What Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy: be afraid of war

January 23, 2007 at 8:20 pm | In architecture, ideas, social_critique | Comments Off on What Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy: be afraid of war

I’m reading Deyan Sudjic’s brilliant 2005 book, The Edifice Complex; How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World. I won’t even try to synthesise this book, which covers what one might call the architectural impulse — the desire to shape the world according to one’s convictions, the will to stamp evanescence with some sort of “eternity” — as evinced in both the large and small egos that people 20th century history. It’s a great history lesson, given from an angle we don’t usually study it from, and even if you thought you already knew quite a bit about Hitler & Albert Speer’s plans for a “new” Berlin, or had a grip on Philip Johnson, or thought there wasn’t anything new to know about Edy and Ely Broad and Los Angeles, you’ll still be enlightened by Sudjic’s work. Besides, you probably don’t know enough about televangelist Schuller and his Crystal Cathedral at Garden Grove, and how many Presidential Libraries can you describe?

Sudjic quotes from a note written by Nikita Krushchev to President John F. Kennedy, presumably during the height of the Cuban missile crisis. Declassified by the CIA in 1968, it is displayed today at the Kennedy Library in Boston. On the eve of President Bush the Junior’s address to the American people, an address in which he will argue the case for a “surge,” Krushchev’s words seem even more urgent:

I think you will understand that if you are really concerned about the welfare of the world everyone needs peace. Both capitalists, if they have not lost their reason and still more we Communists, people who know how to value not only their own lives, but more than anyone the lives of their people. I see Mr.President that you are not devoid of a sense of anxiety for the fate of the world. I have participated in two wars and know that war ends only when it has rolled through cities and villages everywhere sowing death and destruction. (p.284)

We can cast a jaundiced eye on Krushchev’s somewhat sanctimonious plea for his Communist ethics regarding the people’s welfare, but the clarity with which he describes the reality of war’s progression — that it doesn’t end until it has “rolled through cities and villages everywhere sowing death and destruction” — well, that part is hard to argue with. It’s something the Iraqis are experiencing, and one can only assume that Bush thinks more of the same would be a good thing because he has never experienced war, whether at home or in service abroad.

If Bush had half the brain that Kennedy had, he might comprehend what Krushchev wrote. As it is, he seems not to have the “anxiety for the fate of the world” that Krushchev wanted to conjure in Kennedy. Peace escapes him, war surges on to find fresh victims.

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