web analytics
September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

A Neglected Anniversary

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

With all the media attention paid to the recent 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic massacre, another anniversary – this one related to something far more consequential in terms of Israel’s history – slipped by relatively unnoticed.

It was thirty years ago this past June that Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to deal the PLO a death blow and thirty years ago last month that Lebanese Christian militiamen slaughtered Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. The two events, fairly or not, will forever be linked in the public mind. But even if Israeli troops had prevented their Lebanese allies from entering the camps, the Lebanon War would have become Israel’s Vietnam and – again, fairly or not – changed the way much of Israeli society viewed itself and the way much of the world viewed Israel.

Like Vietnam, the Lebanon war became increasingly unpopular in elite media circles. Both wars became rallying cries for forces eager not just to protest the conflict but to disparage the country, its leaders, its history. And both were initiated or inherited by politicians who had long been anathema to liberal journalists.

First and foremost there is the Nixon-Begin parallel and the question of perceived legitimacy. Mainstream American liberals had begun souring on the Vietnam war in 1965 and 1966, but it wasn’t until Democrats lost the 1968 presidential election and Richard Nixon took office a few months later that antiwar sentiment exploded in establishment circles.

Suddenly it was Nixon’s war, not John Kennedy’s or Lyndon Johnson’s, and Democrats were acting as though the 500,000 American troops already on the ground in Vietnam had appeared there at the instant of Nixon’s inauguration.

As difficult as it was for many of Nixon’s ideological foes to swallow the notion of Nixon as a legitimate commander in chief, so too did Menachem Begin’s political enemies view Begin as an unworthy interloper when in 1977 he broke the Labor Alignment’s long electoral hegemony in Israel.

That sense of illegitimacy remained largely under the surface during Begin’s first term in office, when the only two military operations of consequence were a limited incursion into Lebanon in 1978 and the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.

But when Begin, a year into his second term, signed off on the invasion of Lebanon, his opponents dropped even the pretense of civility. For many Israeli leftists, inside the media and out, the very thought of the reviled Begin presiding over the largest Israeli military operation since the Yom Kippur War was nothing short of intolerable. Israeli newspapers were filled with indignant letters from parents, many of whom openly identified themselves as Labor loyalists, cursing Begin because their sons were now at mortal risk in Lebanon.

A month or so into the fighting, with Israeli soldiers still engaged in battles in and around Beirut, Yitzhak Rabin and other Labor politicos could be seen on television newscasts around the world voicing open disparagement of the Begin government.

Another parallel between Vietnam and Lebanon involved the emergence or reinvigoration, in both the U.S. and Israel, of movements hostile to the prevailing social and political order. In the wake of Lebanon, left-wing Israeli academics (relying heavily on concepts and terminology popularized by their American counterparts 15 years earlier) began to formulate the negative interpretation of Israeli history that by the middle of the following decade would come to be called post-Zionism.

The wars were also similar for the hostile international media coverage they inspired. The Europeans had been vicious to Israel since the late 1960s, but it took Lebanon to bring out the animosity that had been building for a number of years in the American media, as witness the syndicated columnist Nicholas von Hoffman’s statement that “atrocity by atrocity, Americans are coming to see the Israeli government as pounding the Star of David into a swastika”; or the Chicago Tribune columnist Vernon Jarrett’s claim that the Israeli invasion of Lebanon “seems designed to make civilized man forget or depreciate the Holocaust”; or the print and television pundit Carl Rowan’s insistence that “Israel’s leaders are imitating Hitler.”

Three decades later, Israel’s metamorphosis in the eyes of the media – from valiant underdog to regional bully – stands out as the lasting legacy of the 1982 Lebanon war.

Kissinger Gets Felt Up by the TSA

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger., who’s turning 89 this month (may we suggest holiday in Vietnam?), was spotted last Friday at LaGuardia airport in New York, getting routed to the pat-down line while going through security, reports the Washington Post “In the Loop” section.

After asking Kissinger his name as he passed through the scanner, the agent sent him to be searched. Kissinger was in a wheelchair. In the search area, Kissinger was subjected to what “the full Monty” of the usual groping.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Chabad In A Dangerous World

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

A few months ago, Channel 8 (Israel’s equivalent of PBS) broadcast a fascinating “reality” program on the life and times of a young Lubavitcher couple that went on shlichut to Vietnam in order to open a Chabad branch in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). During the past few years Vietnam has become a growing destination for both Israeli and American Jewish businessmen, as well as for post- army, backpacking and thrill-seeking young Israelis

The mission highlighted the young couple’s “fish out of water” experience, trying to build an oasis of Judaism under the watchful anti-religious eyes of the Communist regime. In this case, the element of danger wasn’t from Islamic fanatics but from a philosophy that had defeated American military prowess over 35 years earlier.

The dangers associated with opening a Chabad House in Ho Chi Minh City didn’t deter the enthusiastic couple from building a new life in a strange land. Shipments of kosher foodstuffs and religious articles from Eretz Yisrael would cushion the blow of being so far away from a Jewish environment. The young couple and their guests would at least be able to enjoy a heimishe meal cooked by the “rebbetzin,” providing a palate-pleasing reminder of home.

The initial adjustment for the young couple was not easy – but Chabadniks persevere. There are no such words as “giving up” in the Chabad dictionary.

In order to stretch their kosher food without always relying on the parcel from Israel, the young couple made their way through the aisles of local supermarkets searching high and low for products bearing a legitimate hechsher (kosher certification). At the local fish market the young rabbi diligently checked various species of fish, looking for the telltale kosher signs of fins and scales.

All in all, a great story about how adventurous young Chabad couples are willing to go anywhere on the planet in order to perform the mitzvot of hachnasat orchim and kiruv rechokim.

No one but Chabad has worked so diligently to provide a way station for Jews on and off the derech. Tens of thousands of secular Israelis have had their pintele yid rekindled by a simple act of kindness performed by smiling young Chabad couples that are always available with an open door policy. These couples represent the essence of what Yiddishkeit is all about.

Unfortunately the world has become a dangerous place – even for friendly Chabadnikim. Jewish businessmen and Israeli adventure-seekers need to start rethinking about where to do business and how to keep an extremely low profile when trekking through Third World countries.

As we went to press, Israeli security personnel warned Chabad officials in Israel and the U.S. to start revamping their global operations. The Israeli officials instructed Chabad to lower their profiles in countries where the dangers of terror attacks are high, and hire armed security guards to provide around-the-clock protection for each Chabad House. (There are at least two other Chabad Houses in India, scene of last week’s terror attack. One is in New Delhi and the other in Goa, the coastal  “Pearl of the Orient,” where so many young Israelis tend to enjoy running amok, i.e. drug use, illicit behavior and, tragically, acts of avodah zarah.)

On many occasions, Chabad officials in places like Goa are either working hard to lure Israelis away from toxic substances or getting them out of jail. They will do almost anything to rescue a meandering neshamah.

Israeli entrepreneurs trying to make a quick buck from the thousands of Hebrew-speaking “landsman” who visit Goa and Bangkok, Thailand have opened stores featuring large Hebrew-language signs. Thailand, already enmeshed in political anarchy, is also trying to beat back an armed Islamic insurrection in one of its provinces. It is likely that the Thai Islamists will try to copy the Mumbai massacre on some scale in the near future – sowing fear and hatred.

The Jewish people tend to sometimes forget that they are in the midst of a global jihad, where interlocking Islamic terror groups are constantly monitoring our activities. One day it can be Al Qaeda in lower Manhattan, another day it could be Hizbullah in Argentina, a Pakistani terror group in Mumbai, Hamas in Jerusalem It’s a never-ending list.

The mitzvah to enjoy life and experience the wonders of the world must also be balanced out against the inherent dangers that lurk just around the corner. There will always be a need for a Chabad oasis somewhere in the world. The blessing of their holy work must be buttressed by physical as well as spiritual security.

William Ayers Is No David Ifshin

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

It’s difficult to say which member of the mainstream media has shamed him- or herself most in terms of pure self-abasement at the feet of the idol Obama. We are, after all, talking about a cast of name-brand reporters, analysts and opinion columnists (are such distinctions even relevant anymore?) probably numbering in the hundreds.

But it would be a real feat to top Time magazine’s Joe Klein, whose political meltdown has been duly noted at Commentary magazine’s Contentions blog (where your dogged scribbler posts on occasion and where this column appeared last week) and elsewhere.

As he proved with Bill Clinton in 1992, when Klein falls in love with a politician he falls really, really hard. But if he was merely besotted with Clinton, he appears lovestruck by Obama, given to lashing out in unseemly rage at anyone who fails to understand the attraction.

