Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Kennedy: America at its Best?

Friends, this week's Newsmaker Show with me and Brian O'Neil explores the legacy and reputation of President John F. Kennedy, as well as the role of Boris Yeltsin in the Cold War, the evolution of racial attitudes in the northern states during the Civil War, and the historical significance of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.  We also talk Brexit and Nigel Farage, and we look at the prospects for a reversal of Roe vs. Wade and for a successful challenge to NY Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2022.  Don't miss it!


  1. Dr. Waddy: Its interesting that a heraldic device would be of offense to Mass. leftists; it helps to support the view that they regard all history before Marx in the mid 1800's as relevant only in light of Marxist interpretation. Being of that condemned era, it is to them a manifestation only of utterly discredited exploitation, rather than an important symbol in the development of today's regime of prosperity and freedom.

    Farage's vision of a divorced UK yet amenable to trade deals with the EU is a big winner. Within the EU the UK is but one designated percentage of EU decision making, not only on economic matters but assuredly on social and perhaps even military matters and the Brits cannot give up their sovereignty on this to such as Germany, France, Italy and even Latvia.They are GREAT Britain and are historically proven so.

    Kennedy: Much of his appeal and his perceived appeal is based on his stylistic differences with President Eisenhower and its supposed benefit.

    Eisenhower was a proven leader of mass enterprises and his Presidency had been one graced by his wise and courageous stewardship of his office. Oh, he and Mamie were of a fashionable status eclipsed by the jet set Kennedys, yes. What benefit, then, did the nation derive from the Kennedy ascension? The Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly vaporized every 10th one of us and which would not have occured under an Eisenhower or Nixon Presidency known by the Soviets to be under no illusions about them.

  2. Jack, it doesn't surprise me in the least that a common heraldic device would offend the Left. Binary concepts of gender offend them too. The mere existence of men, for that matter, is scarcely tolerable to them. These are people who have made taking offense a way of life!

    I share your low appraisal of Kennedy, as must be obvious by now, but I do think there is some truth in the idea that he held back from attacking Cuba in 1962, which would have been truly catastrophic. Whether that's sage judgement or just cowardice, I'm not sure. But as you say, he got us into the mess in the first place. I wonder if Eisenhower or Nixon would have handled the Bay of Pigs differently, and would therefore have ended the Castro regime then and there? I like to think so.

  3. Dr. Waddy: My opinion, Yeltsin was a heroic opportunist. He seized the moment but he was in constant mortal danger. No wonder he liked his glass.

    An observation certainly worthy of a professional historian to note the connection between the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople and the beginning of the European voyages to the Americas. Never realized that.

    A Civil War regiment typically started with about 1000 men; so the 54th Mass regiment would have been equalled in size many times over in the 400,000 black men who fought for the Union. That total is approximately 5 times the size of the Union army at Gettysburg ; they made an arguably decisive difference.

  4. Dr. Waddy: Its hard to imagine Eisenhower botching the job as Kennedy did with the Bay of Pigs; I wonder if JFK consulted him at all.

    Kennedy was a reckless libertine and I'm convinced that put us all at hazard from the hard nosed and austere Russians, who saw it as weakness. But he had demonstrated considerable visceral courage in WWII. His physical travails in the latter part of his life tortured him and necessitated his being plied with numerous drugs. On the face of it, at least, he was gutsy in standing up to the Soviets but the soundness of his overall judgement must be questioned.

