Son of Perdition
When I re-read the words of John F. Kennedy, when I consider
the legislation he sought to enact, when I consider the sheer depth and humanity
of him, and compare him with what is lurking and lurching in
the White House today, I am literally overwhelmed. How far down into the Slough
of Despond we have been sucked since that November day 43 years ago.
I live in France now. France is an interesting place; mostly socialist, you know. Socialism was the very thing that rich Americans dreaded would be brought down upon them if Kennedy had been allowed to live. According to the elitist propaganda, if socialism was allowed to get a toe in the door, communism wasn't far behind. And all they had to do was point at Russia and its bleakness and hunger to make the point. Problem is, Russia wasn't even communist; it was merely State Corporatism which is almost exactly what exists in the U.S. today - with a twist. In Russia, the State was the corporation; in the U.S., the Corporations own the State. Not much difference, actually, except technically.
Getting back to France, which John F. Kennedy very much admired:
yes, it is largely socialist, but not entirely. Yes, the taxes are high and
many things are decided by the state on behalf of all of its citizens,
but the benefits are quite dramatic. I'm not an expert on French politics (or
any politics, for that matter), I only know what I observe and experience.
I can tell you that I had a root planing done on my teeth in the U.S. and it
cost me right at $1,000. I had it done again, here in France, and it was
right around $150. I had a root canal done in the U.S. years ago and it
cost $400 without the crown. I had one done in France a few months ago and
it cost about $70. An overnight hospital stay for minor surgery cost under
$200 - and wine was served with the meal.
Medicines are inexpensive. A bottle of eardrops I paid almost
$100 in the U.S., cost less that $10 here. In the cities, things are certainly
a bit higher, but in most towns, a doctor's visit is still about $20, and
they make house-calls. An MRI that would cost almost $1,000 in the U.S.
costs about $75 here (dollar equivalent). All those things that are necessary
for a population to remain physically healthy are available at very reasonable
cost. And, if a person is hooked up with the National Health program, nearly
all of the costs that are paid out of pocket are reimbursed. I should also
mention that the medical and dental care in France is actually better than
in the U.S. In France, the people who are attracted to those professions are,
generally speaking, those who have a desire to heal, and are not driven by
the thought of getting rich. More than that, because higher education is free,
and places are limited to only the best, students are motivated to make good
grades and do well. After middle school, there are free trade school/high schools
where the students that do not pursue academic careers can graduate with a
trade and probably a good deal of experience through apprenticeships. And there
are a much wider variety of single operator trades in France because the giant,
monopolistic supermarkets have not been allowed to take over. Every town still
has a number and variety of butcher shops, bakeries, patisseries, and so on.
Family farming is totally supported and encouraged by the state. And you have
never seen such beautiful fields. I wonder if many Americans realize what an
agricultural country France actually is. You can drive from Paris to Toulouse
and what you see mostly are endless neat, beautiful farm fields, plowed and/or
planted, all year round. After a couple thousand years experience, the French
have got farming down to a science!
The French have a 35 hour work-week, 2 hour lunches, about 8
weeks of obligatory vacation time each year, job security and good social services.
You could say that France is a blend of moderated capitalism and socialism.
But that is under threat. Thankfully, the French had the good sense to reject the European Constitution last year. I read the entire document and it consisted mainly of setting up a banking system that would impose controls on government the same way the bankers control the U.S. It would have been a big step toward U.S. style greedy, dog-eat-dog capitalism taking over here, and I was glad to see that the French can still read and think!
There are other threats to the French way of life: no one yet knows what Nicolas Sarkozy has in mind for France if he is elected president. Sarko, as he is affectionately called, is an "American-o-phile." That's bad news. All the French need to do is look at the U.S., maybe visit there for a few months and really get out and talk to the people on the street, in order to know that this is not the way France wants to go! Just to give you an idea of what I am talking about, allow me to quote Michael Parenti's "Hidden Holocaust":
Conservatives are fond of telling us what a wonderful, happy, prosperous nation this is. The only thing that matches their love of country is the remarkable indifference they show toward the people who live in it. To their ears the anguished cries of the dispossessed sound like the peevish whines of malcontents. They denounce as "bleeding hearts" those of us who criticize existing conditions, who show some concern for our fellow citizens. But the dirty truth is that there exists a startling amount of hardship, abuse, affliction, illness, violence, and pathology in this country. The figures reveal a casualty list that runs into many millions. Consider the following estimates. In any one year:
* 27,000 Americans commit suicide.
* 5,000 attempt suicide; some estimates are higher.
* 26,000 die from fatal accidents in the home.
* 23,000 are murdered.
* 85,000 are wounded by firearms.
* 38,000 of these die, including 2,600 children.
* 13,000,000 are victims of crimes including assault, rape, armed robbery, burglary, larceny, and arson.
* 135,000 children take guns to school.
* 5,500,000 people are arrested for all offenses (not including traffic violations).
* 125,000 die prematurely of alcohol abuse.
* 473,000 die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses; 53,000 of these are nonsmokers.
* 6,500,000 use heroin, crack, speed, PCP, cocaine or some other hard drug on a regular basis.
* 5,000+ die from illicit drug use. Thousands suffer serious debilitations.
* 1,000+ die from sniffing household substances found under the kitchen sink. About 20 percent of all eighth-graders have "huffed" toxic substances. Thousands suffer permanent neurological damage.
* 31,450,000 use marijuana; 3,000,000 of whom are heavy users.
* 37,000,000, or one out of every six Americans, regularly use emotion controlling medical drugs. The users are mostly women. The pushers are doctors; the suppliers are pharmaceutical companies; the profits are stupendous.
* 2,000,000 nonhospitalized persons are given powerful mind-control drugs, sometimes described as "chemical straitjackets."
* 5,000 die from psychoactive drug treatments.
* 200,000 are subjected to electric shock treatments that are injurious to the brain and nervous system.
* 600 to 1,000 are lobotomized, mostly women.
* 25,000,000, or one out of every 10 Americans, seek help from psychiatric, psychotherapeutic, or medical sources for mental and emotional problems, at a cost of over $4 billion annually.
