Shell Game

Government and Media Manipulation of Ukraine and China News

Governments lie and issue propaganda which are generally repeated by friendly media all over the world, at all times. That’s no secret. For the past year there’s been an uptick in what one might even call “fake news” (the real fake news, not Trump’s contortions) especially regarding the war in Ukraine and escalating U.S. tensions with China. So yesterday, March 20th, a couple of stories almost on top of each other on the Washington Post (WaPo henceforth) website offered a great, small example of the way the Biden Administration and influential media are shaping the national discourse driving the war in Europe and growing conflict over a host of issues in Asia, Taiwan in particular.

With Xi Jinping visiting Vladimir Putin in Moscow, the mainstream media has gone into full-on 24 hour coverage mode, and WaPo in particular has had round-the-clock coverage, including a page with articles filed minutes apart stacked on top of one another so the reader can learn all the essentials without leaving that particular page.

So at 3:50 p.m. EDT on Monday, 3/20, the headline read “China has considered sending Russia artillery shells, U.S. officials say,” with a stark black-and-white photo of missiles strewn about on cold, snowy terrain. The lede is jolting: “China is considering sending Russia lethal military aid in the form of artillery shells as President Vladimir Putin’s army rapidly depletes its supply of ammunition a year into his invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials said, a prospect that has alarmed those in the Biden administration who believe Beijing has the ability to transform the war’s trajectory.”

However, the very next paragraph begins “There is no evidence that any weapons transfers have occurred, these officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. government’s assessment.” Then there are the obligatory U.S. warnings that China should avoid aiding Russia and that such help would violate the spirit of a peace plan that Chinese leaders had crafted.

Finally, after instilling concern, fear, anger or whatever emotion the reader might feel, the article pointed out that President Biden did not expect China to send weapons to Russia–“I don’t anticipate — we haven’t seen it yet — but I don’t anticipate a major initiative on the part of China providing weaponry to Russia,” he said in an interview with ABC News. When asked if any future support would cross a red line, Biden said that the United States “would respond.”

If one were to only read the headline and opening lines, then a very important point would go unknown–the March 20th article warning that China might send weapons to Russia was in fact a verbatim excerpt from a February 24th WaPo article with essentially the same title, “China considers sending Russia artillery shells, U.S. officials say.”

But wait! There’s more! Just two days after that article, on February 26, WaPo posted a story titled “After warnings, no evidence China is supplying arms to Russia, U.S. officials say, in which “top adminstration officials” admitted they had no evidence of China sending lethal military aid to Russia, a position echoed by Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, and William Burns, the CIA Director, on the Sunday talk show circuit.

So on March 20th, nearly a month after its initial story about China potentially arming Russia which WaPo itself rebutted two days later, it reprised the “Chinese shells to Russia” story with a dark and foreboding photo along with it, and the message about Chinese-Russian complicity and pefidy was clear.

But WaPo wasn’t done playing its shell game on March 20th. At 5:00 p.m. EDT it posted a story titled “E.U. to Send Ukraine 1 Million Artillery Shells” with a much different presentation than the Chinese shells story barely an hour earlier. It’s a colored photo, with a small pile of shells being handled by a ruddy Ukrainian soldier with a cigarette dangling from his mouth–it could be described as a photo of a brave GI in World War II and it would be believable.

And the message of the article is quite different too. Seventeen E.U. states, and Norway, had agreed to send Ukraine a million shells over the next two years, with other states interested in joining an expanded program in the future. WaPo writers featured the words of Estonia’s Defense Mininster, Hanno Pevkur, who showed off his can-do spirit by explaining, “There are many, many details still to [be] solved but for me, it is most important that we conclude these negotiations and it shows me one thing: If there is a will, there is a way.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky got the last word, and praised the agreement in his nightly address.

In a separate article published the same day titled “EU’s top diplomat hails deal on artillery shells for Ukraine” WaPo writers continued to tout the shell transfers to Ukraine, with EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell adding that the organization had begun fast-tracking the delivery of the shells to Kyiv and that the EU was also providing 1 billion euros to member states to provide existing artillery or to manufacture new ammunition. The EU was also ramping up production so new orders for weapons to be sent to Ukraine could be places by this spring if the plan is approved quickly.

The third track of the program involves support to Europe’s defense industry. so that it can ramp up production in the longer term. EU officials have said that new joint orders could be placed by May if the plan is endorsed in its entirety. “We are taking a key step towards delivering on our promises to provide Ukraine with more artillery ammunition,” Borrell explained.

At the same time, the U.S., which has already send billions in aid and weapons to Ukraine, announced another transfer of $350 million in weapons and equipment, including various types of ammunition, such as rockets, and an undisclosed number of fuel tanker trucks and riverine boats.

These stories are not shocking or earth-shattering. In the old days we’d say they were just part of “Journalism 101,” but today it’s just a basic lesson in “Communications.” But the stories, the photos, and the messages side-by-side do provide an important lesson in the way information is delivered to the American people. Chinese shells going to Russia are dirty and part of a dark and evil plan, while EU shells, and U.S. aid, to Ukraine is done to benefit the people there.

The media is always playing shell games with us, and some, like these, are just a little more obvious than others.

Posted in Foreign Policy, History, Imperialism, Media, Military, Politics, Russia, Uncategorized, War | Leave a comment

The Old Man and the S-3

Death, and the Restorative Power of Tom Ka Gai in a Houston Dive

Kelsey Buzzanco, 26 December 1988-11 March 2010

Death recurs.  Not for the deceased of course, but for the people who’d been in that life. Not in the Shakespearian  sense of cowards dying often and the valiant but once. The death of someone who meant something recurs.  It often doesn’t take much—a sound, an aroma, silly memory dancing through your head . . . and you’re remembering someone who’s gone, and you relive the day he died.  Kelsey died again for me several months ago last year when I found out that our favorite restaurant had closed, and I winced at another link to him disappearing. 

I was going to Bohemeo’s to meet someone.  I’d been in that strip so many times because I’d eaten at the best Thai restaurant ever, Kanomwan, so many times.  Kanomwan is closed, shuttered, with liquor license application for the new owners in the window.  It was a gut punch, the closing of a dive restaurant.  Something that happens all the time, especially since 2020, when COVID and the shutdown drove so many people out of business.

But Kanoman was different.  I went there more than any place in Houston since I moved here.  Right after I arrived at UH I went to lunch with a few of my new colleagues at this Thai place on Telephone Road (across the street from its current, or last at least, location).  The food was amazing and it was full of UH people, professors and staff.  It was like a hidden gem but it wasn’t very hidden.  It was always full.  The place itself was a dive, with tchotchkes and a wall full of baseball hats people had brought there.  But it was clean and had its own ambience.

But the main attraction was Yuthana Charoenrat, a name which I’d never heard until just some months ago, though it was someone I’d met hundreds of times.  I knew him as “the grumpy Thai guy,” while others called him “the Thai Nazi,” in homage to Seinfeld’s soup nazi.  I know there are all kinds of inferences about western imperialism that can be drawn from not knowing his name, but everyone who had been to Kanomwan called him “the grumpy Thai guy” or just “Grumpy,” and it was easy to remember.  He was the owner but more than that.  He dominated this small restaurant more than anyone I’ve ever seen own a room–like a Sinatra, Babe Ruth, Marilyn Monroe, or Muhammad Ali.  Larger than larger-than-life. 

Grumpy took orders (a really bad word for requesting food, and in fact in this case Grumpy gave orders).  Only he took orders.  No one else ever did.  No matter how busy the place was, no matter how many people were already seated, no matter the length of the line, only he took orders.  And you ordered off the menu, strictly.  He had no tolerance for someone who wanted a slight modification in the food.  There was one “vegetarian” option on the menu, and I went there with a lot of different vegetarians.

When they asked for some modification, like taking meat out of something, he just glared and said he couldn’t.  I once had a friend complain about not getting enough shrimp and I was terrified that he’d kick us out and I wouldn’t be allowed back in. It was his room and he set the rules, and no matter what, you obeyed, because the consequences—not being able to eat there again—were too great.  If you were sitting too long at your table when you finished, or if he was ready to close after 1:30, he wasn’t shy about coming to the table and saying “you go now!”  And I always did.  There are certain gods with which I will not trifle . . .

Now, the food was amazing too, and I’ll get to Kelsey’s role in all this in a minute.  I started going there with UH people and the place became addictive.  I’d look for people who wanted to go to lunch to eat there, and it wasn’t hard to find people.  I’d go with colleagues often  before I became the department pariah, and I’d take my Teaching Assistants there at the end of the semester to thank them, and I introduced the place to just about everyone I knew. When I had a cold I’d get takeout, some kind of hot shrimp soup that would make me sweat like a business major trying to write an essay.   

The food was always great and the Thai guy was always grumpy . . . except when he wasn’t.  He had a couple weaknesses.  He could sometimes crack a smile and show some attention to an attractive woman. I once was going out with a very good-looking Mexican-American woman (punching way above my weight class) and we went there often.  But we skipped a few months and when we went back he asked where we’d been—well, he asked her where she’d been. She played along and looked at me and said “he won’t take me here.”  Grumpy told her “you call me and I’ll come pick you up,” and he laughed. 

But now we’re getting to the Kelsey part.  Because while he might break character once in a while for a woman, he was genuinely and downright pleasant when Kelsey came in, and Kelsey came in there a lot. With me.  With his mom.  With his friends after he got his driver’s license.  Kelsey was a Thai food junkie, and his main fix was the S-3, the Tom Ka Gai.  Every Thai place in the world has it on the menu, and I always get it, because it’s a test for me.  It’s tasted the same everywhere . . . except for Kanomwan. It was the best Tom Ka Gai in the world, obviously some kind of secret recipe from some secret deity handed down to the Thai guy’s wife, who did all the cooking and who never came out from the kitchen.  The first few times we went to Kanomwan Kelsey tried some other stuff on the menu, the H-5 and H-6 for instance, but once he tasted Tom Ka Gai I don’t think I ever saw him order anything else. 

But it was a lot more than a restaurant for Kelsey and me, or for me at least.  And probably for Kelsey too.  I think he saw it as his secret, his claim to knowing a little bit about the “other” Houston, outside the Galleria and River Oaks and all the rich places. He knew Kanomwan and that gave him social currency and cred as a kid.  And like I said, after he got a drivers license he was there all the time and took his friends. 

But for me it was our place to have sit-downs, to have meets, to discuss the family business and negotiate.  It was our version of the Ravenite Social Club.  We’d sit down to eat but also to figure out the world.  It was a refuge for us, where we could just chat about nothing, or about everything.  I might tell him stories about the Buzzanco family, or talk to him about politics and history, or discuss something going on in his life. 

And Kelsey often had things going on in his life.  He wasn’t the most mild or obedient kid, which was fine.  But he drifted over the line more often than he safely should have, and I tried to rein him in.  And when it was time for that conversation, I took him to Kanomwan.

I never told him that I wanted to talk to him, or he’d tell me he couldn’t go.  So I’d just say I felt like eating Thai food and we’d head over.  Grumpy would come to the table and ask me what I wanted because I ate various dishes on the menu and mixed it up. He’d just look at Kelsey and say “S-3.” 

And we were off. I’d bring up whatever topic it was I wanted to talk about and Kelsey didn’t want to talk about it.  But since it was a public place and the S-3 held him hostage, he had to engage me a little bit at least.  And that’s the place where we had the most meaningful communications.  He had to sit there but he also knew he’d be rewarded with Tom Ka Gai if he listened to me, and I suspect he was a little more at ease in that environment than he’d be elsewhere, surely than at home where he hated every “serious” discussion I brought up . . .

Now that might not sound like much but for me it was really a refuge and it gave the Grumpy Thai Guy’s place a special importance—the closest thing to a safe house I’d have.  Outside of the personal space we shared, Kanomwan was probably the location of most of our interactions.  We loved the food and reveled just being in the presence of the Thai Guy, which always made us smile.  And it always made me happy to see the old man come over to Kelsey and smile at him and make some kind of small talk.  He didn’t do that for many people other than pretty young women, so I figure he was able to see something about Kelsey that wasn’t apparent to everyone else—the same stuff I saw in the kid. That spark, that magic, those eyes that reeked of mischief and the spirit of a wild colt.

And we know how this story ends, alas . . . Kelsey died by suicide in March 2010.  He’d often been uneven emotionally and I’d often try to get him to talk about it, which he hated.  Hence our frequent visits to the Thai dive on Telephone Road.  But I knew things were getting worse when I’d asked him a couple times in the weeks before his death to go to Kanomwan and he passed.  That was unlike him and it made me think . . .

After Kelsey’s death, I knew I couldn’t go back to Kanomwan. The old man would ask me about Kelsey and it was a conversation I didn’t want to have.  I had no problem talking about Kelsey, and still don’t—I want people to remember him.  But talking to the Thai Guy was a tough nut for me to crack. I don’t know why.  There was something special there, though they really barely knew each other.  Kelsey made the old man smile and the old man had a soft spot for the kid.  In my own fevered imagination, there was something magical going on and I wanted to keep it pure.  So when friends asked me to go to Kanomwan I’d pass.

But weirdly, tragically, coincidentally, the old man himself died a few months later.  He wasn’t that old and didn’t seem to be in bad shape.  But we’re all day-to-day and his time was up.  And I was freed.  I was shocked and saddened by his death, though in reality I didn’t know him either.  But I could go back to Kanomwan, knowing that I wouldn’t have a painful conversation about Kelsey.

After Kelsey’s death I never went there as frequently as I had. Maybe a dozen times a year?  But whenever I did, I felt like Kelsey was walking in besides me.  I felt a sense of heartache when I sat down, because I expected the kid to be sitting down next to me.  The first time I went there after they both were gone, Jackson Browne’s “For A Dancer” jumped into my mind, and it made sense—”I don’t remember losing track of you/You were always dancing in and out of view/I must’ve thought you’d always be around/Always keeping things real by playing the clown/Now you’re nowhere to be found/I don’t know what happens when people die/Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try/It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear.”  Yeah, it’s cheesy but I’ve listened to that song a million times and I think of Kelsey each time.

So when I saw the signs in the windows this summer telling me Kanomwan was closed, metaphorically passed on like Kelsey and Grumpy, it stung badly.  Another epoch in the life of Kelsey Niccolo Sandino Buzzanco was gone.  There are plenty left in my mind of course, but that was a big one.  I remember going there with him like I remember his first steps, his first time riding a two-wheel bike, his fist day of school, and so on.  It was a big deal.

And now I’m commemorating another March 11th with him gone.  I had 21 with him, and now 13 without him.  It’s unimaginable that he’d be an adult now.  But one of the images I’ll always have will be him sitting at a table at Kanomwan with me either laughing or uncomfortably trying to change the conversation or just excitedly putting a little rice in the little cup and pouring S-3 over it.  Nostalgia burns like a fever and it makes me happy to be able to think about him and cry.  Weep, talk, eat—not a bad epitaph for Kelsey.

Kanomwan was “cosa nostra” for us, our thing.  And now it’s gone.  And the world is less meaningful than it was before . . . .

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“Jimmy Carter . . . Liberal Saint Now, Neo-Liberal War Criminal Then” (Transcript)

[Unedited transcript of podcast on Jimmy Carter’s legacy as president, November 2020, Opened w/ discussion of Carter’s well-deserved reputation as a humanitarian and peace advocate after he left the White House, then segued to discussion below].

Bob Buzzanco (BB): And it’s something we have talked about a long time and on my blog, which is part of the green and red media empire. I wrote a piece in November just, I don’t know, on the spur of the moment about Jimmy Carter, and I think it was called . . . “Jimmy Carter is a liberal saint now, was a war criminal then,” and I do not get the traffic of Jacobin or any of those big New York publications, obviously.  But for some reason, this thing has really taken off. And I’m still getting every week, I’m still getting like hundreds of reads. I have no idea why. And we’ve talked about doing a show about this for some time, about Jimmy Carter. And so the recent death of his vice president, Walter Mondale, kind of became the impetus to actually do it. And and the reason I think Carter is important, one, because I think it’s just historically, it’s always important to understand what people really were like and what they really did. But we’re going to say a lot of negative stuff about Jimmy Carter, right? Jimmy Carter is lionized and he should be. I don’t want you to think, you know, I mean, his his work with Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center, working on elections all over the world, his views on race, his outspoken views on race. He won a Nobel Prize for working on the North Korea nuclear agreement in the in the Nineties.   On Israel he’s remarkable. He has used the word apartheid in a book title to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. So he’s a great guy. And I think that’s the point because people like that don’t become president if they’re people like that, right. Most of the time, all the time to get to that level of power in the government, whether it be president, Senate courts, whatever, you fit into this super framework of what the oligarchy wants.

BB: [00:12:25] And only rarely does somebody move beyond that. And we’re seeing that now. Right? All these people like Boehner, John Boehner, I hate Trump and I voted for him. Right. And you’re seeing people who are criticizing Trump and not really distancing himself. That’s why, like Liz Cheney has become Trump’s biggest critic in this upside down world. We have. But but rarely does a member who was really at that level. And I can think of a few one and we’ll talk about him in a future show is Ramsey Clark, who was the attorney general. Ramsey Clark father was Tom Clark, who was a Supreme Court justice, who, if he didn’t write the decision, certainly voted for the the putting Japanese in concentration camps in World War Two. Ramsey Clark was attorney general and later became a huge advocate for non-intervention, anti imperialism and civil rights.  Before Carter the best known I would say would probably be George Kennan, who was one of the architects of the Cold War, famous diplomat who later in life became like this ardent critic of nuclear weapons, nuclear proliferation, and in the 1980s wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs, which is the official publication of the ruling class, in which he said his concern for the future wasn’t nuclear war.

BB: [00:13:41] It was some kind of catastrophic environmental event. This is in the early 1980s. So and he really became it almost sounded like the new left people we’ve read. And then there’s Jimmy Carter. And so that’s what we want to talk about. He’s done great stuff. But what we’re going to do is tell you . . . how he became president and what he did as president and how American politics is structured in a way that a good guy is never going to become president and never get any close. You said Bernie Sanders, right? Who what we’re seeing now from Biden is that that, you know, Sanders and Warren aren’t really all that different from a lot of the stuff we’re seeing other than Medicare for All, which would be pretty radical. What Biden is doing isn’t all that dissimilar to what Warren and Sanders were talking about. So Jimmy Carter as president really fit well into that framework and laid the groundwork for Reagan, for Clinton, for this really pretty significant rightward drift that we’ve been seeing since the sixties and seventies. So I think Scott wants to lead off to talk a little bit about well, we’re going to start by talking about how who Jimmy Carter was and how he became president. And that involves the story of a group called the Trilateral Commission. So. . .

Scott Parkin (SP): [00:15:00] Yeah, and the Trilateral Commission is a term that you hear often in these conspiracy circles. It’s you hear about the Rockefellers and you hear about the Freemasons and you hear about the Illuminati . . . . And so the Trilateral Commission is actually now equated to some grand globalist conspiracy, etc.. But the important thing about the Trilateral Commission is it was it actually was a very influential body. It was a non-partisan, non-governmental discussion group founded by a Rockefeller, by David Rockefeller in 1973, and it was created to foster closer cooperation between Japan and Western Europe and North America. And and I’m going to actually read a quote. I’m going to start with a quote by one of our favorite people, which is Noam Chomsky. And Noam says, Talking about the Trilateral Commission and the philosophy of the Trilateral Commission is “essentially liberal internationalists from Europe, Japan and the United States, the liberal wing of the intellectual elite.” That’s where Jimmy Carter’s whole government came from, The Trilateral Commission. The Trilateral Commission was concerned with trying to induce what they call called more moderation in democracy. Little democracy turn people back to passive. . . . Yeah, to being passive and obedience so they don’t put so many constraints on state power and so on. In particular, they were worried about young people. They were concerned about the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young.

SP: [00:16:48] That’s their phrase, meaning schools, universities, church and so on. They’re not doing their job. The young are not being sufficiently indoctrinated. They’re too free to pursue their own initiatives and concerns, and you’ve got to control them better. And so, like I said, the Trilateral Commission comes together in 1973. It is a group of private citizens from the elite circles includes David Rockefeller, Brzezinski, Cyrus Vance. If you look at it in the spectrum of American politics, it’s people from both parties. Including William Scranton, who was a liberal Republican from Pennsylvania. He was the governor. And so essentially, when we talk about, you know, and Bob and I actually met in the midst of an anti corporate globalization movement about 20 years ago, we there’s a lot of critique of this phrase which we actually need to do a show on called neoliberalism. And so what the Trilateral Commission did was it was it was it’s one of those bodies which essentially. Manage the framework that led to this neoliberalism, that that rose up through the through the. What we tend to think has happened during the Reagan years, but it actually happened here in the Carter years. And that’s that’s a little bit about what we’re going to talk about. But it was a very influential body on governments and it was a very influential body on the US government. And it started with the administration of Jimmy Carter.

BB: [00:18:15] And Jimmy Carter, who was a peanut farmer, ran for governor of Georgia in 1974. He’d been in the state legislature, was elected governor, was a member of the Trilateral Commission, and some of those names there you mentioned Zbigniew Brzezinski was the kind of director of the trilateral, became Carter as his version of Henry Kissinger, Cyrus Vance, I believe Griffin Bell may have been.

SP: [00:18:35] Brzezinski worked for Kissinger, correct?

BB: [00:18:37] Yeah. Do you think he did? Yeah. But he always thought he was smart, you know, not saying much. But Brzezinski later in life actually became kind of a critical of wars in the Middle East and things like that. But any at any rate, and Carter was a member of this. And like you said, it’s not a conspiracy. This is done in the open. I mean, they’re having open meetings. Everybody knows about it. It’s being covered in the media. Around that same time, there was another group called the Committee on the Present Danger, which was established to push for higher defense spending. So we should do a show about all this because the left loves these conspiracies that they’re not. They’re just a bunch of people. And Jimmy Carter, . . .  impressed these people at the Trilateral Commission. You know, at the time. He’s really young. He’s fresh. This is Watergate. It just happened two years earlier. He was kind of unknown. And then he’s the first person who really understood that the Iowa caucuses could be important, You know, So he spent a lot of time in Iowa and won the caucuses. And all of a sudden, you know, the Democrats were in disarray after 1972 and after Watergate. So kind of the usual suspects were running. You had Ed Muskie was allegedly the front runner and he kind of fell apart. And I think did McGovern run again? I can’t remember now.

SP: [00:19:45] And McGovern seemed to be perpetually running.

BB: [00:19:47] There were ten or 12 people, Fred Harris from Oklahoma, who was actually a good old populist.

SP: [00:19:51] Jerry Brown, Scoop Jackson.

BB: [00:19:53] Fred Harris had the best line. He said, The little people are going to elect me president. And after two primaries, he dropped out. He said the little people were too small to reach the voting levers. So . . .  Jimmy Carter emerged from that and the ruling class loved him. Right. Because, you know, in the aftermath of Watergate, there was this intense anger and there was a real fear, like you said, like Chomsky, quote, says, like the sixties scared the hell out of these people. Right. The students are on campus and SDS and, you know, Black Panthers. And so they want to bring back this level of normalcy. And Carter is their guy. Right. And, you know, as you said, you know, he kind of lays the groundwork like his views on race, which are ironic, right, Because he’s great [now]. I mean, he’s working with Stacey Abrams. He’s been very outspoken on all racial issues, on police and everything. But that wasn’t that wasn’t Jimmy Carter in 1976, was it?

SP: [00:20:45] No. And it’s interesting. One thing I’m going to say to kind of prelude all of this is that a lot of what we attribute to Reagan-like policies and bringing in certain political views and things like that, a lot of it started with Carter. And so, for example, in 1976, when he was running for president, he’s really known actually for what he I believe he said when he launched his campaign, which was to be contrary to Nixon, which is like, “I will never lie to you.” But there’s a lot of other interesting things that he says in that campaign. And so, you know, Carter actually race-baited during the 1976 election. So by the mid-seventies, there had actually been a big push on busing, particularly in northern cities, but also in places like Charlotte. And so Carter came out and spoke out against that and he was doing that during the 1976 primary and election to appeal to northern white ethnics and white southerners. And he carried a majority of white Southern men in 1976, in the election, in the general election. But a quote that he said was, “I see nothing wrong with ethnic purity being maintained. I would not force a racial integration of a neighborhood by government action.” And then a couple of days later, when he was criticized for it by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, he doubled down and he said, “What I say is that the government ought not to take as a major purpose the intrusion of alien groups into a neighborhood simply to establish their intrusion.”

BB: [00:22:14] And so that’s not really even coded language now. And Jesse Jackson got into a very public pissing match about that when it happened.

SP: [00:22:24] And, you know, a lot of when Reagan announced his presidential run and I believe 1979, he did it at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in Blanket on the town in Mississippi. But it’s near where the three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. A lot of coded language in there about states rights, blah, blah, blah. Et cetera. Carter. Carter predates that.

BB: [00:22:51] Carter also reached out to the evangelical community.

SP: [00:22:54] Philadelphia, Mississippi.

BB: [00:22:55] That’s where Carter also reached out to the evangelical religious community. And I believe met with Jerry Falwell and I think kind of got his blessing. Carter won a majority of evangelical votes. So today, when we talk about the horrors of these evangelicals and Trump, Carter started that.

SP: [00:23:11] Yeah, exactly. And the rise of the religious right didn’t start . . .  they joined the Republican, the Reagan coalition, the Reagan cold, the Reagan coalition, the Republican coalition in 1980. But they were actually part of the Carter Coalition in 1976 to get him elected and to beat Ford, who who was actually a bit of a liberal Republican. Just to be clear.

BB: [00:23:30] Yeah. You know, in retrospect, as you look back on these things, like I was saying the other day, like, you know, it might have been better for everybody if Mitt Romney had won in 2012 and a Ford. Yeah. I mean, you know, Jerry Ford, me kind of I, I roam around. But I remember and I’ve said this, I told you this story probably more times. You care to remember Jerry Ford? I believe it was his first press conference, either as president or right after the pardon. And they talked about the pardon. And then somebody said there was a bill, a public spending bill, small amount, $15 Billion or something like that. And there’s Jerry Ford about it. And he said, look, you know, we’re in an economic you know, we’re in a stagnant economy. The federal government has a responsibility and obligation to take care of people in times like this. I mean, can you imagine anybody, any Democrat from that point on Clinton or Gore or, you know, Biden’s actually saying that now, which is kind of why we’ve some of these shows we’ve talked about. We’re starting to see kind of some slight reversion back to these kind of corporate liberal ideas because the situation is so bad. But no, absolutely. Ford in retrospect, when you look back, yeah, we might have been better off if he’d beaten Jimmy Carter, given the nature of what’s happened since then.

SP: [00:24:40] Yeah, exactly. The other on the other domestic front that we wanted to touch on is around economic policy. And so Carter was very much a fiscal conservative, fiscal not physical, but fiscal conservative, probably a fiscal conservative as well. But we won’t go.

BB: [00:24:59] Oh, he did. He was he did give an interview to Playboy where he admitted to having lust in his heart for other women. So, yes, I guess he was I would make that make him a fiscal conservative, too. I remember Shirley MacLaine.

SP: [00:25:12] Maybe maybe in the Matt Gates context of the word.

BB: [00:25:15] I remember Shirley MacLaine saying it should really be a little lower than that.

