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Intervista a Robert Dallek

Last Update: 8/3/2005 2:09 AM
Post: 649
Registered in: 12/17/2002
8/3/2005 2:05 AM

Interessante intervista al biografo di JFK Robert Dallek.Di particolare rilievo la parte dedicata al Vietnam.
carmelo pugliatti
Post: 650
Registered in: 12/17/2002
8/3/2005 2:08 AM

Dallek on Kennedy

With Robert Dallek, Moderated by William Leuchtenburg

John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation
Tuesday, May 20, 2003

DEBORAH LEFF: Good evening and welcome. I’m Deborah Leff, Director of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, and on behalf of the Library and John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, I’d like to welcome you to this evening’s forum looking at the extraordinary life of President John F. Kennedy as viewed through the new biography by historian Robert Dallek.

I’d like to thank our Forum co-sponsors, Fleet, the Lowell Institute, and Boston Capital along with our media co-sponsors WBUR, The Boston Globe, and The archives of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum include 36 million pages of documents from the collections of 340 individuals, organizations, and government agencies, oral history interviews with 1,300 people and over 30,000 books. Our audio-visual archives hold 200,000 still photographs, seven million 550 thousand feet of motion picture film, 1,200 hours of video recordings, over 7,000 hours of audio recordings and 500 original editorial cartoons.

It appears that Boston University Professor of History Robert Dallek has reviewed every one of the items in piecing together his comprehensive new biography about President Kennedy, An Unfinished Life. Professor Dallek was the co-winner of the 1980 Bancroft prize for his book Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1923 through 1945 and is also well known for his two-volume set on President Johnson, Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant.

His distinguished career includes appointments at Oxford University and UCLA and he has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as a senior fellowship for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Joining Professor Dallek on the podium, we are delighted to have as moderator the Dean of American Political History, William Leuchtenburg. I have to tell you I had the pleasure of first meeting Professor Leuchtenburg some years ago when I was working at ABC News for Nightline and we were doing a piece on term limits and actually turned to the country’s leading FDR scholar to get his perspective.

And when I went to get it, Professor Leuchtenburg proudly pulled out his collection of FDR campaign buttons from 1940, including the memorable "No Man is Good Three Times." William Leuchtenburg is Keenan Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and winner of both the Bancroft and Parkman Prize. He is past president of the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians. He is perhaps best known for his book, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.

We will begin tonight with comments by Professor Dallek and then a discussion between Professor Dallek and Professor Leuchtenburg and then we’ll turn to audience questions. After that, I encourage you to come back and visit our museum to learn more about the life of President Kennedy and, after the forum, Professor Dallek has graciously agreed to sign copies of his books, which are on sale in our bookstore.

Through that book, the first major biography of President Kennedy in years, we learn so much about the remarkable life that was and the life that could have been even more remarkable were it not an unfinished life. Professor Dallek.

ROBERT DALLEK: Deborah. Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction. Whenever I get a nice introduction like that, it takes me back to a time in the Soviet Union a number of years ago when I was lecturing there. And my host on that occasion, who I liked to think had an imperfect command of English, introduced my by saying, "Professor Dallek is the author of several distinguished works. They’re the kinds of books that once you put them down, you can’t pick them up again." Not music to the author’s ears.

I’ll try and talk about some of what I’ve done in this book for just some 20 minutes so that Bill will have a chance and I, too, to have a conversation. What fascinated me when I began this project was the fact that the American public sees John F. Kennedy as one of the greatest presidents in American history. Last week USA Today, the newspaper, did a poll, asking a cross-section of Americans to name the greatest presidents. Abraham Lincoln came in first, John F. Kennedy was second.

In 1990, Americans were asked to rate presidents -- give approval ratings. Kennedy came in number one with an 84% approval rating. Now historians are puzzled over this because, after all, to suggest that John Kennedy, who served but a thousand days -- his was the sixth shortest presidency in American history -- and look at the company, in a sense, he kept: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, James Garfield, Warren Harding, Gerald Ford, no one would suggest that any of them came close to being great or even near great president.

Historians, also looking at the Kennedy record, point to his domestic initiatives. Not a single one of his major domestic initiatives passed during his thousand days in the White House. The Medicare legislation, federal aid to education, elementary, secondary education, the tax cut. None of these came forward. He wanted to have a war on poverty. He spoke about this in his closing days. Of course, it didn’t come to pass in his administration. He spoke about setting up departments of transportation, housing and urban development. It came later. Civil rights didn’t pass during his presidency.

And historians also say, well, listen, in foreign policy, was the man that great? After all, think of the Bay of Pigs operation, Mongoose. This is also the fellow who escalated the war in Vietnam, expanded American involvement from 650 advisors to 16,700. And then historians cannot help but look at the fact that there’s been a huge de-bunking campaign over the last 30 plus years. Dare I say it? They talk about the womanizing. I plead guilty that there’s been so much discussion of the man’s private transgressions.

And also, historians, journalists, and biographers, had suspicions about his medical problems, which have, of course, come much more fully to light since I had access to the medical records in the last year and a half or so. So, in general, historians, when asked, would not rank him anywhere near the top of American presidents. So the question we have to ask, I ask myself, "Why does he have such high standing? What accounts for this? Why should one think of him or should the public think of him as such a compelling presidential figure?"

I think there are a number of things that account for it. First of all, the assassination. He was martyred. But we should not forget that William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, and 40 years later hardly anybody remembers him. I think television has been enormously important in keeping his memory alive. He’s fixed in our minds at the age of 46. Nobody can imagine, I think, that at the end of this month he would have been 86 years of age. He’s simply fixed there at the age of 46.

And, also, what television conveys to us is his charm, his wit, and his intelligence. The press conferences he held, so compelling. He was such an attractive man. I guess that much over-used word, charisma. Somebody who reviewed the book in The Wall Street Journal said, "Clearly Kennedy’s charm can still work its magic, even on as levelheaded a historian as Robert Dallek."

There’s also the face. I think most importantly, maybe, that he provided a kind of hope, promise, a sense of a better future to the country. There was something more to the New Frontier than a slogan. It was a feeling, I think, that America would be a better place. The world would be more peaceful. That if he had lived out his two terms, there would have been a degree of success that would have changed American history. I think ethnic groups are still so held fast by Kennedy as president, by Kennedy the man, because I think he gave ethnics -- as the first Catholic president -- a sense of acceptance into American life.

Roosevelt brought the ethnics into his administration. But Kennedy, being president, a Harvard graduate, a war hero, a senator, then President, he made not just Catholics … because I looked at the voting records and what I found was that when he ran against Lodge for the Senate seat in 1952, it wasn’t just Irish Catholics. It was Italians. It was Jews. It was Poles. It was French Canadians. The ethnics flocked to his banner. And I think to this day there is kind of a compelling role that he has on ethnics in America.

Womanizing: it hasn’t dented his standing one bit. I think here it is a great deal like Bill Clinton. The public did not want to impeach Bill Clinton. They certainly did not want to see him driven from office. They weren’t wildly happy about it, but they made the distinction between the personal and the public, between the private and the presidential action.

