The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis
Edited by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow
Harvard University Press, 1997, 728 pp.
The Dark Side of Camelot
By Seymour M. Hersh
Little, 1997, 498 pp.
The Kennedy Tapes, transcripts of recordings made in the White House during the missile crisis of 1962, will be invaluable to historians, even though (perhaps because) they still leave ample room for argument over what brought about the crisis, whether the participants acted wisely, and how it was resolved. The book's conclusion reflects on Soviet motives and asserts that the tapes "subtly but significantly alter our understanding of practically every major question about U.S. policy during the crisis." The alterations, unfortunately, seem far more subtle than significant, and will be detectable, if at all, only to the most inveterate aficionados of this over-studied crisis.
Whereas May and Zelikow see a Kennedy who is calm, lucid, and always a step ahead of his advisers, Hersh writes that in the missile crisis Kennedy for the first time "publicly brought his personal recklessness, and his belief that the normal rules of conduct did not apply to him, to his foreign policy." The indictment rests principally on the absurd assumption that only a personally reckless president would have wished to keep hidden and informal the crisis-resolving offer to remove American missiles from Turkey. The many non sequiturs and strange conclusions in this chapter alone make one suspicious of the veracity of Hersh's enterprising treatment of Kennedy's amazing sex life, although not so suspicious as to avoid venturing the opinion that we at last have found the most convincing explanation for why during the crisis the president should have been so relaxed.