* 6,800,000 turn to nonmedical services, such as ministers, welfare agencies, and social counselors for help with emotional troubles. In all, some 80,000,000 have sought some kind of psychological counseling in their lifetimes.
* 1,300,000 suffer some kind of injury related to treatment at hospitals.
* 2,000,000 undergo unnecessary surgical operations; 10,000 of whom die from the surgery.
* 180,000 die from adverse reactions to all medical treatments, more than are killed by airline and automobile accidents combined.
* 14,000+ die from overdoses of legal prescription drugs.
* 45,000 are killed in auto accidents. Yet more cars and highways are being built while funding for safer forms of mass transportation is reduced.
* 1,800,000 sustain nonfatal injuries from auto accidents; but 150,000 of these auto injury victims suffer permanent impairments.
* 126,000 children are born with a major birth defect, mostly due to insufficient prenatal care, nutritional deficiency, environmental toxicity, or maternal drug addiction.
* 2,900,000 children are reportedly subjected to serious neglect or abuse, including physical torture and deliberate starvation.
* 5,000 children are killed by parents or grandparents.
* 30,000 or more children are left permanently physically disabled from abuse and neglect. Child abuse in the United States afflicts more children each year than leukemia, automobile accidents, and infectious diseases combined. With growing unemployment, incidents of abuse by jobless parents is increasing dramatically.
* 1,000,000 children run away from home, mostly because of abusive treatment, including sexual abuse, from parents and other adults. Of the many sexually abused children among runaways, 83 percent come from white families.
* 150,000 children are reported missing.
* 50,000 of these simply vanish. Their ages range from one year to mid-teens. According to the New York Times, "Some of these are dead, perhaps half of the John and Jane Does annually buried in this country are unidentified kids."
* 900,000 children, some as young as seven years old, are engaged in child labor in the United States, serving as underpaid farm hands, dishwashers, laundry workers, and domestics for as long as ten hours a day in violation of child labor laws.
* 2,000,000 to 4,000,00 women are battered. Domestic violence is the single largest cause of injury and second largest cause of death to U.S. women.
* 700,000 women are raped, one every 45 seconds.
* 5,000,000 workers are injured on the job; 150,000 of whom suffer permanent work-related disabilities, including maiming, paralysis, impaired vision, damaged hearing, and sterility.
* 100,000 become seriously ill from work-related diseases, including black lung, brown lung, cancer, and tuberculosis.
* 14,000 are killed on the job; about 90 percent are men.
* 100,000 die prematurely from work-related diseases.
* 60,000 are killed by toxic environmental pollutants or contaminants in food, water, or air.
* 4,000 die from eating contaminated meat.
* 20,000 others suffer from poisoning by E.coli 0157-H7, the mutant bacteria found in contaminated meat that generally leads to lifelong physical and mental health problems. A more thorough meat inspection with new technologies could eliminate most instances of contamination--so would vegetarianism.
* 5,100,000 are behind bars or on probation or parole; 2,700,000
of these are either locked up in county, state or federal prisons or under
legal supervision. Each week 1,600 more people go to jail than leave. The
prison population has skyrocketed over 200 percent since 1980. Over 40 percent
of inmates are jailed on nonviolent drug related crimes. African Americans
constitute 13 percent of drug users but 35 percent of drug arrests, 55 percent
of drug convictions and 74 percent of prison sentences. For non drug offenses,
African Americans get prison terms that average about 10 percent longer than
Caucasians for similar crimes.
* 15,000+ have tuberculosis, with the numbers growing rapidly; 10,000,000 or more carry the tuberculosis bacilli, with large numbers among the economically deprived or addicted.
* 10,000,000 people have serious drinking problems; alcoholism is on the rise.
* 16,000,000 have diabetes, up from 11,000,000 in 1983 as Americans get more sedentary and sugar addicted. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage.
* 160,000 will die from diabetes this year.
* 280,000 are institutionalized for mental illness or mental retardation. Many of these are forced into taking heavy doses of mind control drugs.
* 255,000 mentally ill or retarded have been summarily released in recent years. Many of the "deinstitutionalized" are now in flophouses or wandering the streets.
* 3,000,000 or more suffer cerebral and physical handicaps including paralysis, deafness, blindness, and lesser disabilities. A disproportionate number of them are poor. Many of these disabilities could have been corrected with early treatment or prevented with better living conditions.
* 2,400,000 million suffer from some variety of seriously incapacitating chronic fatigue syndrome.
* 10,000,000+ suffer from symptomatic asthma, an increase of 145 percent from 1990 to 1995, largely due to the increasingly polluted quality of the air we breathe.
* 40,000,000 or more are without health insurance or protection from catastrophic illness.
* 1,800,000 elderly who live with their families are subjected to serious abuse such as forced confinement, underfeeding, and beatings. The mistreatment of elderly people by their children and other close relatives grows dramatically as economic conditions worsen.
* 1,126,000 of the elderly live in nursing homes. A large but undetermined number endure conditions of extreme neglect, filth, and abuse in homes that are run with an eye to extracting the highest possible profit.
* 1,000,000 or more children are kept in orphanages, reformatories, and adult prisons. Most have been arrested for minor transgressions or have committed no crime at all and are jailed without due process. Most are from impoverished backgrounds. Many are subjected to beatings, sexual assault, prolonged solitary confinement, mind control drugs, and in some cases psychosurgery.
* 1,000,000 are estimated to have AIDS as of 1996; over 250,000 have died of that disease.
* 950,000 school children are treated with powerful mind control drugs for "hyperactivity" every year--with side effects like weight loss, growth retardation and acute psychosis.
* 4,000,000 children are growing up with unattended learning disabilities.
* 4,500,000+ children, or more than half of the 9,000,000 children on welfare, suffer from malnutrition. Many of these suffer brain damage caused by prenatal and infant malnourishment.
* 40,000,000 persons, or one of every four women and more than one of every ten men, are estimated to have been sexually molested as children, most often between the ages of 9 and 12, usually by close relatives or family acquaintances. Such abuse almost always extends into their early teens and is a part of their continual memory and not a product of memory retrieval in therapy.
* 7,000,000 to 12,000,000 are unemployed; numbers vary with the business cycle. Increasing numbers of the chronically unemployed show signs of stress and emotional depression.
* 6,000,000 are in "contingent" jobs, or jobs structured to last only temporarily. About 60 percent of these would prefer permanent employment.
* 15,000,000 or more are part-time or reduced-time "contract" workers who need full-time jobs and who work without benefits.
* 3,000,000 additional workers are unemployed but uncounted because their unemployment benefits have run out, or they never qualified for benefits, or they have given up looking for work, or they joined the armed forces because they were unable to find work.
* 80,000,000 live on incomes estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor as below a "comfortable adequacy"; 35,000,000 of these live below the poverty level.
* 12,000,000 of those at poverty's rock bottom suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. The majority of the people living at or below the poverty level experience hunger during some portion of the year.
* 2,000,000 or more are homeless, forced to live on the streets or in makeshift shelters.
* 160,000,000+ are members of households that are in debt, a sharp increase from the 100 million of less than a decade ago. A majority indicate they have borrowed money not for luxuries but for necessities. Mounting debts threaten a financial crack-up in more and more families.
A Happy Nation?
Obviously these estimates include massive duplications. Many of the 20 million unemployed are among the 35 million below the poverty level. Many of the malnourished children are also among those listed as growing up with untreated learning disabilities and almost all are among the 35 million poor. Many of the 37 million regular users of mind-control drugs also number among the 25 million who seek psychiatric help.
Some of these deprivations and afflictions are not as serious as others. The 80 million living below the "comfortably adequate" income level may compose too vague and inclusive a category for some observers (who themselves enjoy a greater distance from the poverty line). The 40 million who are without health insurance are not afflicted by an actual catastrophe but face only a potential one (though the absence of health insurance often leads to a lack of care and eventually a serious health crisis). We might not want to consider the 5.5 million arrested as having endured a serious affliction, but what of the 1.5 million who are serving time and what of their victims? We might want to count only the 150,000 who suffer a serious job-related disability rather than the five million on-the-job injuries, only half of the 20 million unemployed and underemployed so as not to duplicate poverty figures, only 10 percent of the 1.1 million institutionalized elderly as mistreated (although the number is probably higher), only 10 per cent of the 37 million regular users of medically prescribed psychogenic drugs as seriously troubled, only 5 per cent of the 160 million living in indebted families as seriously indebted (although the number is probably higher).
If we consider only those who have endured physical or sexual abuse, or have been afflicted with a serious disability, or a serious deprivation such as malnutrition and homelessness, only those who face untimely deaths due to suicide, murder, battering, drug and alcohol abuse, industrial and motor vehicle accidents, medical (mis)treatment, occupational illness, and sexually transmitted diseases, we are still left with a staggering figure of over 19,000,000 victims. To put the matter in some perspective, in the 12 years that saw 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam, several million died prematurely within the United States from unnatural and often violent causes.
Official bromides to the contrary, we are faced with a hidden holocaust, a social pathology of staggering dimensions. Furthermore, the above figures do not tell the whole story. In almost every category an unknown number of persons go unreported. For instance, the official tabulation of 35 million living in poverty is based on census data that undercount transients, homeless people, and those living in remote rural and crowded inner-city areas. Also, the designated poverty line is set at an unrealistically low income level and takes insufficient account of how inflation especially affects the basics of food, fuel, housing, and health care that consume such a disproportionate chunk of lower incomes. Some economists estimate that actually as many as 46 million live in conditions of acute economic want.
Left uncounted are the more than two thousand yearly deaths in the U.S. military due to training and transportation accidents, and the many murders and suicides in civilian life that are incorrectly judged as deaths from natural causes, along with the premature deaths from cancer caused by radioactive and other carcinogenic materials in the environment. Almost all cancer deaths are now thought to be from human-made causes.
Fatality figures do not include the people who are incapacitated and sickened from the one thousand potentially toxic additional chemicals that industry releases into the environment each year, and who die years later but still prematurely. At present there are at least 51,000 industrial toxic dump sites across the country that pose potentially serious health hazards to communities, farmlands, water tables, and livestock. One government study has concluded that the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat are now perhaps the leading causes of death in the United States.
None of these figures include the unhappiness, bereavement, and long term emotional wounds inflicted upon the many millions of loved ones, friends, and family members who are close to the victims.
Getting back to France, sure, I think that there may have to be a compromise on some things in the future because the truth is, the French are losing sight of what is important because they have what so many others do not. It's like playing Sim city. If you raise the taxes on the city you create, nobody wants to move in; if you lower the taxes, you can't give services, and after people move in for the low taxes, they soon move out due to the crime or fires or lack of hospitals, etc. A politician is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. I had to quit playing because no matter how hard I tried to give my citizens a beautiful and well-planned city, I could never please them. Obviously, neither could John Kennedy. But he tried. And for him, it wasn't a game.
But anyway, a society similar to France is what I think John Kennedy had in mind. It's not perfect, but it is a heck of a lot better for the people than what is in the U.S.
Now, let's go to our installment from Farewell
America. Read the story - the words - of the man who could have set
the U.S. well on its way to a good life for all its citizens, rather than
what has happened since that terrible day in November - a widening chasm
between the haves and have-not's, with the haves being a tiny percentage
of the population, and the vast majority of Americans living on the edge
of imminent disaster in all areas of their lives.
All statecraft is founded on the indifference of most of those
concerned. Otherwise, no statecraft is possible. ~ Disraeli
Presidents are not destined to be loved. Virtue does not excite admiration. There is no better way for a President to attract a growing number of enemies than to express himself too explicitly on the multitude of subjects with which he is concerned. It is the little things that divide a nation.
For Kennedy, "power without justice is meaningless." But politics is not concerned with morality or fine sentiments, and it was for his cold logic and his sincerity that Kennedy was contested, and even detested, throughout his lifetime. Resentment surrounded him on all sides. Not only the hate of the Far Right, the big businessmen, the oilmen or the military; not only the fanaticism of the extremists of the John Birch Society or the Ku Klux Klan. Organizations and corporations with little in common, be they financial, ideological, or simply mediocre or faint-hearted, joined in a common front against the invader. His adversaries included doctors and lawyers, churchmen and speculators, the American Legion, government officials, professional diplomats, and trade unionists.(1) To maintain the balance, the Far Right even joined forces with the utopian left to oppose him. The civil rights President, this intelligent and compassionate President, even counted Negroes, poor people, and intellectuals among his enemies.
