Posts tagged ‘JFK’

Bathos and Pathos

Please, boomer JFK fanatics, give it a rest. It’s like a cult.

Of far more significance is that “50 years ago today, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley died.” Huxley wrote the prophetic Brave New World in 1932.

JFK Was an Icon, but Was He a Good President?

John F. Kennedy Was No National Treasure

Nevertheless, his [JFK’s] death was at most only a minor tragedy for society at large (if, that is, we ignore the major tragedy that, as Steve points out, was the resulting ascendancy of the scoundrelly and power-mad LBJ into the office that Kennedy held).
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Of course, JFK’s death – because he was a high-ranking politician – was mistakenly treated as a major tragedy. The false impression that his death was a greater tragedy than was the premature death of some now-forgotten Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith, also in November 1963, was furthered by the Pharaoh-like funeral that Kennedy got (mostly at taxpayer expense). (I recall well, as a five-year-old child, watching his funeral live on television. It made quite the impression.) This (admittedly impressive) theater and the many (admittedly often soaring ) encomiums for and eulogies to Kennedy should not fool us into believing that Kennedy was any more important to his fellow human beings than was the life of each of the hundreds of millions of other productive human beings then alive on the globe 50 years ago.

Yes, Minor

JFK’s assassin was a Communist loser (Lee Harvey Oswald) and RFK was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist (Sirhan Sirhan).

Don’t forget their brother Ted: Chappaquiddick and Mary Jo Kopechne.

Bonus video:

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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“Camelot” my Ass

In a December 1963 interview, the president’s widow gave a name to the Kennedy mystique, telling journalist Theodore White of Jack’s fondness for the lyric from the Lerner and Loewe musical about King Arthur: “Once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”

Much more than a “moment,” Camelot has proven an enduring myth.

JFK places near the top 10 in most presidential ranking surveys of historians, and in a 2011 Gallup poll, Americans ranked him ahead of George Washington in a list of “America’s greatest presidents.”

John F. Kennedy Was No National Treasure: He was lawless, reckless and anything but a national treasure

Anyone believing JFK was one of America’s greatest presidents just proves you can’t fix stupid.

The Dark Side of Camelot, by Seymour Hersh

Each fall since November 22, 1963, regular programming is pre-empted and whole rainforests are clear-cut to bring us books filled with the latest minor (and often delusional) variations on who killed Kennedy and why; the supposedly transformative effect of the “Camelot” years on contemporary geo-politics and, more plausibly, the hat-wearing habits of the American male; and counterfactuals about just how awesome—or awful—JFK’s second term would have been.

Whatever emotional immediacy, contemporary relevance, and news value this all once inarguably possessed, can we now admit that the topic has grown thinner than the post-1963 resume of Kennedy impersonator Vaughn Meader? It now lives on mostly as a sort of repetition-compulsion disorder through which the baby boom generation (born between 1946 and 1964) seeks to preserve its stultifying cultural hegemony even as it slowly—finally!—begins to exit the stage of American life on a fleet of taxpayer-funded Rascal Scooters.
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The big, broad, deep lessons of the Kennedy saga have been duly taught, if routinely forgotten when it serves our fleeting partisan purposes. Among them: that history is a series of strange and often ugly contingencies, good-and-bad-faith mistakes, and wanton acts of evil, insanity, or a mixture of both; that our leaders—especially the ones with whom we fall in love—often lie, cheat, and obfuscate their way to power, which they then routinely abuse; and that governments cannot and should not be trusted, especially when they claim to speak the truth.

JFK Still Dead, Baby Boomers Still Self-Absorbed

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“Better Than Plowing” by James Buchanan (part 2)

And the tinsel prance and prattle of those who came along and called themselves the brightest and best obscured the raw injustice of a purchased presidencey [JFK, 1960].

(page 175-176)

Came the 1980s, and Reagan’s shining city on a hill, so real to their fathers and mothers, seemed fitting only for an ancient actor turned president.

(page 176)

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JFK Lied? Nooooooooooooooooooooooo

Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment


Reached through sober analysis, [Sheldon M. Stern—who was the historian at the John F. Kennedy Library for 23 years] conclusion that “John F. Kennedy and his administration, without question, bore a substantial share of the responsibility for the onset of the Cuban missile crisis” would have shocked the American people in 1962, for the simple reason that Kennedy’s administration had misled them about the military imbalance between the superpowers and had concealed its campaign of threats, assassination plots, and sabotage designed to overthrow the government in Cuba—an effort well known to Soviet and Cuban officials.

In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy had cynically attacked Richard Nixon from the right, claiming that the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed a dangerous “missile gap” to grow in the U.S.S.R.’s favor. But in fact, just as Eisenhower and Nixon had suggested—and just as the classified briefings that Kennedy received as a presidential candidate indicated—the missile gap, and the nuclear balance generally, was overwhelmingly to America’s advantage. At the time of the missile crisis, the Soviets had 36 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 138 long-range bombers with 392 nuclear warheads, and 72 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warheads (SLBMs). These forces were arrayed against a vastly more powerful U.S. nuclear arsenal of 203 ICBMs, 1,306 long-range bombers with 3,104 nuclear warheads, and 144 SLBMs—all told, about nine times as many nuclear weapons as the U.S.S.R. Nikita Khrushchev was acutely aware of America’s huge advantage not just in the number of weapons but in their quality and deployment as well.

