Kennedy Not What He Is Now Cracked Up to Be

RECEIVED Mon., Nov. 10, 2003

   I know the JFK-as-a-man-of-peace narrative holds some essential place in the liberal world-view, but can't hagiography at least occasionally give way to fact? I also know that Robert Faires ["Watchmen on the Walls of Freedom," Nov. 7] is "just" writing about music, but does that exempt his rhapsody from fact checking?
   Actually, a fact checker couldn't have commented on the worst parts of Faires' article, the exclusions. The big one, of course, is Vietnam, which Kennedy inherited, yes, but which he dramatically escalated. "But," wail the defenders of Camelot, "he had plans to pull us out." Again, fantasy trumps reality: The actual historical record on this question is ambiguous at best; at worst, it seems to indicate that he was prepared to ratchet up the violence. Faires also excludes Kennedy's other adventures in imperialism: the Bay of Pigs; his support for military coups, El Salvador in 1961 and Guatemala in 1963; a massive increase in military aid to the brutal dictator Somoza in Nicaragua. Those are just a few of the foreign-policy accomplishments of those glorious 1,000 days.
   The few concrete examples Faires uses to illustrate Kennedy's "shift toward ... tolerance and hope" are pretty weak. Yes, he proposed the civil rights act, but it was Johnson that risked political capital to get it passed. We also know that he viewed MLK and the activists who were fighting on the streets more with suspicion than admiration. And then there's the Peace Corps. Ah yes, the Peace Corps. Somehow it doesn't seem like sending a few thousand people around the globe to help the miserable patch their mud huts expiates for the 5 million who eventually died in Indochina because of the war he started there.
   So what's left? Well, Faires is right, Kennedy did make a commitment to get us to the moon. Perhaps he truly was a Voice of Peace after all.
Eric Beck
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle