It's not that the book is bad. It's not. It's tremendous. It's a little over 300 pages and I read it through in about 2 days. I couldn't put it down. O'Reilly does such a tremendous job at introducing readers like myself who were not around in 1963 to a man whom the country adored and who did so much in such a small amount of time. I found myself angry because after reading the book I found myself really, really liking Kennedy more so than ever before. And as the book closes, it becomes extremely obvious that Kennedy's death was so easily avoidable, completely unnecessary, and the biggest blunder job ever collectively committed by professional men.
"Jack" Kennedy was a man of many talents and abilities. O'Reilly reminds us of who he was as a young man and who his family was. Coming from a family who traced its heritage to Ireland and having a father who had very active ties to organized crime and the Mafia, Kennedy was surprisingly different. No doubt, Kennedy had his shortcomings especially with women and with indiscretions. But Kennedy, probably led more so morally by the compass of his brother, Bobby, showed a compassion, steel will, and a humanity that had not been seen in the presidency in some time if ever.
Kennedy learned the hard way in the Bay of Pigs debacle that he couldn't rely on professional politicians and military men whose jobs would not be effected one way or the other by a presidential decision. Ultimately as president, Kennedy would have to take the praise or the criticism for whatever his advisers suggested. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a debacle and left Kennedy looking vulnerable, inexperienced, and over his head. He realized this and so did Bobby. From that point forward, John and Bobby formed an alliance that created intense hatred from Washington insiders and especially the main men in power such as Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, and Allen Dulles of the CIA. After the Bay of Pigs debacle, Kennedy would ax Dulles from the CIA, something he never forgave him for and openly spoke of bringing Kennedy down.
As the new alliance between John and Bobby, who was made Attorney General despite having never tried a court case before as a lawyer, grew, JFK's confidence and determination grew. This led him to take interest in Vietnam as Communism began to spread as people were being killed by the masses. This led JFK to take a strong stand on civil rights with the beatings and murders taking place in the South despite knowing the backlash he would receive. This led JFK to tackle issues such as problems and discrimination against mental retardation. Kennedy even spoke of tackling issues with disability standards in America as World War veterans and Korean veterans were coming home disabled. JFK's confidence grew to support Bobby as he turned his attention toward shutting down the same organized crime that his father had benefited from. This didn't make the brothers popular with Mafia.
One of the greatest examples of JFK's new steely nature was the Cuban Missile Crisis stand off. Having warheads pointing towards America sitting 90 miles away in Cuba was a situation no one would want to be in. Yet JFK stared down the Soviet Union, used precision with the Navy and American forces to thwart the efforts, and ultimately defeated the Soviets at their own game of intimidation. Kennedy would eventually sign a nuclear arms ban, one up the Soviets with the NASA program, and help lead the way to civil rights reform. He cut taxes. He pushed for equality and rights. He was America's bright spot to the world.
JFK's mannerisms could be separated into two time periods: those before the Missile Crisis and those after it. Before the crisis, JFK was certainly a ladies' man. The Secret Service was constantly bringing in women to the President including one Marilyn Monroe. John and Jackie's intimate life was basically non-existent. Jackie came from a very private family and didn't let many, if anyone, completely into her life whether that was emotionally or physically. Jackie knew of JFK's indiscretions and tolerated them. Some suggest it may have been simply because she was embarrassed of intimacy. What is clear is Jackie eventually had enough and after consulting a family doctor / therapist, she completely caught John off guard one night at dinner as she suddenly opened herself up to talk about intimate things with the President. This coupled with a realization by JFK from the Missile Crisis that with one rocket launch, his family could be destroyed and he would lose his wife and his children would lose their lives, caused the wayward Kennedy to cut ties with his past ways and become the family man that was already being broadcast as his image. Kennedy adored Jackie and especially his kids, Caroline and John Jr. As his mind became focused on what many began to see as the end of the world, the one thing JFK considered and cared about was his immediate family.
