Sunday, 5 January 2014

Kennedy's words on November 22nd 1963.

I've just been flicking through Ira Stoll's book on John F Kennedy. The Stoll thesis is that the Kennedy administration was a conservative rather than a liberal government. He points to Kennedy's record in economics, as well as in foreign policy, to support his case. This seems to me to be at least healthy in terms of historical inquiry. The American empire, if it is in long-term decline, should be at the beginning of a lot of self-reflection that may not be very pleasant, but it is necessary medicine. The way in which the Vietnam war is conceptualised is key to this. The Kennedy legend is a big part of that and has to be dislodged for a proper critique of imperialism. Not that I expect that, or should expect such a thing, from an intelligent conservative columnist and analyst such as Mr Stoll. It is not to herald Kennedy as a conservative icon, but to deal with the hagiography around him.

A good chapter in Stoll's book is on the day of the assassination itself. Kennedy was set to deliver a speech prating on the fortunes of tax-cuts (for the upper-crust) and the boost to the war budget. That was the speech that the assassination prevented. Nothing a peacenik ought to scoff at. Fortunately, Kennedy did manage to speak publicly and proudly of his achievements earlier that day. It was at a breakfast at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce that the President stated:

We have increased the defense budget of the United States by over 20%; increased the program of acquisition for Polaris submarines from 24 to 41; increased our Minutemen missile purchase program by more than 75%; doubled the number of strategic bombers and missiles on alert; doubled the number of nuclear weapons available in the strategic alert forces; increased the tactical nuclear forces deployed in Western Europe by over 60%; added five combat ready divisions to the Army of the United States, and five tactical fighter wings to the Air Force of the United States; increased counter-insurgency forces which are engaged now in South Vietnam by 600%.

So there goes the line that the President was a dove looking to slam the breaks on the American war-machine. I've already stated my position on the various theories around the assassination, and Stoll's book interests me precisely because I don't see Kennedy as a heroic liberal figure. I think this quote supports the line that I have taken up. Specifically, that the Kennedy administration was completely wedded to the imperial project of asserting the power that the US had gained in the climax of WW2. The Vietnam war is to be considered a part of the efforts to maintain this hegemonic stance and to snuff out the currents of independence in the region. In fact, the US more or less accomplished this aim by installing dictatorships in Indonesia and the Philippines while bombing Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam into the Jurassic period. The ripples off of these events would leave millions dead in Cambodia and Indonesia (including a genocide in East Timor) on top of the bloodbath in Vietnam. It was all for stability. You can tell it went well because the East Asian economies almost fell into an abyss in the 1990s.

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