The Kennedy Legacy

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Rory Kennedy on Vietnam, Iraq, and Ferguson

By Marlow Stern

They call her “The Quiet Kennedy.” Rory Kennedy, the youngest of eleven children to the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) and Ethel Kennedy, doesn’t seem to share some of her siblings’ passion for the limelight but does, in her own discreet way, share their passion for social justice. For Rory, this seemingly inherent appetite for altruism is sated through the medium of documentary film, where the 45-year-old filmmaker has tackled issues ranging from AIDS (Pandemic: Facing AIDS), the Iraq War (Ghosts of Abu Ghraib), and turning the lens on her own family, in Ethel.

Her latest film, Last Days in Vietnam, opens in select theaters on Sept. 5. The documentary chronicles the last few days—in particular, the last 24 hours—of the Vietnam War. With the North Vietnamese Army closing in on Saigon, a group of besieged American soldiers and diplomats tried their best to beat back against the White House’s order to only evacuate U.S. citizens, instead trying to save as many South Vietnamese citizens as possible. Kennedy’s film includes interviews with diplomats, soldiers, and helicopter pilots who were all on the ground at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, as well as several South Vietnamese who were left behind and forced into reeducation camps—some for as long as a decade—by the NVA.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Kennedy spoke to The Daily Beast about the disturbing similarities between our exit strategy in Vietnam and that of Iraq, the dire situation in Ferguson in the wake of the Michael Brown killing, and much more.

Why did you feel the need to make a documentary about the final days of the Vietnam War?

The executive producer for the project, Mark Samels, had approached me to do a film about the last days in Vietnam. I’ve always been interested in Vietnam, feel it’s a seminal event in our nation’s history, and have explored it over the years—but I hadn’t been interested in doing a documentary about it. I felt there had been a lot done about Vietnam, and didn’t know if I could add anything new to the discussion. Then, after doing research, I learned that there was a lot more to the event that took place. The final days were, collectively, an extraordinarily dramatic moment, and when I came across the stories of the people on the ground who’d gone against U.S. policy—which was just to get the Americans out of Vietnam, since Saigon was falling very quickly—and risked their lives to save the Vietnamese, I didn’t feel that story had been told in any significant way. A lot of people feel they’re familiar with the events through the iconic photo of the helicopter leaving the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, but a lot of people I talked to while making the film didn’t really know what had happened. In addition, I felt the film was really timely given our departures from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Your late father, former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, proposed a three-point plan to end the Vietnam War in March 1967. Is that part of the reason why you’re fascinated by it?

Well, 52,000 Americans died, and it was also tied up in the 1960s protest movement. I think that the war itself, and the lessons that we can learn from that war, are still enormously relevant. As you look at what’s happening in Iraq in the last couple of months—the last six weeks or so, particularly—it really feels like it’s an echo of what happened in Saigon in 1975. We can learn how you get out of a war and what kind of questions should be raised in entering into a war by how we extract ourselves. And we clearly haven’t learned them yet. 

What parallels do you see between the shoddy job we did exiting Vietnam, and the shoddy job we’ve done in exiting Iraq?

There’s a great op-ed piece by Kurt Johnson, who runs The List Project, that I recommend everyone read. He was talking about how he’s been trying to get out of Iraq who were our allies, who are now subject to torture and their families are being killed because of their alliance to the United States. They’re on a long list that’s caught up in the bureaucracy of Washington, and they’re not getting out of the country. President Obama campaigned, in part, on the claim that he’d make sure these people would be given safe haven and that we’d look out for our allies, and it’s not happening in any widespread manner. We have a responsibility to the people who we’ve left behind.

Now, there’s the recent awful news of James Foley, the journalist who was beheaded by ISIS. A terrorist organization like ISIS emerging does also seem to be a byproduct of the poor job we did in exiting Iraq.

It’s horrible. So horrible. And yes. I don’t know if I would draw direct parallels in that manner, because I’m not sure the North Vietnamese government that took over after Vietnam were the evil villains that they were depicted to be, or that they had the long-term implications that people feared in having the communist regime take over. And we’re now allied with Vietnam against China. But I do think that going back to the people who are on the ground, and how they’re impacted from our presence—and then we withdraw from the presence—is significant. You can’t prove it, but would the Vietnamese have been better off if we’d never been there? I think there’s an argument to be made that they would have, and I think that’s probably true of Iraq, too.

You very publicly endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, but a lot of people seem to be losing faith at this point—especially with regard to Iraq and some of his foreign policy decision-making.

