‘Amer­ica’s tra­di­tions and his­tory would not per­mit such a course of ac­tion’

The Daily Observer - - NEWS - SEAN CHASE

It was the mo­ment Joseph Kennedy had waited to see his en­tire life.

The pa­tri­arch long en­vi­sioned his favourite son would one day oc­cupy the White House. That dream ended on Aug. 12, 1944 when Lieut. Joseph Kennedy Jr. was killed af­ter his ex­plo­sive-ladened Navy PB4Y blew up over Eng­land. The dream then fell to Jack, who coura­geously saved his crew af­ter PT-109 sank. On Jan. 20, 1961, John Fitzger­ald Kennedy was in­au­gu­rated the 35th pres­i­dent of the United States.

On that day, how­ever, it was not one but two Kennedys who en­tered the Oval Of­fice for the first time. By Jack’s side was his younger brother, Bobby, now the at­tor­ney gen­eral of the United States. It was a con­tro­ver­sial ap­point­ment as the 35-yearold Robert Kennedy was viewed as too young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced. But the third son of Joseph and Rose Kennedy was ready to be the na­tion’s principal law en­force­ment of­fi­cer.

“We know that it is law which en­ables men to live to­gether, that cre­ates or­der out of chaos,” Bobby said shortly af­ter be­ing sworn in. “We know that law is the glue that holds civ­i­liza­tion to­gether. And we know that if one man’s rights are de­nied, the rights of all oth­ers are en­dan­gered.”

Kennedy im­me­di­ately trained the pow­ers of the Jus­tice De­part­ment on pros­e­cut­ing al­leged mob­sters An­thony Carello, Carmine Galante and John Or­mento, as well as other ma­jor fig­ures in the mafia. He co­or­di­nated the ef­forts of the IRS, the Se­cret Ser­vice and the FBI in tak­ing on or­ga­nized gam­bling and labour rack­e­teer­ing re­new­ing Kennedy’s feud with Team­ster boss Jimmy Hoffa. Kennedy sent to Congress five anti-rack­e­teer­ing bills which were passed into law. Pros­e­cu­tions for rack­e­teer­ing in Kennedy’s Jus­tice De­part­ment rose by 300 per cent with con­vic­tions of or­ga­nized crim­i­nals grow­ing by 350 per cent.

Bobby was ac­tive in pro­mot­ing civil rights fight­ing seg­re­ga­tion. He dis­patched fed­eral mil­i­tary per­son­nel to stop ri­ots and en­sur­ing that a black stu­dent named James H. Mered­ith could en­rol in the Univer­sity of Mississippi. He sent 500 fed­eral mar­shals to pro­tect the Free­dom Rid­ers, a group of African Amer­i­cans and whites try­ing to in­te­grate buses and bus ter­mi­nals in Mont­gomery, Alabama. He also took on Demo­cratic gov­er­nor Ge­orge Wal­lace of Alabama, who phys­i­cally stood at the door of the au­di­to­rium at the Univer­sity of Alabama to try to block the en­try of two African Amer­i­can stu­dents. On Bobby’s ad­vice, the pres­i­dent is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der, which fed­er­al­ized the Alabama Na­tional Guard which then or­dered the gov­er­nor to step aside, which he did.

Bobby and Ethel set­tled down at an es­tate in McLean, Vir­ginia, known as Hick­ory Hill( it was pre­vi­ously owned by U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice Robert H. Jack­son and Jack Kennedy when he was still in the se­nate). While Bobby and Ethel had a strong re­la­tion­ship, he was prone to wom­an­iz­ing. For her part, Ethel seemed to ac­cept that in­fi­delity came with mar­ry­ing a Kennedy (De­spite his run­ning around, Bobby was ac­tu­ally more faith­ful to his wife than ei­ther of his sur­viv­ing broth­ers ). While he was ru­moured to have had af­fairs with ac­tresses like Kim No­vak and Lee Remick, it is largely ac­cepted that Bobby was ro­man­tic ally in­volved with the big­gest movie bomb­shell of all-time, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe.

His brother, whose in­dis­cre­tions were one of Wash­ing­ton’s worst kept se­crets, saw Mar­i­lyn quite fre­quently un­til the pres­i­dent broke off the re­la­tion­ship. When the trou­bled ac­tress couldn’t han­dle the re­jec­tion, Jack in­structed Robert, to deal with the mat­ter. Fear­ing scan­dal would ruin their re-elec­tion in 1964, Bobby went to see Mon­roe in Los An­ge­les and in­structed her to stop call­ing the White House. He pro­vided her with his num­ber at the Jus­tice De­part­ment and con­tin­ued see­ing Mar­i­lyn into the sum­mer of 1962.

