Episode 58: Ted Sorensen: Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History
“I’m Ted Sorensen, former counsel to John F. Kennedy and author of the new book Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History. And I have so enjoyed talking for an extended length of time with Duncan Campbell. Whoever puts him on the air deserves a Nobel, Pulitzer, or any other prize, because clearly this is a program that advances the security and best interest of all the American people, not just a few high-powered lobbyists or special interest groups. It serves the country well, and I am proud to have been a part of it. Duncan, I can’t thank you enough. I have never had a dialogue, much less an interview, anything like this. And I salute you for the path that you’re following. Thanks so much. Keep up the good work. This has been a joy.” – Ted Sorensen
“And it has been for me too, Ted. I’ve been so inspired by your example. So I want to thank you not only for my generation, but for all subsequent generations, for being there, for everything that you have done, and for giving us this latest and great gift of your book Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History. It’s been such a real deep pleasure to connect with you and to spend this time together.” – Duncan Campbell
“Duncan Campbell, I heard about your podcast a few months ago, and have been deeply listening to all the dialogues with your fantastic friends/guests. Your words, ideas, and wisdom are truly inspirational. You have evoked a new appetite for knowledge in me that I hope to share with a starving younger generation. Thank you for doing what you do, and creating a unique space, void of boundaries and classification. A breath of fresh air! Much love and respect.” – July 23, 2008 Amit Kapadiya
In furtherance of creating and maintaining the planetary dialogues now required in the 21st century, I will be featuring a special series of dialogues on this site with myself and other elders in the next few weeks during the 2008 Olympics hosted by China and the U.S. election season. These dialogues will address various specific political aspects of our planetary crisis, with its dangers and opportunities for a visionary and evolutionary shift. (We remember that the Chinese character for “crisis” is often described as meaning both “danger” when visioned from a fear perspective, and “opportunity” when visioned from a wisdom perspective.)
Following this dialogue with Ted Sorensen, other elders that will join me in coming weeks include Robert Thurman on the Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet, and the World, Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss on Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, former Senator David Boren on A Letter to America, George Lakoff on The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain, and others.
In my preceding dialogues with African teacher Sobonfu Some and others here on Living Dialogues, I have talked about how our fragmented, specialized modern culture often lacks a rich, nourishing sense of community, and how there is a yearning for unity and peace awakening in different countries all over the world -- where elders are starting to come forward in this time of planetary crisis, and previously indifferent and discouraged youth are voicing their concerns about the future. I have talked also about the foundational role of intimacy, relationships and appreciation in sharing our stories across generational, ethnic, gender, and national boundaries -- building bridges of understanding and wisdom in the cooperative spirit and reaching out required by our 21st century realities, and the essential roles that both youth and elders must play in our evolution for it to take place.
In the early part of the 19th century, the German poet and scientist Goethe observed: “The future of any given nation at any given time depends on the thoughts of its youth under five and twenty”. In the mid-20th century, the psychological historian Erik Erikson (author of Ghandi’s Truth and Youth: Identity and Crisis) called attention to what he termed the “ethical dialogue” which must take place continuously between open-minded elders sharing their experience and responding in co-creative, mutually respectful interchange to the concerns and perspectives of the next generations, in order for a nation’s civilization to survive.
In my dialogue with Michael Meade in Program 51 and its description, I observed how “the modern mind paradigm and its ‘mid-level’ national myths (including America’s dominance in the late 20th century, sometimes dubbed “the American Century”) are losing their energy and no longer have the hold on the planetary imagination they once did”. (See also my reference in the Episode Description of Program 51 to Fareed Zakaria, international editor of Newsweek magazine, and his new book The Post-American World).
And so, we begin this special political series with my dialogue with Ted Sorensen, who was the 11 years younger “youth” to John F. Kennedy’s “elder” during their extraordinarily important and visionary collaboration at the beginnings of the nuclear age from 1952 through Kennedy’s death in 1963. Now a highly-respected elder and sought-after counselor to many worldwide, Ted has performed an invaluable service by taking the last six years to prepare his new book, despite a debilitating stroke which significantly impaired his eyesight, to review documents, and meticulously chronicle, and share with us with his great gift of eloquence, the stories of those years with JFK in a manner supremely relevant to our time.
