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Posts Tagged ‘TWILIGHT ZONE’

HOW ONE MAN’S ADVENT–OR ABSENCE–CAN MAKE HISTORY: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 29, 2020 at 1:19 am

On July 20, 1944, members of the Wehrmacht high command failed to assassinate Adolf Hitler with a bomb hidden in a briefcase.

Adolf Hitler

Mass arrests quickly followed. 

Among the first victims discovered and executed was the conspiracy’s leader, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. Standing before a makeshift firing squad at midnight, he cried: “Long live our sacred Germany!”

At least 7,000 persons were arrested by the Gestapo. According to records of the Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 4,980 were executed.

Had the conspiracy succeeded, history would have turned out differently:

  • If Germany had surrendered in July or August, 1944, World War II would have ended eight to nine months earlier.
  • The Russians—who didn’t reach Germany until April, 1945—could not have occupied the Eastern part of the country.
  • This would have prevented many of the future conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union over access to West Berlin and/or West Germany.
  • Untold numbers of Holocaust victims would have survived because the extermination camps would have been shut down.

Thus, history can be altered by the appearance—or disappearance—of a single individual.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump

Since becoming President on January 20, 2017, Trump has attacked or undermined one public or private institution after another, including:

  • The Justice Department: Repeatedly attacked his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for not “protecting” him from the FBI’s investigating ties between the Trump 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents. In 2018, Trump fired him.
  • Ordered 46 Obama-era prosecutors to resign and fired the Inspectors General of five cabinet departments.
  • Appointed William Barr as Attorney General in 2019 to protect him against investigations of his rampant criminality—both before and after he became President. 
  • The CIA: Refused to accept its findings—and those of the FBI and National Security Agency—that Russian Intelligence agents had intervened in the 2016 election to ensure his victory. Repeatedly defended Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s denials of this. 
  • The FBI:  Fired FBI Director James B. Comey for refusing to serve as Trump’s private secret police chief.
  • Repeatedly violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by using his position as President to further enrich himself.
  • The military: Threatened to order the U.S. Armed Forces to violate the rights of Americans protesting police brutality and the killing of George Floyd. 
  • The press: Tweeted: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes@NBCNews@ABC@CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”  (“Enemy of the people” was a favorite charge made by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.)
  • The judiciary: Repeatedly attacked Seattle U.S. District Judge James Robart, who halted Trump’s first Muslim travel ban.

On February 5, 2020, the Republican-dominated Senate—ignoring the overwhelming evidence against him—acquitted Donald Trump on two impeachment articles:

  • Article 1: Abuse of Power: For pressuring Ukraine to assist him in his re-election campaign by smearing former Vice President Joseph Biden, his possible Democratic rival; and
  • Article 2: Obstruction of Congress: For blocking testimony of subpoenaed witnesses and refusing to provide documents in response to House subpoenas in the impeachment inquiry.

With Republicans solidly backing Trump, that left only two other institutions capable of ending his reign of criminality and treason: The military and the Intelligence community. 

Both have access to vast amounts of secret—and highly embarrassing—-information. And both are expert in leaking choice bits of this to favored members of the media.  

If the military refused to carry out Trump’s orders, that would prove a genuine Constitutional crisis. But there would be a historical precedent for this.

In 1974, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger feared that a Watergate-embattled President Richard M. Nixon might order the military to prevent his removal by impeachment. Schlesinger ordered all Armed Services branches to not accept any order from the White House unless countersigned by Schlesinger himself.

As for the CIA: This agency has been overthrowing heads of state for decades. 

In 1953, its coup removed Mohammad Mosaddegh, the prime minister of Iran. In 1954, another coup did the same for Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz.

In 1970, Chile’s president, Salvador Allende, fell victim to a CIA-instigated plot.

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency.svg

Millions of Americans believe the CIA engineered the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. James W. Douglass’ 2008 book, JFK and the Unspeakable, charges that the CIA murdered Kennedy because he wanted to end the Cold War after the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

* * * * *

Had Senate Republicans chosen patriotism over partisanship and convicted President Donald J. Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors—or had the military and/or the Intelligence community forced him out of office—history would have turned out differently:

  • Trump’s vicious attacks on the press, judiciary and Intelligence community would have ended immediately.
  • His efforts to subvert the Justice Department and Armed Services would have stopped.
  • He would have faced vigorous prosecution for his litany of crimes—before and during his Presidency.
  • Vladimir Putin would have lost his strongest ally in the United States. 
  • Vice President Mike Pence would have become President—but, burdened by his reputation as Trump’s #1 sycophant, might have been unable to win election in November, 2020; and
  • Tarnished by their subservience to a discredited Trump, Republicans would have almost certainly lost the White House and the Senate.

HOW ONE MAN’S ADVENT–OR ABSENCE–CAN MAKE HISTORY: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 26, 2020 at 1:23 pm

On July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus Schenk von Stuaffenberg tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

He had served with the Wehrmacht in Poland (1939), France (1940) and the Soviet Union (1941).

While serving in Tunisa, he was seriously wounded on April 7, 1943, when Allied fighters strafed his vehicle. He lost his left eye, right hand and two fingers of his left hand after surgery.  

