High life

Taki: Why JFK wouldn't have steered clear of Vietnam if he had lived

Kennedy was already embroiled in the Southeast Asian nation — and he'd installed Jupiter missiles against the Soviets

16 November 2013

9:00 AM

16 November 2013

9:00 AM

Everyone’s doing it, so I might as well jump in too. After all, I knew so many of the people involved, including JFK and his widow Jackie, and — sorry for the name-drop — even the actor Rob Lowe who plays the slain president in the film that’s coming out for the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. I met Senator John Kennedy one year before he became president, at a party thrown by Alice Topping, a society dame of the time. The first and lasting impression was of his charisma and good looks. He was 39, the room was full of beautiful women, but he did take a minute or two to ask me about school and my plans for the future. It was not any different from most politicians’ chatter, but with a difference. None of that greasy Bill Clinton stuff, more man-to-man chit-chat with lots of jokes about our wandering eyes. I never saw him in person again.

Like everyone else alive and out of a crib on 22 November 1963, I remember it well. I was going to 21 for lunch, and 52nd Street traffic had stopped while people listened to car radios. We all know the rest. What people were not aware of was the unquestionable sleight of hand worked by Jackie while arranging the details of the funeral, having even rehearsed her little boy’s salute as his father’s cortège passed. Despite her Medea-like rage and grief, she went over the list of those invited to attend and added her personal favourites, including Ari Onassis and J.D. Salinger. The widow quickly put some distance between herself and the rowdy Irish bunch of her husband’s brood. Except for Bobby Kennedy, who was perceived as the realist to JFK’s romantic, but who in reality was the romantic to the realist his elder brother was. Jackie wanted centre stage and got it in spades. Five years later she became Mrs Onassis and that’s when the high life began.

Fifty years down the road, what I find annoying are the conspiracy theories that have never really ceased. One graceful act Jackie never got credit for was the letter in blue stationery she wrote to the widow of Officer Tippit, the policeman Oswald murdered in cold blood by pumping four bullets into him before going to the movie house where he was finally arrested. She wrote how she worried that in their grief for the president, Americans might forget the officer’s death in the line of duty, but that she (Jackie) never would.

That’s as graceful and profoundly moving as it gets. The conspiracy theorists were mostly motivated by you-know-what. Mind you, there were so many loose ends: exit wounds that could not have come from the book depository, unexplained actions once the president had been taken to hospital. Still, I am among those who see a sole assassin who got lucky, and I am amazed that Onassis, Richard Nixon and LBJ were not dragged before the courts as potential conspirators. (A fabulist by the name of Evans, a Brit of course, blamed Onassis for JFK’s murder 40 years after the fact, and managed to sell a hell of a lot of bull, sorry books.)

The most farcical was the one about J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ and Richard Nixon in a Texas oilman’s house the night before exchanging conspiratorial glances when the TV showed Kennedy being cheered. Norman Mailer, an extremely astute judge of character, commented back in 1960 on JFK’s detachment, coolness and enigmatic lack of brusqueness. Jackie made sure the history police held firm, with Richard Goodwin, Arthur Schlesinger and Ted Sorensen constructing the Camelot myth.

How good or bad was Kennedy as president? Let’s put it this way: he was a reader, which meant he knew history, and he had read The Guns of August three months before the Cuban crisis. He told his brother Bobby that he wouldn’t be the one who some historian would write a comparable book about. That is, how things could get out of hand from nothing in October 1962. Pro-Kennedy historians insist he would never have gotten trapped in Vietnam. In the wake of his failure in the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy became weary of military advice. The great Greek historian Taki begs to differ.

JFK had won the closest election in history up to then by insisting there was a missile gap in relation to the Soviet Union. He evoked 1812, the last time foreign enemy forces had attacked continental United States. But that was balderdash. The Soviets had 36 intercontinental ballistic missiles instead of the rumoured 500; Uncle Sam had 400. His ‘pay any price, bear any burden’ inaugural address put the world on notice that the good Uncle was ready to fight overseas for his empire. Kennedy was at the helm when the ‘Strategic Hamlets’ programme in Vietnam saw hundreds of thousands of peasants deracinated in return for cash in order to deprive the Viet Cong of safe havens. (The cash was stolen by the Vietnamese rulers.) Kennedy blamed Diem rather than himself, agreed to the coup that killed the Vietnamese strongman with a $40,000 payment, and was himself assassinated three months later. These are facts, the rest is guesswork. Kennedy installed Jupiter missiles in Turkey threatening the Soviet heartland; then when the Soviets did the same in Cuba he cried foul. No, he was an insecure president with great charisma and personal courage, but his greatness lies in comparison to the awfulness of LBJ and George W. Bush.

