Let’s Not Forget What JFK Did

(Editorial) By: Douglas Matus

DALLAS, TX – While the nation at large prepares to mark the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination on November 22, 1963, few cities have a slate of activities to rival those of Dallas. Dealey Plaza in the West End district, a National Historic Landmark and the site of the assassination, has a weeklong schedule of events and tributes to honor the slain 35th president and cultural icon.

Professional commentators seem consumed with pointless exercises of “what-if,” while the public chooses to remember a legacy defined by the president’s youthful charm and glamorous lifestyle, immortalized in film and the tabloid culture that JFK helped to create. When pressed to name Kennedy’s signal accomplishment, however, or any accomplishment, most people draw a blank. What, exactly, did Kennedy do with his 34 months in the White House?

He did not write the famous inauguration address, justly regarded as one of the greatest in American history. No one really knows who did, but it was certainly a team of professional speechwriters. Kennedy also did not write his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Profiles in Courage,” at least not without substantial help from Theodore Sorensen. While associated with the Civil Rights movement, Kennedy left it to his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas, to bully the Civil Rights Act through a hesitant Congress. Even his image as a family man, the fairytale of Camelot, has been revealed as a tawdry sham, thanks to well-documented instances of JFK’s extra-marital “encounters.”

At the bottom of the tally sheet, John F. Kennedy only accomplished three things while president. The first was the creation of the Peace Corps. The second was the initiation of the Vietnam War, which came from Kennedy’s blind acceptance of Eisenhower’s domino theory. The third accomplishment came when, through political inexperience and pointless posturing, Kennedy brought the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. 

Only three months after his inauguration, Kennedy approved the Bay of Pigs operation, a disastrous fiasco of an attempt to assassinate the overwhelmingly popular leader of the Cuban people, Fidel Castro. To compound this blunder, Kennedy’s pointless and incorrect remarks about a ‘missile gap’ provoked an arms race with the Soviet Union, which culminated in Khrushchev’s deployment of 90 missiles to Cuban bases. For thirteen days, the world stood at the edge of a nuclear abyss. Finally, Kennedy relented and agreed to remove missiles from southern Italy and Turkey. Khrushchev responded with the prompt removal of the Cuban stockpile.

The Cuban Missile Crisis has become a textbook case of political negotiation and brinkmanship, and for propagandistic, nationalistic and myopic reasons, many U.S. historians have labeled Kennedy the winner of the exchange. Intelligent observers should not fail to recognize the episode for what it was, however: a particularly egregious instance of the “cowboy” diplomacy and cultural ignorance that has marked United States foreign policy ever since. George W. Bush has garnered widespread condemnation for his foreign policy; yet even he never threatened the loss of tens of millions of American lives over a virtual pissing contest. The assassination of any justly elected public official is a tragedy and travesty of the democratic process. Yet in the case of JFK, the degree of public mourning could stand a slight recalibration.

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//People can disagree or agree with the writers' point of view, but it would be hard to argue his facts. What was really hard to swallow during the weeks leading up to Nov 22 in Dallas was the endless sermons from the Dallas Morning News. With feigned "journalistic impartiality," the Belo paper gently led readers to conclude that 1) Dallas wasn't really all that bad in 1963 and 2) the city has gotten past all that and is now a model of moderation. What makes it so bitter is that the Morning News wasn't just observing in 1963 and they aren't just observing now. They were and are a rabid anti-worker newspaper that distinguished itself by leading the pack in anti-Kennedy fever in 1963. On the day of his murder, the Morning News ran a full page anti-Kennedy ad! They were not and aren't impartial, and they have never been observers! If one looks beneath the cruddy surface of most rotten things that happened in Dallas in the last century, one will find lurking the Dallas Morning News! -- Jim Lane//