Scion of one of Canada’s most noted intellectual families — his father F.R. Scott: poet, founder of the CCF, McGill Dean of Law and mentor of Pierre Trudeau; his mother, Marian Dale Scott: Montreal painter of extraordinary depth and close friend of Norman Bethune — Peter Dale Scott, born in 1929, forsook in 1961 a junior Canadian embassy post in Poland that partly involved reading cables from the International Control Commission policing the 1954 Geneva Accords dividing North and South Vietnam.
The former diplomat landed at the sun-dappled campus of University of California at Berkeley where he taught English and was chief speaker at the first university teach-in there. By mid-decade Scott published fiery tracts against the war in Vietnam. In an influential essay prepared in 1972 for a collection of critical pieces on The Pentagon Papers, edited by his friend Noam Chomsky, Scott launched reasoned argumentation that President Kennedy’s assassination was swiftly followed by a cancellation of the American leader’s plans to withdraw from the conflict in Southeast Asia.
Kennedy’s brother Bobby shared this clinical view of the President’s fate, and paid a high price during the US presidential primaries in June 1968, while walking after midnight through a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles.
Scott’s socio-anthropological masterpiece, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, published by University of California Press in 1993, will eventually revolutionize modern political thought. Creator in the 1970s of a term in political theory called, “parapolitics,” (operationalized by the phrase, “plausible denial”) Scott’s notion of “deep politics” pointed to an almost Freudian repression operating retroactively to obscure political events.
C.Wright Mills illuminated the triple ruling elites (government, business, and the soldier caste) sitting atop the U.S. military-industrial complex, but Scott added a fourth and fifth elite actor: secret intelligence services and organized crime. Noam Chomsky published an entire book intended to refute Scott’s analysis (Rethinking Camelot: JFK, Vietnam and U.S. Political Culture, 1993) while mentioning his friend only in an isolated footnote. Apart from Chomsky, writers on American politics ignored Scott’s ground-breaking research into socio-political factors surrounding the murder in Dealey Plaza.
Scott’s poetry penetrates conventional articulations of political reality. No one can read his long poem Coming to Jakarta: A Poem About Terror (1989) without experiencing mirrored years of living dangerously in the treacherous carrion claws of US imperialism. The subsequent two volumes of the Seculum trilogy: Listening to the Candle: A Poem on Impulse (1992),and Minding the Darkness: A Poem for the Year 2000(2000: pp. 137-8) explore labyrinthine worlds of drugs and power, assassination and betrayal, love and wonder.
how do we live with evil
we can profit from it
we can preach against it
but if we write poetry
how not to represent
the great conspiracy
of organized denial
we call civilization?
from the protected mob
around JFK airport
with ties to the Russian
mafia at Brighton Beach
and the plane which every day
flies a million dollars in cash
to the drug banks of Russia
at a time when Russia
owes $17 billion a year
in interest to its creditors
to the universities
continuously inventing new ways
not to contemplate such things
In March, a week-long celebration of Peter Dale Scott’s work, commemorating his 80th birthday opened in New York. Distinguished panel members like James K. Galbraith, Mary Baine Campbell, Daniel Ellsberg, Norman Rush, Roger Morris, Paul Almond, Ron Graham and Russ Baker discussed the astonishing impact of Scott’s work on an understanding of the U.S. imperium, including his most recent volume, The Road to 9-11 (University of California Press, 2007) which scrutinizes among other things, Dick Cheney’s strange Presidential bunker activities on the day the Twin Towers collapsed, and the Vice President’s eerie Continuity of Government scheme that reads more like discontinuity of government or palace coup. Why, panelists inquired, echoing Scott, does massively increased illegal drug production (as in Afghanistan today or Laos in the 1960s and 1970s) often accompany US invasions?
For almost a half century Scott has asked questions few scholars were prepared to tolerate. The world of deep politics may have finally entered the corridors of acceptable political discourse. It’s been a long time coming.
David MacGregor teaches sociology at King’s University College, London Ontario.