The squandering of Kennedy’s reputation began during his stint as ambassador to Great Britain, starting in 1938. With his breathtakingly handsome brood, Kennedy took the English social scene by storm, delighting in the “garden parties, rowing regattas, formal balls, afternoon teas, dinner dances, [and] . . . tennis matches at Wimbledon.” But practically from the start, he ran afoul of Roosevelt and the State Department with his shamefully rose-colored view of Adolf Hitler, whose dangerousness Kennedy minimized at every turn. Indeed, Nasaw makes clear that Kennedy’s tolerance for Hitler ran deeper than has been generally realized, exceeding that of Neville Chamberlain and continuing even after the 1939 invasion of Poland — and even, perversely, through the 1940 London blitz, during which Kennedy lamented the hardihood of the British because, he figured, the longer they held out, the likelier the prospects of American intervention.
Equally revealing is the depth of Kennedy’s anti-Semitism, which Nasaw makes clear. Not only did he fail to meaningfully advocate for Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s barbarism — a failure in which much of the State Department was complicit — but he privately partook of conspiracy theories that imagined Jewish power in the news media and the movie industry to be responsible for growing hostility toward Germany and increasing readiness to intervene in the war. Mingling with other isolationist anti-Semites such as the aviator Charles Lindbergh and the transplanted American socialite Nancy Witcher Langhorne (known as Lady Astor), he rationalized his loss of influence with FDR as the fault of the Jews.