We start with Ted Sorensen’s elder recollections and stories of John Kennedy because in my view JFK was the first “21st century president” in outlook, a prophetic and inspiring voice -- since the policies he developed, working with Ted and other key advisors, and influenced by a newly-educated (thanks to the G.I. Bill) and awakening public, remain models of the internationalist policies we most need today: honoring both diversity and planetary unity based on cooperation rather than dominance.
Among those very successful policies were the creation, over much political objection at the time, of the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress for Latin America, in addition to mobilizing America’s scientific imagination and can-do technological innovation with his call in May 1961 for the Apollo moonshot program to be completed within 8 years and a few months, facing down the Soviet Cuban missile crisis threat in October 1962 with a successful policy of “vigilance, patience, and restraint”, and opening dialogue with Nikita Kruschev by unilaterally beginning the nuclear disarmament program in his June 1963 American University speech (the same location where 45 years later, the Kennedy torch would be passed by his family to Barack Obama).
All of these programs went beyond the conventional and self-interested horizons of the petroleum-based “military-industrial complex” Eisenhower warned against, and the fear-based thinking of those who sought dominance rather than mature discourse, including hawkish and lobbyist voices in the Congress and the Pentagon. The effect of JFK’s brief presidency was prophetic in its vision as to what would be required for a sustainable world, policies we would ignore at our peril in the decades that have followed, described even by liberal historian Sean Wilsey in the title to his book as “The Reagan Era: 1974-2008”. But despite other regressive policies, Ronald Reagan was himself later inspired by the Kennedy legacy, in seeking his own legacy, to reverse course -- abandoning his neo-conservative confrontational rhetoric calling the Soviet Union “the Evil Empire” -- and opening direct talks with Gorbachev, which ultimately led to the end of the 20th Century Cold War.
Having regressed in so many ways in the last decades, we are now in what I am calling a new 21st Century Great Struggle on a planetary scale on many fronts, military, economic, social, environmental (involving proliferating human conflicts over our attachment to scarce resources and resultant health and ecological crises, the 21st century manifestation of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), acknowledged by Richard Bramson, for instance, as “a more dangerous time than World Wars I and II put together”.
This is the time for renewed dialogue, for visionary and inspiring discourse producing practical and innovative solutions together, to engage our own elder wisdom and youthful inspiration, and in so doing to experience and exemplify that “Dialogue is the Language of Evolutionary Transformation”.
And that is what we all do, in our mutual roles as host, deep listeners, and guests, when we gather together here from all parts of the globe in Living Dialogues.
Other programs you will find of immediate interest on these themes are the Dialogues I have had with mythologist and keeper of world stories Michael Meade (Programs 48-51), world-renowned cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien (Program 52), poet and translator of Persian poet Rumi Coleman Barks (Programs 3, 53-54), as well as Programs 13 and 14 with Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell (editor of The Enlightened Heart, which contains the poem The Swan by Indian poet Kabir which I mention in Part 3 of my Programs 55-57 with African teacher Sobonfu Some). Also of directly related interest in terms of the founding and traditions of the U.S. during its tipping point 2008 election season, with its implications for global shifts, are my dialogues with historian Joseph Ellis, honored as “the Founders’ historian” by The New York Review of Books (see Programs 38 and 39).
After you listen to this Dialogue, I invite you to both explore and make possible further interesting material on Living Dialogues by clicking on the Episode Detail button at the top left of this program description, and by taking less than 5 minutes to click on and fill out the Listener Survey there (or click on the Listener Survey icon to the left of this column).
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The best way to reach me is through my website: www.livingdialogues.com. Many thanks again for your attentive deep listening in helping co-create this program. All the best, Duncan.
