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Friday, 27 October 2017


The partial release of the 'secret' files relating to the killing of President John F Kennedy activated one of the most bizarre recollections that I carry. I was at the time a student, and I cannot recall any other political figure until Donald H Trump who was so well-loathed by virtually the whole of my generation as was Kennedy. He was seen as the man who had carried the world to the brink of nuclear war to intimidate the Soviet Union into withdrawing its missiles from Cuba; an occasion that produced mass rallies of students of all political opinions [and of none] in passionate protest at the threat of nuclear annihilation. He proposed that the navies of all the US allies in NATO should be merged into a 'mixed manned force' under US command. He was supporting Cuban exiles in their attempts to destroy the infant Castro regime.

When Kennedy was alive, his record was seen as at least as highly blemished as Trump's is now: though no-one denied that he had a meritorious record of service in the US Navy in the Second World War; which had caused injuries to his back that meant he was in almost-constant pain.

The president's father had allegedly made his fortune in the illicit alcohol trade during prohibition, and was reputedly the keeper of notorious actresses. These equivocal items on his record did not prevent Joe Kennedy from becoming a major supporter of Franklin Roosevelt's campaign for the Presidency, which brought him the reward of being appointed Ambassador the the Court of St James'. As US Ambassador, Joe sent Roosevelt negative messages about Britain's determination and competence to wage war. He had intended that his eldest son, Joe Junior, should in due course become US President; but when Joe was killed in the war that ambition was passed to the second son, Jack. Old Joe could not hope himself to attain such an office, in view of his highly equivocal past.

The second son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, got his second name from his maternal grandfather, 'Honey Fitz', a man who had allegedly descended deeper into the murky side of New England life than did Joe Kennedy.

The Democratic party machine duly delivered a Senate seat for young Jack, whose marriage did nothing to limit his sexual adventurism. His run for the presidency was well funded by friends and family and it was widely believed that his election was achieved by the questionable delivery of a package of Electoral College votes by Mayor Daly of Chicago who controlled Cook County, Illinois.

As president, Kennedy utterly failed to advance the cause of emancipation for the deeply-oppressed black community in the Unites States. Emancipation and integration became a major motif of the succeeding presidency of Lyndon B Johnson, Kennedy's vice president; who had previously been seen as a political machine-man in contrast to Kennedy's heavily-marketed charisma. In foreign policy Kennedy was an aggressive cold warrior, prepared to 'bear any burden and fight any foe' in the cause of his understanding of democracy; which he usually equated with American dominance. The US allies were expected to give him blanket endorsement, and this is what most riled the young in the UK.

Immediately on the announcement of the president's death, there was a surge of jubilation: young people rejoiced that the greatest risk to peace had been removed. Over the ensuing twenty-four hours, however, a very different mood was disseminated by the media; and the Kennedy legend as it is still handed down was being established. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a libidinous, middle-aged and significantly disabled man: by contrast, right from the day of his death, his legend was presented ruthlessly by his courtiers and disseminated by an obedient mass media; and that version was adopted by most subsequent historians. But those who remember the way in which the media succumbed to an 'official' interpretation of Kennedy's short tenure of office have retained a lifelong suspicion of how susceptible those media are, at key times, to manipulation by the state authorities in the so-say democracies.

It was soon revealed that the supposed 'climb down' by the Soviet boss, Khrushchev, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, was in fact the result of a compromise deal whereby the USA stood down planned missile silos in north-east Turkey - close to the Soviet border - as a quid pro quo for the Soviets' withdrawal of planned missile silos in Cuba, close to the United States mainland. The world then settled down to the prolongation of the cold war, and the USA became embroiled ever more deeply in the confrontation with communism that degenerated into the Vietnam war. The Europeans who had previously been coerced by Kennedy avoided direct involvement in a land war in Asia. Harold Wilson brushed off Lyndon Johnson's plea to send 'just one battalion of the Black Watch' to Vietnam, and the perceived threat of a US takeover of the British forces was removed. Australia and New Zealand did send men to Indo-China, which gained them the status of especially close US allies that they still enjoy.

Donald J Trump's 'America first' policies are reminiscent in some ways of Kennedy's. It is not easily conceivable that an assassin's bullet could make Trump a global hero; but an equally strange thing has happened; within living memory.

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