The Kennedys at War, 1937-1945

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The tragedies that afflicted the Kennedy family and that culminated in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy in 1963 and 1968 respectively began during the years on which this book concentrates. Joseph Kennedy, newly-appointed United States Ambassador to Great Britain, set sail for England in February, 1938. He had high political ambitions for his sons, consciously grooming Joseph Kennedy, Jr. for the presidency of the United States. John and Robert Kennedy were students at Harvard when their father assumed his ambassadorship.

Joseph Kennedy, Jr., having graduated from Harvard, died flying a volunteer mission in World War II shortly before his tour of duty would have ended. Kathleen Kennedy’s husband died in the war. The Kennedys’ daughter, Rosemary, underwent a lobotomy, rendering her mentally handicapped for life. John Kennedy was nearly lost when his PT boat was torpedoed in 1943. He sustained injuries that remained with him until he died.

Edward J. Renehan, Jr.’s book, well-written and thoroughly researched, is uniquely valuable in that it demonstrates how John F. Kennedy emerged from his father’s shadow, becoming a person with strong, deep personal convictions. Although unflaggingly loyal to his father, he rejected the elder Kennedy’s anti-Semitism and racist sentiments.

With Joe, Jr.’s death, John became the anointed one. His father’s substantial financial support helped him win the presidency. Never during the three years he served, however, did his policies reflect his father’s social and political biases.