On November 22, 2013, the nation will reflect officially on the legacy of Camelot. The coverage of the Kennedy assassination is a cottage industry with a cultlike following. Books, articles, magazine covers and popular entertainment continue to incite hero worship and political fascination. Kennedy is hailed even by today’s far-right wing as a hawk, war hero and Cold War stalwart. And for the most part, as with President Obama, the mainstream ideological and political coverage of President John F. Kennedy finds him somewhere in between liberal consensus builder and centrist, corporate icon. I interviewed professor, social critic and activist Noam Chomsky recently about the tradition of cult fantasy and hero construction of past presidents.
One of Chomsky’s famous sayings starts with, “If the Nuremberg Laws were applied … ” Here’s what he said about Kennedy in that context:
“Kennedy is easy. The invasion of Cuba was outright aggression. Eisenhower planned it, incidentally, so he was involved in a conspiracy to invade another country, which we can add to his score. After the invasion of Cuba, Kennedy launched a huge terrorist campaign against Cuba, which was very serious. No joke; bombardment of industrial installations with killing of plenty of people, bombing hotels, sinking fishing boats, sabotage. Later, under Nixon, it even went as far as poisoning livestock and so on. Big affair; and then came Vietnam; he invaded Vietnam. He invaded South Vietnam in 1962. He sent the US Air Force to start bombing.”
And then in “On Democracy,” a 1996 interview by Tom Morello:
“Kennedy is not even worth discussing. The invasion in South Vietnam – Kennedy attacked South Vietnam, outright. In 1961-1962 he sent Air Force to start bombing villages, authorized napalm. Also laid the basis for the huge wave of repression that spread over Latin America with the installation of Neo-Nazi gangsters that were always supported directly by the United States. That went on and in fact picked up under Johnson.”
Daniel Falcone: Do you find it odd that the country is focusing on a 50th anniversary remembrance of the Kennedy assassination?
Noam Chomsky: Worship of leaders is a technique of indoctrination that goes back to the crazed George Washington cult of the 18th century and on to the truly lunatic Reagan cult of today, both of which would impress Kim Il-sung. The JFK cult is similar.
DF: What does it mean that popular media treat such a date with such unusual honor?
NC: Simply that we live in a deeply indoctrinated society.
DF: Do other countries find it odd that we commemorate such a day?
NC: Others are not all that different, though American patriotic displays do amuse (or surprise, or frighten) the world. In part, it’s just confusion. He’s very popular among African-Americans; some are unaware of his actual role in the civil rights struggles – which was not pretty. But in part, it’s among intellectuals – and JFK understood very well that if you pat them on the head and pretend you love them, you’ll get a good image. It worked like a charm.
DF: There are over 40,000 books on Kennedy in print and more than 10 titles out currently. They are either about his legacy or his death, or they counter factual history. Is this because the real history of Kennedy would be too hideous to recall?
NC: The true history has been so effectively suppressed that it’s not a reason for the counterfactual history.
DF: One author, Jeff Greenfield, writes about how Kennedy would have been different in his second term. This is repeated in media and movies over and over again. Why?
NC: Probably because the actual record is so awful.
DF: NPR says that Kennedy was “the father of the modern presidential campaign.” What does this even mean? This is clearly an educated, liberal, indoctrinated slogan?
NC: I suspect what they mean is that he was the first to use TV effectively as a propaganda tool, beginning the modern process of turning political campaigns over to the PR industry, which is dedicated to undermining democracy just as it is to undermining markets in its major pursuits. NPR liberals probably regard this as a good thing. It keeps the rabble out of our hair.
DF: President Obama will be speaking on the legacy of JFK this week. The statements will be no doubt be boilerplate. How does Obama actually compare to Kennedy in terms of crimes?
NC: JFK was far worse, which is not a compliment to Obama.