people wanted to remain out of the war. When Kennedy returned to the U.S. in October
1940, 10 days before the presidential election, he was expected to endorse Republican
Wilkie. After a private dinner with FDR, Kennedy agreed to endorse FDR in a radio
speech. It is not known why but it was probably because both men had the goods on the
other (FDR having access to Kennedy's tax returns and IRS problems and, through his
friend J. Edgar Hoover, FBI information on Kennedy). Kennedy's speech included the lie
that no secret commitments had been made and that FDR was not trying to involve the
country in war.
Three days after FDR won re-election, Kennedy self-destructed. He claimed Hitler had
won the war and that democracy was finished in England and perhaps in the U.S.. His
public support collapsed and his dreams of high public office ended. He resigned as
ambassador to England a few months later and he never served in public office again. He
refocused his considerable energies on his two oldest sons, Joe and Jack. When Joe Jr., a
naval aviator, died in 1944, the emphasis shifted almost entirely to Jack. Joe purposely
moved to the background to protect his sons from any damage his tainted reputation may
cause them. Still, Joe remained a commanding and demanding force in the lives of his
sons. A private phone was installed in the White House through which Joe and his son,
President John F. Kennedy, would frequently communicate—at least until Joe's stroke in
December 1961 left him unable to speak. Since these conversations were always held in
private and the two principals are dead--having apparently left no record of the subject
matter of their talks--no one knows how strongly Joe Kennedy influenced or directed
Jack's presidency, especially during that first year. It would be surprising if the influence
were not substantial, given Joe's ambitiousness, desire for power, long time political
aspirations, and his money, connections, and energy being critical to JFK's election and
given Jack's loyalty and devotion to his father.
John Kennedy seemed to have it all; looks, charm, intelligence, a sense of humor, power,
and the Kennedy fortune. He was a man's man and a woman's man. He was also
impatient, self-absorbed, zealously loyal to his family, a womanizer, an adulterer,
physically unhealthy, dishonest, and extremely reckless. John Kennedy was a notorious
penny-pincher who never carried cash and thus was never able to pay his share of a
restaurant or bar bill.
JFK adored his father and maternal grandfather, his brother Bobby was his closest friend,
but he had little time or use for his mother nor for women as peers in general. He often
called women he knew "kid" because he couldn't remember their names; even the names
of his lovers. Hersh speculates that JFK's craving for women and compulsive need to
shower (as often as five times a day) may have been linked to a lack of mothering.
He not only considered women as less than equals, he often referred to the poor, the
blacks, and the Jews, as "poor bastards". He showed almost no empathy and, like the
majority of people of his time, accepted inequalities based on race, gender, and religious
Though he won a Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography Profiles in Courage, it is likely the
book was largely ghostwritten and it is the case that his dad's money kept it on the
bestseller list and Joe's connections won it the Pulitzer.
JFK had an undistinguished legislative output in the Senate, but his looks and personal
appeal and Joe Kennedy's planning, connections, and money were behind marketing
efforts that made him a national celebrity.
During JFK's presidency, his desire and demand for loyalty resulted in his capable staff
serving him poorly as they preferred to please him rather than enlighten him.
What the public saw in JFK was an attractive, glamorous, hardworking President devoted
to country, wife and family. Four former secret service men who were assigned the
Kennedy presidential detail were interviewed for The Dark Side of Camelot. They
reported they saw a president obsessed with sex, willing to take enormous risks to gratify
that obsession, a president who came late many times to the Oval Office and who was not
readily available for hours during the day.
Jack Kennedy had a severe case of Addison's disease; an often fatal disease that weakens
the immune system. He was given last rites on four occasions but recovered each time.
He was often sick as an infant. He nearly died from scarlet fever at age 2, at 4 he missed
two thirds of his nursery school days due to illness, at 13 he almost died due to
appendicitis, and in college he suffered a back injury playing football that led him to wear
a back brace much of the rest of his life. He was born with one leg slightly longer than
the other so he had back problems even before the football injury.
JFK had been treated since his early twenties for a series of often painful venereal
diseases. He was repeatedly reinfected and presumably infecting his wife and many other
Basically, pain was a constant in JFK's life. To deal with it, he enlisted the services of Dr.
