Tag Archives: Kennedy Family

Robert F. Kennedy’s Politics of Inclusion: Fifty Years Later.

RFK.

By John P. Walsh

It was fifty years ago today (June 8, 1968) that Senator Robert F. Kennedy had his funeral in Manhattan and a train procession to Washington D.C., for his burial after being shot on June 5, 1968 after winning the California Democratic primary for president of the United States. His assassination, funeral, and the long train ride to Arlington National Cemetery are seared into the national memory as well as my own who heard and watched on radio and television all these historic events unfold as a child. It is a memorable series of life-changing happenings for the nation, similar to when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and his long funeral train procession from Washington, D.C. to Illinois took place in 1865. Before Lincoln’s funeral train went on to its final destination of Springfield, Illinois, the president’s body lay in state in Chicago. There, as it experienced in its other stops across several states, throngs greeted the Civil War president and, as History would have it, my great-grandfather who was in the Union army at that time served as one of Lincoln’s honor guards.

RFK Mississippi Delta April 1967

On June 8, 1968, brides and bridesmaids tossed their wedding bouquets at RFK’s funeral train when it passed in order to make their final good-byes. Though weddings and funerals are very different, they have similarities for being one of humanity’s great milestones, a significant rite of passage, where what was or has been, has died and what lies ahead is mysterious. It is recorded that one of RFK’s favorite songs was Where have all the flowers gone?, the modern folk song written by Pete Seeger which became a big hit, a number one musical sensation, in 1962, when RFK was Attorney General of the United States. The song is its own meditation on life’s transience – with its carriage of universal mortality – and whose lyrics, which Bobby Kennedy’s intuition understood perhaps more than he knew – grew more and more prophetic as the 1960’s moved forward.

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone?
Taken husbands every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago…

In the JFK Library in Boston, there’s a multi-page document which is RFK’s campaign schedule for president from June 7 to June 17, 1968. Typed and single-spaced for over 11 pages, it became immediately moribund as the candidate who in just the last 10 weeks had won four out of five state primaries he entered – both in the Midwest (Indiana, Nebraska, and South Dakota) and the West (California) – had his unexpected and premature rendezvous with death.

kennedy campiagn itinerary
Ted Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy at Bobby Kennedy's funeral

On June 7, 1968, Senator Kennedy of New York was not to be lying in state at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan but on a 6 a.m. flight from L.A. to St. Louis for a luncheon with convention delegates. He then was to fly to New York State for a flurry of campaign appearances starting at Niagara Falls which would literally take him working into the early hours of the next day. On June 8, 1968, RFK was not to be funeralized with a train procession to follow for burial at Arlington, but making campaign appearances all over New York State from dawn to dusk. On June 9 he was not to lay silent on a hill below Custis House, not far from his brother, the slain 35th President of the United States, but…

RFK funeral train Paul Fusco
RFK funeral train photograph Paul Fusco

Perhaps RFK’s legacy for Democrats in 2018 and beyond is not that, as many insist, the New Deal Democratic coalition died along those rails on June 8, 1968 – fifty years ago today – but that it continues inherently with every progress and advancement made in society and, importantly, from and for all sides of American life. RFK’s brand of American politics for the Democratic Party is one that looks to include more of a wide array of political viewpoints than one would easily imagine possible or manageable. On June 8, 1968, Cecil Smith, of Charleston, South Carolina, was quoted in The Washington Evening Star as calling Kennedy “a wonderful man — a man of everybody.” Kennedy would never stop trying to govern from a grassroots political perspective which is creative and critical of extremes or mere pragmatism on behalf of the noble pursuit to be elected to high office so to effectively lead a diverse and great nation into a better future for all.

RFK funeral train photograph Paul Fusco

In today’s moribund politics of division, RFK’s ideals for America were no less difficult to achieve in 1968 than in 2018 – or beyond. After RFK was killed, an already-polarized presidential election of 1968 led to a predominance over the next fifty years of a strong brand of partisan politics. Kennedy’s more inclusive approach turned up historically truncated and, with decades of often mean-spirited political partisanship, even chafed at as exotic or, at least, futile. Yet that Kennedy brand of Democratic politics would never accept such defeatism then or now.

robert kennedy 6/5/68

RFK’s last words to the American people moments before he was shot speaks volumes to his governing approach or methodology for the future and which absolutely requires the many hands and votes of the American people to accomplish, whether it is 1968 or 2018. RFK said: “What I think is quite clear is that we can work together in the last analysis. What has been going on in the United States for the last three years – the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society – the division, whether it’s between blacks and whites, the poor and the more affluent, or between different age groups or the war in Vietnam, that we can start to work together, that we are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country. And I intend to make that my basis for running over the next few months… The country wants to move in a different direction. We want to deal with our own problems in our own country and we want peace in Vietnam…The fact is all of us are involved in this great effort – and it’s a great effort not on behalf of the Democratic Party – it’s a great effort on behalf of the United States – on behalf of our own people- on behalf of mankind all around the globe and the next generation of Americans… What we are going to do in the rural areas of our country? What we are going to do for those who still suffer in the United States from hunger? What we are going to do around the rest of the globe? And whether we are going to continue the policies that have been so unsuccessful, in Vietnam of American troops and American marines carrying the major burden of that conflict I do not want to and I think we should move in a different direction. So I thank all of you who made this possible this evening, all of the effort that you have made, and all of the people whose names I haven’t mentioned but did all of the work…So I thank all of you…And now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there…”

kennedys
RFK funeral train photograph Paul Fusco
RFK

What has been going on in the United States for the last three years – the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society – the division, whether it’s between blacks and whites, the poor and the more affluent, or between different age groups or the war in Vietnam, that we can start to work together, that we are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country. Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968), remarks, June 5, 1968, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, California, following victories in the California and South Dakota Democratic presidential primaries.

Visitors at RFK’s gravesite, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, June 2001. Photograph by author.

On Trump’s North Korea Crisis (2017) and Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis (1962).

Like JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Trump in 2017 must use the military and moral strength of the U.S. to seek and find a conclusion so that North Korea changes course on their nuclear weapons peacefully.

By John P. Walsh, dated August 9, 2017

In addition to Twitter, the media tells us that U.S. President Donald J. Trump loves to watch a lot of TV. I hope he has seen this film: Virtual JFK (2008). “Does it matter,” the film’s narrator states, “who is president on issues of war and peace? Can a president make a decisive difference in matters of war and peace? Can a president decisively lead his country into war or keep his country out of war? Or are the forces that drive nations into conflict far more impersonal (and) out of the control of any human being, even a president?”

In 2014 nine nations around the world—including North Korea—have around 16,300 nuclear weapons. Estimates are that North Korea’s arsenal today may be about 20 warheads or higher. In descending order of warhead amounts, the other nuclear states are Russia (8,000 warheads), the U.S.A. (7,300), France (300), China (250), the UK (225), India and Pakistan (about 100 each) and Israel (80). According to the National Security Archive, the last tactical nuclear weapons left Cuba in December 1962. For a rogue state such as North Korea to possess nuclear weapons is dangerous and unpredictable to the region and world.

Like JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the U.S. must use its military and moral strength to seek and find a conclusion so that North Korea changes course on their nuclear weapons peacefully. Exactly what that change should look like is an important debate not explored here, but the U.S. must NOT and NEVER start or provoke a nuclear war to achieve it. Kennedy prepared for nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but always carefully did not pull the trigger. There can be no close analogy between Cuba in 1962 and North Korea in 2017. Cuba is 90 miles off American shores and North Korea about 6,500 miles from the Continental U.S. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, those were clearly Russian nukes. The Cold War by the early 1960’s was a well-worn competitive geopolitical game that hadn’t yet completely played out. The Russians built a wall in Berlin in 1961; Kennedy quarantined Cuba in 1962. In 2017 what is the multiplicity of sources Trump can hold accountable for the North Korean weapons deployment in addition to the rogue regime? China? Russia? Iran? If Pyongyang is today as remote and obscure as the Kremlin was in Kennedy’s time, today’s political and military equations are even more tangled and complicated.

Any calculations for war must include those who may or will get killed – and how many. Is American “hyper” power any good if its allies are casualties on a massive scale? No nuclear exchange must result with a hermit kingdom dictator who is not a friend of the U.S. or its allies in the region – especially if war may incalculably spread. If the U.S. has allies in the true meaning of the word then an attack on them by North Korea (or China or Russia) is equal to an attack on the homeland – otherwise what’s the point of the U.S. having allies at all? We must protect our allies in the region to the highest degree so to defend and preserve our esteemed alliances. In this dangerous politico-military crisis there are ramifications with severe strong risk for the U.S. as a global power and markedly in that part of the world. North Korea must somehow stand down for there to be success from the perspective of the U.S and its allies.

Similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis that endured for 13 straight days—the Korean crisis has gone on arguably for over 60 years — patience and cool-headed leadership joined to a perfect calibration of carrot and stick (preferring the carrot) should serve as worthwhile qualities so to craft a necessarily peaceful and successful outcome. “Because of the ingenuity of science and man’s own inability to control his relations one with another,” said JFK in 1961 in Virtual JFK, “we happen to live in the most dangerous time in the history of the human race.” The film states that experienced military advisers believed that whenever Americans committed military force – they won the conflict. But as frequent and strong pressure by many advisers is put on Kennedy to commit the U.S. to a war, the president time and again chose to avoid both conventional and nuclear war.  It may not be remembered today but after the failure of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, there was talk of John Kennedy’s impeachment for incompetence. Many in his own Democratic party wouldn’t support him because they had convinced themselves he wasn’t a serious political leader.

In 2017 the defeat of 33-year-old Kim Jong-un’s nuclear threat short of war will not be simply a victory for the status quo but a step forward in terms of American leadership in that part of the world. An actual war, unless it could be completely nonnuclear, contained, and successful – which is improbable – cannot be in any civilized people’s self-interest. Of course if Kim started a nuclear war, which is hopefully very remote but possible, war will come, as Trump said plainly on August 8, 2017, with “fire and fury.” In October 1962 Kennedy’s speech to the nation on the Cuban Missile Crisis included this “fiery” rhetoric: “Third: It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” JFK concluded with the overall purpose of his actions: “Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right – not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.” In 2017 we may look for a resolution to the North Korea crisis where history repeats itself.

All through the Cold War Kennedy looked into the face of strategic MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) without blinking and then chose to evoke the better angels of our nature. At the United Nations in his first year as president (September 25, 1961) Kennedy exhorted the world’s representatives: “Together we shall save our planet – or together we shall perish in its flames. Save it we can.  Save it we must. Then shall we earn the eternal thanks of mankind and, as peacemakers, the eternal blessing of God.” President Trump would do well to aspire to the same.

NOTES:

Nine nuclear nations – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/nine-nations-have-nuclear-weapons-here-is-how-many-each-country-has-a6827916.html

about 20 warheads – http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/791436/north-korea-nuclear-weapons-kim-jong-un-how-many

Last Cuba warheads removed – http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB449/

Iran and North Korea – http://thediplomat.com/2016/04/the-iran-north-korea-connection/

fire and fury – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/09/world/asia/north-korea-trump-threat-fire-and-fury.html?_r=0

United Nations speech – https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/JFK-Speeches/United-Nations_19610925.aspx