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Posts Tagged ‘VIETNAM WAR’

OUR MOST-LOVED–AND MOST-HATED–PRESIDENTS

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 28, 2017 at 12:06 am

Why are some Presidents remembered with affection, while others are detested—or forgotten altogether?

Generally, Presidents who are warmly remembered are seen as making positive contributions to the lives of their fellow Americans and being “people-oriented.”

Among these:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy

Among the reasons they are held in such high regard:

  • Abraham Lincoln ended slavery and restored the Union. Although he ruthlessly prosecuted the Civil War, his humanity remains engraved in stories such as his pardoning a soldier condemned to be shot for cowardice: “If Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?”

An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln

  • Theodore Roosevelt championed an era of reform, such as creating the Food and Drug Administration and five National Parks. Popularly known as “Teddy,” he even had a toy bear—the teddy bear—named after him.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully led America through the Great Depression and World War II. He was the first President to insist that government existed to directly better the lives of its citizens: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • John F. Kennedy supported civil rights and called for an end to the Cold War. He challenged Americans to “ask what you can do for your country” and made government service respectable, even chic. His youth, charisma, intelligence and handsomeness led millions to mourn for “what might have been” had he lived to win a second term.

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John F. Kennedy

Presidents who remain unpopular among Americans are seen as unlikable and responsible (directly or not) for mass suffering.

Among these:

  • Herbert Hoover
  • Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Richard M. Nixon

Among the reasons they are held in such low regard:

  • Herbert Hoover is still blamed for the 1929 Great Depression. He didn’t create it, but his conservative, “small-government” philosophy led him to refuse to aid its victims. An engineer by profession, he saw the Depression as a machine that needed repair, not as a catastrophe for human beings. This lack of “emotional intelligence” cost him heavily with voters.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson is still blamed as the President “who got us into Vietnam.” John F. Kennedy had laid the groundwork by placing 16,000 American troops there by the time he died in 1963. But it was Johnson who greatly expanded the war in 1965 and kept it going—with hugely expanding casualties—for the next three years. Unlike Kennedy, whom he followed, he looked and sounded terrible on TV. Voters compared LBJ’s Texas drawl and false piety with JFK’s wit and good looks—and found him wanting.

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Lyndon B. Johnson

  • Richard M. Nixon will be remembered foremost as the President who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment and removal from office. Like Herbert Hoover, he was not a “people person” and seemed remote to even his closest associates. Although he took office on a pledge to “bring us together” and end the Vietnam war, he attacked war protesters as traitors and kept the war going another four years. His paranoid fears of losing the 1972 election led to his creating an illegal “Plumbers” unit which bugged the Democratic offices at the Watergate Hotel. And his attempted cover-up of their illegal actions led to his being forced to resign from office in disgrace.

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Richard M. Nixon

Which brings us to the question: How is Donald J. Trump likely to be remembered?

Historian Joachim C. Fest offers an unintended answer to this question in his 1973 bestselling biography Hitler:

“The phenomenon of the great man is primarily aesthetic, very rarely moral in nature; and even if we were prepared to make allowances in the latter realm, in the former we could not.

“An ancient tenet of aesthetics holds that one who for all his remarkable traits is a repulsive human being, is unfit to be a hero.”

Among the reasons for Hitler’s being “a repulsive human being,” Fest cites the Fuhrer’s

  • “intolerance and vindictiveness”;
  • “lack of generosity”; and
  • “banal and naked materialism–power was the only motive he would recognize.”

Fest then quotes German chancellor Otto von Bismark on what constitutes greatness: “Impressiveness in this world is always akin to the fallen angel who is beautiful but without peace, great in his plans and efforts, but without success, proud but sad.”

And Fest concludes: “If this is true greatness, Hitler’s distance from it is immeasurable.”

What Fest writes about Adolf Hitler applies just as brutally to President Trump.

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Donald Trump

Intolerant and vindictive. Lacking generosity. Nakedly materialistic.  

