Robert F. Kennedy

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Robert F. Kennedy, 1964 Robert Kennedy's signature

Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy (born November 20, 1925 in Brookline , Massachusetts , † June 6, 1968 in Los Angeles , California ) was an American politician . The younger brother of assassinated US president John F. Kennedy aspired to a career as a Senate lawyer, justice minister and senator , the presidential and fell during the pre-election also an assassination victim.


Robert F. Kennedy (far left) with family in Hyannis Port , September 1931
Robert Kennedy (right) and his brother in front of the White House, 1963
At a speech in August 1964
A 1968 election event

School education and military service

Robert Francis Kennedy ("RFK") was the seventh child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy . His father, who is believed to be the founder of the Kennedy family , was a successful entrepreneur and, as an influential Irish American, a key campaign aide for Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 and 1936 presidential elections . In December 1937 he was appointed ambassador to London. Her mother, Rose Kennedy, was the daughter of former Boston Mayor and US House Representative, John F. Fitzgerald .

In London, Kennedy attended Gibbs Private School. After Neville Chamberlain declared war on the Third Reich , Joseph P. Kennedy sent his family back to America in September 1939. There Robert first went to St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, which is closely related to the Episcopal Church of the United States of America . The pronounced episcopalism of the school bothered Rose Kennedy, so she let Robert move to the Portsmouth Priory , a Benedictine boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island . Apart from four services per week and one morning and evening prayer, the focus there was on secular school lessons. Because of his poor grades, his father feared Kennedy would not make it to Harvard . Therefore, from the fall of 1942, he sent his son to Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts , which was Kennedy’s sixth school in 10 years. At this classic White Anglo-Saxon Protestant College, he was sidelined because of his Catholic origins and the faith that was still practiced. With the exception of Foreign Relations, the grades remained mediocre and Kennedy developed ambition primarily in playing football. At that time he found a lifelong friend at the Milton Academy in David Hackett , who supported him in the 1968 election campaign.

Inspired by the experience reports of John F., who was the boat commander in the Pacific War , he also intended to report for a deployment on a PT speedboat . The older brother persuaded him to enroll initially in the United States Navy Reserve in October 1943 . There he was released from active service until March 1944 and from then on went through the one-year study program V-12 at Harvard University, which subsequently aimed to become an officer. The death of the eldest brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., reinforced Kennedy's desire for a frontline assignment. In May 1945, considered unfit, he initially went to officer training at Harvard. When the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (DD-850), named after his brother, was put into service in the fall of 1945 , Kennedy successfully spoke to Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal without the family's knowledge to break off his officer training and henceforth as easier to serve as a sailor on this ship. During the Iran crisis , Kennedy took service on the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. on February 1, 1946 . Five days later, the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. set out for a test drive in the Caribbean and shortly after returning to its home port in Newport, Rhode Island , Kennedy was honorably discharged from the US Navy.

He then supported his brother's election campaign for the traditionally democratic 11th electoral district of Massachusetts in the United States House of Representatives . Under the leadership of LeMoyne Billings , a close friend of John, Kennedy oversaw three constituencies in east Cambridge , which were predominantly Italian-American . Although these quarters were lost in the primaries to Joe Russo, who was popular there, they were much closer than expected. Kennedy then toured South America, his first family vacation, and began studying law at Harvard in September 1946.


During his early years on campus, Kennedy avoided social distraction in fraternities and sororities like the Spee Club, to which his older brothers had belonged. The lectures with a focus on political science by Charles Howard McIlwain , Roscoe Pound , Rupert Emerson and others left as little impression on him as on his personality and achievements, which resulted in a moderate score. For a while he and his fellow Catholic students visited the St. Benedict Center on campus. The anti-Semitic and atheist-hostile sermons of Leonard Feeney , who was an extreme proponent of the dogma of the Church's exclusive claim to salvation, the extra Ecclesiam nulla salus , shocked Kennedy so much that he left the facility forever in an angry argument with Feeney. Concentrated focus and ambition developed Kennedy strongly in American football , where he continued a game for the selection of the university despite a broken leg to the end and collapse. In the team he met mainly here friendly relationships with older war veterans from various, clearly different social classes than his. At the time, his political views were the same as those of his father. Standing in a position contrary to his brother John, he vehemently rejected the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan . The US should not interfere in European affairs, strive for peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union and its satellite states , and if distant peoples opt for communism, accept this and not intervene.

