Monday, December 18, 2023
#352 / JFK's Secrets
When I was in high school, I was inspired by President John F. Kennedy. However, as I reported in the blog posting I have just linked, I became rather disenchanted with Kennedy and his presidency as I considered the picture painted by Seymour Hersh in his book, The Dark Side Of Camelot.
An article published in The Wall Street Journal, in its Saturday/Sunday, November 18-19, 2023 edition, has prompted me to think about the Kennedy legacy once again. The article is titled, "How JFK's Secrets Fed Conspiracy Culture," and it brings a question to mind: Do we really want our government to have secrets?
The theme of the article in The Journal is that the kind of secrecy that Kennedy demanded, as he presided over our national government, has had a profound impact on the government itself, beyond the impact that his quest for secrecy had on his own political fortunes. Because JFK did lots of disreputable things - or, to be nicer about it, things that many people would have thought were disreputable - he really needed to find a way to maintain "secrecy" about what he was doing, and "secrecy" with respect to those with whom he was associating. Timothy Naftali, who wrote the article, believes that Kennedy's passion for secrecy has profoundly infected our government.
Let me go back to my question. Do we really want our government to have secrets? It does have secrets, of course, and lots of them. In fact, some of the most important things that our government does are done totally in "secret." The claim is usually made that this protects our "national security."
I think of things from a perspective that our "security," in the end, depends upon the proper functioning of our system of democratic self-government. And, really, we can't possibly have "self-government" if the people of the country don't know what the government is doing.
Do we want to be in charge of the government? I think we do (that is my own, personal position, at least).
If we do want to be in charge of the government, we need actually to know what our government is doing (and doing in our names, by the way).
What if the government had no secrets that it keeps from us? Could we live with that?
That would actually be a pretty big change. Maybe Kennedy's personal need for "secrecy" got us into our current situation, but even if we can't lay all the blame on JFK (and Naftali's article does acknowledge that President Eisenhower also demanded that a veil of secrecy hide some of the most consequential decisions he made).
Think about it! We, "the people," can't make any valid decision about what our country should do, if we don't actually know what it actually is doing, and what it has done - and what it is actually planning and preparing to do.
No governmental secrets, kept from us? Can we live with that? I say, "Yes," we can.
I say, "Yes," we must (if we care about self-government, that is).