SP: [00:25:18] So but Carter was a hardcore supply sider. And so when we’re talking about supply side economics, we’re talking about neoliberalism, we’re talking about a macro economic theory that effectively wants to foster lower taxes, decreasing regulation and free trade. Right? And so everything that we have organized against just since Seattle, the WTO protest in Seattle is essentially like supply side economics. And it’s the governing philosophy of Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama and Trump.

BB: [00:25:55] And Carter had a kind of sketchy relationship, sometimes antagonistic, with the union, with labor because of that supply side means you take care of supply and demand supply or the producers demand or the consumers. Right, Right. And basic Keynesian economics is basically demand side, which means the basis of Keynes idea is that you provide employment because employment gives people money and then they can become consumers. Supply side means you take care of the people at the top generally means you cut taxes. And then by doing that, you open that money for investment and you know, and that’ll trickle down, right? So the unions still wanted good union contracts and they wanted good wages and they still were kind of living in that Keynesian. Economy. And Carter is really the first person. He had really antagonistic relationships with a lot of a lot of especially left labor like the the mechanics, the machinist union at the time and a couple of others wanted Teddy Kennedy to run. Chappaquiddick had made that impossible. But the liberal wing of the Democratic Party wanted Teddy Kennedy to run, and so they never really warmed to Carter. And Carter didn’t warm to them.

SP: [00:27:04] No. And we talk about the dismantling of the New Deal, Even though all of these politicians run on an embrace of the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt like Carter and Reagan, and say that Reagan’s noted for saying that FDR was one of his heroes when he was a young man. But they’re actually the ones who began the dismantling of the regulatory systems that the New Deal policies had implemented. Reagan actually praised Carter in a column when one of the ways that Reagan, after he was governor of California, he had a radio show, which would probably be a podcast in 2021, and then and then a column. And he actually had a column called Give Carter a Chance, praising his fiscal conservatism.

BB: [00:27:45] But but Carter And worth noting, in the 1976 election, Carter had been way ahead like by 20 points and barely won, eked it out. But the Democrats that year had a veto proof Congress because of Watergate. They had two thirds of the Senate and the House. And I don’t know. That was I think FDR is the only other time that had happened. Right. So he had incredible political juice, much like Obama did in 2009. And he essentially went to war against the liberal wing of his own party.

SP: [00:28:22] Yeah. And. There were a number of things that he did that that pissed off the liberal wing of his party. Deregulation was actually a big one. There, there, there was moves around with the Interstate Commerce Commission. To deregulate trucking and railroads. There was deregulation move against the against Ma Bell the the phone companies. And then there was also a deregulation. There was deregulation moves around the oil sector as well.

BB: [00:29:00] And airlines.

SP: [00:29:02] And airlines as well in which.

BB: [00:29:04] 80 there were, I think, something like 29 domestic carriers and within like what, a decade and a half it was down to. When you were working in your old corporate life, what was there like five or six major carriers.

SP: [00:29:20] Something like.

BB: [00:29:20] That? Yeah.

SP: [00:29:22] But then we also had the rise of the low cost carriers. This is like, yeah, that meant mid to late nineties, which were.

BB: [00:29:27] Really challenging deregulated trucking, which meant which really hurt wages among truckers.

SP: [00:29:34] And put him at odds with the Teamsters.

BB: [00:29:36] With the Teamsters Union. Right. And the Teamsters, I think didn’t the Teamsters endorsed Reagan in 1980. Yes. They might have.

SP: [00:29:41] Yeah. Yeah, they did. One thing I won’t say about about the oil sector is. Is there were a couple of different schools of thought. Here is like Ted Kennedy, who was becoming the leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, was essentially advocating nationalization of the oil industry, where Reagan was calling for complete deregulation. And so Carter took a middle road. And we in prepping for this episode, Bob and I found a Bob found an article in misuse by some unknown academic who remember his name.

BB: [00:30:20] The Ludwig von Mises was one of the Austrian economists, you know, hardcore conservative libertarian, no regulation, no laws, basically. So the Mesa Institute is kind of as far out there as you can get.

SP: [00:30:34] Let’s take us back to fatalism.

BB: [00:30:36] Oh, yeah, yeah. These are this is Milton Friedman and Hijack and all those guys, right? The Austrians, right. They are the sworn mortal enemies of the Keynesians. Right. And yeah, I’m looking around and I find this article from some guy in the Thesis Institute newsletter praising Jimmy Carter.

SP: [00:30:53] The title of the article is Rethinking Carter, but there’s a great quote in it. Do you want to read that?

BB: [00:30:57] Yeah. Let’s see the last line here. And he basically praises him for all the reasons we just gave deregulation and limiting spending on infrastructure and things like that, like the infrastructure bill today. That was an issue in the late 1970s, spending on infrastructure. So you can imagine, like a lot of that stuff we’re talking about today hasn’t been touched bridges and roads and now we have Internet and things like that. The one line you had, Scott always prepare his notes for this. He does all the heavy lifting. But at the time Ma Bell, a copper wire could carry 15 calls. And today a single fiber optic line can carry 2 million calls. So that’s the kind of infrastructure we were talking about at the time. But the last line in this article in the von Mises, since the two newsletters, however, Carter actually made it easier for Reagan to take the actions he did if the Democrats wish to lionize one of their own as the creator of the new economy, they should be looking at Jimmy Carter, not Bill Clinton. And other than you and I and some lefty economists and historians, people like Noam Chomsky, I’ve never heard anybody say that. So we are on the same side as the Austrians on this one.

SP: [00:32:11] But I’ve aspired to that for a long time.

BB: [00:32:14] I know, right?

SP: [00:32:16] And and so it’s it’s really important, like thinking about this in terms of the Trilateral Commission, what they did, thinking about Carter’s conservative economic politics. There was also the other thing the other thing I want to talk about real just touch on really quick and Bob kind of touched on this is there’s there’s two the Democratic Party is very polarized in this moment. And so there’s a there’s a pretty strong. The liberal wing, which is led by Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, people like that. And they’re in deep conflict with this more conservative wing of the party, which is led by Carter. And so clearly, Carter had won the primaries. He had been able to win the election by making a pre Reagan coalition, Carter coalition. And this is a this is also a story that continues to play out today. You could see it as being more about the wing that’s led by Rahm Emanuel and Obama ites versus the Sanders AOC wing. Right. With Biden somewhere in the middle. And so it’s Ryan Grim, who’s a bureau chief, D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept, actually wrote a great book that came out just a couple of years ago called We’ve Got the People or We Got People, which is essentially at least a four is a 40 year history of this struggle. He starts also in 1980 about the struggle between the liberal left wing and and the conservatives, mainstream establishment Democrats. But just very important thing to kind of think about the context. You know, we could also look at the Republicans and we can see the the splits there as well. And that’s actually playing out very publicly right now. But the context of what happens with the Democrats and their political divisions is very important.

BB: [00:33:59] And what that does with Carter is it moves Carter and Reagan, move everybody to the right so that when we talk about centrist Democrats back in the early 1970s, those guys were like liberal Republicans. Right, Right, right. So Carter is really pivotal. And, you know, not that I’m a seer because a lot of people were saying this in in 2016. I said, no matter who wins, I think you’re looking at a Jimmy Carter presidency like a one term kind of really lackadaisical malaise. Who knew it would be so tumultuous? But the fact is, we were right. But Carter’s presidency is not looked on favorably. You know, he was at war with his own party. In fact, Teddy Kennedy ran in the primaries against him in 1980, which is really bad whenever you have a primary challenge, just like when Pat Buchanan, remember, ran fairly strongly against George Bush in 92, you kind of knew George Bush was done for.

SP: [00:34:58] Or when Sanders ran pretty strongly against Hillary in 2016.

BB: [00:35:04] Carter defeated Kennedy because he had the mechanism of the party behind him. But by that time, you had just the country, you know, you had these energy problems. And he was advocating kind of this, you know, he’d do these he did these fireside chats, remember, and he talked about malaise and all that, like a lot of lefties liked him because he was friends with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. You know, he let Willie Nelson smoke weed at the White House and he would quote Dylan all the time. Right. But the reality was that the country wasn’t doing well. And then the big bond came, I think, with regard to and we can do this as a segue into the foreign policy stuff, which is what my article was actually about. The big bomb was Iran. It occurred in the Middle East. Iran had become America’s along with Israel and Saudi to some extent, but even more Iran. And we talked about this for a few weeks without really great show we did with Iskandar Shah, and we have to do another show on Iran because things aren’t getting different there. Obviously, you just had this hack by Israel. Israel is trying to muck up any opportunity to create and it’s not like Biden is eager to do it anyway. But Israel’s really mucking up every every chance to kind of create any kind of stability in that region. But I. The there was you have the revolution in Iran, the Islamic revolution with Khomeini. Prior to that, under the Nixon in the Nixon years. The US had established Iran as kind of a client state, a client state, but kind of a protector in the Middle East.

BB: [00:36:40] The United States. There are a couple to school. I’m being professor here. Forgive me. There are kind of a couple of schools of thought on the US role in the Middle East and especially with regard to Israel. So a lot of people say, well, the United States supports Israel because of domestic politics, right? A pack and the vote and all that. But then you have another school and Chomsky is part of that. And I think he’s right. And I’ve seen documents from Nixon which says that the United States supports Israel because Israel does America’s dirty work in the region. It’s like the cop, it’s their. Derek Chauvin Israel is America’s. Derek Chauvin Well, so was Iran. And between 1973 and 1978, Iran received $19 billion in weapons from the United States. The Shah of Iran was as reliable an ally in the region as you could get, really vicious, you know, brutal regime. And then you had this domestic opposition to to the shah emerge, the mujahideen, which is basically a word that means freedom fighter. The Mujahideen included a lot of young people who were influenced by the not just pan-Arabism like the Nasser type, but by Marx and communism. Remember, the seventies is a time where there’s a global left, right, you might say, doing before that and you had Fidel and Ho, the Vietnamese Revolution, the Cuban revolution, Mandela, the national. The you know, I’m talking about the ANC.

SP: [00:38:01] The African National Congress.

BB: [00:38:04] You know, there are these leftist movements all over. And we’ll talk about some of them because as President Carter’s move is to defeat those movements. So Iran is blowing up and Carter size with the shah. The Shah was diagnosed with cancer. He let him come into the United States for treatment at Johns Hopkins. And I forget who it was. It was I mean, Kissinger who wasn’t in his cabinet. Kissinger pressured him, but it may have been Cyrus Vance. It doesn’t matter. One of his cabinet members says, you know, if you side with the shore and let him in the country, you know, you realize what this is going to do inside Iran. And I’m not sure so but but I’m going to say it anyway, because it’s a great story. One of them I almost remember somebody saying, what are you going to do when they take the embassy? You know, So they were aware that America’s relationship with the Shah was toxic and it was going to lead to an upheaval in Iran. And it did. And so in the aftermath of the United States supporting the Shah, the shah leaves there’s a kind of a mini uprising. There’s a new government in Iran, I believe, led by guts by day. And then Khomeini returns from exile in Paris, and you have the creation of that first Islamic republic.

BB: [00:39:20] With that comes the second of the so called oil shocks of the 1970s. The first was in 1973 with the Arab-Israeli war, and then in 1979 you had the second. So there’s this Arab oil embargo. Inflation blows up. This would also leave we didn’t talk about it in the first place. This also led to the the appointment of Paul Volcker to head the Federal Reserve. And Volcker was a hard core hawk on inflation, which, you know, inflation for poor people isn’t a bad thing. Know, if inflation is done right, wages are raised and your debts are actually cost less because money isn’t worth as much. So for for people inflation, it’s not that bad, which is, I think, the basis of of a lot of these people. I’m not an advocate of that just to make it clear. So the the oil shocks and then the takeover of the American embassy sealed Carter’s fate. He appeared weak. He decided to stay in the Rose Garden and not leave. He was kind of a hostage. That was the word that was used, a hostage of the Rose Garden. He attempted against the advice of Cyrus Vance, who was a secretary of state. He attempted a rescue mission in the desert.

SP: [00:40:31] National Security Advisor.

BB: [00:40:32] Not security advisor. I’m sorry. Secretary of State was. No, no, it was Vance Brzezinski was.

SP: [00:40:37] I got him mixed up.

BB: [00:40:38] Yeah. Attempted a rescue mission in the desert, which was a disaster. Everybody, the helicopters went down. Everybody died. Vance resigned in protest against it, so Carter was just in dismal shape. So the election was still close, but it ended up. It was just a disaster. Carter lost heavily and then a bunch of establishment liberal Democrats, McGovern laws, Frank Church laws. I think Gaylord Nelson lost. Really? Didn’t they lose 11 Senate seats?

SP: [00:41:09] Yeah. Mike Gravel.

BB: [00:41:11] Great. In my brilliant predictions, I was saying that this the last year’s election could be like that for the Republicans. I was predicting like this massive Republican defeat.

SP: [00:41:20] So but then although we were we were betting on the Democrats, which is probably.

BB: [00:41:24] When you’re like I said, when you’re playing the Washington generals. Yeah. You’re never out of the game. Right. We’re seeing that right now. Every, you know, going back to the very beginning when we talked about Derek Chauvin, there was a poll today, over 60% of Americans are saying the police are racist and they need to be scrutinized more heavily on every major. I mean, Biden is 59 to 38 in the latest Pew poll. Right. Those are numbers Trump never, never hit 50%. So the Democratic Party has big majorities on like what is it, two thirds of Americans say, yeah, tax everybody over 400 million. 400,000, right. This is this is the democratic.

SP: [00:42:00] And corporations.

BB: [00:42:01] And corporations. Yeah. These are they’re the Washington generals of politics. And that was clearly the case then. And in 1980, it was just a they got destroyed. And that’s kind of a segue, unless you have something else. We could talk about Carter’s foreign policy, which is that’s the basis of the article I wrote last November. Jimmy Carter’s a liberal saying I was a war criminal then. And it’s my field. It’s the area I study more closely, although I kind of anything after any any aspect of American politics, especially in the 20th century and onward. I think Scott and I that’s our wheelhouse. Liberalism, political economy, things like that. We are I think I think people say we’re the best political podcast ever as well.