Many anguished intellectuals felt that he had taken advantage of his position to seduce their brothers into betraying their vocation. For them, the professors from Harvard were putty in the hands of the professional politicians. They saw the President's interest in philosophy and the arts as a ruse designed to neutralize their opposition by absorbing it. They thought it a shame to exchange first-class intellectuals like those in the vanguard of the New Frontier for second-class politicians, and for them a politician could only be second-class. They also claimed that Kennedy, like Carl Sandburg, was too progressive for the United States. Others, far above in their ivory towers, considered that the respect of the intellectual had nothing to do with the tragic problems of the times, the practical aspects of which very often eluded them. As for the liberal intellectuals, they criticized Kennedy for not launching an ideological crusade. They found the President too timid. They would have liked to see more lost causes, more big deficits, more lofty designs. They wanted him to eliminate the conservatives. The fact that Kennedy became almost as popular as Eisenhower reinforced their suspicions. They were unable to accept the idea of a popular President. For them, his popularity was enough to disqualify him as a intellectual or a liberal.
The utopian left went even further. It thought that the President should adopt
a policy of strict neutrality in the Cold War. It felt that a really liberal
President should follow in the footsteps of Switzerland, Sweden, or even India.
It was totally opposed to nuclear dissuasion, be it preventive or coercive,
and its creed was "better Red than dead." The lowliest of the intellectuals
accused Kennedy of "subversion, sabotage, corruption, blackmail and treason." Revilo
P. Oliver (2) was later to write in The Conspiracy: "As long as there are Americans,
he will be remembered with disgust. If the United States is saved by the desperate
efforts of her patriots, a grand and glorious future can be ours. But we shall
never forget how close we came to total destruction in the year 1963."
Had Kennedy set out to "destroy" the United States when, on April 27, 1961, he expounded his ideas on government service?
"No responsibility of government is more fundamental than the responsibility of maintaining the highest standards of ethical behavior by those who conduct the public business. There can be no dissent from the principle that all officials must act with unwavering integrity, absolute impartiality and complete devotion to the public interest . . .
"Of course, public officials are not a group apart. They inevitably reflect the moral tone of the society in which they live. And if that moral tone is injured -- by fixed athletic contests or television quiz shows -- by widespread business conspiracies to fix prices -- by collusion of businessmen and unions with organized crime -- by cheating on expense accounts, by the ignoring of traffic laws, or by petty tax evasion -- then the conduct of our government must be affected. Inevitably, the moral standards of a society influence the conduct of all who live within it -the governed and those who govern.
The ultimate answer to ethical problems in government is honest people in a good ethical environment. No web of statute or regulation, however intricately conceived, can hope to deal with the myriad possible challenges to a man's integrity or his devotion to the public interest. Nevertheless formal regulation is required -- regulation which can lay down clear guidelines of policy, punish venality and double-dealing, and set a general ethical tone for the conduct of public business."
At the end of his speech, the President declared that he was issuing an order:
a) prohibiting federal employees from accepting gifts;
b) prohibiting federal employees from using information not available -- to the public for private gain;
c) prohibiting federal employees from using their authority to induce others to provide them with things of value;
d) prohibiting federal employees from accepting outside employment when such employment was considered "incompatible" with their government service.
He added that he intended to issue more detailed regulations concerning the conduct of Presidential appointees. Finally, he announced that a member of the Cabinet would be designated to coordinate all questions concerning morality in government.
Obviously, this exordium was greeted with little enthusiasm by certain federal employees. Still, they had the moral satisfaction of rereading what Kennedy had already said about them on January 30, 1961:
"I have pledged myself and my colleagues in the Cabinet to a continuous encouragement of initiative, responsibility and energy in serving the public interest. Let every public servant know, whether his post is high or low, that a man's rank and reputation in this Administration will be determined by the size of the job he does, and not by the size of his staff, his office or his budget. Let it be clear that this Administration recognizes the value of dissent and daring -- that we greet healthy controversy as the hallmark of healthy change. Let the public service be a proud and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: 'I served the United States government in that hour of our nation's need.'"
The "initiative," the "sense of responsibility" and the "energy" of the State Department became one of the President's immediate preoccupations when he took office. "Foggy Bottom" was an enigma to Kennedy. "The State Department is a bowl of jelly full of people who are constantly smiling," he told Hugh Sidey of Time. He felt that no one really ran it, and his directives and remonstrances to Dean Rusk had little effect. The only solution was a thorough-going reorganization, and had the White House had the opportunity, it would have undertaken the job. Instead, the President's assistants confined themselves to acid comments like the following: "This is only the latest and worst in a long number of drafts sent here for Presidential signature. Most of the time it does not matter, I suppose, if the prose is tired, the thinking banal and the syntax bureaucratic, and occasionally when it does matter, State's drafts are very good. But sometimes, as in this case, they are not."
Kennedy and his advisers wanted a complete renovation of American foreign
policy -- not only of its style and its methods, but also of its orientation.
The old hands at State considered this activist crusade as totally naive. The "striped-pants
set" at Foggy Bottom had little confidence in this Platonic empire in modern
dress. They regarded the New Frontier as closer to illusion than to hope. They
believed that the wisdom of a policy is less important than its continuity,
and that the mark of an amateur diplomat is his inability, or his refusal,
to see that any change in policy, even for the better, implies a recognition
of past error and is consequently detrimental to the national prestige. The
professional diplomat thrives on routine and avoids making waves. He replaces
a forceful expression with a milder phrase. He dissimulates the realities of
this "seething planet of revolutionary violence, ferocity and hate" with euphemisms
like "this great struggle for freedom," the "free world," and "national sovereignty."(3)
Dean Rusk is certainly a good man, but as Secretary of State he lacked purpose. He bitterly resented the impertinent and welcome interference of the White House in the affairs of the Department of State. Like most of his subordinates, he felt that the capacity of words, phrases and style to dominate the political or economic realities of the modern world should never be underestimated -- that a press conference is no substitute for foreign policy.
President Kennedy wanted to be his own Secretary of State. He had always been interested in foreign affairs, and if he didn't always know where he would end up, at least he always knew where he was heading. At the White House, he was surrounded by a team of advisers known as the "Little White House," the pillars of which were McGeorge Bundy and Robert Kennedy.(4) A British liberal magazine, the New Statesman, wrote in 1963: "America has not one Secretary of State but half a dozen," and added, "American diplomacy as a result has the improvised flavor of a touch football game on the White House lawn." The author might as well have been talking about United States foreign policy in the pre-and post-Kennedy eras. American diplomacy has never been equal to the power of the United States and its international objectives.
In 1962, the State Department was beset by anxiety and apprehension. There was a noticeable thinning in the ranks of the old guard. The rules provided for the annual retirement of 3% of the upper grades. A Presidential directive increased this figure to 5% . Instead of 60 career diplomats, 100 were retired that year. When Kennedy took office, 13 out of the 21 highest positions in the State Department were occupied by career officers. In 1962, only 6 were career men; the other 15 were administrative appointees. He named 80 new ambassadors, 35 of whom were political appointees.(5) Nevertheless, the people at State recalled that Kennedy had declared during his campaign, "The key arm of our foreign policy is our ambassadorial and Foreign Service staff. In my travels to every continent, I have often been impressed with the caliber of the men and women in the Foreign Service."
Kennedy placed men in key ambassadorial positions whom the State Department considered, and continued to consider, as amateurs. He appointed a General as Ambassador to France, university presidents to Chile and the Philippines, lawyers to Denmark, NATO, and the Ivory Coast, a publisher as Ambassador to Guinea, writers to Japan and Brazil, and professors to Egypt and India. In the State Department hierarchy itself, young men found themselves suddenly promoted, and more experienced diplomats were recalled to Washington. At the Geneva conference on Laos, Averell Harriman took the daring step of appointing William H. Sullivan, Grade 3, over the heads of men in Grades 1 and 2 simply because he considered him more capable.(6)
Kennedy ordered all United States Ambassadors to supervise and coordinate the activities of all American agencies in their respective countries (with the exception of the military). This measure was hardly welcomed by the Central Intelligence Agency. With a budget half again as large as that of the State Department, better-paid and better-qualified personnel, political bureaus, military planning groups, naval and air units, landing forces, and the privilege of not having to account for its activities to Congress, the CIA considered the Presidential decision as an attack on its basic prerogatives. In the days of the Dulles brothers, Allen (Chief of the CIA) had always reported directly to his brother Foster (Secretary of State). But by 1961 John Foster Dulles was no more than a distant memory, and after the Bay of Pigs disaster, Allen Dulles fell into disfavor and was replaced by John McCone.
Wishing to inject new blood into the senior ranks of the administration, Kennedy conceived the idea of drafting corporation vice-presidents for a year of government service. But the vice-presidents found it hard to adjust to government ways, and they reacted too often with "That's not the way we do it at Proctor and Gamble." The Kennedy style was no more suited to big business than it was to old-guard diplomacy.
John Kenneth Galbraith, Kennedy's Ambassador to India, declared, "A dollar or a rupee invested in the intellectual improvement of human beings will regularly bring a greater increase in national income than a dollar or a rupee devoted to railways, dams, machine tools or other tangible goods."
The President gave most high officials and department heads the impression that they were behind the times. He was not preoccupied with the official hierarchy, nor with unanimous decisions. At the highest level, Kennedy had decided to abandon the tradition that all decisions of the Cabinet and the National Security Council be approved by the majority. He abolished the weekly meetings of the Cabinet, the Cabinet Secretaries, the administrative body of the National Security Council, the Coordinating Committee for Operations, and dozens of inter-departmental committees. He called it "doing away with bureaucracy," and he justified his actions by saying that he saw no reason why the Postmaster General should be concerned with problems in Laos.
A few officials resigned, but most decided to stick it out. Administrations pass, but the civil service remains. They were only going through a difficult period. Many members of the American Legion agreed. They had opposed Kennedy ever since he had declared, in 1947, that "the leaders of the American Legion haven't done anything good since 1918."(7)
Kennedy the ex-journalist gave the journalists complexes, and they criticized the way he "managed" the news.(8) Mark S. Watson of the Baltimore Sun complained that "every journalist is a weapon in government hands," and Arthur Krock, the veteran New York Times columnist, wrote in Fortune:
The press had flattered the handsome candidate and the photogenic First Family. The new President's policies were received with less enthusiasm. Journalistic deception is part of politics, but it irritated the President. His staff was also known to blunder, and he made a few mistakes himself, as for example when he canceled the White House subscription to the New York Herald Tribune.
"On the strength of almost 50 years of reporting, executive editing, and editorial commentary on the news, most of it in Washington, I would make two general judgments on the management of the news by the present President and -- on its understanding of his will and attitude -- by his Administration as a whole:
1. A news management policy not only exists but, in the form of direct and deliberate action, has been enforced more cynically and boldly than by any previous Administration in a period when the US was not in a war or without visible means of regression from the verge of war.
2. In the form of indirect but equally deliberate action, the policy has been much more effective than direct action in coloring the several facts of public information, because it has been employed with subtlety and imagination for which there is no historical parallel known to me . . .
Management of the news by indirection, though pursued for the same purpose as active management, requires a far wider definition. One principal form it takes in the present Administration is social flattery of Washington reporters and commentators -- many more than ever got this 'treatment' in the past -- by the President and his high-level subordinates."
Kennedy often displayed more virtue than wisdom in his eighteen months in office. His bungling with regard to the press was typical of the aristocratic and plutocratic conception of the writer and journalist that is one of the dominant traits (although they deny it) of the Kennedy family.
