Beacon on the Hill or the Heart and Soul of Darkness?

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.

– Henry Kissinger, 40 Committee meeting, June 27, 1970, cited in The Price of Power by Seymour Harsh

When I was a boy, capitalism didn’t mean very much to me.  I didn’t always have three squares or a regular roof over my head, but I never got around to blaming capitalism for my poverty. I didn’t know what the word meant as a child, and nobody brought it up.  In a foster home when I was nine, I was forced to go to catechism classes in preparation for First Communion, but never had to attend a “cappie” class.

Things started looking up one Christmas, when I received a much beloved Johnny 7 multiple fuck-with plastic gun. There were woods nearby and I would frolic for hours, pretending to be horseback, in search of baddies, who often looked like my foster father, a man who watched Lawrence Welk religiously and was quick to take off his belt and chase for smallest infractions of tongue. After he caught me, and beat me, he would put me up in the attic bedroom to weep myself to sleep. A drawer next to the bed held a cache of silver dollars, which went toward my recess funds that year. Looking back, I do now see capitalism in there somewhere; certainly my boy buns were colonized by a brute force.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, I’m an old fart, and a sentimentalist to boot (remember how that ends for Bogie in Casablanca? Gotta watch a surplus of the syrup if you want to keep your Ideal Feminine.) and I found myself (pats himself to be sure he’s still here) listening to an old John F. Kennedy speech. No, not the fuckin’ do ‘unto your country before it has a chance to do unto you’ speech that so many libertarians feed their resentment with. Nor the men on the moon by the end of the decade  “because we can” speech. But one far more important to our time now than any of the other speeches folks wrote for him back then (I lived with a Groton family whose Head wrote speeches for JFK). This speech or, as he referred to it, “remarks,” was titled “The President and the Press,” and runs about 20 minutes long.

His prepared remarks flatter the ear with his genuinely bright and sassy trademark humor.  He plays the Press, makes them laugh heartily at times raising the usual tension between the executive and hound dogs of journalism.  He didn’t even have to bring up drones — or, back then, carpet bombing — to threaten citizens with a vendetta if they ogled his loved ones. (Apparently, 16 year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki must have had a real crush on Sasha when Barry White smote him with hellfire. Missiles.) Democratic presidents since Kennedy seem to have self-deprecation down: aside from Barry’s knee-slappers, we had LBJ, who allegedly went around the White House exposing himself and saying, “This is why,” women swooning, butlers defenestrating themselves into the Rose Garden; Bill Clinton, reportedly wore his  jazz shades when interns took turns playing “Blind Willy Leaps” on his sexophone (Clinton’s nickname was Willy); even Jimmy Carter found it necessary to expose us to his penis butter by confessing to lust in heart in an interview for Playboy magazine — just before his would-be re-erection.  And this is our Lesser of Two Evils system: Evil Repugs or Dem guys.

Anyway, getting back to Jack, no slouch in the sack, according to myriad accounts of midnight trysts in his bungalow on the Potomac, the Press, even back then, had a key responsibility to be extraordinarily ‘judicious’ in its reporting. He knew how the Press would see that remark and was quick to soften them up with an anecdote about the Commies with whom the Cappies were in the midst of a dubious battle.  It’s worth considering the anecdote in its entirety, both for its humor and its parable power:

You remember may remember that in 1851, New York Herald Tribune under the sponsorship and publishing of Horace Greeley, employed as its London correspondent, an obscure journalist by the name of Karl Marx, we are told that foreign correspondent Mark Stone broke and with a family ill and undernourished, constantly appealed to Greeley and managing editor Charles Dana for an increase in his munificent salary of $5 per installment, a salary which he and Engels ungratefully labeled as the lousiest petty bourgeois cheating. But when all his financial appeals were refused, Marx looked around for other means of livelihood and fame, eventually terminating his relationship with the Tribune and devoting his talents full time to the cause that would bequeathed to the world the seeds of Leninism, Stalinism, Revolution, and the Cold War. If only this capitalistic New York newspaper had treated him more kindly, if only Marx had remained a foreign correspondent, History might have been different and I hope all publishers will bear this lesson in mind the next time they receive a poverty stricken appeal from a small increase in the expense account from an obscure newspaper man.