Max Jacobson. Dr. Jacobson was known to the secret service agents as "Dr. Feelgood".
He often treated the president with "painkillers" (apparently a combination of cortisone
and amphetamines), and provided drugs and hypodermic needles for self-administration.
There were periods during his presidency when JFK would get an injection every six
hours. He received treatments shortly before one of the televised debates with Nixon,
during Presidential travels to Europe, moments before a summit meeting with Soviet
premier Nikita Khruschev, and during the tense moments of the October 1962 missile
crisis. Dr. Jacobson's license to practice medicine was revoked in 1975 for misuse of
President Kennedy once told a friend, "You know, I get a migraine headache if I don't get
a strange piece of ass every day." Apparently he didn't have many headaches. His affairs
were legion. He even slept with one of his long time lovers in the Georgetown home he
shared with his wife and two children the night before his inauguration. He and this
woman began their affair when she was a 19 year old Radcliffe College student and he
was a 42 year old Senator running for president. Their four year affair lasted through the
election and into his presidency during which time she was a member of the White House
JFK, at 24, had a torrid affair with a married journalist, Inga Marie Arvadi. The former
Danish beauty queen had earlier socialized with Hitler. FBI surveillance, wire-tapping,
and searches found no evidence of illegal doings; just lovers at play.
Kennedy's affair with Marilyn Monroe, an open secret in Hollywood, began before the
1960 election and continued after he went to the White House.
Alicia Darr, who was to become an expensive call girl, had an affair with JFK in the
spring of 1960 and tried to extort money from the Kennedys, though there is no record of
money ever having been paid.
JFK told one of his lovers during the 1960 presidential primary that he would divorce his
wife if he didn't win the election.
A Georgetown housewife, obsessed with exposing the womanizing JFK, became a public
nuisance to the 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign but the general public did not care
to hear or believe her evidence.
President Kennedy did not have affairs in the White House when his wife was also
staying there, but she spent most of her time with their children at a family retreat in
Virginia. When returning to the White House earlier than expected, she would typically
call ahead, presumably to enable the coast to be cleared before her arrival. It seems
"plausible deniability" was important to the first lady as well as her husband.
According to a Secret Service agent who was on the Kennedy presidential detail: "When
she (Jackie) was there, it was no fun. He just had headaches. You really saw him droop
because he wasn't getting laid. He was like a rooster getting hit with a water hose."
Secret service agents were frustrated by the many "unknown" women who were brought
to the President for one-night stands. The women were not searched before meeting the
President. The agents feared that one of these women would blackmail or even kill JFK.
This was not the only way the agents felt derelict in their duty, they also allowed crimes
to go unreported. When travelling, oftentimes local officials would bring call girls and
hookers (often more than one at a time) to the President. The agents, rather than arresting
the President or his aides, friends and supporters for procuring prostitutes, would say
nothing. There were many budding Hollywood starlets brought to the White House for
their "services" with it made clear that sex with the President could help a career but
news of the affair would end it. JFK's skinny-dipping lunchtime pool parties at the White
House with two young female staff aides (Fiddle and Faddle) sometimes included his
brothers Bobby and Teddy.
Judith Campbell (now known as Judith Exner) was a gorgeous California socialite, 25
years old when she was introduced to JFK by Frank Sinatra in early 1960. One month
later they become lovers. A month after that, JFK asked Campbell to carry a satchel
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containing at least $250,000 ("for the [presidential primary] campaign") to Mafia kingpin
Sam Giancana; who was also recently introduced to Campbell by Sinatra. She became a
conduit between Kennedy and Giancana during the primaries and remained so during the
general election and the Kennedy administration. She carried money and documents on
the "elimination" of Castro from JFK to Giancana and arranged meetings between the
two. Throughout her years with JFK, Campbell was under intense FBI surveillance due to
her association with Giancana. The surveillance revealed to the FBI her relationship with
JFK. Hoover chose not to make this information public at least in part because revealing
it would indicate the extent of his illegal bugging and would damage his and the FBI's
By the fall of 1962, Campbell was out of JFK's life. The FBI surveillance and JFK's
waning passion for her (he'd brought another woman to their bed much to Campbell's
dismay) left her heartbroken. Exner (Campbell) claims to have gotten pregnant from JFK
during their last sexual encounter. According to Exner, JFK told her not to keep the baby
and to seek help from Giancana, who had also become her lover, in terminating the
In 1963, German born Ellen Rometsch became one of the White House pool party girls.
