The Kennedy Heritage
New Times, No. 48, 2 December 1964, pp. 9-10.
The Democratic Party’s slogan in the recent presidential
election campaign in the United States was “Let Us Continue.” Under that
slogan Lyndon Johnson was returned to the White House by an overwhelming
majority vote and with a strong Democratic majority in the Senate and the House.
In other words, the American electorate gave the Democratic Party a mandate to
continue the course laid down by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, killed in Dallas just
a year ago.
With his father’s millions assuring him a firm position among the social elite of the country, John Kennedy came to the White House as a carefree darling of fortune. “Sure,” he said half in just, half seriously, “it’s a big job. But I don’t know anybody who can do it any better than I can…It isn’t going to be so bad. You’ve got time to think. You don’t have all those people bothering you that you had in the Senate. Besides, the pay is pretty good.”
He had a programme of sorts, ambiguously labeled “New Frontiers” (for reasons easily understood, nearly every candidate promises something new), but events showed it to be of an exceedingly vague nature. In fact, it was less a programme than a desire to break away from set patterns and apply to the problems that cropped up some new approach free of prejudice.
It was with such nebulous ideas that Kennedy entered upon his “big job.” In the 34 months and 2 days of his administration, his policy on many issues, especially that of war and peace, underwent substantial revision.
U.S. presidents, it must be remembered, are subjected to unrelenting pressure by influential social groups, above all, the powerful military-industrial complex that no less a man than General Eisenhower found it necessary to warn the American citizenry about when he left the White House. In the early period of Kennedy’s presidency the military exerted a very marked influence.*
Over that period the Bay of Pigs landing in Cuba, engineered by the Central Intelligence Agency, cast a dark cloud. And though the CIA began preparing this shameful venture long before Kennedy became president, it was he who sanctioned it and then had to bear full responsibility for its failure. Also, it was in that early period that the U.S.A. got involved in the dirty war in South Viet-Nam and that the young president took over intact the Dulles-Adenauer line on the German question.
Kennedy won neither glory not popularity in that period. When people speak of the Kennedy heritage it is not the Bay of Pigs episode they have in mind.
The march of world events, the changing correlation of forces on the international scene impelled Kennedy to do some deep thinking and reappraising. He could not ignore the changing mood of his countrymen. “The people tire of the long battle in the cold war. I don’t blame them,” he once said to a journalist. The shock experienced by the Americans during the Caribbean crisis, when the fate of the world and the future of mankind hung by a thread, had a very strong effect on him. He had felt the breath of nuclear war come close and he knew such a war to be hopeless folly. And so little by little he began to apply new criterions to world affairs. He did not fear to draw the conclusions called for by the new international situation, by common sense and public opinion.
To steer the ship of state into a new course in modern-day America took considerable courage, but Kennedy was a brave man, as he proved in the war when in command of a torpedo boat in the Pacific Ocean. Only now he was faced with a much more serious test than that he passed on the August night in 1943 when, his boat having been sunk under him, he and a handful of his men swam to an unknown island three miles away, he towing an injured sailor all the way by holding the man’s life-belt strap in his teeth.
Twenty years later, on June 10, 1963, President Kennedy delivered at the American University in Washington what may rightly be called a programmatic speech. He said:
“And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward—by examining his own attitude towards the course of the cold war and toward freedom and peace here at home.
“First: Examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous,. defeatist belief…
“And second: Let us re-examine our attitude towards the Soviet Union…Among the many traits the peoples of our two countries have in common, none is stronger than our mutual abhorrence of war.”
This bold speech was hailed with satisfaction by all who
cherish peace. And Kennedy proceeded from words to deeds. Six weeks later the
Treaty banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in space and under water was
initialled. That was the beginning of some relaxation of international tension.
Kennedy’s biographers all agree that he attached paramount importance to the Moscow Treaty. Hugh Sidey, the Time magazine correspondent in the White House, underlines in his book “John F. Kennedy, President,” that Kennedy rated this test-ban treaty as an achievement “second to none” in his term in office.
