Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Of Kennedys and Kings: Remembering 1968

* On the 40th anniversary of the MLK Assassination last year, our founding editor New Frontier wrote this remembrance of the tragic events which took place this week in 1968. We wanted to share it with you again today.

MLK and RFK

RFK and MLK

MARCH 31-APRIL 4, 1968 – A WEEK THAT CHANGED AMERICA

“Even in our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.”

 

– Aeschylus, as quoted by Robert Kennedy upon the death of MLK

Φ

40 years ago this week brought us to a critical turning point in the American experience.

By March of `68, with the peace movement rapidly growing and anti-war sentiment at its’ peak, it seemed that things might finally be turning around for the better. Robert F. Kennedy had just entered the presidential race opposing the war. There was a brewing sense of hope that a Kennedy presidency would be restored five years after the death of JFK.

Little did America suspect that the era known as “Camelot” was not to rise again. On the contrary, it was about to come to an abrupt, ironic, tragic, and bloody end.

Over the course of just five short days, we watched in shock as President Lyndon B. Johnson stepped aside and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was brutally murdered. We saw race riots erupt in the streets of our cities, and wondered if the whole world just might burn. We heard one of the most stirring pleas for peace and unity ever spoken by any politician when Robert F. Kennedy delivered the news of Dr. King’s assassination in the heart of an Indianapolis ghetto.

Looking back with the hindsight of history, we can now fully comprehend the importance of this pivotal moment. Those who lived through it will never be able to shake the memory. For for the ones who weren’t old enough to remember or had not been born yet, the events of that week still fascinate, even when experienced secondhand through books or grainy old news footage.

It’s a tale of stunning upsets, unimaginable horrors and stark contrasts: of presidents and peace, of war and love, of confusion and clarity, of Kennedys and Kings. Of pain which cannot forget – even after forty years.

LBJ GETS OUT OF THE WAY

The first jolt came on March 31, President Lyndon B. Johnson stunned the nation with the surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election to the presidency in 1968.

Appearing on TV at 9 p.m. that evening, LBJ first announced that he was taking steps to limit the war in Vietnam. He outlined his plan at some length; then, in what seemed almost an afterthought, dropped this unexpected bombshell:

“Fifty-two months and 10 days ago, in a moment of tragedy and trauma, the duties of this office fell upon me. I asked then for your help and God’s, that we might continue America on its course, binding up our wounds, healing our history, moving forward in new unity, to clear the American agenda and to keep the American commitment for all of our people.

United we have kept that commitment. United we have enlarged that commitment.

Through all time to come, I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement.

Our reward will come in the life of freedom, peace, and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead.

What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people.

Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.

With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office–the Presidency of your country.

Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”

LBJ's address to the nation, March 31, 1968

President Johnson addresses the nation on television – March 31, 1968 

At that exact moment, Kennedy (who had just announced his intention to run for the presidency two weeks earlier) was coming in for a landing at La Guardia airport. The New York State Democratic chairman, John Burns, raced aboard the plane and breathlessly told Kennedy, “The president is not going to run.”

Kennedy just stared at him. “You’re kidding,” he said.

On the drive in from the airport, RFK seemed lost in thought. Finally, he said, “I wonder if he (LBJ) would have done this if I hadn’t come in.”

MLK ASSASSINATED

Bobby wouldn’t have much time to ponder Johnson’s motivations. While on the campaign trail four days later — again on an airplane — he recieved word that Martin Luther King had just been shot and killed by a sniper in Memphis.

Kennedy “sagged. His eyes went blank,” said New York Times reporter Johnny Apple, who delivered the news to RFK.

By the time Bobby arrived in Indianapolis, King had been reported dead. Fearing a race riot, the chief of police advised Kennedy to cancel his scheduled appearance in a mostly black neighborhood. Ignoring the warnings, RFK arrived at the speech site – a wind-blown lot surrounded by tenements – in his brother’s old overcoat with the collar turned up.

About a thousand people were gathered there, rallying and cheering for Bobby with all the usual excitment generated at his campaign stops. The crowd awaited his speech, happily oblivious to the news that Dr. King had been shot down. 

Throwing out his prepared remarks, Bobby pulled from his pocket a crumpled piece of paper with his own hastily scribbled notes and began to speak in quiet, reverent tones, his voice occasionally cracking with nervous emotion:

“Ladies and Gentlemen – I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening. Because…

I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

(Audible gasps and cries of “No! No!” can be heard from the crowd)

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.

For those of you who are black – considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible – you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization – black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.

 

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

(Interrupted by applause)

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, yeah that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love – a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke. We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

(Interrupted by applause)

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people. Thank you very much.”

 
Listen to the entire speech 6:12

The murder of MLK, Lorraine motel, Memphis
(The murder of MLK. Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN. April 4, 1968.) 

PAIN WHICH CANNOT FORGET

Late that night, a sleepless, restless Kennedy was seen wandering the halls of his hotel alone. At 3 a.m., he knocked on the door of Joan Braden, an old friend who had also worked on JFK’s 1960 campaign. Bobby confided to her the true source of his agony.

“Joanie,” he said, “that could have been me.”

Two months later to the day Robert Kennedy was gunned down during a celebration following his victory in the California primary, June 4, 1968. He would die 26 hours later.

While it would be easy to look back after 40 years and dwell on 1968’s sorrows, its’ crippling series of tragedies, perhaps we should instead remember and take to heart Bobby Kennedy’s advice:

“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

 

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final sermon.

 Memphis, TN, April 3, 1968

 

 

Copyright RFKJrforPresident.com

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Ventura: Both Parties Responsible for Iraq Mess

We thought Memorial Day would be a most appropriate time to bring you a few thoughts on the Iraq War from former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura.

This onetime pro wrestler, Navy SEAL, politician and patriot has strong opinions about what’s happening to our country – and a few creative solutions to these problems, too.

Today’s installment is Part I of a two-part series on Governor Ventura, who is considering a run for the White House as an independent candidate. If Ventura runs, he says he wants Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as his VP.

We’ll tell you more about that tomorrow in Pt. II. You won’t want to miss it. 

Kinky Friedman and Jesse Ventura, 2006

Kinky Friedman, a Lone Star icon and 2006 independent candidate for Texas Governor, plots political strategy with former independent Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura (who has since shaved off those fabulous, freaky Fu Manchu whiskers).

VENTURA ON IRAQ: BOTH PARTIES ARE RESPONSIBLE

In his new book, Don’t Start The Revolution Without Me, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura reflects on how the Iraq war has served to deepen his independent convictions. He rightly blames the Bush administration and a Republican-controlled Congress for the start of the war, but certainly doesn’t spare the Democrats any blows, either.

On page 267, he body-slams Bush for The Big Lie which took us into Iraq:

“Okay, if we lie to our government, we go to jail. But what happens when the government lies to us?…Oh, that’s right, we go to war. And I make the point that I’m not talking only about the current war, but how the Vietnam War escalated after Lyndon Johnson’s administration concocted the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

I’m also very angry at the Democrats, who were cowards from the beginning of the Iraq ordeal. They seemed so frightenend of their political standing, or of what Karl Rove and the Bush machine had created, they wouldn’t just stand up and say no. Even now that the Democrats control Congress again, they will only go so far. They want a timetable for withdrawing our troops, but they don’t seem ready to hold Bush’s feet to the fire to get it. I, at least, give the Republicans credit for having courage, misguided though it may be. I don’t think anyone who voted for this war deserves to be president, Democrat or Republican.

What frustrates and angers me more than anything is this: It’s my generation. We’ve been lead down this primrose path once before already, with Vietnam. Shouldn’t we, of all people, know about being deceived? How dumb can we be? Now we’ve gone and done the very thing we protested so vehemently against in our youth. We’ve become what we feared.

Maybe it’s time we recalled the words of Robert F. Kennedy, when he was running for president in 1968: “I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that the course we are following at the present time is deeply wrong. I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that we are acting as if no other nations existed, against the judgment and desires of neutrals and our historic allies alike. I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that our present course will not bring victory; will not bring peace; will not stop the bloodshed; and will not advance the interests of the United States or the cause of peace in the world. I am concerned that, at the end of it all, there will only be more Americans killed; more of our treasure spilled out; and because of the bitterness and hatred on every side of the war, more hundreds of thousands of (civilians) slaughtered; so they may say, as Tacitus said of Rome: `They made a desert, and called it peace.'”

RFK's 1968 campaign

WOULD RFK HAVE LEFT THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY?

Ventura is right, in a sense: had the political climate within the Democratic party in 1968 been what it is today, Robert Kennedy might have been forced to run as an independent. RFK’s turn against his party, his president, even his own late brother’s policy on Vietnam could have – and in today’s political world, likely would have – cost him the Democratic party nomination.

Try to imagine the Republican party nominating an anti-war candidate in 2008. Not gonna happen. No matter how unpopular their president is; no matter how misguided the policy which lead us into Iraq and keeps us there day after bloody day, they’re still towing the party line when it comes to the war.

Which brings us back to the here and now: if the majority of Americans want the war in Iraq ended as soon as possible, and two of the three U.S. Senators currently running for the presidency voted to authorize this war, does that leave only Barack Obama as “qualified” to be president, by Ventura’s logic?

Perhaps. But what we don’t know is this: would Barack Obama be opposing the war if a Democratic president had gotten us into it? Would Clinton?

It’s an interesting hypothetical, one to consider. Although Hillary Clinton undoubtedly made the wrong choice in voting to authorize our invasion of Iraq, at least we can evaluate her as a presidential candidate based on her vote (and her later mea culpa). In Obama’s case, we just don’t know. He wasn’t in the Senate at the time of that critical vote. We can only assume that his motivations to oppose the war are strictly moral, and not political.

Although Ventura says that Obama is the best of the two-party choices this year, he still has his doubts. Is Obama qualified? Will he be the strong leader we need now? Who’s really pulling his strings? Can he be trusted to uphold all those lofty campaign promises?

Obama’s a gamble, yes – but it seems the American people have nothing left to lose. We’re probably going to put Obama in the White House this November simply to free ourselves from more of the same-old, same-old, if for no other reason.

Unless some formidable independent contender should suddenly appear on the horizon to challenge the two-party system. With the exception of Ralph Nader, independent voters are left with a barren landscape of choices so far this year.

There is, of course, another option Ventura’s been thinking about. You know that old saying, “if you want a job done right, do it yourself?”

Perhaps we could add to that sage wisdom: “And always be sure to pick an unimpeachable running mate!”

AND WE ALL KNOW WHO THAT IS

For Jesse Ventura, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is exactly that man. In his new book, Ventura makes no secret of who he wants to run beside him, even going so far as to put forward a fantasy-scenario of this “dream ticket” burning up the campaign trail this summer.

And it all sounds really good – great, in fact – so good you find yourself starting to dream about it, too…Until the last two pages, when the dream turns into a nightmare.

Thankfully, that’s only fiction. What this blogger worries about, though, is that if strong, brave leaders like Ventura and Kennedy don’t offer themselves to represent the people during America’s “hour of maximum peril” (to quote JFK), we may wake up one morning soon to find that our worst nightmares have come true.

Ventura, to his eternal credit, has offered himself wholeheartedly (as any good soldier would when he hears the call of his country). He has said he is willing and able to run for president as an independent and believes he can win.

He’s not the coy, passively-reluctant candidate. This old fighter is just itching to get back into the ring for another round: “Give me ballot access,” he recently told Larry King, “and I’ll beat `em all!”

I’m in no position to disagree with that statement. The Maverickfrom Minnesota only needs two things right now to become the first independent President of the United States: 1) ballot access, and 2) RFK Jr.

But can Ventura convince Kennedy to leave the Democratic party and join him on The Quest?

We’ll explore that question in Pt. II tomorrow. Stay tuned…

 

Copyright RFKin2008.com. Book excerpt copyright 2008 by Jesse Ventura. 

UPDATE: Jesse Ventura told CNN’s Larry King this week he is considering an independent bid for the Minnesota U.S. Senate Seat that Al Franken is currently running for. Should Jesse do it? Or is there already one comedian too many in this race?

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“This is the World Eisenhower Warned Us About” – RFK Jr.

Bobby Kennedy Jr.

THE FIRE STILL BURNS

Several emails have recently come in asking “what the hell got into Bobby this week on Ring of Fire?” (His Saturday Air America radio show) I don’t know, but whatever set him ablaze, I will say that the man was in rare form. This was one of the best broadcasts I’ve heard from him in quite awhile.

In the opening minutes of the show, Bobby launched into a particularly passionate rant about our arms-happy economic foreign policy that left even his longtime co-host Mike “Pap” Papantonio (who has heard it all by now) speechless. Hearing him talk, one couldn’t help but be reminded of President Kennedy’s disdain for “a Pax Americana, enforced on the world by American weapons of war” in his 1963 American University commencement address.

RFK Jr. also invoked another famous presidential speech: “This is exactly the world that General Dwight Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address to the nation in which he cautioned against the domination of our democracy by the Military-Industrial Complex.

“The U.S. traditionally was an isolationist nation.” He explained further. “We focused on our own hemisphere, we focused on developing our economy, not policing the world. We were Anti-Imperialist, that was part of our tradition. “That was not just Jefferson, but it was Madison, Adams, Hamilton and all of them…This was an Anti-Imperialist nation!

“Well now, we spend $500 billion a year on arms.” Kennedy said. “That’s more than the entire world put together! This is not something that is good for the American people.”

He also encouraged every American to do a little independent thinking and ask themselves “who benefits?” from the waging of eternal war.

Kennedy talked on at some length about how we can bring a balance of power to the Mideast and restore our standing as a nation of goodwill in the eyes of the world. He also put forward some solid ideas on how to break our oil addiction with an “Apollo project” which would bring with it a prosperous domestic economy invested in green energy technologies, and spelled out exactly how it could be done within just a few years.

With a plan like that, people ask, it sounds like this Kennedy guy should be running for president, already.

* Listen to the Ring Of Fire radio show segment. (Jan. 19, 2008, Hour 1)

AND THAT WAS JUST THE FIRST HOUR…

Kennedy was just getting warmed up. In the second hour of the program, he spoke with Joseph Cirincione (Senior Fellow and Director for Nuclear Policy at the Center for American Policy) about how the Bush administration hyped a recent incident at sea between our Navy and the Iranian National Guard.

Had this “Filipino Monkey” thing actually been taken more seriously, we very easily could have had another Gulf of Tonkin on our hands or accidentally fired the first shot of WWIII.

And that’s enough to get anybody hopping mad. Especially someone named Kennedy whose father and uncle JFK diplomatically averted nuclear holocaust during the Cuban Missle Crisis. Those thirteen days in October 1962 were without question the most intense in world history; a moment when one false move, one slight misunderstanding or miscommunication could have meant The End of Everything.

Playing a dangerous game of chicken with Iran now inevitably results in close calls like this one, which Kennedy referred to as “classic American gunboat diplomacy in the 19th century sense.” Was this just another “Remember the Maine!” type incident “where we used American propaganda to hype a conflict with another nation?”

THE HOAX OF HORMUZ

“It appears that the Navy tapes that we all saw last week that allegedly showed Iranian Revolutionary Guard gunboats buzzing and harassing a convoy of American battleships were faked.” Kennedy said incredulously.

“That’s exactly right, Robert.” Cirincione concurred. “What we basically have here is The Hoax of Hormuz. We have a very misleading tape and storyline coming out last Monday, on the eve of the President’s trip to the Middle East. And it appears that the administration has once again exaggerated a threat for political purposes.”