Encouraged and supported by his father, who had him accredited as a correspondent for the Boston Post , he went on a trip to the Middle East on March 5, 1948 on the RMS Queen Mary with his fellow student George Terrien after completing his Bachelor of Arts . Here he visited Egypt , the near-end of the League of Nations mandate for Palestine and Lebanon . In his function as a journalist he established contacts with the still young Arab League , the Hagana and Irgun Tzwa'i Le'umi . When the Israeli Declaration of Independence came out, Kennedy's Boston Post was a foreign correspondent who appeared four articles in a row in early June. In these he welcomed independent Israel as a stabilizing democratic moment in the Middle East, dispelled fears that it might move towards communism, and sharply criticized British mandate politics. He also accused America of showing too little solidarity with the Jews, including many Holocaust survivors , in Palestine. On April 15, 1948, Kennedy reached Italy , where he experienced the first parliamentary elections in Italy in 1948 after the war and, among other things, attended a large rally by Palmiro Togliatti . After the death of his sister Kathleen Cavendish , whose funeral he was unable to attend due to jaundice , he traveled to London to see her grave. He reached the western zone via Belgium and Holland and reported on the catastrophic destruction of the cities he visited and the apathy of the German population. In the four-sector city of Vienna , he experienced the intensive espionage activities of the Cold War and the general expectation of a war with the Soviet Union in view of the Knight Fall Conference and the imminent Koblenz resolutions and the ensuing birth of West Germany . He then traveled to Czechoslovakia , where a more extensive tour of the Eastern Bloc came to an end here on the Hungarian border. He returned via West Berlin , where he witnessed the Berlin Airlift , Copenhagen , Stockholm and Dublin . Shaped by these impressions, he increasingly distanced himself from the views of his father, who refused to allow the United States to intervene in the European East-West conflict. After the arrest of József Mindszenty , the primate of Hungary, he published an article in the Boston Daily Advertiser in which he called for strong resistance from the West to this measure.

Since his grades were unconvincing, both Harvard and Yale University rejected him for a law degree at the Graduate School , so that Kennedy moved to the University of Virginia . In 1951 he graduated here. In between he served briefly in the US Navy. After a joint trip to Asia, during which they met Jawaharlal Nehru , among others , he led his brother John's election campaign for a seat in the US Senate. Even when he ran for the office of US President in 1960, Robert organized the election campaign with his fellow student Kenneth O'Donnell .

Political career

In December 1952, Kennedy became a legal associate of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations , which, under the chairmanship of Joseph McCarthy , investigated alleged communist infiltration of the government, administration and the military. He left the post in July 1953 because he disagreed with the controversial methods of his superior, chief adviser Roy Cohn , although he personally continued to feel sympathy for McCarthy. Kennedy then worked for a few months in his father's staff, who was a member of the so-called Hoover Commission . In early 1954 he returned to the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations , this time in the role of chief adviser to the democratic minority. From 1957 to 1959 he was chief adviser to the so-called McClellan Committee , which investigated illegal activities in the unions.

That u. A. the criminal activities within the Teamsters transport workers' union and their contacts with the Mafia were discussed, Kennedy brought the lifelong hostility of Teamsters chairman Jimmy Hoffa , who also despised him for his origins from a wealthy family.

In November 1959, he became his brother's campaign manager for the 1960 presidential election in the United States . After the victory of John F. Kennedy in 1960, the latter appointed his brother as attorney general in his cabinet . The Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis fell during this period, during which time he became the President's closest adviser. He also distinguished himself as a committed fighter against organized crime and, despite initial allegations of nepotism, was soon considered to be one of the most efficient members of the government.

After the murder of his brother, he initially remained in the cabinet of the successor Lyndon B. Johnson ; but both were separated by a mutual dislike. When his hopes of being nominated by Johnson as future vice president in the 1964 presidential election were not fulfilled , he left the government in the fall of 1964 and ran for the office of US Senator from New York . He won the election campaign against Republican Kenneth Keating and was a Senator from 1965 to 1968. His popularity within the Democratic Party had already shown itself at the party congress in 1964, at which he could only begin his speech after a storm of applause lasting almost 20 minutes, which in his opinion was mainly aimed at the murdered brother.

Candidate for the presidency in 1968

As a senator, Robert Kennedy increasingly distanced himself from President Johnson's Vietnam policy, but initially hesitated - to the disappointment of some supporters - for fear of a split in the party, to openly challenge him in the 1968 presidential election . It was only when Johnson did surprisingly badly in the first primary election on March 12th against Senator Eugene McCarthy , another inner-party opponent of the Vietnam War, that Kennedy applied for his candidacy on March 16, which some held against him as opportunism . After Johnson renounced a new candidacy shortly afterwards, Kennedy soon faced Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey , who also wanted to run, in addition to McCarthy in the intra-party primary campaign for the nomination . However, Humphrey's announcement came too late to be able to participate in the primary elections, so this largely developed into a duel between Kennedy and McCarthy, both of whom represented the left wing of the party and fought for a similar segment of the electorate.

