How Things Have Changed In National Defense

Washington, October 1962. The President, Vice President, and key cabinet and General Staff members gather in the situation room during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

JFK and LBJ

Everybody’s there — JFK, LBJ, MacNamara, Strangelove.

A few interesting things about this set-up.

  1. It’s  bunch of middle-aged white guys; the time when all the power brokers would be carefully selected for race and sex balance was far in the future. Then they wanted a war cabinet to lead America; now they want one that Looks Like America, college prospectus version.
  2. Most of these people got there because they had a reputation for competence, even if in some cases (MacNamara, for one) the reputation might have been a mistake. They came from diverse backgrounds. Now, it would be all Lawyers, Lobbyists and Leading Fundraisers who Look Like America.
  3. All of the men were veterans of some kind. Mac served as a statistician in the Air Corps. JFK’s combat record is well known; LBJ’s combat record is well known to be a fraud, but he did put himself in uniform, in the theater of operations. (He’s a lot like John F. Kerry that way). Now, a veteran in a war room meeting is rare.
  4. You could still be a general or a senator without a college degree in 1962, if you’d excelled in leadership. But most of JFK’s civilians came from Harvard, and took a dim view of anyone with a “lesser” education. LBJ had a degree from a state teacher’s college, and the Harvard men never let him forget it.
  5. It’s not a lavish place. Today, every White House function has the style and decadence of the court of Caligula, but look at the chairs these nabobs are resting their bones in: GI steel armchairs with vinyl upholstery. Look at the linoleum floor. Look at the utilitarian, Formica-topped drop-leaf tables with the water glasses on them — and note that they’re only in front of the President and VP.

Nowadays there would be five times as many people, most of them useless people who got where they are by sucking up or being born on third base. The President’s advisers are those who brought him the money it took to make him who he is. Those filling the room all have a life of “achievement” that began with admission to the “right” school based on family legacy or SAT scores. They are surrounded by trappings of luxury that Caligula could envy, and by a small army of staffers, aides, assistants and interns whose servility and devotion Caligula’s chattel slaves could not equal.

This isn’t a partisan observation, by the way. “No matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in,” as Neil Innes acidly sang. After JFK, both parties were increasingly dominated by a compact, narrow caste that makes the inbred, hemophiliac Crowned Heads of 19th-Century Europe look like a varied assortment. Politics today is the illusion of a deep partisan divide, in the service of a unified, decadent and self-perpetuating aristocracy.

Update

Several commenters (below) have pointed out that this was actually at Cape Canaveral. One even gave us the date: 11 September 1962. Using that date, we found some video on the JFK Library website:

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/USG-03-06.aspx

Along with a photo of JFK with Wally Schirra from the same date:

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/eFuIYlAyq0u5sS-uoHSaug.aspx

It’s interesting to see the President’s frail frame next to the lean but robust pilot and astronaut.

From the Cape, he took Air Force One to Houston, where the next day, 12 Sep 62, he viewed the Houston Manned Spaceflight Center (including a very early Apollo capsule mockup) and then spoke at the Rice University stadium. There he made his famous speech promising to put a man on the moon, and return him to Earth, within ten years.

http://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/news/1347274094/

Thanks to all of you who corrected our original mistaken atribution.

22 thoughts on “How Things Have Changed In National Defense

  1. staghounds

    The time when all the power brokers are be carefully selected for race and sex balance remains far in the future.

    Accessory minions and lackeys are selected for visual diversity. But the brokers themselves still get there just as these men were- chance, ability, and ruthless drive.

  2. Doug

    Ya, it is controlled by red diaper baby “revolutionary” gun runners now, candidates for the offal office who are gun runners, and now the gun runners are having a little meeting to decide who is controlled by gunrunners.
    Anybody notice the irony here, or is that dissonance? I get confused with all the psychopaths running things.

    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/08/23/obama-officials-heading-to-mexico-to-discuss-international-gun-control-via-un-treaty/

  3. ToastieTheCoastie

    So many things were different back then. We actually had a credible Civil Defense program. Very few people were overweight. We could send men to the moon. One could talk about being a good citizen without sounding ironic.

