A few months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the U.S. Information Agency produced a commemorative film, Years of Lightning/Day of Drums. The narration concluded with these words:
Some day, there will come a time when the early 1960s will be a very long time ago.”
In 2013 the world will note the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death — November 22, 1963 — and today, the early 1960s are truly a very long time ago.
And people still ask: What would the world be like today if Kennedy has escaped death on that fateful day in Dallas?
Writers of “virtual history” – where the what ifs of history are examined to find alternative outcomes to real events – have produced books envisioning a world where the Nazis won World War II, and an America where the South won the Civil War.
On the wall of my office hangs the papier-mâché matrix from which the front page of The Toronto Telegram was printed the day of the assassination. The headline reads, KENNEDY SHOT, DIES. Each time I glance at this now historic artifact the thought is renewed in my mind: “What if Kennedy had lived?”
The pursuit of this thought led me into the arena of virtual history, and has resulted in my new, short e-book, “Kennedy After Dallas: JFK’s Return to the White House for an Epochal 2nd Term.”
While I am admirer of John F. Kennedy and revere his memory, I have not attempted to portray an idealized version of the man, free of faults and absent of mistakes.
In speculating on what might have transpired had Kennedy not been killed, I have built on the historical record of his administration to project the logical outcome of policies set in motion by JFK before Dallas.
For example. JFK had shown considerable skepticism about the wisdom of U.S. military policy and had expressed his apprehension about the consequences of another Bay of Pigs or Cuban missile crisis.
For example, there was the time when he walked out of a meeting of his National Security Council as it debated the merits of a preemptive first strike on the Soviet Union. “And we call ourselves the human race,” he said later to his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk.
If Kennedy had lived, history would have unfolded differently. Our narrative sets out the alternative reality that would almost assuredly come to pass had fate allowed JFK to return to the White House after Dallas.
Across a range of areas — foreign policy, civil rights, civil liberties, outer space — JFK set in motion attitude and ideas that would after his death come to be accepted as conventional wisdom.
“The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city.” he says in Years of Lightning/Day of Drums. It was a recognition of an unwelcome truth in a demonstration of realpolitic that has been unmatched by any succeeding president.
Vietnam, of course, was the greatest challenge of the Kennedy years and those that followed. Would he have done things differently if he had lived?
Vietnam was already a divided country when Kennedy took office in 1961. The old French colony of Indochina had been cut in half – communist and non-communist – at the Geneva peace conference of 1954.
In a debate in the Senate that year, young Senator Kennedy set out the view that would guide his future presidency. It would be “dangerously futile and self-destructive,” he declared, “to pour money, materials and men into the jungles of Indochina without at least a remote prospect of victory.”
Less than three months before his death, Kennedy told newscaster Walter Cronkite: “In the final analysis it’s their war. They’re the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisors but they have to win it. The people of Vietnam against the communists … I don’t think the war can be won unless the people support the effort …”
There was a quicker and cheaper way out of Vietnam than that which was finally followed by the United states. I am convinced JFK would have found it, and Kennedy After Dallas describes how it might have come about.
A reviewer of my book has challenged me on what Kennedy would have done to inquire into the attempt on his death. The reviewer suggests he would have gone all out to find out who was behind the actions of Lee Oswald Harvey, and suggests it might have been Lyndon B. Johnson. I do not accept that judgement, not because I think Johnson incapable of leading such a murderous mission, but because I believe Kennedy’s commitment to the sanctity of the American political system would have deterred him from seeking such an earth-shaking explanation.
Kennedy had a strong fatalistic streak. On the day after the settlement of the Cuban missile crisis, he told his brother, “This is the night I should go to the theater.” He left on his desk a slip of paper on which he had written a line from a prayer of Abraham Lincoln: “I know there is a God – and I see a storm coming. If he has a place for me, I believe that I am ready.”
The Canadian flag may be raised or lowered at the Quebec National Assembly, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that some good things have come from the election of the Parti Quebecois. Here are two worth considering:
First, the Harper government’s decision to quit backing asbestos mining, which occurs only in Quebec.
Second, the withdrawal by Lowe’s, the American hardware giant, in its bid to take over Quebec-based Rona Inc.
