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My Turn: Starting with JFK's killing

Editor’s note: Carl Doerner is writing a series of My Turn submissions examining several assassinations in the United States.

The murder of President John F. Kennedy changed this country and the world, perhaps forever. The void opened by his murder has regularly widened during the 50 years since it occurred, creating in the public a general malaise.

After November 1963, we observe a dramatic shift away from Kennedy’s now well-documented efforts to join with Soviet Premier Khrushchev to reduce nuclear weapons and end the Cold War, as well as ending hostilities with Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Elements of the very forces planning to take him out of office had earlier undermined his efforts to bring the simmering conflict in Vietnam to resolution. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, known to support military escalation, delivered to these forces the devastating 10-year Vietnam War.

Who were the conspirators in Kennedy’s killing in Dallas, Texas?

One was, almost certainly, Allen Dulles. Kennedy had fired him as CIA director. Opposing the desire of Gen. Curtis LeMay and others to invade Cuba during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was one of several bold initiatives by this peace-seeking president. His evolving posture amassed enemies among military, industrial and banking interests that profited from the Cold War.

In the course of the 1970s and ’80s, we had the Nixon-Kissinger involvement in the overthrow of President Allende in Chile and the resultant Operation Condor in which CIA-backed Chilean dictator Pinochet enlisted most South American countries in a brutal assault on progressives and many thousands were tortured and killed. There were American invasions of Grenada and Panama, the Iran Hostage Crisis (clearly a response to British-American ousting of that country’s leadership and installation of a pro-western king), funding of the Contra War against Nicaragua and U.S. assistance for repression in El Salvador.

In the 1990s, we had the Gulf War and brutal U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq during which our own secretary of state acknowledged 500,000 Iraqi children perished. The list could go on; the point is that a foreign policy of such violence was precisely what Kennedy had determined to change.

Deep down, many Americans must feel complicity in their government’s actions.

Then came the George W. Bush years and the events of 9/11. As Garry Wills has detailed in “Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State,” once the atom bomb was placed at the disposal of our presidents, power shifted to the executive branch. Congress was no longer asked — as our Constitution insists — for a declaration of war. Instead of seeking to bring 9/11 perpetrators to justice, Bush launched wars of choice in two countries. This resolved nothing in either and left unstable governments in both. Future historians must describe this long and terrible process as the throes of national “spiritual death” Dr. Martin Luther King accurately predicted.

President Barack Obama came into office with a mandate from Americans to bring charges against Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney for their violations of the Constitution, a promise to close Guantanamo, and to “change” the way our government conducts itself in the world. I believe many expected a leader who would confront our national security state, one who would break the silence that began with Kennedy’s execution.

As a journalist, I was present at his “grooming speech” to the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. I next closely observed then-Sen. Obama during the 2005 Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state confirmation hearings. The speech was engaging; his playing it safe by not questioning Rice was appalling.

Obama has chosen not to challenge the law breaking of his predecessors. He is indifferent to the remaining 166 men imprisoned 11 years at Guantanamo. Most are actually innocent of any crime. These men are starving themselves to death as their only means to escape.

Increasing gun violence is an expression of our national malaise, as are the daily suicides among the soldiers sent to America’s wars and 700 foreign bases. A strong case can be made that Libertarian-tea party dissatisfaction has identical roots. The debate over reading Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights further illustrates our rapid drift away from the rule of law.

The charge must be leveled against Obama that he understood public revulsion of provocative foreign policy, secrecy, permanent war, and government that serves only the powerful. He deliberately fashioned and used promise of “change” to propel him into the presidency.

He has betrayed us.

Conway resident Carl Doerner is an author, journalist and documentary filmmaker.

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