Dove Season BY MICHAEL KING RETHINKING CAMELOT: JFK, the Vietnam War, and U.S. Political Culture. By Noam Chomsky. 172 pp. Boston: South End Press, 1993. WORLD ORDERS OLD AND NEW. By Noam Chomsky. 311 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. AT THE TURN OF THE YEAR, the New York Times Magazine looked backwards at what it called “Lives Well Lived,” with a collection of brief elegies for cultural luminaries who had died in 1994. Among the mostly unexceptional encomiums \(Roger Rosenblatt on Ralph Ellison; Watson and Crick on Linus Pauling; later drew hostile reaction, notably Jim Carroll on Kurt Cobain, late of the rock band Nirvana, not universally thought worthy to enter into same. But the self-justifying genuflection that most clouded this eye was Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s on George Ball, John Kennedy’s Under Secretary of State “best known,” says Schlesinger, “for his early stand against the Vietnam War.” Ball is “best known” for this public principle only in the willful fantasies of people like Schlesinger who, 30 years after the fact, have been busily rewriting history to reflect virtuous misgivings about a war they wholeheartedly supported, indeed sustained and publicly justified, at the time. Schlesinger and the Times, of course, are not content to invent an establishment opposition to the Vietnam War. They must also vilify those who actually stood against the war when it mattered. Ball, says the Times, like his boss Dean Rusk \(dead too late to earn Schlesinger’s retroactive canonizawas offended by its sanctimony.” Thus speaketh The National Organ of Institutional Sanctimony, still providing a comfortable home for “unsentimental liberals” and “happy warriors”read shameless hypocriteslike Ball and Schlesinger, lo these many years. As it happened, I came across Schlesinger’s musings while I was reading Noam Chomsky’s 1993 book, Rethinking Camelot, a literally unsentimental analysis Michael King is a Houston freelance writer. of JFK and his advisers, their unapologetic prosecution of the Vietnam War under both Kennedy and Johnson, and the subsequent attempts by several, Schlesinger prominent among them, to whitewash Kennedy’s and their own roles in the debacle. Basing his argument on both public statements and private policy documents, Chomsky does allow that George Ball was the most consistent “dove” among the Kennedy-Johnson advisers, but he reiterates with emphasis what that feeble and dishonest term inevitably meant among this crew of “Cold” Warriors. Early on, the “doves” \(Ball, Averthe war could be better fought with counterinsurgency \(selective assassination and ing and a massive U.S. invasion. As the conflict expanded and all these methods mittently argued that the American troop commitment should not be enlarged too quickly, because of the potential cost in money and livesAmerican lives. As Chomsky painstakingly demonstrates from their own words, these so-called doves never questioned whether the war should be fought at all, nor its central aim: the destruction of Vietnamese independenceat whatever the cost to Vietnam. Ball, for one, learned his lesson in 1961, when he opposed Kennedy’s initial decision to commit U.S. troops. By his own admission, Kennedy’s reaction was so negative that Ball \(praised spoke out again while Kennedy lived. Ball and the other “doves” enthusiastically endorsed Kennedy’s military coup against the Hesitating briefly after the Tonkin Gulf ing LBJ to wage war until victory, including if necessary long term U.S. occupation of Vietnam and Laos, or “some cover arrange Schlesinger was himself Camelot’s court historian, and has never abandoned the ministerial duty of sanctifying his sovereign’s memory. ment.” Chomsky summarizes wryly: “These recommendations illustrate what `dove’ meant in Camelot.” SCHLESINGER WAS HIMSELF Camelot’s court historian, and has never abandoned the ministerial duty of sanctifying his sovereign’s memory. In that task, as Chomsky points out, he has received far too much help from those who should know better, that is, the American “left.” \(One consequence of reading Chomsky is that one’s prose, like one’s thoughts, gets peppered with quotation marksno Indeed, the specific impetus of Rethinking Camelot, was the flurry of pop liberal revisionism surrounding Oliver Stone’s 1992 film JFK, which purported to show that Kennedy was assassinated because he planned to bring an end to the U.S. war on Vietnam. Schlesinger warmly embraced this notiondespite the fact that his own earlier writings amply contradict itbecause it helped him absolve the “civilized, guilt, in favor of the “obsessive” Johnson, a boorish Texan too much under the influence of military “hard-liners.” In fact, as Chomsky shows, both Johnson and the military were slightly more “dovish” on the Vietnam war than either Kennedy or his so-called “liberal” advisers, although the actual policy differences were so minimal as to be virtually invisible. To the Vietnamese, overwhelmingly the victims of the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon war, such “differences” meant nothing: They were to continue to die by the thousands, and then by the millions, in service to the new American order. Back in the States, such fine distinctions have a more important function. They are the dismal chapters in an ongoing public relations war, in which the ruthlessly self-interested policies of our various Washington regimes must be made to seem the enlightened outpourings of a shared American destinyor more occasionally and forgivingly, the well-meaning blunders of a divinely inspired nation with only the world’s best interests at heart. The generational recurrence of controversy over the Kennedy assassination was at bottom an attempt to reclaim the tired notion of American innocence that has been a staple of public discourse since at least the time of the Puritansbut about which no 18 MARCH 24, 1995 ,…-0.0.,,,e4Nonotil,4,,…..1,—.
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