The emissaries of the Lord were hardly more favorable. The churches attacked the diabolical private lives of the President and the First Lady. But that was not all. The Protestant churches had been unhappy at the nomination of a Catholic candidate. The Reverend W. A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas (with an annual budget of $195,000) declared in 1960: "Kennedy's election would be the death of a free church in a free state." Later, he was to add: "The abolition of segregation is as ridiculous as it is foolhardy," and "The judgment of the Lord will strike down those who court scandal."
When he took his oath of office, Kennedy was attacked for not laying his hand on the Bible. He had (although the Constitution does not require it), but the television cameras missed it, and had he not, no one would have been surprised. The Reverend Norman Vincent Peale spoke for many Protestants when he said, "Kennedy is unfit to hold Presidential office. Our American civilization is at stake. I do not say that we will not survive the election of Kennedy, but we will no longer be the same."
When one of its members was elected to the Presidency, the American Catholic Church was hardly more enthusiastic. Catholics were critical of President Kennedy's "leftist" advisers. Why, the President even bragged that he had attended public schools! The late Cardinal Spellman, spiritual leader of American Catholicism, a comfortable and active Republican and a vehement anti-Communist, lost the influence that he had enjoyed at the White House in the days of John Foster Dulles. He made no secret of the fact that he found it displeasing, not to say scandalous, that the first Catholic elected to the Presidency was also the most secular President the United States had ever known. The Catholic review America wrote in its editorial of January 13, 1962:
"In view of his peculiar position, Mr. Kennedy is not expected to make excessively friendly overtures to anyone connected with his Church. Indeed, he has hewed carefully to a line which enables him to live up to these negative expectations. He rarely finds himself in positions in which he might have to be photographed with Cardinals or other Church dignitaries.
"It is significant, for instance, that there were no photographers present for the relatively little-publicized visit of the Cardinal Secretary of State to the White House early in December.
"Every published photograph of that brief meeting would have cost Mr. Kennedy 10,000 votes in the Bible Belt in 1964, and Mr. Kennedy, who is an experienced politician, can scarcely be asked to overlook such hard facts of public life in America.
"These calculations are not very courageous but, after all, John Kennedy is not the first US President who has had to plot his course by means of opinion polls from the Protestant heartland of this nation.
"Photographs of the President with Protestant spokesmen like Evangelist Bill Graham, on the other hand, are pure 14-karat gold, to be laid away at 5 percent interest till the day of reckoning in 1964."
The leaders of American Catholicism also attacked Kennedy for refusing to
appoint an Ambassador to the Vatican, for rejecting the idea of a "holy war" against
the Soviet Union, and for favoring birth control. They even criticized him
for not holding Mass at the White House. (9) When, in 1961, Kennedy submitted
a Bill to Congress authorizing federal aid to primary and secondary schools
but withholding it from parochial and other church-controlled schools as stipulated
by the Constitution, protests poured in from Jews and Protestants as well as
Catholics. The reaction of the combined churches was so vehement that the bill
was rejected. The following year, the ecclesiastics, returned to the charge
when Kennedy proposed, as part of his tax reform bill, to modify the system
of tax deductions for contributions to charity (which had reached the truly "divine" annual
figure of $7.5 billion annually).
In the camp of hate there were also the wealthy. Not only those, in the majority,
who feared for their privileges, but also those who were irritated by the refinements
of the Kennedy style of living. The American aristocracy had learned that the
Kennedys never discussed money at the table, that they considered it out of
place and of no interest. Instead, they talked about politics, and, when there
were women or guests present, about art. Did these people really imagine that
there was no connection between politics, or art, and money? Or had they left
the money-making to their father, so that they could continue to live for their
ideas alone, in ignorance of the "secret of the governor"? (10) What did these
Kennedys think they were doing, asking their brother-in-law (11) to set up
a system providing legal assistance for the poor?
The poor, too, were often reticent. Thirty million white Americans, (12) half
of them in the South, earn less than $3,000 a year. Under-qualified and under-paid,
many of these have-nots are also incompetent and lazy, and while they are conscious
of being exploited by their southern employers, they also realize that they
could not continue to live without them. "Republicans are good for business
. . ." There were also the twelve thousand Americans who, without their white
skins, would have nothing. These poor whites could always look down on the
Negroes, those nobodies whom Kennedy wanted to turn into somebodies.
No region in the United States could identify completely with John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The average American, and not only in the Middle West, is a man of habit -- one might even say of prejudice. He likes his food plain and his religion straightforward, and he prefers American-made products. He disapproves of short-term love affairs and people who are overly-critical. He regards foreigners as good-for-nothing if not downright inferior, and the American system as the greatest in the world.
The average American probably didn't go as far as those banners in Mississippi that called on the voters to "Knock Out the Kennedys." The Kennedys: not only the President, but his wife, his brothers, his children, and even his ancestors. But he had little in common with the First Family, and he judged the President in terms of the threat to his way of life.
The medical profession provides an interesting example of this phenomenon,
for its hate surpassed all others. Its target was a man who believed that doctors
should still remember Esculapus and devote themselves to healing all the ill.
But the doctors were more anxious about the changes that Kennedy wanted to
make in the Social Security laws, initiatives that would be considered timid
in comparison with the systems already existing in most European nations. (13)
Doctor Fishbein, the official spokesman of the American Medical Association,
had declared in 1939:
"Indeed all forms of security, compulsory security, even against old age and unemployment, represent a beginning invasion by the state into the personal life of the individual, represent a taking away of individual responsibility, a weakening of national caliber, a definite step toward either communism or totalitarianism."
As soon as he entered the White House, Kennedy turned his attention to the
health problems of children, the aged, and the poor. They were the subject
of the speech that he never got to deliver at Austin. He wanted not only to
establish government medical insurance for the aged and the unemployed, but
to outlaw tax deductions for unjustified or exaggerated medical expenses. He
wanted the federal government to care for invalids, feeble-minded and retarded
children, and to cover the cost of exceptionally high surgery bills in low-
income families. He noted also that 40% of all college students came from the
12% of American families with incomes of more than $10,000 a year. He wanted,
if not to reform the medical schools, at least to help the "talented young
people without money who are unable to bear the cost of medical school." (14)
He proposed to create 40 new medical and dental schools. He was already thinking
of the country's needs in 1970. (15) But the AMA dubbed Kennedy's Social Security
proposals the "Cruel Mystification." To which Kennedy replied, in private (but
it was repeated and even appeared in print) that this "mystification" was only "cruel
to some of their ukases, their exclusivities, and their rackets." Their visceral
hate for him is exemplified by the Oklahoma doctor cited in Manchester's book
who, on learning of Kennedy's assassination, cried, "Good, I hope they got
Jackie," and the other doctor who yelled to a colleague, "The joy ride's over.
