I am delighted to announce that I will be addressing the Transatlantic Studies Association’s annual conference in Dundee next week.
I will be joining a panel to discuss Transatlantic Relations, Diplomacy, Statecraft and Culture in the Second World War.
My discussion will focus on the problematic relationship between Winston S. Churchill and Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the future American president. It will consider concepts of personality, geopolitics and the foreign policy implications of the ‘not so’ special relationship between the two men. It will also consider the vital role of isolationism in US foreign policy at this time.
This will be the first in a series of papers to be produced that will form the basis for my new research project on the development of the relationship between the Kennedy family and the Churchills from 1938-1968. The project will address the Ambassador’s posting to London, his dealings with Chamberlain, his mis-reading of Churchill and his fall from grace. It will also consider the influence that his time in London had on the young John F. Kennedy and the degree to which his career was influenced by Churchill, leading to his decision as president, to appoint the former PM with honorary American citizenship.
So now we know the truth. After all of the shenanigans regarding birth certificates, it emerges that Barack Hussein Patrick O’Bama is really an Irishman. Apparently, one of over 20 presidents who make claim to Irish ancestry. Few have as strong claim to such roots as John F. Kennedy, who famously returned to the Emerald Isle in the last summer of his all too brief life, but America’s newest Irish-American made a brave (and nicely light hearted) pitch in front of a crowd of thousands in central Dublin last night.
The president’s speech was a remarkable tour de force, coming on the heels of an equally spirited address by Taoiseach Kenny. In an emotive and wide ranging address, O’Bama weaved personal and national narrative together in a highly effective manner that really made one realise why he is the President of the United States. At times it has been easy to forget the power that his rhetoric carried in the 2008 campaign, but it was certainly on show in Dublin last night.
If there is a downside to this it is perhaps that the people of England will no be privy to a similar occasion. The president’s schedule in England is formality personified: staying at Buckingham Palace, meetings with the Prime Minister and addressing both Houses of Parliament. It is a shame that no such public occasion appears to have been factored into the president’s schedule. Could it be anything to do with the absence of a discernible English-American voting block in the States?
Every once in a while words fail me. As a writer, academic and broadcaster, I am sue that you can imagine that this is a problematic situation. However, such a situation occurred recently after watching the TV miniseries, The Kennedys.
Before I go any further let me state for the record my interest in this material. It may be hard to believe, but as a young guy growing up in Thatcher’s Britain I was a little unfocused. At 14 I imagine most guys are. Certainly I was more interested in football and girls than in studying and accordingly my ‘forward thinking’ teachers assured me that I would never amount to much, and would certainly fail any A levels that I should attempt.
And then something interesting happened. British television screened a miniseries starring Martin Sheen as the lead role in Kennedy. Broadcast over consecutive nights I was hooked, even if they finished too late for me to watch the end of them.
From then on I was hooked on American history and by extension, politics. Martin Sheen’s portrayal of JFK probably had as big an impact on me as anything ever put on screen. I started reading about the president, the family, the assassination and later on wider issues pertaining to the nation and its history. Like a ripple in a pool, my interests widened, but always with JFK at the heart of things. Eventually we studied the assassination at school and for the first time, I knew more about an event than the teacher.
So, it’s important to note that 1) I’m interested in the subject matter, and that 2) I’m no academic snob. I’m of the belief that whatever it takes to get people interested in history or politics, or whatever, is a good thing if it inspires people to develop an interest.
So, to end the digression and return to the subject at hand….
Earlier in the year, controversy arose when it was revealed that The History Channel were producing a lavish $30 million dollar mini series examining the Kennedy family. Key members of the Kennedy entourage spoke out against the project having seen drafts of the shooting script. This included the late, great Ted Sorenson, whom I had the very great honour of meeting before his death last year. The fear was that this was to be a conservative interpretation of events that would raise all sorts of scandals and portray a very different idea of Camelot than I had experienced in 1983.
