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Ed Driscoll

Interview: James Piereson on Camelot and the Cultural Revolution

December 8th, 2013 - 11:08 pm

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MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and we’re talking today with James Piereson, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, and the author of the 2007 book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution, which was recently republished by Encounter Books, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And Jim, thanks for stopping by today.

MR. PIERESON:  Ed, delighted to be here.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Jim, is it safe to say that your book is built on four assumptions:

One: Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin of President Kennedy.

Two: Lee Harvey Oswald was an admitted Marxist.

Three: This makes President Kennedy the most prominent victim of the post-World War II Cold War between, on the one side, the Soviet Union and its allies, and on the other, the free west, particularly the United States.

And finally, Four: The previous three facts caused an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance amongst American liberals in the 1960s, creating negative ramifications that influence American culture to this very day. Is that a fair assessment?

MR. PIERESON:  Ed, I think that’s an excellent summary.  It starts with three facts which are hard to dispute, and it leads to a political conclusion that this event caused a great deal of difficulty for many Americans to absorb and interpret and understand.  And it stays with us to this day.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Almost immediately after Kennedy’s death, there was a collective official statement from the news media that it was a quote-unquote climate of race-based hatred that killed President Kennedy. How did that opinion manage to congeal so quickly, when it was also known very quickly after Oswald’s capture, that he was a capital-C Communist?

MR. PIERESON:  Well, Ed, that’s the 100,000-dollar question.  Because you know, the — on the day after the assassination, the New York Times ran, of course, a big banner headline, and down the center, they had a story written by a reporter, in which he detailed Oswald’s arrest and all the evidence against Oswald, which summarized his various Communist activities:  his defection to the Soviet Union, his correspondence with pro-Castro groups, his lobbying for Castro, and indeed, his visit to Mexico City in an effort to travel to Cuba.

But next to that was a column by James Reston, the dean of American journalists at the time, who went on to say that Kennedy was the victim of a climate of hate in the country that sprung out of opposition to the civil rights movement and was promoted by anti-Communists and bigots of various kinds.

And so the question was, which of these things was going to stick?  Is it going to be the facts or is it going to be the civil rights interpretation of this event?  And the Reston interpretation is the one that dominated all the commentary of the Kennedy assassination.

There are a lot of reasons for why that happened.  Many of the events preceding the assassination were linked to the civil rights movement.  There was a lot of violence against civil rights activists in the South in 1963.  And so when Kennedy was killed, people interpreted it within that framework.

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All Comments   (10)
All Comments   (10)
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The Kennedy people really rewrote history/ I wonder if the history of their family ever will make it through their censorship.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't think you can write about the 1960s social transformation and ignore the effects of the Vietnam war. It was the biggest divider of all. We may have had hippies and LSD without Vietnam but we wouldn't have the deep divisions that have lasted as long.
The ironies abound. Ike wanted to keep us out. JFK adventurism got us started. LBJ lied us into a huge commitment (Gulf of Tonkin incident). Post 1972, Nixon was pilloried for not getting us out fast enough.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great article, but it's quite unfair to label "The Manchurian Candidate" as part of the trend - in that film, after all, it is a secret plan by the Chinese communists, backed by Russian accomplices, to kill the President and place a secret communist stooge in the oval office.

now that I think about it, looks like they figured out how to accomplish that without any need for bloodshed at all.

p.s. don't forget that the Manchurian Candidate, which came out just before the assassination, was suppressed for 25 years (no showings at all, anywhere!) for the thought crime of suggesting that a Vice President might have the most to gain from a President's death. Lyndon Johnston's people didn't like that idea very much, imagine that, and they shut this movie down cold for as long as they were alive. (Jack Valenti, especially)
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
The last time I remember the Kennedys being "hip" was in the 1980s - when there seemed to be a wave of nostalgia for the early, pre-crackup, late 50s/early 60s. 80s pop culture used a lot of images and memories from the period. It was the late-Boomers missing their ideal childhoods, I guess. The brief, shining moment just before their older siblings went apeshit and tried to destroy the country. I also had friends - mostly females in their 20s, for some reason - who were Kennedy fans, in the celebrity-obsessed sense.

One more reason I'm glad the 80s are dead and buried...
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
It was the drive to regain power by the Kennedys and the Harvard intellectual class that had become their paid courtiers that contributed to the downfall of the left. They felt the White House had been stolen from them by Oswald's bullets and made alliances with the far left wing of liberalism to wrench it back from Johnson as fast as possible.

Democrats had already come out of 11/22/63 thinking that the right had somehow been responsible for the assassination, and the subset saw no problem in demonizing not just the Goldwater campaign but Dallas and all of Texas, including LBJ. Once you're there, de-legitimizing your party's own sitting president comes as easy as doing the same thing to Barry Goldwater, but those doing that thought they could pick and choose what they would destroy -- i.e., take out Johnson over not just Vietnam but also on civil rights (!), by claiming his 1965 Civil Rights Act and the accompanying War on Poverty didn't go far enough.

