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disagreement re: Kennedy and Vietnam

Reader comment on item: The JFK Assassination's Continued Importance

Submitted by Mendl Malkin (Canada), Nov 22, 2013 at 10:24

This article by George F. Will disagrees with your comments about Kennedy and his views on the war in Vietnam.

A hawk in life, a liberal in death

| 21/11/13

National Post

What he was, he was:
What he is fated to become
Depends on us.

– W.H. Auden, "Elegy for JFK" (1964)

BOSTON — He has become fodder for an interpretation industry toiling to make his life malleable enough to soothe the sensitivities and serve the agendas of the interpreters. The quantity of writing about him is inversely proportional to the brevity of his presidency.

He did not have history-shaping effects comparable to those of his immediate predecessor or successor. Dwight Eisenhower was one of three Americans (with George Washington and Ulysses Grant) who were world-historic figures before becoming president, and Lyndon Johnson was second only to Franklin Roosevelt as a maker of the modern welfare state and second to none in using law to ameliorate America's racial dilemma.

The New York Times' executive editor calls Kennedy "the elusive president"; TheWashington Post calls him "the most enigmatic" president. Most libidinous, certainly; most charming, perhaps. But enigmatic and elusive? Many who call him difficult to understand seem eager to not understand him. They present as puzzling or uncharacteristic aspects of his politics about which he was consistent and unambiguous. For them, his conservative dimension is an inconvenient truth. Ira Stoll, in JFK, Conservative, tries to prove too much but assembles sufficient evidence that his book's title is not merely provocative.

A Look magazine headline in June 1946 read: "A Kennedy Runs for Congress: The Boston-bred scion of a former ambassador is a fighting-Irish conservative." Neither his Cold War anti-communism, which was congruent with President Harry Truman's, nor his fiscal conservatism changed dramatically during his remaining 17 years.

Visitors to the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum here, on the salt water across which his ancestors came as immigrants and on which he sailed his yacht, watch Kennedy press conferences, such as that of Sept. 12, 1963, when, responding to a question about Vietnam, he said his policy was to "win the war there" — "That is why some 25,000 Americans have traveled 10,000 miles to participate in that struggle." He added: "We are not there to see a war lost." His answer was consistent with a 1956 speech calling Vietnam "the keystone to the arch, the finger in the dike," adding: "This is our offspring — we cannot abandon it."

A few years later, with the war going badly, several Kennedy aides claimed that he had been planning to liquidate the intervention. But five months after the assassination, Robert Kennedy told an oral history interviewer that his brother "had a strong, overwhelming reason for being in Vietnam and that we should win the war in Vietnam."

Interviewer: "There was never any consideration given to pulling out?"

RFK: "No."

Interviewer: "The president was convinced that we had to keep, had to stay in there …"

RFK: "Yes."

Interviewer: " … And couldn't lose it."

RFK: "Yes."

As president, JFK chose as Treasury secretary a Republican Wall Street banker, C. Douglas Dillon, who 30 years after the assassination remembered Kennedy as "financially conservative." Kennedy's fiscal policy provided an example and ample rhetoric for Ronald Reagan's supply-side tax cuts. Kennedy endorsed "a creative tax cut creating more jobs and income and eventually more revenue." In December 1962, he said:

"The federal government's most useful role is … to expand the incentives and opportunities for private expenditures. … It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now."

John Kenneth Galbraith — Harvard economist, liberal polemicist and Kennedy's ambassador to India — called this "the most Republican speech since McKinley." It was one of many. Kennedy was driving to the Dallas Trade Mart to propose "cutting personal and corporate income taxes." Kennedy changed less during his life than liberalism did after his death.

The Kennedy library here where he lived draws substantially fewer visitors than does Dallas' Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, where he was murdered. This is emblematic of a melancholy fact: How he died looms larger in the nation's mind than how he lived. His truncated life remains an unfinished book and hence a temptation to writers who would complete it as they wish it had been written. This month, let it suffice to say what Stephen Spender did in "The Truly Great" (1932):

"Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun.
And left the vivid air signed with their honour."

Washington Post Writers Group


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Reader comments (28) on this item

Title Commenter Date Thread
Demurral [70 words]KephaJul 8, 2019 16:57251375
Re: Vietnam, disagree [88 words]NungmanFeb 28, 2014 01:56213476
The Kennedy Assanation [284 words]Ameer L. HassanJan 18, 2014 00:46212717
Autopsy [75 words]AlbertE.Jan 2, 2014 19:48212443
JFK [69 words]AlbertE.Jan 2, 2014 19:46212442
Ozzie. [55 words]AlbertE.Sep 27, 2019 22:37212442
A Couple of Thoughts and Memories [500 words]Ron ThompsonDec 23, 2013 20:37212282
1LBJ never believed that Oswald acted alone. [186 words]
w/response from Daniel Pipes
David RobertsDec 9, 2013 00:03212080
Respecftful Disagreement on Viet Nam [55 words]Peter HerzJan 9, 2014 19:45212080
JFK and Vietnam [144 words]Keith McLennanNov 25, 2013 07:14211783
Great links. A substantative, concise addition to this difficult topic [14 words]John in MichiganNov 23, 2013 18:25211695
JFK and the Vietnam War [192 words]Harry MahnNov 23, 2013 17:38211692
That day! [67 words]RonitNov 22, 2013 22:23211676
Reflections on a possible Kennedy Assassination conspiracy [480 words]Yale ZussmanNov 22, 2013 21:52211674
1Could JFK have been killed by an accidental shot from a Secret Service gun? [229 words]
w/response from Daniel Pipes
James GuestNov 22, 2013 14:29211665
Who is the "police detective, retired?" [131 words]John in MichiganNov 26, 2013 23:10211665
3I Want To Hold Your Hand [138 words]PiedPiperNov 22, 2013 14:27211664
@PiedPiper (Saudi Arabia) [40 words]John in MichiganNov 26, 2013 22:54211664
The dangers of laying it on too thick. [103 words]David W. LincolnNov 22, 2013 13:58211662
JFK anti-communist [171 words]Keith BargerNov 22, 2013 12:25211658
Kennedy reminiscences [124 words]SigmundNov 22, 2013 12:24211657
Oswald was part of a conspiracy [220 words]SoloviewNov 22, 2013 12:06211653
When in doubt... [76 words]Doug MayfieldNov 22, 2013 11:30211651
Unfinished business [237 words]Rebecca Ellen MouldsNov 22, 2013 11:23211650
1Oswald; telekinesis [75 words]Ferreen MacIntyreNov 22, 2013 10:56211649
2Mr. Pipes: Wake-up! [454 words]John W. McGinleyNov 22, 2013 10:49211648
Kennedy Assassination in Perspective [191 words]CareyNov 22, 2013 10:36211647
disagreement re: Kennedy and Vietnam [786 words]Mendl MalkinNov 22, 2013 10:24211646

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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