As far as the medical goes, what I think the public sees is a man of extraordinary courage, that what he shouldered were these terrible medical difficulties and he soldiered through them. He had a kind of iron will. Maybe he was able to compartmentalize. I, in looking at the medical records, set them down along side of the great crises he faced as president and, in particular, the Cuban missile crisis. And what I found was that he was as lucid, as cogent, as anyone would have wished a president to be in the midst of that terrible crisis.

How he did it is quite impressive. If I had his problems, I would have been cowering in some corner with a cover over my head. But he chose to be president and he was really highly effective as far as I’m concerned. Is his high standing deserved? In many respects I think it is. Consider the domestic side. Everyone of the major pieces of legislation that Johnson put across in ’64 and ’65 -- not every one but almost all of them -- the Medicare, Civil Rights Bill, Federal Aid to Education, the tax cut, the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, the War on Poverty, they were all Kennedy initiatives.

And I think a hundred years from now, historians will look back on the 1960s and they will see this as the Kennedy-Johnson Administration. Not simply Johnson’s Great Society, but I think they will give Kennedy credit for the fact that these bills were on his desk. If he had lived and run again in 1964, he would have won a landslide. Running against Barry Goldwater, I think he would have one a big a landslide as Lyndon Johnson did. And he would have carried the House and Senate with him by large majorities and he would have put across all those measures.

Foreign policy -- here is where he really made, I think, an exceptional record. His handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis was brilliant, nothing less than brilliant. He preserved the world from a nuclear war. The Test Ban Treaty, he fought to put this across. He told Avril Harriman not to send cables from Moscow that would reach the Pentagon. He only wanted them to come back to the White House and a very select group in the State Department. He was very worried that a select group in the White House would undercut this test ban treaty and he sort of axed them out of the procedure in order to assure that he would get this treaty passed.

Cuba -- what we see in the last three, four, five months of his presidency were back channel discussions, initiatives. He knew that his Cuban policy had been going nowhere. And he was intent now on a possible rapprochement with Castro. And Castro was interested in this, too, because the day after the Cuban Missile Crisis ended, he announced to the world that he was ready for possible talks with the United States. We don’t know. Nobody can say, definitively, but if he had lived I think there is some chance that we never would have had this kind of 40 additional years of tension with Castro’s Cuba.

Vietnam -- here I think was a vital, vital change that occurred when Kennedy was killed. He was so suspicious, so distrustful of the American military. In World War II, he wrote letters back to friends and family in which he spoke negatively about a number of the naval officers he saw in the Southwest Pacific. And then he was so burned by the Bay of Pigs operation. He felt that the CIA and the military had, so to speak, taken him into camp. He walked around afterwards saying, "How could I have been so stupid?"

And then this was further deepening his feeling of doubt by the Cuban Missile Crisis when the military are pushing him to bomb Cuba, to invade Cuba and he chose instead to, of course, rely on quarantine and diplomacy. And, of course, his initiative succeeded and helped the world avoid a nuclear holocaust.

Seven days after the Cuban missile crises, on November 5, 1962, he sent Robert McNamara a memo. There was still an invasion plan for Cuba on the table. And they were worried that Khrushchev might not follow through on his commitment to remove the missiles from Cuba. Kennedy said to McNamara, "Bob, the invasion plan is very thin. Think of the technical capacity they have. Think of the nationalistic fervor we could meet. And let’s not forget what happened with the British in the Boar War, what happened to the Russians in Finland in 1940, and what happened to us in North Korea."

He said, "We could get bogged down." Now, this is Cuba. What did he think about Vietnam? In 1962 he asked Bob McNamara to begin laying a plan to withdraw the American advisors. He was worried about Vietnam. He did not want to see it fall to Communism. And he expanded the number of advisors from 650 to 16,700. But this does not mean that he was eager to or ready to Americanize the war. I find no better evidence of this than the way in which he was dealing with the American press corps in Saigon. Lyndon Johnson came to hate the press corps because they were demoralizing the war effort, he felt.

Kennedy, by contrast, saw the press corps as quite aggressive about urging a wider, more substantial and more effective role of the United States in preserving the Diem government in Saigon. They were writing stories highly critical of American policy, of the failure to assure the South Vietnam was not going to turn into a Communist country. Kennedy was worried that they could push the Vietnam issue on to the front pages of the newspapers. He asked that David Halberstam be removed from Saigon. The New York Times, of course, would not do it, justifiably, understandably.

But he was worried that Halberstam and The New York Times was going to make such an issue of this that he would feel under tremendous pressure to expand the war. What he knew, of course, was that if you look at the Gallup polls in 1961, ’62, ’63 there was not a single Gallup poll that I could find on Vietnam. The first Gallup poll I found was in April of 1964 after the Rolling Thunder campaign. The bombing of Vietnam had been started by Johnson. And the public was asked, "Do you know anything about Vietnam?" Only 37% said they were paying attention to Vietnam.

A year later in the spring of 1965, after Johnson -- it was in ’65 that he began the bombing -- after he had begun the bombing, spring of ’65, people were asked, "What do you think will be the outcome in Vietnam in five years?" Only 22% said they thought there would be a pro-American government. Forty-five percent said they thought it would be a neutralist set-up government or a pro-Communist government. This is the spring of ’65. In the summer of ’65, the majority of Americans were not intent on a victory in Vietnam. They thought that the outcome would, at best, be something like Korea, a kind of stalemate.

What I am saying to you is that, if Kennedy had lived, not only would he have put across, I think, those domestic measures that were on his agenda, but I think he would have had the opportunity to reduce American involvement in Vietnam and maybe even to end it. Please understand me. I’m not saying that John Kennedy, having his second term, living out his presidency for eight years would have brought utopia to America. There would have been problems, other problems. There always are problems. But we wouldn’t have had Johnson. We wouldn’t have had the credibility gap. We wouldn’t have had, I think, the extent to which we became involved in the Vietnam War. We wouldn’t have had Richard Nixon. We wouldn’t have had Watergate. And I think it would have been a much less cynical, in some ways politically alienated America than the country we now have.

So does a man make a difference? I think so. Does a president count? Yes, in very important ways. And the tragedy of Kennedy’s loss is that I think we lost a better future when he was gunned down in Dallas. So let me stop here and have Bill ask some questions, I guess.

carmelo pugliatti
Post: 651
Registered in: 12/17/2002
8/3/2005 2:09 AM

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: One of the things I’ve admired, Bob, from you career … You know I’ve followed from the very beginning.

ROBERT DALLEK: Yes. He examined me before on my orals. He may not remember.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: What we are talking about is that Bob was a graduate student when I was on the faculty of Columbia University and I, along with Richard Hofstadter, sponsored his dissertation, which became his first book on William Dodd, the American Ambassador under Franklin Roosevelt to Nazi Germany. And what I was starting to say, Bob, is that one of the things I most admired about your career is what huge subjects you’ve chosen to write about, Franklin Roosevelt and foreign policy, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, and, now, John F. Kennedy.

The fact that you’ve written about both Johnson and Kennedy, it occurs to me, may put you in a somewhat odd position in that the more you credit Kennedy with, as you have in your opening remarks, the less is the contribution of the protagonist of your earlier book. There is a contrary position, as you know. And nobody is better qualified than you to deal with it. The contrary position is that Kennedy was not a very effective legislative leader, that he did not have a remarkable record in the United States Senate, that he was not a skillful legislative tactician and that, if you look at the record in the fall, just before he was assassinated, each of the programs, like Civil Rights, the tax cut, Medicare, they all bogged down.