Colonel Claus Schenk von Stuaffenberg

Nevertheless, he now acted as the prime mover for the conspiracy among a growing number of German high command officers to arrest or assassinate Germany’s Fuehrer.

For most of these officers, the motive was craven: The “happy time’ of German victories was over. Germany was losing the war it had launched on the world in 1939–and now they feared the worst. 

This was especially true now that the numerically superior forces of the Soviet Union had gone onto the offensive.

For Stauffenberg, there was another reason: His disgust at the horrors he had seen committed by his fellow Wehrmacht soldiers upon defenseless POW’s and civilians in Russia.

Thus, Stauffenberg—more than many Germans–knew firsthand the vengeance his country could expect if the “Thousand-Year Reich” fell.

Something must be done, he believed, to prove to the world that not all Germans—even members of the Wehrmacht—were criminals.

Most of the conspirators wanted to arrest Hitler and surrender to British and American forces—well before the much-feared Russians gained a toehold in Germany.

Stauffenberg didn’t want to arrest Hitler; he wanted to kill him. A live Hitler might eventually be rescued by his Nazi colleagues.

But Hitler was a closely-guarded target. He was surrounded by fanatical bodyguards who were expert marksmen. He often wore a bulletproof vest and a cap lined with three pounds of laminated steel. 

Adolf Hitler

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1990-048-29A / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D

But his single greatest protection–he claimed—was an instinct for danger. He would suddenly change his schedule—to drop in where he was least expected. Or suddenly depart an event where he was expected to stay a long time.

On November 9, 1939, this instinct saved his life. He was expected to give a long speech at a Munich beer hall before the “old Fighters” of his brown-shirted storm troopers. 

Instead, he suddenly cut short his speech and left the beer hall. Forty-five minutes later, a bomb exploded inside a pillar—before which Hitler had been speaking.

Since then, a series of other assassination attempts had been made against Hitler. All of them involved time-bombs. And all of the would-be assassins were members of the German General Staff.

In one case, a bomb secretly stashed aboard Hitler’s plane failed to explode. In another, an officer who had a bomb strapped to himself unexpectedly found his scheduled meeting with Hitler called off. He had to rush into a bathroom to defuse the bomb before it went off.

So now it was the turn of von Stauffenberg. He would carry his bomb—hidden in a briefcase—into a “Hitler conference” packed with military officers.

But Stauffenberg didn’t intend to be a suicide bomber. He meant to direct the government that would replace that of the Nazis.

His bomb—also rigged with a time-fuse—would be left in the conference room while he found an excuse to leave. After the explosion, he would phone one of his fellow conspirators with the news.

Then, the coup—“Operation Valkyrie”—would be on.

Anti-Nazi conspirators would seize control of key posts of the government. The British and Americans would then be informed of Germany’s willingness to surrender. Provided, of course, that the vengeance-seeking Russians did not have a say in its postwar future.

The Wehrmacht and Schutzstaffel (SS) had killed millions of Russians. Many had died in combat. Others had been murdered as captives. Still more had been allowed to die by starvation and exposure to the notorious Russian winter.

So the Germans—both Nazi and anti-Nazi—knew what they could expect if soldiers of the Soviet Union reached German soil.

On July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg appeared at Hitler’s well-guarded military headquarters in East Prussia.  Like all his other outposts, Hitler had named it—appropriately enough—“Wolf’s Lair.” 

“Wolf’s Lair”

Stauffenberg entered the large, concrete building while the conference was in session. He placed his yellow briefcase next to Hitler—who was standing with his generals at a heavy oaken table. Then he excused himself to take an “urgent” phone call.

After Stauffenberg left the room, Colonel Heinz Brandt, standing next to Hitler, found the briefcase blocking his legs. So he moved it—to the other side of the heavy oaken support, partially shielding Hitler from the blast.. 

At 12:42 p.m. on July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg’s briefcase bomb erupted. 

Brandt died, as did two other officers and a stenographer.  

Hitler not only survived, but the plotters failed to seize the key broadcast facilities of the Reich.  

This allowed Hitler to make a late-night speech to the nation, revealing the failed plot and assuring Germans that he was alive. And he swore to flush out the “traitorous swine” who had tried to kill him.

He soon proved as bad as his word.

HOW ONE MAN’S ADVENT–OR ABSENCE–CAN MAKE HISTORY: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 25, 2020 at 12:23 am

“When Fascism comes to America, it will be called anti-Fascism.”
–Huey Long, Louisiana Governor/Senator

In the Twilight Zone episode, “No Time Like the Past,” Paul Driscoll (Dana Andrews), a scientist in early 1960s America, uses a time machine to visit Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II. 

He’s rented a motel room overlooking the balcony from where the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler will soon make a speech. And he’s eager to watch that speech—through the lens of a telescopic-sighted rifle.  

Just as he’s about to pull the trigger, there’s a knock at his door–by the maid. Driscoll hustles her out as soon as possible, then once again picks up his rifle. He—and viewers—can once again see Hitler through the cross-hairs of his weapon.  

Paul Driscoll prepares to shoot Adolf Hitler

But instead of the anticipated shot, there’s another knock at his door—his time by the black-uniformed secret police, the SS. Driscoll knows the game is up, and disappears into the present just as the thugs break down his door.  

