- Though much about his background and public service
warrants criticism, he also deserves praise rarely given properly, this
article offering some and the writer's personal reflections on his commencement
address to my June 14, 1956 graduating class, a message not heard now by
US leaders - erudite, incisive and timely. More on it below.
- Some Background
- Had an assassin not taken his life, his health surely
would have, some around him saying "from a medical standpoint, (he)
was a mess." Indeed so, having been hospitalized more than three dozen
times in his life and given last rites on three occasions.
- At age 2 years, 9 months, he nearly died of scarlet fever.
He contracted measles, whooping cough and chicken pox the same year, and
as a child, was susceptible to upper respiratory infections and bronchitis.
In 1935, he suffered jaundice, had a history of sports-related injuries
because of his weak physique, and his mother remembered him as "a
very, very sick little boy." In the 1930s, he began taking steroids
for colitis, later developing complications, including a duodenal ulcer,
back pain, digestive trouble, and underactive adrenal glands known as Addison's
- He had a host of other problems as well, including a
bout of malaria as a naval officer in the Pacific. At age 43, the 1960
presidential campaign exhausted him because he overdid it for a man of
his health and stamina. In 1947, his Addisonism was diagnosed, at the time
told he had one year to live, and was given his last rites shortly afterward.
Yet as senator and president, his health problems were hidden, an observer
calling it "one of the most cleverly laid smoke screens ever put down
around a politician('s)" physical well-being.
- His Assassination
- Much about it has been written and speculated, some of
the best from James Douglas in his 2008 book titled, "JFK and the
Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters," debunking mainstream
myths and much more. From a wealth of information he uncovered, he showed
how threatening Kennedy was to the military-industrial complex and had
to go, "the CIA's fingerprints....all over the crime and the events
leading up to it."
- The notion of a lone gunman is ludicrous, the evidence
clearly implicating a national security state coup against one of its own
deemed unreliable. Though to some degree a cold warrior, he changed, was
chastened by the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and refused another. He also
fired CIA Director Allen Dulles, his assistant General Charles Cabell,
and once said he wanted "to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces
and scatter it to the winds," reason enough to kill him.
- Worst of all was his growing opposition to imperial wars,
specifically in Southeast Asia. Though he initially sent troops and advisors,
he changed, in 1961 opposing advice to send more to Laos, telling Averell
Harriman, his Geneva Conference representative: "Did you understand?
I want a negotiated settlement in Laos. I don't want to put troops in."
- The same year, he opposed using nuclear weapons in Berlin
and Southeast Asia and once called Pentagon generals "crazy"
for suggesting them, perhaps with Curtis LeMay (1906 - 1990) in mind, a
zealot who wanted to nuke the Soviets while we had the edge, even at the
cost of a few US cities.
- Kennedy also wouldn't attack or invade Cuba during the
1962 missile crisis, saying throughout it he "never had the slightest
intention of doing so."
- He swung to peace, away from war, telling an American
University audience in 1963 that nuclear weapons should be abolished, the
Cold War ended, followed by a "general and complete disarmament,"
and America no longer using its might to force Pax Americana on the world.
Shortly afterward he signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets,
and in October 1963 (about a month before his assassination), he signed
National Security Action Memorandum 263, calling for removing 1,000 US
troops from Vietnam by year's end and the remainder by December 1965.
- Douglas wrote how, as president, he underwent a spiritual
transformation from cold warrior to peacemaker, knowing it put him at odds
with the Pentagon, CIA, most members of Congress, and nearly all of his
advisors. As a result, he understood his vulnerability, perhaps by coup
or assassination, a condition he nonetheless accepted and paid for with
- Besides turning toward peace and more, he also signed
Executive Order (EO) 11110 on June 4, 1963 to:
- -- amend EO 10289 (dated September 17, 1951) designating
and empowering the Treasury to perform certain "functions of the President
without the approval, ratification, or other action of the President;"
- -- perhaps bypass the Fed and empower the president to
issue currency; it constitutionally empowered the federal government to
create and "issue silver certificates against any silver bullion,
silver, or standard silver dollars in the Treasury."
- Though not verified, some believe he then ordered the
Treasury Secretary to issue nearly $4.3 billion worth of United States
notes, perhaps to replace Federal Reserve Notes. Whether or not he wanted
to end the Federal Reserve System (and return money creation power to Congress
as the Constitution mandates) is speculation, but perhaps fearing it, besides
the above cited reasons and more, led to his assassination five months
- In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson said: "Silver
has become too valuable to be used as money." In late 1963, after
he became president, US notes were withdrawn from circulation, and noted
Fed critic and author of "The Creature from Jekyll Island," G.
Edward Griffin, wrote on page 569 of his book:
- "There was a third point, however, which everyone
seemed to overlook. The Executive Order 11110 did not instruct the Treasury
to issue Silver Certificates. It merely authorized it to do so if the occasion
should arise. The occasion never arose. The last issuance of Silver Certificates
was in 1957....six years before the Kennedy (EO). In 1987, (it) was rescinded
by (EO) 12608 signed by Ronald Reagan."
