Joe Kennedy Jr. and the Doomed WWII Mission to Save London
St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2015, 304 pages
Book Review published on: October 20, 2017
Herodotus wrote: “In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.” In Lost Destiny, author Alan Axelrod weaves a detailed, superbly documented account of the politics, science, military strategy, and family dynamics that resulted in Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. losing his oldest son, Joseph Kennedy Jr., on whom he had pinned so many hopes.
Axelrod’s ambitious work aims to examine the loss of Joe from several angles. These include the sometimes contentious personal relationship between father and son, the prominence and controversial persona of Kennedy Sr. in the lead up to World War II, the race to develop advanced remote-control technologies, and the enormous threat of long-range rockets to England in 1944 that necessitated Joe’s mission.
The author devotes significant space to an examination of Kennedy Sr. the man, and the picture is not pretty. He is portrayed as a ruthless opportunist constantly scheming to achieve his ultimate goal of the presidency. President Franklin Roosevelt distrusted him so much that Roosevelt appointed him to the Court of St. James, with the benefit of removing him from the United States. Once in London, Kennedy Sr. politically aligned himself strongly with the forces of appeasement and personally displayed a nasty streak of anti-Semitism, blaming the Jewish press for inciting war and putting his service-age sons in danger.
The author also delves into the complicated dynamic between Kennedy Sr. and his two eldest sons, Joe and John. He brilliantly details the complex relationships between the three, with Kennedy Sr. at once trying to stage-manage the ascent of his sons while at the same time occasionally displaying a simmering jealousy of their achievements. Joe, having become a naval aviator in spite of his father’s efforts to secure him an Army commission, was soon involved with one of the war’s most secret and most dangerous projects.
For the student of military technology, he presents a fascinating tale of the technological race between the German V-2 long-range rocket and the allied effort to destroy them with remotely piloted aircraft. Lost Destiny’s middle chapters provide a wonderfully detailed recounting of the technological challenges facing both sides: the Germans grappling with the manufacture and deployment of a long-range ballistic missile while under allied bombardment; and the U.S. Army and Navy’s parallel, competing programs to develop a large, precision-guided unmanned (in the terminal phase) aircraft to attack the V-2 sites.
Finally, Axelrod concludes with a poignant, gripping account of the aircrews in England who were tasked with the execution of the attacks. The waiting, the false starts, and finally the mission in which Joe is killed are all described in remarkable detail.
There is something for everyone in Lost Destiny. Superbly researched and vividly told, it would be an excellent read for both World War II buffs and the newcomers. This reader was left with the conclusion that Ambassador Kennedy’s naïve and defeatist approach to Hitler confirms Shakespeare’s admonition that “the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.”
Book Review written by: Robert M. Brown, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas