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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the anthologies: FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Friday, November 01, 2013

JFK ~ Today, Where Have All the Flowers Gone / November 2013

Reliquary                                                          photo credit: Frank Parsley 

Yours Truly in a Swamp

November 2013

Leonard Earl Johnson
of New Orleans and Lafayette

*  *  *

J.  F. K. ~ Today,

Where Have All the Flowers Gone

Leonard Earl Johnson

* * *

In Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
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: 

"c. ARROW 1962 NYC 
Made in Japan,
in black letters. 
In gold, on the headrest are the initials,
 "J. F. K."

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."

* * *

A United State's military incursion operated in Vietnam since the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. "I Like Ike," was his motto, and we did. By the landslides. He was the last president America loved the next morning. (The cigarette after Ronald Reagan is still being smoked). 

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!

McNamara came from the Ford Motor Company and if he read Sun Tzu -- and likely he did -- he clearly did not heed his advice.  He was described as brilliantly cold and calculating, with an oddly viewed opposition (in his head) to the war-escalation-advice that always prompted LBJ to escalate, and McNamara to later -- if not then! -- forgive himself for giving the advice.

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.

* * *

Historians generally agree that President Kennedy and his brother, Robert -- Attorney General and consigliere supremo (also assassinated) -- planned to Tear up and cast to the winds the vast powers that had grown up after World War II in America's secret police / intelligence / spy systems. And its love child, the Ike-warned Military Industrial Complex. In alliance, some believe, with underworld crime -- as in Cuba, Mafia, political assassinations. Relax, there is no need to wander the labyrinth of how far this be true. Who pulled the trigger in Dallas is a smoke screen, anyway. What matters is what happened afterwords. And what will stop 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!' "

* * *

Regardless who pulled the trigger (s?) in Dallas, the Kennedy peace plan was off the table, and the war-without-end plan was taking root in its place. 

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.

Victorious, we rose to the bait and swallowed the hook. No greater army was ever defeated, we came to believe religiously, and nothing ever works better than violence. 

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. 

Ironic, indeed, 

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.

* * *

Sun Tzu: "There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."

* * *

Demagoguery du Jour?
Simple-minded demagogues? Heedless plunderers? Like what oil men call cowboys. Those unlimited risk-takers reaching for the ultimate prize they may not always state clearly.

They have left a big mess, 

those cowboys.

The magic bullet that killed Kennedy danced miraculously around the presidential limousine, then shot through the heart of America and just keeps on going. 

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

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