MAX SOLIVEN: TO TURN THE TIDE

MANILA, NOVEMBER 24, 2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - The kidnap gangs are sticking the dirty finger up the nose of the Administration, and putting on notice the recently-proclaimed anti-kidnapping "gang buster" (General) Angelo T. Reyes, that they arent scared of him. Even before the slain young executive, the victim of a botched kidnap-for-ransom abduction, Ms. Betti Chua Sy, could be buried, the kidnappers snatched a 10-year-old fifth-grade student, Delina Dy, as she was on her way to school shooting down her driver and governess when the two resisted.

Weve often said that we dont like the President grabbing photo opportunities willy-nilly by presiding over the parading of captured criminals sometimes she even announces the wrong suspect in the rush to create the impression shes "hands-on" in the fight against crime. But Id rather have that than La Presidenta popping up at the MTV Music Summit last Friday night at the Fort so she could (on the pretext of "thanking" the visiting American singer) share the spotlight with Mandy Moore.

Nobodys fooled about it not being a campaign ploy. (Where next? The F-4 concert?) Whats not nice is that the Chief Executives less-than-cameo appearance at that event portrayed her as frivolous, publicity-hungry, and desperate to be seen as "in" with showbiz stars, like shes doing with Noli de Castro, the Senator of ABS-CBN. Some historians say that the Roman Emperor Nero got a bum rap when he was accused of fiddling while Rome burned. Alas, that image of an insensate and arrogant Nero will persist for all time.

Today, Manilas burning with anger coupled with anxiety over the escalation of violent crime and non-stop kidnapping, as exemplified by the kidnap-killing of a bright up-and-coming Coca Cola executive, who was simply pounced upon by thugs, dragged her out of her car, then shot her in the legs when she tried to escape.

Mandy Moores nice, but it is outraged Filipino womanhood, like the pitilessly murdered Betti Chua Sy, who should be among the Presidents 24-hour-a-day priorities. Side-trips to congratulate singing stars, no matter how fetching, and, quite obviously, harangue a captive audience, make the President appear a publicity-hound rather than a relentless fighter for the safety, security and happiness of our harassed citizenry.

PNP Chief Superintendent Pedro Bulaong was quoted in the newspapers yesterday as regretting that the family of kidnap victim Delina Dy is not "cooperating" with the police. Sad to say, the families of kidnap victims still dont seem to be convinced that the kidnap syndicates are not connected with the police, or have policemen or military men as their masterminds and implementors. As for Secretary-cum-Ambassador Angie Reyes, hes been given such a dizzying variety of tasks in this dispensation that one would think that, as in basketball, our government has a shallow bench and is woefully short-handed. First he was defense secretary, then chief of counter-terrorism efforts, now anti-kidnap czar. Oh well. Thus far his record has been perfect. Reyes has been a perfect failure. \

* * *

Its almost incredible. Theyre commemorating the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Americas President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963. How time flies.

Whats amazing is that JFKs image, as a President forever young and dynamic, persists all over the world, but even more so in the United States even after all those smutty revelations and debunking stories about his serial sexcapades, including the Marilyn Monroe scandal. Somehow, what he did in private did not impinge on what he did in public one thing was certain: He did not steal. (Evidently, it had been dad, bad old Joe Kennedy who subsequently programmed his sons to seek great office who did the "stealing" during and after Prohibition. Behind every great fortune, it is axiomatic, there lies a great crime.)

Whats more, the legend of Camelot lives on. Imagine that! 40 years after the "king" around whom the romantic kingdom was centered had been felled by treachery and then cruelly assailed, postmortem, by the debunkers and cynics the Camelot legend continues to shine a halo around Jack Kennedy.

Teddy White, the remarkable TIME-LIFE editor and journalist whose writings had first woven the legend of JFKs "Camelot", had even retracted that tale in his last book, In Search of History. White had confessed to his "mistake", ruefully and sadly since he loved JFK, saying that, in retrospect, Kennedys Camelot had never existed. White contended that Jack had been surrounded, not by paladins or shining knights, but by hardnosed young politicians and officials, who were admittedly honest enough but motivated by pragmatism rather than by high ideals.

Perhaps Im just stupid, or incurably romantic, but I disagree. And last weeks torrent of nostalgia all over media tend to bear me out. Teddy White knew Kennedy and Jacqueline well, as I never did. As a journalist and writer, he was among the men whose style and tenacity perhaps most influenced my own career. Yet, for all the pungency of his vision, his insights born of experience, Teddy failed in the end to perceive that JFKs Camelot was created because the people, in this age of disappointment and skepticism, yearned for it. That they longed in their hearts that in materialistic, greedy America, "once there was a spot . . . which was known as Camelot."

It was the same vision which Ronald Reagan, for all his faults and flaws, managed to recapture when he delivered that great address of his, challenging Americans to build that "shining city on the hill".

In a sense, Teddy White was half right. JFK had been born with the gift of Irish gab, and the kind of grace imparted only to a few, but he could also be pragmatic, even rough. He once remarked: "You can forgive your enemies. But never forget their names."

In our Filipino society, those are wise words to ponder.

* * *

I got to meet JFK in a very Filipino manner. Dont let anybody kid thee. America prides itself on being a meritocracy, and a no-nonsense country, but as everywhere else, its Know-Whom just a much as Know-How that counts.

One of our professors in Harvard was the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., (author of the three-volume The Age of Roosevelt and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Age of Jackson.) In September 1962, after class, I got into a conversation with him about the White House. I told Prof. Schlesinger that for the past two years I had been badgering Lincoln White and Bob McClosky of the White House Press Office for an "interview" with the President. Finally, McClosky had snapped at me: "No use even thinking about it. Its a closed matter. He just wont see foreign editors or correspondents hes been getting flak from the American press for talking too much to foreign newsmen. Its a bad season for all journalists."

When I suggested that perhaps McClosky could take my copy of JFKs book, Profiles in Courage, and get JFK to autograph it for me, McClosky was even more curt. "I wont even try. No way."

Schlesinger laughed and said: "Come to Washington next Saturday and unless you hear otherwise from me meet me at the East Gate of the White House at 10 oclock in the morning." He turned to go, then wheeled around and added: "Bring anyone with you if you wish, but not more than two or three."

I decided to take along two eager Japanese classmates, one a journalist and the other a business-management expert on academic sabbatical. I figured out that if either of them wrote a story and managed to "scoop" me on my own exclusive, they at least would be writing in Japanese.

Promptly at 10 a.m. Saturday, we presented ourselves to the Marine guarding that Gate. A few steps away was Dr. Schlesinger himself (what a thoughtful man!), carrying a pass with my name already on it, plus three blank passes. He ushered us into the Rose Garden, and there Kennedy stood waiting grinning that famous grin of his and looking more blonde, almost albino, than his photogenic personality suggested in pictures. It was a chat really, more than an interview which resulted. Most of his off-the-cuff remarks were not for quotation, he smiled. But what energy and charisma he projected. At the conclusion of our brief discourse, he handed a book to me entitled, To Turn the Tide. I asked him to autograph it. He signed it, merely, "Jack." Ive had a hard time since convincing my friends that "Jack" stands for JFK and is in his true hand.

To Turn the Tide was a collection of his most recent speeches. Ive searched book stores for decades after that for another copy but there seem to be none available. It was one of those give-aways, apparently, which no longer exists.

Yet what has stuck in my mind over the years has been the title of that book. It conveys a challenge, a dare, an expression of optimism. The speeches contained in it voiced the "mission" on which John F. Kennedy had embarked. The theme of most of those speeches was that when everything around us looks dark and gloomy, and defeatism is in the air, good and courageous men and women should rally around the flag, and close ranks with each other, to do battle "to turn the tide."

A little over a year later, JFK was assassinated in Dallas. As for Schlesinger, he was to write in 1965 what today remains Kennedys most moving and sincere biography, A Thousand Days.

Every subsequent occupant of the White House, its clear, has found himself running subsequently against JFKs record of a thousand days.

Oh, Jack. We only met once. Yet for me, you will live for the rest of my days, etched in happy memory. As does your challenge: It needs only a few stout-hearted, courageous, patriotic men and women, boys and girls, too, to turn the tide.

Camelot is truly in the heart.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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