The new Premier, Mme. Marois had promised to withdraw the guarantee the provincial Liberals had offered for a $50 million loan to start up asbestos mining again at Asbestos, Que. (The name says it all.) And she made it clear the PQ government would do everything in its power to stop the take-over of Rona.
If you agree it is time that Canada stopped exporting asbestos to third-world countries (having banned its use in our own construction), you will be pleased with Ottawa’s action to no longer oppose adding asbestos to the global list of hazardous substances. Also, if you believe boards of directors should have the power to reject unwanted takeovers, then you’ll take comfort in Lowe’s withdrawal of its cash-rich take-over bid.
Neither of these things would have come to pass without a PQ government in power.The fact they did adds further weight, I think, to the argument that Quebecers chose exceedingly well when they voted on September 4.
They clearly had no wish to go down the sovereignist path, and so accordingly made sure the PQ did not get a majority. But they did want change, and the social democratic policies of the PQ met with the same high level of support that New Democratic candidates enjoyed in the last federal election.
In both the asbestos and Rona cases, it’s significant that the Quebec government had no real power to stop either of the projects. What Ottawa says in foreign affairs is solely Ottawa’s business. And the Rona take-over, if it had proceeded, would have been determined by federal authorities under Canada’s federal investment review policies.
During the election campaign, Mme. Marois promised to pick fights with Ottawa. Her strategy was that Quebec couldn’t lose. If Ottawa gave in, that would prove the heft of the sovereignist threat. If Ottawa didn’t buckle, that would show there’s no place for Quebec in Canada.
We can take comfort in the fact that the first two big consequences of the election go against both these stratagems. Instead, they demonstrate that practical realities — and policies that are responsive to the public good — will usually achieve the desired results. Any Quebec government could have taken the stance the PQ did in these instances, and the outcome would have been the same. Proving once again the irrelevance of separatism.
The war of 1812 is being widely commemorated across Canada, aided by $28 million in federal funding to remind us, according to Heritage Minister James Moore, that without that engagement “Canada as we know it would not exist.”
It is difficult for most Canadians to link our sense of modern Canada with this two hundred year old conflict and the encounters between ragtag regiments that took place at that time. Only if the Americans had been able to drive the British completely out of North America, would Canada have not come into being. This has not lessened the zeal of the Harper government to embellish an event that accords nicely with its attempt, according to the authors of a new book, to “rebrand” our image of a peaceful past into that of a nation “created by war, defended by soldiers, and kept free by patriotic support of military virtues.”
Canada a nation of peacekeepers, a working multicultural example for a fractious world, an accomplished political partnership of two founding races? This is hardly the vision of Canada held by Stephen Harper, the Conservative party, or Canada’s military establishment, as set out in Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety.
By exploring Canada’s involvement in the “Anglosphere” of British-American-Canadian geopolitical partnering from the Boer War at the end of the 19th century to the Afghanistan conflict at the beginning of the 21st, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift present convincing evidence that Canada has always been willing to align itself on the side of military force rather than commit to international conciliation and peace-building. Perhaps, given the litany of examples they unearth, the “rebranding” undertaken by Harper & Co. may not be all that tenuous.
Among the many strengths of the book is the way it has cast Canadian policy-making in a global context. Lester Pearson’s Cold War strategy, according to Warrior Nation, was to be a Cold Warrior par excellence, fighting Communism at home and abroad. The peacekeeping accolades earned by Pearson, this line of reasoning argues, came from more than a wish to stop a nasty colonial-type military incursion. He “saved the British and the French from their own failure to realize that the sun was setting on their geriatric empires.” A decade later, our membership in the International Control Commission, created to facilitate a peaceful settlement in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, “had Canada working as an accomplice to U.S. crimes” in our role as an intelligence agent for Washington.
Our involvement in Afghanistan, undertaken as partial recompense for our refusal to join the U.S. attack on Iraq, is seen by McKay and Swift as “an exercise in imperial overreach, a tragic waste of life, a misuse of resources … and, given the history of foreign interventions … doomed to failure.”