P.S. As a way of further acknowledging and appreciating your part in these dialogues, and since I cannot personally answer all of them, I have begun to publish from time to time in these pages some of the numerous (unsolicited) appreciations received from you.
Ted Sorenson: I am Ted Sorenson former council to John F. Kennedy and author of the new book “Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History”. And I have so enjoyed talking for and extended length of time with Duncan Campbell. Whoever puts him on the air deserves a Nobel Pulitzer or any other prize because clearly this is a program that advances the security and best interest of all the American people not just a few high powered lobbyists or special interest groups. It serves the country well and I am proud to have been a part of it.
Duncan I can’t thank you enough. I have never had a dialogue, much less an interview, anything like this, but I solute you for the path that you’re following. Thanks so much. Keep up the good work. This has been a joy.
Duncan Campbell: And it has for me too Ted. I love the fact that we got together. Thank you for everything.
Ted Sorenson: Thank you.
Duncan Campbell: From time in memorial beginning with indigenous counsels and ancient traditions through the work of western visionaries, such as, Plato, Galileo, and quantum physicist David Bohm, mutually participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness evoking a flow of meaning a dyad full of logos meaning beyond what any one individual can bring through alone.
So join us now as together with you, the active deep listener, we evoke and engage in living dialogues.
Duncan Campbell: Welcome to “Living Dialogues”. I am your host Duncan Campbell. With me for this particular dialogue I am truly and deeply delighted to have as my guest Ted Sorenson author of “Counselor: Life of a Living History”, as well as, another great biography from 1965 simply titled “Kennedy”.
Ted Sorenson was born in Lincoln Nebraska and after law school moved to Washington D.C. where he would ultimately work for John F. Kennedy in what he described as 11 of the most enjoyable years of my life, from the age of 24 to 35. He left the white house soon after JFK’s death in 1963. And in 1966 joined a New York City law firm where as a prominent international lawyer he has advised governments, multi-national organizations, and major corporations around the world in the 40 plus years since.
Ted remains active in political and international issues, lives in New York City with his wife Jillian.
So Ted what a deep honor and privilege it is to have this opportunity to share with you and with our deep listening audience the profound and very topical memories and insights that you share looking back over your life with Jack Kennedy in your new book entitled “Counselor.”
Ted Sorenson: Thank you.
Duncan Campbell: One of the things I think is so marvelous about this book Ted is that as you point out and has been pointed out by Jackie and correspondence to you and various members of the family that really comes through in your book is that you and Jack Kennedy really had an extraordinary deep friendship based on mutual respect and admiration and a real heart communication.
Ted Sorenson: And common values.
Duncan Campbell: The common values. I think, that’s the head and the heart together and that your own values where shaped by your family, your grand parents coming from Russia and Denmark, coming from Europe and living in the heartland in Nebraska. I though we might start there, just giving as you do in the first part of your book, just, maybe, select an anecdote. As you look back now Ted what might have been a harbinger of your life to come as you glimpse when you were a boy there in Nebraska?
Ted Sorenson: Well there were many. My father was a progressive politician, interestingly enough. In the Republican Party they were called insurgent republicans who where opposed by the regular conservative republicans. But my father, never the less, believed in Franklin D. Roosevelt as someone who could pull America out of its depression.
And when I was eight years old he drove from our home city of Lincoln fifty five miles or so to Omaha, lifted me up on his shoulders so that I could get my first glimpse of the President of the United States, when FDR spoke from the rear car on a train that was taking him whistle stop style on a campaign.
Duncan Campbell: And there you were, actually, with a father that had a real instinct for independent thinking, but really deeply impressed upon you the need for a real politician, a true politician in the best sense of the word., to have principles of public service and the good of the nations, the good of the world and to stick with those principles and not to lapse into what, unfortunately, in the last 40 years has become a real degradation and evolution of our political world.
Where as you rightly point out in the wonderful book that you’ve just now completed called “Counselor” that today young people grow up being turned off by politics because they’ve seen over and over again the deceit, the self interest and the hypocritical proclamations…
Ted Sorenson: That’s exactly right. Until O’Bama came along, young people wanted no part in politics and the government and that is sad as a democracy. Obama has brought them back into the process. I have encountered these young dedicated idealists in every state where I have spoken for O’Bama and that’s the healthiest thing that could happen to this country.