Fair enough to say, they don’t deliver remarks, written for them, like that any more. But, going the other way, the speech then moves toward the serious business of the day.  In many ways, this Kennedy speech 60 years ago, is the counterpoint to Ike’s now infamous 1960 speech warning about the rise of “the Military Industrial Complex” that could lead to tyranny. It was delivered shortly after the failed Bay of Pigs attempt at invading Cuba to oust Castro. It turns out that the real message of Kennedy’s speech is “national security” and what he suggests that the Press must do to balance their mission to keep the populace “well-informed” versus the need to keep our Cold War enemies at bay by restricting their access (and ours) to information that could weaken our defenses. He cites a recent press piece that discussed satellites in such a way that the information revealed by the press forced the US military to make changes “at the expense of considerable time and money.”

National Security. He can see them pondering, nervous, unsure.  He says,

The very word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society, and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and a secret by proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in ensuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.

This is deep soul stuff for that era of Spy vs. Spy known as the Cold War. Oh, wait. We’re still there 75 years after Hiroshima, at war with the Russkies and Terrorism (or, as we used to call it, Communism). National Security.

This is about where the total eclipse of the heart of Democracy creeps into JFK’s remarks.  But we’ll hold off on the saddening phases of that front for a moment. Kennedy’s speech on his  urgent call for the Press to take heed in its reporting of  “national security” and the “monolithic and ruthless conspiracy” all around us –even at our doorstep.  The message was well-received by the conservative Press corps (Kennedy called them the “one party press” and he didn’t mean they leant Democratic) and would seem prophetic when the globe-threatening Cuban Missile Crisis hit home in October 1962, when American deployments of missiles in Italy and Turkey were matched by Soviet deployments of similar ballistic missiles in Cuba, and scared the skirts off Americans like nothing else until 9/11.  It’s at least very ironic that the conspiracy theory era began in earnest not with JFK’s assassination but with his paranoic take on intended Soviet aggression, resulting in American first-move aggression.

Out of this fear and paranoia that developed after JFK’s death, new permanent hegemonic American aggression began.  As detailed in a recent book I reviewed, The American Way: Stories of Invasion (Comma Press, 2021), though the incursions to exert control over other threatening (i.e., leaning too far Left) sovereign nations had begun in the 60s, after Kennedy we took off the incursion gloves and sought out enemies and demanded control against the enemy: Communists (or Socialists (or autocracy (or Shiites)))), resulting in what a chronology that looks like this: The stories are conveniently presented in chronological order: Iran, 1953; Congo, 1961; Cuba, 1961; South Africa, 1962; Canada, 1963; Vietnam, 1967; Italy, 1969; Turkey, 1971; Chile, 1973; El Salvador, 1981; Guatemala, 1982; Grenada, 1983; Nicaragua, 1986; Kurdistan, 1999; Afghanistan, 2001-2021; Colombia, 2002; Iraq, 2004; Gaza, 2007; Libya, 2011; and, Pakistan, 2008-16.  The CIA became the Enforcer for aggressive Foreign Policy.

Few CIA operatives were as keened to the paranoiac need for maintaining “national security” overseas (and at home) than rightwing stalwart Duane Clarridge, who was willing to take out any one who didn’t want to “lump” American hegemony.  Commies could not be tolerated in the world — from Latin America to Middle East (Iran) to Australia (Gough Whitlam) to Asia, it was, Look out, here come da Judge.

South/Central America

In his memoir, A Spy For All Seasons (1995), Clarridge badmouths the Democratic presidential fuckups that had messed up the CIA’s mission and made his job as head of the Latin America division hell, at first:

The Latin America Division was snakebit. The CIA had been battered across the board by the Church/Pike investigations, but the Latin America Division had been hit the hardest. In 1970, an avowed Communist, Salvador Allende, was elected president of Chile. The Latin America Division, acting in response to a directive from then-President Nixon, had tried to foment a military coup to prevent him from taking office. The Chilean military did overthrow him and Allende was killed…Then… came the revelations about the idiotic attempts to assassinate Cuban dictator Castro at the Kennedys’ behest. The Carter years, with their generally anti-CIA attitude, hadn’t helped; the entire division was still faltering and reluctant to take the initiative. In a way, who could blame them?

Duane had America’s back though, “and don’t you forget it,” he said to anyone who would listen. John Pilger listened.