    1. morokko

      So it seems that what You guys need to reform yourselves is a good, strong foreign enemy, one with certain level of international and domestic appeal, that Your country could strive to counter, both ideologically and economically. The enemy should be also strong enough to pose a real threat, both in short and long term, but sensible enough to be reason with without going to outright war. The Soviets were pretty powerful incentive for your government and financial elite to build strong middle class tied to them and fond of personal and political freedom, just to counter the communist propaganda. The Chinese wont do, because they are not different enough from you: they are capitalists, and their oligarchy is devoid of any significant ideological agenda. Same with the Russians, who nowadays are too weak economically and ideologically to be a decent boogeyman. The Norks are just a joke and stalinist museum. Nazis are extinct for now, along with dinosaurs, although influx of the immigrants could bring back some silly caricature of old school ubermenschen – you now, like fat tattoed types that pass their time between church of White Christ and methlab. EU is not a country and supposedly shares much of the same core values. South American caviar leftists are too harmless. So that leaves only muslims. But they seem to be too divided, stupid, rabid or corrupt to form any kind of stable evil empire. Their terrorism can serve only as an excuse for the empowering of the bureaucrats, but not as an impulse to reform of the government and society. Your ruling class has really no incentive to uphold the values of your constitution or reach out to the ordinary citizens. Without the decent enemy the society is basically screwed. They should just revive the old comrades from Politburo.

  4. obsidian

    There is a tree in Washington D. C. and it’s full of monkey’s.
    Those in the top limbs of the tree look down and see a bunch of smiling and laughing faces,
    those on the lower limbs of the tree look up and all they see are……..assholes.
    Such is government today in the United States.

  5. Boat Guy

    “Politics today is the illusion of a deep partisan divide, in the service of a unified, decadent and self-perpetuating aristocracy. ”
    Qoute of the Day, WM. Nicely and succinctly stated.

    Looking at MacNamara and knowing the damage he was doing and still yet to do is painful.

  6. RobRoySimmons

    ” PT 109 ” second book read, first was “Guadalcanal Diary” from my elementary school library. Now imagine the crap they stock now

    1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

      Read both of those multiple times, now if you find a book in there that mentions “The Slot” they are referring to something else entirely.

  7. Mick

    This isn’t The White House Sit Room. It’s FAR too big to be that. It’s also not even during the CMC, this is JFK during a tour of NASAs facilities at Cape Canaveral.

    1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

      Yes, yes they do. That was still a top of the line optical sensing device in ’62.

    2. SGT Rock

      The periscope and room look similar to the early launch bunkers at Cape Canaveral. Any idea where this photo was taken?

      1. Hognose Post author

        Several commenters have indicated that it is indeed a Cape Canaveral shot. Interesting that Macnamara would be there, it may have been for a military launch?

        1. Scooby

          I can think of several reasons why McNamara was there:
          -Although NASA was established as a civilian org, it was basically a military auxiliary organization; All of the astronauts were active duty or reserve military, up until Neil Armstrong (a former naval aviator who resigned his reserve commission in 1960).
          -Heavy lift rockets were a dual use technology. Those suitable for putting a man in orbit were also capable of putting a huge H-bomb on a sub-orbital trajectory to a target on the other side of the world
          -The Outer Space Treaty (which prohibits WMD in space) was still 5 years away

  8. Scooby

    According to this, the photo isn’t from the war room and it isn’t from the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is from a few weeks before, at a briefing at Cape Canaveral. Don’t know why they’d have a periscope in the middle of a room like this.

  9. Cap'n Mike

    That guy in the second row with the cigarette and dark glasses does look like Dr Strangelove!!!
    Who is that?

  10. Wes

    It’s been said that it “was a different country then.” Indeed.

    Your final sentence in the piece is as worthy of a masthead as anything recently seen on that particular topic.

  11. Brad

    “After JFK, both parties were increasingly dominated by a compact, narrow caste that makes the inbred, hemophiliac Crowned Heads of 19th-Century Europe look like a varied assortment. Politics today is the illusion of a deep partisan divide, in the service of a unified, decadent and self-perpetuating aristocracy.”

    Geez and I thought I was grumpy.

    Even though our nation is on some very shaky ground, I’m actually optimistic about the future. In large part because phony political bi-partisanship and phony “objective” reporting is exposed as never before.

    For good or for bad, how a person votes today can make a real and immediate difference to their life, liberty and property.

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