Monday, September 18, 2017

Although I spent a long time in government and politics, I have few political heroes. My idealism has been tempered by a healthy dose of skepticism.

Among the political figures that I admire is the late Margaret Chase Smith of Maine. Smith was the first woman elected to both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.  A new backbencher, she was one of the very few to take on fellow Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy early on--and she did it on June 1, 1950, four years before McCarthy was condemned by his peers.

Smith's Senate speech, "Declaration of Conscience," called out her Wisconsin colleague, and she experienced verbal abuse from a man who was a master at slinging it.  One of her passages:  "I do not want to see the Republican party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny--Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear."  The speech is worth reading.

She eventually went on to serve twenty-four years in the Senate.  In 1964 her name was placed in nomination at the Republican National Convention; she became the first woman so honored by a major political party.  Six years before she died in 1995 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I have Smith buttons and biographies in my political memorabilia collection.  Here's the news:  Today I received my Margaret Chase Smith bobblehead.  It has been placed in my library.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

No doubt one of the key people who will be profiled on “The Vietnam War” series beginning tomorrow is Ho Chi Minh.  Ho, who became familiar to millions of Americans during the 1960s, had an interesting career. When I taught Asian history to undergraduates, I would surprise them with two interesting facts about his life.

First, he was a baker in Boston before World War I.  He worked at the old and fabled Parker House Hotel in Boston.  Last year I visited the reconstituted hotel and got a sense of his work there.  The hotel has a gallery of photos of him.  And, it is reputed that the table he worked out actually survives. He also worked as a chef in London, even training with the great Auguste Escoffier.

Second, during the peace conference at Versailles, where all the great dignitaries of the world gathered, Ho, then twenty-nine, was advocating against French colonialism in Indochina.  He got nowhere and afterward became radicalized.  The history of twentieth-century Vietnam became inextricably linked to Ho Chi Minh. 

“Ho Chi Minh: A Life,” an excellent book on this multi-faced man who became a staunch foe of the United States, was written by William Duiker in 2001.

This image of a young Ho Chi Minh is taken from the photo gallery at the Omni Park House, Boston.

Friday, September 8, 2017

I had the privilege of working in three presidential administrations.  One of my best memories is working with talented and dedicated government workers, both career and political, who believed in public service. The civil servants were the smartest people that I ever worked with.  The majority of political appointees hoped to make a contribution.  We have lost much in the mindless denigration of these hardworking people.  Of course, not all of them were oustanding performers and sometimes the government made mistakes, but attracting, using and appreciating the best and the brightest in government should still be a national goal.

Things were different a half-century ago.  We all recall President Kennedy’s soaring Inaugural Address, a citizen’s call to arms.  But fewer know of first State of the Union address, only ten days after inauguration, in which he said, “Let the public service be a proud and lively career.  And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years:  ‘I served the United States government in that hour of our nation’s need.’”

And he said, “Let it be clear that this Administration recognizes the value of dissent and daring—that we greet healthy controversy as the hallmark of healthy change.”  These are insightful words from a President who understood the value of inspiration as part of leadership.

 Photograph is of the President Kennedy arriving at the U.S. Capitol to deliver his State of the Union Address, January 30, 1961.  Credit: Abbie Rowe.  White House Photographs.  John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Jackie Kennedy and Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Recently I purchased a sales receipt for Jackie Kennedy from Brentano’s. Presumably, it came from the estate of aide Mary B. Gallagher. The book, Dearly Beloved, was the only novel written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She was an accomplished writer best known for Gift from the Sea and also was an aviator.

Dearly Beloved focuses on a wedding, the married couple and other members of the family. It was published on June 6, 1962, and Jackie purchased her copy one week later. The May 1, 1962 issue of McCall’s magazine had Jackie Kennedy and her children on the cover and the lead story was an excerpt of Dearly Beloved, which was also identified on the cover.

Jackie and John Kennedy met Anne and Charles Lindbergh on May 11 at the White House dinner for French cultural leader Andre Malraux. Charles Lindbergh, then sixty years old, sat at the President’s table in the State Dining Room—he was always at table seven—and Anne sat next to Vice President Johnson in the Blue Room. The President also met with them before the dinner in the Oval Office.

In addition to his hero status as an aviator, Lindbergh’s life was full of many ups and some considerable downs, including his commitment to American isolationism and his flirtation with Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It is noteworthy that arguably the two greatest aviation heroes of the twentieth century were invited to dinner at the Kennedy White House: John Glenn in April 1962 (Nobel Prize dinner) and Lindbergh in May 1962.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh lived to be ninety-four and died in 2001.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My New JFK Artwork

Perhaps you need to like abstract expressionism, but this new piece that I won at a recent auction of the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum is quite special.  Entitled “Missile,” this artwork was made by Cape Cod artist Michael Magyar using material from John and Jackie Kennedy’s Hyannis Port home.  The concrete, glass and steel window weights were discarded as the house was recently renovated. 

The catalog says of the unique work:  “Seems like yesterday the artist thought about the Cuba Missile Crisis and what is in the news today.  How little it seems things have changed.  And yet we can hope, as many people are working for peace, tolerance and understanding—keeping the very values JFK worked so hard to instill in his life alive today.” 

This piece is meaningful to me for several reasons.  First, I met and talked with Senator Kennedy when I was a young boy.  Second, the Cuban Missile Crisis, occurring when I was twelve years old, was a notable event in my childhood, and the memory of it is still strong in mind.  Third, I later served as a working group chair for the President’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.  And, finally, I just finished the manuscript on the Nobel dinner that President and Mrs. Kennedy held in 1962 (“Dinner in Camelot,” ForeEdge, April 2018).  But I also love the artwork!

I was fortunate to visit with the artist at his East Sandwich, Massachusetts, studio.  It was especially enjoyable to learn how he came to create this piece.  By the way, the piece is very heavy and is seventeen inches high, six inches wide and fourteen inches long.

The auction, which included thirty-five diverse pieces, raised funds for the museum, which is quite a gem.