JFK ~ Today, Where Have All the Flowers Gone / November 2013
|Reliquary photo credit: Frank Parsley|
J. F. K. ~ Today,
Where Have All the Flowers Gone
Leonard Earl Johnson
at an antique store where rummaging is encouraged, I found a dime-store memento from the short days of John F. Kennedy's presidency.
The item is a glazed ceramic rocking chair that looks to be half a pair of salt-and-pepper shakers. It is not. There are no holes, and there is no mate. It is a singular thing that would have been bought for very little money and taken home to place on a whatnot shelf -- a popular shelving unit decorating post- World War II homes of the Johnny-and-Sally's who came marching back again expecting a home. Thanks to the G. I. Bill they got one.
The G. I. Bill field-test proved Keynesian Economics, and created America's World famous post-war prosperity. Much more than war-drummers usually have you think. Today's Con-servitives would have soldiers buying their own uniforms with a government underwritten bank loan that would have them repaying it when they got out, with interest, over the next forty years.
The rocking chair is white with reddish brown highlights on arms and rockers. On the bottom it reads:
In gold, on the headrest are the initials,
We took it home, rinsed it under the kitchen faucet, and placed it on a tea-towel atop the stainless steel surrounding the sink's drainboard. It reminded L. A. Norma of an autopsy room.
Dallas, 22 November 1963,
a week before Thanksgiving,
fifty-years ago this month.
1962 J. F. K. dime-store memento Photo credit: Dave Therrien
I first heard the news in my broker's office. I was 20 years old, and happily on the road to capitalism's reward. I owned twenty-shares of Ozark Airlines!
The sun shined through gathering clouds on the day Kennedy fell. Vietnam was darkening the offing and spreading over the Boomers and me. But our closets bulged. Our bellies were full. And President Eisenhower's National Defense four-lane Highways were spreading like kudzu across the land to carry us aboard our great chrome ships of the land to Dallas and more. Dreamboats were a coming!
Most American wage earners -- for sure if unionized -- could have a camp on a lake. A vacation home! Send their kids to school. Without mortgaging home and future. Free public education was everyone's linchpin to the American Dream
Fifty years after Dallas,
I am in New Orleans taking care of L. A. Norma's turtles. She is on the Sunset Limited, bound for Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, with all of her folks back home.
Our wars in the Middle East roll into their fourteenth, fifteenth or more years. Depending on if you start counting with Papa Bush or Baby Bush. Or JFK, or LBJ, or Ike. Where do you start counting?
The point is we have had lots of wars. And less free education.
We have had oodles of wars! Between Vietnam and now more than you can name. No one can though they had beautiful store-bought names like Rolling Thunder, Island Thumper, Desert Smasher, and such. No one remembers them all or their colossal cost in every form of counting there is.
The Chinese military writer, Sun Tzu wrote in THE ART OF WAR, the oldest military treatise in the world: "If the campaign is protracted, the resources of the state will not be equal to the strain."
Ike was our supreme hero in Europe, builder of highways at home, giver of good times and housing booms. Our war hero president who coined the phrase: "Military Industrial Complex," warning us of its dangerous allure in his farewell address to Congress, in 1961.
John F. Kennedy came next.
Historians love to quote JFK telling television newsman Walter Cronkite, American boys should not continue fighting the battles of Vietnamese boys. In the same interview he also said it would be wrong to abandon Vietnam. (Politicians!)
Robert S. McNamara
was touted by JFK as one of the era's "best and brightest." He was Secretary of Defense -- the cabinet position known in more candid times as Secretary of War -- under both Kennedy and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson.
McNamara was a chief practitioner of a business practice called, "Systems Analysis." Sort'a cost-efficiency gussied up with new jargon allowing artful followers to operate at high profit gusto without social-responsibility or personal guilt: The calculations made me do it, Mama, I'm still a good boy!
Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon was an early critic of American actions in Vietnam, and may have been the first to call the escalation, "McNamara's War." At first McNamara liked it, saying he was proud to be part of such a fast-coming victory. Soon other critics took up the name, and eventually most everyone came to use the term on some level of open ridicule. Everyone except, by this time, Robert McNamara, who spent the last half of his analytic life trying to shake off the moniker.
LBJ tired of him, in part because of pressure from true believers in the war effort who feared McNamara's constant demands for more-force-or-retreat might one day cause LBJ to weaken and retreat. (LBJ did decline standing for a second term.) He fired McNamara in a move so slick McNamara asked an aide if he had resigned or been fired. "Fired," the aide told him,"make no mistake, you were fired." McNamara now found himself dispensed from daily war responsibilities and blessed with ample time to rewrite his history. History will tell how well he did it.
"I know a tremendous joke about this," L. A. Norma texted, from her train crossing Texas:
"This JFK-Conspiracy Theorist dies and goes to heaven.
Saint Peter says to him, 'So you may enter Heaven without Worldly concerns, I will answer any question you have about Earthly matters.'
"The Conspiracy Theorist slaps his forehead and says, 'This is my chance, who shot Kennedy!?'
"Peter says, 'Why, Lee Harvey Oswald'.
"The Theorist cries, 'My God, this goes further than I thought!' "
* * *
The result -- not likely premeditated -- is what we got: Fifty years of wars with vague purpose and still counting. And Con-politicians arguing we have given too much public service to ourselves, and must give up our tax-money-burning education, healthcare, housing, pensions, and maintenance on Ike's Super Highways. Ike's military-industrial warning is never mentioned by these thrifty Con-servatives.
"America's Achilles heel was winning the Second World War?" L. A. Norma texted.
Today, we have six, or nine, or who really knows how many secret agencies working to maintain peace, domestic prosperity and freedom worldwide. At any cost. Including endless war, domestic poverty, and eavesdropping on Angela Merkel.
"Ironic, isn't it?" L. A. Norma texted back.
Had JFK lived
perhaps we would not have had the soul numbing experience of Vietnam, nor the Fabled Sixties counter culture, nor the right wing's persistent drumbeat to save the nation from sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, with ever more police force at home and warfare anywhere, anytime. They got what they asked, and then some. We wanted to be safe and yearly gave the Pentagon over half of the national budget. Who knows how much more to our secret police forces? That is secret. But the last time we looked past their hillocks of funding, we saw sex, drugs and rock-n-roll were still burgeoning industries on the march. Inside and outside the beltway.
Before his death, at 93, McNamara broke silence on the matter and said he had kept quiet out of respect for subsequent American leaders at war, but he, too, thought Kennedy would have ended the war.
considering it was called "McNamara's War."
We have become the World's army-for-hire, and we don't even ask to get paid. Sigh! Actually we pay for the honor. In war-taxes (or none, as in the Bush / Cheney flimflammery) and a depleted economy. We are spent! For what?
"As for Ike's Military Industrial buddies?" Norma asked and answered, "They are all paid bonuses and given tax cuts on their windfall-en war profits.
" 'We deserve it,' they say. 'We are the ones who made the system work. Without us highly paid and un-taxed, we'd just go fishing!'
"We might be better off if they had."
Norma's train was on a long smoke-stop in San Antonio, Texas. I could smell the Camel Cigarette smoke in her text.
Kennedy did not live and we did fight, then, now, and tomorrow. Even the peace president, Obama, says that.
Most everyone, Democrat or Republican, said if we lost Vietnam we would lose something great and important. None ever said what that great important thing was. Not then. Not since.
After more time than we gave to World War II we did lose Vietnam, and by gum, we had lost something very great and very important, belief in Peace without war. It is the way it works.
Demagoguery du Jour?
They have left a big mess,
Regardless who pulled the trigger, wee-the-people took the bullet. And need to stop IT, not service to our community gathered at the well.
A rich, educated, healthy society builds a stronger nation.
New York Times: Obituary, July 6, 2009
Robert S. McNamara, Architect of a Futile War, Dies at 93 ...
Copyright, 2013, Leonard Earl Johnson, all rights reserved