Monday, May 29, 2017

JFK‘s diary strikes gold

‘These Leftists are filled with bitterness, and I am not sure how deeply the tradition of tolerance in England is ingrained in these bitter and discontented spirits.’ ‘For too long a time now England has been divided into the two nations [. . .] the rich and the poor. The Labor Party will stay in for a long time if the conservative wing of that party [. . .] remain in office. But if the radical group like Laski [professor of economics and chairman of the Labour Party], Shinwell and Cripps become the dominating influence [. . .] there will be a reaction and the Conservatives will come once again to power.’ This is none other than John F. Kennedy - born a century ago today - writing in a diary he kept for a few months while working as a reporter in Europe in the aftermath of the WWII. It is the only diary ever kept by the famous US president, and recently sold at auction in Boston for over $700,000, three times its pre-auction estimate.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on 29 May 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts, into a large prominent Irish Catholic family with strong links to the political and banking worlds. After a privileged education interrupted by frequent illnesses, he graduated from Harvard University in 1940. In particular, his thesis on why Britain was so unprepared to fight Germany - researched during a visit to the UK where his father was US ambassador - was particularly well received. Indeed, he decided to publish it as a book, Why England Slept, which sold more than 80,000 copies. He joined the US Navy, and during the war commanded small torpedo boats in the Pacific, earning a medal for non-combat heroism.

After the war, Kennedy worked briefly as a journalist before deciding to enter politics. On the back of his war record and family money, he won a Boston working class seat for the Democrats in the House of Representatives (1947-1952). Then, in 1953, he challenged a Republican incumbent for his seat in the Senate, and narrowly won (despite the Republicans gaining control in both houses). He did this partly thanks to family money, and a highly methodical and efficient campaign, but also through the force of his personality, considered dignified, intelligent an uncondescending. That same year, he married Jacqueline Bouvier, and they would have three children. While recuperating from surgery, he wrote a another book, Profiles in Courage, which won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for biography.

In the 1960 general election, Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by a very narrow margin, and in 1961 he became the country’s 35th president, the second youngest in American history, and the first Catholic. His short term as president was characterised by the launch of the Peace Corps, a civil rights bill, and Cold War crises, particularly with Cuba. In one of the most infamous events of modern history, he was assassinated on 21 November 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald (see JFK’s assassin in Moscow). Further biographical information on JFK is readily available across the internet: see Wikipedia,, The White House, JFK Presidential Library and Museum, and American National Biography Online.

For a few months during 1945, when in San Francisco for the first UN conference and then on tour in post-war Europe for Hearst newspapers, Kennedy kept a diary - the only one he ever wrote - on loose leaf pages held together in a Trussel binder. Later, he gave it to one of his research assistants, Deirdre Henderson. However, it was not until 1995 that Henderson edited the diary and allowed it to be published (by Regnery Publishing) as Prelude to Leadership: The European Diary of John F. Kennedy. The book - which is available to preview online at Googlebooks - contains a lengthy introduction by Hugh Sidey (a long-serving Washington bureau chief for Time magazine), and a short preface by Henderson herself in which she excuses the long delay in publication as being ‘a matter of personal circumstances’.  

Earlier this year, however, in the run-up the Kennedy’s centenary, Henderson put the original diary up for sale through RR Auction. The US auction house produced a glossy 76-page brochure promoting the diary (itself only 61 pages!), including many extracts, historical photographs and contexts, and images of the (mostly typed) original pages. This brochure is freely available online at RR Auction (as are images of the entire diary). The forthcoming sale garnered worldwide publicity - see, for example, Fox News, The Independent, the BBC, or - almost as though the diary’s contents were being revealed for the first time. The pre-auction estimate price of $200,000 was tripled on the day of the sale, 26 May, with the lot selling to Joseph Alsop (a JFK collector) for an astonishing $718,750. The diary’s new owner is the nephew of Joseph Alsop V and the son of Stewart Alsop, two brothers who were influential columnists during the Kennedy presidency. (See Fox News or the Daily Mail for further details.)

In its pre-auction publicity, RR Auction stated: ‘It is rare that a manuscript of such importance comes to the attention of the auction world. Discovered in a call from its long-time owner, Kennedy’s research assistant Deirdre Henderson, it is of great significance as the only diary JFK ever wrote. We here at RR Auction have become one of the preeminent auction houses for Kennedy documents and are proud to bring this little-known diary to the attention of our collectors in the United States and throughout the world. After the end of the war in 1945, Ambassador Kennedy arranged for his son to work for the Hearst newspapers. This allowed the young veteran to attend the opening session of the United Nations in San Francisco in May and then travel abroad to cover post-war Europe. JFK followed Prime Minister Churchill throughout England during his reelection campaign. He traveled to Ireland, then to the Potsdam Conference in Germany with Navy Secretary James Forrestal. This diary is not a travel log. It is his personal observations of what he saw and perceptions of what would happen in the post-war world. Our name. RR Auction, stands for “Rare” and “Remarkable.” The 1945 diary of John F. Kennedy is rare because there is nothing comparable. Remarkable for the hidden story shown, his insightful views and predictions of the world around him at an early age - sixteen years later America’s 35th President.’

