The idiotic death of JFK, Jr. and what it signified

This is a selection, abridged for readable length, of e-mails and newspaper articles I sent to two correspondents at the time of the death, ten years ago this week, of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, in the unbelievably unnecessary plane crash brought about the decision of Kennedy, an inexperienced pilot with an injured foot, to fly a plane at night over water in bad weather.

Kennedy’s recklessness

LA wrote:

Here’s the story from the Boston Globe. They’re not covering up like the Times.

Some pilots say conditions, plane may have been too much for JFK Jr. By Anthony Flint and Matthew Brelis, Globe Staff, 07/17/99

Visibility wasn’t optimal. He wasn’t licensed to fly using instruments only, and some fellow pilots suggest he should have brought a flight instructor. And he had just upgraded to a more powerful and complicated plane.

But as he headed for the small airport on Martha’s Vineyard Friday night, John F. Kennedy Jr. knew where he was going.

“He was a good pilot and as familiar with this airport as someone of his experience could be,” said Arthur Marx, chief pilot for Flywright Aviation at Martha’s Vineyard Airport, where Kennedy and his Cessna Skyline 182 were seen frequently over the past year.

Kennedy bought the new plane—the 1996 model Piper Saratoga II HP, a 300-horsepower, single-engine six-seater that pilots compare to a sport utility vehicle—in April for an estimated $300,000. It was originally used by a private North Carolina company, then by Munir Hussain of Hasbrouck, N.J., who sold it to Kennedy through a broker. Government and company records indicate no history of mechanical problems.

Kennedy learned to fly at Flight Safety International in Lakeland, Fla., and obtained his basic pilot’s license two years ago. Since then, fellow pilots estimate he probably logged at least 200 hours flying time—not a rookie, but not deeply experienced—in smaller, less powerful planes such as the Cessna. Then he “traded up” to the Saratoga, doubtless looking for more carrying capacity and power, fellow pilots say.

The Saratoga has state-of-the-art equipment, including an automatic pilot, but also has two fuel tanks that require the pilot’s attention to switch from one to another to avert disaster. “You’re very busy in the cockpit,” said Myron Goulian, head of Executive Flyers Aviation in Bedford, a 35-year-old family-owned flight school. “That might have been a little bit too much plane for him.”

Goulian also questioned why Kennedy took off Friday evening from the airport in New Jersey in the first place. Pilots were reporting poor visibility due to haze, he said. Kennedy was not licensed to fly using instruments only, did not have a flight instructor accompanying him, and may have had an injured foot as well—although one N.J.-based pilot, Larry Lorenzo, said Kennedy could have operated the rudder pedals on the plane fairly easily. “If he could walk, he could fly.”

Kennedy also didn’t file a flight plan with authorities, though he was not required to, and did not ask for a private service that tracks private flights, either.

“He shouldn’t have been in the air, in my opinion. He should have been at home or in a bus or a train,” Goulian said. “That was a bad judgment call, to leave, especially that late at night. From what I hear it was a horrible night.”

The less-than-perfect visibility conditions—known in flying parlance as “marginal VFR (visual flight rules),” made Kennedy’s trip more challenging than normal, agreed Warren Morningstar, director of media relations for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a general aviation lobbying group.

Pilots in those conditions would have “a more difficult time discerning the horizon. The ability to see the horizon, or having a view of the ground, is needed for spatial orientation to keep the plane upright,” Morningstar said.

Concerning the more powerful aircraft, Goulian said, “you just adjust to the performance capability of the airplane, and you need the experience level to keep up with it. It’s great as long as you’re ahead of the airplane. Some pilots jump from a 90 m.p.h training airplane to a 220 m.p.h. plane that’s very slippery and high-performance, and they get through that phase. Others don’t.”

Morningstar said the Saratoga “is not the sort of plane you would want to learn to fly in, but it should not be a handful for a low-time pilot who had proper training in the aircraft. They are very solid.”

“It is really easy to fly. My 6-year-old son can and has kept it flying straight,” said Michael Danziger, a Lincoln pilot who owns a Saratoga and flies frequently to the Vineyard.

The plane has sophisticated avionics including GPS, or global positioning system, which would enable Kennedy to be sitting on the ground in Caldwell, N.J., plug in Martha’s Vineyard, and get the distance and compass heading he should target. Among other things, GPS can tell a pilot where the nearest airport is in case of emergency.

