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Robert Kennedy and Vietnam


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Article by David Talbot that appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2106769,00.html

David Talbot

Wednesday June 20, 2007

The Guardian

Ever since he was a boy, Gordon Brown has been captivated by brave men and women, he tells us in his new book, Courage. "Stories of people who took brave decisions in the service of great causes enthralled me, especially when more comfortable and far less dangerous alternatives were open to them," he writes.

Among the heroic figures he profiles in his book is Robert F Kennedy, JFK's younger brother - a man Brown sees as the "first modern political leader" for breaking with old-style bureaucratic liberalism and attempting to empower distressed communities directly. But while this aspect of Bobby Kennedy's political career might thrill the heart of a New Labour leader, it's not why most of us remember RFK. There were a number of more dramatic highlights in Kennedy's passionate mission. One of the most memorable is the way that Kennedy - during the height of the Vietnam war - broke with his own party and a sitting Democratic president to seek an end to the senseless bloodletting in south-east Asia.

Brown acknowledges Kennedy's courageous 1968 presidential campaign, but he does not dwell on it, perhaps all too aware of the parallels with his current political predicament. But if the prime minister in waiting is really looking for heroic inspiration as he prepares to take office, he would do well to linger on Bobby Kennedy's example. While Kennedy was no longer a member of the Democratic administration in 1968 - he was a senator from New York by then - it still took guts to challenge his party's war policies.

We assume today that the charismatic Kennedy brothers were wreathed in the aura of political invincibility when they ran for office. But when Bobby Kennedy announced his presidential campaign on March 16 1968 as an anti-war candidate, the Democratic party establishment and the Washington press corps greeted him with icy suspicion. He was attacked as ruthlessly ambitious, he was accused of nursing a personal grudge against President Lyndon Johnson, the man who had taken his brother's place in the Oval Office. As Brown points out, only a slight majority of the American public opposed the Vietnam war at this point - "and a good number actually thought the US should commit more troops".

But Kennedy plunged ahead, delivering impassioned speeches against America's arrogant and disastrous intervention and challenging the smug exemption of white college students from military service, while poor brown and black youths fought and died in their place. These were controversial and daring statements for a major US political leader to make at the time. But Bobby Kennedy ran like a man on fire that season, a man with nothing to lose but his soul. And he told America the truth.

Kennedy knew that too many good young Americans were dying in the endless jungle war, and that US troops could not force a political solution on the Vietnamese people that they did not want. It was time to stop the bleeding, he told the country. At a typically uproarious campaign event in Sacramento, California, Kennedy silenced the crowd by reminding them of the men who were dying in their name.

"Which of these brave young men dying in the rice paddies of Vietnam might have written a symphony?" he said in a quiet voice. "Which of them might have written a beautiful poem or might have cured cancer? Which of them might have taught a small child to read? It is our responsibility to let those men live."

These days Tony Blair's camp is issuing back-channel warnings that his successor's hold on 10 Downing Street might be brief if Brown tries to distance himself from Blair's legacy. But when it comes to the epic slaughter in Iraq, Brown should listen to his conscience, as Bobby Kennedy did nearly 40 years ago. Kennedy put his political career on the line in his campaign against the Vietnam war. He broke with the leaders of his own party and the architects of the war who had once served his own brother. He risked his very life. That's courage.

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" "Which of these brave young men dying in the rice paddies of Vietnam might have written a symphony?" he said in a quiet voice. "Which of them might have written a beautiful poem or might have cured cancer? Which of them might have taught a small child to read? It is our responsibility to let those men live." "

Indeed, this is a great tragedy. One can argue it's a function of war.

War is not only against 'the enemy' but also against those sent to fight it and those who may have benefitted by them not being killed, which, in the final analysis, is all of us. (Sinilarly WWI was an end to many hundreds of emerging writers and intellectusals.)

RFK's courage cannot be understated.

He was forming a coalition of anti-establishment figires, anti war activists, and with unionists like Reuther, Civil Rights activists like MLK, Charles Evers, and others, all significant targets from whose who quite likely were behind the assassination of his brother.

Probabably, if Malcolm X had lived and continued his transformation to a person more aligned with MLK, RFK would have had a Grand Coalition with a huge segment of society in the streets armed with morals and ethics and a deermination to confront the Junta and wrest the USofA out of their hands and deliver it back into the hands of the people.

In other words, RFK, having bided his time, was, in effect, striking back with a broadly popular coalition.

Another consequence would have been the potential of his then untainted brother Ted being used to it's fullest.

The REAL J.F.K. Civil Rights bills could have been implemented, and given the teeth it needed, and the world today would be a very different place.

"Kennedy plunged ahead, delivering impassioned speeches against America's arrogant and disastrous intervention and challenging the smug exemption of white college students from military service, while poor brown and black youths fought and died in their place. These were controversial and daring statements for a major US political leader to make at the time. But Bobby Kennedy ran like a man on fire that season, a man with nothing to lose but his soul. And he told America the truth."

By bringing home a trained black army, in conjunction with the other soldiers, he would have been Commander in Chief of an Armed Force with a significant proportion in Harmony with his program.

This time, as opposed to the demobilised black's after the Civil War, they would have had the support of the administration in their rejection of elements such as the KKK.

Edited by John Dolva
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  • 5 years later...

" "Which of these brave young men dying in the rice paddies of Vietnam might have written a symphony?" he said in a quiet voice. "Which of them might have written a beautiful poem or might have cured cancer? Which of them might have taught a small child to read? It is our responsibility to let those men live." "

Indeed, this is a great tragedy. One can argue it's a function of war.

War is not only against 'the enemy' but also against those sent to fight it and those who may have benefitted by them not being killed, which, in the final analysis, is all of us. (Sinilarly WWI was an end to many hundreds of emerging writers and intellectusals.)

RFK's courage cannot be understated.

He was forming a coalition of anti-establishment figires, anti war activists, and with unionists like Reuther, Civil Rights activists like MLK, Charles Evers, and others, all significant targets from whose who quite likely were behind the assassination of his brother.

Probabably, if Malcolm X had lived and continued his transformation to a person more aligned with MLK, RFK would have had a Grand Coalition with a huge segment of society in the streets armed with morals and ethics and a deermination to confront the Junta and wrest the USofA out of their hands and deliver it back into the hands of the people.

In other words, RFK, having bided his time, was, in effect, striking back with a broadly popular coalition.

Another consequence would have been the potential of his then untainted brother Ted being used to it's fullest.

The REAL J.F.K. Civil Rights bills could have been implemented, and given the teeth it needed, and the world today would be a very different place.

"Kennedy plunged ahead, delivering impassioned speeches against America's arrogant and disastrous intervention and challenging the smug exemption of white college students from military service, while poor brown and black youths fought and died in their place. These were controversial and daring statements for a major US political leader to make at the time. But Bobby Kennedy ran like a man on fire that season, a man with nothing to lose but his soul. And he told America the truth."

By bringing home a trained black army, in conjunction with the other soldiers, he would have been Commander in Chief of an Armed Force with a significant proportion in Harmony with his program.

This time, as opposed to the demobilised black's after the Civil War, they would have had the support of the administration in their rejection of elements such as the KKK.

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