Commentary Magazine


JFK

To the Editor:

I congratulate you on the first-rate article by George Kateb [“Kennedy as Statesman,” June]. It was a subtle, penetrating, closely reasoned, and intelligently written analysis of a fascinating period of what is now our history.

The article blends . . . scholarship with the felicity of expression that is the mark of the gifted writer. There are few articles that I have enjoyed more or that have instructed me better. . . .

Anthony V. Bouza
Scarsdale, New York

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To the Editor:

George Kateb . . . has given us an incisive analysis of the cold war and, in particular, of the compulsions under which the postwar governments have operated. Cold war psychology, rigid and abstract, robs us of the flexibility of mind needed to cope with the ever-changing shape of reality in our time. Mr. Kateb’s reflections on Kennedy can be applied, more or less, to most of the statesmen in the post-1945 epoch.

With regard to the United States, Kateb notes the amazing paradox: as this country has risen to the pinnacle of world power and influence, the confidence of its leaders has apparently dropped. The panic and insecurity of Kennedy and his advisers seem to make no sense when one considers the massive armed might of modern America. Always, there is the implicit idea that this country is somehow small, beleaguered, and threatened by terrible hostile forces. . . .

The mystique of Communism, the tensions caused by an imaginary external danger, the obsession with showdowns and confrontations—all these are illogical, almost neurotic responses. . . .

John Wiley
Madison, Wisconsin

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To the Editor:

George Kateb’s article illustrates the wide gap which has developed in this country since 1960 (greatly enhanced by the Vietnam war) between men with grave responsibilities for the consequences of their acts and those with none; between men who believe that there are principles worth defending whatever the risk and those whose guiding principle is to avoid the risk of conflict at any cost. . . .

Mr. Kateb concludes that Kennedy’s abandonment of the Dulles policy of massive retaliation is at the root of our present difficulties. By adopting a policy which permitted graduated deterrence, he argues, Kennedy both provoked the Soviet Union and opened the door to “universal and undiscriminating containment” as a principle of our foreign policy. It is possible that this article represents the first (and hopefully the last) appearance in print by a putative liberal commentator of a defense of massive retaliation. . . .

It is clear that Mr. Kateb prefers the doctrine of massive retaliation because he believes it would never be applied, and dislikes graduated deterrence because it is being applied. His quarrel is with any action taken by the U.S. government anywhere in the world in opposition to the spread of Communist hegemony. In furtherance of this viewpoint, he is willing to ascribe the best of motives to Communist governments and the worst to the U.S. government, and to caricature our foreign policy under both administrations. . . .

What is to be made of this set of attitudes, in which the author of this article is by no means alone? A substantial minority of the academic community holding these views simply does not want this country to confront the spread of Communism by force or threat of force, even where it is being propagated by force, and they devote their considerable talents to providing intellectual underpinning to this basic belief. . . .

Mr. Kateb’s final judgment of Kennedy as statesman is mixed or, more accurately, confused. After deploring the trend toward great power confrontation which developed during Kennedy’s tenure, . . . he expresses nostalgia for the spirit of Kennedy’s inaugural address.

But in that address, President Kennedy . . . spoke with equal eloquence of the need for exploring every avenue of detente, for the control of weapons of mass destruction, and for the unity of all nations in a common struggle against tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

This was the genius of President Kennedy—to be a practical idealist in an imperfect world. He would have shrugged off with wry humor the charge that he had intensified the cold war—a charge that was made against Adlai Stevenson before his death, is now being made against Hubert Humphrey, and would be made against any liberal Democrat who had ultimate responsibility for representing the meaning of America to the world.

It is a measure of how far certain liberals have traveled in the last few years that they prefer the sanctimonious quietism of Eisenhower to the vivid, sophisticated, intelligent use of power and restraint which marked the Kennedy administration.

Allen Taylor
Washington, D.C.

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To the Editor:

. . . I find myself in almost complete disagreement with George Kateb’s analysis, particularly where the Cuban missile crisis is concerned.

. . . Mr. Kateb concludes that Kennedy’s response (to the crisis) was motivated by his “relentless pursuit of appearances.” After all, the United States need not demonstrate its strength to anyone, for “who was ignorant of its strength, who, indeed, was not terrified of its strength?”

But it was not . . . that the enormous strength of the United States was unknown; rather, the willingness of the President to use that strength was doubted. The reason Khrushchev put the missiles in Cuba in the first place was to test the will of the President. . . .

Furthermore, even our allies were not completely sure of our will to use our strength to protect them, even though we had pledged that we would do so. This explains the demand for the multilateral force, and, in part at least, the go-it-alone attitude of de Gaulle.

Finally, Mr. Kateb makes the ridiculous statement that Khrushchev won “a victory of sorts” and became a “champion of rationality” by removing the missiles and preventing a nuclear war. . . .

In point of fact, it was the reputation of the United States which improved; all nations had known that the United States was not capable of the type of deliberate deception [in placing the missiles in Cuba] by which Russia had brought the world to the brink of nuclear destruction, and now no one could doubt our will to employ our strength when we were right and yet to do it with a restraint and intelligence which Russia lacked.

The Cuban missile crisis can be summarized by a maxim Khrushchev liked to quote: “If a man sticks out a bayonet and strikes mush, he keeps on pushing. But when he hits cold steel, he pulls back.” Kennedy had responded with steel; Mr. Kateb seems to think that he should have used mush.

Robert Meade
Great Neck, New York

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