Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Do Not Read This Book If You Have Faith in Politicians

A few days ago, one of the people I work with came into my cube and saw that I was reading Seymour Hirsch's The Dark Days of Camelot. He said he liked to read those kinds of books, but had to stop because every time he did, he found out that our presidents weren't exactly the most upright gentlemen in the world.

So it seems with one who gets a lot of honor and hype: JFK.

People like to say that Nixon was a political animal, not proceeding in any direction unless there was a political advantage. If Hirsch's work is correct -- and I have no reason to doubt it, he's certainly not partisan, as he led the New York Times' reporting on Watergate -- then Nixon had a lot to learn compared to JFK. Most startling is that Kennedy had an opportunity to end the war in Vietnam before it came a war, and didn't take it, because it would be more politically advantageous to wait until after his supposed re-election in 1964. Now, it's fun to play all these what-if games, and, given the times and seasons, it's likely the whole of Vietnam would have gone communist if the agreement of "neutrality" for the South with the North and the Russians had played out. There was concern with the domino theory, with Indonesia and India going communist after Vietnam. But at the same time, I wonder if ending the war before it escalated would have been the brighter thing to do, considering all the Americans and Vietnamese who died in the conflict.

That's not to say I think communism is a good thing -- I've also recently read James Michener's The Bridge at Andau, describing the Hungarian revolt against communism in the 1950s. His arguments against communism -- and his invitation for Indonesians in particular to talk with those who fled Hungary after the revolution failed -- are strong. Communism was exceptionally brutal. But I'm ever the optimist, who thought perhaps that the efforts between North and South Vietnam to settle things might have been worth the price of so many lives lost. People like to say it's now, during the Bush Administration, that the United States started to lose its international credibility. I think it started long before Bush.

Also, to think that actions taken by the Kennedy administration led the Congress in the 1970s to forbid the United States from assassinating foreign leaders, well, that doesn't speak well for the Kennedy foreign policy, either.

Ah well. Rose-colored glasses and the like. Now, when modern partisans compare a certain presidential candidate to Kennedy, I have to wonder if it's a compliment.

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