A Document of the Sixties

Editors’ Note: The following document and the commentary accompanying it by Andrew Kopkind are reprinted from the September-October issue of the New Left Review published in London. In that issue, the editors comment: “We have printed the…document as it stands, leaving inconsistencies of syntax, etc, and inaccuracies of spelling unaltered.” Mr. Kopkind has added some footnotes and explanations for the information of American readers.

“When those states which have been acquired are accustomed to live at liberty under their own laws, there are three ways of holding them. The first is to despoil them; the second is to go and live there in person; the third is to allow them to live under their own laws, taking a tribute of them, and creating within the country a government composed of a few who will keep it friendly to you. Because this government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot exist without his friendship and protection, and will do all it can to keep them. What is more, a city used to liberty can be more easily held by means of its citizens than in any other way, if you wish to preserve it…. Whoever becomes the ruler of a free city and does not destroy it, can expect to be destroyed by it, for it can always find a motive for rebellion in the name of liberty and of its ancient usages, which are forgotten neither by lapse of time nor by benefits received….”

—Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter V

Lyndon Johnson had rarely troubled himself with the ancient rituals of European diplomacy. By the time he acceded to the Presidency, his experience in international affairs in general had been limited to chance encounters with Pakistani camel-drivers and Vietnamese well-diggers. If Machiavelli’s principles had ever seeped into his political consciousness, he had been impressed only by the first method of princely policy: despoliation. For twenty years, American interests in Western Europe had been promoted and maintained by much more subtle means. Dominant after World War II, the US had established a network of friendly European governments, in many cases hand-picked by officials in Washington. Within a limited framework, self-government was not only permitted but encouraged; only if “rebellion” threatened basic US interests—economic development, military dominance, political alliance, containment of the Left—were the imperial prerogatives of intervention exercised.

Despite Johnson’s inattention in early 1964, the business of tending America’s acquired states in Europe was being done by the aides and advisers to the late President Kennedy. Unwatched by Johnson, the former Kennedy staff men were engaged in an elaborate bureaucratic war-game on the battleground of European policy. Byzantine intrigues were conducted by a group of State Department officials known in Washington as “the theologians,” and in England as “the cabal.” Against them were the “realists” or “pragmatists” collected in the National Security Council of the White House.

“The theologians” were the inheritors of the tradition of the Grand Design of Atlantic alliance, the mainstream of US efforts…

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