And the audience is left to ponder how different the world would have been if Driscoll—or someone in Nazi Germany—had succeeded in assassinating the man whose wars would wipe out the lives of 50 million men, women and children around the globe.  

One 2016 Republican candidate for President dared to invoke the menace of Nazi Germany in warning of the dangers of a Donald Trump Presidency. And to argue that Americans could prevent that past from returning.  

In November, 2015, John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, was peddling a message of creating jobs, balancing the Federal budget and disdain for Washington, D.C.  

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John Kasich

But he remained far behind in the polls, dropping 50% in support in just one month—from September to October. Meanwhile, Trump, the New York billionaire developer, was being backed by 25% of Republican primary voters.  

So, with nothing to lose, Kasich decided to take off the gloves. He invoked the “N” word for Republicans: Nazi.  

He authorized the creation of a TV ad that opened with ominous music—and the face of a snarling Donald Trump.

“I would like anyone who is listening to consider some thoughts that I’ve paraphrased from the words of German pastor Martin Niemoeller.” 

The voice belonged to Tom Moe, a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force–and a former Vietnam prisoner-of-war.

“You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims must register with the government, because you’re not one,” continued Moe. 

“And you might not care if Donald Trump says he’s going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants, because you’re not one. 

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Donald Trump

“And you might not care if Donald Trump says it’s OK to rough up black protesters, because you’re not one. 

“And you might not care of Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists, because you’re not one.

“But think about this: 

“If he keeps going, and he actually becomes President, he might just get around to you. And you’d better hope that there’s someone left to help you.”  

Martin Niemoeller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who had commanded a U-boat during World War 1. He became a bitter public foe of Adolf Hitler.

A staunch anti-Communist, he had initially supported the Nazis as Germany’s only hope of salvation against the Soviet Union.

But when the Nazis made the church subordinate to State authority, Niemoeller created the Pastors’ Emergency League to defend religious freedom. 

For his opposition to the Third Reich,  Niemoeller spent seven years in concentration camps.

With the collapse of the Reich in 1945, he was freed—and elected President of the Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau in 1947. During the 1960s, he was a president of the World Council of Churches.

He is best remembered for his powerful condemnation of the failure of Germans to protest the increasing oppression of the Nazis:

First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Socialists, but I was not a Socialist, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out.

And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

Neither “Adolf Hitler” nor “Nazi Party” was mentioned during the one-minute Kassich video. But a furious Trump threatened to sue Kasich if he could find find anything “not truthful” within the ad.

Apparently he couldn’t find anything “not truthful,” because he never sued.

So threatened the man who had called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and accused President Barack Obama of being a Muslim and an illegal alien.

The Kasich ad was the darkest attack made against Trump by any candidate—Republican or Democrat. And it raises a disturbing question:

If Donald Trump proved to be America’s Adolf Hitler, would there be an American Claus von Stauffenberg? 

Colonel Claus Schenk von Stuaffenberg was the German army officer who, on July 20, 1944, tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. 

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART TEN (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 17, 2017 at 12:22 am

Fifty-three years ago, on November 22, 1963, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that he left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmosphereic testing–and poisoning–by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon–in 1969–Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration. For America, as for JFK, beating the Russians to the moon was the end-goal.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war. From 1965 to 1972, the war angrily divided Americas as had no event since the Civil War.

But there was a fourth legacy–and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverance.

 White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War. And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011,  the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

President Kennedy insisted on being well-informed. He speed-read several newspapers every morning and nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for altruistic reasons. These journalistic contacts gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.” Thus he excused his ignorance for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (and now Secretary of Energy) showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you–I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Court judges. And, uh, ah–

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality. 

Sarah Palin rewrote history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”: “He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.” 

In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything. Instead, he was warning his fellow  Americans about an impending British attack–as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, about the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences. Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Republicans attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resented his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

Many Americans believe that decline arrived with the 2016 election of Donald Trump. In fact, they believe it was Trump who announced it after winning the Nevada Republican primary: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.

It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART NINE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 16, 2017 at 12:05 am

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, John F. Kennedy served six undistinguished years before being elected U.S. Senator from Massachusetts in 1952.

In 1956, his eloquence and political skill almost won him the Vice Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention. But the nominee, Adlai Stevenson, chose Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver as his running mate–fortunately for Kennedy.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, running for re-election, easily beat Stevenson.

Had Kennedy been on the ticket, his Catholicism would have been blamed for the loss. And this would have likely prevented his getting the Presidential nomination in 1960.

In 1957, his book, Profiles in Courage, won the Pulitzer Prize for history.

From 1957 to 1960, Kennedy laid plans for a successful Presidential race.

Many voters thought him too young and inexperienced for such high office. But he used his TV debates with then-Vice President Richard Nixon to calm such fears, transforming himself overnight into a serious contender.

Many Americans identified with Kennedy as they had with film stars. Compared with normally drab politicians, he seemed exciting and glamorous.

Since 1960, for millions of Americans, mere competence in a President isn’t enough; he should be charming and movie-star handsome as well.

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John F. Kennedy after taking a swim at Santa Monica Beach, 1960

But charismatic politicians face the danger of waning enthusiasm.

