Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Son Who Was Meant to be King

Seventy years ago today, Joseph Kennedy Jr. was killed in action in World War II.

He was the oldest of nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy — and he was the son Joe Sr. always expected to be president. Joe Jr. had three brothers, and each sought the Democratic Party's presidential nomination — and one was nominated and elected — but Joe Jr. died before he could attempt to fulfill his father's dream for him.

In fact, he died before his political career ever began although he clearly had political ambitions for his post–war life. He dropped out of Harvard's law school to enlist in the Navy, where he became a bomber pilot, but he and his father had begun making preparations for his political career. The plan was that he would seek the U.S. representative seat from Massachusetts' 11th district in 1946.

But he didn't live to do that.

Seventy years ago today, Joe Kennedy Jr. was part of a two–man mission to fly a plane over targets in northern France, activate a remote control system that would arm the detonators of the explosives on board and bail out of the plane before it crashed into its target. The plan was that they would parachute into the English Channel, where they would be picked up by an Allied boat.

Things didn't go according to plan. The explosives went off prematurely, and Kennedy and his co–pilot were killed.

Consequently, it was the second son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who ran for and won the congressional seat from Massachusetts' 11th district in 1946. He held it for six years — until he sought a U.S. Senate seat in 1952. He won, was re–elected in 1958 and went on to be elected president in 1960.

It might have been Joe Jr.

John served in World War II like his brother did, but he survived and Joe didn't.

Historians have spoken in glowing terms of JFK's talents, but, from all the accounts I have read, Joe Jr. had even better people skills than JFK.

From the perspective of an historian, even an amateur one such as myself, it is natural to wonder if Joe Jr. might have beaten Nixon handily enough to prevent his ever seeking the presidency again — thus sparing the country the anguish of Watergate.

But Joe Jr. died almost 30 years to the day before Nixon's resignation, the 40th anniversary of which was only a few days ago.

His brother's win over Nixon was, of course, razor thin. Rumors persist to this day that the Democrats stole the election, thanks to falsified vote returns in places like Illinois, where Mayor Daley and his cronies were well known for fraud of all kinds, especially in elections.

So add one more to history's intriguing "what–if" list.

What if Joseph Kennedy Jr. had survived World War II and started his political career as expected?

The world might never have heard of John F. Kennedy — or he might have been known as an adviser to his brother, as Bobby was known to be for him.

Intriguing, isn't it?

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