My readers must be rather JFK-ed out by this point -- hell, even I
feel a little fatigued. This post isn't about the killing of a president. Our topic today is even more important: The killing of history.
At one time, I believed a lot of captious crap about JFK -- and I got a lot of that crap from lefties like Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn. Don't get me wrong: I still consider myself a cynic. But a mindless
cynicism can lead you into the clutches of those who would rewrite history. Some of those rewriters are motivated by ideology, some by coin, and some by what Poe called "the imp of the perverse." Revision can indeed be valuable -- but only when backed by evidence. When a deceptive
revision of history goes on to the record, it's time to rewrite the rewriters.
If you believe that JFK was a standard-issue Cold Warrior and a third-world interventionist, it's time to wise up. The man was a rebel -- a more effective rebel than any of his critics on the left ever were or could hope to be.
An amazing new essay and an equally amazing new documentary prove the point.
The essay -- "JFK's Embrace of Third World Nationalists"
-- sets the record T-square straight, and not just on Cuba and Vietnam. You'll probably by stunned by JFK's views of African liberation struggles and by his attitude toward the Islamic world. The latter surprised even me
Think back to George W. Bush and his close relationship with the corrupt Saudi dynasty. (Remember "Bandar Bush"?) Kissing up to that dynasty goes back a long ways. The tradition took root during the Ike years -- to Allen and John Foster Dulles.
They feared the rise of Nasserism throughout the Middle East. Gamel Abdel Nasser, leader of Egypt, was a secularist and a nationalist -- and he would not join in any crusade against the Soviet Union. In the eyes of Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles, anyone who was not with us was against us. Nasser was a socialist -- an enemy.
The next chess move by Dulles looks even worse today than it did then. Realizing that these events had built up Nasser even further in the eyes of the Arab world, Dulles turned toward King Saud of Saudi Arabia and tried to use him as a counterweight to Nasser’s nationalism. Dulles arranged to have Saud do what Nasser would not: sign onto the Eisenhower Doctrine, a treaty which would, if needed, forcibly keep the Russians out of the Middle East.
Many saw this as a clever geopolitical tactic to keep Nasser in check. But it was perceived in the Middle East as Dulles allying himself with royalty and against nationalism. (ibid, p. 15) It was a repeat of what the Dulles brothers and Eisenhower had done in Iran in 1953.
Kennedy wanted to reverse this perception of the United States aligning itself with the old order. He told National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy that rebuilding the American relationship with Egypt would be a priority focus of his administration. He was determined that Egypt would stay non-aligned, but he also wanted to end the idea that the United States was close to the Saudis
In Kennedy’s view it was important for America to favor men like Nasser and Sadat over the monarchies of the Middle East because it was the nationalists, and not King Saud, who could capture the popular support of the public and channel it in a positive and progressive way. Or, as author Philip Muehlenbeck writes, “For Kennedy the Saudi monarchy was an archaic relic of the past and Nasser was the wave of the future.”
Imagine how different the world would be today if Kennedy's successors had followed this course. I think it fair to say that there probably would have been no rise of Salafism in the Islamic world -- no Taliban, no Iranian revolution, no Saddam Hussein, no 9/11.
Like the Shah, Saud exemplified brutality, corruption and civil rights abuses. So, Kennedy did something symbolic to demonstrate the new U.S. attitude. In 1961, King Saud was in a Boston hospital for a medical condition. Kennedy did not visit him, even though the man was in his hometown. Instead, Kennedy went south to Palm Beach, Florida. After constant badgering from the State Department, Kennedy did visit Saud afterwards when he was in a convalescent home. But he couldn’t help registering his disgust by telling his companion in the car, “What am I doing calling on this guy?”
JFK's attitude toward African decolonization was even more revolutionary.
Further underscoring this sea change in U.S. policy, American was now voting with the Soviet Union. Even the New York Times understood something big was afoot, calling it a “major shift” in traditional foreign policy by Kennedy.
Kennedy understood that he had to embrace anti-colonialism in order to compete with Russia in the non-aligned world. As he learned from Gullion in Vietnam, America could not be perceived as a counter-revolutionary country.
Therefore, when the Angola vote was cast, Kennedy was trying to show the developing world that the USSR was not the only great power in the Caucasian world to oppose colonialism. (ibid, pgs. 97-98) In other words, for Kennedy, this was not just the right thing to do; it was the practical thing to do. And it was another clean break with Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers.
Edmund Gullion was an American diplomat who greatly influenced Kennedy in the 1950s. Gullion foresaw the French defeat in Vietnam and adopted an anti-interventionist stance in the Third World. Many "scholarly" books on JFK never mention Gullion.
You probably were not taught this history in school. Your children are not taught this history. Even "liberal" sources of information -- the Nation, Huffington Post, Kos -- keep this history hidden.
Ask yourself why that is
A related -- but even more important -- story is told in the new documentary JFK: A President Betrayed
, narrated by Morgan Freeman. The film does not deal with the assassination directly and does not reference any conspiracy theory. Nevertheless, nearly every viewer will come away from this film with a better understanding of the events of Dallas. None of the published reviews do this film justice, although this one
in the Village Voice offers the best overview.
The film contains rarely-seen film footage of then-Senator Kennedy delivering a speech recognizing that Third World nationalism was not
a cloak for Marxism. (Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson begged Kennedy to belay that sort of talk.) But this documentary also tells some rarely-told truths about the Cuban Missile Crisis:
1. Nearly everyone in the administration except JFK and his brother insisted on an invasion of Cuba.
2. The Soviets had placed tactical nuclear missiles (with a 30-50 mile range) on the island, which would have been launched against our warships, had we invaded. Soviet officers in Cuba did not need permission from Moscow. Thus, an invasion inevitably would have triggered World War III, creating millions of corpses.
3. At the time, many in the Pentagon (especially Curtis LeMay) believed that the U.S. possessed a first strike capability. These people wanted
a war that would have killed 100 million people outright.
That's just a piece of the history -- real
history -- being kept from you and your children. Instead, this generation is being taught crap like this
Does history matter?
To many, the facts are immaterial. When left-wingers and right-wingers discuss the topics mentioned above, they do so without any reference to new documents or interviews -- to the stuff of scholarship. Pundits and "experts" hand you a lot of weltanschauung
and not much in the way of footnotes.
Too many cynics have made their home in an evidence-free zone.
We saw a manifestation of this problem during the Whitewater imbroglio of the 1990s. Conason and Lyon's invaluable The Hunting of the President
speaks of the faux knowingness -- the overweening desire to prove oneself a certifiable Captious Bastard -- which led many in the "liberal" media to bet on Clinton's guilt. Pundits and journalists accepted without question all sorts of dubious tales told by Clinton's reactionary enemies in Arkansas. The automatic presumption of corruption bestows street cred -- at least when one makes automatic presumptions about a Democrat.
That's why the bogus Whitewater "conspiracy" was taken seriously by such venues as The New Republic
, The Nation
and The New York Times
. That's why the same media voices will continue to propagate the myth of JFK as hard-nosed Cold Warrior.