On The Occasion Of The Centennial Of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Birthday-Frank Jackman’s Journey
By Political Commentator Frank Jackman
Sure now, as anybody who is familiar with the American Left History on-line site and The Progressive Journal print site that I write for these days knows, or should be expected to know, I along with many of my political kindred have long raked many of the policies and projects that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States 1961-1963, initiated over the coals. Most notable for those of us who were inspired, maybe inflamed by the exploits of the revolutionaries (without being revolutionaries ourselves but proper liberals and social democrats) in Cuba who overthrew the Batista regime was the fumbled Bay of Pigs invasion in the spring of 1961 which was our first point of serious differences with a generally positive attitude toward Camelot and the deep state escalation of American involvement in Vietnam which led to the slippery slope that tore this society asunder as we can as near to a cold civil war as we had in this country until very recently. There were other generic differences that came to the fore later when we were seeking, desperately seeking, for what brother Robert Kennedy called, “stealing” a page from Alfred Lord Tennyson, “ a newer world.” Looking for more socialist-oriented solutions to what ailed society.
All that however was later. Today I want to speak of the promise that the election of JFK meant to a bunch of Irish Catholic corner boys from the poverty-stricken Acre section of North Adamsville back in the fall of 1960 when we felt that first fresh breeze coming over the land from the icy depths of the red scare Cold War night that we had come of political age in. That “fresh breeze,” as I have noted many, many times elsewhere an expression that fellow corner boy the late Peter Paul Markin (the actual Markin, not the moderator of the ALH blog site who uses that moniker in honor of our fallen brother long departed) would endlessly bore us with in those days when all we gave a rat’s ass (also an expression I have used many, many times concerning our reaction to Markin’s “fresh breeze” statement) was girls, getting dough to deal with girls and cars, “boss” cars not necessarily in that order. (To be fair to Markin he was the king hell king of the midnight creep when we needed dough at the times when his seamier side got ahead of the “better angel of his nature”).
While none of us, me, Jack Callahan, Frankie Riley, Phil Larkin, Jimmy Murphy, Ralph Kiley, Ricky Russo, Allan Stein, the corner boys although the latter two were not full Irish, but only half Irish got as carried away with Markin’s fresh breeze coming that he continued to spout forth for another half decade before it did come in the form of the many threads that led up to the Summer of Love, San Francisco, 1967 which Alex James and others have written about in this the 50th anniversary year of that “youth nation” explosion we were thrilled beyond words to be able to say “one of own,” an Irish Catholic had done what Al Smith could not do a few decades before and get elected president in a low-slung Protestant-controlled country. (My grandfather never got over the dirty campaign waged by the “refined” WASPs, the Brahmins, you know the people with the three-name monikers like Wesley Stuart Gardner, names like that.) It did not matter that JFK was the scion of “chandelier” Irish unlike our own “shanty” Irish digs. He was ours in all its glory.
Markin, like in many other such endeavors was the bell-weather for our take on JFK. For getting enthusiastic about the guy, about getting out the vote in our town for our man. But that election of 1960 was also a prime example of the contradictions that would a little over decade later do Markin in and which for many of the rest of us was a close thing between freedom and a dark dungeon. See Markin was all hopped up about getting rid of nuclear weapons, was all hopped up for the United States to get rid of them unilaterally if necessary. The rest of us, especially Frankie Riley, our undisputed and acknowledged leader, thought he was crazy, crazy with the Russian armed to the teeth with similar such weapons as we were still seriously hung up on the Cold War stuff we read about and were taught was the real deal in school.
One thing about Markin was he put his money where his mouth was most of the time. He had heard about a rally, stand-out, vigil or something in Boston, at the Boston Common near the Park Street subway station against nuclear weapons in October of 1960 a few weeks before the election sponsored by a group called SANE, Doctor Spock’s group, some Quakers and other odd-balls. He was determined to go although he expressed some fears that he might be harmed by pro-nuclear weapons people and he did so saying later to us that he had found some kindred spirits who were not afraid unlike a fourteen year old boy and that got him through. (This is not the place to digress too much about side stuff but Markin’s fear was the subject of a bet between him and Frankie Riley that he would not go. Markin was very proud of winning that bet and would bring it up periodically long after we could have given a rat’s ass about the wager since we were always betting on almost any propositions that struck our fancies.)
Here’s where the Markin contradiction came in, maybe the human condition contradiction when all is said and done after my own fifty plus years of having gone through my own sets of contradictions. During the television debates between JFK and his Republican opponent, then Vice President Nixon who was later a president in his own right and a common criminal as well Kennedy made a great deal out of some supposed “missile gap” between the United States and Russia that had developed under the Eisenhower-Nixon regime. To our disadvantage. That “gap” was among others things in the number and effectiveness of the American nuclear arsenal. Kennedy’s solution: build more and better such weapons. Nevertheless the very next weekend after that Boston anti-nuclear weapons rally Markin rounded us up to go up to the North Adamsville Kennedy for President headquarters located in a small shed-like building on the property of the Knights of Columbus and grab a bunch of leaflets to go door to door putting them in mail slots. Such were the ups and downs of having “one of our own” getting elected to the White House in sunnier days.