Many be­lieve Bobby be­came in­fat­u­ated with Mar­i­lyn. The Kennedy fam­ily pres­sured him to dump the ac­tress as she had be­come a “po­lit­i­cal li­a­bil­ity” (de­spite this, Bobby ’s sis­ter, Pa­tri­cia, and her hus­band, Bri­tish ac­tor Pe­ter Law­ford, re­mained close friends with Mar­i­lyn). So Bobby broke things off with the 36-year-old ac­tress. Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe was found dead in Brent­wood, L.A. villa in the early morn­ing hours of Aug. 5, 1962.

The death re­mains shrouded in mys­tery to this day. Many have spec­u­lated that Robert Kennedy vis­ited her hours be­fore po­lice be­lieve she com­mit­ted sui­cide. Through eye­wit­ness ac­counts pro­vided by Eu­nice Mur­ray, Mon­roe’s house­keeper, and her brother-in­law, Nor­man, in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters have con­cluded that Bobby vis­ited the villa that af­ter­noon ac­com­pa­nied by Law­ford. He was there to dis­suade Mar­i­lyn to call of a planned press con­fer­ence where she would re­veal her af­fairs with both of them. Some con­spir­acy the­o­rists have al­leged Bobby came back that night with­out Law­ford. Kennedy was in­deed in Cal­i­for­nia that weekend stay­ing at a ranch near San Fran­cisco. Oth­ers be­lieve gov­ern­ment agents mur­dered Mar­i­lyn with­out Kennedy’s knowl­edge.

In Wash­ing­ton, Jack came to rely on Bobby to solve many dilem­mas. Af­ter the Bay of Pigs dis­as­ter in 1961, it was Bobby who led the re­view of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency’s con­duct of the op­er­a­tion. In many ways, Bobby was Jack’s clos­est ad­viser much like the re­la­tion­ship that Franklin Roo­sevelt had with Harry Hop­kins. In fact, Robert played a cru­cial role dur­ing the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, the great­est chal­lenge that Pres­i­dent Kennedy faced dur­ing his term.

In early Oc­to­ber 1962, the CIA dis­cov­ered 10,000 Soviet troops and ad­vis­ers on the is­land of Cuba. They fur­ther iden­ti­fied launch­ers ca­pa­ble of fir­ing SS-4 medium range bal­lis­tic mis­sile and in­ter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles that pos­sessed a range of 2,037 kilo­me­tres, the SS -4’s could reach Mi­ami, New Or­leans and, even, Wash­ing­ton. Their war­heads had the ex­plo­sive power of one mega­ton which was 60 times more de­struc­tive than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Af­ter the Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (the “Ex Com”) was briefed on the sit­u­a­tion, Bobby feared an­other Pearl Har­bour was about to hap­pen.

“Amer­ica’s tra­di­tions and his­tory would not per­mit such a course of ac­tion,” he later wrote. “What­ever mil­i­tary rea­sons he and oth­ers could mar­shal, they were nev­er­the­less, in the last anal­y­sis, ad­vo­cat­ing a sur­prise at­tack by a very large na­tion against a very small one. Our strug­gle against Com­mu­nism through­out the world was far more than phys­i­cal sur­vival – it had as its essence our her­itage and our ideals, and th­ese we must not de­stroy.”

It was Bobby who chaired meet­ings of the Ex Com which even­tu­ally came up with the strat­egy to blockade Cuba in­stead of launch­ing airstrikes to take out the mis­sile sites – an act that could have led to nu­clear war. The cri­sis wors­ened af­ter the Cubans shot down an Amer­i­can U-2 plane killing the pi­lot, Ma­jor Ru­dolph An­der­son. The Ex Com called for of­fen­sive ac­tion to be taken against the air de­fence sites, but the pres­i­dent urged cau­tion.

“Those hours in the Cab­i­net Room that Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon in Oc­to­ber could never be erased from the minds of any of us,” Robert Kennedy stated in “Thir­teen Days,” his ac­count of the Oc­to­ber Cri­sis that was posthu­mously pub­lished in 1969. “We saw as never be­fore the mean­ing and re­spon­si­bil­ity in­volved in the power of the United States, the power of the pres­i­dent, the re­spon­si­bil­ity we had to peo­ple around the globe who had never heard of us or the men sit­ting in that room de­ter­min­ing their fate, making a de­ci­sion which would in­flu­ence whether they would live or die.”