SP: [00:42:41] So I’m pretty you’ve definitely made it into the top 10% of all podcast, right? Right. Or at least in the top 10%.

BB: [00:42:47] Watch out, Watch out, Chop. We’re coming for you. We are coming for Chapo, man. And we’re much more interesting.

SP: [00:42:53] We’re much more interesting.

BB: [00:42:55] Donate. That’s right, man. This is our stop, Chapo. Campaign. Right. Or don’t.

SP: [00:42:59] Anti hipsters.

BB: [00:43:00] The anti hipsters campaign. We are too old to be hipsters, right? But well, I am you.

SP: [00:43:07] We’re more like hipsters, not hipsters.

BB: [00:43:08] Hipsters. In honor of our executive producer and the champion of the working class are our friend Hep, who we’re going to have to have on a show at some point again, Anyway, I don’t want to go into great detail on this, but Carter’s foreign policy fit within that new, reinvigorated Cold War framework. Remember, Richard Nixon went to China, right? Nixon, who had been like a hardcore cold warrior, came, you know, became a senator based on his attachment to McCarthyism and all that kind of rhetoric When he ended the Vietnam War, for what it was worth, blew the hell out of Cambodia, Laos, in Vietnam. But he but he also entered the war. He created that detente. Right. You know, to to to create these relationships with with both the Soviet Union and China in order to kind of break there never was that communist bloc. But he break out. He also used it against Vietnam. And then, you know, he had actually come to an agreement with the Soviet Union on nuclear weapons, the Strategic Arms Limitation talks, and then was in negotiations for another even more rigorous cutback on nuclear weapons. Salt, too. And salt, too, was in the works when Watergate happened. And then Ford picked it up. And that’s when if we ever do issue on the Committee for the Present Danger, we can talk about their role in scuttling salt to basically American military contractors, defense intellectuals, People in the military were were afraid that if you start reducing nuclear weapons, you’re not going to have as much business.

BB: [00:44:45] Right. One of the things that Nixon did after Vietnam, because defense spending went down so dramatically, was really pump up arms sales, which is why, like Iran got, you know, $19 Billion in Weapons in just the four or five year period. So Jimmy Carter became President Carter even before Reagan. We usually talk about Reagan in the new Cold War. It actually is before that. So Jimmy Carter is to the right of the previous administration. And in fact, during one of the debates in 1976, Carter debated Gerald Ford. And this is like one of the big moments that Ford was considered to have blown it. They were talking about Eastern Europe. And Gerald Ford said during a debate, Carter said that this administration, he was attacking Ford from the right, which is what Kennedy did to Nixon in 1960 on Cuba, Jimmy Carter said that Nixon Ford administration has been soft on communism, right? They have allowed the Soviet Union to dominate Poland and Czechoslovakia and all these countries. Jerry Ford, in response said, I don’t think you can say that the countries of Eastern Europe are dominated by the Soviet Union. In fact, he’s right. I mean, they’re clearly under the there was more autonomy and more flexibility in those Eastern European regimes than than the US media portrayed. Right. It was more than just a boot that was there. But Brezhnev wasn’t Stalin and the.

SP: [00:46:09] Us and more that’s taught in public schools.

BB: [00:46:12] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So. So Ford really wasn’t that far off. Carter pounced on that, and that was really big because Ford like that was like a really body blow to Gerald Ford. So Carter scored mega points by attacking Ford from the right and being this anti so Carter staking out a position far to the right of Nixon. So just let that sink in for a minute. Justice Kennedy did in 1960 on things like.

SP: [00:46:38] Cuba and and and the Republicans after Carter never. Maybe arguably in more recent times, never let the Democrats get to the right of them again on such things.

BB: [00:46:50] Yeah, although they tried.

SP: [00:46:51] Yeah, they tried.

BB: [00:46:54] Yeah. And I think that’s the one weird thing about Trump, right? You have all these these liberals now who have become big advocates of Naito and they hate Russia and they hate China. And, you know, Russia and China are clearly autocratic. I mean, China’s I think China is actually a fascist state. People have to throw that word around. China is far more fascist than anything you’ll you’ve seen in the US with the way that corporations are run in the States, run and all that kind of stuff. At any rate, so Carter did that. Now let’s just give some examples of that and we can just do it. And if you’re interested, you can go read the whole article that afflict the comfortable dot org and just do a search. That’s what we’re.

SP: [00:47:31] Going to put it in the show notes as.

BB: [00:47:32] Well. Put on this one, too. All right. So you want to just kind of go by the order in which it’s structured there. We can start with like Indonesia, and I assume you have it opened or, you know. Um.

SP: [00:47:44] Why don’t you. Why don’t you start? Okay.

BB: [00:47:47] And I just did it based on kind of some of the key elements of of Carter’s foreign policy. I did not include Iran because that’s kind of what and I didn’t really clue to Israel because it’s only after he became president, it became so critical of Israel, which I think he should be absolutely lauded for. It’s really remarkable to use the word apartheid in a title of a book about Israel is is really, really something for for somebody who had been president of the United States. You’re not going to hear that very often. I mean, look at AOC. The way she stumbles and jibber jabber is when they ask her about Israel. Right. So I want to start with Indonesia and East Timor, which we’ve talked about before, and we’re going have a show on that coming forward. I’m reading this amazing book right now called Buried Histories about the Indonesian massacres in the Sixties. So Americans know a bit about that. When we interviewed Clinton Fernandez about Noam for for our Chomsky birthday spectacle, which is done quite well, by the way, he talked a lot about Indonesian Timor because Clinton is an advocate and a scholar in Australia who studies this very closely. There’s this idea that the US looked away in Indonesia while they slaughtered people in East Timor. Tens of thousands. That’s true. It’s true. And Jimmy Carter was a big part of that.

BB: [00:49:01] Timor was an ex Portuguese colony that Indonesia wanted to annex. You know, Timor wanted independence. The Carter administration supported, supported and provided heavy aid, military, financial and diplomatic to Jakarta. So that kind of whole Jakarta method thing that all these people and the stuff we’re going to talk about, the book I’m reading is actually better than the Jakarta method. It’s called Buried History by John Russo. But Carter was a big advocate and an important piece in that what we would call the Jakarta method today. Indonesian troops in East Timor were armed roughly 90% with our equipment. One Department of State report acknowledged. So the Indonesians were killing the Timorese with American made weapons, which is unfortunately going to be kind of one of the themes of of the Carter years as the Indonesian were running out of military material. Carter authorized additional arms sales of $112 million just in 1978. And since Walter Mondale was the kind of genesis of this set Mondale to Jakarta to announce these new arms sales and continued to deny throughout that the situation in East Timor was dangerous. So Carter had a huge role to play in the slaughter and the massacre and the denial of sovereignty to East Timor, and that led to a bloodbath that would continue. Until when did the Timorese get independence?

SP: [00:50:40] I can’t remember in 2000.

BB: [00:50:42] Yeah, I’ve written about it too. I have a piece, another piece on my blog about that. It was on December 7th, 1975, I think was the invasion. Right? And so Carter was president during most of that time.

SP: [00:50:54] So. So the occupation lasts 25 ish years.

BB: [00:50:57] Yeah, yeah, yeah. And the US support throughout US supported it through it.

SP: [00:51:00] Was in 99. It was 99 when. Yeah, I think so. It finally got in.

BB: [00:51:03] And there were massacres and these were all heavily subsidized by, by Washington DC, by Jimmy Carter and by Bill Clinton. You know, if you want to talk about Democrats, Clinton Clinton was on board just just as well. Angola.

SP: [00:51:19] Oh, yeah. I was going to take that one.

BB: [00:51:21] Oh, go ahead. Yeah. Just as I was going to I was throwing it to you, actually.

SP: [00:51:25] So sorry. Missed our cues there.

BB: [00:51:27] But I didn’t know we had any.

Speaker1: [00:51:29] Yeah.

SP: [00:51:32] Yeah. Southwest Africa, Angola and South Africa. Carter continued US policy and supporting the apartheid regime in South Africa. There had been a marxist government had taken over in Angola and there was actually a. A reactionary rebel front called UNITA, which was led by a pretty notable figure named Jonas of NB and who basically wage war from South Africa against the Marxist government, Angola. Kind of going back to the Nixon Kissinger triangulation is the US actually works with makes a deal with the Chinese send 800 tons of military equipment to support UNITA but lots of battles that included air attacks, raids on refugee camps, a massacre at Kaziranga in 1978 in which US backed forces killed 800 people. I also want to note that the Internet there was the sort of triangulation going on here is that the Marxist governments actually backed by the Soviet Union, and that is where they get a lot of their supplies. And it also included an international brigade of international fighters which were Cuban who actually went and fought. You need to with the Marxist government for many years. And we’re going to talk a little bit about Cuba as well by the end of this episode.

BB: [00:52:56] Yeah, and Cuba, we need to do another show there because in the 1970s especially and I talked I was talking about this recently because Raul Castro stepped down. So there’s not a Castro now in official position in the Communist Party or in the government of Cuba. The Cubans were part of that solidarity that they called a tri continental. You know, the US had the Trilateral Commission for the four for the left that was tri continental ism. And the Cubans were really active in Angola. They were vital to the liberation. Angola finally did gain its independence, and Cuban troops played a huge role in that. The famous battle of Carnival. And I’ve written about that. There’s actually I have a blog on that just you can do a search on or we can put it in the show notes or you can do a search on it. But and the important piece to this, which I can’t stress enough, because we’re going to talk about it in a second with our next the next thing we talk about is the United States is working with China. Right. Mao died, I think, in 1975. So Deng Xiaoping took over and began this. Mao would have called him a capitalist roader. Right. And also kind of reoriented China’s foreign policy. So the United States and the Chinese were working very closely now, and they were on the same side. Savimbi had once been a maoist. Savimbi was a brutal terrorist thug. Right. The US is supporting him, as is China.

BB: [00:54:29] And the United States and China are coordinating support to essentially the South Africa. I mean, the US and China were both supporting this apartheid regime in southern Africa, not just in South Africa itself, but also in in Angola and Namibia and throughout the southern part of the continent. So Jimmy Carter, who’s obviously has these great ideas about race and everything else, was defending very I mean, more than defending arming the apartheid regimes in in those places. Right. Which is what? And that’s the point. Carter is a great guy, but this is what American presidents do, right? I mean, if Carter had said, you know, we’re going to support the the MPLA, we’re going to support the Marxist, we’re never you know, he would have been like they would have invoked the 25th Amendment on him. You know, you can you can incite a riot and get away with it. Right. They’re getting away. They’ve gotten away with it. Right. But if you were to do that, people would think you’re robots or so as my people would say. All right. Speaking of China, that leads to the area that I actually know best, which is Vietnam. And Vietnam War was over right by the time Jimmy Carter became president. But that did not mean that America’s relationships or American policies with that region, Indochina, were not important. In fact, in one of Carter’s first press conferences in 1977, somebody asked him if the United States should make reparations to Vietnam, if the United States should do something to help Vietnam because of all the intense and immense destruction.

BB: [00:56:17] Vietnam was is about the size of New Mexico and had how many million tons of bombs dropped on it, 15 million refugees just devastated. And Carter said no. And his his reasoning is, to me, chilling. He said the destruction was mutual, the destruction. That’s how Jimmy Carter looked at the Vietnam War. The destruction was mutual. The US invaded Vietnam. The US killed 2 to 3 million Vietnamese. The United States. I mean, to this day in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, over 10,000 people a year die still from unexploded bombs from that war. And for Jimmy Carter, the United States owed the Vietnamese nothing because the destruction was mutual, which is utterly chilling. I think he continued to go after the new government. The Viet Nam was renamed the RV, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. And remember 1975 next door. There had been a revolution. There have been revolutions in all three of the countries of Indochina, Laos, Cambodia, Kampuchea and Vietnam at the same time. And they all came to power in late April 1975, literally within a week or ten days of each other. And the most brutal regime was in Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge. And you’ve been there so you can speak to it. And those pictures are utterly chilling, right? The Killing Fields. So the Khmer Rouge have this bizarre sense of communism led by Pol Pot, and.

SP: [00:57:44] They’re a maoist sect as well.

BB: [00:57:46] Yeah. And they I mean, just went on. I mean, I forget what the what was the overall population of Cambodia? Like six or 7 million or something like that. It wasn’t that big. And they killed perhaps a million people. Right. Just these like if you wore glasses, you were considered western. If you spoke French, you were considered Western. So they wanted to eliminate that. They were. I’ve met several years ago. Somebody was going through Houston and I met this this this older guy who was a musician. And when he was like ten years old, the Khmer Rouge killed his parents and gave him a gun. And he had to fight in the Khmer Rouge army right now. And remember, this comes on the heels of the American air war against Cambodia, which was highly destructive, too, which really laid the groundwork. The Khmer Rouge was kind of a splinter, not really that important until the United States started bombing the shit out of Cambodia and then really propelled the Khmer Rouge into power. So they’ve had these twin horrors as bad as anything really, in the 20th century. When you consider how small Cambodia was, the US attacks and then the Khmer Rouge. Right? And Carter and so the Vietnamese and you know, you can say, well, they did it. There are different. They’re different. They’ve never been the same type of communist. Right. The Vietnamese and the Cambodians right there. There had been tension there when Ho Chi Minh was still alive. So it was the Vietnamese who intervened to get rid of Pol Pot on the Khmer Rouge. Right. And it doesn’t, you know, to me, like the the motivation, whatever, if you want to use the phrase humanitarian intervention there, it’s that’s an Orwellian term. But if you’re going to use it, this is where you use it, because they did end the genocides.

SP: [00:59:34] The killing, the killing fields.

