by Richard J. Walton ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 25, 1971
More actively anti-Communist than Eisenhower, more adventurous than Dulles, John Kennedy toyed with the idea of assassinating Castro, made the Berlin and Cuban missile clashes into crises, ""prepared to take far greater risks toward war than. . .toward peace,"" and left Vietnam, to which he was always considering sending large numbers of U.S. troops, as his most permanent legacy. Walton, a Stevensonian liberal who deplores Kennedy's contempt for the older, ""more imaginative"" men like Bowles, devotes most of this book to Kennedy as Cold Warrior. Walton delights in quoting the most fulsome passages of court scribes like Schlesinger and Sorensen and puncturing their airy cliches about the thousand days. He denies that Kennedy learned any lesson from the Bay of Pigs and argues that he was stupid and evil, not brave, to force a needless showdown over Cuban missiles he knew posed no special or immediate threat; in fact, Walton points out, Khrushchev got everything he wanted out of the confrontation anyway. As for counterrevolution, Walton reviews among other things the administration's intervention in British Guiana and, based on Kennedy's November 1963 speeches, sees no reason to believe that he was considering withdrawal from Vietnam, especially with a Presidential election upcoming. Each crisis is graphically described, in particular JFK's refusal to talk about talking about Berlin. The book is analytically weak, however: events are explained in terms of Kennedy's personal ideas and temperament, not the goals of the policymaking establishment or fundamental political and economic exigencies. Thus the missile gap pitch of the 1960 campaign is discussed chiefly as the lie it was, without reference to recessionary pressures for government spending, and no real reason, such as the felt need for a further arms buildup, is given for the manufacture of the Berlin crisis. ""Ambivalence"" is made to work overtime as explanation of the conflict between Kennedy's fine ""perceptive"" words and his bellicose deeds; and Kennedy's ""machismo"" is posited to account for reckless policies which the majority of decisionmakers created for quite impersonal reasons. More extensive muckraking jobs are available, like Barnet's Revolution and Intervention (1968) but on its own terms as a specific polemic against idolaters -- and, more important, against their residual effect on the conventional wisdom -- the book is a success.
Pub Date: Jan. 25, 1971
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1971
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