Many people were growing disillusioned with Kennedy before he died. He had raised hopes that couldn’t be met–especially among blacks.

And many whites bitterly opposed his support of integration, believing that Kennedy was “moving too fast” in changing race relations.

Still, for millions of Americans, Kennedy represented a time of change.

“Let’s get this country moving again” had been his campaign slogan in 1960. He had demanded an end to the non-existent “missile gap” between the United States and Soviet Union.

And he had said that America should create full employment and re-evaluate its policies toward Africa, Latin America and Asia.

His youth, the grace and beauty of his wife and the often-reported antics of his two young children–Caroline and John–added to the atmosphere that change was under way.

But Kennedy was not so committed to reform as many believed:

  • As a Senator he had strongly opposed abolishing the Electoral College.
  • He never protested the Red-baiting tactics of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, a frequent dinner guest at the home of his father.
  • As President, Kennedy never forgot that he had been elected by a margin of 112,881 votes. He often rationalized his refusal to tackle controversial issues by saying: “We’ll do it after I’m re-elected. So we’d better make damn sure I am re-elected.”
  • He thought the United States should recognize “Red” China, but didn’t try to change American foreign policy toward that nation.

Nevertheless, many historians believe that. by vocally supporting civil rights and healthcare for the elderly, Kennedy laid the groundwork for Lyndon Johnson’s legislative victories.

Perhaps no aspect of Kennedy’s Presidency has received closer study than his assassination.

Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have hotly debated whether he was murdered by a lone “nut” or a deadly conspiracy of powerful men.

JFK’s assassination: The moment of impact

The murder has been the subject of two government investigations. The first, by the Warren Commission in 1964, concluded that an embittered ex-Marine and Marxist, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone in killing Kennedy.

Similarly, the Commission determined that nightclub owner Jack Ruby had killed Oswald on impulse, and not as the result of a conspiracy.

Millions of disbelieving Americans rejected the Warren Report–and named their own villains:

  • The KGB;
  • The Mob;
  • Anti-Castro Cubans;
  • Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson;
  • Right-wing businessmen and/or military leaders;
  • Fidel Castro.

Each of these groups or persons had reason to hate Kennedy:

  • The KGB–for Kennedy’s humiliating the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • The Mob–in retaliation for the administration’s crackdown on organized crime.
  • Anti-Castro Cubans–for JFK’s refusal to commit American military forces to overthrowing Castro at the Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • Lyndon Johnson–lusting for power, he stood to gain the most from Kennedy’s elimination.
  • Right-wing businessmen and/or military leaders–for believing that Kennedy had “sold out” the country to the Soviet Union.
  • Fidel Castro–knowing the CIA was trying to assassinate or overthrow him, he had reason to respond in kind.

The second investigation, conducted in 1977-79 by the House Assassinations Committee, determined that Oswald and a second, unknown sniper had fired at Kennedy. (Oswald was deemed the assassin; the other man’s shot had missed.)

The Chief Counsel for the Committee, G. Robert Blakey, believed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello organized the assassination, owing to his hatred of Robert Kennedy for his war on the crime syndicates.

Still, 53 years after JFK’s assassination, no court-admissible evidence has appeared to convict anyone other than Oswald for the murder.

The impact of Kennedy’s death on popular culture remains great. Millions saw him as a brilliant, courageous hero who had worked his way to the top.

But his sudden and violent end shocked those who believed there was always a happy ending.

If so gifted–and protected–a man as John F. Kennedy could be so suddenly and brutally destroyed, no one else could depend on a secure future.

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART EIGHT (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 15, 2017 at 12:26 am

Throughout his life, John F. Kennedy was lucky–both personally and politically.

Part of the secret lay in his physical presence. He was young and handsome, charming and articulate.

He appeared zestful and athletic despite a series of ailments, including Addison’s disease (a malfunction of the adrenal glands) and an injured back that required the use of a brace.

His wit was sophisticated and often self-deprecating. Addressing an assembly of Nobel Prize winners at the White House, he said: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House–with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

JFK making a joke at a press conference

And his sense of humor often defused otherwise ticklish problems. During the 1960 Presidential race, he was sharply criticized for relying on his millionaire father for much of his funding. At a campaign rally, he deflected the charge with humor:

“I just received a telegram from my generous Daddy. It says: ‘Dear Jack: Don’t buy one more vote than necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.’”

Another controversy emerged when he named his brother, Robert, Attorney General. Critics charged that the appointment smacked of nepotism–and that Robert didn’t have enough legal gravitas to be the nation’s chief law enforcement offer.

“I see nothing wrong in giving Robert a little experience before he goes out to practice law,” he said at a press conference.

His highly-polished rhetoric–produced by wordsmiths such as Theodore Sorensen–dazzled audiences. His Inaugural Address was acclaimed by Democrats and even most Republicans.

Its signature line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” has become as famous as Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

His speeches often urged Americans to seek a higher cause than mere self-interest. Speaking of the role of the arts in a nation’s life, he said:

“It may be different elsewhere, but [in] democratic society…the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.”

Memorial at the Arlington gravesite for John F. Kennedy

But he could be blunt and profane in private.

