The First Draft: Teddy’s Life of Remorse and Atonement
Oswald was the lone assassin. JFK wanted a way out of Vietnam. And Bobby’s death brought a bout of self-destructive drinking around the time Mary Jo Kopechne died at Chappaquiddick Island in an “inexcusable” car accident.
Those are some of the insights in a forthcoming memoir by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who died last week but lives again in print as a leading figure in American politics.
In the book, “True Compass,” which Teddy completed while suffering from the brain cancer that claimed his life, he admits “terrible decisions” at Chappaquiddick in 1969 and says those events may have shortened the life of his father, Joe.
Teddy hardly knew Kopechne, who had been a young aide to Bobby, and was not romantically involved with her.
But after driving off a Chappaquiddick bridge with her as a passenger, he was dazed, afraid and panicked. He left the scene and didn’t report the accident until her body was discovered inside the car a day later.
The New York Times, which obtained an advance copy of the memoir, says Chappaquiddick occurred at a time when Teddy regretfully recalls “self-destructive” drinking in the aftermath of Bobby’s 1968 assassination.
“Some people make mistakes and try to learn from them and do better. Our sins don’t define the whole picture of who we are,” he wrote.
Teddy says in the memoir that he always accepted the official finding that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman responsible for JFK’s assassination.
Bobby grieved so deeply over the fate of the president that the Kennedy family feared for his emotional health, which Teddy wrote “veered close to being a tragedy within a tragedy.”
Teddy also reveals that JFK had become increasingly uneasy about U.S. involvement in Vietnam and was increasingly convinced the conflict couldn’t be solved militarily.
Teddy surmises that JFK was “on his way to finding that way out” but “he just never got the chance.”
Bobby offered to negotiate a peace deal with Vietnam in secret 1967 meeting with LBJ. That might have kept Bobby from running for president a year later. But LBJ suspected Bobby of ulterior motives and declined the offer.
Compared with his older brothers’ accomplishments, Teddy wrote that “it sometimes has occurred to me that my entire life has been a constant state of catching up.”
Chappaquiddick is not the only personal failing Teddy confronts openly in the book, describing atonement as a never-ending process.
“I have enjoyed the company of women. I have enjoyed a stiff drink or two or three, and I’ve relished the smooth taste of a good wine. At times, I’ve enjoyed these pleasures too much. I’ve heard the tales about my exploits as a hell-raiser — some accurate, some with a wisp of truth to them and some so outrageous that I can’t imagine how anyone could really believe them,” Teddy wrote.
Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Sen. Edward Kennedy)