"God help this country when someone sits at this desk who doesn't know as much about the military as I do"--President Dwight D. Eisenhower
"So, let us not be blind to our differences -- but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."--John Kennedy
Sometimes the opening credits or first scene of a film is the best thing you're going to get for your money. Such I believe is true of this bravura opening by Oliver Stone to his Cold War/Assassination Conspiracy opus, "JFK".
This film comes to mind for me because this of news reports and commentary about two major events that happened fifty years ago this week. On was a Farewell Address from the White House on January 17, 1961 of President Dwight Eisenhower. He warned the nation about the moral and spiritual threat that came from an unchecked "Military-Industrial Complex" that was growing and growing and consuming over half of the federal tax revenues at the end of his term. Eisenhower came into office as a hawk on defense but by his Second Term he saw the dangers of a protracted conflict with the Soviet Union in an atomic age. He began to temper his rhetoric about massive defense build-ups, which were becoming self-perpetuating far above the real dangers America faced.
The Military Industrial Complex speech came very late in his Presidency. The new leader, John F. Kennedy, also came in as a hawk and continued the CIA's plans to overthrow Fidel Castro's Cuba and practice brinkmanship with Moscow. As time wore on, and the Cuban Missile Crisis made clear, something other than force and more force in reserve was needed if any world--liberal capitalist or communist--was going to survive. JFK's famous speech at American University reached out to the Soviet Leader, NIkita Khrushchev. to find common humanity and for both empires to draw down jointly from the perils of a third and final world war.
Did JFK's speech create the last straw for some leaders within the government to view him as expendable? Did the "military-industrial complex" dispose of a President the way the Praetorian Guard of the Early Roman Empire disposed of the odd emperor they ceased to support? Did the loss of JFK bring a blank check to the Pentagon to ramp up a land war in Southeast Asia that the late President had expressed reservations about?
Oliver Stone seemed to think so. Many who don't buy his theories nonetheless cannot accept the relatively benign "lone gunman" theory into what happened in Dallas in November of 1963. Suffice to say we won;t ever know the answer in a way that will satisfy the curious. But let us put politics aside and see this opening as a prologue to those events.
Both "Ike" and Kennedy's speeches are excerpted in this opening. It's a masterful montage of narration, flash images, newsreel clips and stirring but ominous music, encapsulating one of the most important times in recent history,and one that still resonates within the American psyche with dreams deferred and queries about tragic events that will never be answered.