Other overrated and largely inexplicable icons have existed and will continue to exist and emerge from time to time. The cult around James Dean is a truly outstanding example. He stared in a mere 3 movies, although he had unaccredited roles in several more.2 Yes he was a good actor but to any remotely rational human being his iconic status is wildly out of proportion to his talent or to his actual acting career. Certainly when People magazine listed him has the 4th greatest actor of all time years ago they were capitulating to “iconitis” and nothing rational.3
The same is true of John Kennedy. Any rational analysis of his actual achievements would reveal that yes he was a handsome man, very photogenic, and a good speaker but his actual achievements were not exactly major. But of course here is where the myth making takes off. Worshipers of St. John wax eloquently about the great and wonderful things he would have accomplished if he had lived. Exactly what those great achievements would have been is basically expressed by a haze of sentimental hogwash.
The very word used to describe his term in the White House, “Camelot”, shows not reality but a craving for mythical, heroic fantasy and that is what Kennedy groupies provide in abundance. During his presidency Kennedy provided lots of airy flighty rhetoric but much less concrete action.
The myriad of Kennedy hagiographies is seemingly endless. The cult of Lenin in the former Soviet Union provides a useful parallel. It is clear that so many long to fall on their knees and adore a Monarch by divine right. One can find in book stores row upon row of books writhing in ecstasy about St. John and the Kennedy royal family. This myth making reached a height off absurdity with the frankly over the top coverage of the death of John Kennedy Jr. The absurd level of T.V. coverage, the massive number of magazine cover stories about it vastly exceeded any importance of the event. What the hell had John Kennedy Jr. done to merit such wall to wall coverage of his death? The answer is virtually nothing.4
It’s all part of the cult of the Kennedys in which hallucination replaces reality and mental masturbation acts like heroin on the mind.
Books or articles that disparage the Kennedy legend are few and far between and frequently get a hysterical response for the crime of lese majestie. St. John is immune from mere criticism.
Let us look at one particular mythos the idea that Kennedy was planning to withdraw from Vietnam before he was killed.5
The book that outlined that idea got rave reviews from Kennedy acolytes like Arthur Schlesinger who waxed eloquently about how convincing the book was and how he knew at the time that Kennedy was planning to withdraw.6 But Noam Chomsky, annoying party pooper that he is, bothered to check the sources and found out some very interesting things.
What Chomsky found out was that Kennedy was a “Cold War Liberal”, that yes he was planning to withdraw from Vietnam, but only when they, the Americans, had won. This, incidentally, was the position of Lyndon Johnson up to 1968. That Kennedy had supported a massive increase in American aid to Vietnam, including assisting troops and air attacks. Further Chomsky found that not a breath of this alleged withdrawal could be found in Schlesinger massive book A Thousand Days, 7 published before it became fashionable to attack America’s commitment in Vietnam. When Schlesinger says that he knew about the alleged plan to withdraw at the time he is simply not telling the truth. Further he did not turn against the war until 1968 and not earlier.8 This fantasy was subsequently used by Oliver Stone in his movie J.F.K. as the reason for Kennedy’s assassination by the “Military Industrial Complex”; which on Oliver Stone’s reading seems to include millions of people.
Carefully elided from the hagiographies is the involvement of the Kennedy administration in such things as Operation Mongoose, a terrorist campaign against Cuba in which many civilians were killed and much damage done. And in regards to Cuba Kennedy ordered carried out several assasination attempts against Castro. Basically the United States functioning has a terrorist state.9
Books like Gary Will’s The Kennedy Imprisonment,10 which criticize the Kennedy Administration for being all form and little substance and for being an exercise in macho posturing do not get much read or used. St. John of Kennedy is simply beyond serious criticism of any kind.
Of course the apogee of St. John worship is the movie mentioned above by Oliver Stone J.F.K. As a movie it is brilliant, entertaining fiction. As history it is a joke. Stone’s distortions and out and out falsehoods are incredible.11 He buys for example the St. John intending to withdraw from Vietnam mythos, and Stone’s portrayal of William Garrison is quite simply a lie. The movie’s view is that if Kennedy had not died, God’s one and only begotten son, (John Kennedy of course), would have ushered in the golden age. This is frankly a Fascistic view of the world. That conspiracies rule and that “Great Men” can save us and institutions, social arrangements make little difference because only a “Great Man” can save us.
Of course the key element in this cult is Kennedy’s assassination. The idea that a lone nut bar could have killed him is anathema to Kennedy’s iconic, mythic status. God’s one and only begotten son must be killed by a vast satanic conspiracy of the forces of darkness. St. John must be martyred by evil secret cabals who wish us ill. It just can’t be that petty insignificant people like Lee Harvey Oswald could do it. Of course it would be nice if the conspiracy fanatics could just make up their mind about who and why and how. But the flood of conspiracy literature will probably never end and vast numbers of people will waste vast intellectual resources on this sterile endeavor. Just who did it? It seems the list of participants, (from the Mob to the KGB etc.), is endless in length.12 I rather doubt that the “Military Industrial Complex”, was involved because Kennedy was their zealous servant, (Just see his increases in military spending).13
So in the end the cult of St. John of Kennedy is a typical savior cult with the young God who dies in order to save us from our sins combined with the idea of the fall from primordial innocence into a corrupt world due to the machinations of the forces of evil.
Kennedy was no such savior he was a typical politician of no earth shaking ability with a great deal of charisma that vastly exceeded his actual accomplishments and a remarkable ability to charm the intelligentsia. Lots of flash and little substance. Kennedy’s death put the seal on his deification and was the deus ex machina that created his iconic status. It is because of his iconic status that the cults most bizarre feature the conspiracy abscess that rots the minds of so many is considered to be so reasonable by so many. Only a vast conspiracy could take away the godlike savior who would have ushered in the golden age.
In the end St. John’s status is only of interest to students of mass psychology and hysteria. Kennedy’s accomplishments remain paltry compared to his publicity.
1. This particular cult of personality is particularly annoying given what a whinny little airhead Diana was. Feel free to disagree.
2. Wikipedia, Here
3. I’m working from memory here, clarification would be welcome.
4. For more about John Kennedy Jr. see Wikipedia, Here.
5. See Newman, John, JFK and Vietnam, Warner Books, New York, 1992, for a presentation of this fantasy.
6. Chomsky, Noam, Rethinking Camelot, South End Press, Boston, 1993, pp. 125-126.
7. Schlesinger, Arthur, A Thousand Days, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1965. I checked A Thousand Days Chomsky is right there is no mention of withdrawal without victory. For Kennedy’s escalation of American involvement in Vietnam see, Chomsky, 1993, pp. 49-104.
8. Chomsky, 1993, pp. 105-127.
9. Chomsky, 1993, p. 145, See also Chomsky, Noam, Understanding Power, Edited by Michell, Peter R., Schoeffel, John, The New Press, New York, 2002, pp. 7-10, see also the Footnotes to Understanding Power, Footnote 21, pp. 12-14 available at Here. See also, Reitzes, Dave, The JFK 100: Oliver Stone's portrayal of John F. Kennedy, at Here.
10. Wills, Gary, The Kennedy Imprisonment, Mariner Books, New York, 2002. Originally published in 1982. Other examples of items critical of Kennedy and the Kennedy mythos are Vidal, Gore, The Holy Family, United States: Essays 1952-1992, Broadway Books, New York, 1993, pp. 809-826, (Originally Published in Esquire, 1967), and Hersh’s JFK, The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000, Vintage Books, 2001, pp. 220-237, (Originally Published in The New Yorker, 1997). A book that truly enraged the worshippers at the Kennedy shrine was Hersh, Seymour M., The Dark Side of Camelot, Little Brown, New York, 1997. Hersh's total failure to grovel before the shrine just infuriated the true believers.
11. See Reitzes, Dave, The JFK 100, Here See also Lambert, Patricia, False Witness, M. Evans and Co. Inc., New York, 1998, pp. 211-226.
12. For a demolition of conspiracy crap see Bugliosi, Vincent, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, W.W. Norton, New York, 2007. This massive book of over 1600 pages goes over conspiracy fantasy like a glacier.
13. Chomsky, 1993, pp. 142-144, See also Footnote 9, Reitzes, Dave, The JFK 100, Oliver Stone's portrayal of John F. Kennedy.