Duncan Campbell: It really is. And it’s really reminding me now of when I was a freshman at Yale in 1962. Deeply inspired by Kennedy, I must say. When I was 16 years old I was living in Paris. My father was head of the military aid and assistance group there for the navy. And I was going to the American School of Paris. One of my really close friends there, my closest friend, was a man named Jimmy Jones who has just retired as General James L. Jones.
Ted Sorenson: Oh, a very distinguished general.
Duncan Campbell: Very distinguished general. Just retired a year ago as the head of NATO. Before that he was the Marine commandant and he is essentially the hero of Bob Woodward’s book “State of Denial” because very early on he realized how problematic Donald Rumsfield was, his real disdain for military people, his shortsightedness, and so on.
So James Jones, my old friend Jimmy, my closest friend in high school has now emerged as a leading voice of sanity now that he has retired from the military. And I say this because the two of us were able to watch on television the debates that John Kennedy had with Richard Nixon. That’s my first memory of exposure to Jack Kennedy. I was 16 years old and it marked me for life as I’m sure it did Jimmy as well.
Part of the legacy that went on out there in those debates that you were involved with in the background and in preparation and so on influenced these two lives in a very very profound way. This is my chance to say thank you and to let you know that there are people my age, your junior, but who have stood by those principles that were evoked by you and Jack, low these many decades.
Ted Sorenson: That’s very good to hear.
Duncan Campbell: And leading from that, what I wanted to say is that in your approach to foreign policy, your approach to politics, you always had not only a very principled sensibility, but you were tuned in to a fresh new energy.
The language that you and Jack crafted for the Inaugural address about a torch being passed to a new generation reminds me of the great poet Goethe from Germany, the 19th century saying, “From the destiny of a given nation at any given time depends on the thoughts of its young men under 5 and 20.” And I had that on my wall from the moment I discovered it, throughout my entire college career, and today, of course…
Ted Sorenson: I wouldn’t mind having a copy of that quotation if you sent it to me. I might use it myself.
Duncan Campbell: Well, this is brilliant and I would love to because it’s one of the things that you’re so humble about. And I think so fascinating in your book “Counselor” is that you give attribution. You say how literate people and historical minded people like Jack himself, like yourself, would be taking quotations from various sources and they would somehow be passed around. So a good phrase would find its way into the speeches and into your drafts and into his reactions and so on.
Ted Sorenson: Yeah. Yep.
Duncan Campbell: And so, of course, we would say politically correct now and appropriate to the 21st century that the destiny of any given nation at any given time depends on the thoughts of its young men and women under 25 because the time of the 19th century there was really not widespread education of woman. And we remember in your book the little known fact that it was under John Kennedy that the first equal pay for women act was signed.
Ted Sorenson: Oh, I can see you’ve read it.
Duncan Campbell: I have indeed with great relish.
So let’s move on to some of the great lines of it because here’s what I see. I am going to give you an overview and I would really like you to fill in as you do so brilliantly in the book with the stories you tell. My impression reading this book and it really evoked for me, not only my youthful inspiration, but also deeper appreciation of how far in advance we might say your thinking and the thinking of John Kennedy was that there were very interesting edits that you both to certain words. You were both aware of how when the President is speaking the bully pulpit, as it’s sometimes called, is words have immense potential influence not only on Americans, but on the world.
And you were very care in your words. One imparticular that I want to call to your attention, that really leapt out at me has to do with… and we can really contrast it with what’s happening today. And it is this. I am going to quote from you book an American university speech where JFK initiated a moratorium on nuclear war heads and war testing. This was total landmark in the history of diplomacy of the 20th century and beyond. And you said, and I am going to quote here,
“JFK and I had agreed that Woodrow Wilson’s call to ‘make the world safe for democracy’ which sounded like imposing our system on mankind, exactly what he did not want the communist to do with their system, should be changed in the speech to ‘making the world safe for diversity’ thereby, envisioning the day when each country including those within the communist orbit would be free to choose its own system.”
