Reflections on Jack Kennedy

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Though much
about his background and public service warrants criticism, he also
deserves praise rarely given properly, this article offering some
and the writer’s personal reflections on his commencement address
to my June 14, 1956 graduating class, a message not heard now by
US leaders – erudite, incisive and timely. More on it below.

Some Background

Had an assassin
not taken his life, his health surely would have, some around him
saying "from a medical standpoint, (he) was a mess." Indeed
so, having been hospitalized more than three dozen times in his
life and given last rites on three occasions.

At age 2 years,
9 months, he nearly died of scarlet fever. He contracted measles,
whooping cough and chicken pox the same year, and as a child, was
susceptible to upper respiratory infections and bronchitis. In 1935,
he suffered jaundice, had a history of sports-related injuries because
of his weak physique, and his mother remembered him as "a very,
very sick little boy." In the 1930s, he began taking steroids
for colitis, later developing complications, including a duodenal
ulcer, back pain, digestive trouble, and underactive adrenal glands
known as Addison’s disease.

He had a host
of other problems as well, including a bout of malaria as a naval
officer in the Pacific. At age 43, the 1960 presidential campaign
exhausted him because he overdid it for a man of his health and
stamina. In 1947, his Addisonism was diagnosed, at the time told
he had one year to live, and was given his last rites shortly afterward.
Yet as senator and president, his health problems were hidden, an
observer calling it "one of the most cleverly laid smoke screens
ever put down around a politician(‘s)" physical well-being.

His Assassination

Much about
it has been written and speculated, some of the best from James
Douglas in his 2008 book titled, JFK
and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters
, debunking
mainstream myths and much more. From a wealth of information he
uncovered, he showed how threatening Kennedy was to the military-industrial
complex and had to go, "the CIA’s fingerprints….all over
the crime and the events leading up to it."

The notion
of a lone gunman is ludicrous, the evidence clearly implicating
a national security state coup against one of its own deemed unreliable.
Though to some degree a cold warrior, he changed, was chastened
by the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and refused another. He also
fired CIA Director Allen Dulles, his assistant General Charles Cabell,
and once said he wanted "to splinter the CIA in a thousand
pieces and scatter it to the winds," reason enough to kill

Worst of all
was his growing opposition to imperial wars, specifically in Southeast
Asia. Though he initially sent troops and advisors, he changed,
in 1961 opposing advice to send more to Laos, telling Averell Harriman,
his Geneva Conference representative: "Did you understand?
I want a negotiated settlement in Laos. I don’t want to put troops

The same year,
he opposed using nuclear weapons in Berlin and Southeast Asia and
once called Pentagon generals "crazy" for suggesting them,
perhaps with Curtis LeMay (1906–1990) in mind, a zealot who
wanted to nuke the Soviets while we had the edge, even at the cost
of a few US cities.

Kennedy also
wouldn’t attack or invade Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis, saying
throughout it he "never had the slightest intention of doing

He swung to
peace, away from war, telling an American University audience in
1963 that nuclear weapons should be abolished, the Cold War ended,
followed by a "general and complete disarmament," and
America no longer using its might to force Pax Americana on the
world. Shortly afterward he signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty with
the Soviets, and in October 1963 (about a month before his assassination),
he signed National Security Action Memorandum 263, calling for removing
1,000 US troops from Vietnam by year’s end and the remainder by
December 1965.

Douglas wrote
how, as president, he underwent a spiritual transformation from
cold warrior to peacemaker, knowing it put him at odds with the
Pentagon, CIA, most members of Congress, and nearly all of his advisors.
As a result, he understood his vulnerability, perhaps by coup or
assassination, a condition he nonetheless accepted and paid for
with his life.

Besides turning
toward peace and more, he also signed Executive Order (EO) 11110
on June 4, 1963 to:

  • amend EO
    10289 (dated September 17, 1951) designating and empowering the
    Treasury to perform certain "functions of the President without
    the approval, ratification, or other action of the President;"
  • perhaps
    bypass the Fed and empower the president to issue currency; it
    constitutionally empowered the federal government to create and
    "issue silver certificates against any silver bullion, silver,
    or standard silver dollars in the Treasury."

Though not
verified, some believe he then ordered the Treasury Secretary to
issue nearly $4.3 billion worth of United States notes, perhaps
to replace Federal Reserve Notes. Whether or not he wanted to end
the Federal Reserve System (and return money creation power to Congress
as the Constitution mandates) is speculation, but perhaps fearing
it, besides the above cited reasons and more, led to his assassination
five months later.

In 1964, President
Lyndon Johnson said: "Silver has become too valuable to be
used as money." In late 1963, after he became president, US
notes were withdrawn from circulation, and noted Fed critic and
author of The
Creature from Jekyll Island
, G. Edward Griffin, wrote on
page 569 of his book:

was a third point, however, which everyone seemed to overlook.
The Executive Order 11110 did not instruct the Treasury to issue
Silver Certificates. It merely authorized it to do so if the occasion
should arise. The occasion never arose. The last issuance of Silver
Certificates was in 1957….six years before the Kennedy (EO).
In 1987, (it) was rescinded by (EO) 12608 signed by Ronald Reagan."