I think that there are certainly decisions he’s made that have been limited, and that I’m disappointed in. But I think Iraq was Bush and Cheney’s war, and it’s important for them to bear the responsibility for being there. This is, in part, the lesson of the Vietnam War—once you got to the point we got to in April of 1975, there are very few options that are available. That’s where we are with Iraq. Now, Obama’s going back in there in what he claims is an isolated manner. Is that the best option? I don’t know if that’s the best option. I feel for the people on the top of the hill, and I think it’s important to save the people who we got into this mess. The reality is that there are no good options. With Obama going back into Iraq and with ISIS, viscerally I feel like we should do this, but can we think this through? What’s the plan? What’s the end goal? How long are we going to do this for, and how are we going to get out? Those discussions aren’t happening in a deep and thoughtful manner.

But going back to original question about Obama, I do have some disappointments in Obama. I do think he’s had a tough go of it with the extremists on the Republican side and the Tea Party movement, which has made navigating Washington near-impossible. He hasn’t done a great job working with our own party and I don’t want to let him off the hook entirely, but when there are so many people in positions of power whose only goal is to undermine Obama, and to not have the government work for the people, is a unique position to be in over these last eight years.

Do you think the rise of the Tea Party and the constant obstruction—“undermining,” as you put it—that Obama’s faced is, to a degree, born out of racism? Or is it purely political?

I don’t really see it coming out of racism as much. I think there are pockets of it. I think if Hillary was there, it would be the same thing—and then it could be born out of sexism, I suppose. But I think it’s what the Democrats represent overall and their ideals more than the particular person that’s articulating them. Although the fact that he’s African-American probably galvanized certain pockets on the far right wing to be more motivated to undermine him, so that level of racism certainly exists, but I wouldn’t say it’s a defining factor with the Republican Party.

Read more about Rory’s vision on the situation in Ferguson, the wedding of her brother Bobby and her new projects.

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John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy letters to be auctioned

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By Matt Viser

WASHINGTON — A 16-year-old Bobby Kennedy, with all four front teeth chipped from playing football, was planning to head home from Milton Academy for the weekend. Writing before the Kennedy family experienced a series of tragic deaths, there was a fatalistic side to his thoughts.

“I’m going home this weekend to see my brother Jack who is now going into PT boats,” Kennedy wrote to one of his friends, “so I’m getting out to see him because he might be killed any minute.”

The letter is part of two separate batches of newly revealed correspondence — one series written by Robert F. Kennedy, the other by John F. Kennedy — that are being made public for the first time and are set to be auctioned next month at the Omni Parker House in Boston. RR Auction said it has authenticated the letters using in-house experts and outside consultants.

The two collections reveal a family in the middle of World War II, just before two members were killed in airplane accidents, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. in 1944 and Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy in 1948

The letters from John F. Kennedy were sent to the family of Harold W. Marney, one of two crew members killed when the PT-109 boat that he commanded was destroyed by a Japanese ship. A 26-year-old Kennedy wrote condolences to a family whose son had died.

“This letter is to offer my deepest sympathy to you for the loss of your son,” he wrote shortly after the August 1943 accident. “I realize that there is nothing that I can say can make your sorrow less; particularly as I know him; and I know what a great loss he must be to you and your family.”

Marney had joined the boat a week earlier to serve as engineer, Kennedy wrote, and he did his job “with great cheerfulness — an invaluable quality out here.”

 “I am truly sorry that I cannot offer you hope that he survived that night,” he wrote. “You do have the consolation of knowing that your son died in the service of his country.”

Several months later, Kennedy wrote another letter, in response to one he had received from the Marneys asking for more information about their son. The telegram they received from the Navy said little more than that their son “is missing following action in the performance of his duty.”

Kennedy again wrote his condolences, and said that all the information he had was included in the previous letter. After the Japanese destroyer hit their ship, they never saw Marney again.

After the crew reunited on a floating bow, Kennedy wrote, “we could find no trace of him, although every effort was made to find him.”

Kennedy’s heroism during the accident, in which two were killed but all the others managed to get to land and were eventually rescued, later helped lay the foundation for his rise as a national politician.

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The Marney family also wrote Kennedy after his older brother, Joe, died in a plane crash. This time the roles were reversed as they offered condolences to him.

“Boys like Harold and my brother Joe can never be replaced,” Kennedy responded in a letter with a Hyannis Port letterhead and postmarked Sept. 1, 1944. “But there is some consolation in knowing that they were doing what they wanted to do — and were doing it well.”

The items being auctioned also include the telegram that the Marneys received informing them that their son was missing, as well as the Purple Heart he was awarded.

The 18 letters to be auctioned that Robert Kennedy wrote between 1941 and 1945 were to a close friend, Peter MacLellan, whom he befriended at the Portsmouth Priory School in Rhode Island. The batch also includes nine letters from Robert’s sister Jean, whom MacLellan dated at one point.

They show Bobby as an adolescent, discussing sports, school, and girls as he mourns that he seemed to lack the charming ways of his brother.