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  • James Strong

    You see a sole assassin who got lucky yet are still amazed that Onassis, Nixon and LBJ were not brought before the courts as potential conspirators.
    As it stands, this is nonsense.
    Is it a failure of reasoning, are you holding back some information that would explain the two parts of your response, or has there been a typing error?
    Whatever it is, it’s not very impressive.
    Still , you managed some heavy name-dropping, and your apology for it is as meaningless as it is insincere.

    • Kennybhoy

      “Still , you managed some heavy name-dropping, and your apology for it is as meaningless as it is insincere.”

      Took the words off my keyboard.

      Said it before but bears repeating. Mark Steyn and Melanie Phillips cannae get a gig hereabouts but this sad cunnus can?

      • Blazenka Hudson-trograncic

        So Steyn and Phillips actually met Kennedy?

        • Jambo25

          I once met Lee Kwan Yew. So what? I’m no expert on Singapore.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      The lone, deranged assassin method has been used over and over. But the Muppets buy it hook, line and rapture so why change? If it ain`t broke, don`t fix it. Especially with the MSM on side. Face it, the MSM could change yesterday`s weather and hardly anyone would notice.
      Jack, Japan Alps

      • OldSlaughter

        Because it is clearly true

  • Toby Esterházy

    In hindsight, Vietnam was actually not a total failure, as since (i) the Americans successfully drove permanent wedges both between Moscow–Warsaw Pact–CMEA (ComEcon) and Peking, and between Peking and Hanoi; and (ii) Siam/Thailand, Burma and Malaya did not get to be overrun by the regulars or the so-called volunteers of the Red Chinese Red Army, like they did in North Korea and Seoul.

  • Sanctimony

    When Tacky met Jackie…. has a certain sort of Tinseltown ring to it…

    It’s a great shame that the put-upon Jackie didn’t throw in her lot with a marginally more pulchritudinous, though equally self-serving, Greek playboy.

    Then, we humble Speccie subscribers might have been thrilled weekly by the silver-tongued Lothario’s descriptive memoirs of his boudoir trysts with members of the New York Social Register.

    Not to mention a solution to the assassination of her priapic first husband, along with all the other juicy titbits about that ghastly family’s Nazi-loving, bootlegging and politically corrupt manoeuvrings, the Kennedys, that is, not the Theodoracrapoulosses… or however they style themselves…. Barons of Pentonville..

  • trace9

    Nuthin’ left worth shootin’ at but conspiracy theories..

  • D Whiggery

    JFK would have stopped Vietnam in exactly the same way as Obama stopped Afghanistan.

  • Bruce Lewis

    Some years ago, I read in a South Asian newspaper, a review of the memoirs of Charles de Gaulle’s private secretary. The review mentions the secretary’s recollection that de Gaulle had taken JFK aside and, using classified French information from the Dienbienphu era, had made the strong argument to the American President that the Viet Cong were a nationalist movement and that the Vietnamese people revered Ho Chi Minh not as a Marxist revolutionary, but as a Vietnamese national hero. De Gaulle’s secretary reveals, in these memoirs, according to the reviewer, that de Gaulle went away from the meeting believing that ,for the good of the West, he had succeeded in convincing Kennedy to withdraw from Vietnam. According to the book, supposedly, this is the reason for de Gaulle’s downcast and lachrymose aspect at JFK’s funeral; he knew, then, that the withdrawal that would have saved the West from a terrible defeat would now never take place.

  • Greg Burnham

    The President’s Special Assistant for National Security, McGeorge Bundy, played a key role in the reversal of JFK’s Vietnam withdrawal policy starting immediately following the assassination. That he drafted a document (NSAM 273), which began that reversal of policy, on November 21st–the day before JFK was assassinated–is suspect. LBJ signed the final version of the document to escalate the Vietnam War on November 26th, a mere 4 days later and the day after the funeral. It was the first official act of LBJ’s presidency involving National Security.

    Please watch the entire video presentation, which I gave in Dallas for COPA in 2010 at this link: http://youtu.be/1_5_l4PyyKU