“My father always told me all businessmen were sonsofbitches, but I never believed it till now,” he said in private when the steel companies made an inflationary price increase in 1962.

Like Richard Nixon, Kennedy installed a secret taping system in the White House. And, as with Nixon, this picked up many of his profanities. Unlike Nixon, however, Kennedy died before his secret taping system was discovered.

Kennedy impressed many journalists with his capacity for detail.

“He swallows and digests whole books in minutes.  His eye seizes instantly on the crucial point of a long memorandum. He confounds experts with superior knowledge of their field,” wrote Games McGregor Burns in 1961.

Having briefly worked as a journalist (covering the opening of the United Nations Assembly in 1945) JFK understood and catered to the sensitivities of the Washington press corps.

Using charm, wit, candor and selective accessibility, he cultivated his own favored group of reporters. Critics charged that he was manipulating the media–and they were right.

Sometimes the manipulation was heavy-handed. He pressured The New York Times to censor its coverage of actions he intended to take–such as during the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But he failed to coerce the Times to remove David Halberstam, its Vietnam correspondent, whose highly critical articles cast doubt on the effectiveness of the American military commitment to Vietnam.

A major part of Kennedy’s appeal lay in his glamorous background. He was born–on May 29, 1917–into a large, robust family headed by wealthy and powerful financier Joseph P. Kennedy.

He attended Princeton and Harvard, graduating from the latter with top honors.

During World War II he became a Naval hero in 1943 after a Japanese destroyer sliced his PT boat in half–by towing an injured shipmate to safety on a South Pacific island. From there, Kennedy persuaded a native to summon rescue help from the U.S. Navy.

Kennedy had no plans for a postwar political career. That had been assigned to his elder brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., by their ambitious father, who was determined to seat the first Irish Catholic President.

After learning of his younger brother’s heroism, Joseph volunteered for a dangerous Naval bombing mission. On August 12, 1944, he and a co-pilot flew an explosives-laden plane from England toward France.

While over the English Channel, they were supposed to parachute from the aircraft–after activating a remote control system to send the plane crashing into a German command center.

But the plane mysteriously exploded before the pilots could eject–and before the plane reached its target.

The death of his elder brother ended John F. Kennedy’s plans for a career as a writer. Joseph Kennedy, Sr., insisted that “Jack” assume the political career that the Kennedy patriarch had assigned for his dead brother.

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART SEVEN (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 12, 2017 at 12:07 am

John F. Kennedy fired the imaginations and captured the hearts of Americans and foreign citizens as no President since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Millions who voted for him–or against him or didn’t vote at all–still believe that, if only he had lived to be re-elected, America would have entered a truly Golden Age.

Kennedy certainly encouraged such belief.  Asked for his definition of happiness, he quoted the ancient Greeks: “The full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”

More than 53 years after his death on November 22, 1963, he remains frozen in time. Assassinated at age 46, he remains forever young, vigorous and charming.

But even if he had not been assassinated, his Presidency could have ended in disaster.

After his 1953 marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier, he continued to pursue both a married and a bachelor life. Rumors of Kennedy’s extramarital affairs swirled throughout his Senatorial career and followed him into the White House.

His conquests included secretaries, wives of friends, strippers, movie stars (such as Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich) prostitutes and even a mobster’s mistress.

Various theories have been advanced for his taking such dangerous risks with his political career:

  • As a victim of Addison’s Disease (insufficiency of the adrenal glands) he had been told by doctors he might not live beyond 35.
  • As a result of the cortisone he took to control his Addison’s, his libido was greatly enhanced.
  • After escaping death with the sinking of PT-109, he decided to cram as much excitement into his life as possible.
  • His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., a notorious womanizer, had encouraged him and his three other sons to sleep with as many women as possible.

During the 1960 Presidential campaign, Frank Sinatra–who had become smitten with Kennedy and was determined to see him elected–introduced him to a “good time girl” named Judith Campbell.

Judith Campbell

Whether Kennedy knew it or not, Campbell was also sleeping with Sam Giancana–the most-feared Mafia boss in Chicago. And it wasn’t long before Giancana learned about her trysts with Kennedy.

As a favor to Sinatra, Giancana and his fellow mobsters used their powerful influence to ensure that JFK carried Illinois in 1960.

Sam Giancana

In turn, JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy had promised Giancana that the Mob would get a free ride under a Kennedy Presidency.

When JFK appointed his brother, Robert, Attorney General, the latter declared war on organized crime. Giancana and his fellow hoods felt betrayed.

Giancana often raged to Campbell: “If it wasn’t for me, your boyfriend wouldn’t be President.” And having knowledge of her scandalous relationship with JFK, Giancana could have exposed Kennedy to a shocked public.

And if Giancana hadn’t done it, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover might have.

John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy

Hoover, under relentless pressure from Robert Kennedy to crack down on the Mob, had, through illegal electronic surveillance, discovered the Giancana-Campbell-Kennedy connection.

Always fearful that he might be replaced as FBI director, Hoover had quickly alerted the Attorney General to his latest discovery in February, 1962. Neither RFK nor JFK could dare fire Hoover now.

White House telephone logs reveal that, from January, 1961 until February, 1962, Campbell phoned the White House 70 times.