He has:

  • Boasted about the politicians he’s bought and the women he’s bedded—and forced himself on.
  • Threatened his Democratic opponent—Hillary Clinton—with prosecution if he were elected.
  • Slandered entire segments of Americans—blacks, Hispanics, women, journalists, Asians, the disabled, the Gold Star parents of a fallen soldier.
  • Slandered President Barack Obama for five years as a non-citizen, finally admitting the truth only to win black votes.
  • Attacked the FBI and CIA for accurately reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had intervened in the 2016 Presidential election to ensure Trump’s victory. 

At this stage, it’s hard to imagine Trump joining that select number of Presidents Americans remember with awe and reverence.

WHEN HUBRIS TAKES COMMAND

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 9, 2017 at 1:42 am

On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler ordered his powerful Wehrmacht to invade the Soviet Union.

Since September 1, 1939,  his army had conquered Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France.

Now, he believed, it was time to “settle accounts” with the Soviet Union. Only there could Germany obtain the “living space” it “needed” for its expanding population.

And now seemed to be the perfect time to do it.

Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union, had decimated the Red Army with a series of purges in 1937-38.  Its best officers had been shot as “enemies of the State.” Their replacements were untried in war—and fearful of showing initiative that might get them executed.

Adolf Hitler with his generals

At first, Hitler felt giddy with excitement. Turning to Alfred Jodl, his chief of operations of the Wehrmacht,  he said: “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

But soon afterward–almost as if he had just looked into the future and seen that he had none–he told an aide: “At the beginning of each campaign, one pushes a door into a dark, unseen room. One can never know what is hiding inside.”

That certainly proved true for Hitler. Within four years, he was dead and the Red Army occupied Berlin.

Among the questions Hitler and his generals had refused to ask themselves—and answer:

  • What if the Soviet Union didn’t collapse after “a few powerful blows”?
  • What if the war lasted longer than the summer—while German troops were wearing summer uniforms?
  • What if the war actually lasted into the winter?
  • What if most of the roads in Russia were unpaved—and German tanks got bogged down in, first, autumn mud, and then winter snow?
  • What if Stalin convinced ordinary Russians that they weren’t fighting to save his Communist dictatorship–but to save Holy Mother Russia itself?

By the end of the four-year conflict, all of these possibilities had become reality:

  • The Soviet Union didn’t collapse—although, in October, 1941, it seemed about to do so.
  • The war did last longer than the summer—and, when winter struck, countless German soldiers in summer uniforms froze to death in the below-zero cold.
  • German tanks did become mired—first in mud, then in snow. Russian tanks, having wider tracks, easily outmaneuvered their German counterparts.
  • Stalin did proclaim that this was a struggle to save Holy Mother Russia against a barbaric enemy. And widespread German atrocities convinced them this was true.

German soldiers marching through Russia

Now, fast forward from the Fuhrership of Adolf Hitler to the Presidency of Donald Trump.

During a July 19 meeting with his generals in the White House Situation Room, Trump said the United States was “losing” the war in Afghanistan. He blamed them for lacking a strategy to “win,” and suggested firing the top commander in the field, General John Nicholson.

Trump also asked the generals how the United States could take a portion of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth. He had previously said that the United States should have seized Iraq’s oil after America invaded in 2003.

Even more bizarrely, he repeatedly compared the war in Afghanistan to renovating the elite “21” Club in Manhattan.

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Donald Trump

Trump claimed that after the restaurant had been closed for a year, a consultant suggested that a bigger kitchen be built in the establishment.

Trump told the generals that he would have been better served speaking to the waiters who worked there. And he added that he would do better speaking to veterans of Afghanistan rather than generals.

(Adolf Hitler displayed a similar obsession after the German Sixth Army was forced to surrender at Stalingrad on February 2, 1943. About 94,000 men fell into Russian hands.