- Without mentioning EO 11110, he did it by amending EO
10289, rescinding the Treasury's right to issue silver-backed notes.
- Had Kennedy lived and served a second term, imagine the
possibilities. Ending the Vietnam war alone would have been a powerful
- Kennedy's June 14, 1956 Commencement Speech
- Given outdoors on a blistering hot/humid day, he began
expressing "pleasure to join with my fellow alumni in this pilgrimage
to the second home of (my) youth," noting the difference between academia's
purpose to advance knowledge and his own "where the emphasis is somewhat
- "Our political parties, our politicians are interested,
of necessity, in winning popular support - a majority; and only indirectly
truth is the object of our controversy," often sacrificed for political
- The "political profession needs to have its temperature
lowered in the cooling waters of the scholastic pool. We need both the
technical judgment and the disinterested viewpoint of the scholar, to prevent
us from becoming imprisoned by our own slogans. Therefore, it's regrettable
that the gap between the intellectual and the politician seems to be growing."
- No wonder, he added, that politicians are so scorned,
quoting James Russell Lowell's mid-19th century satiric attack on Caleb
Cushing, a celebrated Attorney General and congressional member, calling
him "true to one party, that is himself." It's as true today
- Kennedy's entire talk was full of scholarly references
and quotes, including Lord Melbourne to a youthful historian Thomas Macauley
about the differences between scholars and politicians. Another from philosopher
Sidney Hook, saying "Many intellectuals would rather die than agree
with the majority, even on the rare occasions when the majority is right."
- Yet he reminded the audience that today's politicians
and intellectual climate have a common ancestry, America's early leaders,
also distinguished for their writing and intellect, including Jefferson,
Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, and John Adams among others.
- "Books were their tools, not their enemies. Locke,
Milton, Sydney, Montesquieu, Coke, and Bollingbroke were among those widely
read in political circles and frequently quoted in political pamphlets.
Our political leaders traded in the free commerce of ideas with lasting
results both here and abroad."
- A contemporary of Jefferson called him "A gentleman
of 32, who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery,
plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, dance a minuet, and play the
violin." He was also a statesman and third US president.
- "Daniel Webster could throw thunderbolts at Hayne
on the Senate floor and then stroll a few steps down the corridor and dominate
the Supreme Court as the foremost lawyer of his time. John Quincy Adams,
after being summarily dismissed from the Senate for a notable display of
independence, could become Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory at
Harvard and then become a great Secretary of State" as well as president.
- "The link between the American scholar and American
politician" lasted over a century. In the 1856 campaign, Republicans
had "three brilliant orators - William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Those were the carefree days when
the eggheads were all Republicans." One of their own became president
on March 4, 1861, denied a second term by his April 1865 assassination,
challenging the establishment and existing order also his undoing.
- Kennedy quoted John Milton, Bismark, Goethe and others,
his erudition on display for those attending, a man with an intellect who
used it. He reminded the audience that politicians and intellectuals "operate
within a common framework - a framework we call liberty. The lock on the
door of the legislature, the Parliament, or the assembly hall - by order
of the King, the Commissar, or the Fuehrer - has historically been followed
or preceded by a lock on the door of the university, the library, or the
- Where freedom is endangered, he said, politicians and
intellectuals "should be natural allies, working more closely together
for the common cause against the common enemy." They both must decide
whether to be "an anvil or a hammer....whether (they are) to give
to the world in which (they were) reared and educated the broadest possible
benefits of (their) learning" for society's benefit, or do it solely
for their own. "As one who is familiar with the political world, I
can testify" to the challenge we face.
- He opted against handing over political and public life
to experts "who ignore public opinion. Nor would I adopt from the
Belgian constitution of 1893 the provision giving 3 votes instead of 1
to college graduates; or give Harvard a seat in the Congress as William
and Mary was once represented in the Virginia House of Burgesses."
- But he urged politicians and intellectuals to work together,
warning that we don't "need scholars or politicians like Lord John
Russell, of whom Queen Victoria remarked, he would be a better man if he
knew a third subject - but he was interested in nothing but the constitution
of 1688 and himself. What we need are men who can ride easily over broad
fields of knowledge and recognize the mutual dependence of our two worlds."
- He ended quoting what an English mother once wrote the
Provost of Harrow, saying "Don't teach my boy poetry; he is going
to stand for Parliament."
- "Well, perhaps she was right - but if more politicians
knew poetry and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would
be a little better place in which to live on this commencement day of 1956."
- Aged 39, he scarcely had more than seven years left before
America's dark forces killed him, a lesson his successors never forgot.
Neither should we knowing the rogues that followed and their agendas, worst
of all post-9/11, putting the nation on a fast track toward despotism unless
cooler heads can stop them.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com
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