The 231163 Diaries:
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

Politics Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr (1917 - 2007) was an American historian, social critic, and public intellectual who served as a Special Assistant to Kennedy, or as the President described a "sort of roving reporter and troubleshooter". That would account for why he was meeting with Newsweek and also have this access to events.

Schlesinger resigned his position in January 1964. He wrote a memoir/history of the Kennedy administration, A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, which won him his second Pulitzer Prize in 1965.

The following is a stunningly vivid account of what it was like inside the White House in the hours following the assassination in the company of Jackie and Bobby and decisions taken concerning Kennedy's remains (which I think is important to forewarn you about).

November 23

I heard the terrible news as I was sipping cocktails with Kay Graham, Ken Galbraith and the editors of Newsweek. Kay and I had flown in from Washington; we were to discuss the future of the back of Newsweek's book. A man entered in his shirtsleeves and said, a little tentatively, "I think you should know that the President has been shot in the head in Texas." It took a few seconds for this to register. Then we rushed for the radio. The President's condition was unclear for a time. I said that we should go back to Washington immediately; so Kay, Ken and I went out to the airport. We reached the White House about 4:30. Sargent Shriver, composed and pale, had already taken charge of the funeral preparations. The plane was due in from Texas at six. I went out to Andrews Field. A small crowd was waiting in the dusk -- Averell looking hassard and old, Mac very intent, Bob McNamara stunned and silent. As I was standing on the side of the crowd, a man brushed by. It was Lyndon Johnson. I shook his hand and told him of course we wanted to everything we could to help him. Then I returned to the White House. Ken and I dined in the mess. Afterward I went back to O Street. Chrissie said, "Daddy, it was so hateful. I feel as if I do not want to live in the United States anymore."

Then I returned to the White House and helped Shriver and Goodwin and others work on the funeral lists. About midnight, I went up to the Mansion where Bill Walton was supervising things in the East Room. Jackie has sent a message that she wanted the President laid out as Lincoln had been. David Mearns, whom I called, had gone to the Library of Congress and found a newspaper article and drawing showing Lincoln lying in state in the East Room. It is now twenty minutes to two. The casket will arrive at the White House around 3:30.

It has been a day of shame and horror. Everyone is stunned. Fortunately the practical details of the funeral engage everyone's attention and sidetrack us from the terrible reality. I still cannot believe that this splendid man, this man of such intelligence and gaiety and strength is dead. The wages of hate are fearful.

No one knows yet who the killer is -- whether a crazed Birchite or a crazed Castroite. I only know that killer has done an incalculable disservice to this country and to all mankind. It will be a long time before this nation is as nobly led as it has been in these last three years.

5.15 A.M.

When I went upstairs again, at about 2 A.M., workmen under Bill Walton's direction were draping pillars and windows with black crepe.  After a time, a military guard arrived and took up its places.  The casket was expected first at 2:30 and then at progressively later times.  We sat or walked around, exchanging forlorn scraps of conversation, trying to fight off the appalling reality.  Walton and I walked through the rooms in which we had such happy times, filled with memory and melancholy.

Eventually the car arrived from the Bethesda Naval Hospital.  The casket was carried into the East Room and deposited on a stand.  It was wrapped in a flag.  Jackie followed, accompanied by BobbyJean Smith, Ethel, Kenny, Larry, Bob McNamara, and Dave Powers also came from the hospital.  Already at the Mansion were Walton, Shriver, Ralph Dungan, Dick Goodwin, Pierre, Chuck Roche, Andy Hatcher, Louis Martin and Frank Morrissey.  A boy appeared to light the tapers around the bier.  The third taper took a painfully long time to light; and, in lighting the fourth, he extinguished his torch.  He struck a match, rekindled his torch and then discovered the taper feebly flickering.  A priest said a few words.  Then Bobby whispered to Jackie.  She approached the bier, knelt in front of it and buried her head in the flag.  Then she walked away.  The rest of us followed.

Jackie went upstairs with Bobby, Ethel and Jean.  Bobby came down in a few minutes and disappeared into the East Room with Bob McNamara.  After a time, he came out and asked Nancy Tuckerman and me to go in, look at the bier and give our opinion whether the casket should be open or shut.  And so I went in, with the candles fitfully burning, three priests on their knees praying in the background, and took a last look at my beloved President, my beloved friend.  For a moment I was shattered.  But it was not a good job; probably it could not have been with half his head blasted away.  It was too waxen, too made up.  It did not really look like him.  Nancy and I told this to Bobby and voted to keep the casket closed.  When Bill Walton agreed, Bobby gave instructions that it should be closed, and I reassured him about the precedent by remembering that Roosevelt's casket had been closed.

After this we quietly dispersed into the mild night.  I drove Bob McNamara home.  He said that the country had suffered a loss which it would take ten years to repair, that there is no one on the horizon to compare with the President as a national leader.

Later.  I talked briefly with Bobby, Steve and Sarge.  All seemed composed, withdrawn and resolute.  Around noon I tool Marian and the children past the bier.  Afterward, we lunched at an upstairs room at the Occidental -- Bill Walton and his son Matt, Ken and Kitty, the Sam Beers, Paul Samuelson, Dick Goodwin, Walter Heller.  I left for a 3 o'clock meeting with the Bundy staff, in which Mac explained how the show must go on.

After the meeting he told me that my letter of resignation (which I had sent to the President the first thing in the morning) had arrived when Johnson was having his meeting with Eisenhower.  Johnson read the letter, thrust it at Mac and said, "Please take this letter back and have him withdraw it.  And send out instructions that I do not want any letters of resignation."  Eisenhower quite correctly demurred, saying that Johnson must preserve his freedom of action, and that he did not have to accept resignations right away.  So the present line is that the staff should resign, but that, "for the time being," Johnson plans to accept no resignations.

Mac said that he intended to stay on as long as Johnson wanted him.  He said that he was worried about Bobby, that Bobby was reluctant to face the new reality, that he had virtually to drag Bobby into the cabinet meeting, and that, if Bobby continued in this mood, he had probably best resign.  Mac said this a little more sympathetically than I have reported, but not a hell of a lot more so.

A telephone call from Ken reported that he had seen Johnson, and that Johnson had asked him to work with Sorensen on the message.  Ken seemed in high spirits.  Like Mac, he is a realist.  He would infinitely have preferred Kennedy, but he is ready to face facts and make the best of them.  Like Kenny and Bobby, I am a sentimentalist.  My heart is not in it.

[From: SCHLESINGER, JR., Arthur.  2007.  Journals 1952 - 2000.  Penguin.]

No comments: