Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Some Things Never Really Change

While on a mini-vacation last week that was too mini and not enough vacation, I began to read David Halberstam's "The Best and the Brightest," published in 1969 which is 38 years ago.

I quote from page 36 of the hardcover version where the author speaks to the Kennedy-Rusk (Secretary of State) relationship:

There could be no one to blame but the President himself, and those who had applauded the idea of the weak Secretary of State had gotten what they wanted and deserved. Those years would show, in the American system, how when a question of the use of force arose in government, the advocates of force were always better organized, seemed more numerous and seemed to have both logic and fear on their side, and that in fending them off in his own government, a President would need all the help he possibly could get, not the least of which should be a powerful Secretary of State.

Two things jump out at me. First, "advocates of force were better organized . . .fear on their side" and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

On page 43, Halberstam writes about a Harvard sociologist's thoughts (ital mine)
... uneasy about the direction the country was taking. He had made a hobby of studying the American Civil War and he had always been disturbed by the passions which it had unleashed in the country, the tensions and angers just below the surface, the thin fabric of the society which held it all together, so easy to rend.

Do we not, currently, have extreme partianship, on both sides?

And finally, for this post anyway, I quote another paragraph, from page 66, that is equally true today as it was for Kennedy and for Johnson (ital mine)
In a way it was a test run for the Vietnam escalations of 1965, and it would be said of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson that both had their Bay of Pigs, that the former's lasted four days and the latter's lasted four years. But the component parts were all there: serious misreading of aspirations of a nonwhite nation; bringing Western, Caucasian anti-Communism to a place where it was less applicable; institutions pushing forward with their own momentum, ideas and programs which tended to justify and advance the cause of the institution at the expense of the nation; too much secrecy with too many experts who knew remarkably little either about the country involved or about their own country; too many decisions by the private men of the Administration as opposed to the public ones; and too little moral reference. And finally, too little common sense. How a President who seemed so contemporary could agree to a plan so obviously doomed to failure, a plan based on so little understanding of the situation, was astounding.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Only the current Administration is about two magnitudes worse than the Kennedy Administration.

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