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JFK's "Camelot" Legacy Challenged. New Book By Stephen F. Knott.

Joe Bauer

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Reviews for Coming to Terms with John F. Kennedy


Nov 10, 2023 · Author Stephen F. Knott argues that Jackie Kennedy's description of her husband's legacy as "Camelot" soon after his death is not an accurate portrayal of the 35th president.


“Knott’s writing is excellent throughout the book, and he makes reading about pivotal, decades-old events exciting all over again… Ideally, Coming to Terms with John F. Kennedy will be able to claim its rightful place in the Kennedy canon as public memory dims and the family’s chokehold on the late president’s image loosens.” ~ Paul D. Pearlstein, Washington Independent Review of Books

What Knott might have to say especially intrigued me, as he had once been a JFK fan who soured on him over the years, became a Reagan Democrat for a spell, and as he grew older began to reconsider Kennedy as a man and leader...Not everyone will find Knott’s revisionist arguments convincing, but I’ve almost always found revisionism to be provocative, even when I disagreed with the author’s conclusions. In this instance, I think Knott’s approach will enable readers to see the Kennedy presidency more clearly.” ~John Ferling, Curr

Stephen F. Knott


Dr. Stephen Knott is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. Prior to accepting his position at the Naval War College, Knott was Co-Chair of the Presidential Oral History Program at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. His essays have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Post, Time, Politico, The Hill, Foreign Policy, and The National Interest. He is the author/editor of ten books dealing with the American presidency, the early republic, and American foreign policy. His most recent book, Coming to Terms with John F. Kennedy, was published by the University Press of Kansas in October 2022.

Edited by Joe Bauer
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Way more JFK and JFKA books and articles coming out for the 60th anniversary than I had imagined.

This fellow's book was released a while ago. But it's getting promoted again during the JFKA anniversary media push.

He just had to tell us JFK wasn't as romantically brave, courageous and heroic as Jackie Kennedy portrayed him in her first interview after his death.

Any comments?

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It wasn't just Jackie that portrayed it as a time of nobility, honor and progress.  JFK did like the movie and song, playing the album on his Whitehouse stereo.  Arthur Schlesinger helped with A Thousand Days along with another author whose name slips my mind at the moment.  Then there was Life Magazine.  My wife bought me this for our first Christmas together in 1988.  Still well worth $2 plus shipping just for the pictures.

Life in Camelot: The Kennedy Years by Kunhardt, Philip (amazon.com)

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From the final reprise.

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.

Don’t let it be forgot / that once there was a spot / for one brief shining moment – Observations Along the Road (cahighways.org)

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Nice time to let America know JFK was much more flawed than his Camelot image portrayed.

The anniversary of his monstrously brutal head exploding murder inches from his horrifically traumatized wife's face in broad daylight public.

Knott and his book are praised for presenting us "a more balanced" view to correct the overly romanticized legacy of JFK and his presidency.

Oh, the official historical record integrity damaging shame!

Just what we need to hear during these days of deepest loss mourning of JFK's death remembrance. 

Choosing JFK's debatably over romanticized legacy to "correct" at "this particular time" is kind of politically incorrect perverse, even cringing imo.

Couldn't be book sale monetary gain motivation timing at play here?

How about instead "balancing" the official legacies of LBJ, Nixon, Hoover, even Reagan which are far more overly whitewashed and grand than JFK's ever was/is.

And I propose a true iconic reality to counter Knott's Camelot JFK legacy downplaying "correction." One that doesn't need exaggerated romanticizing.

JFK and Jackie Kennedy had transcended every other American president and their first lady's legacies to a new and unprecedented degree.

Besides inspiring our young people like no president before and since, JFK ( and Jackie ) had also inspired and become admired, even adored by half the world's population!

This was just a fact and was truly unprecedented.

People in every country, rich and poor had pictures of JFK ( and often Jackie with him ) hanging on their walls.

Maybe tens of millions or more of the world's citizens? !!!

Even Lee and Marina Oswald kept a JFK Time Magazine cover picture on their table top!

In JFK's 3 year term his and Jackie's images were daily on the covers of the most popular celebrity and news magazines and newspapers in every major city and in every country.

Jackie the beautiful and loving young mother. JFK the young, vigorous and inspiring leader of the most powerful nation on Earth.

