handful of Kennedy "sycophant-like" writers.
The failed "Bay of Pigs" invasion of Cuba, where Fidel Castro humiliated JFK and "the Kennedys," led to more than 40 years of enslavement for the Cuban people and repeated attempts by the two Kennedy brothers to have Castro assassinated. This fiasco has potential relevance today--to the Obama Administration--because, as Hersh describes, there was a "prevailing sense that Kennedy could do no wrong" (p. 202). In fact, the Kennedy brothers ignored advice from the CIA and the military; and like Lyndon Johnson vis-à-vis later stages of the Vietnam War, they ran the "show" themselves and then tried to blame others when it failed colossally.
Ample mention has been made of JFK's perpetual "thirst" for women. However, Hersh uses statements from Secret Service agents to describe the president's penchant for prostitutes, and how they and other women were "procured" by Dave Powers and some of Kennedy's other "New Frontiersmen." Jackie Kennedy's travels were carefully monitored so that she would not return to find the president and women "frolicking" in the White House swimming pool or in the family quarters. What went on in hotels and private homes, wherever JFK traveled, is described as well. The book also discusses JFK's venereal disease(s) (p. 230); and the risks that he and Powers took by cavorting with women who had been waived through routine Secret Service checks without prior clearances, and who might have carried weapons, listening devices or something similar.
There is no question that Kennedy launched this nation into Vietnam; and his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, was the architect of that lost war and the enormous suffering that it produced. Almost 60,000 brave Americans died, some of whom were friends of mine; and it impaled this nation's honor on the horns of a tragedy that still haunts policy makers and citizens alike. What was not known generally until Hersh's book is that JFK "had a chance in 1961 to disengage from an American involvement in South Vietnam" (p. 265). Instead, he chose to go to war, and to spend the blood of young Americans in a war that made no sense. Hersh states, again emphatically: "Whatever Jack Kennedy's intentions were, Vietnam was his war, even after his death" (p. 437).
Hersh also describes the constant pressure especially on CIA operatives, which was brought by the two Kennedy brothers to have Castro and other foreign leaders killed. Mob operatives were used with Bobby's knowledge and involvement, even though as the U.S. Attorney General he was ostensibly prosecuting the Mob. The patriarch Joseph Kennedy's ties to the Mob are also detailed, as well as his ruthlessness and penchant for women. JFK's first marriage to Durie Malcolm is also described, as well as his father's efforts to expunge the record.
Hersh also discusses how Bobby and Jackie believed that JFK was struck down by a "domestic conspiracy," probably involving Chicago Mob boss Sam Giancana or others (p. 450). However, Hersh states: "Robert Kennedy did nothing to pursue the truth behind his brother's death [in 1963]. . . . The price of a full investigation was much too high: making public the truth about President Kennedy and the Kennedy family. It was this fear, certainly, that kept Robert Kennedy from testifying before the Warren Commission" (p. 456). Aside from prostitutes and other women, and close Mob ties and health issues, and a stolen election in 1960, Hersh details "cash payments" that JFK requested and received--which monies were ostensibly used to buy Ellen Rometsch's "silence."
A footnote in history, perhaps, but a very important one is that JFK hurt his back cavorting in a West Coast swimming pool. He was "forced to wear a stiff brace that stretched from his shoulders to his crotch." And Hersh concludes: "The brace would keep the president upright for the bullets of Lee Harvey Oswald" (p. 439). Hence, JFK's sexual escapades may have contributed to his tragic death.
Finally, John F. Kennedy is not someone to look up to, much less deify, as many of us thought when he was president. That conclusion has been reached reluctantly by lots of Americans, years ago, with a sense of sadness rather than anger. Greatness is often achieved in times of war, and Kennedy never won the war with Cuba, much less the Vietnam War that he started, nor did he win the Cold War--which Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush won. Kennedy was a tragic Shakespearean figure who may be forgotten and consigned to the dustheap of history, in no small part because of the question of character that both Reeves and Hersh described brilliantly in their terrific books.
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magnificent endeavor specially suited for a world-class city and new immigrant hub like Gotham/the Big Apple/New York City. I surfed through Brandon Stanton's FB photos and vignettes of his subjects.... unique "human beings" who have settled NYC and made it the cradle of such vibrant energy, creativity, entrepreneurship, and yes... absolutely, "humanity."
My only constructive criticism of Mr. Stanton's amazing project and how he "connected" with so many uniquely interesting New Yorkers -- from all walks of life, all ethnicities nationalities, backgrounds, cultures.... is simply that "I wish he could have done a lot more in connecting with the little "yellow people" and "brown people" who have settled in almost all American major urban hubs and now increasingly spreading out to the heartland.
The "browning" and yellowing" of America --- in the influx and synergy brought upon the new America by new immigrants from Latin America (the browning) and Asia-Pacific (the yellowing) is a saga and yet to be fully-explored and fully-understood story.
New York City is specially affected by these dual inroads of the "browns" and the "yellows."
But understandably, it is probably not easy for Brandon Stanton, given his language (Anglophone) limitation to really able to "connect" with the yellow and brown people of New York City.
How I wish that later, as his project evolves, and onto his next phase of HONY.... Mr. Stanton would finnesse and improve upon the depth and breath of coverage of the "Humans of New York" and encompass more of the poignant stories of the new immigrants from Asia-Pacific and Latin America into New York City.
Just on ethnic food alone, no city can beat New York.
The ecclectic, diverse, vibrant, colorful, creative energy brought about by and from the "little people" from all over the Globe, who flock to and settle NYC is just an amazing phenomenon.
It is an "Only in New York" thing.
Shanghai, Tokyo, London or any other world cities can't beat the pavements of New York City.
No way, Jose. No way, Amigo. No way, Gupta. No way, Indira. No way, Lao Wang. No way, Xiao Chen. No way, Nguyen. No way, Kim. No way, Bodomo !
Edward Liu, San Francisco email@example.com
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