My friends and fellow citizens:
May 17, 2001 9:46 AM   Subscribe

My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. Our adversaries have not abandoned their ambitions, our dangers have not diminished, our vigilance cannot be relaxed. But now we have the military, the scientific, and the economic strength to do whatever must be done for the preservation and promotion of freedom.

From the speech that President Kennedy would never give. Contrary to Oliver Stone's version of the facts, doesn't read to me that Jack was backing off on Cuba or Vietnam.
posted by ZachsMind (9 comments total)

Well, he was in Dallas, after all. Oswald wouldn't have been the lone gunman if he had publicly backed off Cuba that day--there'd be shooting him from their seats. It was a fine line he had to walk. How he personally felt about the issue, and what course of action the US would have taken had he lived, will never be known.
posted by jpoulos at 9:58 AM on May 17, 2001

I find this intriguing because, I have passively studied the whole JFK assassination thing off and on. I've looked at the Zapruder film. I've read a book or two here and there. Even saw Stone's film. I'm no madcap avid conspiracy buff, although until recently I thought there must be some kind of conspiracy. Most of the conspiracies though, are grounded on the idea that Kennedy was somehow out of line, and there were people who wanted him out of the way for they feared what he was going to do. He stared down Cuba and brought the world to a standstill during the missile crisis. But then he backed off during the Bay of Pigs and left men to die. Did people fear his uncertainty? Or perhaps people feared the power he had? Thought he would become some American king? No. The movie JFK by Oliver Stone tried to convey that Kennedy was backing down on war. Kennedy was a man of peace, but he was a man who understood that to have peace there must be the power of defense. We must be able to back up our words of peace with deeds of vigilance if it became necessary. This is a concept which forged the United States from the days of the Revolutionary War. To cry for freedom and demand peace are but hollow words without the power to back it up. A bully in a grammar school will continue to bully until he is challenged. The challenger cannot merely bluff. Maybe people feared that when Kennedy had his finger on the red button, he wasn't bluffing?

In all these conspiracy reports and essays and other media, no one looks at this speech. The speech that Kennedy was prepared to give at the Trade Mart that fateful day in Dallas. That was his next stop I believe, to make a statement that reinforced vigilance against the dangers of tyranny and oppression. However, in so doing he was but acknowledging that America itself was in danger of becoming oppressive. And in fact is even today an oppressor to others: the only true superpower left on this planet. Is that why he was murdered? If that were the case, LBJ would have been placed under the same threat because he did the same thing. He put us into war in Vietnam. People often insinuate that JFK died for the same reasons as Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy - because he was for peace. This speech counteracts that. Yes, perhaps he was under some kind of pressure politically to speak of war but were that the case it would mean he didn't have the power of a tyrant nor the potential to be one because of external pressures that would keep him in check.

Or perhaps this wasn't the speech he was going to make. Perhaps he had a different speech tucked into his coat pocket that was different from this speech. After his death the speech that those pressures wanted him to make were put into the permanent record, and we'll never know what he was really going to say. But that's the strange thing about conspiracies. One who is fueling the fervor of conspiracy cannot accept the documented facts because it's assumed the conspirators could change those facts and so we'll never know. So the paranoia debunks any final answers by accusing anyone who comes up with evidence to the contrary, like a witch hunt or a red scare. We simply will never know the truth and perhaps that's what makes the whole JFK conspiracy so fascinating: it's an opportunity to examine society and humanity. How we deal with tragedy, and how we deal with The Unknown.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:18 AM on May 17, 2001

It is quite sad that what most people know about the Kennedy assassination comes from Oliver Stone's JFK. That movie is filled with substantial misinformation, particularly the characterization of DA hero Garrison, who in fact thought the Kennedy assassination was "a homosexual thrill-killing". Really.
posted by tranquileye at 10:26 AM on May 17, 2001

I don't know about the credibility of the link, but in any case I agree that JFK was not going to
back off from Vietnam.

Kennedy was scared to death of criticism from Republicans, particularly former President Eisenhower and
his old opponent Nixon, that he was soft on Communism. It would have been hard for him to pull out without hearing about it. It also would have strengthened Krushev's hand.
posted by brucec at 10:26 AM on May 17, 2001

I'm reading a book about this period right now. I was 7 at the time and didn't remember how conservative and paranoid Americans were back then. Remember Goldwater was the Republican candidate for President in '64, exhibiting a similar naivete about international poilitics as the current administration, and even Kennedy had brought up the importance of bomb shelters and the immanence of nuclear conflict. In a speech he gave on July 25, 1961 (in the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and Krushchev's demands that NATO troops be removed from Berlin), he

"said [o]ur only course [in Berlin] was to find a path between 'humiliation' and 'all-out nuclear action. . . . In the event of an attack, the lives of those families which are not hit in a nuclear blast can still be saved--if they can be warned to take shelter and if that shelter is available.'

In the space of an evening the end of the world became routine business. The bomb shelter--only recently the province of neighborhood eccentrics--was now presidential mandate."
(from Before the Storm)

The line in the sand had shifted to Vietnam by late '63, and Goldwater was starting to look like the GOP candidate in '64, not the more liberal Rockefeller. Kennedy was feeling the pressure from an electorate mollified about the effects of nuclear radiation by the AEC and whose fears of Communism were at their peak, aggravated by the high racial tension in the South, which the John Birchers, etc. were linking with Communism At Our Doorstep.

Who knows what might have happened had he lived? Certainly the Conservative Movement, which had gained considerable steam by then, would not have dissipated like it did post-assassination (not for good, of course) because popular opinion was that "the suspicion that the right was somehow to blame [for Kennedy's death] did not go away." (from BTS)
posted by aflakete at 11:01 AM on May 17, 2001

Not to pick a nit, Zach, but JFK backed off at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 (though it may be noted the US was misled by the partisans as to what kind of support and resistance they could expect). He stared down Krushchev later in Vietnam escalation, Berlin (1961-62) and during the Cuba missile crisis (late 62).

Not the other way round, which I'm sure you didn't mean to imply was a chronological softening, just a rhetorical contrast.

I hate conspiracy theories that depend on assumptions such as fictional speeches in a coat pocket that were going to be made. We can evaluate JFK fairly as a Cold Warrior of the first order, probably the biggest hawk until Reagan.
posted by dhartung at 11:13 AM on May 17, 2001

aflakete is correct.

Kennedy knew Goldwater was his likely opponent in '64, and in fact his trip to Dallas was political, designed to shore up his standing in a conservative region of a state that barely went for him in 1960. While Kennedy was privately growing cynical on Vietnam in the wake of the Diem assassination 21 days earlier, he was not going to run in 1964 as the man willing to "lose" Vietnam.

As for those who'd like to cite this speech as another in their wild conspiracy theory hunts, I'll quote Kevin Costner from one of his better movies: "I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone."
posted by darren at 11:42 AM on May 17, 2001

In the issue of Time Magazine that appeared the week prior to the assassination there is an article suggesting that Kennedy could not win the presidential election in 1964. The argument was that states that Kennedy-Johnson had carried in the South in the 1960 squeaker would go Republican because of Kennedy's civil rights policies. I think the headline was, "Can he win again?" Given that kind of speculation, I have always been skeptical of the Texas Mafia-Johnson school of conspiracy theory.
posted by tranquileye at 1:18 PM on May 17, 2001

Is there any reason to think that Kennedy didn't represent the establishment view on Communism and the Cold War? Or the war in Vietnam?

I don't think there is.
posted by lagado at 7:05 PM on May 17, 2001

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