After Hoover informed Robert Kennedy of Campbell’s status with the President, she made only one more call to Kennedy. It was then that the President said the affair was over.

Similarly, the President’s on-and-off affair with Marilyn Monroe put him in an equally dangerous position. Monroe’s behavior, fueled by emotional instability, alcohol and pills, became increasingly erratic. And she grew convinced that Kennedy should divorce Jackie and make her the new First Lady.

Rumors still circulate that the President sent Robert Kennedy–who was by now an old hand at cleaning up JFK’s messes–to tell Monroe their relationship was over.

Whatever secrets Monroe may have been able to reveal about her relationship with Kennedy, she took them to the grave in an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills on August 5, 1962.

In his 1995 bestseller, The Dark Side of Camelot, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh got several former members of Kennedy’s Secret Service detail to speak about JFK’s extramarital sex life.

They revealed that they had not been allowed to search any of the women Kennedy cavorted with.

Any of these women could have injected the President with a poisonous hypodermic. Or secretly tape recorded their trysts with Kennedy for blackmail purposes.

Kennedy believed he would be re-elected in 1964–especially if his opponent was Barry Goldwater, the Republican Senator from Arizona.

And he almost certainly would have been re-elected; Lyndon Johnson scored a smashing victory over Goldwater that year.

But it’s also possible that Kennedy could have been forced to resign in disgrace over his affairs with Campbell, Monroe or any number of other women.

Such a fate overtook British Secretary of State for War John Profumo in 1962. In 1961, he had begun an affair with Christine Keeler, an attractive model. But Keeler was also bedding Yevgeney Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in Britain.

When the press learned about the threesome, Profumo was forced to resign, his 22-year political career destroyed.

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART SIX (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 11, 2017 at 12:03 am

President Kennedy’s untimely death has since fueled arguments over how, if he had lived, he would have dealt with Vietnam.

In his memoirs, former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote: “Kennedy would have never let his country get bogged down in Vietnam.”

But David Halberstam, who covered the early years of the war for The New York Times, came to a different conclusion.

David Halberstam in Vietnam

In his bestselling 1972 book, The Best and the Brightest, he wrote that although Kennedy questioned the wisdom of a combat commitment, he had never shown those doubts in public.

In public, he had expressed doubts only about the Diem regime–whether it held enough support among the Vietnamese to win the war.

His successor had to deal with Kennedy’s public statements, all supportive of the importance of Vietnam.

And it was that successor, newly-elevated President Lyndon B. Johnson, who decided, in 1965, to commit heavy military forces to protecting “freedom-loving” South Vietnam.

In short: Even if Kennedy had intended to withdraw American forces after winning re-election in 1964, he made a fatal mistake: He assumed there would always be time for him to do so.

Historian Thurston Clarke, in his 2013 book JFK’s Last Hundred Days, reached a totally different conclusion: That Kennedy planned to quietly remove American military advisers regardless of the military situation.

Like Halberstam, Clarke believes that Kennedy intended to gradually withdraw troops from Vietnam–but felt he could not afford to inflame the Right during an election year.

Essentially, the question, “What would  Kennedy have done?”–on Vietnam, civil rights, relations with the Soviet Union–lies at the heart of his continuing fascination among Americans.

For millions, the later turmoil of the 1960s remains such a traumatic memory that they assume: “America would have had to be better-off if Kennedy had lived.”

But much of Kennedy’s proposed legislation–such as his civil rights act–did not become law until President Johnson overcame conservative opposition to it.

Johnson had first been elected to the House of Representatives in 1937, where he gained influence as a protégé of its speaker, Sam Rayburn. In 1948, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and eventually became one of its most powerful members–especially after becoming its Majority Leader in 1954.

Johnson knew the strengths and weaknesses of his political colleagues, and he ruthlessly exploited this knowledge to ensure the passage of legislation he supported.

Kennedy had served in the House from 1946 to 1952, and from 1952 to 1961 in the Senate.  But he had never been a major leader in either body.

It was as a Senator that he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage. But it was also as a Senator that he refused to vote on whether U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy should be censured by his Senatorial colleagues.

In 1954, the Senate voted to condemn McCarthy, whose slanders of Communist subversion had bullied and frightened Americans for four years. McCarthy’s influence as a political figure died overnight.

Joseph P. Kennedy, the family patriarch, was a strong McCarthy supporters And Robert F. Kennedy had briefly worked for McCarthy’s Red-baiting Senate subcommittee.

JFK’s refusal to say how he would have voted on censuring McCarthy damaged his support among liberals during the 1960 election.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said that Kennedy should show “more courage and less profile.”

Although Lyndon Johnson’s legislative achievements as Senator and President remain unprecedented, he has become a pariah figure among Democrats.

His 1965 decision to wage all-out war in Vietnam ignited nationwide protests and elected Richard M. Nixon as President in 1968.

Like a doomed character in George Orwell’s novel, 1984, he has largely become an un-person.

Meanwhile, John F. Kennedy continues to endlessly fascinate Americans. In poll after poll they continue to rate him highly–even though he served less than three years in the White House.

Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been written about JFK. On the big screen he’s been depicted by actors such as Cliff Robertson (PT-109), Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days) and James Marsden (The Butler).

Movie poster for PT-109

On TV, he’s been portrayed by William Devane (The Missiles of October), William Petersen (The Rat Pack), Martin Sheen (Kennedy), James Franciscus (Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy) and Cliff De Young (Robert Kennedy and His Times). 

William Devane as John F. Kennedy in The Missiles of October

Kennedy has even appeared on Saturday Night Live (perhaps most famously in a sketch where he chides then-President Clinton for his tawdry choices as a womanizer).

He even figured in a 1986 episode of the revised Twilight Zone episode where a history professor travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination.

The result: JFK is saved but Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is murdered and World War III erupts.

In 2013, the Internet Movie Database listed a total of 94 movies, mini-series. TV dramas and even comedies featuring the character of John F. Kennedy.  

Roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, parks, playgrounds and schools have been named after him.

As Thurston Clarke wrote in JFK’s Last Hundred Days: “There is no test of literary merit except survival, which is in of itself an index of majority opinion. By that standard, Kennedy was a great President.” 

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART FIVE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 10, 2017 at 12:01 am

The Kennedy administration’s unprecedented attack on organized crime has led some law enforcement experts to believe the Mob engineered President Kennedy’s assassination.

One of these is G. Robert Blakey, father of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. As the former Chief Counsel and Staff Director to the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations (1977–1979) he oversaw the second official inquiry into the Kennedy assassination.

As a result, he believes the Mob had ample means, motive and opportunity to arrange for a “nut” to kill the President.

In his 1980 book, The Plot to Kill the President, Blakey asserted:

  • Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President Kennedy.
  • An unknown confederate of Oswald’s, firing from the “grassy knoll,” also shot at Kennedy but missed.
  • The conspiracy was rooted in organized crime and involved Mafia boss Santos Trafficante of Miami and/or Mafia boss Carlos Marcello of New Orleans.

The 1983 TV mini-series, “Blood Feud,” clearly implied that the Mob was responsible. At its heart lay the 10-year conflict between Robert F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa, then president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.

This was also the plot of American Tabloid, a 1995 novel by James Ellroy.

But investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote that during the five years he researched The Dark Side of Camelot, his expose of the hidden life of President Kennedy, he didn’t uncover any evidence of such a plot.

After Robert Kennedy left the Justice Department in 1964 to run for the post of U.S. Senator from New York, the Justice Department slacked off its push against the crime syndicates.

But the war was resurrected during the Nixon administration and has remained a top priority ever since.

Perhaps the most controversial legacy of the Kennedy administration remains the President’s dealings with the South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem.,

In 1954, the French–who had controlled Vietnam for 80 years–were forced to withdraw their military forces from the country. Their army had suffered a humiliating defeat at Dienbenphu and the French citizenry–still recovering from defeat and Nazi occupation during World War II–demanded an end to the disastrous conflict.

Into this political vacuum stepped the victorious North Vietnamese communist Ho Chi Minh.

Kennedy–then U.S. Senator from Massachusetts–had visited Vietnam while the French were still trying to hold onto one of their last colonial possessions. And he had urged them to withdraw and allow the Vietnamese to govern themselves.

But President Dwight D. Eisenhower was aware of Ho’s overwhelming popularity throughout Vietnam due to his battles against Japanese and French colonialists. In any nationwide election, Ho was certain to win the presidency.

But Eisenhower felt he couldn’t allow an avowed Communist to rule Vietnam. With the North under firm Communist control, America focused its attention on the South.

Searching for an acceptable alternative, Eisenhower found hm in Ngo Dinh Diem–a mandarin in a nation swept by revolution, a Catholic in a nation with an 80% Buddhist population.

In 1954, America began backing Diem. Although his first years were marked by social progress, he later became increasingly oppressive toward the Buddhist majority. Corruption openly flourished among government and army officials.

Ngo Dinh Diem

In 1960, North Vietnam launched an aggressive campaign of infiltration and assassination across South Vietnam.

In 1961, President Kennedy sent 400 Green Berets and 100 other military advisers to South Vietnam to offer support.

Diem requested American financing of a 100,000-man increase in his army. Kennedy agreed to an increase of 30,000. Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated that 40,000 U.S. troops would be needed to “clean up the Vietcong threat.”

Kennedy underestimated the reaction of North Vietnam, whose forces were fighting what they believed was a crusade. As American troop strength increased, the North escalated its own commitment.

From 1961 to 1963, the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam steadily rose from 685 to 16,732. American minesweepers patrolled the coasts while their aircraft engaged in surveillance.

For the first time, Americans became casualties of the war–especially those in helicopter combat-support missions.

Meanwhile, Diem–urged by his influential brother, Nhu, who ran the secret police–cracked down on the Buddhists.

Government troops fired on a peaceful demonstration in May, 1963. In protest, Buddhist monks burned themselves to death before TV cameras.

Nhu’s beautiful and powerful wife, Madame Nhu, fed growing world outrage by her ridicule of “monk barbecue shows.”

American efforts to stop Diem’s anti-Buddhist campaign failed. On August 21, 1963, Diem’s police shot their way into Buddhist pagodas, killing scores and arresting hundreds.