And Kennedy, himself, as you say in your wonderful book, is deeply discouraged. And that argument is that required somebody with the skills of a Lyndon Johnson to put these programs across. How would you respond to that, Bob?

ROBERT DALLEK: Bill, I don’t want to detract from Johnson’s achievement, in the sense that he did enact all those pieces of legislation and he was a great legislator. He was probably the greatest majority leader in the country’s history. But I think the crucial difference was in the ’64 election because Kennedy, as you well know Bill, was up against such a difficult, essentially conservative Congress, which was so resistant to his reform suggestions or initiatives.

I think he did make one great legislative error in not putting forth a Civil Rights bill in ’61 or ’62. He waited until ’63 on the assumption, the hope, that it would give him a kind of credential with southern congressmen and senators. They would see him as more accommodating. But it didn’t serve him one whit because they didn’t care. And if he had put forward a Civil Rights bill in ’61 or ’62, he could have gone to the country and the Congress in ’63, after all that rioting and terrible events had occurred in Alabama and said, "Look, I tried to get this in ’61. If we had this maybe we wouldn’t have had all this rioting by ’63."

But I think the crucial difference is that in ’64 election, running against Goldwater, I think he would have won as big a landslide as Johnson. I think he would have had those big majorities in the House and Senate. And then I think they would have been receptive to passing those bills. I don’t think he ever would have been as aggressive as Johnson was about passing all sorts of other Great Society measures, because Johnson was just gung ho to do a million things. And Kennedy was, essentially, a foreign policy president and I think he would have been much more focused on things like Vietnam and maybe improving relations with the Soviet Union.

But those major Great Society bills, like the ones you just mentioned, I think all would have come to fruition. Now, nobody can ever prove this but it’s, I think, reasonable speculation.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: Certainly I think that is a powerful response. Kennedy did not have the kind of majorities in either house of Congress that Lyndon Johnson had after 1964. But if I could persist just for a moment, in 1964, before Johnson has the advantages of those majorities as a result of the election, he is able to put through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, certainly one of the half dozen most important pieces of legislation in all of our history, the tax cut and the war on poverty without that. So what do you think?

ROBERT DALLEK: There, Bill, what I think he did have was Kennedy’s death. And he was able, and I tracked Johnson’s speeches and what I was struck by was the extent to which, before the ’64 election, he constantly invokes John Kennedy’s name. And he’s appealing to the public and to the Congress in terms of his martyrdom. Once he’s elected in his own right, he wants to push Kennedy, so to speak, off the radar screen because he, as you know, he doesn’t want Bobby Kennedy as a running mate. He and Bobby Kennedy are at loggerheads, to put it politely.

But he was going to be president in his own right. He was not going to be seen in JFK’s shadow. But he was a very shrewd politician and he understood how powerful an initiative this was to talk about, "You’ve got to do what the martyred President would have wanted." Of, course, it also got him into trouble because in Vietnam he said he was doing what the martyred President wanted, and there I think he was off on the wrong track.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: Well, I certainly think you’re right on both points, Bob. In his very first address to the new Congress, Lyndon Johnson asked the Congress to enact the Civil Rights Bill as a tribute, as a memorial to John F. Kennedy. And on your other point, I can give personal testimony. In September, 1965, I was invited by the Johnson White House to conduct an interview with him and normally you have maybe 10 or 15 minutes with the President. I had about an hour and a half and he was totally indiscreet.

And when I walked out, Bill Moyers was then his press secretary, and I said to Bill’s assistant, "You don’t need to tell me I can’t use 90% of this." And the man replied, "Better make it 95%, especially about John Kennedy."

ROBERT DALLEK: Bill’s not telling you that he published this as an article in American Heritage, a wonderful article, so revealing about Lyndon Johnson. And at the end of the article what Bill said was, "Watching Johnson, I felt like I had watched somebody defecate on the presidency." Remember that line?


ROBERT DALLEK: Johnson was not a very refined fellow in dealing with these things. It was astonishing how abusive he was to Kennedy’s memory and in some ways to you as well because he saw you as a liberal who he was going to beat up on. You’re an Arthur Schlesinger type, I recall you …

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: Right. Right. Yes. He said, "I’m not like you, people like Schlesinger, who think all Senators have got gravy down their suits." Let’s follow up on the Vietnam comparison that you’ve just alluded to, again, Bob, because, as you know, there’s also a contrary argument there. The one strong argument you’ve already acknowledged, that the acceleration in Vietnam begins not under Johnson but under Kennedy, though, of course, not to the dimensions of the hundreds of thousands of troops that eventually would be there.

But from the point of view of Johnson and, indeed, from the point of view of some Johnson scholars now who look on him somewhat more sympathetically, it was Kennedy who gave Johnson a legacy in Vietnam that it was hard for him to get out from under. You were mentioning that you don’t see a poll about Vietnam until some time in 1964. By that same measure, it’s arguable, that it was Kennedy who put it on the front burner, that it was he who could have walked away from that issue and, finally, that the people who are the architects of the expansion of the war in Vietnam are Dean Rusk, Rostow, Bundy, and Bob McNamara.

Well, they’re Kennedy people so that it’s then an uphill argument to say that the Kennedy people around Johnson would have agreed with withdrawing.

ROBERT DALLEK: Bill, I’ve thought about this and a number of people asked me, well, what about the fact that these were the same advisors, and they were pushing the envelope in terms of Vietnam. Bob McNamara himself and Mac Bundy, both of whom I’ve spoken to about some of these matters over time, both of them said they think Johnson a different man, a different time, they concede that he acted differently from Kennedy. And also, I’m of a mind to think that in some ways these advisors are sort of chameleons on plaid. And they take their impulse from the president they are dealing with.

Kennedy was an independent-minded fellow. And I think that people like McNamara … You know, Kennedy ordered him to make a plan to get out of Vietnam. He didn’t come back to Kennedy and say, "Oh, you’re making a big mistake, this is wrong." He conformed to what the President was telling him to do. I think the great difference between Kennedy and Johnson here is the fact that Kennedy, going to a second term, had political credibility, had credentials that Johnson simply lacked. He had the Cuban Missile Crisis behind him. He had the Test Ban Treaty.

He had standing as a foreign policy president to the degree that he certainly didn’t have as a domestic executive or president. And I think he could have managed a kind of stand down from Vietnam in a way that Lyndon Johnson couldn’t because Johnson was so on edge and talked about the possibility that if he leaves Vietnam, the Communists can see him as weak, as a kind of nervous Nellie, that he’s going to be getting out, that he’s got to show them that he’s standing up to them. And Kennedy didn’t have to do that. It was a very different sort of perspective for him.

And I think the public would have seen him in a very different way than they saw Johnson. So, again, we can’t say. Nobody can ever say definitively. But I think it’s reasonable speculation to think that his credentials and standing in foreign policy would have given him the leeway to shift ground.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: I’m sure that you’re going to be on talk shows all over America in the coming weeks. And I was so fascinated by your opening remarks, that I’ve led off with these questions instead of asking you the unavoidable question that every talk show host in America will lead off with, "Why another book on Kennedy, given all of the books that already have been written, including overall judicious books, Herb Barnett, people like that?" How would you respond to that? Or how will you be responding to it, Bob?