This phenomena had taken hold not just because of their incredible physical beauty attraction - young and vigorous with great smiling warmth of personality and even an added intellectual multi-lingual classiness (Jackie) but also something beyond the physical.

I propose it was JFK's perceived image as a man of world peace seeking and economic fairness humanity.                   

JFK's speeches ( see his American University peace speech below ) and policies and actions were more and more reflective of less world tension. He talked about peace, cooperation, nuclear disarmament.     

He talked about civil rights for all citizens regardless of color. He seemed to want to give third world countries at least some chance at breaking free from colonization control and exploitation.

JFK and Jackie inspired hope for a better world in so many respects, especially for the poor which is always the great majority of the world's population.

I have always sensed that 90% of Americans during JFK's presidency and ever since have never really realized how popular JFK and Jackie Kennedy were ( worldwide ) in their day.

This admiring was on a level of wall picture hanging adoration. No matter the dwelling from mansions to huts. 

Millions of poor people in India, Africa, Central and South America.

It wouldn't surprise me if a JFK and Jackie picture or two were displayed among the tribes of the Amazon and/or the Aboriginal Outback of Australia.

I don't have scientific study data to prove my hypotheses of this worldwide phenomena of JFK/Jackie inspirational popularity to a degree that was beyond anything in American presidential history and that makes a debate of JFK's Camelot legacy being over-hyped meaningless.

I'll leave my proposal of this JFK reality ( as unacademically and anecdotally presented as it is ) to the critics who will surely downplay it in more intellectual terms than I can articulate.

My over-all point in this essay however, is to at least present my opinion and view that Knott's book thrust of a need to "balance" what he sees as an overhyped JFK Camelot legacy and it's harm to historical accuracy is ludicrously meaningless compared to the true inspirational legacy of JFK worldwide.

No president since JFK has ever come close to the effect he had on the world as a whole during his 3 year term.

Not only was America devastated by JFK's brutal slaughter, but much of the entire world was too.

How's that for an American President's iconically grand and noble historical legacy?

The more important presidential legacy falsities and misperceptions and that truly undermine the integrity of our official historical records are the huge corruption truths of presidents like LBJ and Nixon. As well as the corruption of J. Edgar Hoover and the way over-hyped achievements of Reagan.

IMO anyways.

 "So, let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

— JFK’s commencement speech at American University, June 10, 1963.




Edited by Joe Bauer
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In the sizable free sample of the Kindle version of the book that Amazon makes available, Knott seems to treat JFK in a balanced, reasonable manner, so much so that I'm going to read the entire book. I've used one of my Audible.com subscription credits to get the audible version. 

Knott hates Trump, as in really, really hates Trump. This comes through loudly and clearly in the book's introduction. Just FYI. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

I just finished reading Knott's book. Technically, yes, it does challenge the Camelot legacy, but only parts of it. Overall, on balance, the book is quite pro-JFK. More often than not, Knott challenges conservative and liberal attacks on JFK. He challenges conservative attacks on JFK regarding the Berlin Crisis, the "missile gap," the space program, Laos, etc., and he answers liberal attacks on JFK regarding his initially weak and halting support for civil rights, his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, his resumption of nuclear testing, and his overall handling of the Cold War. 

Knott cautiously and somewhat tepidly comes down on the side of the extreme minority viewpoint that JFK was going to unconditionally withdraw from Vietnam after the election. He allows that the case for this view is "not a slam dunk" and that JFK may well have continued to provide military and economic aid to South Vietnam after the withdrawal. He even says he might be wrong about JFK's intention to withdraw. But, he does make it clear that he personally strongly leans toward the unconditional-withdrawal position.

His chapter on the assassination is curious and maddening. He adamantly and repeatedly argues that it is beyond question that Oswald shot JFK, that there was no conspiracy, and that anyone who believes otherwise deserves to have their credibility questioned. However, he also spends considerable time taking certain conspiratorial arguments seriously, such as the argument that the Mafia killed JFK. He acknowledges that Oswald associated with David Ferrie, and that Silvia Odio was credible. He calls David Kaiser's book The Road to Dallas "reputable."

Knott's bottom line is that JFK was a good president, even one of the top ten best presidents, in spite of his sordid personal life. 

Edited by Michael Griffith
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