Wednesday, June 20, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt six)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

"And then," Connally was to say, "Bobby Kennedy showed up, and said he wanted to see Mr. Johnson"--and from that moment, and for approximately the next three hours, nothing was settled, and during those hours what had previously remained, despite all the tension, within the boundaries of normal political behavior, was transformed, with the admixture of personal hatred, into confusion and chaos, a chaos whose aftermath would, during the next eight years, affect profoundly the shape of American politics and, to a lesser but still surprisingly significant degree, the shape of American history.

No two people of the many who were involved can agree on anything that happened during those hours. Each account, and some are quite detailed and convincing, contains statements that are impossible to reconcile with, or that directly contradict, statements in other accounts--which are also quite detailed and convincing. To try to reconcile the recollections of those hours is to be reminded, again and again, of what Theodore White wrote (after trying to reconcile them): "It is a trap of history to believe that eyewitnesses remember accurately what they have lived through." Chronologies of that afternoon's events were later compiled by more than one of the participants--but no two chronologies are the same. There is no agreement, to take just a single example, about the number of meetings that Robert Kennedy held with Johnson, Rayburn and Connally--either with one of them alone or with various combinations of the three Texans. Arthur Schlesinger says there were two, Connally says there were three; hours after Robert Kennedy ran up and down those back stairs. There is no agreement on the number of telephone conversations Jack Kennedy held with Johnson and his allies. Philip Graham, who was in Johnson's suite during part of the three hours and later wrote a memorandum trying to recount what had occurred during that time, says there were four such conversations, Rowe says there were three. In the various versions of the afternoon's activities, two meetings (or three) are conflated into one, or what happened in one meeting is divided as if it occurred in two (or three). The only summary statement about the meetings that can be made without dispute is that each of them was a drama in itself, a vivid, tension-fraught drama of powerful men in confrontation.

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