The Kennedy clan's assumption of the banner of being the leaders of the left side of the Democratic Party, first with Bobby and then, for the next 40 years, with Teddy, meant legitimizing any far left idea that came down the pike. Throw in the guilt trip the family and their backers tried to put on America to give them back ultimate power -- a strategy taken up by other special interest groups in the Democratic Party's coalition -- and you end up where we are now, where persuading others with ideas takes second place to shaming/intimidating them to give in to your ideology.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
We have made so many portrayals of what it is that made the '60s what it was. What leaps out at me are two things:

The first was the wholesale turning away of youth from their parents constraints and value systems or even anything they had liked. That meant everything had to go: commercial illustration, music, literature, fashion, film, etc. Even comic books changed as the Comic Code fell began to fall apart before the end of the decade. Underground comix purposefully parodied the blithe innocence of '50s comics in the most vulgar possible ways.

The second was that the new elements of pop culture had to be seen as giving a message rather than mere entertainment - it must peer through the cracks, enabling perception, deal with social issues, see the REAL deal. Drugs like acid were said to enable perception, not make you merely feel good.

The French Connection (1971) and the now forgotten seminal made-for-TV movie The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973) for example, show how this affected police procedurals. Literature, especially science fiction literature was far ahead of the game because, unlike a mainstream film audience, their audience was also ahead of the game, and so we saw more nuanced work like Stranger in a Strange Land in 1961 and Dune serialized beginning in 1963 addressing hedonism and environmentalism.

So what's the upshot and legacy of all that: it is still popular to imagine that nothing is what it seems like on the surface - obvious is never obvious. Mitigation and explanation for the most innocent act is the order of the day. We have rhetoric formed around mysterious "systems" that aren't systems, "patriarchies" that aren't patriarchies, and "institutions" that aren't institutions.

I just visited the site of an author of young adult books about goblins and words like "cis," "cissexist," "transphobic," "cis gender," "able-bodied neurotypical," "privilege," "PoC," "colorblindness," "genderblindness," "other," were all in the single newest post and comments section. Such people are adopting the rhetoric almost word for word of the most suspicious group of people in America today - radical black feminists - the newest "hippie."
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37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
All this work devoted to Oswald, a Communist who hated America, Capitalism, the Constitution, and Freedom, whose life, itself a variation of Big Bill Haywood, John Reed, and Lincoln Steffens, became a template for generations of Americans, especially in academia, the media, and (Democrat) politics.

He was the strong horse to be followed, the nexus on which all history pivoted, the door through which a third way of Socialism (after the failures of national and international ways) won the world.


Two assassins bookend the destruction of the West, but Oswald is more influential than Gavrilo Princip.

So why in particular was Ruby driven to shoot him?
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
So why in particular was Ruby driven to shoot him?"

Why? Really?

Passion, and Opportunity.

Ruby killed Oswald for the same reason I MYSELF would have killed him, had I the same opportunity.... Because we all know the little Rat Punk will never suffer a day in his life any differently than the day he was captured...

Three Hotts and a cott, and a lifetime of Twisted Celebrity Status...Sir Han Sir Han, Manson, Holmes, Major Hassan....none of them will ever be "punished", and we all know it.


So for some folks (like Ruby, or ME if you ever hurt someone I love) wont mind at all not getting away....Nothing else matters, but JUSTICE, when you know none will be forthcoming by any other means.

The only question for some will be, can I reallly REALLY get to him.

And if they can, God willing, they will...

Because Justice is more important than Law
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
"So why in particular was Ruby driven to shoot him?"

Why? Really?

Passion, and Opportunity.

Ruby killed Oswald for the same reason I MYSELF would have killed him, had I the same opportunity.... Because we all know the little Rat Punk will never suffer a day in his life any differently than the day he was captured...

A cell, three hots and a cot with no "final punishment" ever administered...a lifetime of Twisted Celebrity Status and Fan Mail to feed their pathetic ego...in otherwords, EXACTLY what they always wanted...

Add Sirhan Sirhan and Manson to that list, and of more recent vintage, the likes a Major Hassan, Jared Loghtner, James Holmes, or your garden variety Child Rapist or Cop Kill...scumbags you KNOW will never face any real punishment at the hands of an imasculated "justice" system that is DESIGNED to render the exact opposite anymore.

The Motive for most any normal person is there, the only Limiting Factor is a "real" Opportunity to be successful in the attempt

And some folks (like Ruby, or me if you hurt someone I love) wont mind at all not getting away....Nothing else matters, but JUSTICE, when you know none will be forthcoming by any other means.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for a thought provoking interview on the beginning of the culture of pure fantasy we've suffered through since the '60s. I was 18 when Oswald shot Kennedy and I saw Ruby shoot Oswald as it happened on TV. I've never doubted that Oswald acted alone and have been immune from conspiracy theories, although leftist friends have tried to convince me otherwise.

I speculate that the webs of paranoia spun by the left serve a more nefarious purpose which is understood and exacerbated by liberal elites. They create an atmosphere of general suspicion so pervasive that it serves to muddy the waters enough that all truth is lost. The truth is the real enemy of the left because exposure would destroy them and their poisonous ideology.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
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