‘Enmity does not last forever’

Andrey Shitov

John F. Kennedy’s most famous quote has always struck me as typically Soviet, not American. Do you remember the Komsomol song: “Before, think about the Motherland, and then about yourself”? So the 35th President of the United States, who is still unmistakably recognized around the world not only by name, but simply by his initials – JFK, called in his inaugural speech in 1961: “Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for her!”
It is customary to admire this text, but it also had critics. Already in 1962, the work of the Chicago economist Milton Friedman “Capitalism and Freedom” was published in the USA. The author, who later became a Nobel laureate, argued that “neither the first nor the second half” of the famous postulate “reflects such relations between a citizen and his government that are worthy of the ideals of a free man in a free society.” In fact, according to Friedman, one should ask what we, as free people, can do to improve our own lives, even if with the help of the authorities. The book is now also considered a classic.
The same age as the revolution
These memories are inspired by the anniversary date. Sunday marks 105 years since the birth of JFK – May 29, 1917. Had he been born in Russia, he would have been called the same age as the revolution.
And the motive of serving the motherland, with which I began, consonant with the collectivist principle “the public is higher than the personal”, seems to me logical in his political legacy, primarily in the context of the ideological confrontation with the USSR. Kennedy was the founder of the United States Volunteer Peace Corps, wanted to establish a National Service Corps similar in goals and objectives, supported the civil rights movement for African Americans, advocated not only rivalry, but also cooperation with the Soviet Union in space exploration. Something like that seemed to be in the air in that era.
Although, of course, the hereditary Boston Democrat politician and American leader at the height of the Cold War could not help but be a convinced anti-communist. With the exception of his own tragic death from an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, the most dramatic events of his short presidency were associated with a failed attempt to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro in Cuba, which entered the annals of US history as the Bay of Pigs fiasco (operation in Bay of Pigs, April 1961), and then with the Caribbean (in American terminology – “Cuban”) missile crisis in October 1962.
Learning is always helpful
In these moments of trial, Kennedy showed not only determination and courage, but also reasonable discretion, the ability to learn from his own mistakes and compromise in the confrontation with the much more experienced Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. As a result, they then managed by joint efforts to take the world away from the edge of the nuclear abyss. According to subsequent assessments of experts, humanity has never – neither before nor since – approached it as close as in the days of that missile crisis 60 years ago.
Shortly thereafter, JFK approved Washington’s participation in the first arms control agreement of its kind. The treaty banning tests of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water was signed in Moscow by representatives of the USSR, the USA and Great Britain on August 5, 1963 and entered into force on October 10, a few weeks before the Dallas “crime of the century”. In fact, Kennedy became one of the forerunners of the policy of détente to which his longtime political opponent, Republican Richard Nixon, returned a decade later in Washington.
Now, once again, detente in US-Russian relations can only be dreamed of. Many experts believe that the current US-NATO “hybrid war” against Russia is fiercer, more uncontrolled and more dangerous than the previous Cold War. The current 46th owner of the White House, Joe Biden, puts it in the context of the world-historical struggle between the forces of “democracy and authoritarianism”, and more specifically, the geopolitical confrontation between Washington and Moscow and Beijing.
By the way, Kennedy, who took office at the age of 43 years and 236 days, was the youngest elected president of his country (Theodore Roosevelt was even younger, but he succeeded his murdered predecessor in the White House). JFK remains the youngest of the departed. Biden, who is on the threshold of his 80th birthday, is, on the contrary, the oldest American leader in history. So talk after that about the advantages of life and political experience…
“Praise the Russian people”
Kennedy’s de facto political testament is his June 10, 1963 “Strategy for Peace” speech at the graduation ceremony at American University (AU) in Washington. Both in content and in form, it is considered a reference: Barack Obama, proud of his eloquence, in 2015 (when discussing the nuclear deal with Iran) tried to copy it. In addition, the impression is that it is completely turned to the present day.
In principle, it must be listened to or read in its entirety, it is worth it. To begin with, the author called for a re-examination of the idea of the world as such, to abandon the “defeatist confidence” that the world is “impossible” and “unreal”, that “war is inevitable, and humanity is doomed”, because it is in the power of “forces that we unable to control.”
“We don’t need to take that view,” JFK said. “Our problems are man-made and therefore amenable to human solution.” “Peace is a process, a way of solving problems,” the speaker proclaimed.
Further, he suggested that his compatriots “reconsider their attitude towards the Soviet Union” in order not to indiscriminately slander the whole people. Yes, Americans are “deeply disgusted by communism as a denial of personal freedom and dignity” of the individual, said the US President. “But still, we can hail the Russian people for their many achievements in science and space exploration, in the economy and industrial development, in culture and acts of courage,” he added.