Kennedy and his civilian advisers understood that the missiles in Cuba did not alter the strategic nuclear balance.

Moreover, despite America’s overwhelming nuclear preponderance, JFK, in keeping with his avowed aim to pursue a foreign policy characterized by “vigor,” had ordered the largest peacetime expansion of America’s military power, and specifically the colossal growth of its strategic nuclear forces. This included deploying, beginning in 1961, intermediate-range “Jupiter” nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey—adjacent to the Soviet Union. From there, the missiles could reach all of the western U.S.S.R., including Moscow and Leningrad (and that doesn’t count the nuclear-armed “Thor” missiles that the U.S. already had aimed at the Soviet Union from bases in Britain).

Southern Half, by xkcd

Southern Half, by xkcd

Beginning in the late 1980s, however, the opening of previously classified archives and the decision by a number of participants to finally tell the truth revealed that the crisis was indeed resolved by an explicit but concealed deal to remove both the Jupiter and the Cuban missiles. Kennedy in fact threatened to abrogate if the Soviets disclosed it. He did so for the same reasons that had largely engendered the crisis in the first place—domestic politics and the maintenance of America’s image as the indispensable nation. A declassified Soviet cable reveals that Robert Kennedy—whom the president assigned to work out the secret swap with the U.S.S.R.’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin—insisted on returning to Dobrynin the formal Soviet letter affirming the agreement, explaining that the letter “could cause irreparable harm to my political career in the future.”

Only a handful of administration officials knew about the trade; most members of the ExComm, including Vice President Lyndon Johnson, did not. And in their effort to maintain the cover-up, a number of those who did, including McNamara and Rusk, lied to Congress. JFK and others tacitly encouraged the character assassination of Stevenson, allowing him to be portrayed as an appeaser who “wanted a Munich” for suggesting the trade—a deal that they vociferously maintained the administration would never have permitted.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. “repeatedly manipulated and obscured the facts.”

The patient spadework of Stern and other scholars has since led to further revelations. Stern demonstrates that Robert Kennedy hardly inhabited the conciliatory and statesmanlike role during the crisis that his allies described in their hagiographic chronicles and memoirs and that he himself advanced in his posthumously published book, Thirteen Days. In fact, he was among the most consistently and recklessly hawkish of the president’s advisers, pushing not for a blockade or even air strikes against Cuba but for a full-scale invasion as “the last chance we will have to destroy Castro.” Stern authoritatively concludes that “if RFK had been president, and the views he expressed during the ExComm meetings had prevailed, nuclear war would have been the nearly certain outcome.” He justifiably excoriates the sycophantic courtier Schlesinger, whose histories “repeatedly manipulated and obscured the facts” and whose accounts—”profoundly misleading if not out-and-out deceptive”—were written to serve not scholarship but the Kennedys.

The Real Cuban Missile Crisis: Everything you think you know about those 13 days is wrong.


The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths versus Reality (Google Books)

But the Kennedy mythology lives on.


Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is, as the story says, an “attorney and well-known environmentalist” who has, as the story doesn’t say, apparently spent his years in a search for relevance. Being a Kennedy must be hard work, with unreasonable expectations placed on you.

The burden took its toll on RFK Jr. nearly 30 years ago, when he was arrested for heroin on a flight from Minnesota to South Dakota. He pleaded guilty to possession. It was a felony conviction.

Enduring the Kennedys: RFK Jr. Edition


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Washington, The Novel

No, the fact is that Washington is and always has been irretrievably bogged down in process. And process doesn’t generally make for electrifying prose–unless you’re a fan of the novels of C. P. Snow, which describe the intestinal workings of inner-sanctum power struggles conducted by micro-megalomaniacs.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Sjors Provoost

The days of the Georgetown hostess are gone; the hostesses themselves are gone, too. Their reign began to close years ago, when senators started canceling dinners to appear on shows like Nightline. (There’s a prefiguration of this in Larry McMurtry’s neglected 1982 Washington novel Cadillac Jack, in which a character pontificates on world-shaking matters of which he knows little.) The Washington pundit is also a thing of the past: it’s been a good while since any insider columnist had the kind of access or influence that Ben Bradlee enjoyed with John F. Kennedy. And the British Embassy, while it still stages some of the best dinners, is not the brokerage of influence that it once was. Yet–if we except the intermittent efforts at describing catastrophe or conspiracy, themselves mostly falling short of observable reality–this is the sort of stereotype in which the model remains confined.

In Search of the Washington Novel,” by Christopher Hitchens, City Journal, Autumn, 2010

For books about Washington, see “Political and Government Classics” from TheCapitol.Net.

You can also see TheCapitol.Net’s faculty’s favorite books and movies about Washington on Hobnob Blog’s Faculty Favorites.

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