On Oct. 27, Jack and Bobby met se­cretly and de­vised a deal they would pro­pose to Soviet pre­mier Nikita Khrushchev. In ex­change for the Sovi­ets leav­ing Cuba, the U.S. would re­move Jupiter mis­siles de­ployed in Turkey. Later that day, an ex­hausted Bobby Kennedy, who hadn’t slept in days, met with Soviet am­bas­sador Ana­toly Do­brynin at the jus­tice de­part­ment where he re­layed to him that the pres­i­dent was will­ing to re­move the Jupiter mis­siles from south­ern Italy and Turkey. Bobby gave as­sur­ances that the U.S. would not in­vade Cuba. Do­brynin de­parted and sent a com­mu­nique to the Krem­lin to com­mu­ni­cate this of­fer with Moscow. Do­brynin re­turned that evening to re­ply to Bobby that Khrushchev was will­ing to dis­man­tle and with­draw the mis­siles un­der United Na­tions su­per­vi­sion.

“Thank God for Bobby,” Jack wrote af­ter the nu­clear holo­caust was averted.

The Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis has been de­scribed by his­to­ri­ans as not only Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s shin­ing mo­ment, but Bobby’s as well. In many ways, Robert grew as a per­son in those 13 days gain­ing in­valu­able for­eign pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence and prov­ing he was very much the tough fighter his fa­ther be­lieved he was.

As 1963 rolled around, Kennedy fo­cused the Jus­tice De­part­ment on lit­i­gat­ing more vot­ing and hu­man rights cases. He made it eas­ier for blacks to vote in south­ern states and worked to halt seg­re­ga­tion in in­ter­state trans­porta­tion as well as in more than 1,100 school dis­tricts. He sent to Congress a civil rights bill guar­an­tee ac­cess for all ci­ti­zens to pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tions and end dis­crim­i­na­tion in all fed­er­ally funded pro­grams. Robert Kennedy also cast his gaze to 1964 and the bat­tle to elect his brother to a sec­ond term

But the leg­end and ide­al­ism of Camelot came to an abrupt end on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dal­las, Texas. En route from Love Field to the Trade Mart, Pres­i­dent Kennedy and the First Lady, Jac­que­line Kennedy, were trav­el­ling in a mo­tor­cade when the Lin­coln Con­ti­nen­tal con­vert­ible they were rid­ing in came un­der fire. A bul­let struck Kennedy fa­tally in the head. He died at Park­land shortly there­after.

Bobby was host­ing New York district at­tor­ney Robert Mor­gen­thau at Hick­ory Hill, Vir­ginia when his wife, Ethel, an­swered the phone. It was FBI di­rec­tor J. Edgar Hoover. Hold­ing the re­ceiver to his ear, an an­guished look came over the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s face. Bobby reap­peared in the liv­ing room ut­ter­ing only two words: “He died.”

Soon af­ter, Bobby called Vice-Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son. The two men de­spised each other in­tently but they put aside their feel­ings to deal with the im­me­di­ate sit­u­a­tion. They spec­u­lated about who could have been be­hind the killing – the Sovi­ets, the Cubans, or some other un­known en­emy. Kennedy ini­tially asked John­son to hold off be­ing sworn in as pres­i­dent on Air Force One, which was car­ry­ing his dead brother’s body back to Wash­ing­ton. How­ever, once the de­ci­sion was made to pro­ceed with the swearingin cer­e­mony, with Jackie Kennedy stand­ing next to John­son, Bobby with­drew his ob­jec­tions.

Bobby next called the fam­ily com­pound at Hyan­nis, Cape Cod. It was left to him to tell his mother, Rose, that her sec­ond-born son was dead.

On Nov. 25, 1963, Bobby ac­com­pa­nied his mother and Jackie, along with her chil­dren, John Jr. and Caro­line, as the fam­ily at­tended the pres­i­dent’s fu­neral at St. Matthew’s Cathe­dral. Later, Jack was in­terred at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery. Through it all, Bobby never left Jackie’s side.

When the fam­ily gath­ered for Thanks­giv­ing at Hyan­nis a few days later, Bobby didn’t show up. He and Ethel went to Florida in­stead. Truth­fully, he couldn’t face his par­ents. The Kennedy broth­ers had made sev­eral en­e­mies over the last three years – the Sovi­ets, the Cubans, the mob, and even el­e­ments within the FBI and CIA. Bobby told friends he was sure, one day, they would get him. But it was his brother who died in the crosshairs, not him. It was a guilt that Robert Kennedy could not live with.

Next col­umn: A so­cial jus­tice war­rior runs for pres­i­dent in 1968


On Nov. 25, 1963 the Kennedy fam­ily at­tend U.S. Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy's burial at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery, in Ar­ling­ton, Va., in­clud­ing JFK's mother, Rose Kennedy (left); his brother U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Robert F. Kennedy and the pres­i­dent’s wid­owed wife, Jac­que­line Kennedy (right). Bobby Kennedy blamed him­self for his brother's death.

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