BB: [00:59:35] The killing fields in Cambodia. And what did Carter do? Carter talked to China. And and I’ve written an article about this, and we can put that in the notes, too, with in some detail about the United States and China in the late seventies. Carter in China in the late seventies because there’s documents on it now and and in January of 1979, less than a year after the Vietnamese had intervened to get rid of the Khmer Rouge, Carter was talking to Deng Xiaoping again and expressed his desire to punish Vietnam, to reduce aid to Hanoi as long as the Vietnamese are the invaders. Right. So he wants to set up a pretext. His his thing is Vietnam has invaded Cambodia. Right? But it got rid of this murderous regime that was destroying killing hundreds of thousand people. But but in Carter’s world, they’re the invaders. He’s talking to China. China and Vietnam have long been adversaries. Even though China supported Vietnam during the war, Carter increased military aid to Thailand to a group called ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and he got them all to unite against the government in Hanoi and warned the Soviet Union that if they continue to support Hanoi, that that would harm relations with the United States.

BB: [01:00:57] Carter is going full on Imperial Hawke here. I mean, this is war criminal stuff here. You’re supporting the Khmer Rouge. And then remember, when Reagan became president, Jeane Kirkpatrick went to the UN to defend the Khmer Rouge seat, saying the Khmer Rouge should hold this seat at the United Nations, not the the the government put into place by the the Vietnamese. Deng Xiaoping agreed and said some punishment in a short period of time. We’ll put a restraint on Vietnamese ambitions. The United States and the Chinese are trying to restrain Vietnam. This country has just been devastated by war, can’t get international lending. The United States. Nixon had a secret cortisol to give to the Vietnamese, I think two and one half billion dollars in reparations, which he said, Well, I’m not going to give it to him because they still have POWs, which is an utter lie. There are no POWs and MIAs that those flags are based on an utter lie there. Every public building in the United States.

SP: [01:01:54] It’s you know, it’s flies over the post office in Berkeley, California, today.

BB: [01:01:59] Yeah.

SP: [01:02:00] And that’s a propaganda campaign, a myth.

BB: [01:02:03] There’s a good book on that by Bruce Franklin, an outstanding scholar called MIA or Myth Making in America. And that’s from like Rambo and all those. Movies and all that stuff.

SP: [01:02:12] And Ross Perot.

BB: [01:02:13] Yeah. So Carter said that he understood that China wanted to get rid of Vietnam and invade, but he said an invasion of Vietnam would be very serious, serious, destabilizing force. Deng Xiaoping said, We have noted what you said to us, that you want us to be restrained. It is not that we did not consider this. We intend a limited action. Our troops will quickly withdraw. We’ll deal with it like a border incident. That’s not cryptic. Deng Xiaoping is telling Jimmy Carter that the Chinese are going to invade Vietnam. Carter doesn’t say anything. All right. That’s a green light. And in February of 1979, I don’t know how many people know this. This is like really important stuff that more people need to know. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops in February of 1979 attacked along the Vietnamese border and invaded Vietnam. The incursion only lasted about a month because the Vietnamese basically kicked their ass. Don’t mess with Vietnam, right? It was costly. The Chinese had about 25,000 or more killed. The Vietnamese probably more than that. Financially, however, the toll was great. And this is the when you talk about Vietnam after the war, the financial burden, it’s not just of not getting international lending, but of occupying Cambodia in a fight against the Vietnamese was really immense. And I mean, there’s a great deal of criticism that the Vietnamese government from Van Dong and others deserved. They they mishandled winning very badly. And Gabriel Kolko has written a great book about this called Anatomy of a Peace. But the burden of fighting against China after the intervention was was was huge. And Carter was a huge part. The main force behind that. Carter greenlit the attack on Vietnam because of the intervention, the humanitarian intervention in Cambodia, and and then worked with the Chinese to physically invade Vietnam. And and the Vietnamese economy never really recovered from that until it started this kind of heavy duty capitalist demos, which was kind of like what Gorbachev’s Gorbachev was.

SP: [01:04:31] Was perestroika is the Vietnamese perestroika.

BB: [01:04:33] It’s a market oriented thing. So they basically abandoned socialism. They abandoned the people who had won the war, the labor and the veterans and things like that. So it’s it’s a it’s a sad story. Like all around.

SP: [01:04:46] Doi is in perestroika, essentially.

BB: [01:04:50] Pretty much the.

SP: [01:04:50] Same thing. Deregulation, neoliberalism.

BB: [01:04:53] Yeah. Now the the I think the last thing on this or no, the next last and I can point to the flag behind me which I’ve had up there for a while now. A friend of mine brought this back in 1984. To Managua. And it’s a flag of for the Sandinista government there, the Fsln, which they’re in power today, but they’re a lot different. And let’s just leave it at that than they were then. But the Fsln came to power against Jimmy Carter’s wishes, did it not?

SP: [01:05:25] Oh, yeah, absolutely. One real quick thing I want to just kind of point back to is when we began the episode, we talked about the Trilateral Commission and we talked about these global frameworks that spans Western Europe, North America and Japan. And so these machinations were the Carter administration is is doing grand strategic moves with the Chinese and Southwest Africa or Vietnam or Cambodia and a number of other places. Is is that’s part of the plan. And the the thought that what’s coming from the liberal internationalist wing of the global elite, which is the represented in the Trilateral Commission, is like that’s what’s happening here is like we don’t commit US troops per se to South West Africa or Vietnam. We are supporting people who we perceive as our friend under these certain circumstances. And I actually think it’s a Chinese army from Sun Tzu is like the enemy of my enemy is my friend, which is essentially part I mean, that’s a real simple way of kind of talking about why the US developed relations with the Chinese.

BB: [01:06:34] And let me let me just throw one thing in there, too, because when the Trilateral Commission was established, it was really about Japan. In Asia, no one foresaw what would happen after Mao died. So, you know, the the entreaties and the cooperation between the United States and Beijing was was insane. Like that was unbelievable. And that was a huge bonus for these people who had kind of created this idea. You know, like the the Trilateral Commission is like the Council on Foreign Relations or something like that. It’s these guys and, you know, no. One in 1973, no one could have said, oh, you know, six years from now we’re going to be cooperating with China to to support apartheid and and attack Vietnam. Right.

SP: [01:07:20] A genocide in Cambodia and genocide can’t.

BB: [01:07:23] Right. Right. So this is I mean, if you want to kind of I don’t like giving moral evaluations of foreign policy because I just don’t see any point to it. But these are evil motherfuckers. They really are.

SP: [01:07:35] So, yeah. And so the next little theatre of operations, I guess we could say, is is going to be in the US’s own backyard, which is Nicaragua. And we had a recent episode with Professor Phil Berriman, former priest, talking about his experience as both a priest and Central America in the seventies and then as an activist with the American Friends Service Committee. But we, you know. Not enough Reagan gets. Reagan is very attached to the bloody wars in Central America in the eighties. And frankly, I think Bob and I would both agree that not enough people talk about that. But then Carter also talking about how the Carter administration policies were a prelude to what Reagan did is like. Carter was also. A player in what happened in Nicaragua. And while the Contra War and US destruction in Nicaragua, in other parts of Central America is mostly a product of the Reagan administration, Carter sets the stage for that for later in the summer of 1979, when when the Sandinista revolution made its final push to take over Managua and depose the dictator Somoza, they were actually part of a large popular front group, which was a whole bunch of different components.

SP: [01:08:59] The Carter administration, which actually supported throwing out Somoza because he was such a brutal dictator, basically didn’t like that it was being led by Soviet backed communists, the Sandinistas, and. Pushed for moderate positions, actually led to led to kind of splitting them up, up splitting up of that coalition, which was created a whole lot of problems. And. Basically when the the Sandinistas front the Fsln, they’re on Bob’s wall. You can see if you’re watching this on YouTube. Took over in July of of 1979 and they began receiving aid from other socialist states, most notably the Soviet Union. Carter authorized the CIA to begin to support resistance forces in Nicaragua, which is the the genesis of the Contra war. And so. There’s a lot of popular media and most notably in the film Salvador Bye bye Oliver Stone that Carter Actually the Carter administration was doing the right thing. In many ways, because before the before the Reagan people came in. But Carter is actually very responsible for a lot of the bloodshed that happened in Central America during the eighties as well.

BB: [01:10:18] When I tell liberals that Carter created the Contras, they just they’re an utter like they get angry. I it’s like I can show you document I have I’ve shown the documents you know and it doesn’t matter. One thing I want to say, though, because we also did the show about the nuns, remember, in December, to Carter’s credit, he’s the first person who kind of established human rights as as an issue in American foreign policy, actually created an assistant secretary of state for human rights, Pat Darian. And when we talked about El Salvador, like Robert White was really outspoken about the regime there and the death squads and Doby song and things like that. So Carter did have that in him. And like in Argentina, he played a role in ending the the dirty war there, you know, and the disappeared And in Argentina they speak very well of him. So I don’t want to again you know, like he’s he’s not like individually in his heart. I’m sure he’s a great guy. He’s kind and caring and he’s certainly done amazing things since he’s left the White House. But he was an American president, you know, and and and that’s and all of that that that entails. So the last things we’re going to do because this has gone on. But it’s good stuff. It’s really good stuff are kind of two of his longest lasting legacies which are Iraq and Afghanistan. And we can just have a kind of conversation on this. When I teach toward the end of the semester, usually the last semester, I do a really long, long background or on the United States in the Middle East as kind of a prelude to why 911 happened. Kind of I set it up that way.

SP: [01:11:52] And we had an episode on that as.

BB: [01:11:53] Well. Oh yeah, that’s right. 4911. Yeah, we did. Which we can we can have an encore next year on 901. And when I talk about Iraq and Afghanistan, the students, this is the one time one. But this is clearly one of the times during the semester where they’re like jolted, right? Because, you know, Iraq and Afghanistan, the way we look at them now, Iraq, I’m not sure how much is there. The United States had supported the Baathists. You know, they helped them overthrow the government in 1963. They had kind of a tenuous relationship with them. For a time, Henry Kissinger was sending money to the Kurds to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but then realized that that wasn’t going to happen. So we withdrew aid. And I basically tell the story because it’s one of my favorite Kissinger quotes when they asked him why he was no longer supporting the Kurds, he said covert operations is not the missionary work. And then Saddam went in in gas.

SP: [01:12:50] Is that like a Kissinger impression you’re trying to do there?

BB: [01:12:53] Yeah, it wasn’t it was that wasn’t it obvious?

SP: [01:12:55] It was a little subtle.

BB: [01:12:56] Okay. I’m not I’m not a ventral. I can talk. I can give you. If it was an Italian accent, I could have done it a lot better. But he also said that what was it then? Chile as a dagger aimed at them, aren’t they? Right. We are not. We are not going to let Chile go socialize due to the stupidity of its own voters. And this guy was dating Jill Saint John. I don’t get it, you know, Anyway, in Iraq. The Islamic revolution in Iran made Iraq a lot more important, and Iraq and Iran had all kinds of disputes over the shot Arab waterway and borders and different types of Islam and stuff like that anyway. There is no documentary evidence of it, but there’s like a lot of heavy duty innuendo and speculation and stories that in 1980, Carter’s people talked to Saddam Hussein and essentially green lit his attack on Iran. Remember, 1980, a brutal, long, bloody war between Iraq and Iran began. And the United States, which would in the 1990s call Saddam Hussein the new Hitler and talk about WMDs and all the horrible things he was going to do in the 19 in 1980 when Jimmy Carter was still president. Iraq, with heavy American support, invade Iran. And throughout that eight or nine years of war got like $40 billion of of aid from the United States. So this green light, the US green lit, the war is still kind of speculative, but it is clear that the Reagan program to support Baghdad did not emerge just out of nowhere. Right. So there’s that. And then Afghanistan, I think, is the big one where Carter’s Cold War talents really came out. Do you want to. Talk about that.

SP: [01:15:00] Yeah, just that, you know, Carter took a. Well, just to back up, I mean, and this is what we talk about in the episode of around 9/11 is that there was had been a Soviet intervention after a. A marxist government was established. And so and and there was internal dispute over that between the what we later would call the Mujahideen and the new Marxist government. So the Soviets actually staged an intervention. The right people on the right in the US would call it an invasion, but it was like an intervention supporting the government.

BB: [01:15:40] And so just let me say one thing. And when that happened in the pages of the New York Times, George Frost Cannon wrote an op ed saying, This is none of America’s business. This is part of the Soviet Union sphere. The government they overthrew is actually far more extreme and far more right wing than the government they put into power. And Kennan said, stay the hell out.

SP: [01:16:04] So. Right. And going against the ruling class in which he had been a part of and had supported for decades before that or. Decades for decades. And so what happens is that Carter takes a harder line there. Right. And so he he begins funding the Mujahideen, kind of like the way he began funding the Contras around Nicaragua. But then he also on the international stage of what I would call the public relations stage or how things are perceived. You know, Carter boycotts the 1980 Olympics, which were scheduled to happen in Moscow. He dramatically increased military spending in 1984, the 1980 1981 budget, which becomes another prologue for the for the for the Reagan administration of of increased military budgets. And then, like I said, they they began they support in a really strong way. Uh. The mujahedeen, which is the resistance against the Soviet intervention and the Marxist government in Kabul, and one of the sort of main groups of people they begin to to recruit for this are the hard line Islamic fundamentalists, which Reagan continues. This probably puts even more money into. It leads to the rise of al Qaeda, for example, which are foreign foreign fighters who are from other parts of the Middle East, who come most notably Osama bin Laden. And then the only the only other thing I’ll say is that Brzezinski actually went to the Pakistan Afghan border. This is his national security advisor and told the mujahideen fighters that God is on their side and that.

BB: [01:17:54] We should have cued that up. And although we played it in the 911 and we’ll put that into. Yeah, that’s an amazing video.

SP: [01:18:02] Oh.

BB: [01:18:04] Go ahead. Sorry. Go ahead.

SP: [01:18:05] The only other thing I’ll say is that this is what led to both the creation of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

BB: [01:18:09] Which are so our.

SP: [01:18:11] Mortal enemies of the US.

BB: [01:18:13] That’s that’s like the United States supported Saddam Hussein. Well, it created the Contras. Carter supported Saddam Hussein in 1980 and then later turned on him. Right. And then helped create. And Carter, this is Jimmy Carter helped create al Qaeda and Taliban. The the Brzezinski video is really striking. He lands in a helicopter. He’s on the near the, I think, Kashmir. Right. And then he he’s talking to these fundamentalist Muslims. And he said that that’s your country. Those are your mosques. You will return there because God is on your side. So when the United States says fundamentalist Islam is our enemy and it’s a clash of civilizations, and speaking of clash of civilizations, another person who’s really important in the Trilateral Commission was Sam Huntington. And if you don’t know who Sam Huntington is, you should. He was one of the hardcore like people like Kissinger and Brzezinski, you know, became political appointees. And they held positions Huntington didn’t. But they all came out of academia, academics, Right. Harvard, especially Huntington was called Mad Dog Sam. He’s the guy who believed that you should, like, go in and just destroy urban areas in Vietnam to get rid of the Vietcong. So it’s he’s a bad guy, too, so.

SP: [01:19:24] Harvard professor.

BB: [01:19:25] Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, this idea that it’s a class of civilizations or that Muslims are the enemies, it’s insane, because that’s who the United States was funding in, in, in. That’s what Jimmy Carter was funding against, you know, And now he is a big supporter of Palestinian rights and so on. But, you know, the overall point, I think, is is well made. Now, I think you wanted to also finish by talking a little bit about the Marriott. Was it married the Marriott ethos in Cuba or.

SP: [01:19:54] The last thing I’ll say and this is sort of bridges, bridges, domestic and foreign policy is that in Cuba in 1980, there was a an insurrection around a lot of Cubans who wanted to flee Cuba for whatever reasons they had. They’re related to people who had already fled Cuba. You know, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of politics and a lot of propaganda around Cuba and Castro and being, you know, under an under a socialist government. And so this insurrection starts and it leads to this sort of like noted episode called the Mary Alito Boatlift, where tens of thousands of Cubans were. Castro opened up the gates and said, if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to stay.

BB: [01:20:41] He kind of called their bluff.

SP: [01:20:43] Yeah, Yeah. Hundreds, hundreds of hundreds of boats left South Florida in a very unsanctioned sort of way by the US government and began bringing in Cubans, Cubans back by the many, many full boats. And there were boats that were not really shouldn’t have made that trip. And some sank and people died and things like that. Castro also, it’s noted he he also opened up the prisons and sent people who had been in prison. He sent political dissidents. He opened up the mental institutions and just kind of like let all those folks to go in. And the Carter administration, where we’ve talked about most of these episodes, have been, you know, intentional, intentional policy to try and undermine Marxist governments, etc.. Carter wasn’t actually didn’t do that as effectively against Castro. And Castro actually played the game a little better than he did. And so the Mia Alito boatlift, which was like one of many exodus of Cubans fleeing, fleeing the socialists in Castro, mostly because they were his political enemies. It also creates this state of disarray in Florida, but also other parts of the US. And it’s one of the it was another undermining factor, much like Iran, another undermining factor for the Carter administration in 1980.

BB: [01:22:02] And helped give rise to Miami Vice and Scarface.

SP: [01:22:06] And one one thing that people don’t know is they actually put them, many of them, in refugee camps and even like jails and detention centers throughout the US, particularly in the south. And they had actually put one in Arkansas. And the the Cuban refugees actually staged a riot, which undermined the first term of an Arkansas governor that we know as lovingly as Bill Clinton these days. And he actually lost reelection that year because of the Mary Alito boatlift in the Carter policy.

BB: [01:22:37] Clinton lost. Yeah. No, he ran for Congress, too, and lost. Yeah.

SP: [01:22:41] Yeah. And then Clinton, he stages a comeback and that’s where he becomes the comeback kid.

BB: [01:22:45] But yeah. Well, again, the point isn’t to just say Jimmy Carter is a horrible, evil war criminal, although he as president was a horrible, evil war criminal. I mean, I think what what’s striking is we tend to focus on individuals. And the idea here is Carter is is a decent human, as decent a human as the ruling class will ever produce. Probably. So. That’s not how you become president. That’s how he become a governor. That’s not how the Trilateral Commission notices you. And I think it’s, again, going back to this idea of important the importance of understanding structures, of the way the ruling class operates and and how no matter what your intentions are, you kind of fit into this framework. So like today when lefties, you know, are bashing Biden, I mean, I’m not saying they should. And my point is that Joe Biden is Joe Biden. He he’s been who he is for 40 years. And so, you know, being angry at him for being Joe Biden, I’m not sure. You know, I mean, that’s who he is. You know, today I saw one of the leftists and going off about how horrible his foreign policy is. And it’s just like Trump’s. And I’m like, what? What did you what were you expecting? You know, it’s like when people get mad because he wouldn’t say defund the police. I was like, you think he’s going to come out and say, burn, baby, burn. I mean, this is this is who these people are.

BB: [01:24:15] You know, the fact that Bernie Sanders was considered too far out there, I should tell you a lot, because Bernie Sanders is essentially a Carter, mondale, Dukakis, Gephardt, liberal. There’s not much difference in that other than national health care. Right. And Teddy Kennedy actually had a national health care plan. So, Carter, you know, that’s I think that’s important to understand as as decent and good a human being as Jimmy Carter is and probably was didn’t matter. It didn’t matter at all once you get into that. System of government, that system of power, once you become part of that ruling class now, and that’s why we’ve been talking about it so much. The ruling class can be reformist or ruling class can be progressive. The ruling class is in a moment right now where it’s understanding how badly neoliberalism. And then in the last four years, Trump has destabilized this system and they are now acting as as a counterbalance to that. On the Georgia voting laws and all the stuff we’ve been talking about for over a year that the media and the left media has suddenly discovered in the last three weeks. We’ve been talking about it for for forever since we started. So I think it’s a lesson worth knowing. And Carter Carter, it’s it validates the correct history, which is important. You have to know your history. But it also I think it says a lot about just kind of the nature of of American political society.

SP: [01:25:38] Yeah.

BB: [01:25:39] So.

SP: [01:25:41] Folks, you have been listening to Bob and Scott go on about Jimmy Carter and many other things. You have been listening to the Green and Red podcast. We love talking about the stuff. We particularly love our history episodes, which is why this one’s probably been almost 90 minutes. But it’s an important period that to be considered, particularly as we’re going forward in into the Roaring Twenties here. But we will be back with a new episode really soon, even after this one. We have many we have many great episodes lined up. And so if you want to support that and you want to make sure that we continue to have great episodes, even with some of the most notable left thinkers in history or in recent history, please go to our Patreon page and become a patron patron backslash Green Red podcast or make a one time donation at Green and Red podcast dot org and hit that support button and then follow us on all of our social media channels. All of the channels, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You will see this video on YouTube. And if you’re watching it on YouTube, hit subscribe just to help us out. And then we have a medium page, which we haven’t actually put anything new on in a while, but I’m sure that we’ll be putting up some new content before too long. And just want to thank everybody out there for listening to us and supporting us. And I hope you all have a good day. Stay safe. Go raise a lot of hell. See you in the streets.

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Syllabus, History 1302

Spring 2023

History 1302

AH Aud 1

Prof. Buzzanco

This class will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, either from 2:30-3:45 or 4:00-5:15.  Attending class is the most important thing you can do if you want to do well in this class.  If you attend class and do all the readings, you should do well.  We will also make extra credit available from time to time, and it will be based on the readings in the Texts and Interpretations books (below).

Most questions can be answered by referring to the syllabus or to Blackboard.  If not, contact your TA or contact me.  But please check the syllabus or  Blackboard first.

I’ve also set up a Facebook page for the class where I can also put up information re the class itself or the materials we’re covering, which you can join–it’s voluntary, not required– at    

Required Books

America: From 1865 to COVID-19 is a package from Nunn-McGinty publishers which
consists of 4 books. You need only purchase the package–all 4 books are included in it.

Available at bookstore on online at If you have an issues
or questions about downloading or otherwise getting access to the books,

The book package has 4 books included in it.
1. From Reconstruction to Rebellion (listed as “RR” below)
2. Readings in U.S. History (Listed as “Readings” below)
3. Documents in U.S. History (Listed as “Documents” below)
4. Supplemental 1378 Readings, Spring 2023 (Listed as “Supplemental” below). This is a
new publication which will be online when you purchase the whole package, but I will add
material to it as the semester goes on. When new material is added, I will let you know in
class and by email so you can download it. There will be no additional cost. It’s all
included in the original package.

Teaching Assistants

T, Th   2:30 class (section 14811)

AH 452

Allison Anderson

Alexey Chernyavskiy


T, Th  4:00 class (section 14898)

AH 452 

Nicole McCarthy

Said Al Hashimi ssalhash@CougarNet.UH.EDU

Your grade in this course will be based on your scores on three exams [which may include
essays and IDs], two during the semester, at dates announced on Blackboard, worth 100
points each, and a final exam, worth 150 points. The tests will be given in class during the regular class times and we will provide blue books. There will also be extra credit questions
available based on the readers. Practice questions will be given out before the tests and
review sessions with TAs can be scheduled online.

In-class makeup policy: We do not want to get flooded with requests for makeups. Do
everything in your power to be here on test dates. If you miss an exam due to verifiable
emergency conditions, with proper documentation, there will be makeup tests given on a
case-by-case basis, at the discretion of the professor/TAs. On the day of your scheduled
make-up, you will be required to make up all missing tests. The only excuses for missing
that day will also be medical or other emergencies [not travel plans], for which you must
provide written documentation. If you miss the makeup test, you will receive zeroes for
those tests. Additionally, it is your responsibility to notify your TA that you have missed an
exam and to schedule a make-up as soon as possible.

Make sure you attend class regularly and keep up with the assigned readings. If at any time
you are unsure of the material we are covering, please ask the T.A. or me.
For information on Incompletes or other UH policies and requirements, consult the UH
Student Handbook.

Questioning a grade: If you have questions or other issues with the grade you received on a
test, this is the procedure to follow.

First, the TAs will not discuss your tests right after we turn them back to you (other than to
correct a math error in the grading). Please look at your exam and wait a day before
contacting your TA. Make an appointment with him/her and come to that meeting with
specific questions and concerns and be prepared to specifically explain why you deserved a
higher grade (do not simply say “I studied and thought I should have done better”). If the
TA and you do not reach an agreement, the TA will re-grade the entire test and the score
be increased, decreased, or stay the same.

If at that point you still are not satisfied, make an appointment with me and bring your
specific concerns and questions and I will go over the exam and, as above, possibly re-grade
it and give a new score accordingly. At all times be respectful and courteous toward the
TAs , and the same is expected of their interactions with you. At the end of the semester,
please do not send me an email asking for your grade to be raised because you need extra
points to maintain your GPA or to graduate or for other such reasons. Again, any
questioning of your grade must include specific questions or comments regarding the
specific questions on the test


Required Language for All Courses

COVID-19 Information
Students are encouraged to visit the University’s COVID-19 website for important information including diagnosis and symptom protocols, testing, vaccine information, and post-exposure guidance. Please check the website throughout the semester for updates. Consult the (select: Undergraduate Excused Absence Policy or Graduate Excused Absence Policy) for information regarding excused absences due to medical reasons. 

Reasonable Academic Adjustments/Auxiliary Aids
The University of Houston complies with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, pertaining to the provision of reasonable academic adjustments/auxiliary aids for disabled students. In accordance with Section 504 and ADA guidelines, UH strives to provide reasonable academic adjustments/auxiliary aids to students who request and require them. If you believe that you have a disability requiring an academic adjustments/auxiliary aid, please contact the Justin Dart Jr. Student Accessibility Center (formerly the Justin Dart, Jr. Center for Students with DisABILITIES).

Excused Absence Policy
Regular class attendance, participation, and engagement in coursework are important contributors to student success. Absences may be excused as provided in the University of Houston Undergraduate Excused Absence Policy and Graduate Excused Absence Policy for reasons including: medical illness of student or close relative, death of a close family member, legal or government proceeding that a student is obligated to attend, recognized professional and educational activities where the student is presenting, and University-sponsored activity or athletic competition. Under these policies, students with excused absences will be provided with an opportunity to make up any quiz, exam or other work that contributes to the course grade or a satisfactory alternative. Please read the full policy for details regarding reasons for excused absences, the approval process, and extended absences. Additional policies address absences related to military servicereligious holy days, pregnancy and related conditions, and disability.

Recording of Class
Students may not record all or part of class, livestream all or part of class, or make/distribute screen captures, without advanced written consent of the instructor. If you have or think you may have a disability such that you need to record class-related activities, please contact the Justin Dart, Jr. Student Accessibility Center. If you have an accommodation to record class-related activities, those recordings may not be shared with any other student, whether in this course or not, or with any other person or on any other platform. Classes may be recorded by the instructor. Students may use instructor’s recordings for their own studying and notetaking. Instructor’s recordings are not authorized to be shared with anyone without the prior written approval of the instructor. Failure to comply with requirements regarding recordings will result in a disciplinary referral to the Dean of Students Office and may result in disciplinary action.

Recommended Language

Resources for Online Learning
The University of Houston is committed to student success, and provides information to optimize the online learning experience through our Power-On website. Please visit this website for a comprehensive set of resources, tools, and tips including: obtaining access to the internet, AccessUH, Blackboard, and Canvas; using your smartphone as a webcam; and downloading Microsoft Office 365 at no cost. For questions or assistance contact

UH Email
Please check and use your Cougarnet email for communications related to this course. To access this email, login to your Microsoft 365 account with your Cougarnet credentials.  

