I have recently read 3 books that were about the Cold War. My readings just happened. It was not a plan, an assignment, background to classes, or anything other than stumbling across 3 books, reading them, and then seeing the connections. I love 20th century history; however, the pattern of a school year usually keeps me from giving it due attention. I cannot begin to name all the books I have read on the World Wars, Presidential histories and politics, the Great Depression, and other 20th century events.
The first book was one of William F. Buckley’s Blackford Oakes novels, Mongoose R.I.P. Mongoose referred to government actions to kill Fidel Castro. The novel centers around some of the plots, both actual and imagined, along with the after effects of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Add to that, the story leads up to the time of President Kennedy’s assassination. The history itself is a fascinating thriller, and then add on Buckley’s conservative worldview and writing talent. Certainly, the book is dated, but Buckley’s work still stands as good reading.
A book that was both biography and history of Cold Warriors and the Cold War is Nicholas Thompson’s The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War. Thompson is the grandson of Paul Nitze, which only added to the book’s subjects. This was one of the most fascinating and interesting books I have ever read. It did more to restore my faith in government officials–true public servants–than anything I have ever read. Nitze and Kennan were both honorable men, and brilliant men as well. Both were Cold Warriors; both tended toward the now extinct brand of old style Democrats; both were men of superior intellect; both served the country with distinction; and neither ever held a high office.
I know this will hurt some feelings of at least 2 readers of this blog, but I will say it. Former Secretary of State Hilliary “What Difference Does It Make Now” Clinton and current Secretary of State John “Botched Joke” Kerry aren’t worthy of being janitors to Nitze and Kennan. (I apologize again to Hillary and John as they read this.)
Nitze and Kennan disagreed with each other continually. Kennan was more of the scholar/writer/academic. Nitze was more hands on and gritty and persistent in his objectives. Kennan was the father of the idea of Containment. Nitze wanted the U.S. to be sure to have the firepower to contain the Communists. Kennan was a diplomat; Nitze was a policy wonk.
They read each other’s speeches and publications and filled the margins with objections. But, they attended each others social events, celebrated each other’s successes, and truly honored and respected each other. Both were blessed to live to old age and to give due homage to each other for lifetimes of accomplishments. They were men of honor and dedication. They were knights of the Cold War.
Which one was right in their disputes? I tend toward favoring Nitze, and he did some great service under Ronald Reagan. In his 80s, he stayed up all night at the Reykjavik Summit in 1986 working on arms controls agreements. Kennan was more often brooding over matters and feeling left out. Nitze was more concerned about the U.S. having the power to pummel the Soviets into submission. Kennan continually pondered how long the Soviet system could sustain itself. From the title, Thompson labels his grandpa the Hawk and Kennan the dove.
On the now past tense specifics they dealt with, I don’t always know whose ideas were best. I am thankful that such brilliant men so often give themselves to public service.
So much for knights, dedicated public servants, men of honor. Now to the third book: Seymour Hersh’s The Dark Side of Camelot. For a good many years I have used a now old VHS dubbed television news special (hosted by Peter Jennings) that highlighted the then “new revelations” about the dangers and evils of the Kennedy Administration as found in Hersh’s book.
Every time I have watched the video, I have been sickened by JFK’s immorality, abuse of power, lies, drug abuse, Mafia dealings, womanizing, and endangering of the Republic. Every time I have complained that Hersh didn’t give us “new revelations,” because there have been conservative writers who had long cataloged Kennedy’s evils.
Finally this year, I read the book that the documentary was based on. Conclusion: The Kennedy family was much worse than I thought. If they had only been serial adulterers, one could make the old Clinton defense “It’s all about sex.” But the Kennedys were interested in more than babes, although that was a high priority. And I do mean the Kennedys. Poppa Joseph was a total scoundrel. JFK was consumately evil. But Robert, who I had hoped had a modicum of decency, was evil and perhaps the most ruthless of all. Needless to add, Teddy, who became known as “The Lion of the Senate,” was just as bad as we all knew, although he gets little attention in this book.
The Kennedy family did understand history. By that, I mean that they understood the way history is written and recorded. We often think history is the story of “what happened.” No, not necessarily. History is an account of what happened based on the remaining or surviving written or spoken accounts.
The Kennedy family, particularly after JFK’s death, took decisive actions to control the narrative. Documents and tapes were impounded, destroyed, altered, and who knows what else. Quite a few reporters during the Kennedy years were willing dupes. They were the journalistic prostitutes doing what the other prostitutes were also willing and freely doing for the Kennedy men.
Kennedy was a physically sick man. His health problems would have probably finished him off at least by his mid-50s, if not late-40s. (Remember that he was about 45 when he died.) The White House was a scene that would have rivaled the palaces of Roman Caesars at their worst. The sheer amount of time that Kennedy spent cavorting and avoiding his wife and duties is incredible. Due to an injury that came from one of his escapades, Kennedy was wearing a leather brace, along with his usual metal backbrace, when he was shot through the neck by Lee Harvey Oswald. Because of the leather brace, Kennedy was unable to fall into the floor of the car he was in. It was the second shot–the head wound–that killed him. It is likely the leather brace, the result of his disastrous sexual tryst, that kept him in the assassin’s sites.
Worse are the dangers that the Kennedy clan put the nation through. The Mafia connections were illegal and immoral. The possibilities of women who were agents of the Mafia or the Communists were high. The actions taken to suppress stories about Kennedy’s life, previous marriage, adulteries, and so on were shocking. But even in such high matters as the opening phases of the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy and Kennedy (President and Attorney General) were always scheming to further their own political agendas.
Their deaths were tragic. One might humbly say just however. God have mercy on us all and spare us those like the Kennedy clan.