Without mentioning
EO 11110, he did it by amending EO 10289, rescinding the Treasury’s
right to issue silver-backed notes.

Had Kennedy
lived and served a second term, imagine the possibilities. Ending
the Vietnam war alone would have been a powerful legacy.

June 14, 1956 Commencement Speech

Given outdoors
on a blistering hot/humid day, he began expressing "pleasure
to join with my fellow alumni in this pilgrimage to the second home
of (my) youth," noting the difference between academia’s purpose
to advance knowledge and his own "where the emphasis is somewhat
different," saying:

"Our political
parties, our politicians are interested, of necessity, in winning
popular support – a majority; and only indirectly truth is
the object of our controversy," often sacrificed for political

The "political
profession needs to have its temperature lowered in the cooling
waters of the scholastic pool. We need both the technical judgment
and the disinterested viewpoint of the scholar, to prevent us from
becoming imprisoned by our own slogans. Therefore, it’s regrettable
that the gap between the intellectual and the politician seems to
be growing."

No wonder,
he added, that politicians are so scorned, quoting James Russell
Lowell’s mid-19th century satiric attack on Caleb Cushing, a celebrated
Attorney General and congressional member, calling him "true
to one party, that is himself." It’s as true today than then.

Kennedy’s entire
talk was full of scholarly references and quotes, including Lord
Melbourne to a youthful historian Thomas Macauley about the differences
between scholars and politicians. Another from philosopher Sidney
Hook, saying "Many intellectuals would rather die than agree
with the majority, even on the rare occasions when the majority
is right."

Yet he reminded
the audience that today’s politicians and intellectual climate have
a common ancestry, America’s early leaders, also distinguished for
their writing and intellect, including Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton,
Franklin, and John Adams among others.

were their tools, not their enemies. Locke, Milton, Sydney, Montesquieu,
Coke, and Bollingbroke were among those widely read in political
circles and frequently quoted in political pamphlets. Our political
leaders traded in the free commerce of ideas with lasting results
both here and abroad."

A contemporary
of Jefferson called him "A gentleman of 32, who could calculate
an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try
a cause, break a horse, dance a minuet, and play the violin."
He was also a statesman and third US president.

Webster could throw thunderbolts at Hayne on the Senate floor and
then stroll a few steps down the corridor and dominate the Supreme
Court as the foremost lawyer of his time. John Quincy Adams, after
being summarily dismissed from the Senate for a notable display
of independence, could become Boylston professor of rhetoric and
oratory at Harvard and then become a great Secretary of State"
as well as president.

"The link
between the American scholar and American politician" lasted
over a century. In the 1856 campaign, Republicans had "three
brilliant orators – William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Those were the carefree days
when the eggheads were all Republicans." One of their own became
president on March 4, 1861, denied a second term by his April 1865
assassination, challenging the establishment and existing order
also his undoing.

Kennedy quoted
John Milton, Bismark, Goethe and others, his erudition on display
for those attending, a man with an intellect who used it. He reminded
the audience that politicians and intellectuals "operate within
a common framework – a framework we call liberty. The lock
on the door of the legislature, the Parliament, or the assembly
hall – by order of the King, the Commissar, or the Fuehrer
– has historically been followed or preceded by a lock on the
door of the university, the library, or the print shop."

Where freedom
is endangered, he said, politicians and intellectuals "should
be natural allies, working more closely together for the common
cause against the common enemy." They both must decide whether
to be "an anvil or a hammer….whether (they are) to give to
the world in which (they were) reared and educated the broadest
possible benefits of (their) learning" for society’s benefit,
or do it solely for their own. "As one who is familiar with
the political world, I can testify" to the challenge we face.

He opted against
handing over political and public life to experts "who ignore
public opinion. Nor would I adopt from the Belgian constitution
of 1893 the provision giving 3 votes instead of 1 to college graduates;
or give Harvard a seat in the Congress as William and Mary was once
represented in the Virginia House of Burgesses."

But he urged
politicians and intellectuals to work together, warning that we
don’t "need scholars or politicians like Lord John Russell,
of whom Queen Victoria remarked, he would be a better man if he
knew a third subject – but he was interested in nothing but
the constitution of 1688 and himself. What we need are men who can
ride easily over broad fields of knowledge and recognize the mutual
dependence of our two worlds."

He ended quoting
what an English mother once wrote the Provost of Harrow, saying
"Don’t teach my boy poetry; he is going to stand for Parliament."

perhaps she was right – but if more politicians knew poetry
and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be
a little better place in which to live on this commencement day
of 1956."

Aged 39, he
scarcely had more than seven years left before America’s dark forces
killed him, a lesson his successors never forgot. Neither should
we knowing the rogues that followed and their agendas, worst of
all post-9/11, putting the nation on a fast track toward despotism
unless cooler heads can stop them.

with permission from The
People’s Voice

4, 2010

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