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September 23, 2014 / 28 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘President Kennedy’

The Media Myth Of Camelot

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

With Caroline Kennedy’s New York Times op-ed article endorsing the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama because, in her words, she wants a president like her father; a president who, among other things, “holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards,” it seemed only appropriate to give an encore airing, with some revisions, to the following Media Monitor column that originally ran in 2003:

“Jack Kennedy was the mythological front man for a particularly juicy slice of our history. He talked a slick line and wore a world-class haircut. He was Bill Clinton minus pervasive media scrutiny and a few rolls of flab. Jack got whacked at the optimum moment to assure his sainthood. Lies continue to swirl around his eternal flame….”
– James Ellroy, American Tabloid

Assassination does wonders for a public figure’s place in history. John F. Kennedy was a president of questionable character and meager accomplishment, but his untimely and violent death, followed by decades of unceasing image control by the Kennedy family and their media apologists, has helped sustain one of the great myths of American history – a myth that there once existed in Washington a magical kingdom called Camelot, ruled by a dashing prince whose wisdom and bravery were matched only by his unshakeable devotion to his beautiful princess.

So powerful is the Camelot legend that the many seamy discoveries of recent years have managed only to tarnish, but hardly to destroy, the reputation of a man who almost certainly would have been impeached or forced to resign the presidency had even a fraction of what we now know been made public while he was still alive and in office.

Even the very term that has come to symbolize the Kennedy era – Camelot – is an invention after the fact. The notion of the Kennedy White House as Camelot has always been, as even Kennedy press secretary and longtime loyalist Pierre Salinger admitted, a “fraud” – the word was never once used to describe the Kennedy administration while Kennedy was alive.

The Camelot-Kennedy connection was nothing more than a widow’s successful attempt to glamorize her husband’s legacy. Not long after Kennedy’s murder, Jacqueline Kennedy, quoting the lyrics of the title song from a popular Broadway show, implored the writer Theodore White: “Don’t let it be forgot/That once there was a spot/For one brief shining moment/That was known as Camelot.”

White dutifully recorded her words in an article for Life magazine, and instantly and forevermore the Kennedy years became Camelot in retrospect. It is necessary to keep all this in mind when reflecting on any aspect of the Kennedy administration. Nothing was as it seemed, and the truth about those years began to seep out only after Kennedy had been dead for a decade.

In fact, the mythmaking about JFK was under way well before he was elected president – being born to a politically ambitious, fabulously wealthy and well-connected father has its benefits.

“Kennedy,” the liberal journalist Lawrence Wright observed, “had spent thirteen years in the House and Senate without passing a single important piece of legislation. And yet before his election to the presidency, people were comparing him with Franklin Roosevelt, with the young Churchill, with various movie stars, with Lindbergh.”

Kennedy’s best-selling books, Why England Slept and Profiles in Courage, which helped sell the notion that he was some sort of intellectual? Both were largely ghostwritten.

The World War II incident that bestowed on Kennedy an aura of heroism?

“It was true Kennedy had saved the life of one of his men on PT-109, on a mission in which Kennedy was supposed to torpedo a Japanese destroyer,” writes Wright. “Instead, the lumbering destroyer managed to slice the PT boat in half, killing two crewmen. Apparently, Kennedy had failed to notice the ship until it was bearing down on top of him. ‘Our reaction to the 109 thing had always been that we were kind of ashamed of our performance,’ admitted one of the crew, Barney Ross. ‘I had always thought it was a disaster.’”

Wright continues: “Was this heroism? Or just luck – that Kennedy was still alive and not brought before a court-martial? The Navy rejected his application for a Silver Star, and it wasn’t until a friend of the Kennedy family, James Forrestal, became secretary of the Navy, that Kennedy received a life-saving award.”

Among close acquaintances Kennedy was candid about his heroics. In his 1991 book A Question of Character, historian Thomas Reeves quotes the son of a Kennedy intimate as saying, “He told her it was a question of whether they were going to give him a medal or throw him out.” And in 1946, according to Reeves, Kennedy told a friend, “My story about the collision is getting better all the time. Now I’ve got a Jew and a nigger in the story and with me being a Catholic, that’s great.”

Parshat Vayeitzei

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

        October 1962 was almost the end of the world. For 13 days the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war. Only through a combination of diplomacy, show of force and mild deception, was the crisis diffused. While it was perhaps Kennedy’s finest moment as president, the crisis marked the beginning of Chairman Khrushchev’s political demise. Among the many leadership lessons to be learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis, is Kennedy’s use of passive deception, namely, acting throughout much of the crisis as if everything were normal.
 
         In any encounter in life, having the element of surprise on your side is quite beneficial. Sometimes its presence or lack thereof, is the difference between success or failure. By not letting on that one is aware of a danger or threat that an opponent poses, a person can keep his options open. Additionally, by maintaining such a stance, a person prevents the other side from taking counter-measures. In Kennedy’s case he felt it also important to maintain a sense of normalcy, so as not to prematurely alarm his own citizens or cause an uncontainable panic.
 
         With this in mind, Kennedy kept up most of his scheduled appearances during the crisis, including a prescheduled campaign trip to Chicago on Friday, October 19. By Kennedy’s doing this the American people were kept in the dark regarding the brewing crisis, and the Soviets were unaware that the Americans had photographic evidence of the nuclear weapons positioned in Cuba. Likewise, the Soviets were unaware that the Americans were already debating various responses. Among the possible responses was an invasion of Cuba, which would require as much surprise as possible in order to achieve operational success.
 
         When it was deemed critical for the president to return to Washington on Saturday the 20th, the reason told to the reporters was that Kennedy had developed an upper respiratory infection. Although reporters began to suspect something was amiss, the secrecy was more or less maintained until President Kennedy’s speech to the nation on Monday night, October 22. Eventually the crisis was resolved, and the missiles were removed from Cuba.
 
         The importance of acting as if everything is normal, in order to maintain the greatest number of options is demonstrated in this week’s parshah, by Yaakov. After Yaakov heard that Lavan’s sons accused him of stealing their father’s wealth, he noticed that Lavan no longer trusted him as he had previously. The Torah states (Bereishit 31:2): “And Yaakov saw the face of Lavan and behold it was not as it was in the past.” It was at that moment that Yaakov realized he had to return to Israel, as confirmed by G-d in the next verse.
 
         It was then that Yaakov began his preparations to leave Lavan’s house. He started by explaining his decision to Leah and Rachel and getting their total support. He then began the actual packing up of his property, planning to leave when Lavan was out of town tending to his own flocks of sheep. The Torah then describes (31:20) how Yaakov deceived Lavan by not informing him of his intentions to flee. In his commentary to the verse, the Seforno explains Yaakov’s deception in an interesting manner. According to the Seforno, Yaakov’s deception was not that he snuck away from Lavan. After all, no mind games were involved. Sneaking away was simply part of the tactical necessity. Rather, the deception was that Yaakov never indicated that he was aware of Lavan’s sons’ negative reports about him, or that he realized Lavan no longer trusted him. According to the Seforno, Yaakov’s deception was that he acted totally normal, never letting on that he realized there was a problem for him to continue living with Lavan. By doing so Yaakov expanded his range of possibilities, ensuring his successful escape from Lavan with his family and property intact. By acting as if everything was fine, Yaakov bought himself the precious time necessary to arrange his escape. Had Lavan suspected that Yaakov was aware of his sons’ damaging reports he would have done everything in his power to thwart Yaakov’s plans.
 
         Although honesty is an essential leadership trait, the ability to act normally despite being under pressure is critical as well. Being honest does not mean full disclosure to your opponent or challenger. Keeping one’s options open has always been an important leadership tool. Keeping one’s knowledge of his opponent secret is often necessary as well. Knowing Lavan’s underlying hatred of everything Yaakov stood for, Yaakov realized that he had to escape from Lavan, no matter what. Carefully guarding his knowledge of Lavan’s true intentions was an integral part of his escape plan.
 
         All leaders need to understand the importance of this lesson. Keeping to a normal schedule is often part of the victory strategy. As a nation and people, we can only imagine where we would be today had Yaakov not understood this. As members of the human race, we can only imagine what the world would be like today had Kennedy not understood this lesson as well.
 

         Rabbi David Hertzberg is the Principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Questions and comments can be emailed to him at Mdrabbi@aol.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/parshat-vayeitzei/2006/11/29/

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