ROBERT DALLEK: Or how have I been responding to it because I have been on, thanks to Clare McKinney, a million of these talk shows already. And a lot of them ask just this question. What I say is that presidential history, especially modern, recent presidents like Kennedy, like Johnson, like Richard Nixon, it’s frontier scholarship. Thanks to Deborah Leff, a lot of material is opening up at this Kennedy Library. I had confidence that there would be new interesting material, National Security files, oral histories, maybe the medical records.

I didn’t know that I would get into them, but I was hopeful. And I was not disappointed because, for example, the McNamara memo from Kennedy to McNamara, I’ve never seen that cited or quoted by anybody else. I also found out about Joe Kennedy, junior. How he was killed in the Second World War. An English member or a British member of the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers sent a letter to the library about a year and a half ago in which he said, "I was there, I saw the Kennedy plane go down."

And he explained the reason it went down was because the American Air Forces forgot to tell British radar to turn off their radars. It triggered the electrical mechanism on the plane, and blew it up and killed Joe Kennedy. It was a kind of friendly fire. I found a memo about Robert Kennedy. The whole idea that Robert Kennedy was eager not to serve in his brother’s administration, I think that’s nonsense. I think Robert Kennedy was going to be there in the administration in one major capacity or another. And what did I find?

On December 15th, the traditional story goes, Robert Kennedy calls up Jack and he says to him, "Jack, I don’t want to do it." Jack says to him, "Come to the Georgetown house tomorrow morning and have breakfast and we’ll work this out." Bobby goes there the next morning and brings with him John Seigenthaler, the journalist. Why in the world did he bring a member of this Tennessee press corps and friend of his to a private meeting like this?

Well, they wanted to put out a story, a kind of fiction. They were going to spin. They were nervous about the fact that The New York Times had picked up on a discussion that Bobby Kennedy might become Attorney General. They said, "This is outrageous. He is not suited. He doesn’t have the experience, the background." And then the Kennedy’s put out the idea that Bobby didn’t want to do it and Joe, the father, was insisting that Bobby do.

And so we find a memo in the papers from Bobby Kennedy to Drew Pearson, dated December 15th. And he says to Pearson, "Drew, Jack and I have decided I’m going to do it." This is the day he is supposed to call Jack up and say, "Oh, I don’t want to do it." And they have the breakfast meeting and perform this dance in front of Seigenthaler, who then writes up the idea that Bobby Kennedy had to be dragged kicking and screaming into this. And Jack says to him, "Don’t smile when we go out to see the press. We don’t want them to think you’re happy," you know, this sort of invention of … Well, that was yet another thing I found. And so, you know, Bill, you do this kind, I learned from you to do this kind of research. You go into the archives and you look at the papers, interviews, yeah, but always papers are essential. So I found it very exciting. And then, finally, I would say agree with the famous comment of the Duchess Pied de Faille (?), "History is argument without end." And we’re all talking about different perspectives.

And people say to me, "Oh, wonderful, this may be a definitive book." And I say, "Ah, there’s no such thing. Ten years from now someone is going to be writing, as well they should, a big biography of J.F.K." And, of course, 40 years down the road, Jacqueline Kennedy’s oral history of 500 pages is going to be opened and who knows what’s there. So there will be plenty of books in the future. And we just keep doing it. Besides, we’re compulsive fellows and we’ve got to do something.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: I was planning to ask you something else, next, Bob, but your reference to Jacqueline Kennedy reminds me of a different train of thought. When Jacqueline Kennedy died, I was on CBS television much of the day with Paula Zahn and Harry Smith in the morning and I was at the anchor desk with Dan Rather in the afternoon. And I was struck afterwards by how many women came up to me and said how important Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was as a role model.

And on another television program I was on with Michael Beschloss, he said the she played a larger role in policy than is generally believed. In assessing the Kennedy presidency, what kind, if any, role does Jacqueline Kennedy play?

ROBERT DALLEK: Bill, I did not find her fingerprints, so to speak, on policy making. I did not find that he was consulting her about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Maybe there was discussion that was very private. But I did not find that evidence. What I think, though, that is quite compelling is the fact that so many women or people came up to you and remarked on her importance to them. And that I think is quite understandable because I think what she’s remembered for is her extraordinary dignity in the face of the terrible tragedy of her husband’s assassination.

And what a wonderful mother she was, and how effective she was with her two children, and how sensible a person she was, and how much dignity she gave to the White House, the re-decoration of the White House, her behavior when they went to Paris, France and de Gaulle was so taken with her. And, also, one must say, she shouldered a great, painful burden. You know, as Mrs. Johnson did, as I guess Hillary Clinton has. This surely is not easy on these women. It must be a very painful and difficult business. Yet she comes across, I think, and deserves to come across to us as someone with great dignity and really, in many ways, a model of what a First Lady should be.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: You were talking about the burden that she shouldered. And I’m sure you’re referring to all of Kennedy’s relationships with other women.


WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: This is actually your point, Bob. As my wife and I were driving up, we stopped for breakfast in Stonington, Connecticut. And after breakfast we went to the rear of the restaurant and the men’s room there is labeled. B. Clinton. And the ladies room there is labeled M. Lewinsky. This, just in a small restaurant in a seacoast town! When the Clinton presidency was coming to an end, The Boston Globe called me in North Carolina and, among other things, I said that the Lewinsky affair and the ensuing impeachment, Clinton being the only elected President in our history ever to have been impeached, is going to be in the first paragraph of every obituary.

Now, nobody would ever say this about John F. Kennedy. And yet, as your book brings out, the transgressions of John F. Kennedy were infinitely greater than those of Bill Clinton. How do you account for that?

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, Bill, I have 38 words, two lines in the book about the famous intern. And how did I get to this? Barbara Gamarekian who was in the press office of the Kennedy White House with Pierre Salinger, she had an oral history. Seventeen pages were blacked out. My historian’s curiosity said, "Gosh, what could be here?" I went to her. She lives in Washington. And she said, "All right, I’ll open it to you." And, lo and behold, there’s this material about the intern.

Now, it was fascinating because the connection to Bill Clinton was so striking to me, and particularly this question that you’ve asked me. How could it have been that John Kennedy carries on this way and Bill Clinton gets caught, so to speak, and is embarrassed and is impeached and this doesn’t come forward as something which jeopardized his presidency? I think the answer is that it was a very different media and political culture in the 1960s. I spoke to a number of journalists who said to me they knew about Mr. Kennedy’s womanizing and if they didn’t know about it, they strongly suspected it. But they were not aggressive about pursuing it.

And what Kennedy understood was this was something, at the time, which was largely out of bounds. There was a right wing press that did talk about his womanizing. But as Kennedy himself once said, "It’s not news until it is on the front page of The New York Times. Well, even if it were in some of the other mainstream press on page ten or something, they didn’t pursue it. They didn’t do it. And, of course, Gary Hart says, "Follow me." And the press has ever since.

And, of course, it’s a changed world with all these cable channels and Murdoch comes into our media culture and tabloid journalism. And I guess, also, I’m a bit naïve. I put these two lines in the book. "Date Line," which interviewed me almost two weeks ago now, they ran a story on a Sunday and that afternoon a guy from The New York Daily News calls me up. And he says, "I want to talk to you about the intern." And I said, "How do you know about this?"