To me this is one of the totally seminal revelations in your book.
Ted Sorenson: I appreciate that your pointing that out. It’s important to me. It’s important to the whole world. And unfortunately for these last seven and a half years we’ve had an administration going in exactly the opposite direction.
Duncan Campbell: Isn’t it extraordinary Ted that this very phrase ‘making the world safe for democracy’ has been used in precisely the ham handed, conflict producing and oppositional producing way that you and Jack back in 1963.
Ted Sorenson: Because they have for their own political reasons, been trying to impose our system on others militarily and that’s a contradiction in terms. You don’t impose democracy by military means.
Duncan Campbell: It’s one of the great inherent contradictions of many within the Bush administration where in the name of Democracy even internally we have done things that undermine the Constitution, have actually upset the balance that Jack Kennedy was trying to walk, that fine line between a strong executive that was not emasculated or held up by a recalcitrant oppositional Congress and at the same time finding a way to talk with people and work with people and educate them to a more unified vision.
Ted Sorenson: Very well said.
Duncan Campbell: And so on that very score I would like to say that this phrase ‘making the world safe for diversity’ is so appropriate right now, these words that you crafted 45 years ago. Just now Fareed Zacharia the international affairs editor of Newsweek has come out with his book “The Post American World” in which he talks precisely about this, that it’s time now that we see that we can no longer have a vision of an imperial America. Which was adambraided we might say and foreshadowed in that famous conservative document that has been the Bible for the Bush administration called “The Project for a New American Century” envisioning American dominance through military power for the 21st century.
Ted Sorenson: There is another JFK line that over the years received almost no attention. I believe it is quoted in my book. And that’s his speech at the 100th anniversary of the University of Washington.
Duncan Campbell: Mmhmm, it is.
Ted Sorenson: Which said, in effect, the United Stated is 4% of the world and we neither can nor should attempt to impose our will or our system upon the other 96%.
Duncan Campbell: In fact, I remember it from that very speech. I’ve got it marked. Yes, it is from the speech at the University of Washington in Seattle. It’s the beginning of chapter 24. President Kennedy’s foreign policy and he says and this sums up the fact that: he was always pro piece; never afraid to negotiate, but never negotiating out of fear; and never backing down when the situation required it.
And so he said, and I will quote these words that you two crafted together.
“We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, that we are only 6% of the world’s population, that their can not be an American solution to every world problem. In short we are neither ‘warmongers’ nor ‘appeasers’, neither hard nor soft. We are Americans determined to defend the frontiers of freedom by an honorable piece if peace is possible, but by arms if arms are used against us.”
And this really, you said, summed up best, on November 16th 1961, his foreign policy approach and yours.
Ted Sorenson: You’re right.
Duncan Campbell: And right after that you go on to say,
“It is easy to start wars or to become involved in the wars of others, but he never did. Jack Kennedy was urged to send troops to tear down the Berlin Wall, but he did not. He was urged to send combat divisions to the Congo and to Vietnam, but he did not. Kennedy would have had the support of the American people had he undertaken any of these actions, but he did not. Most importantly he was urged to bomb Soviet nuclear missile sites in Cuba and use an invasion to take Cuba away from Castro, but he did not.
The destroyers that formed the quarantine barriers in the Cuban missile crisis, the tanks that tested the autobahn access to West Berlin after the Berlin Wall was built and the troops for deployment in Laos never fired a shot. But they helped, immeasurably advance our security and foreign policy objectives.”
And there it is right there. And you summed this up as “a policy of vigilance, patience, and restraint”. These are the three hallmarks of his foreign policy, which you were so integral to and also reminding us in this time how sloppy the incompetence, the willingness to go without reflection or restraint, trigger happy, into conflict paths really brought the nation to not only a viewpoint where is largely no longer admired in most of the world, but actively despised in large parts of the word. Viciously and we might say in an extremist manner opposed. And we’ve kind of lost our moral compass in the eyes of so many.
