TOMORROW is the 75th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's...

THEO LIPPMAN JR.

May 28, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

TOMORROW is the 75th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's birth. The JFK Library at Columbia Point in Boston is planning nothing special, but two things of interest are going on there.

One is the changing of the tone of the museum from what Ronald Whealan, the chief librarian, calls "somber" to "celebratory." I suppose the reason for this is just the passage of time. So many visitors to Columbia Point in past years remembered JFK and his times and were in a mood to reflect on what might have been rather than what was. Now increasingly the visitors have no memories and want to pay more attention to the accomplishments of the Kennedy years.

The second thing of interest going on at the JFK Library is research on the first truly comprehensive, scholarly unbiased life of John Kennedy. The author is Nigel Hamilton, a British historian best known for his three-volume biography of Field Marshal Montgomery.

The first volume of his Kennedy bio is scheduled for publication this fall. It is a 1,000-page work that only takes JFK to 1946. Hamilton and others familiar with his work say it will include material never before available to writers.

When he first began his research he was given every reason to believe he would not be allowed to see any such material. "The Kennedys were not interested in another book. They were quite happy with the myth."

But as he plodded away, some Kennedys were won over by what they took to be his thoroughness and fairness.

Hamilton says he is most excited about having obtained access to some diaries and letters written by Kennedy himself in his youth. "He emerges in his own words."

He says that in working with this material he kept thinking of a book Winston Churchill wrote about his youth. In some ways, Hamilton says, his own first volume is similar to what Kennedy might have written had he lived.

I asked if there were any surprises in this first volume. Hamilton paused, then said, "Oh, yeah. Gosh." I asked him what they were. He said he would rather that wait till the book comes out.

He characterized the first volume as being the beginning of "the drama of how does the son of one of the most odious, nefarious men of the 20th century become the most loved Democratic president? How does he do it?" There have been other books in which Joseph P. Kennedy's and Rose Kennedy's relations with their children have been examined critically, but Hamilton apparently has much new material relating to this.

He is especially critical of JFK's father. In our telephone conversation he referred to him as "an anti-Semite," "a Hitler supporter" and even "a Republican."

Overall, he believes that his books will publicize many "uncomfortable truths" about JFK, but will not be "destructive of the myth." The uncomfortable truths add up to what he says "is not a bad truth. It is really a rather wonderful truth."

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