This finally convinced the Kennedy administration that Diem would never gain the popular support he needed to win the war against the Communist North.

As a result, the administration offered support to South Vietnamese military officers planning a coup against Diem.

On November 1, 1963, South Vietnamese army units stormed the presidential palace. Diem and Nhu fled, but were caught and shot. Madame Nhu, visiting the U.S. at the time, escaped death, accusing  Kennedy of supporting the coup.

The administration issued a flat denial.

Diem’s assassination was followed 21 days later by Kennedy’s own.

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART FOUR (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 9, 2017 at 12:15 am

John F. Kennedy became President when civil rights suddenly became a burning issue throughout the Nation.

At Kennedy’s request, dozen of law firms sent lawyers South, so civil rights demonstrators would not lack counsel.

Prominent blacks such as Thurgood Marshall, Robert C. Weaver and George L.L. Weaver were appointed, respectively, to the Supreme Court, the Housing and House Finance Agency and the office of Assistant Secretary of Labor.

But Kennedy was highly reluctant to push for a civil rights bill addressing the overall issues of racial discrimination.

The reason: Most of the chairman of House and Senate committees were deeply conservative Southern racists–whether Republican or Democrat. They decided whether Kennedy’s foreign policy initiatives would be approved or opposed–especially his bills for increased foreign aid.

Kennedy believed he could not offend such men without jeopardizing the legacy he wanted to achieve in foreign policy.

This timidity, in turn, led many prominent blacks–such as Martin Luther King and Malcom X–to believe they would see no innovative moves on Kennedy’s part.

But events forced Kennedy’s hand.

On September 30, 1962, the President sent deputy U.S. marshals and National Guardsmen into Mississippi to restore order. Rioting had erupted when, by federal court order, James Meredith, a black, was enrolled  at the state university.

Kennedy’s problems in winning support for his civil rights program arose in the folkways of the Nation.  When laws run counter to a nation’s folkways, the laws lose.

In backing the admission of Meredith, the President chose an incident which would set off shockwaves for black rights.

Kennedy held mixed emotions about the demand for civil rights by blacks. On one hand, as an Irish Catholic, he grew up with stories about longtime discrimination against his ancestors (such as the “No Irish Need Apply” signs posted by numerous employers).

On the other hand, he had been born into a world of power and wealth, and he had to grope his way toward understanding the problems of the oppressed.

Another major confrontation broke out between Kennedy and the forces of segregation on June 11, 1963.  Alabama Governor George C. Wallace personally blocked the entrance of two black pupils to the University of Tuscaloosa.

The President, watching on TV, federalized the Alabama National Guard, which Wallace had used to ring the school.  Wallace withdrew and the students were admitted and enrolled.

That same day, Kennedy addressed the nation on the need for genuine equality for all Americans: “The question is whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.”

JFK addresses the nation on civil rights

And he called on Congress to pass his civil rights bill, which had been stalled by the legislators.

On August 28, 1963, 200,000 civil rights demonstrators flooded Washington, D.C., for a massive rally.

Fearing that violence would erupt–embarrassing his administration and setting back the cause of civil rights–Kennedy had sought to persuade Dr. Martin Luther King, the march’s chief figure, to cancel the proposed march.

But King and his fellow organizers were determined to go through with it. They had, they said, waited too long for justice to be satisfied with anything less.

The dignity and peacefulness of the rally–and, most especially, King’s soaring “I Have a Dream” speech–won tremendous sympathy throughout the country. Kennedy met with civil rights leaders afterward to offer his support.

Martin Luther King during the March on Washington

But Kennedy’s civil rights bill remained stalled in Congress until 1964. President Lyndon B. Johnson used the assassinated Kennedy’s new status as a martyr to gain enough support for its passage.

Meanwhile, on yet another front, the Kennedy administration was waging an unprecedented war against organized crime.

This was primarily the work of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. As chief counsel for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (1957–59), he had interrogated about 800 mobsters who had been summoned by subpoena.

And he had learned, firsthand, how ineffective the FBI and Justice Department were at bringing such powerful criminals to justice. The FBI had long steered clear of organized crime investigations, largely because its director, J. Edgar Hoover, feared corruption of his agents.

Upon taking office as Attorney General, he greatly expanded the number of attorneys assigned to the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Section. And, more important, he used his status as brother to the President to jawbone FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover into attacking the Mob.

The FBI installed illegal microphones in Mob hangouts throughout the country and started building cases against such mobsters as Sam Giancana, Santos Trafficante and Carlos Marcello.

The administration’s attack on the Mob has led some historians to believe the assassination of President Kennedy was Mob-orchestrated.

The reasons:

  • Joseph P. Kennedy, the family patriarch, solicited Mob money and influence for his son’s 1960 Presidential campaign.
  • Through singer Frank Sinatra, the elder Kennedy assured Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana that the mob would get a free ride if his son were elected President.
  • The CIA, seeking any way to topple Fidel Castro, enlisted the Mafia to assassinate him.
  • But Robert Kennedy, as Attorney General, ignored the Mob’s “contributions” and pressed his war against the syndicates
  • As a result, mobsters felt betrayed and lusted for vengeance.
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