    Apparently Eisenhower had a fairly low regard for Nixon, though I wonder if that continued after Nixon's resolute "Kitchen Debate" (imagine the irony of discussing American household prosperity with a mass murderer and I don't doubt Nixon knew just what he was dealing with) with Khrushchev in 1958 during K's visit to the U.S. (Just imagine what was going through K's mind - "why I'd squash these people like bugs"). Would Nixon have pursued a different path on Cuban communism 90 miles from Florida? I would doubt he would have launched the Bay of Pigs, he was far more diplomatically subtle than that but I do not doubt at all that he would have reacted decisively to Soviet placement of IRBMs in Cuba. Just think K wouldn't have tried to pull that on him. Now, how else would K have reacted to the pressure his hardliners were putting on him to deal with the intolerable Allied presence in the Berlin the Russian soldier had conquered? An assault on Berlin would certainly have started a NATO - Soviet war. Perhaps K would have turned to the Middle East somehow or perhaps he would have been overthrown in 1962. But, then, the Red Army never did supplant the Soviet leadership. So, (?)

    Your point about the left being ever ready to take offense is well taken. They are perfectionists and will never be satisfied. We must settle on that reality and recognize that our course is clear; compromise with or trust of them is folly. We must defeat them; no less than that will prevent them from working their untenable, amoral and insane dreams on us all.

  5. Hi Jack. I would agree that Yeltsin seems heroic in retrospect, but the word "reckless" might also fit. The unraveling of the Soviet Union in 1991 turned out pretty well in the end, but it was a process fraught with extreme danger for the entire world. What can we say except that Yeltsin rolled the dice (at least twice) and came up a winner...

    I suspect there never would have been Soviet nukes in Cuba to start with were it not for the Kennedy boys' bungling provocations, and the low opinion that Khrushchev had of JFK. Whether Nixon would have launched the Bay of Pigs invasion...that's hard to say. Supposedly it was planned under Eisenhower, so perhaps yes.

    I believe Eisenhower gave Nixon a body blow in 1960 during the campaign when he couldn't think of a single major accomplishment Nixon had notched as VP. Why Eisenhower would look down on Nixon like that is baffling. Nixon was many things, but certainly not a lightweight.

  6. Dr. Waddy: Its hard to say perhaps. Nixon HAD done much good by rightfully pursuing Alger Hiss and courageously defending himself in the 1952 election (the Checkers speech) But Eisenhower was a very great man who had made one of the most gutsy decisions ever on June 6th, 1944. As a career army man he had much experience in sizing up men's characters; was his opinion of Nixon well founded? Maybe he was simply caught off guard on the question about Nixon's accomplishments or maybe in his mind he paired Nixon with McCarthy. Too bad, I think, Nixon was right on Stalinists in the U.S. government and better supported in his assertions than the crude McCarthy (who was on the right track.)

    I didn't know a Cuban invasion was planned under Ike. I wonder how much he had to do with it? How bizarre to think that the architect of D Day could have beaten by Fidel.

  7. Good questions, Jack. I'm not sure why Eisenhower would have had such a low opinion of Nixon. Many people did, though. Plus, it's almost normal for VPs to be put out to pasture. It was fateful disdain, though, because if Eisenhower had helped Nixon over the finish line in 1960 the country might have been a very different place...

    You can see here that the Bay of Pigs invasion was planned during the Eisenhower administration, and executed by Kennedy:

    Some speculate that the Eisenhower administration would have done whatever was necessary to ensure the invasion was successful. Of course, we'll never know for sure...

  8. Dr. Waddy: Thank you for the link; I read it and other on line sources on the subject of the invasion.

    In my opinion, the most important line in your link was that Eisenhower intended "considerable air power" in his plan.Kennedy clearly did not enable that. Whether, under Eisenhower or Nixon that would have come directly from the U.S. military,I cannot discern either from the linked article or other sources. Eisenhower did appear to be willing to disguise U.S. involvement. Why, when and how? Remember, Ike had been let down by the air forces at Omaha Beach.

    The key, I think, is the Castro - Khrushchev meeting in NYC in Sept. of 1960, which appeared to incorporate Cuba into what we perceived then as the "Sino - Soviet bloc". After that, it may have been reasonable for any American President to consider that an allout U.S. attack on Cuba might have drawn the Soviets or even the Chinese into the conflict. The Soviets might even have seen it as a mirror image of their concern over the U.S. presence in Berlin and have launched a general onslaught in Western Europe. We cannot gainsay the American leaders of that time that concern.