Here are several extracts from JFK’s diary (literally worth far more than than the weight in gold of the paper they are written on!).

21 June 1945
‘Tonight it looks like Labor and a good thing it will be for the cause of free enterprise. The problems are so large that it is right that Labor, which has been nipping at the heels of private enterprise in England for the last twenty-five years, should be faced with the responsibility of making good on its promises.

D_ maintains that free enterprise is the losing cause. Capitalism is on the way out - although many Englishmen feel that this is not applicable to England with its great democratic tradition and dislike of interference with the individual.

I should think that they might be right in prosperous times, but when times go bad, as they must inevitably, it will be then that controls will be clamped on - and then the only question will be the extent to which they are tightened.
Socialism is inefficient; I will never believe differently, but you can feed people in a socialistic state, and that may be what will insure its eventual success.

Mr. Roosevelt has contributed greatly to the end of Capitalism in our own country, although he would probably argue the point at some length. He has done this, not through the laws which he sponsored or were passed during his Presidency, but rather through the emphasis he put on rights rather than responsibilities - through promises like, for example, his glib and completely impossible campaign promise of 1944 of 60,000,000 jobs.

He must have known that it was an impossibility to ever implement this promise, and it will hang as a sword over the head of a Capitalistic system - a system that will be discredited by its inability to make that promise good.’

29 June 1945
‘Kathleen and I went down this afternoon to Eastbourne in southern England to Compton Place. Eastbourne is a small village and Compton Place is in the center of it, though for its quietness it might be in the middle of a large forest.

Its owner, the Duke of Devonshire, is an eighteenth-century story book Duke in his beliefs - if not in his appearance. He believes in the Divine Right of Dukes, and in fairness, he is fully conscious of his obligations - most of which consist of furnishing the people of England with a statesman of mediocre ability but outstanding integrity.

Datid Ormsby-Gore maintains that in providing the latter service the Aristocracy, especially the country squires, really earn their sometimes extremely comfortable keep.

The Duke was a good friend of Neville Chamberlain. He went on several fishing trips with him, but he said that he could never understand Chamberlain’s idea of confiscating part of his land providing some “compensation” was made by the State. “But,” said the Duke, “what compensation can there be by handing over my property to a middle-class official who can’t administer it half as well.” And there you have the social philosophy of Edward, tenth Duke of Devonshire.

He had a number of interesting stories. One was about Lady Violet Bonham-Carter, daughter of Herbert Asquith, former Prime Minister. Lady Violet had a great habit of bringing her face gradually closer and closer to the subject of her conversation until finally only several inches separated her from the recipient of her remarks. Duff-Cooper, Ambassador to France, finally became so infuriated with this habit that, at a dinner party, he suddenly picked up a potato with his fork and dashed it into her mouth saying, “Excuse me, I thought it was mine.”

He was interesting on the subject of Nepal - an independent country from which the famous Ghurka warriors come. Great Britain was unable to conquer this principality so since the nineteenth-century conquest they have lived in peace with the Maharaja in close alliance.

The Ghurka soldier - crack troops - are mercenaries, who, being Moslems and therefore unable to cross the sea, have to go through an elaborate purification process before being allowed to enter their country after their tour of duty is complete. Part of this purification process consists of bathing in cow urine and eating some cow manure.

As far as India on the whole, the Duke (Undersecretary of State for Colonies) sees little hope for the future - due to the terrific hostility of the Moslems and the Hindu’s on the one hand and the completely mystic and debasing position of the 30 million “Untouchables” on the other. It is a poor foundation on which to build a democracy. 
He admits, however, that England would also suffer if she were cut off completely from India, but the commercial lies are steadily becoming weakened by the growth of Indian heavy industry and the influx of the goods of other countries.

In the Levant, France had been consistently warned. It was France’s traditional policy of domination of this part of the middle East which was carried out at a time when French prestige and power was too weak to successfully carry it through.

