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May 29, 2015 / 11 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

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.

Kneidlach And Machine Guns

Friday, January 30th, 2004

Kneidlach And Machine Guns: G.I. Joseph – Ours To Fight For: American Jews In The Second World War’

 

The Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust

18 First Place, Battery Park City, N.Y., N.Y.; (212) 509 6130.

Sunday-Wednesday, 9a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday, 9a.m.-3 p.m.
$7 adults, $5 children.



Introducing Menachem Wecker, Guest Columnist, who will henceforth appear regularly on this page.


The wide variety of bric-a-brac that fills a soldier’s pockets, backpack and other gear becomes the medium of exploration in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” his examination of Vietnam era soldiers. A writer who fought in Vietnam and who now is a visiting
creative writing professor and endowed chair at Southwest Texas State University, O’Brien uses the things soldiers carry as a window into the soldiers’ innermost desires and dreams.

The special exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage “Ours To Fight For: American Jews In The Second World War” pursues a similar tactic concerning the Jewish soldier at war, with particular attention to the 550,000 Jews who fought in World War II. Jewish soldiers, to be
sure, found a twofold struggle confounding them; beyond the horrors of war that O’Brien describes, anti-Semitism arose all too readily, while kashrus was much harder to come by.

“Ours To Fight For” casts a spotlight on candles lit in foxholes along with wine and salami sent by Mom to welcome the Sabbath. The Jewish military paraphernalia – Tefillin, candles, and assorted other ceremonial objects – show how dearly some cling to religious identity, even
amidst chaotic machine gun fire.

Rather than preserve the traditional, remote observation point, the exhibit makes some fascinating curatorial decisions, which heave the viewer directly into battle. The viewer becomes eyewitness in a journey that calls for navigation through a life-sized diorama of tight,
claustrophobic spaces of wooden-planked barracks, a uniform closet, an old-style movie theater and caged, jail-like structures, all set on cold, concrete floors.

On the waterside in Battery Park, the Museum of Jewish Heritage is divided between a permanent collection in one building – which contains three chronologically arranged floors addressing the pre-war era, the Holocaust and then Zionism – and a newly opened building which houses special exhibits in the Robert M. Morgenthau Wing. A memorial rock garden
that uses stones, trees and soil to express the purity and primacy of nature, Garden of Stones surrounds the museum and lends it a sculptural feel.

Where the younger generation finds World War II reducible to a set of old photographs, assorted memoirs and The Diary of a Young Girl, the Museum of Jewish Heritage clings fiercely to Holocaust images that sadly fade away with every survivor’s passing. The Museum
employs a multimedia network of video and sound documentation to enliven and to personalize the historical data, but as viewers walk from room to room, they feel that they see merely a small part of the whole, while video reels and sounds permeate the space. Unfortunately, one never sees or hears everything.

This distinct feeling of partial portraits tragically neglects the unknown masses of victims. This omission seems especially important now to American Jews in the wake of the war on terrorism. The viewer will do well to forget the questions of war, though. “Ours To Fight For”
pays tribute to the soldiers, who unfortunately walk too often in anonymity. “My feeling was, I wanted [the Germans] to know that the bombs that were dropping,” said Bernard Branson, U.S. Army Air Corps, “there was a Jew up there doing it.”

As the viewer sifts through a closet of uniforms, army boots and helmets, with glass cases of Kiddush cups, Tefillin, candles and mezuzahs embedded within, he distinctly relates to the torn identity of the Jewish soldier. “I saw more men die cursing or asking for their mothers, than praying,” says Photographer’s Mate 2C Paul Guttman, US Navy.

An unlikely juxtaposition further complicates matters. T4 Marvin Weissman’s bag shows a tool of war irrevocably intertwined with one of beauty. “I had room for my clarinet and my Tommy gun on a little shelf to the right,” he says. This installation recalls a case in the museum’s permanent collection featuring a Talith and violin. Symbolically, one sees Jewish identity, hope and the stark evils of war, thrown together in a distinctly realistic manner. The Goya-like pragmatism frightens and inspires. In an interrogation with an anonymous German POW, Captain Bentley Kassal, U.S. Army Air Forces asked if he ever anticipated capture by a Jewish soldier. “I could tell the animosity and hatred in his eyes,” he said. “I made my point.”

And that point still endures today. Through the accounts of capture as “my vision of Dante’s Inferno,” through the indescribable “sense of what it’s like to be in fear, every day, all day,” Jewish soldiers stand firmly, not to mourn, but to remind and to teach. “You just don’t
have an opportunity to mourn,” says Pfc. Marvin Margoshes, US Army. “You just don’t have time.”

Images of the powerful Jew – the armed Jew – overflow from the museum’s third floor permanent collection on Zionism, into the special exhibition hall. Underlying all the pain and the sadness and the losses that can never be repaid, stands the modern Israeli soldier that Rav A. Y. Kook never saw, but dreamed of.

The exhibition closes with the testimony of the troops who liberated the camps. One soldier recounts speaking with a nun who was so visibly shaken upon discovering he was Jewish, that he knew something awful had occurred. Like that soldier, the viewer learned as if for the first time, of the unfathomable horrors of the death camps, and thus, the exhibit truly leads the viewer through the soldiers’ experiences. It further underscores the help Americans provided to survivors in the war’s aftermath.

And finally, the Robert M. Morgenthau Wing opens onto a sunlit room with tall windows overlooking the Statue of Liberty. The beautiful waves and symbolism offer hope in the wake of a frightful war that – close to 60 years later – we are still fighting.

Visit the MJH online at http://www.mjhnyc.org/index.htm and for more information on “Ours To Fight For” including short videos, see http://www.ourstofightfor.org/index.jsp


Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the Yeshiva University Commentator. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art.
He may be reached at wecker@yu.edu  

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/kneidlach-and-machine-guns/2004/01/30/

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