Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review: The Making of the President

Jim, my personal library, recently gave me an American classic: "The Making of the President: 1960" by Theodore H. White.

The book chronicles Teddy White's experiences along the campaign trail with Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential election. The writing is outstanding and the insights are second to none. There are countless political observations that are as true today as they were 50 years ago. However, none of those are what stand out for me. There are two paragraphs that are extremely eerie though the power of retrospection.

The first is on Page 372, when talking about Kennedy and The Oval Office: "When the windows are closed, the sound of Washington traffic, which hums as it passes by outside, is entirely locked out, and one is reminded that these windows are three inches thick of laminated glass, thick enough to stop an assassin's rifle bullet from beyond the grounds -- if the assassin gets time enough to sight."

The other disturbing reference is to a day in the life of John F. Kennedy. On page 375, Teddy White wrote: "Then the supreme and somber problem of war and peace: a long meeting of one and one quarter hours in the cabinet room with Secretary of State Dean Rusk; Secretary of National Defense Robert S. McNamara; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Lyman Lemnitzer; Admiral Harry D. Felt, Commander-in-Cheif, Pacific theatre; two personal advisers McGeorge Bundy and Walter Rostow; and Vice-President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson. Here at this meeting he considered, not for the first time but for the decisive [Whit's italics, not mine] time, American response to the newest thrust of Communist pressure on the changing world -- the movement of Communist guerillas over the jungles and ridges of Southeast Asia into the formless Kingdom of Laos. Could anything be done there, and if it could, should anything be done there? This was the ugliest of problems; and if his decisions were right the meeting would fade into history as unimportant; but if the decisions brought war, then this, indeed, was where the Americans chose war."

I think we can say that the president decided wrong that day.