(But what most infuriated Hitler was that Friedrich Paulus, the newly-promoted Field Marshal, had allowed himself to be taken prisoner. Hitler raged that Paulus should have committed suicide.

(Three times during his rant, Hitler spoke of a German woman who had killed herself after she found she could no longer go on. His point: If even a weak-willed woman could summon up the courage to take her own life, there was no excuse for a German soldier refusing to do so.)

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Friedrich Paulus

Trump left the national security meeting without making a decision on a strategy. His advisers were stunned, administration officials and others briefed on the meeting said.

During the presidential campaign, Trump often boasted that he knew more than American  military generals.  This despite his having dodged the Vietnam war via five draft deferments.

American troops have been deployed in Afghanistan since October 7, 2001, when Operation Enduring Freedom was launched. The Taliban, which controlled the country, had refused to turn over Osama bin Ladin, the Al-Qaeda mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

About 8,400 members of the U.S. military are now currently serving in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. A total of 1,833 Americans have been killed in action there.

TRUMP AND TRUTH–TWO IRRECONCILABLE OPPOSITES: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 8, 2017 at 12:23 am

For five years, Donald Trump, more than anyone, popularized the fiction that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya—and was therefore ineligible to be President.

Now Trump finds himself haunted by something far worse than a slander: The truth.

Since taking office on January 20, Trump has been ensnared in a series of revelations about collaboration between members of his 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.

The FBI, CIA and National Security Agency have unequivocally stated that Russian Intelligence played a major role in trying to sway the election for Trump. 

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During the 2016 race, Trump furiously disagreed with this finding. “They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea,” Trump told “Fox News Sunday” on Dec. 11.

And as late as August 3, 2017, addressing a rally of his Right-wing followers in West Virginia, Trump said: “Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign; there never were. We didn’t win because of Russia; we won because of you,”

But Trump’s denials contradict the revelations that have emerged about his behavior.

TRUMP’S DENIALS

July 27, 2016, in Doral, Florida: Trump told a local CBS news channel: “I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.”

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Donald Trump

October 24, 2016 at a Florida campaign rally: Trump said, “I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, I’ll give you a written statement.”

January 11, 2017: Trump launched the first in a series of tweets denying any ties between Russian Intelligence and his campaign: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”

February 7, 2017: “I don’t know [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy – yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, #1 in terror, no problem!”

February 16, 2017: “The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly (306), so they made up a story – RUSSIA. Fake news!”

May 8, 2017: “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”

TRUMP’S BEHAVIOR

May 9, 2017:  Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Comey had been leading an investigation into alleged collusion between Trump advisers and Russian officials when he was fired.

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James Comey

At first, Trump claimed that he fired Comey for mishandling the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. 

May 10, 2017:  But, in a meeting at the White House, Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

May 11, 2017:  And in an interview with NBC reporter Lester Holt, Trump admitted the real reason:

“And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

July 8, 2017:  The New York Times reported that Donald Trump Junior met at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who promised to offer damaging information about Clinton.

Trump Junior released a statement: “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”

July 12 and July 16, 2017: Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, denied that the President was involved in drafting his son’s statement about the Trump Tower meeting.

July 19, 2017: In an interview with The New York Times, Trump warned Special Counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller to avoid looking into his personal finances. Asked if he would fire Mueller over an examination of his finances, Trump made it clear that he might.

July 20, 2017: The Washington Post reported that Trump was consulting with advisers “about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself” in connection to the probe led by Mueller.

July 31, 2017: The Washington Post reported that, to conceal the purpose of the Trump Tower  meeting, President Trump dictated a misleading statement for his son. In this, the reason for the meeting was given as a discussion about the adoption of Russian children—and not to obtain damaging information on Clinton from Russian Intelligence agents.

August 1, 2017: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump was involved in drafting the false statement that Trump Junior released about the Trump Tower meeting. Sanders called the matter “of no consequence.”

August 3, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller had convened a grand jury in Washington, D.C. to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. This gives Mueller broad authority to subpoena documents and compel witnesses to testify under oath. 

