December 29, 2007

Why America fell apart on 11/22/1963

One of the enduring mysteries of American history is why the The Sixties! didn't begin until the decade was almost 40% over. The general flavor of 1960-1963 was similar to 1954-1959, but then everything quickly changed. Many people who lived through that time have observed that the turning point was John F. Kennedy's assassination, but few have offered a cogent explanation of the precise mechanism.

In the new January 14, 2008 issue of The American Conservative, John O'Sullivan, who wrote about the failed 1981-1984 assassinations attempts on Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher in his 2006 book The President, The Pope, and the Prime Minister, reviews James Pierseon's new book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism. The review isn't online, but I'll quote from it:

"Piereson's first original (and brilliant) insight is his recognition that what transformed American politics was not the assassination itself but how it was interpreted.

"Kennedy was slain by a devout communist, one-time defector to the Soviet Union, and admirer or Fidel Castro who had kept in touch with Soviet diplomats after returning home from the USSR and was trying to re-defect to Cuba. A common-sense interpretation of the crime would have portrayed Kennedy as an anti-communist martyr of the conservative cause in the Cold War. Such a view would have made the Cold War -- rather than civil rights -- the central issue in U.S. politics... But such an account would have also been contrary to the emerging "spirit of the age," which dictated to commentators a very different analysis.

"Before anyone knew the identity of Kennedy's assassin, his death was at once and widely attributed in media speculations to 'extremists' and 'bigots' on the Right. ... But that conviction hardly changed once it became known that the assassin was a communist. To be sure, the newspapers dug into Oswald's career as a defector very thoroughly. But the editorials and opinion columns, their television equivalents, and the comments of the liberal and cultural leaders repeatedly and passionately blamed the assassination on something called 'extremism,' which was disconnected from America in general and to the radical Right in particular. ... It soon became conventional wisdom that all Americans bore a share of the blame for the bigotry, intolerance, and hate that had struck down the president. John F. Kennedy in death became a martyr for the cause of civil rights -- a cause to which in life he had shown a prudent political coolness. ...

"Piereson's second great contribution is to establish that Mrs. Kennedy herself, in the very depths of her grief, was signally responsible for inventing and spreading this misinterpretation and lifting it to the level of myth.

... These questions were answered when Mrs. Kennedy learned that the lone Oswald had killed her husband. She tehn complained, "He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It had to be some silly little communist. It even robs his death of any meaning."

"Even before the misinterpretation had become current, she had intuitively grasped both its main features and the unfortunate fact that reality did not quite measure up to them. In her arrangements for the funeral and her selection of those speaking at the various memorial services, she ensured that the misinterpretation would be the dominant theme. Finally, by dictating to Theodore White the story that Kennedy had often ended his day listening to songs from his favorite musical, "Camelot," and by insisting that it must remain in White's article over the skepticism of his editors at Life magazine, she lifted the misinterpretation to the level of myth...

"Extended to the present, these trends have produced a cultural atmosphere in which the 20th-century political figures most admired by readers of Vogue and Vanity Fair would probably be Che Guevara and Martin Luther King. Observers attentive to purely political signs -- votes, laws, opinion polls -- were inevitably late to notice this cultural shift. But a woman of fashion, who was also politically knowledgeable, was able to sense it from the surrounding atmosphere. ...

"To their surprise, however, as the radicals [in the late 1960s] rushed forward with their battering rams, the liberals opened the gates and surrendered. How could they resist? If America had killed Kennedy, the liberalism was merely a smiley face painted on a System of racist and sexist oppression. ... For a decade or so after November 1963, liberalism and its institutions were convulsed by disputes, entering the maelstrom as pragmatic, patriotic, and problem-solving bodies, and emerging from it as perfectionist, utopian, anti-American ones, secretly anxious to punish the American majority for its sins rather than solve its problems."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

26 comments:

Bill said...

In order for so many influential people to buy the myth that "bigotry" killed Kennedy, wouldn't there already have had to be a significant movement toward left radicalism and away from pragmatism?

It is an interesting observation about Jackie Kennedy, however. I grew up around some very privileged people (scholarship kid -- unfortunate but edifying experience), and they are far more susceptible to belief in perfect societies, especially the women. Being from working and middle-class roots I had a very difficult time relating to them, and they clearly resented my skepticism.

Perhaps this is why women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, and I would go as far to put Hillary Clinton in this category, have what appear to be extremely unrealistic ideals as well as a tendency to personify their opposition as the embodiment of some evil force. "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" and all that.

Maybe one could view the "60s" as a societal manifestation of hysteria, in the classical sense.

SFG said...

This is isteve. I'm still waiting for the explanation that involves Jews.

dearieme said...