The plane also has an autopilot, that with the press of two buttons, will keep the craft at a designated altitude and heading, and by moving a dial on a compass, the pilot can turn the plane even though the auto pilot is still engaged.

Danziger said he talked to Kennedy at the airport twice in the last year about flying. The first conversation occurred in October and Danziger said he told Kennedy he should get his instrument rating, because Martha’s Vineyard weather conditions are often poor enough—a cloud ceiling of 1,000 feet or less and visibility of less than three miles—to require instrument flight rules, or IFR.

Danziger said he wrote Kennedy a letter and sent him a book on instrument flying. He said he talked with Kennedy again earlier this summer, after he bought the Saratoga.

“He said he had started instrument training, was about a third of the way through, and found it very confusing, tough sledding he called it.” Danziger told him to keep at it, and compared it to learning a foreign language, that things would not make sense, and then all of a sudden, they would.

More from Boston Globe

LA wrote:

Here’s an arresting anecdote and further details. And note the location where the first evidence of a crash was discovered. Unbelievable.

After searching for hours without results, a rare piece of hard data turned up: a black canvas bag, floating in the surf near Aquinnah shortly after noon. A group of friends sunbathing on the beach spotted the luggage.

The bag’s ID tag contained a Morgan Stanley business card belonging to Lauren Bessette.

“It was a terrible sinking feeling,” said Damon Seligson, 30, a Boston lawyer who said he swam out to retrieve the luggage. “I felt my heart burst out of my chest. It was just terrible.”

The find helped direct searchers to areas much closer to Martha’s Vineyard; by this evening, authorities said they had concentrated on an area 17 miles southwest of the island, where a debris field had begun to surface.

Another grim find came around 1:30 p.m. when a Coast Guard crew working in a small boat near the coast of Aquinnah found pieces of carpet and the headrest. Coast Guard Lt. Gary L. Jones said the items were “consistent with a plane crash.”

Jones also said bits of identifiable luggage had been found, but he would not give specifics.

In an ironic twist, the wreckage was found less than a mile from the estate of Kennedy’s late mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, on a point of land near Philbin Beach.

The Kennedys and America—Perfect together

LA wrote (July 18, 1999):

All day long, I’ve kept saying, with increasing anger, “What a jerk.” With everything in the world—success, wealth, fame, good looks, popularity, marriage, happiness—he throws away his life and the life of his wife and sister-in-law out of some casual inattentive arrogance. I think the Kennedys are all automatons. Michael Kennedy gets killed as the whole clan is throwing a frisby back and forth to each other as they ski down Aspen Mountain in fading light. The sheer reckless arrogance of it. But they don’t learn from this horrible, stupid disaster which was worthy of low-IQ types. It’s as if nothing has happened. Like automatons, they just move on to the next act of death-seeking. As soon as his mother passes away and isn’t there to stop him, JFK Jr. starts flying airplanes and then does this. I think that instead of making a tragic figure of him the whole world should be condemning him. Of course, that won’t happen. Nowadays, we even call mass murders “tragedies,” removing any element of blame or responsibility. So we’re certainly not going to blame a popular celebrity for an accident that he and he alone caused.

JFK Jr.’s death and the reaction to it is like the Littleton, Colorado massacre. In Littleton, the danger was right there, it was in everyone’s face that these two boys were a threat, yet everyone ignored it, and then, when the two monsters had done their deed, everyone says, “Oh, what a tragedy, why did this happen.”

Here this glamorous jerk recklessly destroys three lives including his own taking off at night over the ocean in a haze, (ABC News said that for him to fly in those conditions was taking a “HUGE RISK”), and the whole country is going, “Oh, so tragic, why is this poor family so cursed by fate, etc. etc.”

The common element is the inability or refusal to MAKE JUDGMENTS, to recognize a danger as a danger, to recognize a threat as a threat, and to take appropriate action against the threat. It is the refusal to recognize that boys threatening to kill their classmates are a danger and must be reported to the police. It is the refusal to recognize that flying in conditions in which one cannot see and in which one does not know how to read an airplane’s instrument panel is not a good idea. It is also the refusal to judge people who have made that kind of refusal. Americans want above everything to feel loose and free and at ease with themselves, and the requirement to make judgments interferes with that. (A couple of years ago, half the country didn’t think there was anything wrong with a seven year old girl flying an airplane, so long as she “knew how to do it.”)

