Day By Day

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chipping Away At the Myth

It is dismaying for a serious historian, at least those of us who have not sold our souls to some political movement, to note the extent to which both popular and academic history have been shaped by political narratives. One of the most egregious politically useful narratives [and one of which professional historians are well aware, but which they seldom choose to challenge] is the Camelot myth.

John F. Kennedy was, by any objective measure, at best a mediocre president and, at times, his incompetence and naivete were stunningly dangerous, but a shamefully dishonest adulatory narrative, consciously constructed after his death, has led most Americans to consider JFK to have been a great or a near-great figure.

Today an attractive young Senator seeks to be elected president, and in pursuit of his dream has invoked the memory of JFK -- not the real man, but the carefully constructed image. This has brought the entire subject of the Kennedy administration and the JFK legacy into question once again.

This time there was a difference. For the first time a major liberal institution has been willing to tell the truth about Camelot. One of the key elements of the Kennedy myth was the assertion that he engaged in wise and competent diplomacy. Quite the opposite was the case. In today's New York Times, Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins, responding to Barak Obama's promise to be like JFK, not afraid to talk directly with his enemies, detail the disastrous course of events at Kennedy's first direct meeting with Khrushchev at Vienna.

a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.
They conclude, as have many historians, that Kennedy's grotesque ineptitude at that meeting led directly to the Soviet decision to construction the Berlin Wall and contributed greatly to Khrushchev's determination to place nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Read the article here.

One of the great benefits of the current disarray in Democrat ranks is that liberals, instead of forming a solid front to sustain politically useful distortions of history, have begun to attack them, and in the process the truth about one of the most mythologized periods in American history has begun to emerge into public view.

Which raises a secondary question -- when he invoked the example of JFK, was Obama displaying his cynical disregard for the truth, or simple ignorance of it? I suspect the latter.