Fascinating. Presumably the misinterpretation was the second Communist triumph, the first being the assassination itself. It must have taken some doing to paint Kennedy as a champion of Civil Rights. It's the madness that infects American attitudes to Presidents and the Presidency that has made me something of an enthusiast for Constitutional Monarchy. Separating the Head of the Executive from the National Figurehead is the separation of powers that your Founding Fathers omitted. Serious blunder.

Anonymous said...

I lived through it and must say his analysis resonates for me very deeply. There was no question that Oswald's communist past was explored factually but also no question that the dominant interpreting myth was as Piereson describes it.

Fenster Moop

robert said...

Mainstream Protestants no longer believe in original sin, but their post-modern progeny have revived it - "all Americans bore a share of the blame" indeed.

steve wood said...

In order for so many influential people to buy the myth that "bigotry" killed Kennedy, wouldn't there already have had to be a significant movement toward left radicalism and away from pragmatism?

One would think so. It's certainly wrong to view the early 60's as a halcyon period of tranquility that suddenly transformed, on November 23, 1963, into "the Sixties." For example:

--It's hard to remember now how bitter, controversial and seriously nasty the issue of civil rights was in 1963. It was not far removed, in terms of emotional content and moralistic outrage on both sides, from the abolition vs slavery issue of a century before. JFK did not invent this problem, and it would have continued with equal bitterness if he had not been assassinated.

--There was already in the early 60s a belief among supposedly right-thinking people that we had "gone too far" with anti-Communism in the 50s. Joe McCarty was just as widely reviled then as now, and the feeling had more emotional heat because it was more recent. Remember that this was also a time when respectable (if misguided) people could still believe that Alger Hiss was innocent and the Rosenbergs martyrs to McCarthyism. In other words, we were already looking inward to our own flaws on this issue rather than focusing on the real international threat.

--It's also hard to remember now that people truly and deeply feared nuclear annihilation. It seems absurd in hindsight, but many people back then believed that disarmament was preferable to potential devastation. Even those who did not go so far as to advocate that we unilaterally give up our nukes nurtured a general sense of anger and helplessness in the face of this seemingly imminent threat.

Anyway, this sounds like a fascinating piece, and I think the author makes some good points. However, by 1963, "the Sixties" were a disaster waiting to happen. Liberals already thought we were screwed up; the assassination just gave them a handy symbol. For evidence, look to other Western countries, most of which suffered their own upheavals of one kind or another and are still enduring the fallout, without having anybody assassinated.

RKU said...

While I don't necessary completely disagree with this analysis, I've always had a strong impression that three's a lot of evidence that Oswald was actually a rightwing kook who was "infiltrating" those various leftwing organizations.

I admit I'm certainly not up on all this sort of Oswald lore, but maybe some other commenter here is, and can clarify this.

Bill said...

This is isteve. I'm still waiting for the explanation that involves Jews.

-sfg


Well, sfg, I think it might have been your fault. I am currently oiling my sabre, sharpening my spurs, and preparing to attack your shtetl.

SFG said...

Watch out for my iron bagel shuriken of doom, bill.

OK, seriously, I don't think cultural leftism totally started de novo in the 60s. The Democrats lost the South with the civil rights act. Once that drove the (people who would become) Reagan Democrats away they had nowhere to go but left. It was probably an evolution of pre-existing trends that continued because once the Reagan Democrats left the party, they weren't around to check its drift in that direction. There's a tendency among intellectual sorts to get too hung up on the value of ideas, but the truth is that party ideology changes around to get votes. Ever see the 1896 red-vs-blue map?

Seriously, I've given up on trying to construct a coherent political philosophy; even the ones that seem logically derived from first principles usually are invented to cover the interests of whoever is trying to win someone over at any given time. Just vote for whoever serves your interests at the time. If you don't, someone else will, and will exploit you as a result. But don't get hung up on whether you're a paleolibertarian or a metrocon. You don't have to believe in progress to think it makes sense to change with the times.

ben tillman said...

Before anyone knew the identity of Kennedy's assassin, his death was at once and widely attributed in media speculations to 'extremists' and 'bigots' on the Right.... But that conviction hardly changed once it became known that the assassin was a communist.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Kennedy gets shot, and someone a million miles to his left takes over. It's a classic case of media mendacity.

quo vadis scipio said...

