"After centuries of oppression, may the revolution which has just taken place across the sea, by offering to all the inhabitants of European asylum against fanaticism and tyranny, teach those who govern men about the legitimate use of their authority! May those courageous Americans, who preferred to see their wives assaulted, their children butchered, their homes destroyed, their fields ravaged, their towns burned, to spill their blood and to die, rather than lose even a tiny portion of their liberty, prevent the enormous growth and the unequal distribution of wealth, extravagance, indolence, and corruption, and guarantee the maintenance of their liberty and the duration of their government. May they defer (at least for several centuries), the judgment pronounced against all the things of this world, the judgment which condemned them to have their birth, their period of strength, their decrepitude, and their end.
"Adversity employs great talents; prosperity renders them useless and carries the inept, the corrupted wealthy and the wicked to the top. May they bear in mind that virtue often contains the seeds of tyranny. May they bear in mind that it is neither gold nor even a multitude of arms that sustains a state, but its morals. May each of them keep in his house, in a corner of his field, next to his workbench, next to his plow, his gun, his sword and his bayonet. May they all be soldiers. May they bear in mind that in circumstances where deliberation is possible, the advice of old men is good, but that in moments of crisis youth is generally better informed than its elders."
APOSTROPHE TO THE INSURGENTS, 1782
Historical comparisons are dangerous things, but there is little doubt that Robert Kennedy would have taken up the torch so rudely wrested from his brother's hand. Because his first concern was for his mission, because he was already a states- man, he put off until later the punishment of his brother's assassins. For him, the unity of the nation came before sentiment.
He would certainly have been elected Thirty-Seventh President of the United States, and he would have guided his people towards the Frontier, towards that zone where men must confront the realities of this world, and no longer be content with borrowed images of it.
He would have gone further than his brother John, for five years had passed, and much time had been lost. Younger than John, Robert was more mature when he died, but sadder and lonelier. He lacked his brother's style, but he moved faster. He was the only American politician who was a man of his time . . . who was, in other words, ahead of his time. He liked to say, "I'm going to tell it like it is."
Once he had been laid in the ground, the conspiracy of silence closed once more over the conspiracy of the crime. Life magazine headed its story, "The Kennedys. those princes destroyed by the gods."
This book attempts not so much to describe a crime as to explain how it came about, and to disclose the motives that inspired it. The problems facing the United States today are fundamentally the same as those that it confronted in 1960, but they have grown more serious. Our analysis of the Kennedy years is, in fact, an autopsy of the Johnson administration.
The fortresses that John Kennedy prepared to attack are stronger today than ever before. The America of 1968 differs little from the America of the Eisenhower years.(1)
The death of Robert Kennedy, like that of his brother John, was neither an accident nor a misunderstanding. Both crimes bore the signature of frangible bullets. Both murders were the work of a few men desirous of maintaining the political, social and economic situations and philosophy of another era. Most of these men are still in power. Must the American people wait until the year 2038 to examine the files deposited in the National Archives, to hear the testimony of other witnesses? Who can say what the America of 2038 will be like, whether she will take an interest in the dust of centuries past, in the heroes of her history and their assassins?
Long before then, American children will learn in school that John Fitzgerald Kennedy ranks with a Lincoln and a Washington. True, he sometimes showed a lack of realism, too great a faith in the virtue of words. He was too trusting of men, and especially of those around him. He did not belong to that great family of emperors who, from Peter the Great to Frederick of Prussia to Charles De Gaulle, have always placed the interest of the state above sentiment -- even when it caused their heart to suffer.
But it is not only for his generous heart that John Kennedy will be remembered. He was the first to have a prophetic conception of a new Society of Mankind.
Before the double tomb at Arlington, there are lessons to be learned. Ethel and Edward Kennedy made of Robert's funeral an occasion, not of sadness, but of hope. A man can be destroyed, but some men are never vanquished . . . not if the true meaning of their death is understood, and the significance of their struggle.
As this page is written, 200,515 young Americans, dead, wounded or missing in Vietnam, bear witness to the longest and most pointless war the United States has ever known. But the price paid by the Great Society is greater still. The decade of the Sixties opened, you will recall, in the blaze of a New America and the warmth of world affection for her President. As the same decade draws to a close, the one and the other are held in universal contempt.
"I know the look that people give to Americans today -- to the tourists in the streets of Mexico, to the soldiers on leave in the Far East, to the businessmen passing through Italy or Sweden. It is the same look they give to your embassies, your warships, your exhibits throughout the world. It is a terrible look, for it makes no distinctions, no concessions. I know that look, because I am German, and I have felt it in the past. It is a mixture of distrust and resentment, of fear and envy, of hate and absolute contempt. It is the look they give to your President, who can no longer appear in public in any capital of the world; but it is also the look they give to the little old lady in the plane between Delhi and Benares."(2)
Within the frontiers and the souls of America, the cost is even higher. True, the national income is leaping to new heights. But is that enough?
The United States came into being not as a result of nationalism, nor of ethnic or religious unity, but of a common faith in liberty. It was for freedom that millions of Europeans crossed the Atlantic in the Nineteenth Century. Today, what remains of this faith?
Far from constituting an "American Challenge," it seems to us that the Great Society is tolling its death knell. True, the American way of life remains a model for the consumer society and the socialist republic alike. But if Europe is trying to close the technology gap, it is not with the object of adopting American civilization, but rather of protecting itself from the model, of preventing it from sterilizing its traditions and its particularisms, corrupting its peoples and subjugating its children to the idols of an alien society.
On February 7, 1968, the Chase Manhattan Bank predicted that the New Year would be "prosperous but uncomfortable." Among the most important problems it listed the conduct of the war , firmness in the face of social disorders, inflation, the balance of payments problem, and the financial repercussions of all of these issues.
Richard Nixon, who is more of a realist, or at least more of a demagogue, declared on September 5, 1968, that "What happened in Chicago last week was not the agony of Chicago, and was not even the agony of the Democratic Party. It was the agony of America."
On August 9, after his triumph in Miami, he had said, speaking of the "great" President that was Eisenhower, "This time we'll go on to win. . . It will be different. . . We have to win for Ike. . . We are going to win. It's time to have power go back from Washington, DC, to the cities. Tonight, it's the real voice of America."
A few days later, Hubert H. Humphrey remarked at a Michigan caucus, "I want Richard Nixon to understand that he won't be President just because John F. Kennedy isn't here."
It took the disappearance of two Kennedys to bring to the foreground two Vice-Presidents who had never been more than the shadows of other shadows.
For four years, Lyndon Johnson ran the country as his background and his obligations required, concealing his conservatism beneath minor racial and social reforms. John Kennedy had willed him a country that was almost ready to take the lead of the universe. Because he admired President Kennedy and because he was aware of his own limitations, few men were as badly shaken by the assassination as President Johnson. He understood who was behind it, and he knew that, his personal ambitions notwithstanding, he would always be the hostage of those to whom he owed his political career, of the men who had gone so far as to open that last door. He also knew how much separated him from John Kennedy.
The rich fragrances of four years in the White House were probably not enough to enable him to forget the odors of the back rooms where he had grown up. There is little doubt that he was weary when, on March 31, he handed in his final report.
Robert Kennedy's assassination pushed him down a little more. One June 6 he told his wife and a group of friends who urged him to return to the lead of the Democratic Party, "No, this is the end . . . the end . . . the end."
It was a sad month of August and a gloomy September, and the country found itself confronted with one candidate who "ran like a scared candidate for Sheriff"(3) and another who couldn't even sell a used car.
"I'm jumping for joy!" shouted H. H. H., but he was the only person who was, and a little later he slipped into a bedroom and wept . . . "not just for the bloodied kids in the streets, but for his country, his party and himself."(4)
As for the other candidate, Richard Nixon never cries.
One of these two men will be 37th President of the United States. Which is of little importance. The delegates to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 were right to voice their fears that democracy would bring about an end to freedom. They drew up a Constitution that was a succession of compromises between big states and small. They hoped to protect the government from the pressures of the voters. The political system they created was appropriate for the time of Montesquieu and Locke, and it was well-suited to the type of men present at the Convention -- men wealthy enough to be disinterested, experienced and intelligent enough to govern, and sufficiently idealistic to respect the principles on which the Republic was founded. Apprehending anarchy, distrusting the aristocracy, they gave birth to a synarchic regime. The political leaders of 1968 are twice as old as the founders of the Republic.(5)
Today, the United States is the only major western nation whose political institutions are completely out-of-date, the only democracy that denies its people a direct voice in the choice of its governors, the only great power whose President lacks the authority to institute a simple fiscal reform.
A national image is a very fragile thing. In a single night, the orders issued from the cold depths of the Communist Party destroyed 15 years of efforts and sacrificed the Soviet Union to the myth of the empire of the Tsars.
The USSR admits that it acted in Prague in order to stop a " legal counter-revolution." The men who govern the United States are inspired by the same principles. The two nations that seek to divide up the world are both ruled by anachronisms.
At the heart of the conflict between modern Soviet society and the government of the Kremlin lies the question of freedom of speech. The central problem in today's America is the search for a new moral ethic. Only the young people will know how to find it.
The day after the Los Angeles assassination, Tom Wicker wrote: " A whole new generation -- the children of affluence -- has taken up the cause of the black and the poor, not so much out of class feeling or shared experience, perhaps as from recognition of a common enemy -- the Establishment. It is the Establishment -- the elders, the politicians, the military-industrial complex, the Administration, the press, the university trustees, the landlords, the system -- that represses the black, exploits the poor, stultifies the students, vulgarizes American life. And it is the Establishment, of course, that wages the war in Vietnam . . . Never in history or in any country have such profound struggles as these been waged without bloodshed and human tragedy."
A nation cannot be built without its youth, let alone against its youth. The young people of today may be only real adults in the hesitant world of their fathers.
Robert Kennedy wrote:
"The young people of today reject a morality that measures everything by profit. They know that certain heads of large corporations conspire to fix prices, and that they meet in secret to steal a few pennies every month from the people. They have seen us throw marijuana smokers into jail, but they also see us refuse to limit the sales and advertising of tobacco, which kills several thousand Americans every year. They have seen us hesitate to impose even the most elementary norms of safety on automobile manufacturers, to require department stores and loan companies to reveal the true rates of interest they apply. They have come to realize that organized crime, corruption, bribery and extortion flourish not only because of government tolerance, but also because of the complicity of labor, economic and political leaders . . . "The gap that exists between the generations today will probably never be completely filled, but it must be straddled. It is vital that our young people be made to feel that an evolution is possible, that they be made to realize that this mad, cruel world can give way before their sacrifices . . . Each generation has its principal preoccupation. The youth of today seem to have chosen the dignity of man . . ."
It is you, the youth of the Seventies, who will build a New America.
There are only two alternatives: reform or revolution. The march that lies before you will not be easy. But others have shown you the way.(6) The Kennedy brothers left behind them not only ..a legacy of zest and vigor,"(7) but the certainty of a Renaissance. History moves forward only through the genius and the audacity of a few great men. From the ashes of Ghandi, tossed into the Granges and sown from the skies, a modern India will someday arise. The remains of Che Guevara, scattered by the winds, will gradually cover over the last of the empires.
In the short decade of the Sixties, at the end of the Twentieth Century, two sons of Massachusetts certainly did their part. As the Twenty-First Century opens, it is you, the youth of America, who must take up the torch.
For it is "not houses firmly roofed, or the stones of walls well-builded, nay nor canals and dockyards which make the city, but men able to use their opportunities."
Dare, and you will prevail.
That day, even Texas will blossom again.
That day, you will reach the top of the hill.
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1. Only the race problem has evolved. Calvin Lockridge, chief of the Black Consortium, has defined this evolution as follows:
"You thought we were ugly, stupid and lazy, and we believed you. All that is finished now. We've decided we're handsome, intelligent, efficient and artistic, and we're not about to change our minds." And he adds, "There's no black problem here. Only a white problem."
2. Hans Magnus Ensensberger.
6. Nearly 35 years ago in China, the longest march began. Harassed by Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Tse-tung, with a following of 100,000 men and 300,000 women and children, set out on a stupendous 368-day journey. The pilgrims survived five extermination campaigns. Leaving south China, they crossed the Yunnan mountains, skirted Tibet, traversed the Lolos forest, immense swamps, and the Setchuan and Ken Si deserts, until they finally reached the loop of the Yellow River near the Great Wall. They scaled eighteen mountain ranges, five of them covered with snow, and forded 24 rivers. After 7,500 miles, their number had dwindled to 40,000. But they had faith in China, and in themselves. In a Promised Land reminiscent of the Yucatan Desert, the kind of land where corn can be grown between the stones, the most resistant among them survived and hardened. There they forged their doctrine, and they waited . . .
One day, their grandchildren or their great-grandchildren may live in a China that is worth the cost.
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