JFK and another lost poem of Lord Byron

It was fifty years ago this week that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and this anniversary has naturally spawned a host of articles and television programs on the Kennedy administration, many gushing about lost Camelot.  America was the shining city on the hill, filled with hope and a beacon to peoples everywhere, and then an assassin’s bullet ushered in a time of despair, the age of Vietnam, social upheaval, violence, burning cities and rampant cynicism.  The golden age of America had abruptly ended when it had hardly begun.

Kennedy’s administration does seem a watershed, and indeed, a national feeling of pride and hope did give way to seemingly endless troubles.  But this is of course not only too simplistic (being Black in the forties and fifties would hardly fill one with hope), but also to a great extent Camelot was a sham.  Only after his death was the metaphor of Camelot applied to JFK’s brief time in office – by his widow.  A half century later historians have exposed the reality of the Kennedy administration, but Camelot has nevertheless become a compelling American myth, evoked by the likes of Clinton and Obama.

President Kennedy

President Kennedy

The two beautiful people, Arthur and Guinevere, with their equally beautiful children bringing a new sense of culture and class to the White House, especially in the wake of the far less colorful Eisenhower, this was the image.  They listened to string quartets rather than pop, and Jackie was the paragon of style, once again especially when compared with the former First Lady.  This was not just the First Family, but the family every American dreamed of being.

The First Lady

The First Lady

In reality Jackie was more often found shopping than enjoying Beethoven and five years after Jack’s death married one of the richest men on the planet, better to serve that retail habit.  Her husband, meanwhile, was screwing every upscale woman he could get his presidential hands on, enjoying a freedom from media attention that Clinton must have envied.  His bad back was famously known and evoked sympathy, but few seemed to understand this meant he was constantly pumped up on painkillers, even when making critical decisions, such as going to war the USSR.  He appointed his brother Attorney General, a questionable act in itself, and ordered surveillance and wire-taps on any number of politicians, businessmen and journalists.  For all his grand rhetoric about equality he only took action in the South when increasing violence made the problem impossible to ignore.

He has a noteworthy achievement, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the Peace Corps was a wonderful idea.  He may have been a calming influence during the Bay of Pigs crisis, but he could have derailed the whole stupid affair from the start.  The pledge to go to the moon was stirring, but given the state of technology at the time, it was as hollow as Bush’s pledge to go to Mars, though Kennedy may have actually believed in what he said.  And like Ronald Regan, he made America feel good.

No, Kennedy’s real legacy was becoming a martyr and a myth, an object of veneration.  Beyond that he was an insignificant President.

But what if he had lived?  No Vietnam, no violence in the streets, no counter-culture and a better America?  Hardly.  He fell for the domino theory, and Eisenhower’s 600 American advisors became 17,000 troops.  And Johnson inherited Kennedy’s advisors, the “best and brightest,” who would play him like a violin when it came to increasing the American presence in Vietnam.  More important, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Kennedy could have been anywhere near as successful as LBJ in getting civil rights legislation through the Congress.

Getting shot made JFK, at least for a while, one of the greatest Presidents, and it has been suggested that the same happened to Lincoln.  What nonsense.  Lincoln dealt with the greatest crisis facing America since the Revolution, ended slavery and enfranchised Blacks.  Ironically, this week is also the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, words that have achieved a statue second only to the preamble of the Declaration of Independence.  This is why no one remembers Garfield and McKinley.  Lincoln was great; Kennedy looked great.

A final thought.  The people around JFK would refer to excellent weather as “Kennedy weather.”  Well, in the Second Reich they called it “Kaiser weather” and in the Third Reich “Führer weather.”

The last performance of the Lee Harvey Oswald Band

The last performance of the Lee Harvey Oswald Band

The Destruction of Kennedy

Lord Byron

The assassin came down like the wolf on the fold,

With his Carcano all loaded and ready to hold;

And the hate in his heart burned deadly and hot,

As he stationed himself for the ultimate shot. 

Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,

The car with his target was suddenly seen:

Like the leaves of the forest when fall turns them red,

The man from the White House would so soon be dead.

For the Agent of Death  braced his gun on the sill,

And looked in the face of the man he would kill;

And the rifle spat fire, one shot then two,

And the life of a President is just about through.

And there lay the victim, America’s pride,

While the eyes of his agents, they looked far and wide,

But too late to stop now the bark of the gun,

And thus in an instant was Camelot done.

And the cameras were rolling, the images bleak,

And the hope of the nation was no more to speak;

And the crowds were all silent, the cheers gone away,

And shocked were the people in Dallas that day.

 And the lovers of John Boy are loud in their wail,

And there stands the widow, all bloody and pale;

And the man from Hyannis, by destiny called,

Hath melted like snow in the glance of Oswald.