Warrior Nation, however, is no mere polemic on a misguided foreign policy. It examines Canada’s record through the personalities that shaped our decisions and fashioned our policies. There is the swashbuckling graduate of Canada’s Royal Military College, William Stairs, who became an accomplice in King Leopold’s rapacious reign over the Belgian Congo; Governor General John Buchan, glorifier of war and designer of the death-dealing concentration camps the British ran in South Africa after the Boer War (and incidentally held out as a leadership example in Canada’s new Citizenship Guide); and First World War veteran Tommy Burns, who rose to become leader of the UN’s first major peacekeeping operation, who thought of imperialism as “the monster of the age.”
This book does not argue that Canada should have no military establishment or that it should never seek to influence global politics. Rather, it signals a warning against a warriors’ world of a North America as a gated community in which “the need for security — and for the armed forces necessary to provide it — becomes a dominant worry.”
In such a world, this book reminds us, there is no room for effective environmental protection but there is room for a military with the capacity to bomb lesser states to freedom.Toward which destiny should Canadians aspire?
The thirtieth anniversary of the enactment of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms — ‘les trente glorieuses” as the French would put it — offers an opportune moment to recall how the concept for this nation-changing statute first developed in the mind of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
The process is explored in the second volume of the three-part biography of Trudeau, Trudeau Transformed, by Max and Monique Nemni. This volume builds on the revealing details of their first book, in which Trudeau is shown as the willing prisoner of an orthodox Catholic upbringing, reared in a society dominated by the most reactionary elements of his church. The result is a cloistered personality nourished by fascist-like sensibilities, grounded in a survivalist philosophy that saw Quebec as the only “pure” society in North America, in need of constant defense from Protestant godlessness.
That Pierre Trudeau broke free of this stultifying environment is well-known. He left his comfortable upper class home in Montreal to study law at Harvard, went on to take political science and law in Paris, and worshiped at the feet of Harold Laski, the Jewish Marxist who influenced a generation of future leaders by his teachings at the London School of Economics.
After London, Trudeau traipsed around the world — to Israel, India, China, Cuba et al — traveling not in the first class comfort he could well afford, but with a rucksack and just enough cash to get him from point to point. In writing of this period of his life, the Nemnis point to it as experiences as evidence of a desire to absorb lessons from cultures other than his own. He was not an idle dilletente, they argue, but a dedicated student of the politics and economics of the lands through which he journeyed.
In 1950, Trudeau found himself back in Montreal with the firmly fixed idea that he would become a “statesman” who would liberate his people from the subjugation he now realized they had suffered under reactionary leadership. It was not a matter of his abandoning Catholicism; he no intention of doing so and never did leave the church. He remained so faithful, in fact, that while working in Ottawa, now a man past his thirtieth birthday, he applied to Church authorities for permission to read certain social and political works from the Church’s index of forbidden books.
Trudeau was surely transformed by his education and world travel. He chose to take a job with the Privy Council (the secretariat to the Cabinet) in Ottawa because he wanted practical experience in the working of Canadian federalism. He had by now rejected narrow nationalism as the preferred route for Quebec and saw in federalism the opportunity for his people to grow to heights beyond what might be achieved in their home province.
Trudeau’s first public appearance in support of the idea of a charter of individual rights came on May 8, 1951, when he went before Prime Minister St. Laurent and other government leaders as secretary of a committee urging such a measure. Their effort was in support of a Senate recommendation that Canada adopt a declaration of human rights modeled on the declaration recently proclaimed by the United Nations. That didn’t happen, because no one at that point had figured out how to get agreement of both the federal government and the provinces to make a change to Canada’s constitution, then embedded in the British North America Act. As the Nemnis write:
Nine years later, on August 10, 1960, the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker adopted a bill of rights. But this was only a federal law, which could easily be amended. It was not until thirty-one years later, in Ottawa on April 17, 1982, that a beaming Pierre Trudeau looked on as Queen Elizabeth ratified the repatriated Constitution, enshrining the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As he dutifully took the minutes at the meeting in 1951, could Trudeau have imagined that the Charter would one day be his most important contribution to Canadian history?
The thirty years of the Charter have seen a historic shift in the weight of individual rights vs government mandates. Innumerable cases have been argued before the courts on Charter issues, and repressive laws have been struck down or modified as a result. The Charter has far from unanimous support; there are those who see it as an invitation to social anarchy, benefiting only those who would abuse convention to pursue reckless behaviour. Hardly convincing arguments.