“I am now chasing women madly but it looks as if I lack the Kennedy charm as I have yet to find a girl who likes me but then I don’t quit easily so I’m still in there struggling,” Robert Kennedy wrote to MacLellan in a letter postmarked July 3, 1944. “How’s that love life of yours?”

Kennedy showed a jovial side and a fair amount of teenage braggadocio. He signed one letter, “from your mental & physical superior and your better in football, hockey and baseball, Robert Francis Kennedy.” In another he noted, “I’m still healthy, strong . . . and good looking as ever.”

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But Kennedy also lacked some of the athletic prowess that his family was known for.

“Baseball has started and I decided to go out for it and of course got cut but I expected it so it doesn’t much matter,” he wrote in a letter postmarked March 13, 1943.

At another point, he refers to his younger brother, Teddy, and his football abilities.

“Football is going stinky due to the fact there’s a guy on 2nd team ahead of me who can play ball as well as Teddy my brother and the coach thinks he’s better than me. I guess no one appreciates my true qualities . . . The whole thing can go to Hell.”

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William Kennedy Smith mounts first political run

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By Mike de Bonis

William Kennedy Smith, who counts among his uncles two senators and a president, is going into the family business — in the political equivalent of the mailroom.

William K. Smith is one of two names that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot for Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat 2A04, representing a sliver of Washington’s Foggy Bottom area that includes the Watergate complex and, yes, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Smith, a 53-year-old physician who lives in the Watergate West building and runs a medical software company, confirmed Wednesday what is his first run for public office but said he does not have a political career in mind.

“I think of it as service,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of different things internationally, and I’ve been involved in grass-roots activities in a lot of different capacities. . . . I just felt it was a good thing to do.”

Smith came to national attention more than two decades ago after being accused of raping a woman in Palm Beach, Fla., when he was 30.

William Kennedy Smith, who counts among his uncles two senators and a president, is going into the family business — in the political equivalent of the mailroom.

William K. Smith is one of two names that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot for Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat 2A04, representing a sliver of Washington’s Foggy Bottom area that includes the Watergate complex and, yes, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Smith, a 53-year-old physician who lives in the Watergate West building and runs a medical software company,confirmed Wednesday what is his first run for public office but said he does not have a political career in mind.

“I think of it as service,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of different things internationally, and I’ve been involved in grass-roots activities in a lot of different capacities. . . . I just felt it was a good thing to do.”

Smith came to national attention more than two decades ago after being accused of raping a woman in Palm Beach, Fla., when he was 30.

He was acquitted in December 1991 of sexual battery and battery after an eight-month prosecution and two-week trial that garnered intense national attention.

After the trial concluded, Smith continued with his medical residency and later founded and ran a nonprofit organization devoted to helping individuals in foreign countries with disabilities.

Smith, who married in 2011 not long after moving to the District, is the son of Jean Kennedy Smith, the youngest daughter of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy and sister to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy.

Should Smith win, he would hardly be a heartbeat from the presidency — or any other position of prominence.

Advisory neighborhood commissions represent the lowest level of District government, consisting of unpaid members who weigh in on such hyperlocal issues as liquor licenses, zoning petitions and street projects. Votes taken by ANCs are, as their name suggests, purely advisory in most cases, but city agencies are required to give “great weight” to their recommendations.

Smith said he was encouraged to run by two current commissioners, including the retiring commissioner whose seat he is hoping to assume.

His first experience with neighborhood activism, he said, came in negotiating with the owners of the soon-to-be-renovated Watergate Hotel over a liquor license application.

Armando Irizarry, the outgoing commissioner, said he was impressed by Smith’s dealings with the liquor license.

“He was very responsible, very good to work with, very level-headed,” he said. “I’m happy to support him.”

Smith is facing Thomas B. Martin, a 39-year-old lawyer who has lived in Foggy Bottom for more than a decade. Martin said he learned about his opponent while circulating ballot petitions in his apartment building.

A neighbor asked him if he had met the competition, Martin said. “She said his name, and I just paused for a moment, and I said, ‘Kennedy, Kennedy?’ ”

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Ferguson Needed a Robert F. Kennedy, Not a George S. Patton

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By Burke E. Strunsky 

All across the world, we watched this week as police deployed armored vehicles, snipers and officers in military combat gear against protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Hasn’t history repeatedly shown us that an overzealous showing of force against those who have experienced genuine and lasting sociocultural marginalization just ratchets up the levels of violence? 

On April 4, 1968, the sound of gunfire shattered the senses and a body slammed against the second-floor balcony of a Memphis motel. Shockwaves of panicked emotion reverberated throughout the surrounding area and then quickly engulfed the entire world. Just hours later, Senator Robert F. “Bobby” Francis Kennedy (RFK) landed in Indianapolis, Indiana, to lead a political rally in his bid for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. He’d been onboard the plane when he was first told of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The crowd of mostly African Americans he was to address had not yet heard about King’s murder, and RFK felt it was his duty to deliver the tragic news rather than a rah-rah campaign speech. Fearful of violent reactions, RFK’s advisers attempted to dissuade him from speaking. The night was thick with ominous predictions, and even the police chief warned the junior senator from New York that he could not guarantee his safety.