    Let's also consider: Kennedy brought with him many of the Ivy League "whiz kids" he so admired and they bade him take a view far more subtle than that of the WWII leadership. Their studied guidance was thoroughly discredited in Vietnam but that was to be.They may have advised him to be subtle and measured in his response to Soviet power 90 miles from our shores. And that appears to have motivated him to hesitate, to demur, at the Bay of Pigs. He and Eisenhower had hoped that a beach head of anti Castro force would have given rise to a popular rising against Fidel. Eisenhower or Nixon, would, I trust, have enabled the establishment of the beach head with what he knew to be adequate force and had it involved direct confrontation with the Soviet Migs which did threaten the attack, have recalled the Berlin Airlift and Korea.

    Still, apparently Ike urged Kennedy to carry out the invasion.

  9. Correct, Jack. Kennedy seems to have been egged on by all sides to try an invasion of Cuba. We can't fault him for doing so. HOW he did it is another matter. As you say, the Kennedy boys had a tendency to assume they were smarter than the experts, and the old hands like Ike. Maybe the Bay of Pigs began to convince them otherwise. Then again, maybe not, because they followed up that failure with a variety of hare-brained, provocative initiatives in Cuba that guaranteed increased Soviet attention.

    Above all, one might rate the Bay of Pigs as a failure of U.S. intel, though, which anticipated a popular rising in support of the exiles. That wouldn't be the last time that we would massively misconstrue public opinion in the Third World...

    My opinion would be that public opinion didn't matter much, however, if we were prepared to use the full weight of U.S. power against Castro. I agree that there would have been some risk of Soviet retaliation, but not much, because they would have had no good options, without a toe-hold in the Western Hemisphere. Retaliate against West Berlin? Only if they had a death wish!

  10. Dr Waddy: That certainly makes sense: the Soviets had no aircraft carriers and until the IRBMs popped up in Cuba, no means of projecting power in the Western Hemisphere except, perhaps,crude missile launching subs.

    I wonder what the Russian hardliners would have done if they had had the power to do so. K feared their intentions; perhaps with good reason. Maybe he simply foresaw his own deposition and reasonably expected demise at their hands. They had to have put alot of credible pressure on him to motivate him to appease them by putting the nukes in Cuba. What if he hadn't? What if they had eliminated him? Apparently the Kennedy brothers thought, in the very midst of the Cuban Missile crisis, that that had happened. Would they have moved against West Berlin? Informed commentary I have read maintains that there was a significant trend among Soviet military minds in the '80's and early '90's that a nuclear war could be won (this would have to have presumed American stand down short of a general exchange; underestimation of American resolve, based at least in 1941 on misperceptions of American "softness" due to our prosperity, have had historical consequences). Perhaps that view obtained in 1962. That the Russian view of us might have been distorted by historically often seen Russian insularity and perhaps even contempt for our support of them in WWII,is plausible. They are a people much hardened by their climate and their tortuous history. They might have thought us cowards for backing off from entering Berlin perhaps before them, which we did with a good will which was foreign and contemptible to Stalin.

  11. Interesting ruminations. I don't doubt that there were some Soviet strategists who would have liked to be more aggressive in taking on the West, but it strikes me that these hotheads almost never held the balance of power in the Kremlin. That tells you something... Equally, there were American generals who thought war with the Soviet Union could be won. They might even have been right. Still, I think by far the most plausible scenario for WWIII was one involving blunders, not calculated aggression. Blunders, though, lest we forget, are a dime a dozen in we're lucky to be here at all!

  12. Dr. Waddy: Those of us who didn't suffer it may not be able to comprehend the horror of WWII. We cannot dismiss the effect that had to have had on the decision makers of 1962, I would guess.