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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

“Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism”, by James Piereson


250 pages, Encounter Books, ISBN-13: 978-1594031885

There are no guarantees when buying books. We often eagerly anticipate a release hoping it will be a classic but soon discover that it belongs on the ash heap of history alongside the collected works of Marx, recordings of the Back Street Boys, and every single movie featuring Madonna. Occasionally however, we unfurl a package and find that its contents widely exceed our expectations. One such work is James Piereson's Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism.

James Pierson convincingly argues that a left wing campaign turned John F. Kennedy's death into a martyrdom on behalf of fighting racism. This was the exact opposite of the truth. Kennedy was first, last, and foremost an opponent of Communism; he was, at best, mildly interested in racial integration. This situation, while unjust, could not be allowed to become our number one priority; instead, Kennedy perceived it to be in an existential fight to the death against Communist totalitarianism. We had to make sure our priorities were kept straight. A committed pro-Castro Marxist, Lee Harvey Oswald – and not a right-wing reactionary racist – murdered Kennedy. Our national sins had nothing to do with it. Regrettably, however, a large majority of Americans bought into this con game perpetuated by the Communists and their fellow travelers (and some very well meaning individuals close to the assassinated president). Jacqueline Kennedy, adds the author, unwittingly did enormous damage. These efforts to distort the truth resulted in pervasive American self-hating by many members of the Democratic Party. Our nation is allegedly vile and a real threat to peace on this planet. We should be deeply ashamed of ourselves. How could we legitimately oppose Communist tyranny when the United States itself is so morally bankrupt?

This book is assuredly a must read, especially for any conservative looking for ammunition against the Left. However, it would serve equally well any person, regardless of political persuasion. What makes this book invaluable is that it accomplishes, in a mere 211 pages, to elucidate likely every key fact that is directly related to the Kennedy assassination. As a result, any debunking of conspiracy theories is the product of how the reader perceives the facts of the case as set forth by Piereson. He is especially effective at making use of the opinions of liberals from the '60s to bolster his point. For example, why would a big liberal like Earl Warren fabricate a report that implicated a communist in the death of Kennedy, when other liberals disregarded the facts and suspected a right-wing conspiracy? In other words, a reader can apply simple logic in analyzing the facts, and conclude that Lee Harvey Oswald was almost surely the assassin.

With regard to the "liberal crackup" aspect of the book, Piereson dances around a thorough assessment of this until the end, although he peppers every chapter with references of how liberals of the day misinterpreted the national attitude as well as the facts of the case. When he puts the final nail in the coffin of New Liberalism, at book's end, the reader is thoroughly convinced. Still, the book ends on a positive note for those not of the conservative persuasion. Piereson notes that neoconservatives (Irving and William Kristol and the like) have reignited the tradition liberals abandoned in favor of a more irrational liberalism. One may be familiar with Irving Kristol's statement that a neoconservative is “a liberal that has been mugged by reality,” and thus we can take comfort that all pre-60s liberal progress has not been completely lost. For those who are currently members of the Left, perhaps you should reevaluate your core principles, because you may find that you are part of that clique just because it is “cool”. After all, as Piereson asserts, this irrational movement would likely not have come about if not for Kennedy's assassination.

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