The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

JFK's gurus of aggression

I mentioned Coming Apart in my piece earlier today.

A history of the 60s, it has what might be an awkward start [1] with a single year of Eisenhower to deal with, before it can get stuck into the Kennedy era. In fact, the inclusion of the transitional year is useful for underlining the contrast between the regimes - which, for some, will run very much against expectations: the strident warmonger is the (fairly liberal) Democrat, the prudential soft-talker is the Republican.

There's an Ike-Bush comparison straight off the bat: on p6/12,
Arthur Larson, one of his speechwriters, says that though Eisenhower was famous for having said he never read the papers, he in fact did so carefully.

The story is of Eisenhower's reluctance, having pulled the US out of the Korean quagmire, to risk further adventures, or go into debt for nuclear superiority over the USSR.

The piece mentions the internecine warfare between the army on the one hand, and the navy and air force on the other (p10/16) - the doctrine of massive retaliation rather left the army short of a mission, to which lack flexible response was meant to be the answer. The mythical missile gap - a piece of fiction as useful to Kennedy as Iraqi WMD was to Bush Jr - was fuelled by the Sputnik shock in 1957 (from which many fantasies flowed).

One also has the gurus - all of which seem to favour the confrontational Kennedy approach: Walt Rostow [3] (The United States in the World Arena), Herman Kahn (On Thermonuclear War) and the fantastically named Robert Strausz-Hupé [4] (Forward Strategy for America). RSH was clearly Dr Strangelove material - his book, it seems, called for (inter alia)
freeing the "captive nations" of Eastern Europe
- but
Except for its menacing rhetoric the book was closer to the mainstream than it seemed.

A lot closer than feeble old Ike, at any rate.

  1. I mentioned on August 19 the strangeness of associating a new president with his election year - FDR in 1932, for instance - for which, as president, he has no responsibility at all.

  2. I never knew it was Walt Whitman Rostow. A peculiarly American practice, this, of Christian name and surname together as Christian names of another person. Edward Everett Horton, I recall - one of the Astaire-Rogers repertory company. It took many years for me to realise that one had to parse the name so as to bring out the relatively obscure orator of Gettysburg.

  3. In German, Johann Strauss is printed Johann Strauß. The ß is, I believe, correctly sz - but this is the only instance where I've seen it thus written in English.

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