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).



  1. Governments always have secrets and lies. The US is certainly no exception. We were brutally lied into the Vietnam war, the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles, all the overthrowing of progressive governments by the CIA etc in south and central America, such as the CIA involvement in overthrowing Allende in Chili. We have "security" agencies whose names we don't even know, beyond the NSA and the CIA. Paid for by our tax dollars of course. So I don't really understand the premise of this blog, Gary.

  2. Your list documents a number of secrets that the government kept from the American people. It is a list of secrets we have discovered, usually, long after the fact - though you correctly point out that there are other secrets we still don't know about, like those unknown "security" agencies. The premise of this blog posting is that we should not allow "our" government to carry out activities "in secret." If the government keeps "secrets" from the American people, like the ones you list, that should be against the law. Instead, it's against the law to reveal them. We can't have democratic self-government if "the government" keeps secrets from the people who are supposed to be in charge.

  3. You list a number of former "secrets," now revealed, and correctly point out that there are other secrets which the American public still does know; for instance, the names of those "security" agencies you mention. The "premise" of this blog posting is that we do not actually have a system of democratic self-government when those who are supposed to be in charge ("We, the People") don't actually know what's going on. We could have a system which would say that it is aginst the law for those who work in government to keep secrets from the public; instead, it's now a crime to tell the public what the government is doing in its name.


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