The Charter was not, of course, the only act of statesmanship of Pierre Trudeau’s career. He brought in the Official Languages Act, worked for a Just Society, promoted multiculturalism as a foundation stone of modern Canada, and in repatriating the Constitution made Canada a fully independent nation.
As Max and Monique Nemni conclude, “Whether we revere him or revile him, the fact remains that today’s Canada is the Canada of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.”
UPDATE: President Obama’s denial of a permit for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, on the grounds that the Republican-dictated Feb. 21 deadline does not allow sufficient time for a proper environmental review, is likely just the first in a series of setbacks for pipeline proponents.
They’re happenings half a world apart — the grounding of the cruise liner Costa Concordia off the Italian coast, and the hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline, being held in Kitimat, British Columbia.
What links them is the prospect of tanker groundings in the pristine waters of the 130-kilometre long Douglas Channel. It’s this fear that is motivating B.C. native groups and environmentalists to oppose the plan of Enbridge Inc. to pipe crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the B.C. coast. The scheme calls for new port faclities at Kitimat that would permit more than 200 tankers a year to ply Douglas Channel en route to Pacific destinations, mainly China.
The case against the oil sands (or tar sands as they were known before oil industry’s PR machine got to work) is eloquently made by Alberta author Andrew Nikiforuk in his book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent.
Nikiforuk does more than criticize. While declaring that the pace of oil sands development represents a political emergency, he offers up a 22-point plan to avert disaster, both environmentally and economically.
His arguments need to be taken into account by the National Energy Board in its hearings that opened in Kitimat last week. It’s going to take two years for the NEB to reach a decision. Even then, no matter what it recommends, the decision could be overturned by the pro-oil Harper cabinet in Ottawa.
From what we’ve heard out of Ottawa, the hearings could turn out to be an exercise in futility.
They got off to a rocky start with that infamous open letter from the minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, pointing the finger at “environmental and other radical groups ” w0rking with “foreign special-interest groups” in opposition to the pipeline.
That line was set down last fall by Prime Minister Harper when he warned against “American interests trying to line up against the Northern Gateway project.” Another indication that nothing happens in Ottawa without Mr. Harper’s fingerprints on it.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the foreign money of international oil companies who are spending large sums in Canada to back the project. That’s because their cause is in the “national interest,” according to Harper & Company.
Northern Gateway is about more than the pipeline, however. It’s about the morality — and the long-term economic consequences — of the environmental degradation caused by extracting oil from the tar sands.
The premier of Alberta, Alison Redford, was quite accurate when she suggested that some opponents are primarily motivated by a desire to stop or slow down the oil sands.
Pipelines are the only way to get the oil out. Stop the pipelines and you stop the oil sands.
The delay in approving the Keystone XL line in the States — a prospective key carrier of oil sands crude to the Gulf of Mexico — is a serious setback to the hopes of oil sands proponents.
A strong argument can always be made for the jobs and other economic benefits that flow from exploitation of natural resources.
We need to argue equally strongly against destroying our planet to feed the voracious beast of oil consumption. The best way for North America to achieve energy self-sufficiency is to consume less, not produce more. Will anyone make that argument to the National Energy Board?
His name may not be a household word, but Joey Smallwood ranks as one of the most durable figures in Canadian nation-building — our last “Father of Confederation” and the first Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Joey Smallwood died 20 years ago, on December 17, 1991, just a week shy of his 91st birthday. He’d had an epic life, spanning all but the last decade of the 20th century. He is being remembered in Newfoundland mostly for his almost single-handed achievement in winning his people’s consent to throw in their lot with Confederation in 1949.
I’ve always been intrigued with this remarkable character, and I always learned something new about Joey whenever I went to Newfoundland. I’ve collected the gleanings — together with material from countless interviews, articles and books written about Joey, into a new biography I have just finished writing.
Joey Smallwood: Schemer and Dreamer, will be published in August 2012 by Dundurn Press, in their Quest biography series. Here’s a bit of a peek:
“The physical grandeur of Newfoundland and the splendour of its nearly thirty thousand kilometer coastline, the irrepressible character of its people, and its wealth of resources make it a land like no other. The label of The Rock fits the place well, and in few other places in the world could a man like Joey Smallwood, driven by impulsiveness, self-assurance and blind faith, have overcome such obstacles and attained such heights of power as he did here.
“Geography, ethnicity, language and religion have produced a Newfoundland that for most of its history has stubbornly resisted the pull of mainstream North American culture. From Inuit migrants of four thousand years ago to the Beothuk hunter-gatherers killed off by white settlers in the nineteenth century, this often inhospitable land has drawn ocean voyagers from time immemorial. The Vikings were here a thousand years ago with their short-lived settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, today a World Heritage Site. The English, French and Portuguese fishermen who followed in the wake of John Cabot’s 1497 “discovery” treated the waters of Newfoundland as nothing more than a vast cauldron teeming with fish, ready for the taking.
“The Newfoundland into which Joseph Roberts Smallwood was born on December 24, 1900, was a country that still lived by the cod, its great ocean resource that the Fishing Admirals of Great Britain, along with adventurous sailors from many nations, had plundered for more than three hundred years. Generations of Newfoundlanders lived out their lives in tiny outports nestled on the rocky shores of countless fjords and bays that indented the island’s coast. Descendants of mostly poor working class families from the south of Ireland and the west of England, their men fished the icy waters from small dories that either went out on their own, or were launched from Banking Schooners miles offshore. Equipped only with hand lines and small nets, they returned with plentiful catches that would be smoked and dried, ready for shipment to overseas markets. For thousands of Newfoundland men, the only variation in this dangerous and bitterly hard way of life came in the sealing hunt that drew fleets of boats to the Icefields every Spring, an equally hazardous and uncertain undertaking.
“Over all this during Joey Smallwood’s early years reigned a thin lawyer of mercantile society, concentrated in the grubby, ramshackle and makeshift seaport of St. John’s, whose twenty thousand or so inhabitants boasted of it being the oldest European settlement in North America. Its harbour was filled with vessels from Europe, the United States and Caribbean. Its main business street, Water Street, was paved with stone but most streets were nothing more than dirt passages lined with small wood frame buildings. The more successful merchants were raising handsome homes on outer streets like King’s Bridge Road. They sent their sons to Bishop Feild College, an Anglican boarding school on Colonial Street that was the only decent academic institution on the island. In time, it would produce fifteen Rhodes Scholars and an alumnus that would include Joey Smallwood, a student there for five years, his way paid by a generous uncle.
“This was the Newfoundland that together with its mainland territory of Labrador, faced the crucial choice in 1948: to continue with Commission government, to reclaim its status as a self-governing Dominion and perhaps throw in with the United States – if the Americans would have it – or to join in Confederation with Canada.
“Into this maelstrom of uncertainty stepped Joey Smallwood, proffering a dream of unimagined wellbeing and security to a people rich in the traditions of home, family and church, but bereft of the affluence by then common in the postwar world. Like other young men of colonial upbringing, Smallwood had gone abroad to work and learn, and returned home determined to make a difference. For Newfoundland, Smallwood came to believe, economic betterment and democratic rule would be found in union with Canada. In pursuing this goal, he showed himself guilty of the excesses of all men carried off by grand ideas: absolute belief in the rightness of his mission, the conviction that he alone could fulfill it, and the illusion that he would earn the undying gratitude of his countrymen for his efforts.
“Twenty years after Newfoundland joined Canada, the Prime Minister of the day, Pierre Trudeau, said of Joey Smallwood that he had “changed the destiny of a people, and thereby carved his mark on history.” Today, the Newfoundland and Labrador that Trudeau in 1969 described as “a distinct society” (well before the term was applied to Quebec), has transformed itself into an energy power whose economic strength is the envy of the rest of Canada. In examining the life and legacy of Joey Smallwood, one has to ask: How much of Newfoundland’s present day confidence can be laid to what he set in motion? Or did his eagerness to throw in with Canada, combined with his autocratic rule and reckless spending on schemes of doubtful value, lead Newfoundland astray? These are some of the questions to which this book seeks answers. We set out to find them in the thicket of facts, myth and legend that has grown up around the mystique of the man remembered as Canada’s last Father of Confederation.”