Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Kennedy, Robert Francis (1925–1968)

U.S. attorney general (1961–1964), U.S. senator (1965–1968), and chief advisor to his brother, President John F. Kennedy (1961–1963). Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on 20 November 1925, Robert F. Kennedy was the seventh child of Joseph P. Kennedy, multimillionaire business tycoon and ambassador to Great Britain. Robert Kennedy served in the U.S. Navy Reserve during 1944–1946 before graduating from Harvard University in 1948. In 1951 he earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. He began his legal career as an attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in 1951.

In 1952 Kennedy managed his brother John's successful U.S. senatorial campaign. After the campaign, he served as assistant counsel and counsel to various U.S. Senate committees and subcommittees before becoming chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor and Management Field during 1957–1960. Kennedy made a name for himself there by doggedly countering the testimony of hostile witnesses, including Teamsters Union leader James "Jimmy" Hoffa.

A canny and scrappy politico, Kennedy left his Senate position in 1960 to manage John Kennedy's successful presidential campaign. Following the 1960 election, President-elect Kennedy appointed his younger brother to his cabinet as U.S. attorney general. Despite charges of nepotism, Robert Kennedy proved to be a forceful and highly effective attorney general. He was especially successful in dealing with a number of potentially explosive situations involving the burgeoning civil rights movement.

Robert Kennedy was also President Kennedy's closest advisor. This relationship proved vital as U.S.-Soviet tensions peaked in 1962. Robert Kennedy played a key role in advising the president on the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and the deteriorating military and political situation in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, South Vietnam).

After President Kennedy's assassination in November 1963, Robert Kennedy resigned his cabinet post in the autumn of 1964 to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate, representing New York. Sworn into the Senate in January 1965, he proved to be a vigorous advocate of social reform and minority rights and became particularly well known as a spokesman for the poor and underprivileged. Although he had initially supported his brother's increasing military and economic aid to South Vietnam, he became sharply critical of President Lyndon B. Johnson's steep escalation of the war. By 1968, Kennedy was proposing the formation of a new South Vietnamese coalition government that would have included the communist Viet Cong. He also urged the rapid draw-down of U.S. troops in Vietnam, who numbered some 500,000 in 1968.

Urged to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, Kennedy declined until Johnson dropped out of the running in early March. On 16 March 1968, Kennedy declared his presidential candidacy. He conducted an energetic and finely focused campaign and won a series of primary victories, culminating in California on 4 June 1968. That night, after addressing his supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, he was shot at point-blank range by Jordanian American Sirhan B. Sirhan. Suffering from a devastating head wound, Kennedy lay in a coma until he died on 6 June 1968. He was forty-two years old. Sirhan was apprehended at the scene and later convicted of murder. As was his brother John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. Included in his many accomplishments are two widely read posthumous publications, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1969) and To Seek a Newer World (1969).

Lacie A. Ballinger


Further Reading
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. Robert Kennedy and His Times. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978.; Thomas, Evan. Robert Kennedy: His Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
 

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