So we’re really, I think, in deep need of these words that you remind us of of what was once not only possible but was real. And here I want to honor you for having taken the time in the last six years, despite your debilitating stroke, despite the effect on your eyesight, to spend the time, the care, the precision , concentration, and your great gift of articulation, and your great gift of writing beautiful prose to remind of the possibility.
Duncan Campbell: You are exceedingly kind and what you say makes all that work worthwhile.
Duncan Campbell: And at the very end what I loved about it Ted was you said that now you finally feel complete. That your great pairing in history with Jack Kennedy, you have come to closure with it in the sense that you’ve come full circle now in honoring your collaboration with him in a way that many people that have reviewed this book- already a best seller- have said that this is a book that historians will treasure for years and years to come.
So let’s just talk about two or three of the real highlights on the foreign policy side that have such relevance today and will be so relevant in a Barrack O’Bama presidency, to come to fruition again. And let’s start with your observation of how, right at the beginning of his presidency, he was able to take accountability for the failure of the Bay of Pigs. He did not seek to fob it off on the power of administration under who it was planned or the military people that gave him advice that didn’t turn out.
Ted Sorenson: That’s right. And in some ways even more important he didn’t dig a hole even deeper once it turned out that it was a fiasco, that the prediction of an uprising by the people of Cuban once the exile army landed was totally phony. And so he didn’t make it worse when the CIA and the military urged him to bomb Cuba. And even more important, he learned his lesson. By the time we had another crisis to Cuba, the missiles of October 1962: he had a new team; he had a new decision making process; he considered not just one option, but every possible option; and he engaged in negotiations and communication not only with his allies but with Cuba.
Duncan Campbell: And this became exceedingly importance when in one of the three speeches you think were the greatest speeches that he delivered, the one at that American university in June of 1963. He initiated voluntarily and unilaterally a moratorium on nuclear testing. And as you point out… I am going to quote from your book again.
Because he was willing to do that and he got the chairman of the join chiefs of staff and the head of the atomic commission to agree there were some hawks that said, “Don’t do that it’s a sign of weakness.” And so on and so forth, but he stuck with that intuition he gave that great speech. And here’s what you say about what happened
“That speech led promptly to negotiations in Moscow on a nuclear test ban treaty, the first of its kind in the world. Negotiations that JFK personally monitored closely from Washington…”
And here’s a key point.
“During those negotiations in Moscow Soviet German Kershoff told our delegation leader Averlan Mariman that more that anything else Kennedy’s speech, which Kershoff had allowed to be broadcast throughout Russia on Western radio and to be published in full in the Moscow press had paved the way for the treaty.”
And there we have the whole Cuban missile crisis coming full circle. He learned from the failure of the Bay of Pigs. He stood his ground in an open ended way that you describe very fascinatingly in the book and it came to fruition there in 1963, as well.
Then the other aspect of it, about the Cuban missile crisis, was you talked about… Maybe, you want to talk about this briefly, the fact that there were two letters received from Kershoff. The first one, sort of, open ended and acting as if he might look for a settlement. and the the second one very bellicose. And they both arrived at different times on the same day. And there was a great debate internally within the executive committee of the excon that was advising him. And you and Bobby Kennedy took one particular view and then you very carefully crafted, ingeniously as we see the detail here, a letter that actually made that resolution possible.
Ted Sorenson: Yes. I should tell you that the letter which had at least the hint of a possible solution arrived on Friday evening October 26th. The more bellicose letter arrived midday on Saturday October 27th. And our group debated most of the day as to which letter to answer and how to answer it.
Duncan Campbell: This is the kind of historical detail and window on history that you’re providing that I’ve read before. It just is so inspiring to see how, as we talked earlier, rhetoric in the highest sense of the word is something that is a tool of diplomacy and human communication that can not only reach across hardened conflicts and help dissolve them and find a way to get to a peaceful world, but also like FDR and his fireside chat- your speeches that you and Jack Kennedy worked on together we’re so educational in terms of the American public.