Access to a webcam is required for students participating remotely in this course. Webcams must be turned on (state when webcams are required to be on and the academic basis for requiring them to be on). (Example: Webcams must be turned on during exams to ensure the academic integrity of exam administration.) 

Academic Honesty Policy
High ethical standards are critical to the integrity of any institution, and bear directly on the ultimate value of conferred degrees. All UH community members are expected to contribute to an atmosphere of the highest possible ethical standards. Maintaining such an atmosphere requires that any instances of academic dishonesty be recognized and addressed. The UH Academic Honesty Policy is designed to handle those instances with fairness to all parties involved: the students, the instructors, and the University itself. All students and faculty of the University of Houston are responsible for being familiar with this policy.

Title IX/Sexual Misconduct

Per the UHS Sexual Misconduct Policy, your instructor is a “responsible employee” for reporting purposes under Title IX regulations and state law and must report incidents of sexual misconduct (sexual harassment, non-consensual sexual contact, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual intimidation, intimate partner violence, or stalking) about which they become aware to the Title IX office. Please know there are places on campus where you can make a report in confidence. You can find more information about resources on the Title IX website at

Security Escorts and Cougar Ride

UHPD continually works with the University community to make the campus a safe place to learn, work, and live. Our Security escort service is designed for the community members who have safety concerns and would like to have a Security Officer walk with them, for their safety, as they make their way across campus. Based on availability either a UHPD Security Officer or Police Officer will escort students, faculty, and staff to locations beginning and ending on campus. If you feel that you need a Security Officer to walk with you for your safety please call 713-743-3333. Arrangements may be made for special needs.

Parking and Transportation Services also offers a late-night, on-demand shuttle service called Cougar Ride that provides rides to and from all on-campus shuttle stops, as well as the MD Anderson Library, Cougar Village/Moody Towers and the UH Technology Bridge.  Rides can be requested through the UH Go app.  Days and hours of operation can be found at

Syllabus Changes
Please note that the instructor may need to make modifications to the course syllabus. Notice of such changes will be announced as quickly as possible through (specify how students will be notified of changes).

Helpful Information

Coogs Care:

Student Health Center  


Topics and Reading Assignments

(Extra Credit opportunities will be posted on Blackboard throughout the semester)
The books will be listed as RR, Documents, Readings, and Supplemental

Week 1
Background: Reconstruction, Capitalism, Labor Wars, Empire
RR, chapter 1
Documents, chapter 1
Suggested: Interview with Richard Wolff on the economy,
Week 2
Imperialism, Markets, the Great War
RR, chapter 2
Documents, chapter 2
Readings, chapter 1
Supplemental, “Donald Trump’s American History, and the Politics of Race”
Week 3
The Aftermath of War Abroad and at Home
RR, chapter 2
Documents, chapter 3
Supplemental, “Huddled Masses, Keep Out!”
Week 4
The 1920s
RR, chapter 3
Week 5
FDR and the New Deal
RR, chapter 4
Week 6
The Onset of War
RR, chapter 5
Readings, chapter 3
Week 7
War, the Bomb, and Cold War
RR, chapter 6
Readings, chapter 4
Podcast on Atomic Bomb:
Week 8
The War at Home: Domestic Containment (Conformity and Counterculture)
RR, chapter 7
Documents, chapter 4
Week 9
Taking the Third World, Origins of Vietnam
Documents, chapter 5
Week 10
The Modern Civil Rights Era
RR, chapter 8
Documents, chapter 7
Readings, chapter 5
Supplemental, “The Sit-Ins and Militant Non-Violence”
Week 11
Questioning Authority: The 1960s
Documents, chapter 6
Readings, chapter 6
Supplemental, “MLK for Sale: How to Package a Radical”

Week 12

 Backlash and the Rise of the Conservative

RR, chapter 10Readings, chapter 7

Supplemental, “Jimmy Carter is a Saint Now, Was a War Criminal Then”


Week 13

 Globalization and Militarism from Reagan to Clinton 

Readings, chapter 8


Week 14

Economic Crash and Background to 9/11

 RR, chapter 11

Documents, chapter 8

Readings, chapter 9


Week 15

The U.S., Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East

 RR, Conclusion

Supplemental, “Does Russia Matter”; “Blame China, Not Capitalism”; “Cracks in the Empire”; “Is Trump a Fascist, Will There Be a Coup?”; “Impeachment: The Democrats Botch it Again”; “The Limits of Power and Donald J. Trump”


Final Exam

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Green & Red Podcast, the Best of 2022

Green & Red Podcast just finished its third calendar year of episodes and we’re over 200 now, something we only dreamed about when we started . . . so thanks to all of you.

Scott and I always put out a list of our favorite episodes from the year, and here’s mine. This is always hard because we’ve had so many great guests and done so many great shows about history and politics, so we encourage you to check out our entire playlist, not just these. Having said that, here’s my list of some of my 2022 favorites

  1. The JFK Episodes–we had a lot of fun this year talking about the legacy of John F. Kennedy, and in particular the various theories behind his assassination and why the Left should not see him as a hero

Here they are:Noam Chomsky on “JFK Revisited”

Why Oliver Stone and “JFK Revisted” are Full of S**t

The Buzzanco-DiEugenio Debate on JFK

2. The Ukraine Seminar–just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine we began doing backgrounders on the situation there and we’ve continued to cover the war with interviews and shows on the history of the conflict and the issues involved. Check out our Ukraine Seminar playlist, at

3. Karl Marx’s Birthday–we commemorated Marx’s birthday with a great discussion about Marx’s work and legacy with esteemed scholar David McNally, at

4. Pop Culture and Politics–we love doing shows on lefty pop culture and this year we had a few that were great, including

Bob Dylan’s Million-Dollar Birthday Bash w/ Michael Stewart Foley

Leave the Gun, Take the Podcast: “The Godfather” at 50  and its Political Meaning

We Begin Bombing in Five Minutes: Cold War Culture in the Reagan Era w/ Prof. Andrew Hunt,

5. The most recent show on my list, which we just did,

What’s Really Happening in Peru? Interview with Professor Carla Toche in Lima,

Bonus: Noam Chomsky on “Why the Democrats Suck” —

and our encore of a 2020 interview with Staughton Lynd, who died in November, Remembering Staughton Lynd, Encore of 2020 Interview

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Remembering Staughton Lynd (1929-2022)

Transcript of interview with Staughton Lynd on Green & Red Podcast, 2020,

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Where’s the Resistance? Elections Won’t Save Us

With the Supreme Court on a holy war to protect guns, fetuses, and big polluting corporations, among others, there’s a real and growing sense of panic among progressives, women, environmentalists and liberal and left-leaning Americans about the future. The Court has also agreed to put on the docket for next term a case about election law that would give the states virtually total power to conduct elections any way they want–meaning that GOP-led legislatures could give electoral votes to their candidate even if he/she lost the election in that state. It’s a scary time.

And what’s the response been? Nancy Pelosi was campaigning for anti-abortion and pro-gun Democrat Henry Cuellar in south Texas on the day the Dobbs decision came down. With her help and lots of DCCC money Cuellar squeaked past his pro-choice opponent. Joe Biden responded to the Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade by making an empty speech and then cutting a deal with Mitch McConnell to appoint, wait for it, an anti-abortion judge to a federal seat (a plan since scotched not because Biden listened to progressives but because of the opposition from Kentucky’s other Republican Senator, Rand Paul). Liberal groups, many of whom promised to be in the streets and shut down the country if abortions were outlawed, mostly complained on social media and used the decision to raise money.

It was nothing like the summer of 2020.

The 2020 uprisings forced the ruling class to take the protests seriously because upwards of 20 million people of all races, ages, etc. mostly spontaneously went to the streets aggressively and militantly. They didn’t rely on “vote Blue no matter who” or petitions or donations to the DNC. They created instability and the ruling class blinked, albeit temporarily, but it blinked. Before the Democrats and media were able to jump into the fray and coopt the messages coming from the streets, majorities of Americans saw the police as a malignant force, believed in defunding, and even supported, with 54 percent, burning a police precinct building in Minneapolis. Corporations rushed in and took symbolic action–BLM flags on their businesses–but also made certain that Trump wasn’t re-elected because the immense instability he had created, including property destruction in major cities from coast-to-coast, wasn’t good for the economy, see

As it stands now, many corporations have taken a stand against the Supreme Court’s abortion decision and will pay for women to travel out of state if they want or need that procedure. They’re not radical allies but they understand how important women are to capitalist stability and how the court’s rulings are creating even more social division and disharmony. The GOP derides them as “woke capitalists” and that’s what they are, and there’s been “woke capitalism” since liberalism emerged. In the short term, anything the ruling class does to stave off the courts is fine, but it’s not a long-term strategy. Sadly, in the absence of a sentient Democratic Party or street resistance, these corporate and financial oligarchs represent the forces of progress right now. That’s not what you want . . .

Now we’re back into panic mode with people freaking out about “fascism” and stolen elections and the Supreme Court, reminiscent of the early bleatings of the WaPo-made celebrity Timothy Snyder or the preposterous Paul Street of the once-reputable Counterpunch. Things are very bad–that can’t be denied. But hysteria is never a good strategy. The response we’re getting, which has been prevalent since election day November 2016, is that you have to donate to the Democrats or liberal NGOs and of course you have to vote.

How’s that worked out so far? Clinton won, Obama won, Biden won–and abortion rights were never defended or protected. And if the GOP is planning on stealing elections from now on, then you’re not going use your vote to stop them. Social media freak-outs about how bad the GOP is or Trump’s putative “fascism” or McConnell’s evil might be a good way to vent, but they do less than zero to help organize and build a movement.

Liberals love to talk about the Civil Rights Movement and the 60s–the antiwar movement, draft resistance, women’s liberation, environmentalists, Stonewall…..

But back then, people went into the streets, blockaded traffic, sat-in at offices and businesses, conducted major boycotts, did civil disobedience, practiced militant resistance, confronted the forces of authority, targeted businesses associated with the adversary, every day, all the time. Unions, church groups, community activists, students, and so many others participated militantly in movements of all types. They made it clear that “business as usual” would have an escalating price. They became ungovernable.

Not a lot like that is happening today, which is why the summer uprisings of 2020 were so important. The Democrats won’t save us. MoveOn and ActBlue won’t save us. Social media anguish won’t save us. A unilateral focus on voting won’t save us (in fact, 1 million voters have shifted their registration from Democrat to Republican in the past year). Those old responses need to be put away and people need to organize, organize, organize.

It’s time to be as radical as reality itself.

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Donate to Green & Red Podcast, Get Books!

We’ve gotten a lot more donors this year and we really appreciate it and we’d like to have a few more. We run on a shoestring budget but we do have to pay for some tech help and promotions.

I’ve edited books on various topics in U.S. history for my classes, and so now we’re offering those to our donors. The first 3 pictures include 7 books on U.S. history . . . if you donate $35, we’ll send you one. Donate $60 and you get 3. Donate $125 and you get all 7.

The last picture includes 3 books I’ve written or edited–Masters of War; Vietnam and the Transformation of American Life; Blackwell Companion to the Vietnam War. Since they’re in short supply, we’ll send you one for a $100 donation.

Help Green & Red continue to give you great guests–people you’re really not likely to hear elsewhere in media, even lefty media–and great radical politics and history.

If you want to donate and get a book, you can email us at or DM us on Facebook.

You can donate to Green & Red at

You can also become a recurring donor at

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Inside Oliver Stone’s Kennedy-Conspiracy-Complex

(I vanquished DiEugenio, so my challenge to Oliver Stone to debate is still on the table)

“When Oliver Stone heard it, he immediately called me, as he was excited about the result.” And thus Kent Dorfman James DiEugenio, aka “Jimmy Die,” received the imprimatur of his mentor and lord that he had done well. 

Stone was referring to a debate I recently had with DiEugenio on the topic of the JFK assassination and the conspiracies Stone and others have laid out over the years, claiming that the “deep state,” including the military-industrial complex and intelligence agencies, and maybe even the Vice President’s office, had Kennedy killed because he was going soft on them—preparing to withdraw from Vietnam, normalize relations with Cuba, and end the Cold War.  (You can hear the debate here). DiEugenio has continued his barrage of insults directed at Noam Chomsky and me, along with the tired old theories and anecdotes and misinformation, so I’m writing a last response to him. If Oliver Stone wants to enter the debate, he’s always welcome to join Scott Parkin and me on Green & Red Podcast.


In 1998, the consulting firm Booz Allen prepared a report for the Pentagon on  declassification procedures and the use of the internet, still fairly new, on declassification strategy.  It had to consider openness and cost effectiveness, but it had a category headed “Diversion” which said the govt could list “interesting declassified material—i.e. Kennedy assassination data” (my emphasis).

So it was clear then that the ruling class saw the JFK conspiracy as a distraction, a way to get the populace, and scholars, to avoid a systemic analysis of American power and subversion and divert attention from real history, real politics and real crises to chase a chimera.

Prior to the past few months, I’ve never been much involved with Kennedy conspiracy theories.  Obviously, everyone in America is aware of the JFK assassination, one of the most-discussed events in modern history, but I had never read about or researched it in anything but a cursory manner.  Obviously, as a historian of the post-Civil War United States, I was aware of the various theories about the killing, the critique of the Warren Report, the fascination with Lee Harvey Oswald, and so forth. I had no strong opinion on any of this until Oliver Stone made it a cause célèbre with his 1991 movie JFK and recent documentary, written along with DiEugenio, titled JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass. 

While I had/have no dog in the hunt of the Warren Report or Oswald theories, I always believed that Stone’s argument that the military or the CIA or some other dark forces in government had Kennedy killed because he was becoming too dovish were evidence-free and thus absurd, as well as politically reactionary for they replaced analysis and activism with hero worship.  Yet, Stone’s views have gained great traction—a rare instance of a media, pop-culture figure driving a legitimate historical debate.  About 60 percent of Americans believe there was some kind of conspiracy to kill JFK, a number that’s been steady for a while.  More distressingly, the Left, the political community with which I identify, increasingly accepts Stone’s view, and just in the past few months popular liberal/left media like Jacobin, Counterpunch, Majority Report, and The Empire Files (to name just a few) gave Stone favorable ink and air time to pontificate about the JFK killing.

