More vintage anti-Kennedy

Apsken at Apsken at
Sun Dec 27 07:08:53 PST 1998

A quiet but determined pacifist and Indian activist in Chicago in the early 1960s was my friend John White -- artist, craftsman, and publisher of booklets in the Cherokee language and alphabet, whose type fonts he had lovingly manufactured. John also was a folk singer and song writer who deserved acclaim, but who shunned celebrity.

As a pacifist (of CNVA and Polaris Action affiliation, canoes against nuclear submarines), he was fond of the Almanac Singers' 1941 anti-conscription song, The Ballad of October 16th (to the tune of Jesse James), which was retired on June 22 of that year when Hitler invaded the USSR. (As Woody Guthrie said at the time, "I guess we won't be singing peace songs any more.") The chorus goes:

Franklin Roosevelt told the people how he felt

And we damn near believed what he said.

He said "I hate war, and so does Eleanor,

But we won't be safe 'til everybody's dead." John always added his own verses at the end:

Now Franklin's dead and gone but his mem'ry lingers on,

And the message that we get from Kennedy,

Is that fighting is a sin, but we'll fight for West Berlin,

'Cause it's better dead than red you must agree. [and]

My old Uncle Lou, would have liked to be there too,

To keep those commies out of West Berlin,

But this fact I must divulge, in the Battle of the Bulge,

He gave his life a-tryin' to get them in.

Another of John's songs, also to that tune, began:

Where the Allegheny flows, where the birch and oak tree grows,

Where the ridge tops reach up to the sky,

In that last bit of land still remaining in their hands

There the Seneca nation does dwell. Chorus:

George Washington made to them this sacred pledge,

"In your homeland you'll always remain."

But old Washington's dead, we've a Kennedy instead,

And that teaty is going down the drain.

Never having qualified for a student deferment, my own struggle against the draft began while Kennedy was riding high, and continued until Selective Service lost track of me after an anti-war group torched my draft board's files. The FBI had reported, as proof that my conscientious objector claim was insincere, my grandmother's lament that I had "married a Negro." (So much for true love and family values.) This was no liberal Golden Age, even if we had been inclined to view such an occurrence with grudging satisfaction. In reality, we regarded liberals as dangerous traitors who would betray us at the first opportunity.

I don't recall veteran leftists of any stripe who were fond of JFK. The censorship of John Lewis's SNCC speech at the 1963 March on Washington was a hallmark of the age. But the rise of the New Left, lacking Marxist roots, changed that. SDS coined the slogan, "Part of the Way with LBJ," in 1964 (while SNCC was saying, "Hell, No! We won't Go!") and then, feeling "betrayed" by the escalation in Vietnam, fantasized about what might have been if Kennedy had lived, giving rise to the myth memorialized by Oliver Stone.

Ken Lawrence

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