It was not a coincidence that the new foreign policy course was accompanied by attempts to curb the racist extremists at home. Kennedy himself linked the one with the other. And so did the forces of reaction, race hatred and war. The “lunatic fringe” promptly leveled vicious attacks at the man in the White House and openly threatened his life.
It has been aptly said that Kennedy signed the Moscow Treaty with his blood. H. Stuart Hughes, a Harvard professor who ran for the Senate from Massachusetts in 1962, wrote soon after the assassination: “…Jack Kennedy’s last months were his best. He seems to have had a sense that there was not much time left…He gave the impression of not being able to wait, of feeling that his every minute was counted.”
No, I do not think, and I doubt that Stuart Hughes does either, that Kennedy knew his end was imminent; John Kennedy, more than most, had strong faith in his star. What he did know, and know well, was how powerful were the forces he had challenged. The battle with them would claim him body and soul and leave him no breathing space. And knowing this, he yet disregarded appeals to go slow, brushed aside warnings of danger and hastened to attack the enemy in his citadel, in Texas.
And on November 22, 1963, the fatal shots were fired in Dallas.
The recently published Warren Commission report contains strong criticisms of the FBI, the President’s bodyguards and, above all others, the local police. Not only were they astonishingly incompetent, the report suggests, but they grossly neglected their duties. At the same time, however, the commission upholds the Dallas police version, conceived within minutes of the fatal shooting, that Lee Harvey Oswald alone, acting on his own and without accomplices, was responsible for the crime.
If the Dallas police are so uncommonly expert that they could solve the crime with lightning speed, how could they be so monstrously incompetent in all else? How, for instance, could they have allowed Oswald to be killed right within the walls of the police station? The Warren Commission parts company with elementary logic there. Little wonder that public opinion polls show that a considerable number of American citizens (The New York Post estimate is 45 per cent) believe that the Commission has left many questions unanswered.
One is inevitably reminded of “Seven Days in May,” the popular novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey. In it militarists infuriated by the conclusion of an American-Soviet nuclear disarmament treaty plot to overthrow the government. The president and his closest associates manage to disarm the conspirators on the quiet, without attracting public attention. When at a press conference he is asked whether the dismissed army generals were not plotting to overthrow the government, the president flatly denies it for fear the truth would imperil American prestige as he understands it.
It looks as if the Warren Commission were guided by the same considerations.
But to get back to Kennedy’s heritage. The thoughts he expressed at the American University must be accepted as the mature Kennedy’s political credo. It is the course he outlined in that speech that the present Democratic Administration has undertaken to follow.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in December 1963, President Lyndon Johnson solemnly declared that the assassin’s bullet had not deflected the government of the United States from its aims. As Kennedy’s successor he aimed to put an end to the cold war once and for all, to prevent the dissemination of nuclear weapons, to work for disarmament, international co-operation, security and peace for all. And after the recent elections he reaffirmed the continuity of U.S. policy and his devotion to peace. He proclaimed November 22 a Day of National Rededication to the late president’s ideals.
These are fine words. Now the world waits for the deeds that will show whether America has really made its own the ideals John F. Kennedy arrived at and died for.
Though there has been some improvement of the international climate in the past year, the cold war cannot be said to have ended. American diplomacy suffers from bad relapses of it. For one thing, there is the delayed action mine it has planted under the coming U.N. General Assembly session in the guise of the so-called “financial issue.” For another, Washington is acting with Bonn to push through the MLF project, which will only result in further dissemination of nuclear weapons and bring them within reach of the militarists on the Rhine. For still others, in the 18-Nation Committee the U.S. is obstructing practical steps toward disarmament. U.S. armed action in South Viet-Nam is becoming increasingly aggressive. And now American planes are bombing towns and villages in the Congo.
Is that the heritage John Kennedy left his country? Is that the course the Democratic Administration bound itself to follow?
* Interesting details about this dangerous group may be found in M.S. Arnoni’s article “The U.S. Military Junta” reprinted in our issues Nos. 47 and 48.
Back to New Times
Back to Pre-WCR Reactions
Back to WC Period