JFK Jr., the blessed glamour boy, unwilling to say “no” to himself and recklessly destroying his own and others’ lives, is like America itself, the blessed country, unwilling to judge itself, and so throwing its own blessings away and ultimately its own existence. The Kennedys truly are the symbol of America, though not in the sense people think.

And what about the fact that the arrogant, stupid death of JFK, Jr. and his family took place two days short of the 30th anniversary of the death of Mary Jo Copechne due to Edward Kennedy’s recklessness off the same island of Martha’s Vineyard? Exactly 30 years after Edward Kennedy destroyed a person’s life and eliminated his own chances of being president, the only son of President Kennedy kills himself.

British Press echoes Auster blast at Kennedy



The British press blasts and trashes John F. Kennedy Jr. in front page headlines on Monday!

“Insanity” screeches THE MIRROR. “Tragic John F Kennedy Jr. was a rookie pilot with just 46 hours flying time, it was revealed last night…”

“Kennedy ‘Had A Death Wish’” blares the DAILY MAIL. “All hope faded for John F. Kennedy Jnr last night as a picture emerged of the blend of recklessness and arrogance which led to his death…”

While THE EXPRESS slams Kennedy with “Last Fatal Risk of a Daredevil”. “John F Kennedy Jnr died as he lived, pursuing a passion with a reckless disregard for his safety…”

Developing hard…

His wife made him do it


John F. Kennedy Jr. was reluctant to fly into Martha’s Vineyard airport, but attempted it because his wife insisted, Post columnist Cindy Adams reported today.

Kennedy, 38, his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, 34, and her sister Lauren Bessette, 34, were in his plane when it apparently crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha’s Vineyard about 9:40 p.m. Friday. All three are feared dead.

A pilot speaks


VERO BEACH, Fla.—There’s an old saying among those who fly: There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots.

Sadly, John F. Kennedy Jr. was bold. Anyone flying over water on a moonless night without an instrument rating had to be a bold pilot.

I have been flying a Cherokee Six—the forerunner of Kennedy’s Saratoga—for 20 years as a visual-flight-rules pilot. Just last month, I began training for my instrument flight rules rating.

I have more than 1,500 hours of flying time with some 100 flights throughout the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and still I would not fly over water at night.

That’s because without instruments, you just don’t know where you are.

If you’re lost at night driving a car, your headlights will at least help you steer well enough to keep on the road.

But in the black haze off Martha’s Vineyard on Friday night, Kennedy may not even have known whether he was flying level. He may even have gone into a nosedive without realizing it.

In a haze, inexperienced pilots often believe they are upright but in reality are in a steep turn.

In those conditions, your inner ear can’t tell which way is up. You don’t know whether you are up or down. You don’t see anything in front of you except sky. You can’t feel whether you’re flying level.

In the early days of flying, before sophisticated instruments were developed, many pilots died while spinning to earth.

No one—not an airline pilot, not even Neil Armstrong—can tell up from down in a thick haze without referring to instruments.

When I’m flying at night up the Florida coast and suddenly run into a cloud, I always immediately make a descending turn until the ground lights come into view. That way I’ll at least know where the ground is.

Kennedy reportedly filed a flight plan with the FAA but did not activate it once he was in the air, making it worthless—nobody knew where he was going.

And Kennedy really should have been talking to a controller. It’s so reassuring to hear the controller’s voice, and they are always trained to tell you, “Stay in visual flight rules conditions.”

A controller could have directed him away from the haze to a safe landing.

But the only truly safe move Kennedy could have made that night was a turn-back to the airport he came from.

“I wish to hell he’d made that 180-degree turn,” said an instructor at Flight Safety in Vero Beach, the pilot school where Kennedy got his license.

“That’s the safest move for inexperienced pilots,” the instructor said. “He was such a great guy, and absolutely loved to fly. He had incredible raw talent as a pilot. I wish he turned back.”

From another Post story

Some pilots say Kennedy’s worst decision was taking off in the first place.

Cheikh Lo, another West Caldwell flight instructor, flew out of the airport on Friday evening at about the same time as Kennedy, and headed east.

He didn’t even make it as far east as Manhattan.

“The weather was really, really bad,” said Lo. “I came back right away.”

The shared mesmerism that led them to their death

LA wrote:

Dear _____:

More on the foot. It seems that only four days before the fatal flight he was in Toronto for a business meeting and the man he met with said his foot was quite painful to him.

And a saleswoman in Saks who served Carolyn Bessette that same day said that she mentioned she didn’t like to fly with her husband, and that as she was leaving the store the saleslady said “Good luck” and Mrs. Kennedy answered back, “I’ll need it.”

Yet there is also the story that Carolyn was insisting that he drop off her sister in Martha’s vineyard, which he told people he didn’t want to do because he wasn’t easy with that airport. Then Lauren caused them to be late as she was working late in her office and in addition got slowed in traffic getting out of the city.

The above factors, added to the others we already know, add up to a picture in which these three people, as they were standing on that airfield in New Jersey, were surrounded by a crowd, a host, of fatal factors—their own personal Grassy Knoll. His bad foot. This new, difficult-to-handle plane. His lack of experience with this plane. His general lack of experience in flying. Lauren’s delay causing them to take off after sunset. Her selfishness in making them wait for her. The lack of a moon. The bad haze (which caused one pilot who took off from the same airport at the same time turn back even before he reached Manhattan). Her uneasiness with his flying. His resentment and uneasiness with the prospect of landing TWICE in one trip, both landings to be at night. The premonitions expressed to several people both by him and by Carolyn.

It adds up to a picture of these three people like sleepwalkers moving toward their almost certain death. As if some automatism or unconsciousness took them over so that they would ignore this crowd of fatal indicators that was surrounding them and just keep moving sheeplike toward their own death.

The mainstream media and the type of average people in the street the media keep interviewing to get their reactions seem to know nothing of this, of this almost willful act of collective suicide by these three people. They just see at as a “tragedy” and bathe themselves in the old “tragic Kennedy” emotions. But of course, nowadays even mass murders, as in Littleton, are described as “tragedies.” No one seems to have any realization of what an unforgivable thing Kennedy did, that with everything to live for, he did this gratuitous reckless thing taking the lives of three people including his own.

Detailed account of what happened to plane

LA wrote:

Here’s the first detailed account of what happened to the plane based on the radar tracking, reported tonight on television.

1. The plane was going ok along the coast.

2. Then it turned toward Martha’s Vineyard—still ok.

3. Then it descended gently a few hundred feet—still ok.

4. Then it took a slight turn to the right while ascending—indicating that he may have been losing orientation. (This is the point at which a more experienced pilot may have been able to regain orientation.)

5. Then the plane turned further to the right and started a sudden descent at a rate of 5,000 feet a minute. This last descent, starting from around 2,100 to 2,500 feet altitude, would have lasted between 24 and 30 seconds.

It’s grim, but there it is.

Further details from Boston globe

LA wrote:

Here is written account from Boston Globe of same account in my last e-mail. Some of the details are different.

New radar data: JFK Jr. went through series of maneuvers during descent

AQUINNAH—John F. Kennedy Jr. went through a series of maneuvers, possibly out of confusion, as he began the descent into Martha’s Vineyard that killed him, his wife and her sister, according to radar data released Tuesday.

Robert Pearce, heading the investigation for the National Transportation Safety Board, said analysis of radar records showed Kennedy was in a normal descent rate of 700 feet per minute for five minutes. Then, 20 miles from the airport, he climbed from 2,300 to 2,600 feet while turning right.

He remained at that altitude for a minute while on a southeasterly heading, a normal approach direction for the Vineyard airport.

Then he began descending again at 700 feet per minute and turned to the east.

Thirty seconds into that maneuver he turned to the right “in a rapid rate of descent,” falling toward the water.

Pearce would not speculate on the possible damage such a crash could inflict, but he said, “I’m sure you can draw a conclusion by the debris we’ve been bringing in, which is fragmented.”

He also said the rate of descent may have been greater than 5,000 feet per minute, an increase over Monday’s estimate of the already precipitous 4,700 feet per minute.

The figures are 10 times higher than what has been described as a comfortable descent rate and 3,000 feet per minute beyond what would be a stressful approach for even the most experienced flier, experts said.

Though officials repeatedly warned against speculation, some aviation experts said Kennedy could have been experiencing a common problem among young pilots: spatial disorientation.

“Your middle ear … can be tricked and what you think is up is sideways and what you think is sideways is up,” said David Hinson, a former FAA administrator.

He noted Kennedy also could have been responding to mechanical failure, an empty fuel tank or any other number of problems.

But several experienced pilots who flew into the Vineyard on Friday night noted the hazy skies and darkness were challenging even for them.

Another twist

LA wrote:

Here’s another twist. Now it’s the wife insisting her sister come along and stating her fears that Kennedy had a death wish. It seems they were sharing their anxieties about this routine flight with half of Manhattan.

‘HE’S CRAZY,’ WIFE REPORTEDLY SAID As the search continued, a source who had been close to Kennedy and his wife told MSNBC’s Jeannette Walls that Carolyn Bessette Kennedy feared riding in the plane and told her sister Lauren she didn’t want to make the flight to Martha’s Vineyard and Hyannisport. Lauren Bessette was to have been dropped off on Martha’s Vineyard and then the Kennedys were to continue on to their family compound at Hyannisport for the wedding of Rory Kennedy, daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. The source said Bessette Kennedy was “near tears” on Friday morning. “She was saying, ‘He’s crazy. He’s a Kennedy and he’s flying,’” the source, a close friend of the Kennedy couple, said. Lauren Bessette assured her sister that everything would be all right and agreed to go along on the flight, Walls reported in her column, “The Scoop.” The source said Kennedy’s wife insisted on her sister making the trip.

“The Scoop”: “SHE WAS NEAR tears on Friday morning,” says the source. “She was saying, ‘He’s crazy. He’s a Kennedy and he’s flying.’ ” The source says Carolyn was discussing her fears with Lauren while they were getting beauty treatments. “She said she sometimes feared that Kennedy didn’t ‘love life’ and she added, ‘I’m tired of always putting my foot down. I’ m tired of always being angry. I can’t always be the mommy.’ ”

The friend said Lauren assured her everything would be all right. “Lauren said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll go with you. Everything will be OK.’ ” Perhaps that is why Kennedy planned to make an extra landing on the flight to Hyannisport. The New York Post reported Monday that Kennedy didn’t want to make an extra stop, saying, “Unfortunately, I have to take my sister-in-law with us. She’s going to Martha’s Vineyard. My wife insists I take her there.” One of the reasons Kennedy’s flight left as late as it did, according to a report from the Associated Press, is that John and Carolyn were waiting for Lauren to get off work. There have been conflicting reports as to whether Carolyn was supportive of her husband’s flying. And while Jacqueline Onassis was alive, says another source, she forbade her son from getting his pilot’s license.

Kennedy death wish

LA wrote:

Well, that’s why I say that while he was ultimately the responsible one, the impression I get is that they were all a part of it, they all collaborated out of some group somnambulism in submission to a fate that was leading them on, a fate that they had no will or awareness to resist.

That may sound overwrought, but think about it. The amazing totality of all the warning factors that I catalogued earlier—all ignored by them—suggests something completely out of the ordinary here. If there had been only one potentially fatal warning sign that he ignored or failed to consider carefully enough, that could be chalked up to some understandable negligence or recklessness or “get-there-itis.” BUT THERE WERE ABOUT EIGHT OR NINE FATAL WARNING SIGNS. It was as though the universe were screaming at them, “Don’t go on this flight.” And yet they ignored them all. So this is not a normal event that can be explained by normal causation or normal bad judgment or carelessness.

Also, there were the physical and chronological correspondences surrounding the accident—the fact that it was thirty years almost to the day that Mary Jo Copechne was killed at the other end of the same island, the fact that the plane went down right near his mother’s, and now his, property, and that some of the crucial evidence of the fatal crash actually washed up on his own beach. All in all, there is something mysterious about this event which says to me it was their fate that this should happen, and they (primarily he) went to it like sheep to the slaughter.

Sorensen confirms my thesis

LA wrote:

Here is Theodore Sorensen, lifelong Kennedy courtier, perfectly exhibiting that same Kennedy obtuseness and insensibility—the total inability to learn from tragedy—that the Kennedys themselves exhibit. Hey, flying a plane into darkness over the ocean—like throwing a frisby back and forth on a ski slope as you’re skiing down it at dusk, like driving drunk onto a bridge in the middle of the night, like giving your daughter a lobotomy, like a score of other incidents that have left dead and crippled people scattered about over the past half century—all of is just part of the spirit that makes the Kennedys and America great.

July 23, 1999
The Kennedy Curse, and Other Myths

This week has been inexpressibly sad for those of us who had known John F. Kennedy Jr. since the day of his birth nearly 39 years ago. To rage at the cruelty of fate is of no avail. To rage at the fatuity of thoughtless media commentaries is perhaps just as futile, but it is difficult to remain silent, even during a period of grief, about some of the nonsense that has been mixed in with all the heartfelt expressions of sorrow.

Among the most absurd has been the repeated but mindless speculation that there exists some kind of Kennedy family “curse.” The Kennedys are not accursed but blessed. True, they have endured, with remarkable religious faith, more than their proportionate “share” of pain (though that is never allotted by the law of averages anyway). But they have also been endowed with good genes, good brains, good looks, good health and good fortune, with both instincts and opportunities for serving their country and helping those less fortunate.

Virtually every family has its own silent tragedy. Large families are likely to have a larger number of tragedies. Highly publicized families have more highly publicized tragedies.

The Kennedy family is both large and highly publicized. But for every day of sorrow that the Kennedys have suffered, they have over the years celebrated far more days of joy and satisfaction—not as American royalty or members of a dynasty (more nonsense) but as individuals who know how to do good, have fun and love and support each other all at the same time.

Yet there are limits to how much one can generalize about all the members of so sizable and diverse a clan. The application of adjectives like “flamboyant,” “arrogant” and “irresponsible” to all Kennedys by people who clearly know no Kennedys is both arrogant and irresponsible.

Each of the Kennedys whom I have known in the last half century, particularly the three brothers who served in the United States Senate, has had his own strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, admirers and detractors.

But all three of the Senators, and clearly many of the generation that followed, preferred a life of action and commitment to one of ease and repose. They preferred to help build a better world rather than merely inhabit it. Unafraid of challenge or controversy, they were willing to suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

We have been told that the death of J.F.K.’s namesake means not only the end of his line and name but also “the end of the Kennedy dream.” Following previous family tragedies, we were also told the dream was ending.

But the Kennedy dream did not depend on one man’s name or family. So long as Americans are pre-eminent in space, and serving in the Peace Corps, and admitted to lunch counters, universities and employment rolls regardless of race, and seeking out politics and public service as—in J.F.K.’s words—a “proud and lively career,” the Kennedy dream lives.

So does the Kennedy family. This country’s history of political families—the Adamses, the Roosevelts, the Bushes (to say nothing of Albert Gore, Sr. and Jr.)—is a proud one. The Kennedys are a part of that history and will continue to be. Some blame the high level of Kennedy tragedies on the Kennedys themselves, on a supposedly common trait of recklessness, of self-destruction, of an obsession with premature death. More nonsense.

I associate the Kennedy name with life, not death, with hope and vigor and adventure, not despair. All the Kennedys I have known, both young and younger, have so loved life that they did not want to waste a precious minute of it in useless boredom, or to be diverted from any new horizon in it by the presence of risk. They knew all about death. President Kennedy survived several brushes with it. But they never wished it or needlessly courted it. They were too full of life.

It can be argued that each of us, in our way of life, contributes to our ultimate death. But not deliberately or heedlessly. People who are committed, sometimes overcommitted, must often rush to meet their obligations, and rush means risk. And air travel is unforgiving of error.

John Kennedy Jr.’s father never piloted an airplane. But he was ever mindful of the air crashes that killed his older brother and sister. In barnstorming the 50 states between the July 1956 Democratic National Convention and the January 1960 announcement of his candidacy for the Presidency, he flew on aircraft of all types and sizes, often piloted by amateurs, often at night, often in storms, once with me holding the cabin door shut, once with him navigating through the co-pilot’s window, once landing on water and once in a cornfield and once—because of a fatigued pilot’s misjudgment—almost upside down.

J.F.K. accepted these hazards with calm and humor. He was not reckless, much less self-destructive or indifferent to his safety or mine. But he did what he had to do.

Those who care in this country—about the lives of others as well as their own—are more likely to dare. They are also more likely to get things done. That is not only the very essence of the Kennedy tradition, it is also the very essence of America.

Theodore C. Sorensen, a lawyer, worked for John F. Kennedy from 1953 to 1963.

Correspondent asks why LA is interested in this:

Please help me understand why the marital troubles of the Kennedy couple are so interesting to you—you never showed any interest before in the personal relationships of famous people (other than Clinton and JFK, if I recall correctly). Obviously, the devious behavior of presidents has implications for the stability of the presidency if their behavior is exposed—they could be blackmailed, impeached, humiliated. But of what significance is the unhappy marriage of John-John? He clearly was addicted to the one woman who played hard to get, and she clearly had emotional problems—-but no one has suggested he cheated on her, even though she allegedly tried to push him in that direction. He has no political role (up until his death—maybe he would have entered politics eventually) or political stance involving family values; while hypocrites like Clinton and LaRoche made a career of pretending to have great regard for FAMILY.

LA replies to question

Well, the Kennedys are fascinating and important in our national life, mostly in negative ways. The karma of the family is a deeply gripping saga of unusual gifts and unusual excess and their consequences. JFK himself continues to exert a fascination: how could a man living a depraved life in private maintain such a fine and idealistic outward appearance? Most people who live lives of promiscuity, not to mention the non-stop, roto-rooter kind practiced by Kennedy (to use a phrase one of Kennedy’s friends used to describe him), show the marks of it in their face. E.g, Clinton. Kennedy did not.

Also there is the pattern of hubris and excessive competitiveness followed by disaster. Think of Joseph Kennedy, a man who many saw as almost a devil or as having made a deal with the devil, having attained all his mighty ambitions with his son being elected President. Within a year he was almost totally disabled by a stroke, within two years after that the President was murdered, five years after that the next son murdered, a year after that the next son’s career derailed by a car fatality. And Joe Kennedy, this man of limitless ambition and will to power, had to live, in his speechless, helpless state, through all of this.

I made my interest in the moral drama of the Kennedys apparent in our discussions of the death of JFK, Jr., how it seemed in so many ways a continuation of the family destiny. Therefore the way this death occurred, including what the state of the JFK Jr. marriage was, is inherently interesting. (I should add that I was never interested in JFK Jr. before his death or thought much about him; he had always seemed a rather mediocre fellow.)

Diana’s downfall and death was also a gripping drama, something of great human interest. I don’t know how someone could not be interested in something like that or why it’s a surprise that someone else is.

P.S. I left out the most obvious. The accident itself is a great mystery, as I discussed earlier. The taking off in the plane with so many warning factors saying he shouldn’t. What was he thinking? What was going on with them? I’ve suggested before it was almost like an act of collective suicide. Other information since then has weakened that thesis a bit. One story said that the visibility indicators at the Martha’s Vineyard airport, which he would have relied on, were defective and would have said clear when it was hazy.

The recent story on their marriage introduces another twist which could change the whole complexion of the thing. If the marriage was in the process of breaking up, then the accident takes on different possible meanings and explanations than the ones discussed earlier.

- end of initial entry -

David B. writes:

I see you have written about the 10th Anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., along with his wife and sister-in-law. Today, I’m reading again about the Chappaquiddick Incident. I followed it closely at the time as a 19-year old college student who was an admirer of the Kennedys.

You made a good point about President Kennedy. With Bill Clinton, his sleaziness showed in his appearance. Clinton looks like what he is. John F. Kennedy did not look outwardly like a man with an extremely messy personal life. Clinton was never convincing when he tried to make idealistic speeches, which was JFK’s strong point.

Ted Kennedy’s supporters have recently claimed that on the night in question, Mary Jo Kopechne was taking a nap in the car when Ted and another one of the women at the party went off for a midnight tryst. When the car went in the water, Ted and the other woman escaped without knowing Mary Jo was trapped in the car.

Ted and his advisors (Sorensen wrote the speech) cooked up the story he gave about diving in the water trying to save Miss Kopechne because it sounded better than what really happened, meaning going skinny-dipping with the other woman. I don’t think the above story “holds water,” if you pardon the expression. If Kennedy hadn’t known Mary Jo Kopechne was in the car, he would have been advised to say so by Sorensen, Schlesinger, MacNamara and company.

I think Kennedy just drove off the bridge and left Mary Jo Kopechne to die. Simple as that. Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury. This called for a 60-day sentence which was suspended.

Over the years, a couple of books I read on the Kennedys told how Ted Kennedy felt. It seems he was resentful that Chappaquiddick was held against him. Kennedy feels that it kept him from becoming President and considered it unfair.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 19, 2009 02:25 PM | Send

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