Rometsch was 27, beautiful, and a prostitute when she met JFK. As a youth and young
adult she was a member of the Communist Party. Other call girls from Communist
countries, Maria Novtny (a Czech) and Suzy Chang (a Chinese) serviced JFK (their
relationship preceded his election). These latter two women were also involved with a
British prime minister of war, getting answers to questions about British nuclear policy
being fed them by a Soviet naval attaché. When that dalliance became known, prime
minister Harold Macmillan resigned and his government was shortly voted out of office.
Some reporters knew about the link between these call girls and JFK but their story was
suppressed by publishing mogul Bill Hearst. The FBI learned of the Rometsch-Kennedy
connection and began to investigate her as a possible spy. The Kennedys had her
deported to Germany and paid her to keep her mouth shut.
In September 1963, while frolicking poolside with one of his sexual partners, JFK tore a
groin muscle. He had to wear a stiff shoulder-to-groin brace that locked his body in a
rigid upright position. It was far more constraining than his usual back brace, which he
continued to wear. The two braces made it impossible for JFK to bend in reflex when he
was struck in the neck by a bullet fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. The president remained
erect for the fatal shot from Oswald.
The first election JFK won was his grandfather Honey Fitz's congressional seat. Critical
to the win was Joe's money. It didn't hurt when a second Joseph Russo was placed on the
ballot. The first Joseph Russo was a leading contender for the House seat but the two
Russo names split his vote total. JFK's election to the U.S. Senate was again largely the
result of Joe's money and connections. Bobby Kennedy was his brother's official
During the Democratic primaries for the 1960 presidential election, JFK's most important
victory came in West Virginia. Large sums of Kennedy money--at least $2 million ($11
million in today's dollars) and possibly twice that--bought votes. The paymasters
included JFK's brothers, Bobby and Ted Kennedy. The primary was effectively stolen
from Hubert Humphrey.
At the democratic convention, JFK came in with enough delegates for a first ballot
nomination. He made a surprise choice of Lyndon Johnson as a running mate. No one,
including JFK, had wanted Johnson on the ticket. LBJ was a close friend of J. Edgar
Hoover, who had provided him with much information about JFK's personal life. JFK
admitted in private that he chose Johnson because, "those bastards are trying to frame
Prior to the 1960 election, the CIA had unassailable evidence of a Nixon bribe; a copy of
a check for $100,000 that had been deposited in Nixon's checking account in a California
bank. This was given by a former business partner of Albert Göring (brother of Field
Marshall Hermann Göring). The men in the upper echelons of the CIA disliked the
dishonorable Nixon—who had publicly and vehemently disavowed ever accepting any
bribes—and strongly favored JFK in the election.
In the 1960 presidential election, Joe Kennedy made a deal with Sam Giancana. This
former Al Capone hit man was the most influential gangster in the powerful organized
crime syndicate in Chicago. The deal was for Giancana to get out the JFK vote among the
rank and file in the mob controlled unions and siphon campaign funds from the corrupt
Teamster's union fund. What Giancana would get in return is unknown. JFK's stolen win
in Illinois was crucial to his narrow general election victory of less than one tenth of one
percent of the popular vote.
In 1960, Hoover was five years short of the mandatory retirement age for government
workers (70). Through illegal wiretaps, he knew the election corruption went far beyond
Illinois. Allegations of fraud were filed in eleven states. The day after the election, JFK
announced he would reappoint Hoover as FBI director. Another JFK appointment was his
brother Bobby as Attorney General. This choice was forced on Jack by his dad. With his
brother the Attorney General, the investigation into election fraud was stopped in its
tracks. Nothing was done after the Justice Department forwarded a report to the Attorney
General that the Illinois election was stolen.