And he said, "Of course, ‘Date Line’ has put this out as a press release." And he asked me a couple of questions. And I naively said to them, "You’re going to run a story about this?" He said, "Man," he said, "we are going to it on the front page." And he says, "Kennedy’s Monica." And on page three is not only a story but a picture of me and Monica. And what did I let myself in for? To my great joy, my daughter called us up on Sunday and she said, "Dad," she said, "there’s this fellow, Goldstein, who was the editor of, and he was on a local NBC station in New York City this weekend. And he said, ‘I want to tell you about this Kennedy book. This fellow Dallek. It’s amazing. He revealed this stuff about medical history, about the intern. This guy’s a professor. You couldn’t meet somebody who is more professorial.’" So, emphasizing it. And I was very gratified. I don’t want to be known as a scandalmonger. But, essentially, it’s a change in the culture. And, of course, I hold no beef for what Kennedy did. I mean, it’s sad and in some ways it’s shocking.

One has to ask, what is there about the man that he had to engage in this sort of behavior, a 19-year old. He’s President of the United States. It is so distressing to think. And Bill Clinton, he should have known better in the sense that the media, by this point, was on everybody’s case. And so, different world, different time, I think is the answer.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: If it’s any satisfaction to you, Bob, this can happen to you even if you haven’t written a word about it. Some years ago I was reviewing a very long book by Jonathan Daniels, which had a small passage in it about Franklin Roosevelt’s relationship to Lucy Mercer. And I wasn’t sure it was credible. How wrong I was. But beyond that, it was, in the few words I had, hardly worth mentioning. The New York Times broke the story on the front page as happened to you. And then, they did something that never happened to me in my life before or since, they inserted a sentence about Lucy Mercer in my review that they printed in the subsequent Sunday New York Times. So that’s how eager the press sometimes is to grab bits of this sort.

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, my follow up if I may make just one very brief anecdote. In The New York Times Metro Section on Wednesday after all this stuff came out, it was pointed out to me that there was a little squib about a New York Times journalist who was attending some social function celebrating another New York Times journalist, and Bill Clinton was there. And she went up to Bill Clinton and she said, "Oh, nice to see you." And he said, "Oh, lovely to see you." And she said, "Have you seen or read this new book by Robert Dallek on Kennedy?" And he said, "Oh, I know Dallek’s work. Wonderful books on Lyndon Johnson, just splendid." And she said, "But have you read the Kennedy book?" "No. No. I haven’t read that yet." And then she said, "Have you read Robert Caro?" And he said, "Oh, yes, terrific books on Johnson, wonderful work." And she said, "But you haven’t read Dallek on Kennedy?" And he said, "No. I’ve got to go now."

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: Right. Right. If we could, I think one of those things that we at least want to do is spend a lot of time on something that is being talked about only for its sensationalist aspect. And I know that anybody who reads your book knows what a small part that particular episode plays. But there is -- and just one other question in this area -- isn’t there something more significant here than the single episode of the intern?

You quote a good number of Jack Kennedy’s letters as a teenager and as a college student, which I found truly shocking, the way in which he treats women, the demeaning way he treats women. He says at one point that, "I want to separate one out of the herd of cattle and brand her," for example. Isn’t there a further problem of his having a liaison with the woman with Mafia connections?


WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: Isn’t there a further problem with his having a liaison with a woman who was a security risk? And then, finally, isn’t there a problem in our assessment of the Kennedy presidency in that, because as we were saying earlier, the legislative record is so thin, so much of his reputation rests on style. And the aura that was cast about this wonderful marriage in the White House with the young children, when you set the sexual behavior against that, then isn’t it a legitimate subject for historians to be concerned about.

ROBERT DALLEK: Bill, I think, when I wrote this book, I included all the incidents you mentioned because it seems to me you cannot write a book about John Kennedy’s life at this point and exclude those letters and exclude that material because there was something off center about the man’s behavior and I tried to understand it. I think in some ways he learned it at his father’s knee. I think he also modeled himself after British aristocrats who had an impulse towards this kind of womanizing as well.

I think he was also driven by this feeling that his older brother died, his younger sister, Kathleen, died. It was going to be a short life. He had all sorts of medical problems and he was living it to the fullest. But, still, that does not explain what you are describing, which really was a very abusive approach, one might say. And also, abusive to his wife because, I mean, it was ugly, the kinds of things that have been described about what he did, being at a party with her, walking out with some young woman. And, gosh, it really is … Doris Kearns Goodwin revealed that years ago in The Fitzgerald’s and Kennedy’s.

And I have that one episode in my book in which he is on the campaign trail and he goes into a hotel, he nudges one of his aides and points to one of the pom pom girls there, and the guy goes up to her and says, "The Senator would like to see you in his room." And the story is she goes up to the room and she walks in. He looks at his watch and says, "Well, we have 15 minutes." What happened after that, I have no idea.

But it is so striking that he was a kind of, I don't know how you would quite describe it, except maybe abusive. And sure, it’s relevant. It’s certainly part of the man’s history and part of the story, and it’s a fixed part of the story. That those four Secret Service agents gave Seymour Hersch that material and I trust that they were speaking the truth.

carmelo pugliatti
Post: 652
Registered in: 12/17/2002
8/3/2005 2:09 AM

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: The other aspect of your book that the press has made a great deal of is your discovering new medical records. And you deal with that in considerable detail and certainly detail that none of us has ever know about before. I’m reminded of a book that came out a generation ago about the time that I think I first encountered you, Bob. A book appeared suggesting that a certain American president had an unnatural relationship to his sister.

And my colleague David Donald, one of America’s great historians and biographers, my colleague down at Columbia said, "Well, that’s all very interesting, but I want to know what this tells us about the Bland-Allison Act," meaning the leading currency issue of the day. And this is a similar kind of question here. After one has found all of this evidence about this -- you alluded to it briefly in your opening remarks -- how does it affect our understanding of his policies or the way he behaved as Chief Executive?

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, I think with the womanizing, with the medical history, the fundamental question that the historian, the biographer has to ask is, "Did it have any impact on his conduct of the presidency? That’s the most important part of it. What impact did it have on making policy on Vietnam, civil rights, the other domestic initiatives, the Cuban Missile Crisis?"

The medical was much more important to me because tracking down how the womanizing might have deterred him from carrying on or dealing with domestic or foreign policy, I think maybe Richard Reeves put it best in his volume, President Kennedy, in which he said, "The womanizing took him no more time than to arrange a tennis match." And maybe that’s too flippant but, on the other hand, I could not see clear evidence that there was a deterrent to behaving in thoughtful, considered ways about major issues.

But the medical issues were a constant struggle for him to deal with day in and day out. And we had -- my medical colleague and I who reviewed the records -- we had some MAR, Medical Administration Records, and we could set these down alongside, for example, the Cuban Missile Crisis and track day by day the medicines he was taking, the fact that they increased the hydro-cortisone that he took and salt tablets in order to deal with the pressures, the tensions that he was under because he was an Addisonian. His adrenal glands don’t function and he needs this to keep him steady and going effectively.

What my medical friend, Jeff Kelman, told me was, if it were not for the medicines, he probably could not have performed effectively as president. He could not have carried off his performance in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now, when he went into the privacy of his quarters at night, maybe he was a bit zonked. Maybe he was, you know, driven in one direction or the other by the medicine, but I tried to set the medical records down alongside various crises, Berlin, the Bay of Pigs, Alabama, civil rights.

Did he seem less than lucid, less than cogent? And, of course, we have the tapes. The tapes are so revealing and so helpful in tracking his performance and what he does. And I found him consistently cogent. And he did have a kind of iron will, I think, too, a kind of strength of character to … But I share with you the feeling, which I think you probably have, this was something that we would never want to do again. He was making a bet that he could perform effectively as president.

I think all of us are entitled to the privacy of our medical records, but when it comes to presidents, I think we’re entitled to know as much as we possibly can about their physical and emotional health. They have their fingers on the nuclear trigger. This is something which I don’t think should be sacrosanct. And, of course, they hide their medical histories.

We know, going back to Grover Cleveland, he hid it. Woodrow Wilson hid it. FDR in 1944, Roosevelt didn’t want to know but nevertheless, as we know, Churchill’s physician at Yalta said, "The President has hardening of the arteries in the brain. He will be dead in three months time." And he called it right on the mark.

So I don’t think that his hiding this … It was a cover up; I think that term is an appropriate description of what they did about his medical problems.

And it continued after his death because I heard from physicians and others who knew about what was going on, the records were destroyed. His urologist, a man by the name of Herbst, was approached by the FBI and asked to turn over the urological records. And he said, "I have to consult the family." He did. Bobby Kennedy told him, "Destroy the records," which he did. A young man at the time in the White House as an aide to Admiral Burkley, a physician named Young, tells me he believes that the Burkley medical records were destroyed at Bobby Kennedy’s behest.

So it was a cover up. We wouldn’t want to do that again. Happily, I think Kennedy was able to carry it off. But it’s a cautionary tale.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: I’m going to ask Bob one more question before opening the floor to questions. You’ll see that there are microphones in each aisle and if you have questions for Bob, if you would line up in order behind the microphones, I would appreciate it.

This is my last question, Bob, and I’ve enjoyed this immensely.


WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: You mentioned in your book that one of the two figures most responsible for the transition between Kennedy’s election and his taking office was the Columbia political scientist, Dick Neustadt. And I recall when Neustadt returned from one of these meeting with President-elect Kennedy, we had lunch at the Columbia faculty club and he said to me, "The Kennedy presidency will bring many things, but the new Jerusalem will not be one of them."

And after Kennedy died, when Neustadt who was certainly well disposed to Kennedy was asked about him he said, "I think that John F. Kennedy will only be a flicker, that he will be lost in the parade of other presidents, that history," Neustadt said, "will not have much space for John F. Kennedy." How do you respond to that, Bob?

ROBERT DALLEK: Bill, I’ve thought of that because Neustadt said the same thing to me. We once spoke about this and he said exactly this, "Oh, in 200 years it’s hard to imagine that Kennedy will hold some kind of significant place in the country’s history." I’d be more optimistic about this, Bill. I think, getting back to your point about style. Style and substance are not entirely divorced. And given the kinds of presidents we’ve been seeing -- have I said enough for you?

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: Of course, you realize, Bob, what I’ve just been inviting you to do is to say about the book on which you spent so many years and which you are about to promote is about a figure of minor historical significance. I’m not surprised by your response. The floor is now open for questions.

So there isn’t any particular disadvantage to being in any particular aisle, I’ll start with my left. Let me just say as a ground rule, no speeches, please. Make your questions to Professor Dallek as succinct as you would. Thank you.

Q: About three months ago I was in this room when we discussed the Nixon tapes. And at that time we had a very distinguished panel of people: historians, scholars, writers. And I asked the question touching on Vietnam that you dealt with. And I asked whether they thought that Kennedy would have accelerated the number of troops in Vietnam. None of them had an answer. None of them knew. And yet you come up with an analysis saying that, even though he went from 650 to 16,700 that he would have, in essence, in my words, backed off at some point.

I have not read this in any other scholarship and want to know what is your evidence for that?

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, first of all, unlike them, I wrote an 800-page book on John Kennedy and I spent a lot of time reading, studying, thinking about this. And I think if you read an article I have in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly June issue, I lay out the major pieces of evidence that I think support this proposition. And I think he would have been very dubious about Americanizing the war in Vietnam.

I don’t deny for a minute that there was increased involvement on his part, that he was concerned. The Green Berets were part of this operation. But the Americanization of the war, to the extent that Lyndon Johnson engaged in it, was just something that I do not believe John F. Kennedy would have committed to because of everything I read about his view of the military, about his view of being bogged down with Cuba, about his view of being drawn into a morass in Vietnam.

Maxwell Taylor, his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Kennedy had a visceral aversion to putting ground troops, that is combat troops, into Vietnam. And Kennedy himself said, "This is not like Korea. Korea was a direct act of aggression. And he spoke about how different this was from Korea and how, if we got involved in such a conflict, it could open up a painful breach in the United States among the public as to what we were doing there.

I can only say I can’t recount all the evidence I have in my book, but I think it is a fairly compelling case and that’s what I would argue.

Q: My name is Michael Youvanovitch and I’m Serbian. I will be very short in my remarks. Because I am Serbian, I cannot be objective. I’m subjective, because Serbian people like Kennedy more than any other nation in the world. It was written in ’64 that every single family had John F. Kennedy’s picture. And one of the Communist leaders told me that when he died, Serbian people grieved as much as they grieve when King of Yugoslavia was killed.

You spoke about domestic and foreign policy. In his inaugural speech, Kennedy said, "My fellow Americans, ask not what America can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." It was capsulated formula for his domestic policy. In the next sentence, he capsulated his foreign policy. Remember what was the next sentence?

ROBERT DALLEK: You tell me. I’m a historian. I forget things.

Q: Okay. I’ll remind you. Next sentence was, "My fellows citizens of the world, ask not what America can do for you, ask what we together can do for the freedom of man."

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: Sir, you are being very eloquent. Now, can you frame a question for us?

Q: That was formulation. I would like to make a remark. Romans had a saying, "De mortuis nihil nisi bonum," which means "say nothing but good about the dead." When Solzhenitzyn came to Harvard, he criticizes American people have the right to know. He said people have the right not to know. Every president is a role model. What was the reason that you have in your book to say something that does not contribute to the great of the greatest American presidents? Some people think that you wanted to publicize your book. I would like to defend you. How could I defend something that you should not have done?

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, I think Bill Leuchtenburg put it very well, previously. His womanizing is part of the historical record.

Q: I don’t hear you, could you come closer.

ROBERT DALLEK: This is a part of the historical record. And after the Bill Clinton experience, I think this is a historical fact about the intern, which is not necessarily salacious, especially if you are putting in just two lines about it. I did not know the woman’s name. I did not try and find out who she was. I had no intention or desire to embarrass her. It was one of the newspapers that brought this forward and she said she’s relieved now that it is out in the open. But my feeling is that it is a historical fact and it should be there.

Q: (simultaneous conversations) Just a minute. Just a minute. It was very important.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: No. No. No. We cannot have colloquies. (simultaneous conversations)

Q: You talked longer than I did. Both of you.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: You are out of time. You are out of time. Please.

