‘Sagest in the council was he, kindest in the hall.
‘Sure we never won a battle — ‘twas Owen won them all.
‘Had he lived — had he lived — our dear country had been free;
‘But he’s dead, but he’s dead, and ‘tis slaves we’ll ever be…’
The Lament for Owen Roe — Thomas Davis
On 22 November 1963, John F Kennedy was shot. He died soon after.
Much of the world went into mourning. Never before or since has Washington seen such a gathering of dignitaries…nor so many common folk…all who came to pay their respects.
Jack Kennedy had made many friends. His New Frontier was widely applauded. At home, he lowered the top marginal tax rate from 91% to 65%. Abroad, he sought peace. He explained in a speech at American University that his kind of peace was ‘not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave’.
And yet, after his death, US weapons were soon at work…creating a world, not at peace, but almost constantly at war. Before his assassination, JFK had sent out an order to bring US troops back from Vietnam. That order was quickly forgotten. The new president, Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ), had another program, much more to the liking of the ‘military-industrial complex’.
Over the next 11 years, 2.7 million US soldiers would go to fight a war that Johnson had promised would be a war for the Vietnamese to fight. By the time the last US helicopter escaped from the US Embassy roof in 1975, 58,000 Americans had died and a trillion dollars had been spent.
More importantly, the good had given way to the great.
An historical pivot
We are reviewing a ‘pivot’ in recent US history. It was the moment when the military/industrial/spook/congressional complex — the most powerful industry in the world — took control of US politics…and the empire took on a life of its own.
Specifically, we are recalling the history of the 1960s — aided by the recollections and research of Robert F Kennedy Jr — and our own personal history. Bob Dylan, The Doors, Aretha Franklin…marijuana…The Rolling Stones…bell bottoms — and the hope of a better world — it is all coming back into focus. We were not born cynical, dear reader — it took many fads, rascals, bear markets and political campaigns to make us what we are today.
One clear memory…
It was a summer evening in 1967. We had gone with a friend to the banks of the Chesapeake. Percy Sledge’s great hit — ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ — was on the radio. We were back from college, regaling each other with our adventures.
But Tommy had dropped out. He set his sights on a different life — simpler, more local. He had read Faulkner and Hemingway. His goal was success at home…not abroad. It was success as a person he wanted, not as captain of industry nor of infantry.
‘Aren’t you worried about getting drafted?’
‘No…I’m going to sign up. Get it over with.’
‘Aren’t you worried about getting killed? And what’s the point, anyway? The war seems like a waste.’
‘Yeah…but otherwise, I’ll have to listen to my mother complaining about me dropping out of college.’
That was the last time we saw Tommy…
Life is full of casualties. Some are more tragic and pointless than others. Tommy was one of them.
America the great?
What the Kennedys seemed to be aiming for was a government that practised restraint and reduced the casualties. A good nation does not tax too heavily, does not spend too much, treats people with respect (even those with whom it doesn’t agree) and only fights when it has to.
But after Kennedy was assassinated, the US took a different course. Lyndon Johnson promised action…activism…empire. Bombs and bamboozles. Attila was great. Alexander was great. Caesar was great. Napoleon was great. Why not Lyndon? Why not Ronald…Donald…or Joe?
‘The People’ took the cue. The masses always come to think what they must think when they must think it. Americans were no different. Flattered by the best military money could buy, they came to believe that they were an exceptional race. Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, must have reached some apotheosis of conceit when she proclaimed that ‘if we use force, it is because we are America. We stand tall…we see further into the future’.
We have argued that there are patterns to markets (the Primary Trend)…and patterns to history. A normal man is held in check by his friends, his wife, and his children. When he makes a fool of himself, they are quick to let him know. So too is a humble nation held in check by its neighbours, its resources and its own people. It may be good or bad. But sometimes — with the wind at its back — the lust for greatness takes over. A nation seeks not just to get along, but to dominate…and control — it becomes an empire.
But the Kennedys stood in the way.
First, Robert Kennedy took on the mobsters. Appointed Attorney General by his brother, RFK had a ‘Manichean approach’ to law enforcement. There were good guys and bad guys. He wanted to put the bad ones in jail.
At the time, the mafia was gaining power…and corrupting the US justice system (suborning witnesses, bribing judges…). He aimed to put them out of business. In Senate hearings, he brought in Anthony ‘Tony Ducks’ Corallo, Joe ‘Little Caesar’ DiVarco, Carlos ‘The Little Man’ Marcello…and dozens of other colourful mobsters. In his first three years as Attorney General, RFK filed 673 indictments against organised crime figures.
The mafiosos didn’t forget. And didn’t forgive. What’s more, they felt betrayed. They believed that the Kennedys would protect them, not prosecute them. There are several competing stories to explain it. One tells us that Joe Kennedy had made a deal with the mob — if they helped deliver the votes in Chicago…he would tell his sons to lay off them. Another story is that the Kennedy boys were connected to the mob on their own. Their sister, Pat, was married to Peter Lawford, one the famous ‘Rat Pack’, along with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Sinatra installed a heliport at his residence in Palm Springs so the president could come to visit. Jack Kennedy may even have shared a mistress — Judith Campbell Exner — with Sinatra’s mafia pal, Sam Giancana.
Whatever the origins of the story, the mob felt betrayed when Bobby Kennedy went after them with a vigour they had never seen before. ‘Livarsi na petra di la scarpa’, said Carlos Marcello in 1962. The old Sicilian curse has an English variant, said to have been invoked by Henry II: ‘Will no one rid me of that turbulent priest?’
In another documented exchange, mobster Santo Trafficante assured Cuban exile leader Jose Aleman that he needn’t worry about President Kennedy: ‘No, Jose, he is going to be hit.’
An empire unchallenged
Another group that didn’t like the Kennedys was the aforementioned War Industry. Their business, too, was being severely hampered by the Kennedys’ desire to give peace a chance…and their general distrust of both the military and the spies.
By this time, the CIA and the mobsters were working together. Their target was supposed to be Fidel Castro. The mafia had its connections in Cuba. The CIA’s mission was to assassinate Fidel, which failed.
The assassination of JFK, however…like the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170…was a shocking success.
Who did it? Did the CIA aim for Castro and hit Kennedy? Did the mafia settle its score with the Kennedy family? Or was it a ‘lone gunman’, as the Warren Commission concluded? We don’t know. But since then, no president has ever seriously challenged the empire’s agenda.
More to come…
For The Daily Reckoning Australia