Our Best Ally and the USS Liberty

Liberty on June 9

          On June 8, 1967, a perfectly clear day, the American electronic surveillance vessel USS Liberty was in international waters about 30 miles northeast of el-Arish in the Sinai Peninsula, monitoring the signals traffic of the Israelis, Arabs and Russians.  At about 2 PM the ship was attacked by Israeli Mirage and Mysteres fighters, which strafed, bombed and napalmed the Liberty, killing nine crewmen and wounding others.  Their munitions expended, the planes broke off the attack, and the Liberty radioed for help.  The nearby 6th Fleet twice scrambled fighters, but each time they were recalled within minutes, and about 30 minutes after that the Liberty was attacked by three Israeli torpedo boats, which almost sank the vessel with torpedo hits.  They then closed and strafed the vessel, including life rafts that were being launched.  According to the Israeli military, only then did they identify the ship as American and left the scene at 3:30, returning about an hour later to offer help, which the Liberty refused.  34 crewmen were dead and 174 wounded.

The Israelis immediately apologized for what they claimed was an accident, and this explanation was immediately accepted by President Lyndon Johnson and his Secretary of War, Robert McNamara.  Many others, including members of Congress and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, were appalled and believed the attack to have been deliberate.  Surviving Liberty crew were instructed never to talk about the incident under threat of court martial, and while many received decorations, all but one citation said nothing about the identity of the attacker.  Captain William McGonagle received the Medal of Honor, but rather than being awarded the decoration in the White House by the President, as is traditional, he received it from the Secretary of the Navy in an unpublicized ceremony at the Washington Naval Yard.  Stating that it was not their intention to “rule on the culpability of the attacker,” the Navy conducted a 10 day investigation, although the chief of the court, Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd, thought the probe would require at least six months.  This was by far the briefest investigation of a naval disaster in modern American history, and the fact that official letters to families of the casualties, stating it was an accident, were sent out the day before the court convened strongly suggests the investigation was a sham.  The Navy of course concluded that the attack had been an accident.  It remains the official policy of both the Israeli and American governments that it was.

Thanks, Israel!

It was not.  Despite the withholding and editing of documents and tapes, particularly by the NSA, the evidence is overwhelming.  Retired Liberty crewmen, who after all were first-hand witnesses, are adamant in their belief that the attacking Israelis knew it was an American ship.  They have pointed out that in their initial flyovers the planes were so close they could see the faces of the pilots, making it difficult to believe the pilots in turn could not see the 13 foot American flag and other identifying marks and the plainly non-Arabic sailors.  Retired members of the intelligence community have stated they knew it was deliberate and that operators on the Liberty actually overheard the Israeli pilots telling their superiors that it was an American vessel.  Vice-Admiral William Martin claimed the fighters were recalled because it was feared the attackers were Russians, an incredible proposition, and defending the Liberty could thus start a war with the USSR.  It is now known that Johnson, who lies about the affair in his autobiography, personally ordered (through McNamara) the planes recalled, unwilling to “embarrass my ally.”  25 American sailors would subsequently die because of that decision.

Attempts in the last four decades to reopen the investigation have been met with government indifference and outright hostility, even towards the aging survivors of the Liberty.  Afraid to level even the mildest criticism against Israel, virtually no American politician will accuse them of deliberately attacking an American vessel.  There is no conclusive evidence, they say, and what possible reason could Israel have to do such a thing?

If there is no “conclusive” evidence (apart from the eyewitness accounts of the sailors and statements of retired officials), it is because the government, despite the Freedom of Information Act, has refused to release box loads of documents pertaining to the attack.  Further, analysts have concluded that a number of the released audio tapes from that day have obvious gaps.  Why would Washington cover up such a blatant attack on Americans?  As the past 45 years have demonstrated, the apparent Israeli stranglehold on American domestic politics has allowed “our best ally” to do whatever she damn well pleases, even if that includes undermining US interests and constantly violating the international law and covenants we have pledged to uphold.  They have spied on us, illegally resold our military technology, interfered in our elections, detained and abused American citizens of Palestinian origin and insulted one American President after another, yet as the recent parade of Republican candidates made startlingly clear, every national candidate must kneel at the altar of Israel.

Israel has continually demonstrated that she has absolutely no concern for anything outside her own interests and is willing even to use Jews living abroad to serve her ends.  Protected by the United States, the Israelis seem to feel they can get away with any sort of behavior, continually violating the sovereignty of other countries (as we now do), maintaining an open season on Palestinian civilians, intercepting and capturing unarmed vessels in international waters and simply murdering people without apology.             This pattern of behavior certainly supports a deliberate assault on the Liberty.  But why?  There are two possible reasons.  Shortly before the attack the Israeli army had summarily executed several hundred Egyptian POWs in el-Arish (the number is disputed but not the massacre) and may well have been concerned that the Liberty, which was in the neighborhood, had gathered evidence of this war crime.  But far more likely is the planned invasion of Syria.  Washington was putting serious pressure (!) on the Israelis, who were dependent upon American resupply, to end the war, but Israel wanted to seize the Golan Heights and was massing forces for an assault on June 9.  If the US learned of this on June 8, the operation could not take place, and here was the Liberty, monitoring all the electronic traffic in the region.  Remove the Liberty and the problem disappears, as in fact happened.  At 3 AM on June 9 Syria accepted a cease fire, and though informed of this, at 7 AM the Israelis seized the Golan, which was subsequently annexed.

Our best ally indeed.