Q: Yes. Thank you. Kennedy’s challenge to all of us to become citizens of the world is really what motivates my question. How would you describe Kennedy’s vision of the United Nations at that time in history and, also then, how would you describe Kennedy’s vision of multilateralism within his foreign policy at that time?

ROBERT DALLEK: Wonderful question. I think that he understood that America was not able to go it alone in the world. He went to Canada. He did not like the Prime Minister of Canada. He said some unkind things about him in private. He was not wildly happy about Charles de Gaulle. He had all sorts of tensions with Khrushchev. But he understood that the United States lived in a very dangerous world, that allies were essential to our national well being and to the future peace of the world.

And, as Winston Churchill once said, "The only thing worse than having allies is not having them." And he was committed to building these relationships and, also, he was profoundly concerned about the third world, about Africa. A friend of mine, Phil Kaiser, was his Ambassador to Senegal. And Phil tells me that he was so concerned to assure a kind of victory for hearts and minds in Africa. He raised the consciousness of -- at least the people in his administration -- of matters relating to Africa. I don’t want to glamorize it as to suggest that he took phenomenal initiatives, but it was important to him. And he was a foreign policy president. He had traveled. This is what he knew, much more than knowing about civil rights, knowing about the plight of African-Americans in this country. He was much more attuned to questions of war and peace and having good relations with allies.

Q: All right, Bob. Two questions. Well, actually, two remarks …

ROBERT DALLEK: I just want to say that this is Sheldon Stern who spent more years at this library than I ever did and he’s bringing out a wonderful book on the Cuban Missile Crisis with Stanford University Press. Next month Sheldon?

SHELDON STERN: Yes. Thank you very much. Two points. One, I just wanted to agree or to give you another argument for the Vietnam question and that is for those who say that McNamara, Rusk, Bundy were Kennedy people, they should all listen to the Saturday, October 27th meetings when he stood up against everyone of them and did not do what they wanted him to do. So I mean I think that is an extremely important point. If there had been a vote that day, he would have been just about the only one to vote "Yes" and they all voted "No."

ROBERT DALLEK: And like that famous Lincoln episode …

SHELDON STERN: And like the Lincoln episode, precisely. And then the other thing, which I wanted to disagree with you, I think that, which you said twice, that Kennedy would have won in ’64 by a similar margin in terms of Johnson’s victory. I don’t think that is the case. I think he would have lost much of the south. George Wallace, in his interview here at the library, makes that point and I think he was quite right. They would have carried many southern states against … As a matter of fact, Barry Goldwater himself said that he knew he had a chance against Kennedy. And as soon as he heard Kennedy had been killed he said, "There’s no point in running because I can never beat Johnson." But he ran anyway, but that’s beside the point.

ROBERT DALLEK: Except Sheldon, I think he would have certainly kept Johnson on the ticket because of the point you are making.

SHELDON STERN: Oh, absolutely.

ROBERT DALLEK: His sensitivity to winning some of those southern states and, of course, that’s what Johnson gave him in 1960. He gave him Texas and a handful of southern states, which were crucial in allowing …

SHELDON STERN: But the difference was civil rights between the four year interim.

ROBERT DALLEK: Sure. That had become a hot issue. But there is some wonderful material I came across. Some people in the south were writing and, I think -- especially middle class southerners -- who wanted to free the south from the burden of segregation, the burden of apartheid. It’s hard to know. And I think your argument is well taken, but whether he would have lost that much of the south, I’m not sure. But he still would have won a victory.

SHELDON STERN: I agree completely.

ROBERT DALLEK: One of the biggest victories, I think, in presidential history. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Dallek, we’re all struck then, as now, by Kennedy’s charisma and personal style, was so affable and magnetic. I’m curious. Were there particular nuggets, particular things that you unearthed in your research that you hadn’t previously known that were new and exciting for you that fed into the charisma?. Anything like a rhetorical tool that he used or something sort of specific that you unearthed that you found interesting and compelling?

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, I think the most striking aspect for me there was reading the medical records. And as Bill said, the extent of his illnesses simply were not known, seeing that he was hospitalized nine times between 1955 and ’57, once for 19 days, twice for a week. And I was just taken aback by the extent of his medical problems and all the medications he took and how he was able to function. I just marvel at this.

And then to have the audacity to run for president. He’s doing this when he’s hospitalized and the public doesn’t know it, nine times. He’s revving up to run a presidential campaign. Now maybe this is foolishness, audacity, but the guy had a kind of determination, iron will that I found very impressive. And so it made me feel all the more sympathetic to him and seeing him, I guess, as more of a charismatic and appealing figure.


Q: Could you talk a little bit about after the Johnson election in ’64, his decision to keep most of the Kennedy cabinet together. I think that’s a big part of that story and you’ve written two books on this. And that’s a key transition and you hear about it and people talk about it. But could you really talk about it, how that helped Johnson and how that hurt him?

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, I think it speaks volumes about Lyndon Johnson’s psychology. He wanted to be president in his own right. But what he wanted so badly was for the Kennedy people to accept his legitimacy as president. To wit, after the assassination, when they were on Air Force One, about to go back to Washington, he takes the oath of office. He didn’t have to take the oath of office. Under the Constitution, as I understand it, the minute the President was killed, the vice president became president. Now, he did this as a ceremonial gesture and he insisted that Jacqueline Kennedy come forward. Some people have seen this as rather cruel because there she was standing with her blood-spattered suit on. And he wanted her there as a sign of his legitimacy. He was a brilliant politician, very sensitive to these political nuances. And I think he wanted the cabinet … He told people like Arthur Schlesinger and he told Bobby Kennedy that, "I need you now more than your brother needed you." See, because he knew that there was also going to be speculation that he might have had a hand in doing Kennedy in and, of course, the flames of this sort have been fanned by Oliver Stone in his very foolish movie of JFK.

I was thinking that he was deeply worried by this. And there were people around him like John Connolly who told him, "Get rid of these fellows. They’re not your folks." And slowly but surely, a number of them did drift away, like Mac Bundy. Schlesinger left very quickly. Sorenson left. Pierre Salinger left. But I think he saw it as an essential ingredient of giving him a kind of legitimacy.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: Yes, Johnson, incidentally, called Pierre Salinger, Peter.

Q: I’m Joseph LeMond. I have some fascinating things here I would like to check out with you. Ever since 1840, in increments of 20 years, there has either been a death or an assassination in the presidency, which went up to Ronald Reagan who survived the assassination. I don't know about George Bush, but he was elected in 2000. And then it says, "Both Lincoln and Kennedy went to Congress in 1846.

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, Lincoln went in 1846.

LeMOND: Oh, excuse me, Lincoln went In 1846 and Kennedy in 1946. Are you familiar with these increments?

ROBERT DALLEK: Yeah. I’ve heard these. And I don’t know what to make of them.

LeMOND: Well, it’s right here. It’s written out like that. It was Lincoln in 1860, Kennedy in 1960, both had civil rights, both were shot on Friday, both shot in the back of head. Their wives were present. Both were southerners. Wait a minute now.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: I think we are going to have to cut this, because we are running out of time and I can see there are more people.

ROBERT DALLEK: My answer is don’t run for president in those even years.