In the documentary, The War Against Democracy (2007), John Pilger lays bare the murderous American foreign policy initiatives in South/Central America over the past few decades. As the IMDB blurb sums it up: “Venezuela, Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Salvador, Bolivia: people’s struggle for democracy versus US imperialism in Latin America since the 1950s, backing coups and supporting dictatorships.”  As head of the Latin American division of the CIA, Clarridge was in the thick of the carnage and indifference to human misery caused by US power moves. Referencing Richard Nixon and his desire to control South/Central in the 70s, Pilger quotes Nixon as “not giving a shit” about people south of the border. In a now often- replayed interview with Duane Clarridge and his role in destroying Chile, the CIA henchman thumbs his nose at Pilger and those concerned with human rights. Check it out:

National Security. “We’ll intervene wherever we feel like it,” says Clarridge. “And if you don’t like it: lump it. Get used to it, world; we’re not going to put up with any nonsense.”  American foreign policy for the last 50 years.

Middle East

If Clarridge had only kept his policy-making activities limited to Latin America, Monroe Doctrine territory, we might have found a way out of “our” morass and back onto the road to Moral Compassville. But Clarridge, looking to undermine another Democratic president, thought it meet to weigh in on Obama’s Middle East policy, specifically his nuke deal with Iran  In an interview with the Fox network’s David Asman, Clarridge took a potshot at the Obama administration, while also shockingly revealing that the Saudis had several nuclear weapons. The dialogue goes like this:

David Asman: Well, specifically where a lot of people, Mr. Claridge, have talked about Saudi Arabia, they certainly have more money than anybody in the Middle East. Are you concerned about the possibility they may get a nuclear bomb?

Duane Clarridge: Saudis already have the bomb, but people fail to remember.

Asman:  Hold on a second, Mr Clarridge. Let me just emphasize that point, because that’s an important point. You say Saudi Arabia already has a nuclear bomb?

Clarridge: Oh, several.

And, as your mopping your brow over that whopper, the Q/A continues with:

Asman: Final question, Mr. Clarridge. We’re short on time, but is it conceivable that the Saudis may use these nuclear weapons if they have them to take out these positions in Iran before the Iranians get a bomb?

Clarridge: I cannot answer that question. But I think if you sit around some evening on your patio with a fine glass of vintage port and a fine cigar, you may be able to come up with the answer yourself.

Here’s the interview:

“Dewey” Clarridge says the Bomb was a quid pro quo for the Saudis helping the Pakistanis to acquire a nuke to counter The Smiling Buddha — what the Indians named their inaugural nuke. Happy Nirvana! If what Clarridge says about the Saudis owning a nuke has value, it changes everything about Middle East control.

And speaking of Iran, C;arridge has confirmed that Reagan did, indeed, conduct an “October Surprise” that saw the delay of Americans held hostage at the embassy until after the election. He told Newsweek,

The so-called October Surprise conspiracy—in which the incoming Reagan administration’s advance team allegedly plotted to keep American hostages in Iran until after President Jimmy Carter left office—was real, he hinted.

The piece also references his handiwork in Nepal, India, Turkey and Italy.  In addition, Clarridge is thought to have had some clandestine fun with South Africa.

Central Asia

“Dewey,” presumably named after one of the 7 Dwarves, has also enforced American foreign policy in Central Asia, including India, where he started his career as an operative, pushing a Maoist newspaper in Madras to lean so far left that Indian authorities gew alarmed and shut the paper down. Clarridge died 5 years ago, but his last go at the violators of America’s national security was, long after he left the CIA, as a private contractor in Afghanistan, where he was said to be affiliated with kill squads. According to one piece in the NYT, “Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants,” he helped “track and kill suspected militants.”  It appears that Clarridge and company were part of a vanguard of a new, less accountable private warrior program to replace regular soldiers.  American troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan, but are to be replaced with small armies of mercenaries to continue to battle Islamic insurgents (that America helped create decades ago).  But these Soldiers of Fortune are not new in any sense — see South/Central — but seemingly institutionalized, their atrocities, if any, may not always reach American citizens.

Getting back to the Kennedy speech to the Press in 1961, “we” have to wonder whether we haven’t become the very forces of hidden darkness that JFK warned us about hadn’t consumed “our” souls.  We look back and listen to him describe the enemy he wanted the Press to help defend American from by more judicious reporting:

[Communism] is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations. Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned. No rumor is printed. No secret is revealed. It conducts the Cold War in short with a wartime discipline. No democracy would ever hope or wish to match. Nevertheless, every democracy recognizes the necessary restraints of national security. And the question remains whether those restraints need to be more strictly observed.

Reading this 50 years later, one is reminded of the Nietzsche admonition: When you fight monsters, you must take care not to become a monster yourself. And when you look into the abyss, beware the abyss also looks into you.

Here’s the Kennedy speech in its entirety:

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.