During the election, JFK railed against the "missile gap", a supposed shortcoming of U.S.
nuclear missile capability compared to that of the Soviet Union. Through briefings with
high ranking officials Kennedy knew no such gap existed, but it became an issue to the
electorate worried about nearby Cuba. JFK was more vocal in bashing Cuba than his
opponent, Vice President Richard Nixon. Both of them knew of Eisenhower's top secret
plans to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro and to invade Cuba though Nixon, as VP,
couldn't bash Cuba too much or it would jeopardize that plan. Eisenhower and Nixon had
hoped that the Castro overthrow would occur prior to the 1960 election. Under the
direction of the Eisenhower administration, the CIA involved the Mafia in plotting the
assassination of Fidel Castro as early as August 1960. The CIA contact, Johnny Rosselli
(believed to be personally responsible for 13 Mafia murders), was a top man directly
responsible to Sam Giancana. Giancana was supposed to arrange the Castro hit in
October 1960 for Eisenhower and Nixon while he was also working to steal the election
for Kennedy. Giancana made no attempt to kill Castro before the election.
Castro was preparing for an invasion based on JFK's tough talk, his awareness of
invasion plans, and the expected Republican response to JFK's accusations that they were
soft on Cuba. Nixon believed JFK's manipulation of the Cuba issue beat him in the
election. He saw Kennedy men as "the most ruthless group of political operatives." In his
memoirs, Nixon wrote: From this point on I had the wisdom and wariness of someone
who had been burned by the power of the Kennedys and their money and by the license
they were given by the media. I vowed that I would never again enter an election at a
disadvantage by being vulnerable to them – or anyone – on the level of political tactics.
The lesson he learned appears to have led Nixon to the presidency, a re-election, and the
disgrace of a forced resignation.
The Kennedys planned to have Jack as president for two terms followed by Bobby as
president for two terms. To move Bobby closer to the presidency for the 1968 election,
the Kennedys planned to dump Vice President Lyndon Johnson from the 1964 ticket. In
1963, they supplied documents about Johnson and some of his illegal financial dealings
Just prior to assuming office, JFK asked CIA director Richard Bissell to create a formal
capacity for political assassination. He picked up where the Eisenhower administration
left off; in plotting the assassination of three foreign leaders: Fidel Castro of Cuba,
Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. Well-
versed in "plausible deniability", there are no papers tying JFK to the use of the word
"assassination", but the evidence for his directives is overwhelming. In mid-January
1961, Lumumba was murdered. In May 1961, Trujillo was murdered by assassins using
CIA supplied weapons and ammunition.
Over a three year period, dozens of plans to assassinate Castro were developed by the
Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, the CIA, and the Mafia under Sam Giancana.
None of those plans was successfully executed. On November 22, 1963, as Oswald was
shooting JFK in Dallas, an undercover CIA agent was meeting with a former follower of
Castro and delivering to him an assassination device for use against Castro.
There was at least one more successful assassination by unknown killers. Mafia kingpin
Sam Giancana was brutally murdered in his home the night before he was to meet with a
lawyer for the Church Committee, the Congressional committee established in 1975 to
investigate CIA assassination plots.
JFK also continued the Eisenhower plan to invade Cuba. Though the plan was to
assassinate Castro just prior to the invasion, the invasion proceeded with Castro still in
control. It was a disaster. On April 17, 1961, three months after Kennedy took office,
Castro's army routed the 1,400 Cuban exiles that landed at the Bay of Pigs. The Cuban
exiles were recruited, trained, and armed by the CIA. On the eve of the invasion, JFK
personally cancelled a scheduled second airstrike intended to destroy the Cuban airforce.
The first bombing, carried out two days earlier by 8 unmarked WWII B-26's, failed to
complete their mission. Kennedy thought a second attempt would more likely implicate
the U.S.. His cancellation of that mission had inevitable deadly consequences when the
landing proceeded into the teeth of superior air power.
Four U.S. pilots in Nicaragua secretly training Cubans ignored the President's orders not
to do the second air strike and took off with two bombers on their own to fight Castro.
They did heavy damage before being shot down. JFK had denied any U.S. involvement
inside Cuba so he hoped the pilots were dead--hence avoiding the type of embarrassment
Eisenhower endured when downed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was displayed in
Moscow after Eisenhower denied any such missions were in effect. The Kennedy
administration initially refused to pay the families of those pilots military pensions
because of the possible political fallout of how they died. The families eventually got part
of the pensions.
In public, JFK took responsibility for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. His popularity soared to an
83% approval rating. In private, he blamed the CIA and the military brass for the debacle
and drew the circle of decision-makers ever tighter around himself and Bobby. Though
inexperienced in foreign policy, the Kennedys began back channel communications with
Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev and spent the next 18 months negotiating foreign policy
secretly. Bobby Kennedy, just 35 years old, within the first six months of JFK's
presidency had become the president's legal advisor, political advisor, protector, best
friend, and most influential foreign affairs advisor.
Kennedy was devastated by the humiliating failure in Cuba and sought revenge on
Castro. He paused in dealing with Cuba to turn his attention elsewhere. Less than two
months after the Bay of Pigs, JFK approved a series of clandestine actions to escalate the
war in Vietnam.
The Kennedys continued to lean heavily on the CIA to murder Fidel Castro and
overthrow his government. CIA leadership bristled at the pressure; feeling the Kennedys
were carrying out a family vendetta against Castro since the Bay of Pigs (for which the
Kennedys blamed the CIA). The Mafia was again enlisted and again unsuccessful.
Attorney General Bobby Kennedy was publicly out to destroy the Mafia while privately
using them for information about and dirty work in Cuba. Ultimately more than $100
million was spent by the Kennedy administration trying to assassinate Castro and
overthrow his regime. In anticipation of a successful CIA and Mafia initiated revolt in
Cuba (scheduled for October 1962; just before the midterm elections), the Pentagon had
been ordered to begin prepositioning troops and matériel for a massive invasion of Cuba.
Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and sailors took part in military exercises in
the Carribean. This activity was observed by Cuban and Soviet intelligence. Khruschev
responded by moving Soviet missiles and launchers into Cuba triggering the missile crisis
of October 1962.
The Soviets were already capable of launching missiles from submarines against any
coastal U.S. city, a few more in Cuba wouldn't make much difference to U.S. security
(the United States had ten times the number of warheads and missile launchers as the
Soviets). Despite his awareness of these facts, President Kennedy brought the world to
the brink of nuclear war. He had already mobilized a vast army of men and matériel in
preparation for an invasion of Cuba. He refused to believe U.S. intelligence reports that
the Soviets were placing missiles in Cuba preferring to believe the lies he was receiving
from Khruschev through their secret back channel communications. On October 16,
1962, Kennedy was given irrefutable U-2 photographic evidence of a Soviet ballistic site
in Cuba. The President, angered by the Khruschev lies, eschewed diplomacy and played a
terrifying game of nuclear chicken.
A year earlier, JFK approved operational status for U.S. nuclear missiles stationed in
Turkey, just across the Black Sea from Russia. This deployment in the Soviet Union's
backyard coupled with the continued U.S. threat to Cuba prompted Khruschev to gamble
on deploying missiles in Cuba. On October 22, 1962, JFK told the American people
about the Soviet missiles in Cuba. A U.S. naval blockade was established to keep Soviet
ships from reaching Cuba. When the Soviet vessels reached the blockade, they stopped
then returned to the Soviet Union. The public record is that JFK won the missile crisis by
negotiating through strength. The resolution of the crisis was actually the result of a
secret arrangement made by the U.S. to give Khruschev what he wanted; a promise that
the U.S. would not invade Cuba and the removal of U.S. missiles from Turkey. JFK was
a hero to the uninformed American people. Nine days after the missile crisis ended, the
Democrats had a successful midterm election (Ted Kennedy won his first term in the
Senate.) The missile crisis did not deter the Kennedys in their quest to rid themselves of
Castro and his regime. Anti-Castro exile groups continued to be provided with funds,
arms, and intelligence by the CIA.