LeMOND: I’ll show it to you later.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: Actually, Kennedy was aware of those 20 year intervals. And it’s described in his physician, Janet Travell’s, book about Kennedy and she tells him this and she says, "You don’t believe in anything like this happening do you?" And he says (inaudible) doubt. There is a kind of melodramatic aspect of this. Yes.

Q: I’d like to go back, Bob, to the …

ROBERT DALLEK: This is Martin Sherman, who is professor of history at Tufts University.

MARTIN SHERMAN: And whose dissertation advisor was Bob Dallek, and, therefore, I’m related to Bill Leuchtenburg once removed. My grandfather.

ROBERT DALLEK: ...(inaudible)

MARTIN SHERMAN: I’d like to go back to the big counter factual of, if Kennedy had lived, what would have happened in Vietnam? For almost 20 years in my lectures, I always argued the opposite of what you’ve argued in your book. And I began to change my mind in the mid-1980s when it was revealed by Dean Rusk that he had been called into Kennedy’s office on what, the 27th I think it was, and told to arrange a meeting, should things not work out, between Andrew Courtier, I think, at Columbia and the Secretary General of the United Nations, who was then to announce a trade between the missiles in Turkey and the missiles in Cuba to avoid what the military had committed itself to.

And this is a question really about character and decision-making. John Kennedy took, I think, the most difficult decision that I know of any president ever taking when he refused to commit the American military during the Bay of Pigs to a follow up. He was three months in office. And it was an extraordinary act of political courage and, potentially, political suicide. This man had a sense, as you pointed out in your book, in the article, in your talk, of the limitations of military power.

And I’m really sort of following up on your question. Not only is there all of this evidence that Professor Dallek has, you know, revealed, but there is character there. And I think that the most profound support for the argument are the Bay of Pigs decision, the Cuban Missile Crisis decision, which shows how in these deep, deep commitments and crises, he was different than Nixon, he was different than Johnson, and he was somebody who would not have gotten involved.

And I guess since we have to put this as a matter of a question, do you agree?

ROBERT DALLEK: Marty, you know what they say, great minds think a like. I would just add to that the wonderful tape, which Sheldon, of course, and I both have listened to, and know about, Kennedy talking to two or three of his aides about the American military and he says, "You know, these fellows in the foreign service, they have no cojones. Now, these guys in the military, they have cojoness but they don’t have any brains." I think that echoes your point, Marty.

Q: Ah--

DALLEK: This is Bruce Shulman, Professor of history, my colleague at Boston University. See, we’re stacking the cards.

BRUCE SHULMAN: Bob, I want to ask you also about the great counter-factual, but not with regard to Vietnam. That is, in imagining a second Kennedy term, one which you have to admit is more successful than the actual Kennedy term on record, you’ve resolved one of the two great divisive issues of the sixties, the Vietnam War. The other, of course, is race and particularly more than a hundred urban race riots, major, violent incidents that take place every summer from 1965 to 1968. Now is there anything in the record that suggests that Kennedy would have been able to negotiate that crisis differently or better than Johnson, that he might have been able to keep the Democratic party coalition together over that?

ROBERT DALLEK: Bruce, I think that is an excellent question and an excellent point. I think this is one of the problems that Kennedy would have shouldered in a second term. I don’t think we would have … I mean, some people speculate that Johnson raised such hopes that those ghettos exploded out of a kind of frustration. But I think it is a much more complicated situation, and I doubt that Kennedy would have had great answers or different answers or better answers than Lyndon Johnson.

That was not his area, so to speak, of expertise or keen understanding. He didn’t know African-Americans. This was not part of his world. He was really divorced from that. And as I said before, I think his insensitivity to all of this was demonstrated by the fact that he does not put forward the Civil Rights Act in ’61 or ’62 and he’s dragged into it, so to speak, in ’63. The speech he makes is a great speech because he’s finally giving a kind of recognition to what I think he should have recognized earlier. And I do give him credit for learning on the job, so to speak. But I think this would have been something that would have plagued him in the second term and would have been a real difficulty for him.


Q: You mentioned Kennedy’s appeal to ethnics, which was perhaps the origin of American multiculturalism. I don't know. But there is another interest currently, which is American imperialism and your colleague, Andrew Bacevich, has written a book on the American empire, which he is opposed to. And I’m reading Niall Ferguson’s book on empire and there are many people who are concerned that America has an empire and doesn’t know what to do about it.

I wondered if you have any sense -- by the way, as a non-historian, my impression is that Roosevelt was opposed to empires like the British Empire. He insisted on dismantling it, I believe. And Eisenhower, also, was not in favors of empires. I wonder if you have any sense of Kennedy’s view of empires, both foreign empires and the possibility that America was building an empire.

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, Kennedy was also quite uncomfortable with these empires. And if you remember what he did in the 1950s, he was very critical of French behavior in Algeria and thought that they were making a terrible mistake in trying to hang on to that colony. And he was also highly critical of their behavior in Vietnam because his attitude was that if you are going to save Vietnam, it’s got to have autonomy. It cannot continue to feel that it is under France’s control as part of the French empire. And he kept emphasizing this idea that colonialism had passed its day.

Q: Even American colonialism.

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, yes. And I think he was uncomfortable with that and, of course, he got into terrible trouble over Cuba because instantly what the Bay of Pigs did was to echo American empire, echo American sort of imperialism in the western hemisphere. That’s why I say what’s striking to me is in the last few months of his term, when these back channel conversations are going on in which they are talking about a possible rapprochement with Cuba, this is part of, I think, what he understands is really barking up the wrong tree.

Also, let me add, there’s a lot of controversy as to whether, in fact, he knew that assassination plots were being hatched against Castro. What I say in the book and what I would argue is that he’s the Chief Executive. Whether he knew directly or not, he’s the responsible party. And if his administration, the CIA or whatever agency it was was plotting these assassinations, then he has to bear a responsibility.

But he understood that in many ways empire had passed its point of usefulness. He was a very pragmatic man and he described himself once as an idealist without illusions. And I think on this case of empire, that’s where he stood.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: I regret that we’ve almost run out of time and I think the interest that Bob has stirred by his remarks and by the book here is indicated by the fact that there are still questioners in the aisle. And I’m so sorry that we can’t find time for you. I do want to thank all of you here in the audience for coming. Bob, I’ve admired your earlier books. I think this is your finest book.

ROBERT DALLEK: Oh, thank you. Thank you.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: I think that one of the many things that your book will achieve is to stimulate an interest in Americans to come to this splendid Library and anybody who has not been here to have seen the wonderful museum and the setting here, we have sail boats bobbing in the bay, are missing something. I want to give you a chance -- we have a minute more -- to make a final comment.

ROBERT DALLEK: Yes. I would simply like to say, I’m grateful to Bill for coming here today. It was really a very nice thing for him to do and very generous. I’m grateful to the Library for having me and for arranging this. And I’m grateful to my wonderful supporters at Little, Brown, Jeff Shandler, the editor of my book, Clare McKinney, who has been putting up with my constant chatter on these car rides around New York and now Boston. And she is going to have to hear more of me in the future. It will be ad nauseam.

But everybody at Little Brown has been so supportive of this book and it’s been so gratifying. And it seems to be even appealing to a general public, so, no complaints.

WILLIAM LEUCHTENBURG: We all wish you well on it.

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