The book, a Christmas present from younger son Ted, is The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, David Nasaw, 2012, The Penguin Group.
Mr. Nasaw furnishes us a glimpse into the inner world of one of the 20th Century’s most influential men: his struggle to overcome the handicap of being an Irish Catholic in America, his intriguing family and business lives, his politics, the parts he played before, during and after World War II, some of the popular myths about how he became one of the wealthiest men in America, and more.
It is a detailed and entertaining account of a man, his career, and most of all, his devotion to family.
It is the story of how Joseph and Rose Kennedy lost three of their four sons and two of their five daughters to war, assassination, accident, and mental illness. That they could endure such grief will always be a source of wonder to me.
It paints a picture of a bright and talented young man who made his way and his fortune in business, the stock market, the film industry, and real estate. Despite attempts to portray Kennedy as a bootlegger during Prohibition, the author states: “Not only is there no evidence of Kennedy’s being a bootlegger, but it flies in the face of everything we know about him. As an East Boston Irish Catholic outsider struggling to be allowed inside, he was willing to take financial risks, but not those associated with illegal activities such as bootlegging.” (page 80)
In a twist of irony that would make for great fun in a stage play, as the first Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission Kennedy put in place rules that, had they been in effect while he was making a great portion of his fortune in the stock market, would have made his methods illegal.
As Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Great Britain) up to and during World War II, Kennedy never stopped insisting that American participation in the war would be a waste of lives and money. He favored negotiation to avoid war, much to the indignation of those is charge; e.g., President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. He called Britain’s coming to the aid of Poland, thereby igniting World War II, one of the greatest mistakes ever made. Hardly anyone in a position of influence at the time agreed with him, then or now.
Accused of buying his son Jack’s elections to Congress and later to the Presidency, Kennedy provided his son with a wonderful opportunity to do one of the things Jack did best: defuse criticism with humor. While running for president, Jack stood before the Gridiron Club in Washington and began his speech by reaching into his suit coat pocket to withdraw a fake telegram from his father telling him not to buy one more vote than necessary. He read that his father was willing to finance his campaign, but that he would not pay for a “landslide.”
Many thanks to David Nasaw and all the authors of history whose works preserve the past, and if read and heeded, just might also help preserve the future.