JFK's enduring legacy as president was the war in Vietnam. JFK had personal
responsibility for the November 2, 1963, overthrow and murder of his friend Ngo Dinh
Diem, the president of South Vietnam. Diem's fall is considered to be the turning point in
converting a Vietnamese war into an American one with the eventual loss of 58,000
American lives and many more thousands of Vietnamese lives. In 1963, Diem had begun
secret talks with North Vietnam to reach a peaceful settlement to establish a neutral
regime in the South and to get the 16,500 Americans out. Kennedy did not want to lose
South Vietnam to communism (his administration had inherited the inevitable loss of
Laos to communism), and that was the expected result of an agreement between North
and South Vietnam. However, there was strong support for communism among the South
Vietnamese (the Viet Cong), who despised Diem's influential brother Nhu. To avoid the
South settling with the North, JFK had the CIA help South Vietnamese General Minh
plot a coup against Diem knowing the Vietnamese president and his brother would be
murdered in the coup. JFK had planned to get the U.S. out of Vietnam, but not until after
his re-election in November 1964. An earlier settlement between North and South,
brokered in part by the French, would jeopardize his re-election as he would have
appeared to lose another country to communism. Apparently JFK's policy was not to save
South Vietnam from communism, but to delay that conversion until after his re-election.
His public proclamations of the need to stem the tide of communism lest more countries
fall like dominoes drove America's foreign policy in Vietnam even after JFK's death.
Other Foreign Affairs
In June of 1961, at a summit in Vienna between the leaders of the United States and
Soviet Union, Khruschev bullied and threatened Kennedy over the status of Berlin. Many
of the most capable and intelligent people in East Germany were leaving that country and
communist rule through Berlin for the freedom of the West. To stop the exodus, it
appeared Khruschev might take over all of Berlin by force. The following month
Kennedy announced a series of military escalations; tripling draft calls, increasing
defense spending, authorizing reservists callups and extending tours of duty, canceling
leaves, placing elements of the Strategic Air Command on heightened alert, and
increasing military hardware and munitions shipments to Europe. The U.S. population
rallied around him. On August 13, 1961, Khruschev had the city of Berlin split in two
with the erection of the Berlin Wall. The Kennedy administration did nothing to stop its
construction. The way Kennedy saw it, "Better a wall than a war."
In October 1961, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the recently elected Prime Minister of the tiny Latin
American country of British Guiana visited the White House seeking American foreign
aid. As he was a socialist, he didn't get any money. Further, Kennedy ordered the CIA to
unseat Prime Minister Jagan. Within months, CIA men in Guianan triggered race and
labor riots which resulted in the burning of the capital. The CIA also financed new radio
stations and phony newspaper stories to heighten unrest. Jagan clung to power for nearly
three more years before being unseated by a strong anticommunist.
JFK sought to enlist the Soviet Union's help in destroying China's ability to create nuclear
weapons. How this could be carried off was still under investigation by the Kennedy
administration at JFK's death.
The Kennedy administration accomplished little in domestic legislation. For the first two
years of his administration, Kennedy did not respond to calls from black leaders for
passing comprehensive civil rights legislation. The Democrats held a narrow majority in
Congress and many of the Democratic seats were held by Southerners who opposed such
legislation. JFK needed the white Southern vote to win re-election in 1964 so his
approach to civil rights was a cautious, noncommital one. In February 1963 Kennedy
submitted a watered down civil rights package to Congress, but he did little to promote its
passing and it quickly expired. Anguished by the (televised) violence of Southern
segregationists against those promoting civil rights, Kennedy announced on June 11,
1963 that he would send comprehensive civil rights legislation to Congress. The
legislation had not yet passed when JFK was assassinated. Kennedy's efforts to cut taxes
and increase funding for education died in Congress, leaving his administration with a
legacy in which no significant legislation was passed. (Note: This material was drawn
largely from PBS's website as Hersh had little to write about regarding legislation pushed
or passed through Congress by Kennedy.)
During Kennedy's presidency, there were many potential scandals that didn't erupt. One
that almost did was JFK's first marriage. John Kennedy secretly wed Palm Beach
socialite Durie Malcolm in early 1947 before his high-society wedding to Jacqueline
Bouvier in 1953. Joe Kennedy was livid about his son's non-Catholic wedding to a twice
divorced woman and he had the marriage papers removed from courthouse records.
Though close family and friends knew of the wedding, no one has reported knowing of
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