The Kennedy myth rises again
By John Pilger
|In his latest column for the New Statesman,
John Pilger recalls the night Robert Kennedy was
shot in his presence and the myths that followed his
untimely death. Having elevated Kennedy to be one of
his heroes, Prime Minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown
describes him as the pinnacle of "morality" - when
this myth really tells us about Brown himself and
his political twin, Tony Blair.
" -- -- On 5 June 1968, just after midnight,
Robert Kennedy was shot in my presence at the Ambassador Hotel
in Los Angeles. He had just acknowledged his victory in the
California primary. "On to Chicago and let's win there!" were
his last public words, referring to the Democratic Party's
convention that would nominate a presidential candidate. "He's
the next President Kennedy!" said the woman standing next to me.
She then fell to the floor with a bullet wound to the head. (She
I had been travelling with Kennedy through California's
vineyards, along unsurfaced roads joined together by power lines
sagging almost to porch level, and strewn with the wrecks of
Detroit's fantasies. Here, Latino workers vomited from the
effects of pesticide and the candidate promised them that he
would "do something". I asked him what he would do. "In your
speeches," I said, "it's the one thing that doesn't come
through." He looked puzzled. "Well, it's based on a faith in
this country... I want America to go back to what she was meant
to be, a place where every man has a say in his destiny."
The same missionary testament, of "faith" in America's myths and
power, has been spoken by every presidential candidate in
memory, more so by Democrats, who start more wars than
Republicans. The assassinated Kennedys exemplified this. John F
Kennedy referred incessantly to "America's mission in the world"
even while affirming it with a secret invasion of Vietnam that
caused the deaths of more than two million people. Robert
Kennedy had made his name as a ruthless counsel for Senator Joe
McCarthy on his witch-hunting committee investigating
"un-American activities". The younger Kennedy so admired the
infamous McCarthy that he went out of his way to attend his
funeral. As attorney general, he backed his brother's atrocious
war and when John F Kennedy was assassinated, he used his name
to win election as a junior senator for New York. By the spring
of 1968 he was fixed in the public mind as a carpet-bagger.
As a witness to such times and events, I am always struck by
self-serving attempts at revising them. The extract from
Chancellor Gordon Brown's book 'Courage': eight portraits that
appeared in the New Statesman of 30 April is a prime example.
According to the prime-minister-to-be, Kennedy stood at the
pinnacle of "morality", a man "moved to anger and action mostly
by injustice, by wasted lives and opportunity denied, by human
suffering. [His were] the politics of moral uplift and
exhortation." Moreover, his "moral courage is a rarer commodity
than bravery in battle or great intelligence".
In truth, Robert Kennedy was known in the United States for his
lack of moral courage. Only when Senator Eugene McCarthy led his
principled "children's crusade" against the war in Vietnam early
in 1968 did Kennedy change his basically pro-war stand. Like
Hillary Clinton on Iraq today, he was an opportunist par
excellence. Travelling with him, I would hear him borrow from
Martin Luther King one day, then use the racist law-and-order
code the next.
No wonder his "legacy" appeals to the Washington-besotted Brown,
who has sought and failed to present himself as a politician
with enduring moral roots, while pursuing an immoral agenda that
has privatised precious public services by stealth and
bankrolled a lawless invasion that has left perhaps a million
people dead. As if to top this, he wants to spend billions on a
Trident nuclear weapon.
Moral courage, Brown wrote of his hero, no doubt seeking to be
associated with him, "is the one essential quality for those who
seek to change a world that yields only grudgingly and often
reluctantly to change".
A man with Blair as his literal partner in crime could not have
put it better. All the world is wrong, bar them and their
acolytes. "I believe that in this generation those with the
courage to enter the moral conflict will [walk down] the road
history has marked for us... building a new world society...".
That was Robert Kennedy, quoted by Brown, celebrating a notion
of empire whose long trail of blood will surely follow him to
John Pilger's new film, "The War on Democracy", goes on
cinema release on 15 June
First published in the New Statesman.
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