O'Reilly touches on so many other subjects such as Monroe's death, Kennedy cutting off Frank Sinatra, mob connections in Chicago, Kennedy's dislike of MLK due to his many affairs while serving as a pastor, and more. But while chronicling JFK's life, O'Reilly mirrors that with the telling of one Lee Harvey Oswald's story. Oswald was a former Marine who was dishonorably discharged. Upon being sent home, Oswald renounced his American citizenship and moved to the Soviet Union as his Communist beliefs were welcomed there. He would eventually marry and have a child before moving back to Texas several years later. Oswald always desired to be a great man and renowned throughout history. He read biographies of great men and saw himself on the same plane as them. When life of course didn't back up that reality, Oswald blamed Capitalism. His marriage began falling apart as he became abusive to his wife and his mood became psychotic and sociopathic, Oswald out of the blue decided to attempt an assassination on a former General Walker after ordering an Italian assault rifle which was delivered without any red flags. The FBI had kept tabs on Oswald for a long while but somehow let him out of their sights long enough for him to become dangerous. Oswald would fail at his first assassination attempt. One can only wish that he would have duplicated the achievement on his second attempt.
As November 22, 1963 approached, JFK was getting warning signs not to go Dallas. Texas as a whole was said to hate not only John, but all the Kennedy's. With their family being Catholic, many in the South had believed that the Pope would have say so over American affairs. JFK's support of civil rights certainly hadn't earned him any points with Southern voters. Top aides attempted to persuade John to not go to Texas and if he had to go, to at least skip Dallas which had earned a reputation for hostilities towards politicians they didn't agree with, not to mention the fact that Dallas was number one in murders at the time. As fate would have it, before Kennedy would ever go to Dallas, he toured Arlington National Cemetery and commented on how beautiful it was. After participating in a ceremony honoring the Unknown Soldiers' tomb, John remarked to Jackie and his friends that this is where he wanted to end up one day when he died. That day would be only about a week away. John received a letter from Billy Graham warning him not to go to Dallas as Graham believed something terrible might happen. Kennedy realized that as the 1964 election approached, he was going to need the South to win a second term and thus keep his policies going forward. He knew that if he could somehow win Texas, he would probably carry the election. Therefore ignoring all the warning he received from Graham and many others, John went anyway.
On November 21, he hugged and kissed his little girl and told her of his love for her and how proud he was of her. John Jr. uncharacteristically didn't want to let go of his father as he and Jackie prepared to leave to go to Texas. John Jr. through tears begged his daddy not to go. Uncharacteristically in turn, John after trying to console his son through his expressions of love, asked the Secret Service agent to make sure John Jr. was taken care of and watched over in his stead. As the couple took off from the ground, it would be the last time JFK would see his children. It would be the last time his children saw their daddy. They would never get to feel his arms around them again and never hear him say "I love you" as he so often did as he looked into their eyes and played with them in the Oval Office.
Those who planned the trip did a horrible job. Kennedy's motorcade route was released to the public a week before JFK arrived thus giving evil doers such as Oswald a week to put together a plan to kill the president. Oswald, whose marriage was practically over, came up with a plan in his deranged mind. Either his wife would take him back or he would kill Kennedy. Though he didn't confess this to her, this was his rationalization. He wanted to be famous and renowned so bad that he finally felt as if the only way to do it and make a statement for Communism was to kill the President of the United States. There really as no malice towards Kennedy from Oswald. He didn't really know him. It wasn't personal for him. This was about getting his name out there and defending his atheistic, Communist manifesto. Upon seeing the route and realizing that Kennedy's motorcade would go directly by the Texas School Book Building which Oswald had landed a job in due to a connection made through his wife's friend, who so happened to be an enemy of the Kennedy's, Oswald devised his plan. In planning the motorcade, the Secret Service and Dallas Police also did the most dangerous thing possible; they would plan several turns. For motorcades, turns were nightmares. The more turns existed, the greater the danger to the dignitary. Turns required slowing down to almost pedestrian speeds thus making the dignitary a sitting duck for an assassin. Add to the fact that the route planners put the President going directly through an area with high rise buildings which would be a perfect place for an assassin to locate himself, as Oswald already figured out, and the motorcade was doomed from the outset.
So on that fateful day, Kennedy begins his parade through Dallas. No one expected the response that came. People waited hours and hours and even camped out the day before to get a look at the President. Surprising, there were no hecklers heard. Instead, JFK and Jackie were being showered with praise, love, and support. As the motorcade made one of its turns, Oswald prepared himself. As he stuck his rifle out the window, several spectators noticed him yet no one said a word. Ironically, spectators noticed the gunman, but the police who customarily face the crowd in situations such as this had turned their back to the crowd to get their own glimpse of the man who stared the Soviets down. Thus, they missed what many spectators easily saw, that is, Lee Harvey Oswald on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Building with a rifle aimed directly at John F. Kennedy. Oswald took aim and fired a shot and missed. The Secret Service reaction was shock and no one moved. The President's driver didn't accelerate away. Shock set in. A second shot rang out and hit Kennedy in the neck and came out lacerating his trachea. Again, Secret Service should have now jumped on top of the President. The driver should have accelerated away. Dallas Police should have looked up to find the shooter. Yet the only vigilant person was Jackie who immediately grabbed her husband as he reached and grabbed her. As she screamed in terror and was yelling her love to JFK, the third shot rang out and entered Kennedy's head as a through and through smashing his skull and blowing brains all over Jackie and the car. Kennedy who had a habit of always trying to look nice dressed and fashionable had always been known to constantly pat his head to make sure his hair was in place. With a whole blown in his head, his hand customarily reached up to make sure his hair was in place. It was only a reaction for the President was now brain dead. The driver finally woke out of shock and slammed on the gas pedal almost wrecking everyone and throwing Jackie out as the car swerved everywhere. Jackie frantically started trying to pick up the pieces of John's skull and brain and gather it together as she would eventually hold her dying husband and the father of her children in her lap as he lay their dying. As they got him to the hospital, the shot through the head was the fatal shot. Ironically, they were able to fix the neck shot and commented that had that been the only shot that would have landed, JFK would have lived.
Kennedy suffered with a degenerative back his whole life. It almost killed him on two or three occasions due to different scenarios, but it would be his undoing this time. Knowing he would be in front of large crowds and knowing a speech awaited him after the motorcade, John wore extra Ace bandages around his back brace to keep him upright and to manage the pain. Unfortunately, he had prepared his back so well that after receiving the first shot which would have knocked him into the floor board or at least toppled him over, his back brace and wraps kept him upright after the first shot thus making him even more a sitting duck for the fatal shot. Jackie refused to leave Dallas until his body left. As the motorcade went rushing to the hospital, all Jackie could say between cries of "John, I love you. I love you. Please don't leave me," was "They killed you John. Why did they have to kill you . . ."
The book ends with telling of Lyndon B. Johnson's robot-like swearing in, his and Hoover's classless and emotionless call to Bobby to inform him of his brother's death, and the funeral of Kennedy which Jackie orchestrated as a "farewell to Camelot." Jackie would say that she felt so sorry for her daughter Caroline because she would never be able to know another man as great as her daddy.
I was angry after reading the book as I said. I'm angry typing this. Maybe it's because I'm a new dad, but I saw JFK in this book not only as one of the greatest presidents this country has had and a man to be admired in regards to his stands and convictions on which he fought regardless of political and social consequence, but I also saw this man as someone who wrestled with his own demons, many introduced by his own father, and someone who was working to overcome and had indeed overcome many to become a man who was becoming increasingly faithful to mass, his wife, and his kids. Just some 100 days before his death, John had entered a depression from losing his and Jackie's son Patrick who was born premature. When all had been done for little Patrick, John took him from the incubator and rocked the dying baby in his arms as he kissed him and talked to him about his love for the baby. He would have it no other way. Little Patrick died in his father's arms. I read this and thought about how Oswald, a nothing of a man, a pathetic smear on humanity, a man with no other goal except to be famous and promote an atheistic Communism, not only robbed America and the world of a great man, but took a husband from a wife who needed and loved him and took a daddy away from a little girl and a little boy that adored him and loved him more than the world. His killing was senseless and with the knowledge that it could have been avoided, it's enough to make anyone sick.
I know this has been long, and there's so much I've left out, but get the book. It's tremendous. It'll change the way you look at John F. Kennedy.