As a senator, Kennedy received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for a book of essays on fellow legislators entitled Profiles in Cour-age. He also possessed re-markable personal courage: during the Second World War he commanded torpedo boats in the Pacific Oc-ean, in one of the episodes he heroically saved himself and his comrades, despite severe injuries. And when he came into big politics, of course, he knew how, on occasion, to gradually remind voters of this.
“Enmity does not last forever”
In his speech to the graduates, he further emphasized that not an idealistic, but “a more practical, more achievable world, based not on a sudden upheaval in human nature, but on a gradual evolution of human institutions”, does not exclude quarrels and conflicts. “World peace, like peace with neighbors [in the house or neighborhood (community peace)], does not require everyone to love their neighbor, but only requires to live together in [an atmosphere] of mutual tolerance, and settle disputes fairly and peacefully,” he said. JFK – History teaches us that enmity between peoples does not last forever, no matter how stable our likes and dislikes may seem, the course of time and events often brings amazing changes in relations between peoples, as well as between neighbors. So let’s not add up arms”.
Amen. Much more can be quoted, for example, the paradoxical idea that a nuclear conflict does not threaten anyone more than the owners of the largest nuclear arsenals; a reminder that “we all live on one small planet” and “we are all mortal”; a warning clearly based on the lessons of the same Cuban missile crisis that even when defending vital interests, “nuclear powers are obliged not to allow such confrontations in which the enemy is faced with a choice between a humiliating retreat and nuclear war.” However, enough has already been said.
Let me just say that in discussions about how Russians and Ukrainians quarreled “forever” these days, even across the ocean there are reminders that after the defeat in World War II, neither Germany nor Japan, subjected to atomic bombings, harbored irreconcilable eternal hostility to the United States. Biden just the other day went on a visit to Tokyo, not only met with the Prime Minister, but was also received by the Emperor of Japan. And the G7 summit is planned to be held in Hiroshima next year.
Do Americans want war?
In Kennedy’s speech, for the sake of justice, one more quotation must be singled out. He ended his speech with a vow that sounded like a paraphrase of a Soviet song about an armored train on a siding.
“The United States, as the whole world knows, will never go to war,” JFK said. “We don’t want war. We don’t expect war now. This generation of Americans has had enough, more than enough – war, hatred, adversity.”
And further: “We will be ready [for it] if others want it. We will be on our guard to try to stop it. But we will also begin to build such a peaceful world in which the weak are unharmed and the strong are just… Confiden-tly and without fear, we must to work – not on a strategy of annihilation, but on a strategy of peace.”
The history of the past decades has shown what these words were really worth. In fact, when they were uttered, the United States was already at war in Indochina, which eventually ended in their shameful flight from Saigon. Since then, they have unleashed dozens, if not hundreds, of other conflicts, right up to the Afghan war, which ended just as ingloriously under Biden. Based on their experience, the British Financial Times recently explained, for example, the difference between a special military operation to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait under George W. junior.
Of course, all this also needs to be known and remembered. And because Kennedy is not just a character in a long-standing historical drama, the plot of which was actually involved in big politics, blood and sex (remember Marilyn Monroe’s famous serenade “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”?), but over time, it has also grown countless many conspiracy theories. In my opinion, his experience, his example can still be useful in order to better understand the vicissitudes of our life today. That is why, in fact, the legend lives on, and we do not miss the next calendar anniversaries.
“More Than Himself”
Although, of course, time takes its toll. I have professors I know at American University, and I tried to ask them about the attitude of current students towards JFK, but I didn’t get any answers (probably, any communication with Russian journalists is now too toxic).
On my own behalf, one underage told me that in American schools, students are taught more about the period of the American Civil War than about modern presidents; schools deliberately try to stay out of politics. The ideas of young people about Kennedy are romanticized: they see him as a kind of champion of people’s needs, ready to challenge the real masters of life for their sake. In general, something in the spirit of the legend of Camelot and the fabulous brotherhood of knights from the time of King Arthur, the association with which was firmly established during the reign of JFK at the suggestion of the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. According to her, her husband, the president, was very fond of the Broadway musical of the same name.
In Moscow, Vladimir Pechatnov, a well-known Americanist from MGIMO, added that “Kennedy’s legend is bigger than himself, and it arose largely because of his tragic end, which left a feeling of unfulfilled expectations and hopes.” “Plus, of course, the bright style of his reign: intelligence, sense of humor, charm, elegance, youth, eloquence – none of his successors had such a combination,” the specialist said.
Legend legend strife
It is worth, however, to take into account that the legend of the legend is different. For example, the famous Hollywood director Oliver Stone released the political thriller “JFK” in 1991, and last fall he returned to the topic in the documentary investigation genre: “Return to JFK. Through the Looking Glass.” At our box office, the picture was called “How John F. Kennedy Was Killed.”
Rolling Stone magazine responded to this work with an angry rebuke, from which it followed that the historical truth about the 35th US president is distorted by… Russia. “Do you believe that the CIA killed JFK?” the author of the publication asked point-blank. “Millions of Americans suspect that it is. But then let me ask you: why do you believe in this?”
The answer was immediate: “The origins of this story can be traced back to the Russian disinformation [spread] operation. It comes from the same arsenal of political warfare that convinced half the world that it was the US military that created AIDS. in favor of Donald Trump, who is now flooding the internet with deadly lies about the coronavirus and vaccines.The goals of this campaign are the same: to divide Americans, to add salt to the wounds we inflict on ourselves, and ultimately to convince you that there is no truth at all. wild fantasies are a reality that “conspiracy theories are now conspiracy facts,” as Stone claims in JFK Revisited.
In general, as the hero of the unforgettable Soviet comedy used to say, “we also destroyed this chapel.” And in general, Stone, despite his star status, constantly “arrives” in his homeland for his kind and unbiased attitude towards Russia.
Although real life is indeed sometimes more incredible than any fiction. Here in Belarus, the politician Stanislav Shushkevich, a participant in the Belovezhskaya agreements of 1991 on the collapse of the USSR, recently died, and from posthumous publications I was very surprised to learn that in his youth, working at a factory in Minsk, he taught the Russian language… American Lee Harvey Oswald. The one who was later officially recognized as the Kennedy assassin. Shushkevich did not deny acquaintance, but at the same time emphasized that, in his opinion, the murder was the result of a conspiracy to which Oswald had nothing to do.
Forgotten testaments
Well, God bless her, with conspiracy theories, and without her there are enough worries. Our most eminent American academician, Sergei Rogov, when asked why we need to remember the Kennedy anniversary today, first of all referred to the same speech in AU, recalling, by the way, that it was immediately published in Soviet newspapers.
A breakthrough for its time was, in his opinion, a live report on the funeral of JFK, which was then broadcast for the first time from across the ocean by Soviet television. Rogov, a 15-year-old teenager, sat at the screen, “despite the time difference”, and remembers what a huge emotional impression that broadcast made. I myself could not see her due to my age, but I also remember individual frames, since they have since been replicated countless times in the media.
As for the essence of the matter, Rogov is amazed that the current generation of American liberals have completely forgotten the precepts of their former idol, “completely buried his legacy on how to do business with Russia.” In his opinion, for the last eight years the world has been undergoing “cold war 2.0”, which in many respects is “more dangerous” than the previous one, since now “there is no normal political dialogue and it is bursting at the seams, the arms control system is on the verge of complete collapse”.
History coil
With particular concern in this context, the interlocutor mentions that today “there is again a conversation about the resumption of nuclear tests.” It turns out that since the days of Khrushchev and Kennedy, “a full circle, a coil of history” has been passed, he says. And with bitter irony he adds: “For what they fought, they ran into that.”
In general, according to Rogov, “today the threat of nuclear war is even greater than during the Caribbean crisis.” “Firstly, at that time there was still a dialogue on both the first and the second track,” that is, through official and unofficial channels, the specialist explains. And secondly, the leaders on both sides – Kennedy and his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Khrushchev and Rodion Malinovsky – themselves went through World War II and still remembered well both the horrors and suffering that it caused, and “the time when we were allies against a common enemy.”
“The current generation remembers nothing of this — neither the alliance, nor the colossal sacrifices,” Rogov points out. “This is absent not only in the public consciousness, but also at the political level. And then it was still very strongly felt.”
Shield from war
Accordingly, the halo surrounding the name of JFK seems to our academician to be transient. “Kennedy is the leader and symbol of his generation. And while this generation is not completely gone, he remains an iconic figure,” the expert argues. But with the final departure of the “baby boomer generation,” that is, the post-war peak of the birth rate, “the scale of Kennedy’s personality will begin to decrease, and he will become a number of other interesting, but not outstanding characters,” he predicts.
Science, as they say, knows better, but I, for my part, am not sure that this will be the case. Kennedy is a legendary man, and myths, in my opinion, are much more durable than facts: simply because they are more familiar, more pleasant and more convenient to rely on. Of course, this legend will also be forgotten, but only when the hypertrophied general interest in America itself, whose strength and weakness merged together in the fate of the 35th US President, dries up.
In the meantime, I’m just repeating for the umpteenth time following William Faulkner: “The past never dies. It’s not even the past.” And I repeat the idea, known almost from ancient times – that new wars begin when the former ones are forgotten, and therefore memory is the best barrier to war.
In Runet, this quote is attributed to Aristotle, but perhaps without justification: neither in Greek nor in English was it found. But the idea is certainly true. A barrier from war is needed now more than ever.