In trying to prepare myself for Obama’s Afghanistan speech tonight I went back to another charismatic, inspiring president whose desire to curry favor with the forces of militarism produced a dispiriting episode early in his first (and only) term. Robert Bly captured the mood of bleak awareness in this poem from The Light Around the Body:
Listening to President Kennedy Lie
About the Cuban Invasion*
There is another darkness,
A darkness in the fences of the body,
And in moles running, and telephone wires,
And the frail ankles of horses;
Darkness of dying grass, and yellow willow leaves;
There is the death of broken buttonholes,
Of brutality in high places,
Of lying reporters,
There is a bitter fatigue, adult and sad.
There is no blindness like the blindness of leaders who refuse to learn from history.
* “On April 20, Kennedy told the American Society of Newspaper Editors that the [Bay of Pigs invasion] was Cubans fighting Cubans and that the U.S. had not been involved.” Details here.