Such infatuation is guaranteed to cloud one’s judgment and inspire the kind of writing Klein recently produced for Time’s “Swampland” blog in which, following the lead of Marc Cooper at The Huffington Post and a slew of other left-of-center bloggers, he attempted to make an analogy between Obama’s relationship with William Ayers and John McCain’s relationship with the late David Ifshin, who as an antiwar activist in the Vietnam era had gone to Hanoi and denounced American pilots as war criminals but who later moved to the political center and worked for Walter Mondale and AIPAC.

Ifshin and McCain became unlikely friends in the 1980s, and when Ifshin tragically died of cancer at age 47 in 1996, McCain gave a eulogy that brought many to tears. Klein, who on several occasions had written admiringly of the McCain-Ifshin friendship, is now using it as an illustration of how McCain has allegedly betrayed his old ideals by hypocritically criticizing Obama over his association (predictably, Klein characterizes it as “passing”) with Ayers.

“If you want to know why I – like so many others – held John McCain in such high regard for so long,” Klein writes, “it had a lot to do with David Ifshin. And if you want to know why my opinion of him has plummeted, it has something to do with William Ayers.”

But just how much of a similarity is there between Ifshin – who, it should be noted, never belonged to a group that planted bombs – and Ayers? Here’s how McCain himself spoke about Ifshin two years ago at Columbia University:

He had come once to the capital of the country that held me prisoner, that deprived me and my dearest friends of our most basic rights, and that murdered some of us. He came to that place to denounce our country’s involvement in the war that had led us there. His speech was broadcast into our cells. I thought it a grievous wrong and I still do.A few years later, he had moved temporarily to a kibbutz in Israel. He was there during the Yom Kippur War, when he witnessed the support America provided our beleaguered ally. He saw the huge cargo planes bearing the insignia of the United States Air Force rushing emergency supplies into that country. And he had an epiphany. He had believed America had made a tragic mistake and done a terrible injustice by going to Vietnam, and he still did. But he realized he had let his criticism temporarily blind him to his country’s generosity and the goodness that most Americans possess, and he regretted his failing deeply.

There’s why Klein, in addition to defaming the memory of David Ifshin, is so ludicrously off the mark with his sad comparison. Can anyone – even a hopelessly compromised Obama groupie – say of Ayers that he “realized he had let his criticism temporarily blind him to his country’s generosity and the goodness that most Americans possess, and he regretted his failing deeply”?

In a 1988 column, William F. Buckley quoted Ifshin as saying, “I have agonized every day of my life” about his conduct in Vietnam. Ayers, to be sure, has also agonized over his past, famously telling The New York Times in an interview that ran on Sept. 11, 2001, “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.”

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

LBJ and Israel

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Lyndon Baines Johnson, born 100 years ago this week, came from a part of the country where Jews were about as common as a herd of cattle in Manhattan.

But in 1939, while still a young and relatively powerless congressman, Johnson was moved enough by reports of Jewish suffering in Europe to begin raising money and pulling whatever strings were necessary – not all of them legal – to save as many Jews as he could from the Nazis. Over the next few years, hundreds of Jews were issued counterfeit passports and visas and brought to Johnson’s home state of Texas, where they began new lives in the safety and security of America.

Two decades later, in December 1963, shortly after he became president, Johnson was in Austin to dedicate a new synagogue. Many of the Jews he saved during the war were on hand, and time had not dimmed their gratitude. Dry eyes were scarce that day, and Mrs. Johnson proudly recorded in her diary that “Person after person plucked at my sleeve and said, ‘I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him. He helped me get out.’”

Johnson’s affinity for Jews stemmed from early familial influences – his paternal grandfather and a number of other relatives were members of the Christadelphian movement, a group of fundamentalist Christians who believed the Jews would one day return to Palestine and create a new Jewish state. His grandfather would admonish young Lyndon to “Take care of the Jews. Consider them your friends and help them any way you can.”

To a Jewish group in 1968, Johnson said: “Most if not all of you have very deep ties with the land and the people of Israel, as I do. The Bible stories are woven into my childhood memories as the gallant struggle of modern Jews to be free of persecution is also woven into our souls.”

Johnson’s rise to prominence in Washington – he went on from the House to the Senate where in 1955 he became the youngest majority leader in history – coincided with Israel’s birth and early years. Johnson was one of Israel’s strongest backers in Congress, never more so than during the Suez crisis and its aftermath in late 1956 and early 1957, when President Eisenhower distanced himself from Israel and demanded that it immediately return the just-captured Sinai to Egypt.