...and emerging from it as perfectionist, utopian, anti-American ...secretly anxious to punish the American majority for its sins rather than solve its problems.

the wise mr o'sullivan is razor sharp here. wonder who thought national review could be improved by getting rid of him. could it be the other side?

the transformation of oswald from a communist assassin into an 'intolerant right wing hater' dovetails nicely with the magic trick that positioned the act of removing 'mccarthyism' as a greater evil than the act of removing american-hating communists from the u.s. government.

later they warned reagan not to call the ussr an evil empire. then venona got flushed down the memory hole. Today we have examples like the recent socialist worker's party leader bhutto tear-jerker media narrative.

all of these are perception-is-reality victories made possible only by control of the media. there is a reason that an invading army will first secure the television stations. the media is the crucial weapon in war. control the media and you at least survive and likely prosper. fail to control the media and you will soon find yourself on the receiving end of withering pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword warfare.

Anonymous said...

sfg:

Renowned anti-Semite Stanley Rothman is what you're looking for. That damned anti-Semite talks about how the ringleaders of the 60's countercultural revolution were entirely Jewish, in terms not too far removed from Kevin MacDonald's interpretation.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Roots-Radicalism-Stanley-Rothman/dp/156000889X

(PS: The "anti-Semite" Rothman is Jewish)


Also:

The modern parallel to the up-is-down spin of the Kennedy assassination is the Katrina coverage. Somehow the epidemic of black-on-black crime, rape, and looting became the fault of whites. Social collapse was inevitable in a city run by blacks -- look at Detroit, DC, etc. for examples -- and Katrina just strained it beyond its limits. Black policemen took off for Vegas (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/05/national/nationalspecial/05vegas.html) while white Guardsmen cleaned up the city, and then as now "all Americans" shared some of the blame.

Robert2 said...

...and emerging from it as perfectionist, utopian, anti-American ...secretly anxious to punish the American majority for its sins rather than solve its problems.

This could be the reason for the popularity of all the Rush Limbaugh type populists today among average working class Americans and the fact that liberals cannot connect with them. The average American can only take being told that they are a sinner for so long before they get sick of hearing it. Along comes Rush telling them that they are not sinners after all and that it is all part of a great conspiricy against them cooked up by liberals.

Anonymous said...

A silly thesis. The civil rights laws were not passed as "revenge" against JFK's killers, but as a sort of will, what he would have done had he lived.

And who says the 60's were a disaster? They were a period of rapid economic and technological growth.

Kennedy's death was also used to justify the space race, more nuclear missles, and other massive government investments in science research and education.

Bill said...

Watch out for my iron bagel shuriken of doom, bill.

lol. Bring it on, beanie boy

Seriously, I've given up on trying to construct a coherent political philosophy; even the ones that seem logically derived from first principles usually are invented to cover the interests of whoever is trying to win someone over at any given time

Yeah, I've come to pretty much the same conclusion. When I was a bit younger, I believed that people really did work together in these grand coalitions or conspiracies or whatever you want to call them. Now, it looks more like nobody's really in charge, and it's all just an illusion created by the herd mentality. It makes me feel kind of like a reluctant buffalo with a strong suspicion that there's a cliff in front of my herd.

Anonymous said...

Well, let me introduce the Joos.

Why Israeli Soldiers Won't Rape Arab Women

Why? Because they are bigots. It sez so in a study from a university.

steve wood said...

And who says the 60's were a disaster? They were a period of rapid economic and technological growth.

True. Furthermore, for most middle-class Americans, home life was still very Leave-It-To-Beaverish. Mothers of young children generally did not work, and Dad's one income was enough to provide a comfortable life by the standards of the time.

Like Steve (I think), I was not referring to the decade 1960-1969 but rather to "the Sixties": the rebellious and liberation-oriented social and political phenomena associated mostly with the 1965-70 period. That is, the decade of the 1960s as imagined by the media today, which are run by its obnoxious children.

The actual decade of 1960s, as it was really lived by most people, was pretty good. It took a while for the rot of "the Sixties" to trickle down to the masses (which is why the 70s were so screwed up - albeit, frankly, lots of fun if you were young enough to enjoy it).

SFG said...

Renowned anti-Semite Stanley Rothman is what you're looking for. That damned anti-Semite talks about how the ringleaders of the 60's countercultural revolution were entirely Jewish, in terms not too far removed from Kevin MacDonald's interpretation.
Ha-ha! Knew it! I don't know about entirely, but he's probably not too far off.

lol. Bring it on, beanie boy
I was really hoping you would come back with some rejoinder about a gun that fires bacon cheeseburgers or something. Which, BTW, are delicious.

It makes me feel kind of like a reluctant buffalo with a strong suspicion that there's a cliff in front of my herd.
I feel the same way. Nonconformity is dangerous, but what if the herd is going off a cliff? All I can say is live frugally and be ready to move any time soon.

My viewpoint, starting out as a liberal, and after reading a lot of iSteve and paleoism, is that there are groups of people, and they compete for power. Obviously some are more successful than others. That's it. There's no outside morality, no grand plan, there's just you and whoever else you can manage to hang on to. So which group are you in? Depends who will have you. You can pick from any group that will, but some people have more choices than others, and some people are in more than one group at a time.

Kevin B said...

A couple of outriders (and one for sfg):

1 Drugs (amphetamine, pot and heroin, leading eventually to LSD) made their into the mainstream from out of the 1950's Beats. Once drugs went quasi-legitimate in society, drugs changed perceptions. We're living with a hyper version of this today.

2 The ravages of WW2 were largely and purposefully sublimated by 1950's culture. Returning Vets (in all Western countries) created a culture that was the opposite of the unparalleled raw violence they witnessed. The sixties saw a generation of college students that grew-up having parents who had contemporary knowledge of things like death camps. Take the intellectual implications of the "bell curve" and couple it with Jewish genocide and you get a subset of a generation of understandably angry children. Who then tried to burn the place the down and through their smarts, almost succeeded.

3. The Vietnam draft unleashed the most selfish and basic survival instincts in this same generation.

Drugs, genocide, draft. A potent elixir for social change.

Bill said...

I was really hoping you would come back with some rejoinder about a gun that fires bacon cheeseburgers or something. Which, BTW, are delicious.

-sfg


If you want anything clever from me, you'll have to wait until after I've recovered from the Christmas trampling.

The effects of squealing babies and toddlers, crowds of tipsy relatives and huge portions of beef take a while to wear off.

Happy New Year all!

SFG said...

The ravages of WW2 were largely and purposefully sublimated by 1950's culture. Returning Vets (in all Western countries) created a culture that was the opposite of the unparalleled raw violence they witnessed. The sixties saw a generation of college students that grew-up having parents who had contemporary knowledge of things like death camps. Take the intellectual implications of the "bell curve" and couple it with Jewish genocide and you get a subset of a generation of understandably angry children. Who then tried to burn the place the down and through their smarts, almost succeeded.
I guess. I suspect it was more like a party that got out of hand. My only theory comes from a question I once asked a prof about where this whole 'do your own thing' thing in the 50s and 60s came from. He said it was a reaction against fascism, which makes sense. (And doesn't really invalidate McDonald either: you can see how the Jewish intelligentsia would have freaked after WWII. Losing half your family tree is pretty scary.) You can pretty easily see how individualism could get out of hand. You can sort of see that in how 'fascist' became an all-purpose insult on both sides of the aisle ('communist' seems to have lost a lot of its sting since the Russians and Chinese both decided they want money. The US has its enemies but the closest thing to 'communism' left is the Swedes, and I don't think they're a threat to anybody. Unless you count ABBA.)

James Kabala said...

"He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It had to be some silly little communist. It even robs his death of any meaning."

This quotation says a lot about where liberalism went astray. I have never heard anyone claim that Jackie Kennedy was a Communist or a Communist sympathizer, and in fact, it seems clear to me from her wording of "silly little communist" that she did have disdain for communism. It's also clear, however, that she did not consider anti-Communism to be a particularly noble cause and ranked it as much less worthwhile than civil rights. I (unlike some posters here) regard both as noble causes, but the mistake of post-JFK liberalism was to regard the presence of injustice at home as a reason to pooh-pooh even greater injustice abroad and those who wanted to import the greater injustice home as well.

Meanwhile, the JFK who was conviently sick the day the Senate voted to censure McCarthy (the only Democrat in the Senate who avoided voting for or being paired for the censure) and whose brother actually worked for McCarthy* was conveniently forgotten.

*(For me, the highlight of Good Night and Good Luck was an extremely brief glimpse of RFK at McCarthy's side in an archived clip. I do not believe he was seen or mentioned at any other point.)

Charles Hope said...

This is, I think, the link between post-WW2 intellectuals reacting against fascism, and the Do Your Own Thing of The Sixties.

Rudy McRomney said...

Is Sailer really dumb enough to believe Oswald shot JFK? Or is he just _playing_ dumb to serve some ulterior motive?

Grizzlie Antagonist said...

**** Is Sailer really dumb enough to believe Oswald shot JFK? Or is he just _playing_ dumb to serve some ulterior motive? ****

Oswald DID shoot JFK and as far as branding anyone "dumb" for thinking so is concerned -- bravo for one of life's little ironies.

airtommy said...

Rudy McRomney said...

Is Sailer really dumb enough to believe Oswald shot JFK? Or is he just _playing_ dumb to serve some ulterior motive?


Yes, I too was laughing as I read Steve's blog entry. Generally, Steve and his readers don't scratch the surface if there is a Communist (or a Communist goverment) to blame.