Reviewing the first volume of a new biography of JFK by the Harvard historian Fredrik Logevall, P.J. O’Rourke reflects on why a “distant, hazy, reminiscent glow lingers” in the air around the Kennedys. The dynasty’s founding patriarch, Joseph, Sr., was, in O’Rourke’s words, “a priapic, stock-jobbing, isolationist, defeatist, Hitler-appeasing anti-Semite,” who was recalled from his absurd posting as ambassador to Great Britain and resigned in disgrace in 1941. Yet, although his son John Fitzgerald would, as president, uphold the U.S.-Israel relationship, his earlier judgments were less inspiring:
Logevall wants us to see Jack as a keen and thoughtful observer of international politics, even on a 1937 college-summer-vacation jaunt through Europe. Then he quotes the kid. “Fascism seems to treat them well,” Jack wrote in his diary after two days in Milan. At an inn in Munich, Jack noted, “Had a talk with the proprietor who is quite the Hitler fan. There is no doubt about it that these dictators are more popular in the country than outside due to their effective propaganda.”
After graduation in 1939, Jack (with hospitality and official contacts arranged by ambassador dad) traveled through Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Logevall insists on taking us along. According to Jack, after visiting Danzig, “the situation up there is very complicated.” Jack finds the USSR “crude, backward, and hopelessly bureaucratic.” In Palestine Jack thinks . . . what people who think they are thinkers think to this very day: “The important thing is to try to work out a solution that will work, . . . two autonomous districts giving them both self-government.”
Logevall doesn’t let us turn our eyes away from Jack’s diary account of his 1945 postwar visit to Germany. “You can,” Kennedy wrote, “easily understand how that within a few years Hitler will emerge from the hatred that surrounds him now as one of the most significant figures who ever lived.” Well, “significant” is one way to put it. . . . Logevall makes much of Jack’s Harvard senior thesis, which combined tepid criticism of appeasement with lukewarm apology for it.