I recently finished reading Nicholas Katzenbach’s book “Some of It Was Fun”, his chronicle of serving as Bobby Kennedy’s aide in the early years of the 1960s, and then as Attorney General and Undersecretary of State for President Lyndon B. Johnson throughout his administration. I was initially hesitant, thinking that this would be a dry experience. Some of it is in fact rather dry, but Katzenbach was undeniably at the heart of some of the major decisions of both JFK and LBJ, especially in the civil rights struggle. The clip above, from the TV show Due Process, illustrates some of Katzenbach’s experiences, especially that time when he had to face down Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1963. The governor was tasked with defending the racist values of the old South, and Katzenbach’s job was to represent the federal government and its honorable mission of integrating schools. In the book, Katzenbach describes how awkward the encounter was, but it’s obvious how proud he is of his involvement in the civil rights struggle, both school integration and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
As I wrote, much of the book is dry. But it does come alive when Katzenbach describes Bobby Kennedy, the friend he obviously loved. At first, he writes about how the death of JFK struck Bobby and the entire Justice Department, and later in the book he movingly describes the unimaginable grief after RFK’s assassination, the sorrow after JFK, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King being reawakened again. Katzenbach also provides a rich portrait of Johnson, his virtues as well as an attempt to explain the President’s flaws, regarding Vietnam as well as on a more personal level. There was plenty of division within Johnson’s administration on the war in Vietnam, but what is likely to remain with most readers is Katzenbach’s more humorous stories about the President.
At the end of the book, there is undeniably a sense of fatigue and frustration. Katzenbach spent almost the entire decade in government at times of upheaval. Perhaps its greatest contribution is helping younger generations understand that those in power don’t always get to choose the best path forward.