Things came to a head when the finished project was turned over for broadcast. Realising the state of the finished article, the History Channel passed on the project. Having financed it, they now refused to broadcast it, claiming “this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.” Channel after channel passed on the project until it was later picked up by the ReelzChannel at a cost of $7 million, plus a further $10 million in advertising and broadcast the series in April 2011.
What you would be forgiven for not knowing having watched The Kennedys
1. That Ted Kennedy ever exited
2. That Joe and Rose Kennedy ever had more than 4 children (only Joe Jr, JKF, RFK and Rosemary are identified)
3. That Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday, Mr President
4. That Frank ‘The Voice’ Sinatra organised the Inaugural gala
5. That JFK gave more than 3 speeches as president
6. That JFK ever travelled overseas as President
7. That Kennedy signed a nuclear test ban treaty
8. That JFK and Jackie ever had civil world to say to each other
9. That Jackie miscarried in the 1950s
10. That JFK was 6ft tall and not shorter than most people around him
11. That haircuts changed from 1952-1968
12. That someone named Martin Luther King existed
13. That RFK went on a voyage of self discovery from 1963 to 1968
14. That anything of any importance happened between 1963 and 1968
15. That there is any dispute over the deaths of the Kennedy brothers.
16. That Joe Kennedy was American and not British.
17. That Joe Kennedy had his stroke in the winter of 1961 and that the administration carried on fine for almost 2 years after that.
18. That JFK had a group of talented individuals around him who worked on key issues and ensured a successful delivery of the administration’s policies and messages.
19.That there was anyone else in the cabinet except Bob McNamara (who looked nothing like he did in this series and was pictured sitting on the wrong side of the President in key meetings.
20. That Secretary of State Rusk was not the same person as Ambassador Stevenson. Time and again the show allocated sentiments and statements articulated by US Ambassador to the UN, Adlai Stevenson, to Secretary of State Rusk.
I could go on, but time and space prevent this!
Problems abounded in the production. There was a lack of tension, music was terrible, the use of non-related, pretentious quotations at the start of episodes was distracting. The habit of starting episodes with the climax before rehashing events that led up to events was repetitive and didactic. And then there were the haircuts…
I don’t know how familiar any of you are with fashion, but over a 16-year time span, they change. But not on this show. JFK and RFK are shown with the same wigs throughout this entire time period, ensuring that RFK looked exactly the same at the start of Ike’s America, as he did at the peak of the hippy movement in 1968.
This was nothing more than a Pantomime interpretation of history. The real tragedy will be if anyone accepts it as history, or worse is repelled from this incredible story due to the awful portrayal of events in this travesty of a show.
On a bitterly cold morning, 50 years ago today, crowds gathered before the east front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. to hear the inaugural address of America’s 35th president. The crowds gathered that day, squeezed in between the east front and the Library of Congress, witnessed perhaps the greatest inaugural address in history.The youngest man to deliver an inaugural address and the first born in the twentieth century, the words and images from that day continue to resonate throughout the ages. The expectations had not been high and certainly there was little in Kennedy’s previous rhetoric to suggest that the speech would be so memorable, but drawing upon the best of his campaign speeches, JFK and his aides, including Arthur Schlesinger and Ted Sorenson drafted a speech for the ages.
The inaugural was the harbinger of things to come; a golden age of public rhetoric and soaring addresses. From the White House to Rice University, from Berlin to Fort Worth, Kennedy’s inspiring words would deliver a message of hope and unity, of ideas and ideals. Kennedy would use humour to diffuse tension and self-deprecation to lighten the tone. He appreciated the absurdities of life and used irony in an attempt to explain it away as best he could.
50 years on the address continues to resonate. The soaring rhetoric, the delivery, the overall imagery of that day continue to capture the imaginations of millions who were not born on that cold day in January 1961. The hope and the energy that the speech conveyed continues to inspire new generations to leadership, not only in the United States, but around the globe. The glow of the fire continues to light the way for those who believe in a better tomorrow and a more perfect world. The life of President Kennedy was stilled in tragic circumstances, but his memory, his inspiration and his words live on in those of us who hold his life as an example to follow, a charge to keep and a cause to champion…