This is one deal that Papa Joe can't fix."
John Kennedy continued to cherish the dream of that America for which he was responsible. On April 9, 1963, he spoke at length to his fellow-Americans of "Random Village," a hypothetical village of 100 citizens, ten of whom are Negroes and six of whom live alone.
Half the families in Random Village own their own homes. The local newspaper is Republican, but the majority of its reporters are Democrats. When they leave school, the sons of the citizens of Random Village will have twice as much chance of being unemployed as their fathers. The wives of these citizens know that there are six times as many visitors to the country's national parks than there were when they were young (half the village likes to swim in the summer), but every year they see more of their favorite beaches and wilderness spots swallowed up by commercial establishments. Most of the adults never finished high school, but they all want their children to have an education, and would even like to see them go to college so that they can earn higher salaries and have less chance of being unemployed.
Nevertheless, only 16 of their 24 children will finish high school, and only
9 will go to college. For the 7 others, college is too expensive ($1,500 a
year in a state university, and $2,000 in a private institution), or there
is simply no room for them. (16) The large numbers of postwar babies are approaching
college age. There will be twice as many college students in 1970 as there
were in 1960.
The inhabitants of Random Village are mythical, but they are also mortal. One of them will die during the year, but two new babies will be born. Each citizen will see a doctor five times and a dentist once or twice. Eleven will be hospitalized. But many will wonder why there are not enough doctors, dentists, and hospitals. For, as Kennedy noted, "there are no doctors or dentists in Random Village." Fifteen years ago, there were 10 doctors in the region for 10,000 inhabitants. Today, there are only 9. In ten more years, this number will have dropped to 8.
Ten inhabitants of the village will require treatment for mental illness or behavior disorders. Three of them are mentally retarded (if the village were Swedish, only one would be mentally retarded). Many could be cured who will not have the chance to be.
Nine of the villagers are over 65, and one of them is over 80. Ninety percent of them will be hospitalized at least once before they die, and for twice as long as when they were young. Nevertheless, their incomes are now only half as great, and only five of the nine have any kind of private health insurance.
And Kennedy continued his parable by emphasizing that the adoption of his new federal aid programs would in no way affect the independence or the vitality of the people of Random Village. He emphasized the need to continue the housing program for the village, where one house out of five is in poor condition or dilapidated. Welfare payments must also be continued, he said, for one family in eight in the village has a weekly income of less than $35.
A program of vocational retraining was needed because one-third of the unemployed in the village had been out of work for more than 15 weeks this year and would be unable to find work for which they were suited. The government must pursue its efforts in the field of civil rights, for the Negro families in the village were twice as likely to be poorly housed as the whites, and earned only half as much. Their children had only two-thirds thirds as much chance as their white neighbors to finish school, and were twice as likely to be unemployed." "Neither injustice nor crime nor disease nor slums can be confined to one group in the village," Kennedy insisted.
But in 1962 the majority of the citizens were preoccupied less with the pleasures
and difficulties of life in the village than with the stock market trend. The
Black Monday crash was felt throughout the country. Few stockholders were ruined,
but many were hit. The value of the national portfolio diminished by 137 billion
dollars on June 21, 1962. The two million stockholders of the American Telephone
and Telegraph Company lost eight billion dollars. The shareholders of Du Pont
and General Electric, US Steel and General Motors lost more than three billion
dollars per company. Those of Sears Roebuck, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing
and the Ford Motor Company lost more than two billion, while the securities
of the Aluminum Company of America, American Home Products, Bethlehem Steel,
Eastman Kodak, General Telephone and Electronics, Reynolds Metal, R. J. Reynolds
Tobacco, Texaco, Union Carbide and Westinghouse dropped more than a billion
As a result of slow inflation and the depreciation of Treasury Bonds and other
fixed-revenue securities, the United States has become a nation of stockholders.
Many Americans had invested in the stock market to cover the cost of a house,
a college education for their children, or a trip to Europe. The average stockholder
was not the only one to be hurt. The employees of firms with profit-sharing
schemes and the retired people who had invested 21 billion dollars in the stock
exchange also saw their investments dissolve. (17)
The statements of the mutual funds and the reports of the security analysts
circulated these figures among the worried stockholders. But eighteen months
later, the computers refrained from reporting with equal clamor that the Dow
Jones average was once again positive. It is true that the President had just
been buried. At that time, the Administration was preoccupied with the farm
problem, (18) and it is probable that most of the shareholders have a clearer
recollection of their great fright of 1962 than of the subsequent recovery
of the market. "We'll vote for Goldwater in 1964, and if Kennedy is re-elected
we'll buy an island in the Indian Ocean," many vowed.
Kennedy was a frail little boy who liked to read in bed. He doted on the tales
of the Knights of the Round Table and the exploits of the Duke of Marlborough.
He chose to follow in their footsteps, and set out on his own Crusade. At each
new dawn, he sounded the trumpet and summoned the nation to arms. "The country
was awakened and restless. But the wicked had risen along with the good, the
idle with the industrious, the heartless with the merciful, the poor with the
rich, the enemies with the friends, the profiteers of the dark night with the
men of the clear morning." (19) It sometimes seemed as though only children
accepted him without reservation. The daughter of Supreme Court Justice Byron
White said to her father on the evening of November 22, "Daddy, when are we
going to be happy again?"
The people, to excuse their egoism, believe that they are right because they are the people, forgetting that they are only a moment of the people. Winston Churchill spoke of the "weakness of the good," but was it weakness to participate fully in the problems of the times, and to assume the responsibility for the people of the moment, but also for the generations to come?
One day, despite all the barriers, despite all the gunmen, will kindness and justice enter Random Village?
The crowd counted a certain number of important people. Roy Cohn, for instance. For those to whom this name is unfamiliar, Roy Cohn is the son of a judge, a graduate of Columbia Law School, who was an assistant to Attorney General James McGranery before joining the staff of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Cohn was long considered one of the most brilliant young men in the United States. "He got more notoriety, more fame, more material success, and more enemies than most men manage to do in all of a lifetime." Others remarked that he had always been fascinated by puzzles, and that he was somewhat of a puzzle himself. An anti-communist investigator, later a financial consultant, he was accused of furnishing false witnesses and using informers.
From the moment they met, Roy Cohn and Robert Kennedy knew that there was
much that separated them. (20)
Robert Kennedy was a Kennedy. Cohn was a Jew and nearly penniless. He set out to make money, fought to get ahead, moved carefully and plotted his revenge. His rash initiatives, McCarthy's miscalculations and his growing vendetta with Bob Kennedy were very nearly the end of him.
Cohn's personal motto is, "It's profitable." It's not a very original idea,
but the man has energy and talent, and he is a remarkable gambler. He would
have liked to have been the head of a large corporation. As his political
career was temporarily in jeopardy, he turned his attention to other things.
A specialist in business promotions, he speculated in some highly diverse
operations that stretched from New York to Central America and even to Hong
Kong, and carried off some remarkable feats. He wanted to transform the Lionel
Corporation, an old-fashioned manufacturer of toy trains, into an electronics
giant. He bought it up for $900,000 and appointed a General (21) to head
it, with the idea that he would prove an ideal negotiator with the Pentagon.
But Roy Cohn, while an excellent speculator, is no businessman, and he soon
tired of the game. He also had a powerful enemy in Washington -- Attorney
General Robert Kennedy -- who was watching his every move, just waiting for
him to make a mistake.
Cohn lost $500,000 in Lionel, and his life began to cave in around him. In 1961, certain companies for which he served as a consultant lost $2.5 million dollars, and $4 million the following year. The Attorney General's crusade against organized crime concerned him indirectly. A lawyer or legal consultant does not always choose his clients, and he has no control over their actions.
An ascetic playboy and unlucky gambler, Cohn was often seen at Las Vegas, where people like Moe Dalitz, who had been one of the targets of the Kefauver Committee, and oilman Sam Garfield were the most innocuous of his acquaintances. It's a long way from the world of crime to the world of oil, but Cohn was consulted on several occasions by the executives of large oil corporations, and in particular by Haroldson Lafayette Hunt (whom he had known when he worked for McCarthy) and by some of Mr. Hunt's acquaintances, who had awkward problems involving complex legal questions.
Roy Cohn was never consulted in vain on a question of financial speculation. His talent lay in analyzing the problems involved, in drawing the ideas together and in proposing solutions. Others were left to carry them out. Speaking of himself, he said, "I am a younger man dealing with older men."
But time was running out for Roy Cohn. In September, 1963, his speculative
activities brought him before the Grand Jury of the State of New York. (22)
Today, five years later, it is doubtful whether Mr. Cohn remembers all of
the matters that he dealt with in 1963. As Life magazine pointed out, "He
deals with so many people that he may get a bit confused about whom he has
seen and whom he has not." Nevertheless, Roy Cohn swung a big deal that year.
1. Although he was pro-labor and a personal friend of trade union leaders like George Meany, the trade unions turned against Kennedy when he tried to put an end to some of their abuses. There was, for example, his conflict with the railroad-workers unions. The Administration wanted to eliminate the firemen on diesel engines and cut down on the number of crews because of automation. The regulations dating back to the time of steam engines were no longer justified now that diesel engines were in use. The train from Chicago to Denver, which covered 1,034 miles in 16.5 hours, changed crews eight times, every 130 miles, and each crew received 1.25 days of pay for each two hours of work.
2. Professor of Classical Languages at the University of Illinois.
3. Arthur Schlesinger.
4. Also known as the "Tuesday group." Other members were George C. McGhee, Paul H. Nitze, and Walt W. Rostow.
5. During Eisenhower's term in office, only twenty United States Ambassadorships were held by non-career diplomats.
6. Unlike the Civil Service, Foreign Service grades begin at 8 and run to 1.
7. In 1964, the American Legion held its annual convention at Dallas. It paraded past the spot at Dealey Plaza where Kennedy had been killed, and no one even stopped.
8. Statistics record that in October, 1961, there were 8,150 people involved in the information activities of the federal government (as opposed to 3,632 in 1952), and that 3,515 of these specialists were working in Washington, obscured behind a variety of official titles.
9. The only mass ever celebrated at the White House was held on November 23, 1963, the day after the President's death.
10. "The poor man thinks he is a friend of the poor, and the rich man knows he is not."
11. Sargent Shriver, dubbed by Time the "anti-poverty Czar."
12. By 1963, this number had dropped to 25 million.
13. In 1962, doctors in Saskatchewan, Canada, went on strike for the same reason.
14. It costs an average of $1,750 a year to send a child to college. Families with an income of less than $6,000 a year have difficulty in meeting these expenses. The average scholarship aid for a medical student is $500, as against $1,600 for a biology major. Medical schools are reluctant to admit women.
15. His proposal for medical care for the aged (Medicare), which would have added an additional 0.25% to the Social Security deductions, was adopted in 1967.
16. 1963 statistics.
17. It has been calculated that a person who invested $ 10,000 in the stock market in January, 1961, at the beginning of the Kennedy era, had only $7,900 left after the 18.8% drop in the Dow Jones average in June, 1962.
18. Farm prices in 1963 had dropped to 86 from the 1960 index of 100, but the portion of the family budget devoted to food had dropped from 26.9% in 1947 to 20% in 1960, and to 18.8% in 1963.
19. Hans Habe.
20. Robert Kennedy also served on Senator McCarthy's staff when Roy Cohn was his chief legal adviser. He wrote later that the Senator's biggest mistake had been his confidence in Roy Cohn and his acolyte G. David Schine.
21. Brigadier General John B. Medaris, former Commander of Redstone Arsenal.
22. Fortunately for him, there is some justice in the world. The matter was straightened out in 1964 after a series of negotiations and interventions.