Though the prevailing mood in Washington favored a bipartisan foreign policy – as a popular adage had it, “politics stops at the water’s edge” – Johnson fought the administration from day one of the crisis, and soon others in Congress, Republicans as well as Democrats, followed his lead. Ultimately, Eisenhower prevailed and Israel withdrew from the Sinai. There soon followed, however, a distinct softening in the administration’s public demeanor toward Israel – a change many believe attributable, at least in part, to Eisenhower’s desire to avoid another bruising battle with Johnson over Middle East policy.

Jews active on behalf of Israel in those years, particularly the Washington-based lobbyists, valued Johnson’s outspokenness and consistency. Si Kennen, director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) during that period, echoed the sentiments of his colleagues when he offered this succinct evaluation of Johnson: “Front-rank, pro-Israel.”

* * * * *

The Kennedy-Johnson Democratic presidential ticket of 1960 was purely a marriage of convenience. Merely disliked by President Kennedy, Johnson was despised by the president’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Convinced of their cultural superiority, the Ivy League types in the Kennedy inner circle laughed at everything from Johnson’s Texas accent to the schools he’d attended to his wheeler-dealer persona – and thought it just terribly gauche and lowbrow that his wife, born Claudia Alta Taylor, was known to one and all as Lady Bird.

Behind the condescension, however, was a very real sense of insecurity. The Kennedy brothers feared Johnson for his political acumen and his intimate relationship with Washington’s movers and shakers, particularly FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who knew all the secrets and scandals that lurked beneath the capital’s pristine fa?ade, including the very dark side of John Kennedy that would remain hidden from the public for years after Kennedy’s death.

In its Middle East policy the Kennedy administration made little effort to change the evenhanded approach pursued by its predecessors. As part of an all-out effort to win the affections of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Kennedy pushed hard for large increases in aid to Egypt and, in early 1962, following an Israeli retaliatory strike in Syria, instructed his UN ambassador to vote to condemn Israel in the Security Council.

Kennedy also constantly prodded Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on the issue of Arab refugees – Secretary of State Dean Rusk wanted Israel to agree to take back at least 10 percent of the total number of Arabs who had left Israel since 1948 – and even more so on Israel’s nuclear ambitions.

The true scope of Israel’s nuclear program was far greater than Ben-Gurion was prepared to let on, and the Israeli government had its hands full as it tried to allay the Kennedy administration’s growing unease. When, after much wrangling and delay, the White House finally agreed to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Israel – the first arms deal between the two countries – one of the conditions the U.S. insisted on was that it be allowed to conduct a close inspection of Israel’s nuclear facility at Dimona.

The Israeli government finally acquiesced, but inspection of the actual plant was avoided by an elaborate – and costly – sleight of hand. As Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman describe it, “False walls were erected, doorways and elevators hidden, and dummy installations were built to show the Americans, who found no evidence of the weapons program secreted underground.”

* * * * *

Once the trauma of Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 began to wear off and Johnson settled in as president, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel quickly soared to new heights. In The Bomb in the Basement, his history of Israel’s procurement of nuclear weapons, Israeli author Michael Karpin writes that “as soon as [Johnson] entered the White House the pressure on Israel on the Dimona issue ceased.”

And while Kennedy’s final budget, for fiscal year 1964, allocated $40 million in aid to Israel, Johnson’s first budget, for fiscal year 1965, set aside $71 million – an extraordinary increase of 75 percent. The amount nearly doubled in 1966, to $130 million.

Beyond the numbers, the precise nature and terms of the aid signaled a dramatic break with past American policy. Development loans and surplus food had constituted the extent of U.S. aid under Eisenhower and Kennedy, and the anti-aircraft missiles sold to Israel by the Kennedy administration required a cash payment. Johnson changed all that: Not only did he become the first American president to sell offensive weapons to Israel (the missiles from Kennedy were defensive), but from now on the Israelis would be permitted to buy American arms with American aid money, which meant no funds would have to leave Israel’s hard-pressed government coffers.

As a result of the new arrangement, the percentage of American aid to Israel earmarked for military expenditures rose dramatically, more than tripling between 1965 and 1967. By the middle of 1966, the Israelis were purchasing military hardware the type of which would have been unthinkable under prior administrations, including four-dozen Skyhawk bomber attack planes and more than 200 M-48 tanks (despite the objection of Pentagon officials, who told Johnson they’d prefer Israel buy its tanks from the British or the Germans).

