Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Behind the Songs: That Was the President

"It's not only for the leader that the sorrow hit so hard
There are greater things I'll never understand
How a man so filled with life even death was caught off guard
That was the President and that was the man"
--Phil Ochs, "That Was the President" (1963)

An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

In a tale that stretches back to Ireland, An Unfinished Life describes the birth of the Kennedy dynasty, the complexity of Jack's early years, and the mixture of adulation and resentment that tangled his relationships with his mother, Rose, and his father, Joseph. Forced into the shadow of his older brother, Joe, Jack struggled to find a place for himself until World War II, when he became a national hero and launched his career. Dallek reveals for the first time the full story of Kennedy's wartime actions--including the machinations that got him into the war despite severe disabilities--and the true details of how Joe was killed, opening the door to Jack's ascendancy.

Here is the gripping story of Jack's first political campaigns and his transformation from an awkward speaker to a brilliant politician with irresistible charm. An Unfinished Life explores Jack's work as a senator from Massachusetts, carries us through the fiercely contested 1960 campaign against Nixon, and takes us on to the White House itself. We learn for the first time how and why Bobby was chosen to serve as attorney general, how JFK selected Lyndon Johnson to be vice president, and how they and the rest of Kennedy's team--Bundy, McNamara, Schlesinger, Sorensen, Rusk, and others--faced the Bay of Pigs, threats against civil rights activists in the South, the conflict in Laos, the Cuban missile crisis, the struggle for a test ban treaty, and the assassination of Diem. Dallek reveals fascinating new details about each of these challenges and many more, and gives us a picture of Kennedy as a man very much in command of his times--able, soon after arriving in the Oval Office, to wage a secret war against his own generals when they advocated first use of atomic bombs in situations Kennedy felt certain would lead to an all-out nuclear war.

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