Although the Duke is an anachronism with hardly the adaptability necessary to meet the changing tides of present day, he does have great integrity and lives simply with simple pleasures. He has a high sense of noblesse oblige, and it comes sincerely for him. He believes that Labor will win an overwhelming victory. He is the only Conservative that I have heard state this view. His wife, grand-daughter of Lord Salisbury, Prime Minister of England, is a woman of intense personal charm and complete selflessness.’

30 June 1945
‘General Eisenhower has taken a great hold on the hearts of all the British people ... At the fall of Tunis in Africa back in 1943, a parade was held of all the forces that had brought the African campaign to a successful conclusion. As the crack Eighth Army filed past, the Desert Rats, the Highland Division, the South Africans - all experienced and excellent troops - Eisenhower, as the supreme Commanding Officer, took the salute. He was heard to say after the Eighth had marched past, “To think that I, a boy from Abilene, Kansas, am the Commander of troops like those!” He never lost that humble way and therefore easily won the hearts of those with whom he worked. [. . .]

Churchill in his book ‘World Crisis’ brings out the same point - the terrific slaughter of the field officers of the British Army - two or three times higher than the Germans. They were always on the defensive in the dark days of ’15, ’16, and ’17, and they paid most heavily. The British lost one million of a population of forty million; the French, one million five hundred thousand of a population of thirty-eight million; and the Germans, one million five hundred thousand of a population of seventy million. This tremendous slaughter had its effect on British policy in the 30s when Chamberlain and Baldwin could not bring themselves to subject the young men of Britain to the same horrible slaughter again.’

1 July 1945
‘I had dinner with William Douglas-Home, former Captain in the British army, third son of Earl of Home, cashiered and sentenced to a year in jail for refusal to fire on __ at LeHavre. He is quite confident that his day will come after his disgrace has passed, and he quotes Lord Beaverbrook to the effect that some day he will be Prime Minister to England. Like Disraeli he is extremely confident. He feels that by insisting on the doctrine of “Unconditional Surrender” instead of allowing Germany and Russia both to remain of equal strength, we made it possible for Russia to obtain that very dominance that we fought Germany to prevent her having. He feels that we had a great opportunity for a balance of power policy.

For my own part, I think that only time can tell whether he was right, but I doubt that William Home will ever meet much success because people distrust those who go against convention. And furthermore, prowess in war is still deeply respected. The day of the conscientious objector is not yet at hand.’

2 July 1945
‘The great danger in movements to the Left is that the protagonists of the movement are so wrapped up with the end that the means becomes secondary and things like opposition have to be dispensed with as they obstruct the common good. When one sees the iron hand with which the Trade Unions are governed, the whips cracked, the obligatory fee of the Trade Union’s Political representatives in Parliament, you wonder about the liberalism of the Left. They must be most careful. To maintain Dictatorships of the Left or Right are equally abhorrent no matter what their doctrine or how great their efficiency.’

3 July 1945
‘I attended a political rally this evening at which Professor Harold Laski, Chairman of the Executive Council of the Labor Party and erstwhile Professor at the London School of Economics, spoke ... Odd this strain that runs through these radicals of the Left. It is that spirit which builds dictatorships as has been shown in Russia. I wonder whether dictatorship of the Left could ever get control in England, a country with such great democratic tradition.

These Leftists are filled with bitterness, and I am not sure how deeply the tradition of tolerance in England is ingrained in these bitter and discontented spirits. I think that unquestionably, from my talk with Laski, that he and others like him smart not so much from the economic inequality’ but from the social.’

27 July 1945
‘The overwhelming victory of the Left was a surprise to everyone. It is important in assaying this election to decide how much of the victory was due to a ‘time for a change’ vote which would have voted against any government in power, whether Right or Left, and how much was due to real Socialistic strength.

My own opinion is that it was about 40 per cent due to dissatisfaction with conditions over which the government had no great control but from which they must bear responsibility - 20 per cent due to a belief in Socialism as the only solution to the multifarious problems England must face - and the remaining 40 per cent due to a class feeling - i.e.; that it was time ‘the working man’ had a chance.

For too long a time now England has been divided into the two nations as Disraeli called them - the rich and the poor. The Labor Party will stay in for a long time if the conservative wing of that party men like Attlee and Bevin remain in office.

But if the radical group like Laski, Shinwell and Cripps become the dominating influence in the party, there will be a reaction and the Conservatives will come once again to power. In my own opinion Attlee will remain in office for the next year and a half, but if there is much dissatisfaction, which there may be, he will go; and as a sop to the radical Left wing, Morrison or Bevin will take over. Labor is laboring under the great disadvantage of having made promises to numerous groups whose aims are completely incompatible. The Conservatives may pick up some of these votes, at least those of the middle class when conditions make it impossible for Labor to implement many of its promises.’

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