Meanwhile, responding to a large increase of Russian military aid to the radical regimes in Egypt, Syria and Iraq, the Johnson administration armed what at the time were regarded as the more conservative, anti-Soviet Arab states in the region: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Lebanon, Morocco and Libya. Ironically, supplying arms to some Arab nations made it that much easier for Johnson to deal with those in the foreign policy and defense bureaucracies who objected to selling sophisticated weaponry to Israel. He would point out to them that he was simply maintaining the Arab-Israeli balance of power.

* * * * *

In mid-May 1967, as Israel marked its 19th anniversary, Nasser in quick succession massed the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula; demanded removal of the United Nations Emergency Force that since 1957 had kept the peace on the Egyptian-Israeli border; and blockaded the Straits of Tiran to ships bound to and from the Israeli port of Eilat.

The latter constituted a technical act of war and capped a period of increasing tension in the region as Johnson ordered the Sixth Fleet to the eastern Mediterranean. There followed two weeks of frenzied diplomatic maneuvering, with Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban hopscotching across Europe and the United States in an effort to diffuse the situation by diplomatic means.

Elected president in his own right by a historic margin in 1964, Johnson had seen his popularity and stature steadily diminish in the wake of his overreaching Great Society domestic programs and the widespread sense that America was mired in a no-win war in Vietnam. Now Johnson had to turn his attention from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and try to prevent a crisis from becoming a war.

The administration took pains to appear neutral. Johnson repeatedly warned the Israelis against striking first, but was unable to come up with a successful alternative strategy. Meanwhile, Israel had mobilized its reserves and each passing day took another devastating bite out of the country’s already precarious economy. The Arab world, for its part, was caught up in war fever as Jordan’s King Hussein, following the example set by Syria six months earlier, signed a mutual defense pact with Nasser

“Johnson,” said Ephraim Evron, the influential minister at the Israeli embassy in Washington, “tried to organize an international naval force [to break the blockade], but it didn’t work. He also sent letters and envoys to Cairo to persuade President Nasser to reduce the tension by returning to the status quo ante, but in vain. We knew that, in the end, we would have to shatter the blockade ourselves.”

What Johnson knew, thanks to highly classified CIA and armed-forces intelligence reports, was that U.S. defense experts were predicting a swift Israeli victory in the event of war. General Earle Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would later recall: “I told [Johnson] that our best estimate was that if there was a war, that the Israelis would win it in five to seven days. He asked me to go back and check this out and talk to him again. I did, and I came back and told him exactly the same thing – that there’s just no question; that the way the two sides lined up in the air and on the ground, the Israelis would win.”

This was an assessment shared by Israel’s own military leaders, who pushed hard for Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, a cautious man by nature, to give the word for a pre-emptive strike. That word finally came on Sunday, June 4, and the Israeli air force went on the attack early the next morning, destroying nearly all of Egypt’s serviceable military aircraft as they sat on their runways. Subsequent bombing runs against Jordanian and Syrian air bases sealed Israel’s victory even as fierce ground combat commenced on three fronts.

One incident that marred Israel’s victory and threatened the country’s relationship with the U.S. was the deadly attack by Israeli forces on the USS Liberty, an American electronic surveillance ship operating off the Sinai coast. During the assault, which Israel afterward called a terrible mistake, the Liberty was torpedoed and strafed for more than an hour. The final casualty count totaled 34 Americans dead and 171 wounded.

Just how livid the Americans were can be gauged by the reaction of Johnson adviser Clark Clifford, for decades as staunch an advocate of Israel as they came in Washington (and the man chiefly responsible for keeping Harry Truman on a pro-Zionist course in 1947 and ’48). Clifford thought “it was inconceivable that [the attack] was an accident” and urged the president to respond to the incident “as if the Arabs or the Russians had done it.”

Despite his own doubts about the Israeli version of events, Johnson downplayed the tragedy even as Clifford and several other top aides urged him to at least insist the Israeli government punish those responsible. Israel made a formal apology and paid several million dollars in compensation to the families of the dead Americans, but the U.S.-Israel relationship suffered no significant damage.

After the war, Johnson resisted international calls to pressure Israel into relinquishing the vast swaths of territory it had just captured.

* * * * *

If there was one thing that threatened Johnson’s amicable relationship with American Jews – and, by extension, Israel – it was the vocal opposition of Jewish liberals to the war in Vietnam. Johnson felt Jews, of all people, should have understood that South Vietnam, like Israel, was a small nation in constant peril. He complained that Jews “want me to protect Israel, but they don’t want me to do anything in Vietnam.”

At one point during an otherwise friendly discussion with Abba Eban toward the end of his presidency, Johnson remarked, with considerable bitterness, “A bunch of rabbis came here one day in 1967 to tell me that I ought not to send a single screwdriver to Vietnam – but on the other hand should push all our aircraft carriers through the Straits of Tiran to help Israel.”

It was, of course, Vietnam and its poisonous effects on American society that would lead Johnson to forgo seeking a second full term of office. He left the White House in January 1969 a broken man, vilified as perhaps no president in American history up to that time. He died four years later, not yet 65 but looking like a man two decades older.

Whatever else can be said of Lyndon Johnson, he proved to be a true friend of the Jews and Israel. He proved it as a young lawmaker when, with limited clout and resources, he did everything he could to get as many Jews as possible out of Europe; he proved it as one of Israel’s strongest and most important backers in Congress during the Jewish state’s early years; and he proved it as president by granting Israel then-unprecedented levels of financial and military aid and by refusing, in marked contrast to Eisenhower’s actions after the Suez crisis of 1956, to force unilateral concessions on Israel following the Six-Day War.

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.”

Horrid Generation

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Dennis Prager, the sometimes controversial, always thought-provoking radio host and syndicated columnist, wrote a column last week on the legacy the baby boom generation has bequeathed to younger Americans.

“We live in the age of group apologies,” wrote Prager. “I would like to add one. The baby boomer generation needs to apologize to America, especially its young generation, for many sins.”

One of those sins, according to Prager, is the mindless pacifism espoused by Sixties-era liberals and leftists and passed down to their ideological heirs – a pacifism neatly summarized by the popular 1960’s slogan “Make love, not war.”

“Our parents,” Prager continued, “had liberated the world from immeasurably cruel and murderous regimes in Germany and Japan – solely thanks to waging war. But instead of concluding that war could do great moral good, we sang ourselves silly with such inane lyrics as ‘Give peace a chance,’ as if that deals in any way with the world’s most monstrous evils. So we taught you to make love and not war. And we succeeded.”

The column struck a chord because the Monitor has long viewed baby boomers as the most overindulged, overrated, self-infatuated and self-destructive generation America has produced to date. (Full disclosure: the Monitor’s alter-ego is very much a part of that horrid generation.)

There are many things about the boomers that the Monitor disdains, perhaps none more than the baseless claim – repeated so often it’s been virtually inscribed as historical fact – that antiwar boomers basically shut down the Vietnam War.

Of course, even if one accepts the premise that the antiwar movement ended America’s involvement in Vietnam, the fact is that most of the more intelligent opponents of that war, and certainly just about all of those with the means and influence to do something about it – elected officials, journalists, financial contributors to political parties – were born well before 1946, the start of the baby boom era.)

But the reality is that antiwar activists – of whatever age – were in no way responsible for ending the war.

All the major public opinion polls of that era, from the first stirrings of antiwar sentiment in 1965 to the mass demonstrations four and five years later, showed that the majority of Americans remained more or less supportive of their government’s policy in Southeast Asia.

The peace candidate Eugene McCarthy’s near victory in the 1968 New Hampshire primary was fueled in great measure by voters who felt the Johnson administration was not being aggressive enough in its prosecution of the war.

Many of those McCarthy voters actually went on to support the third-party candidacy of the Vietnam hawk George Wallace in the November general election.

As late as 1972 – a full eight years after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, four years after the Tet offensive, three years after revelation of the My Lai massacre and two years after the National Guard shootings at Kent State – the Democratic presidential nominee, George McGovern, running on an unambiguous vow to stop the war, suffered a loss of cataclysmic proportions to President Richard Nixon.

By then, of course, the antiwar movement itself had largely petered out as the Nixon administration implemented a series of troop withdrawals and the draft gave way to an all-volunteer armed forces.

Rather than give credit to the antiwar movement for stopping the war, it’s at least as valid to suggest that the turmoil created by the movement served further to paralyze U.S. policy makers, whose aims in Vietnam were never very clear to begin with.

After all, the war in Vietnam, at least in terms of Americans fighting and dying, lasted three times as long as the Korean conflict of the 1950’s – a war that, by way of comparison, elicited minimal backlash on the home front.

Speaking of the baby boom generation, former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw is out with a new book, Boom!, a follow-up of sorts to his mega-seller The Greatest Generation, which chronicled a generation that, unlike its boomer offspring, actually did end a war, defeating Germany and Japan in World War II.

Boom! makes for interesting reading, but for a more substantial – and sobering – look at boomers and what they wrought, see Peter Collier and David Horowitz’s Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/horrid-generation/2007/12/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: