President Roosevelt Appoints Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. Ambassador to Britain

Late in 1937, Mr. Kennedy was appointed United States Ambassador to England and moved there with his whole family, with the exception of Joe and Jack who were at Harvard.

Because of his father’s job, Jack became very interested in European politics and world affairs. After a summer visit to England and other countries in Europe, Jack returned to Harvard more eager to learn about history and government and to keep up with current events.

In 1938, Roosevelt appointed Kennedy as the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Britain). Kennedy's Irish and Catholic status did not bother the British; indeed he hugely enjoyed his leadership position in London society, which stood in stark contrast to his outsider status in Boston. His daughter Kathleen married the heir to the Duke of Devonshire, the head of one of England's grandest aristocratic families. Kennedy rejected the warnings of Winston Churchill that compromise with Nazi Germany was impossible; instead he supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement in order to stave off a second world war that would be a more horrible "armageddon" than the first. Throughout 1938, as the Nazi persecution of Jews intensified, Kennedy attempted to obtain an audience with Adolf Hitler. Shortly before the Nazi aerial bombing of British cities began in September 1940, Kennedy sought a personal meeting with Hitler, again without State Department approval, "to bring about a better understanding between the United States and Germany."

Kennedy argued strongly against giving aid to Britain.

"Democracy is finished in England. It may be here," stated Ambassador Kennedy in the Boston Sunday Globe of November 10, 1940. In that one simple statement, Joe Kennedy ruined any future chances of becoming US president, effectively committing political suicide. While bombs fell daily on the UK, Nazi troops occupied Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, Ambassador Kennedy unambiguously and repeatedly stated his belief that the war was not about saving democracy from National Socialism (Nazism) or Fascism. In the now-infamous, long, rambling interview with two newspaper journalists, Louis M. Lyons of the Boston Globe and Ralph Coghlan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kennedy opined:

"It's all a question of what we do with the next six months. The whole reason for aiding England is to give us time." ... "As long as she is in there, we have time to prepare. It isn't that [Britain is] fighting for democracy. That's the bunk. She's fighting for self-preservation, just as we will if it comes to us... I know more about the European situation than anybody else, and it's up to me to see that the country gets it,"

In British government circles during the Blitz, Ambassador Kennedy was widely disparaged as a defeatist.

When the American public and Roosevelt Administration officials read his quotes on democracy being "finished", and his belief that the Battle of Britain wasn't about "fighting for democracy," all of it being just "bunk", they realized that Ambassador Kennedy could not be trusted to represent the United States. In the face of national public outcry, he submitted his resignation later that month.

Throughout the rest of the war, relations between Kennedy and the Roosevelt Administration remained tense (especially when Joe Kennedy, Jr., vocally opposed FDR's renomination). Having effectively removed himself from the national stage, Joe Sr. sat out the war on the sidelines. Kennedy did however stay active in the smaller venues of rallying Irish and Roman Catholic Democrats to vote for Roosevelt's reelection in 1944. He claimed to be eager to help the war effort, but as a result of his previous gaffes, he was neither trusted nor re-invited.

With his own ambitions for the White House in self-inflicted ruins, he held out great hope for his eldest son, Joseph Jr., to gain the presidency. However, Joe Jr. was killed over England while undertaking a high-risk bombing mission in 1944. Kennedy then turned his attention to grooming the second son, John F. Kennedy, who won the 1960 election.