Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years
By David Talbot
Free Press, 2007
In October, 1961, Ted Dealey, right wing publisher of the Dallas Morning News, angrily insulted President John F. Kennedy, whom he considered soft on Communism. "We can annihilate Russia and should make that clear to the Soviet government. The general opinion of the grass-roots thinking in this country is that you and your administration are weak sisters. We need a man on horseback to lead this nation, and many people in Texas and the Southwest think that you are riding Caroline 's tricycle."
In his compelling new book, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (New York: Free Press, 2007), David Talbot, founder of Salon, reveals the sheer hatred that the extreme right, which craved a military confrontation with the Soviet Union and Castro 's Cuba, held for President Kennedy. JFK's refusal to engage the Communists in a full-scale war, to strike them with nuclear arms, quite possibly resulted in his assassination by reactionary elements within the United States government. "Kennedy maintained the peace…when many powerful figures in Washington believed that nuclear war with the Soviet Union was inevitable," Talbot observes. "In the dangerously militarized atmosphere of the Cold War—and under relentless pressure from generals, CIA officials, congressional hawks, and his own national security advisors—Kennedy again and again slipped the knots of war."
Following JFK 's assassination in November, 1963, Robert Kennedy, who had served as his brother 's attorney general, publicly supported the findings of the Warren Commission: Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed the president. Privately, however, he feared that JFK was the victim of a domestic political conspiracy which involved "the CIA and its henchmen in the Mafia and Cuban exile world." If RFK had been elected president in 1968, Talbot argues, he would have undoubtedly reopened the investigation into his brother 's murder. Once he reached the White House, Bobby "would have gone after his brother 's killers with a vengeance." But that was not to be. In June, 1968, RFK was shot to death at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, possibly a victim of the same sinister forces that killed his brother five years earlier. For many "in the Kennedy circle," Talbot states, the Ambassador tragedy was "another Dallas, with the same type of mysterious gunfire, murky characters, and shockingly inept investigation."
Talbot 's study boasts a huge cast of characters, including Kennedy loyalists (their "band of brothers"), CIA agents, G-Men, mobsters, Castro, anti-Castro Cuban exiles, Khrushchev, LBJ, pro and anti-Kennedy journalists, Hollywood entertainers, Hoffa, Pentagon generals, and indefatigable conspiracy theorists. A skillful writer, Talbot excels at character description. Consider, for example, his portrayal of the bellicose Air Force chief and Kennedy antagonist, General Curtis LeMay, "who frankly and firmly advocated a preemptive nuclear war to rid the world of the Soviet threat." General LeMay, Talbot asserts, "was in the habit of taking bullying command of Joint Chiefs meetings.
With his sagging jowls and chronic scowl, he came across as a bulldog marking his territory. He blew cigar smoke in the faces of anyone who disagreed with him and communicated his boredom and contempt by leaving ajar the door to the bathroom that was located off the Joint Chiefs conference room while he relieved himself with raucous abandon." Or take Talbot 's assessment of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, who closely monitored JFK 's reckless sexual escapades. "Like a loathsome troll tucked furtively under the castle drawbridge, Hoover…kept careful watch on the amorous comings and goings of the handsome Kennedy prince over the years."
Talbot provides an intriguing examination of the early conspiracy theorists and Warren Report critics, including journalists Thomas Buchanan and Penn Jones, and rock star David Crosby, of the Byrds. Buchanan, author of Who Killed Kennedy?, the first conspiracy book, maintained that the president was assassinated in order "to disrupt the developing détente between Washington and Moscow, which threatened the weapons industries on which the plotters depended." Jones, the courageous publisher of a small town Texas newspaper, the Midlothian Mirror, believed that JFK was the target of a "coup d 'etat" involving the CIA and Joint Chiefs of Staff. And musician David Crosby, on stage at the Monterey Pop Festival in June, 1967, brazenly announced: "President Kennedy wasn 't killed by one man—he was shot from several directions. The truth has been suppressed. You should know that. This is your country." But the earliest conspiracy theorist, Talbot avers, was RFK, who "immediately suspected that President Kennedy was the victim of a powerful conspiracy. And he spent the rest of his life secretly searching for the truth about his brother 's murder."
Talbot, who worked for RFK 's presidential campaign as a teenager, clearly views the Kennedy brothers as heroes. JFK, he declares, was "intent on improving relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba." Boldly defying the hard-line warmongers in his own government, Kennedy "determined to demilitarize relations between the nuclear powers before catastrophe could strike." Still, Talbot 's JFK is a tarnished hero. He acknowledges Kennedy 's relentless womanizing. Moreover, Talbot does not shy away from discussing the president 's alleged drug experimentation with confidant and mistress Mary Meyer.
Solidly researched and superbly written, Brothers is an essential book. Read it now.