Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Introduction: Contours and Context Segment 16/17
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9. The Kennedy Revival

The forgotten anniversary of JFK's aggression was marked by more than President Bush's renewal of the embargo against Vietnam and renewed indignation over Vietnam's savage maltreatment of innocent America. It was also the occasion for renewed fascination with the Kennedy era, even adulation for the fallen leader who had escalated the attack against Vietnam from terror to aggression just 30 years earlier. This curious coincidence was based upon the claim, prominently advanced, that Kennedy intended to withdraw from Vietnam; and was assassinated for that reason, some alleged. The revival was spurred by Oliver Stone's film JFK, which reached a mass audience at that time with its message that Kennedy was secretly planning to end the Vietnam war, a plan aborted by the assassination.

The admiration for the lonely hero struck down as (and perhaps because) he sought to prevent a US war in Vietnam, and more muted variants with their associated theses, add an interesting touch to the questions that would have arisen in a civilized society on the 30th anniversary of Kennedy's war, and the 500th anniversary of the conquest of which it was a particularly ugly part. Such thoughts aside, the factual issues raised are of considerable interest, well beyond the specific matter of Indochina policy.

The Kennedy revival involves disparate groups. One consists of leading intellectuals of the Kennedy circle. What is interesting in this case is not their rising to Kennedy's defense, but the way they seized upon the idea that Kennedy was planning to withdraw from Vietnam, the timing of this thesis, and the comparison to the version of these events they had provided before the war became unpopular among elites. Among this group, few if any credit the belief that the alleged withdrawal plans, or other planned policy reversals, were a factor in the assassination.

A second category includes segments of the popular movements that in large part grew from opposition to the Vietnam war. Their attitudes toward the man who escalated the war from terror to aggression are perhaps more surprising, though it should be recalled that the picture of Kennedy as the leader who was about to lead us to a bright future of peace and justice was carefully nurtured during the Camelot years, with no little success, and has been regularly revived in the course of the critique of the Warren report and the attempts to construct a different picture, which have reached and influenced a wide audience over the years.

Within both categories, some have taken the position that JFK truly departed from the political norm, and had become (or always was) committed to far-reaching policy changes: not only was he planning to withdraw from Vietnam (the core thesis), but also to break up the CIA and the military-industrial complex, to end the Cold War, and otherwise to pursue directions that would indeed have been highly unpopular in the corridors of power. Others reject these assessments, but argue that Kennedy was perceived as a dangerous reformer by right-wing elements (which is undoubtedly true, as it is true of virtually everyone in public life). At this point, the speculations interweave with questions and theories about the assassination. Some take the position that Kennedy was assassinated by a high-level conspiracy determined to make sure that their own man, the hawkish LBJ, would take the reins. It is then necessary to assume further that a conspiracy of quite a remarkable character has concealed the awesome crime. There are other variants.

Of all of these theories, the only ones of any general interest are those that assume a massive cover-up, and a high-level conspiracy that required that operation. In that case, the assassination was an event of true political significance, breaking sharply from the normal course of politics and exercise of power. Such ideas make little sense unless coupled with the thesis that JFK was undertaking radical policy changes, or perceived to be by policy insiders.

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