Book review The Ambassador: Joseph P. Kennedy at the Court of St. James’s 1938-1940 by Susan Ronald


“The first time he opens his mouth and criticizes me, I will fire him,” reassured the advisers. Regardless of the threat from FDR, Kennedy, who had always been a monomaniac isolationist, expressed his personal views wholeheartedly, while the president was evasive in public. It had to be, even as German troops stormed Europe. The US military was not prepared for war, the Americans were reluctant to enter it, and Roosevelt was not allowed to declare it. Congress, determined to keep America out of another foreign war, responded to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 by passing three neutrality laws. Roosevelt tried to bypass these non-intervention efforts, offering military advice and supplies to England. The ambassador, meanwhile, spent his days “sticking a knife into the presidential skin,” as Ronald puts it, a practice he also extended to the British. Stop “resisting Hitler,” Kennedy urged them. He told a Roosevelt adviser that the British should “let Hitler take over all of Europe.” If that didn’t work, America could assassinate the Führer, reasoned Kennedy – who was always trying to get a personal meeting with him. Fascism was the future, he believed, and neutrality was best for the American economy. Democracy was dead in England and soon would be everywhere else too. Kennedy made these arguments in opposition to his sponsor and to morality; details of every stage of the Nazi persecution of Jews, from the pogrom to the concentration camp, flooded his embassy from the day he arrived in London.


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