“Clearly, the object of the United States propaganda campaign, which we all saw on television, was to inflame this situation rather than try to contain it.” Kennedy said. “In my view…that’s what our policy should be in that part of the world: to contain these incidents rather than to manufacture provocations.

“The voice we hear on the tape is clearly not a voice coming from those little Iranian speedboats. There was this phony, fake Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation voice that was just spliced in as a way to frighten the American people and hype the case for conflict.”

SPEAKING OF CONFLICT, WHAT ABOUT PAKISTAN?

Kennedy brings a unique and very personal insight to the current chaos in Pakistan. The Bhutto dynasty has drawn many comparisons to the Kennedys over the years, mainly because these two families have seen more than their share of political power struggles, coups, and violent, untimely deaths. The many similarities are indeed striking, if not even a little spooky.

Benazir Bhutto

The late Benazir Bhutto, Harvard classmate of the Kennedys

Most recently, the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto (by a “lone nut” sniper in a motorcade, no less) brought up the obvious comparisons to JFK and Dallas. Incidentally and by sheer coincidence, it seems, JFK’s nephew Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Sen. Arlen Specter (Warren Commission counsel and mastermind of the “Single Bullet Theory”) were in Pakistan at the time, scheduled to meet with Bhutto that very night.

THE KENNEDY-BHUTTO CONNECTION

But Bhutto shared some similarities with Bobby Jr. as well. Being the same age, they attended Harvard together and were friendly with each other’s siblings.  She inherited her father’s political legacy as the eldest daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who founded the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Bhutto led the country as president and then as prime minister between 1971 and 1977, when he was arrested on murder charges following a military coup. At first a reluctant political player, Benazir Bhutto vowed to carry on her father’s work, taking over after her father was hanged by the government of General Mohammed Zia-Ul-Haq.

But the somewhat eerie connections don’t end there. During her Harvard years, Benazir (known as “Pinky” on campus) Bhutto roomed with Bobby’s sister Kathleen Kennedy, class of `73. Meanwhile, Bobby Jr. and his younger brother David (who died of a tragic drug overdose in 1984) shared rooms and good times with Benazir’s younger brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto (who was shot to death in 1996).

Bobby’s late friend Mir Bhutto’s death has been described as a politically-motivated murder by his daughter Fatima and the way this horrible event unfolded is strangely reminiscent of the assassination of Robert Kennedy Sr. in 1968. The Bhuttos, like the Kennedys, have lost far too many family members in the midst of national political upheavals — and that’s not to mention the various intrigues within the family circle itself.

The murder of Mir Bhutto, it is often rumored, was ordered from the highest levels of the Pakistani government, which at the time was run by his estranged sister, Benazir Bhutto. Then there is the troubling tale of their brother Shah, who died violently in 1985 under circumstances which can only be described as curious. As Bobby told the story on this week’s radio show:

“They (Shah and Mir) married twin sisters who were the daughters of the Soviet puppet president of Kabul. One of the sisters then murdered Shah – poisoned him in France – and Mir divorced the sister, probably prudently.

“But then Mir was involved in a hijacking which put a price on his head in Pakistan. He finally came back to Pakistan and ran for Parliament, and then was murdered in a hail of gunfire that many people believe was orchestrated by his own sister, by his elder sister (Benazir) and her husband. We don’t know…but there is strong evidence of that.”

This amazing story, with all its’ bizarre twists and turns, has to be heard to be believed. (Even then, you might have to listen a few times to fully wrap your mind around it).

Near the end of this interview, Kennedy expressed his belief that it is Pakistan, not Iran or Iraq, which is “the principal threat to all of the globe in terms of proliferation of nuclear materials to terrorist groups who may actually use them.”

“Exactly.” Cirincione agreed. “Pakistan is the most dangerous country on earth.” 

* Check out the entire interview on Ring of Fire here. (January 19, 2008 show, Hour 2. The Joseph Cirincione interview starts about 18 minutes into the program.)

Copyright RFKin2008.com

 

 

 

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