King had become the single most transformative figure in the civil rights movement, and RFK understood that what the nation needed most was a call to healing and reconciliation. RFK stepped up to the microphone, and as he began to report what had happened to King, a giant wave of human torment rolled toward him; many in the inner-city gathering wailed and gasped, unrestrained in their shock and grief.

RFK continued with an impassioned yet humble, measured tone that viscerally captured the nature of the tragedy:

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States; we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times. The vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

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RFK pressed on:

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

The climax of his brief, four-minute speech was RFK’s sharing of a quote he had memorized from his favorite poet, the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus: “In our sleep, pain which we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” Aeschylus was saying that no matter the nature of our particular pain, that pain couldn’t help succumbing to the power of the heart. I can think of no finer words to express how humankind’s suffering can summon forth its higher sense of nobleness.

Riots erupted across the United States, and more than 100 cities became unwilling hosts to angry mobs: 39 people were killed and another 2,500 injured. But beneath the charged Indianapolis skies, Bobby RFK had summoned heartfelt words to cool the temper of the crowd. His conviction to lead in a way that King himself would have wanted had also saved lives. That night, the band of believers left with a heavy cloud over their spirits; yet, in contrast to almost every major city in America, there were no riots in Indianapolis.

More than any politician I can think of, RFK knew how to inspire people. It wasn’t a cheap, button-pushing inspiration, but the kind that grew out of his direct awareness of what people had experienced and where they were coming from. RFK, who was killed in 1968, served as a prosecutor in his career, including acting as chief counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee and as United States Attorney General, where he pushed for civil rights even more aggressively than his brother, President John F. Kennedy.

As a prosecutor, I often look to his words for guidance. As Ferguson protestors gather more than 70,000 signatures to have St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch removed from the case, it would be helpful if Mr. McCullough took the time to read RFK’s words. Those words are hauntingly and demoralizingly, still so befitting. The bottom line is that Ferguson needed a Robert F. Kennedy, not a George S. Patton.

(Source: The Huffington Post)

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"I’m really proud of my family, I mean my parents, I can’t imagine having better parents and a more wonderful brother so I feel very fortunate that they are my family. You know I wish they were here but my own family, my children, my husband, are really my family"

- Caroline Kennedy

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In 2002, Max Kennedy, one of the sons of Kennedy’s brother Robert, traveled to the Solomons with the National Geographic expedition to meet the islanders whose courage he had heard about since childhood. In an emotional high point in the film, Kumana sobs as the younger Kennedy embraces him.
Max Kennedy presented Kumana and Gasa with gifts, including a letter from another brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who wrote that President Kennedy “never forgot you.”
"Both of them were extraordinarily charismatic men," Max Kennedy said this week about Kumana and Gasa, who died in 2005.He described the day he spent with Kumana as full of laughter."He was very, very funny and had a great sense of irony, which I think President Kennedy also had," Max Kennedy said. "He was wearing a T-shirt that is very popular in the Solomon Islands. It read ‘I Rescued JFK.’"

In 2002, Max Kennedy, one of the sons of Kennedy’s brother Robert, traveled to the Solomons with the National Geographic expedition to meet the islanders whose courage he had heard about since childhood. In an emotional high point in the film, Kumana sobs as the younger Kennedy embraces him.

Max Kennedy presented Kumana and Gasa with gifts, including a letter from another brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who wrote that President Kennedy “never forgot you.”

"Both of them were extraordinarily charismatic men," Max Kennedy said this week about Kumana and Gasa, who died in 2005.

He described the day he spent with Kumana as full of laughter.

"He was very, very funny and had a great sense of irony, which I think President Kennedy also had," Max Kennedy said. "He was wearing a T-shirt that is very popular in the Solomon Islands. It read ‘I Rescued JFK.’"

(Source: Los Angeles Times)

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Fisherman who saved JFK’s life during WWII dies

In Solomon Islands, way out in the ocean, far off the coast of northwest Australia, a 93-year-old man died on August 6.

His name was Eroni Kumana and he is the man who, in 1943, rescued a young U.S. Naval Lieutenant who was stranded out in the sea.

That navy man was former President John F. Kennedy.

He and his crew had been on patrol when their boat was broken in half by a Japanese destroyer.

Kennedy and 10 other survivors had to swim three miles to a coral reef.

Kumana just happened to be out in a canoe on that day, more than 70 years ago. He gave the Americans food and Kennedy sent him away with a “help” message etched on a coconut. Kumana helped save all the men.

And on his oval office desk, JFK used that same coconut as a paperweight.

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(Source: wgntv.com)

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