Summing up this crisis, the late New York Times reporter Harrison E. Salisbury warned “The truth, I was ultimately to learn, is the most dangerous thing. There are no ends to which men of power will not go to put out its eyes.”

TRUMP AND TRUTH–TWO IRRECONCILABLE OPPOSITES: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 7, 2017 at 12:12 am

In 2011, Donald Trump, host of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” was thinking of running for President against the incumbent, Barack Obama.

To gain popularity among America’s Right-wing, Trump almost singlehandedly created the popular fiction that the President was born in Kenya—and was not an American citizen.

His motive: To convince Americans that Obama was an illegitimate President.

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Donald Trump

Among the statements Trump made:

February 10, 2011: “Our current president came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere. In fact, I’ll go a step further: The people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don’t know who he is. It’s crazy.”

March 23, 2011: “I want him to show his birth certificate.…There’s something on that birth certificate that he doesn’t like.”

March 30, 2011: “If you are going to be president of the United States you have to be born in this country. And there is a doubt as to whether or not he was. …He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that. Or he may not have one. But I will tell you this. If he wasn’t born in this country, it’s one of the great scams of all time.”

April 7, 2011: “I have people that have been studying it, and they cannot believe what they’re finding. You are not allowed to be a president if you’re not born in this country. Right now I have real doubts.”

April 25, 2011: “I’ve been told very recently…that the birth certificate is missing. I’ve been told that it’s not there or it doesn’t exist. And if that’s the case, it’s a big problem.”

On April 27, President Obama released his original, long-form Hawaiian birth certificate.

The long-form version of President Obama’s birth certificate

“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” said Obama at a press conference. “We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve.”

Still, Trump pursued his campaign of slander on Twitter:

May 18, 2012:  “Let’s take a closer look at that birth certificate.@BarackObama was described in 2003 as being “born in Kenya.” http://bit.ly/Klc9Uu

August 6, 2012: “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama‘s birth certificate is a fraud.”

August 27, 2012: “Why do the Republicans keep apologizing on the so called “birther” issue? No more apologies—take the offensive!”

September 13, 2012: “Wake Up America! See article: “Israeli Science: Obama Birth Certificate is a Fake” 

June 30, 2013:@davidrhythmguit: @realDonaldTrump @Chuffman48 Mark Cuban accepts the fact that the President of the United States was born here. Doubt it”

August 22, 2013: “Why are people upset w/ me over Pres Obama’s birth certificate? I got him to release it, or whatever it was, when nobody else could!”

December 12, 2013:  “How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s “birth certificate” died in plane crash today. All others lived”

November 23, 2014: “@futureicon: @pinksugar61 Obama also fabricated his own birth certificate after being pressured to produce one by @realDonaldTrump

Eventually, Trump decided not to run in 2012.  

But he did declare his candidacy for President on June 16, 2015.  And he continued to insist that  Obama was an illegitimate President.

Meanwhile, Trump’s popularity among blacks steadily fell. In June, 2016, a Quinnipiac poll revealed that Trump had 1% of support from black voters—while 91% backed Hillary Clinton.

Even the managers of Trump’s campaign urged him to put the “birther” issue behind him.

And so, on September 16, 2016—10 days before his scheduled first debate with Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton—Trump made his version of a reversal.  

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Donald Trump: “President Barack Obama was born in the United States.”

He did so in about seven seconds and 40 words—after spending a half hour paying tribute to the military and promoting his new upscale hotel in Washington, D.C.:

“Now, not to mention her in the same breath, but Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.

“I finished it.  I finished it.  You know what I mean.

“President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”  

His tone made it clear that he felt uneasy making that statement—and wanted to get it over with as fast as possible.

He refused to take questions from reporters covering the event. Nor did he apologize for his five-year campaign of slander.

Eight months after winning the 2016 election, Trump finds himself pursued by a charge as deadly as the one he hurled at Barack Obama: That he colluded with Russian Intelligence agents to sabotage the electoral chances of Hillary Clinton. 

Even worse for Trump: It’s backed up with evidence by America’s premier domestic and foreign Intelligence agencies: The FBI, CIA and National Security Agency.

The discovery of numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian Intelligence agents led the FBI to launch an investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election.

That investigation is still ongoing.

And the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have launched their own investigations into the same.

OF SELF-PITY AND PRESIDENTS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 22, 2017 at 12:10 am

On May 17, President Donald J. Trump appeared at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. 

He was there go give the commencement remarks to a graduating class of Coast Guard cadets. 

The Coast Guard Academy website explains what it seeks in candidates: “The Coast Guard needs officers who are intellectually curious, who seek continuous improvement, and who are committed to service above self. At the Academy, our academic programs provide the intellectual foundation for developing officers with these qualities.” 

It also spells out what the Academy offers: “The Coast Guard Academy is ranked among the nation’s top undergraduate colleges. Our academic program, which awards a Bachelor of Science and a commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard, must be completed in four years.

“It is designed to provide a superb academic foundation in a military environment. The result: future leaders of America.”

The Academy’s core requirements could not be more at odds with the realities of Donald Trump’s life:

  • “Intellectually curious”–Trump’s attention span is notoriously short, limited to about four minutes on a topic.  And he regularly confines his “writings” to the 140-character count on Twitter.
  • “Who seek continuous improvement”–asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he consults about foreign policy, Trump replied; “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”
  • “Committed to service above self”–Trump dodged the draft during the Vietnam war by getting five deferments. As a Presidential candidate, he said of Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain, who spent seven years as a Vietnam POW: “He’s not a war hero.  He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump’s official reason for appearing at the Academy was to pay tribute to the 195 cadets graduating that day.

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Coast Guard Academy graduating students celebrate

And, momentarily, he did: “These fine young cadets are about to take their rightful place on the front line of defense for the United States of America.

“Cadets, you deserve not only the congratulations, but the gratitude of each and every American. And we all salute you, a proud nation.” 

But, being Trump, he couldn’t praise others without also praising himself: “I won’t talk about how much I saved you on the F-35 fighter jet. I won’t even talk about it. Or how much we’re about to save you on the Gerald Ford, the aircraft carrier….

“I’ve accomplished a tremendous amount in a very short time as president….”

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Donald Trump 

Then he went on to pay further tribute to himself: “Jobs are pouring back into our country; a brand-new Supreme Court justice, who’s going to be fantastic for 45 years; a historic investment in our military; border crossings….”

Finally, he reached the climax of his address: “Now, I want to take this opportunity to give you some advice. Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair.

“You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history–and I say this with great surety–has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”

Trump was referring to the avalanche of criticism he had received for:

  • His May 9 firing of FBI Director James Comey. Comey had refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. And he had recently asked the Justice Department to fund an expanded FBI investigation into contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents; 
  • His meeting, the very next day in the Oval Office, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. During that meeting he gave the Russians sensitive Intelligence on ISIS that had been supplied by Israel; and
  • On May 12, Trump tweeted a threat to the fired FBI director: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”

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James Comey

Kislyak is reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. He has been closely linked with Jeff Sessions, now Attorney General, and fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. A third Kislyak contact: Carter Page.

All three served as members of Trump’s Presidential campaign.

“I guess that’s why I won–thank you. I guess that’s why we won,” continued Trump.

“Adversity makes you stronger. Don’t give in, don’t back down, and never stop doing what you know is right. Nothing worth doing ever, ever, ever came easy, and the more righteous your fight, the more opposition that you will face.” 

Trump, who has never shown a sense of irony, unintentionally displayed one now. 

His self-tribute could have served as an epitaph for James Comey–a former United States Attorney, Deputy Attorney General and seventh director of the FBI.   

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.

Related image

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.”

Almost 50 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.” 

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