Kennedy's short-term and often improvised election campaign met with an unexpectedly positive response. His performances sparked enthusiasm that in the history of primaries ( Primaries were unprecedented), especially among African Americans and Latin American immigrants. His speech on April 4, 1968 (the day Martin Luther King was assassinated ) in Indianapolis , in which he made public reference to the assassination attempt on his brother for the first and only time ("He was also murdered by a white man" ) made a lasting impression. ) and called for mutual compassion and a sense of justice for those who suffer.


Robert Kennedy's simple grave in Arlington National Cemetery , Virginia

After victories in Indiana and Nebraska and a defeat in Oregon, Kennedy had just won the primary elections in South Dakota and California when he was in the ballroom a few minutes after midnight (local time) on the night of June 4-5, 1968, shortly after his acceptance speech , was shot and critically injured on the way to the press conference in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The Palestinian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan was arrested at the scene of the crime, in the hotel's cold kitchen, and the weapon, an Iver Johnson revolver, .22 caliber , was seized . Kennedy died of his injuries at Good Samaritan Hospital on Wilshire Boulevard the following day.


The convicted murderer Sirhan Sirhan is still serving his sentence in Coalinga State Prison, after his 1969 death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment following a change in the law . One of the motives for the attack is assumed to be his outrage at Kennedy's Israel-friendly statements in the primary campaign, which for him - since the Palestinian question was completely excluded - stood in stark contrast to Kennedy's other advocacy of oppression and exclusion. In particular, he condemned its demand that Israel deliver new phantom fighter jets to Israel . The first anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War may also have played a role. A diary was found in Sirhan's apartment with the entry: "Robert Kennedy must die before June 5th." This was hardly noticed by the American public, however, since the Middle East conflict played practically no role in the primary campaign. All other candidates also took positions that were pro-Israel.

conspiracy theories

There are numerous conspiracy theories , many of which state that Sirhan did not act of his own free will, but under the influence of others ( hypnosis or brainwashing ) or that there was a second shooter who, according to the autopsy report, inflicted those on Kennedy from behind and from very close distance fired fatal shots, while according to eyewitnesses Sirhan shot the Senator from the front and from a slightly greater distance. However, these eyewitness reports partly contradict each other, especially since there was a great crowd at the crime scene.

In late April 2012, Canadian Nina Rhodes-Hughes (née Roman), a former TV actress and intermittent activist on the 1968 Kennedy campaign team, spoke up in a CNN interview. She said she was standing next to a second shooter behind Kennedy in the cold kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel at the scene of the crime and that she immediately made statements to the FBI about it. She perceived significantly more shots than the eight for which Sirhan's weapon was technically designed. However, their statements were falsified in the official FBI reports.

A sound document recorded by the former Polish journalist Stanislaw Pruszynski at the scene of the crime has also been found and published by CNN, among others, which nourishes the Sirhan lawyers' thesis of more than eight shots and thus the existence of a second shooter. Kennedy's son, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., also has doubts that Sirhan Sirhan actually shot his father. He therefore calls for a new investigation.

Uncertain election opportunities

How big Robert Kennedy's chances actually were to be nominated as a presidential candidate for the Democrats and thus as an opponent of Richard Nixon in the presidential election in November 1968 is a matter of dispute. For a victory at the party congress in Chicago at the end of August , 1,312 delegate votes were required.

At the time of the attack, according to media reports, Kennedy had overtaken 622 party congress delegates on his side and thus Senator Eugene McCarthy (305 delegates). Both were behind Vice President Hubert Humphrey (1,067 delegates), however, as the 1968 primary elections only took place in a minority of the federal states and Humphrey's influence was obviously stronger in several of those states in which the delegates were determined by the party apparatus. He could also count on the support of the unions. Humphrey hadn't won a single area code, however. For Kennedy, his distance to Johnson's increasingly unpopular Vietnam politics , his charisma , the memory of his murdered brother and, last but not least, the then intact myth of the name Kennedy spoke for Kennedy.

Immediately prior to the assassination, TV commentators were rather skeptical about Kennedy's chances of being nominated, despite the victory in California. Today the opinions of historians are divided: While some also assume that Humphrey's lead among the party congress delegates and the support of various influential "party bosses" were the ultimately decisive factors, others - like Richard Nixon in his memoirs - argue that that Kennedy's campaign had gained some of McCarthy's supporters after the pre-election victory in California and had developed an irresistible momentum in the remaining two and a half months that could not have been stopped at the party congress.

Political attitudes

In his basic attitudes Robert F. Kennedy was influenced by the writer Edith Hamilton . He was a staunch opponent of racial discrimination , as Minister of Justice a determined fighter against the Mafia and later a fierce critic of Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam policy. During his time as a senator, his interest in social issues grew, and he increasingly took up liberal, left-wing positions according to European understanding, which makes him to this day an icon of the strongly social democratic American left-wing liberalism to a much greater extent than his brother . His death, together with the assassination attempt on Martin Luther King, is interpreted as the end of an era characterized by youthfulness, optimism and belief in progress, which was replaced by a time of political scandals (keyword Watergate ). The glorification of Kennedy and his social and humanitarian commitment ("Good Bobby"), which increased with time, stands in a certain contrast to the ambiguous image that many contemporaries had of him, for example his sometimes ruthless behavior in McCarthy's Senate subcommittee or as an election campaign manager ( "Bad Bobby") is remembered.

Private life

Kennedy met his sister Jean's girlfriend , Ethel Skakel , while on a ski vacation in Mont Tremblant , Québec , in the winter of 1945 . The two married on June 17, 1950.

The marriage had eleven children; his last daughter was not born until after his death:

His grandson Joseph (* 1980) was elected to the US House of Representatives in 2012.


  • Gangsters push for power. Scherz, Bern / Munich 1964 (Original title: The Enemy Within , 1960)
  • Commitment to justice. Econ, Vienna / Düsseldorf 1966 (Original title: The Pursuit of Justice , 1964)
  • Freedom and Responsibility in Democracy. 38 speeches. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1967
  • Search for a new world. Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1968 (Original title: To Seek a Newer World , 1967)
  • Thirteen days. The prevention of the Third World War by the Kennedy brothers. Scherz, Bern / Munich 1969 (Original title: Thirteen Days. A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis , 1969)


  • John R. Bohrer: Revolution of Robert Kennedy: From Power to Protest After JFK. Bloomsbury, London 2017, ISBN 978-1-60819-982-2 .
  • Chris Matthews : Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit. Simon & Schuster, New York 2017, ISBN 978-1-5011-1188-4 .
  • Larry Tye: Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon. Random House, New York 2016, ISBN 978-0-679-64520-7 .
  • Joseph A. Palermo: Robert F. Kennedy And the Death of American Idealism. Pearson, London 2007, ISBN 978-0-321-38610-6 .
  • Yoash Tatari: End of an American Dream. The assassination attempt on Robert F. Kennedy. In: Heribert Blondiau (ed.): Death on order. Political murder in the 20th century. Ullstein, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-548-36331-8 , pp. 99-137.
  • Joseph A. Palermo: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy . Columbia University Press, New York 2001, ISBN 0-231-12069-9 .
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger : Robert Kennedy and his times. Ballantine Books, Boston 1978, ISBN 0-345-32547-8 .



The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for human rights was founded in his memory .

Web links

Commons : Robert F. Kennedy  - Collection of Pictures, Videos and Audio Files
Wikisource: Robert F. Kennedy  - Sources and full texts (English)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . P. 11; 22, 23.
  2. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . P. 26.
  3. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 29, 30.
  4. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 42-44.
  5. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 51-52.
  6. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 57-59.
  7. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 60, 61.
  8. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 63, 64.
  9. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 65-68.
  10. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 68-72.
  11. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 73-79.
  12. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 80-81.
  13. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . P. 81.
  14. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 90-93.
  15. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 105, 106.
  16. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times. P. 107.
  17. ^ A b David Coleman: Robert F. Kennedy (1961-1963) - Attorney General. ( February 19, 2016 memento in the Internet Archive ) In:, University of Virginia , accessed February 19, 2016.
  18. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . Pp. 158-162.
  19. ^ Text of Robert F. Kennedy's speech: On the death of Martin Luther King, sixth paragraph , accessed June 6, 2011
  20. In the German-speaking countries, the attack was first reported on June 5 at around 9 a.m. due to the eight-hour time difference between Californian summer time and Central European time (then no summer time). Audio document: In Memoriam Robert Kennedy (Österreichischer Rundfunk, June 6, 1968)  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  21. ↑ Acceptance speech and assassination attempt
  22. English-language website about Sirhan and his possible motives ( Memento from July 13, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  23. English-language website about various theories and controversially discussed detailed questions of the attack ( Memento from July 6, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  24. Michael Martinez, Brad Johnson: RFK assassination witness tells CNN: There was a second shooter. In: CNN International , April 30, 2012 (English).
  25. Canadian witness to RFK assassination claims there was 2nd shooter
  26. Robert Kennedy: 40 Years Later ( Memento of May 20, 2012 in the Internet Archive ), GAZETTE, June 4, 2008
  27. RFK assassination witness tells CNN: There was a second shooter , CNN, April 30, 2012 (here: integrated film on the website "2009: New evidence: Pruszynski recording")
  28. " Robert F. Kennedy Murder: Son Calls for New Investigation, " Yahoo News, May 28, 2018.
  29. ^ US TV reports June 4, 1968; see 2:20
  30. American TV commentaries on the evening of the California area code (June 4, 1968) - before the attack.
  31. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger: Robert Kennedy and his times . P. 66.