We remember the fireside chats Franklin Roosevelt started right off when he knew we had to get into World War II. What became World Ward II. He knew how little the American people knew about geography at that time before air travel and television and so on. And so he said, to the people, “Everybody go out and get a map and when we talk together in our fireside chat I am going to lead you through it. We are going to talk about what are challenges are. And all the maps sold out all over the country.
Ted Sorenson: Is that right?
Duncan Campbell: And people were educated…
Yes. It’s documented in Jacoby’s new book “The Age of American Unreason”.
And the importance of having an educating president who can resist the criticisms. You point out that Jack Kennedy was sometimes criticized for speaking so eloquently and quoting from Greek philosophers and so on, as if it was over the head of ordinary people. Yet, as you point out, he never spoke with condescension and he managed, with you together, to speak with the clarity and elegance. He lifted people’s spirits and educated them because at heart every parent wants themselves and their children to do the best they possibly can in the world we’re living in.
Ted Sorenson: Very true and very lacking again today.
Duncan Campbell: In fact not only is that lacking, but one of the most wonderful quotations that I discovered in your book that I was unaware of before is this one that you got from Edward R. Murrow. Again, with your humbleness of attribution you say,
“Later in that week before the American Newspapers Association Jack cited a quotation recommended to me by Edward R. Murrow. ‘An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.’”
Ted Sorenson: Very very appropriate to the Bay of Pigs.
Duncan Campbell: And very appropriate to today because we see how much he learned by being accountable and admitting his own mistakes.
Ted Sorenson: You raised another question that is here with us today. And that is Kennedy’s willingness to communicate with those who were hostile to us. Now Obama is being called naïve and guilty of appeasement because he thinks that as president he ought to communicate with those, such as, leaders of Iran, or North Korea, or Syria, who are hostile towards the United States.
I hope we don’t go back because of McCain attacking Obama. I hope we don’t go back to the days when the United States wouldn’t communicate with hostile nations or hostile men. Wouldn’t even shake hands with hostile men at International meetings. As a result they despised and hated the United States. And the result was war and needless death of a lot of fine young people. So, of course, we should communicate with those hostile to us.
As Rabin the former prime minister of Israel said, “Yes, I would negotiate with my enemies. Who else would I negotiate with?”
Duncan Campbell: That’s very good.
And I want to say, also, on this very point that one of the things that’s revealing here in your book is the fact that Kennedy understood the values, as we said, of vigilance, patience, and restraint. In fact, the imperative of restraint because he and you with him and the others that were called to govern at perhaps the most dangerous part of our history and the most dangerous point in time, with the Cuban missile crisis, to the world itself.
We were just out of world war two, not even two decades. The hostilities of the cold war where heating up with demagogic speeches by Krustoff banging his shoe and the United Nations saying, “We will burry you.” There were many hawks within the military and within the CIA that wanted to have a military response, even a nuclear military response.
And you held the line and actually find a way to diffuse the whole situation.
And I have to say, in my view looking back over history, and I lived it as you did, I have to feel that Ronald Reagan was inspired in the 80’s by the example of John Kennedy. I do know, it has been recently reported that Nancy Reagan- like any wife would be of a president and certainly like Jackie Kennedy was for John Kennedy- was very concerned with what she called her husband’s legacy.
And she was personally advised to convey to him- and she took this to heart- that if he wanted to have a great legacy, as Kennedy had, then he needed to talk to the Russians. Up until that time he has been painting them as the evil empire, much as, George Bush had painted Iran as the axis of evil.
And the great turning point in the 80’s when nuclear confrontation was once again a concern of people all over the world, Reagan made a connection with Gorbachev and he talked with the enemy. That changed history. And that, I believe, is one of the great gifts that’s coming from the JFK legacy that he inspired another president at that point to take that move and not the kind of regressive bellicose adolescent policy that we have at present.
Ted Sorenson: Yep. That’s a very very good point.
For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell