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Friday, November 22, 2013


Bloggers are required, as a condition of their residency in the blogosphere, to commemorate anniversaries of important public events.  For the most part, we have nothing particularly memorable to say about those events, and anniversaries that are multiples of ten or fifty or one hundred are quite arbitrary anyway, but I do not want representatives of Google knocking on my door at midnight, so I shall dutifully write a post about the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Four assassinations in less than five years defined the 60's, for those of us who lived through them, and had a real as well as symbolic impact on the public life of America.  The first, which today commemorates, was the assassination in 1963 of President John F. Kennedy.  The second, which I confess I did not take note of at the time, was the assassination of Malcolm X  on February 21, 1965;  The third was the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1965; and the fourth, barely two months later, was the assassination of Robert Kennedy on June 6, 1968.  I recall exactly where I was on the occasion of the first, third, and fourth.

I have told the story of the JFK assassination in my Memoir, and will not repeat it here, save to recall that I was in the catalogue room of Widener Library at Harvard when I heard the news.  I was driving with my wife in Manhattan when I heard about MLK.  And I was giving my young son, Patrick, a bottle in the middle of the night when I heard about RFK.

JFK was not much of a loss, if the truth be told.  Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were great losses, and it is possible, but only possible, that Bobby Kennedy might have played an important role in American politics, had he lived.  With his death, it fell to the least of the Kennedy boys, my Harvard classmate Teddy Kennedy, to continue the political ambitions of his father and in time become one of the great Senators in the history of that institution.  I never knew Teddy, of course.  We travelled in different circles at Harvard, to put it delicately.



Michael Llenos said...

I know little about them but I do know they were all giants. Except of course for the part of sneaking Ms. Monroe through the back door of the Whitehouse.

Martin Luther Jr. and Malcolm X seemed to have better ethics throughout history.

There is something I wonder about President JFK: would he have been blamed for the prolongation of the Vietnam conflict if he lived to old age? He got credit for starting the moon program, but it seems LBJ got credit for the political botch in Vietnam. I say political botch because it surely wasn't a military botch. The communists in Vietnam knew they couldn't win militarily by attrition but they could win politically by attrition. As Ho Chi Minh said: 'We will kill ten of you for every one hundred of us, and you will get tired of it before we do.' So that was a political win they was striving for and not a military one.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I myself have never been an admirer of JFK. Indeed, seducing the estimable Ms. Monroe was one of his more impressive accomplishments. I disagree that the war was not a military botch, by the way. It so damaged the US Military that America was forced to go to an all volunteer professional miitary in order to salvage the Army from total disaster.

Michael Llenos said...

Dr. Wolff,

I meant 'not a military botch on the battlefield'. The military was politically harmed for a long time as an unnecessary evil when the war ended in '72. Navy Seal commanding officers had to lie on their post Vietnam war reports to keep their units in the system. So instead of killing over many thousands of enemy combatants, they had to lie and say they only killed 900 VC and NVA. Similiar reverberations affected the U.S. Army for many years to come. In the 1980s the Army saw that it needed reconniassance units in its ranks once again like they had in Vietnam, but instead of calling them Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (or Lurps) they were designated as Long Range Surveillance Units (or LRSUs). It seemed the LRRP or LRP designation was too Vietnam-like than the higher chain of command believed U.S. polititions would want to embrace. Plus, the U.S. military instructors were no longer allowed to hit recruits in training from that time forth--or from the end of America's involvement in the Vietnam conflict--but I do not know when exactly this new rule was implemented.

So the military would be plagued by Vietnam syndrome until basically the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War--only to rear its head years later in other conflicts. The draft would not be allowed from the end of the Vietnam War onwards, but this is not the fault of military inability but of the failing politics of Washington. Like Machiavelli said: the French may know war but they do not know politics like Italians do. And this is the key commonplace for the botch of America's involvement in Vietnam. We may have known about war, just not about the politics of Vietnam.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I am afraid I have a very different view of the matter from you. When I say the military was broken, I mean there was rampant drug use, and enlisted men fragging their own lieutenants to stop from being forced to go on patrols. I mean that the military was very close to not functioning effectively. Did the fault lie with the military? No, I think it lay with the civilian command, up to and including the president, but the only way to salvage the armed forces was to separate them from the general populace and make them a professional force. This then had the effect of making it much easier for presidents to send forces into battle. Even the total and complete disaster of the Iraq War did n ot damage the military in the way that the Viet Nam war did.

Michael Llenos said...

Dr. Wolff,
I totally agree with you. At first I didn't get what you were saying. But the reason why the Iraq war didn't mess up the army, like in Vietnam, was because there was no draft, albeit, there was a backdoor draft for active duty members who already served in Iraq. But still there was no drafting of civilians for the Iraq war.

What remained intact during Vietnam, towards war's end, were the Special Ops units, since these were volunteer units throughout the entire war to begin with. It was the regular field units that were filled with unmotivated draftees.

There were three generalized things that the U.S. military gained from its tactical experienecs in Vietnam. 1) Air Combat schools in all military branches. 2) Special Operations training and tactics in all military branches. And 3) Smart munitions technologies, like the smart bomb and better air to air and air to surface munitions.

And I guess one of the most important other advancements being the abolishment of conscription, which you just mentioned. I think if there was anti-conscription back in the 15th century Machiavelli would have written that it was a liability along with mercenaries and auxiliaries.