There are no guarantees when buying books. We often eagerly anticipate a release hoping it will be a classic but soon discover that it belongs on the ash heap of history alongside the collected works of Marx, recordings of the Back Street Boys, and every single movie featuring Madonna. Occasionally however, we unfurl a package and find that its contents widely exceed our expectations. One such work is James Piereson's Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism.
It is rather difficult to get the interest of politicos at the moment with every available pen and keyboard frenetically churning out predictions and analysis regarding the 2008 Presidential election. Unlike the meanderings of Hillary, Barack, Rudy, and Mitt, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is off our collective radar. Piereson's narrative illustrates that this should not be the case. That dark sequence in Dealey Plaza continues to impact our lives while adumbrating the character of the modern left.
The images of President Kennedy's death have inundated our culture. The media's dissection and reconfiguration of the event colors our understanding; so much so that many of us born after November 22, 1963 never once believed the official explanation for his death. Instead we accept that his liquidation was the result of a conspiracy. Most influential are theories suggesting that mafia figures like Santos Trafficante or Cubans in the pay of Fidel Castro were the ones who orchestrated the action.
Conservatives despise Oliver Stone and are right to do so, but should acknowledge that his film, JFK, shaped innumerable young minds. As with many lies, the movie was highly persuasive and millions now believe that a government coup brought down our king. They think agents of the Leviathan killed him in the name of perpetuating the Military Industrial Complex. In light of 9/11, with our CIA displaying an essence more Bay of Pigs than Stasi, such a notion is absurd but that does not stop kids from believing it. That the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone has thickened the Kultursmog.
Whatever the angle or line of rumor, the one thing for certain is that a sizable plurality of Americans agree that Oswald was who he said he was ... just a pawn in the game. Piereson's text dispassionately, but skillfully, refutes this thesis. In one of his strongest chapters, "Assassin," he reexamines the facts of Oswald's life. To say that his case history lacks nuance is an understatement. The man who liquidated our 35th President was a diehard Marxist and anything but a shill for the military. Oswald's acceptance of Marxism came in 1953 after he was handed a bill advocating clemency for the Rosenbergs. His allegiance to communism meant, as it does for so many angry radicals, that this alienated and troubled young man would no longer be alone.
The infamous gunman had nothing but contempt for American history and its institutions. He hated the radical right and attempted to kill segregationist, General Edwin A. Walker, six months before he trained his sights on Kennedy. Oswald went to the Soviet Union to savor the worker's paradise but found a bureaucratic nightmare instead. He returned, albeit begrudgingly, to his homeland. The FBI's refusal to take him seriously was a disgrace and a testament to their incompetence; while the media's refusal to consider the possible significance of his visits to the Cuban and Soviet embassies [in Mexico] is a testament to their bias. That he conferred with KGB agent Valeriy Kostikov a few months before taking aim should be of interest to anyone in pursuit of the truth.
Why did Oswald do it? Mr. Piereson's explanation resonates far more than the conspiracies contaminating our public square. His purpose was to get the attention of Fidel Castro and also to preserve the life of the dictator. The Cuban Marxist was the last leader for whom Mr. Oswald had any faith. After he threatened the president in a 1963 interview, the deluded and alienated communist may have interpreted his words in the same manner as King Henry II's deputies. Oswald happily answered the question, "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" by stepping forth to the window of the book depository in Dallas.
If those were his motives then he succeeded in fulfilling them far more than any other assassin in history, including John Wilkes Booth. Kennedy was the last president to ever actively pursue regime change in Cuba. The United States has since adopted a "hands off" policy which has enabled the megalomaniac to kill, brutalize, and impoverish his countrymen to his black heart's content.
By itself, reminding the world of who Oswald actually was is an important achievement, but it is just one of the many rejuvenating and provocative arguments elucidated in Camelot and the Cultural Revolution. His discussion of "punitive liberalism" is potent and completely transferable to the present day. The practitioners of this school deem America-in lieu of its historical crimes-as a land and country in need of punishment. The founding of the new world coincided with slavery, the death of hordes of Indians, and, eventually, the internment of Japanese citizens during the Second World War. The punitive liberal believes that we deserve a comeuppance for what we have done.
This malignant viewpoint has become increasingly prevalent among the left in the years following Kennedy's assassination. It metastasized in the eighties and formed the anti-intellectual building blocks upon which political correctness now rests. With Oswald, it demands that we all share his guilt as if the bullets he fired were directed by karma's gun. Jack Newfield illustrated the nature of this perspective with the comment that Robert Kennedy's murder occurred due to "poverty, lynchings, or our genocide against the Indians."
Piereson destroys this emotive reasoning with aplomb. Blaming America for the slaughter of the Kennedy brothers is entirely irrational. Our 35th President was slain by a fanatical communist, one whose mindset and behaviors wildly differed from those of the average citizen, while the Senator from New York was downed by a foreign national. Sirhan Sirhan was not a figure from our past. He was a Palestinian terrorist and a forerunner of the ones who now volley shrapnel about on the Gaza strip. He too had personal notebooks filled with pro-communist sentiment. Robert Kennedy's death was due to a "climate of hate," but one located in the Middle East rather than here. Sirhan struck over the senator's support for Israel and timed his act with the one year anniversary of the Six Day War.
The Punitive Liberal outlook is one commonly found in the Democratic Party. Piereson notes that the framework seeks to "dispel American pride and to shrink national ambitions at home and abroad," which is precisely what their agenda has been. In the process, the party has been robbed of its optimism along with its ability to relate to the experiences of the average person.
All of their political initiatives [see the life and work of James Earl Carter] have everything to do with punishing the nation and nothing to do with improving the lives of its citizens. Affirmative action penalizes white males for historical acts which they never committed. In fact, the great majority of Caucasians had no slave owning relations or even ancestors who were present before 1880.
The punitive liberal hates everything about his homeland, but becomes outraged whenever this is pointed out to him. For some reason, conservatives allow the left to frame the debate on this issue. Many timidly retreat from coming out and saying that left is unpatriotic. This is puzzling because their anti-Americanism is blatantly obvious. When they gaze at Old Glory "jingoism and vengeance and war" come to mind.
To them our society is nothing more than a semi-organized method of perpetuating sexism, oppression, hate, and destruction. Given this eventuality, it certainly is not a leap of logic to conclude that none of them would ever lift a placard to defend it. Why would they if they see us as being the "root cause" behind the world's problems? That the left so despises the military and the police springs from their role in preserving the nation ... which is a sin that cannot be forgiven.
Abraham Lincoln regarded Americans as being "the almost chosen people." Would today's leftists agree with him? Certainly not but they are only too pleased to write books denouncing our greatest President as a racist. This is not so hard to do when one removes him from his historical context and judges him by the standards of the present day.
Only the aloof and self-righteous depict prosperity, abundance, and opportunity as conditions found in a concentration camp. Yes, I grant that, as with all countries, America has committed many sins, but what makes our human example so exemplary is that our sins are in the past. You won't find any slaves here and the only discrimination our government practices is directed towards Caucasians.
Indeed, our country has become so self-effacing that most of us seem to believe we have no right to control our own borders. Our self-deference is so pronounced that, in the hopes of making things easier for immigrants, many locales are now bilingual-despite the decision making it more difficult for monolingual indigenes to find employment.
Mr. Piereson's concise account is a tour de force and not merely a historical study. It is a theoretical work which increases our understanding of both the past and present. Of a book we can ask for nothing more.
Bernard Chapin is the author of Women: Theory and Practice and Escape from Gangsta Island. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.