At that point, mostly out of frustration at the Left accepting Stone’s theories so easily, I interviewed Noam Chomsky, author of Rethinking Camelot, a debunking of Stone’s arguments published in 1993, on the Green & Red Podcast, which I co-host with Scott Parkin.  Then Scott and I did another show on it, based on my own work on JFK’s foreign policies and my own lifetime of research and writing about Vietnam.  (See interview with Chomsky here, and my episode on it here).

During our podcast and on social media, to inject some levity, I challenged Stone to a debate, knowing of course that Oliver Stone has no idea who I am and would never take my dare.  Surprisingly, DiEugenio took the challenge and so we debated on March 28th (listen to the introduction of the podcast of the debate to get some idea of DiEugenio’s antics, link above).

More recently, DiEugenio wrote another piece to respond to my articles and the introduction to the podcast which he called “cleaning up” after the debate. (You can read it here).  It’s simply more of the same from him . . . isolated and circumstantial events pieced together in no logical manner, anecdotes rather than evidence, bombast rather than reason.  It’s the way they roll—the Cult of Kennedy, the Cult of Stone.


DiEugenio began the recent article by excoriating me because, he said, I supported the Warren Commission’s report and argued that Oswald as the lone gunman.  The reality, however, is that I said repeatedly that I wasn’t interested in the minutae of Oswald’s movements or that other detritus and the new info didn’t change our overall knowledge. The conspiracists aren’t just absent a smoking gun, but offer nothing conclusive enough to prove their conspiracy theory.  As I pointed out—and I can’t stress enough—the Conspiracy-Assassination Complex loves to talk about Oswald’s whereabouts, Dealey Plaza, and conversations recalled decades later, Curtis LeMay’s presence, or not, at JFK’s autopsy, but the key to this entire issue—as Stone himself wrote in JFK in 1991, is why?

As Stone had the character X say, the rest of the plot, like Oswald or Cuba or the mafia—was “scenery” or a “parlor game” to distract away from the question of motive.  Isn’t it ironic that the Stoneians are doing that themselves?  They’re still talking about the new documents released by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) to ruminate over Oswald’s connections to either Communists or the CIA, whether Oswald was actually in Dallas on 11/22/63 (apparently he wasn’t according to some of them), and, most “curiously” (I’ll use a nice word), whether LeMay disguised his whereabouts to attend the JFK autopsy.   

Why did, as they allege, dark forces in the government—either the military-industrial complex and intelligence agencies, or more specifically as Jimmy Die argues, James Jesus Angleton and LeMay, design an elaborate plan involving multiple government officials operating in a number of locations (without anyone spilling a word)—want Kennedy dead?  (Just as an aside . . . Jimmy Die claims LeMay was a, maybe the central figure in the plot against JFK because his schedule on 11/22/63 changed at the last minute and he landed at a different base in D.C. and was present at JFK’s autopsy.  If you’re pulling off the biggest conspiracy of all time, wouldn’t it be more important to keep your regular routine?  Not leave breadcrumbs?)  As I said, I’m not interested in the minutae of the assassination itself, but in the course of this trip into Stone-land, a couple people who debunk DiEugenio, Fred Litwin and Steve Roe, started tagging me on social media so if you want to see how they reject the conspiracy, look them up).

My point has always been—and I emphasized it in the debate—that the argument that dark forces in the military and intelligence communities, and even perhaps Vice President Lyndon Johnson, had JFK killed because he was going to withdraw from Vietnam, was normalizing relations with Cuba, and was moving to end the Cold War simply and utterly lacks any evidence. I’m not interested in scenery and parlor games.

JFK’s Record on Civil Rights

DiEugenio then spent several paragraphs defending Kennedy’s civil rights record—which was not one of the issues in the debate but was invoked by Jimmy Die at the outset as an example of Kennedy’s virtue and love for all mankind.  I simply said he should be careful about praising JFK on those grounds, and we moved on.  On this issue, he has again ignored voluminous and significant evidence of the president’s record—spotty and inconsistent at best—on the Civil Rights movement, a “bystander” according to a popular book on the topic.  I’m not going to go into detail here because there’s a vast literature on this and, unlike the residents of Stone World, I don’t like to pontificate on topics that are not germane to the debate. As a professor of U.S. history who’s written a book on the 1960s, I obviously am informed about the Civil Rights Movement and Kennedy more than most—and certainly more than DiEugenio.  And most of my knowledge on this topic comes from reading the main books in the field, so when Jimmy Die claims to be schooling me, I don’t take him seriously. 

To be brief, JFK was tentative at best on Civil Rights and really had wished the topic would not have appeared and tried to wish it away.  Kennedy won the 1960 election with heavy southern support—he won the electoral votes of both Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and the border state of Missouri.  He understood the delicate and soon to be incendiary nature of racial politics in that region and tried to walk the tightrope, but made it a priority to keep southerners as happy as he could—his judicial appointments, for instance, were made to placate southern politicians far more than civil rights advocates. 

JFK and Mississippi Senator John Stennis

While he did help Martin Luther King get out of jail before the 1960 election, he also was frustrated by the movement’s insistence on directly challenging the apartheid system in the south with direct action. King was not even invited to the inaugural or his initial meeting of Civil Rights leaders at the Whie House. The sit-ins and the freedom rides upset JFK because they called attention to American racial violence and forced his hand. He was especially alarmed by the violence surrounding the freedom rides and had to ultimately send in federal marshals because the imagery was so brutal, but was as frustrated with King and other Black activists as with the southerners attacking the riders. King himself implored the president to act “in the area of moral persuasion by occasionally speaking out against segregation.”

But he repeatedly asked King and others to “go slow” and “wait” and he and his brother even sanctioned the notorious FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to conduct surveillance and wiretaps on King, and kept a dossier on his sex life (of which Berl L. Bernhard, staff director of the US Commission on Civil Rights from 1958 to 1963, said the president was aware). And since Jimmy Dielikes to invoke historians whom he claims buttress his adoration of Kennedy, it’s worth nothing that biographer Robert Dallek, not really a critic of 1960s Liberals, concluded that “the president’s words did little to advance the cause of civil rights or ease the tensions that were erupting in sporadic violence.”  Even on issues that were not being highlighted on the nightly news, JFK delayed and wavered.  When activists pressed Kennedy to issue executive orders to end Federal mortgage loan discrimination, he stalled and finally put out a tepid order in November 1962 and let a proposed bill to address discrimination in public facilities expire.   

The Civil Rights activists finally forced Kennedy’s hand by continuing their direct action, and it came to head in Birmingham in May 1963 when media all over the globe highlighted images of police attacking peaceful black protestors with clubs, dogs, and high-pressure fire hoses, which obviously anguished JFK and forced him to propose the Civil Rights Act.  Kennedy then was caught in a dilemma as southern Democrats, the very people who helped put him in the White House, filibustered the act, leading King and others to organize the March on Washington in August.  Every account of that event makes note of Kennedy’s anxiety over the march and points out that White House officials had instructed officials there to pull the plug on John Lewis if his speech became too incendiary.  At the time of Kennedy’s death, the bill still languished and his successor, the Texas Lyndon Johnson, used far more political pressure and moral suasion to get it over the finish line.

Kennedy’s tentative and piecemeal approach had not succeeded. On November 22d, 1963, his words about civil rights remained unfulfilled. (There’s a significant literature on JFK’s lackluster record on Civil Rights, but most recently you can look at Nick Bryant’s The Bystander).

Vietnam: The Linchpin of Stone’s Fantastic History

DiEugenio then of course invoked Vietnam, and, as he always has, accused me of simply parroting Noam Chomsky’s Rethinking Camelot to prove that JFK was not a dove on Vietnam and had no intention of withdrawing without victory. I am, in his words, “Chomsky’s useful idiot.” See it here. 

I obviously support Chomsky’s position on this issue and he has been an inspiration to countless scholars and I consider him a mentor and associate, but his book is definitely not the basis of my own views. As I said repeatedly during the debate (and you really should listen to it if you want the full flavor of DiEugenio’s lack of knowledge and dissembling) my views are based on my own work, which was based in extensive archival research.  I have a long reputation as a scholar on Vietnam and in the course of writing my book Masters of War: Military Dissent and Politics in the Vietnam Era I visited every relevant presidential, military, and diplomatic archive on the topic, as well as published government sources.  I mentioned the document collections put out by the always-indispensable National Security Archive.  I’ve read virtually every page of The Pentagon Papers. My arguments do not rely on Chomsky, or Alex Cockburn, or anyone else. I’ve done the work myself. I am a scholar. Jimmy Die is a polemicist and an Oliver Stone fanboy.  (You can see the article I wrote in response to Stone’s and DiEugenio’s conspiracy theories here).

Because JFK’s alleged intent to quit Vietnam is the linchpin of Stone’s conspiracy,  I’ll just provide a précis of my argument here rather than again go into the detail you can find in my books or my article “John F. Kennedy Goes Hollywood: Oliver Stone’s Fantastic History.”  I made five essential points to show that JFK was committed to fighting in Vietnam and, more importantly in light of Stone’s argument, winning in Vietnam.

First, Kennedy was a prototypical Cold Warrior who vastly expanded the U.S. commitment to Vietnam and poured “advisors,” military supplies, armor, helicopters, napalm, and other equipment into the RVN.  And even before that he was instrumental in giving birth to the state that the Americans invented below the Seventeenth Parallel—Kennedy was a friend of Ngo Dinh Diem, whom the U.S put in charge in the south, and in 1956, the year elections to reunify the country were canceled by Diem, JFK said

Vietnam represents a test of American responsibility and determination in Asia. If we are not the parents of little Vietnam, then surely we are the godparents. We presided at its birth, we gave assistance to its life, we have helped to shape its future. As French influence in the political, economic, and military spheres has declined in Vietnam, American influence has steadily grown. This is our offspring – we cannot abandon it, we cannot ignore its needs. And if it falls victim to any of the perils that threaten its existence – Communism, political anarchy, poverty and the rest – then the United States, with some justification, will be held responsible; and our prestige in Asia will sink to a new low.

It’s also worth noting here that part of DiEugenio’s “proof” of JFK’s awareness of the perils of a war in Vietnam included a meme with a 1951 quote from diplomat Edmund Gullion telling Kennedy that the days of western empire in Asia were numbered.  Of course, within 5 years JFK played a pivotal role in putting Diem in power in the country the U.S. invented and making sure American aid continued to flow there.  As for Gullion, who’s a dove in DiEugenio’s world…he became dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts where students firebombed his office in 1971 due to his support of the war and the school’s involvement with government programs in Vietnam.   Indeed, Jimmy Die likes to talk about Gullion . . . a lot, giving him an importance far beyond what other, credible, scholars on Vietnam do and what he deserves (see here). This is a great example of the way the Stoneiacs operate, taking a minor figure, or incident, and giving it outsized importance.

Second, Kennedy grew disaffected with the Diem regime and the U.S. approved of and helped organize a coup against him and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu in November 1963, a critical point not mentioned by the Stone Campists. The coup occurred at the very same time that DiEugenio and other assassinologists argue that JFK had made a decision to withdraw 1000 troops in 1963 and to pull out wholly by 1965.  Of course, the coup presents a powerful rebuttal to that.  Kennedy had already sent hundreds of millions of dollars, tolerated the southern regime’s vast human rights abuses, and made Vietnam the cornerstone of American policy in Asia, so eliminating the regime would inevitably set off chaos (as it did, as the South had about a dozen governments in the next 16 months) and make withdrawal harder than ever. 

In fact, Kennedy’s sanction of the coup also undermines DiEugenio’s argument that the president wanted a neutralization settlement in Vietnam.  As George McT. Kahin showed in Intervention: How America Became Involved in Vietnam, Diem’s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu had been making backchannel overtures to Hanoi to end the war with some sort of neutral government put in place.  Of course, everyone knew that any settlement of that sort would inevitably lead to the Communists and NLF taking over fairly quickly, so JFK needed Diem gone.  While publicly the U.S. soured on Diem because of his repression of the Buddhists, it’s just as important to note that JFK was wary of peace—a coalition government that would signal American defeat—breaking out as much as, if not more than, Diem attacking Buddhists.

DiEugenio and Stone here also like to stress NSAM 263 as their Smoking Gun to prove JFK was going to withdrawal.  That document emerged from Maxwell Taylor’s report on a trip to Vietnam in September 1963, and it did envision the withdrawal of troops in 1963 as the initial step in “a long-term program to replace U.S. personnel with trained Vietnamese without impairment of the war effort”  (my emphasis).

As the Americans considered this plan of action, the memorandum made it clear that “the situation must be closely watched to see what steps Diem is taking to reduce repressive practices and to improve the effectiveness of the military effort. We should set no fixed criteria, but recognize that we would have to decide in 2-4 months whether to move to more drastic action or try to carry on with Diem even if he had not taken significant steps.”  And then it included a long list of actions to use as leverage against Diem and a listing of coup possibilities. DiEugenio also stressed that JFK was against sending combat troops into Vietnam.  But no one ever said he would . . . no American planning at that time ever envisioned the deployment of combat troops to Vietnam.  Again, these actions were not an indication of Kennedy preparing to withdrawal, but a statement of intent to make sure the U.S. did not “lose” Vietnam to the Communists.

Third, in September 1963, before the Diem coup and his own assassination Kennedy held interviews with Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley where he said he did not ““agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake. I know people don’t like to see Americans to be engaged in this kind of effort… But it is a very important struggle even though it is far away.” A week later he emphasized that point once more, acknowledging that Americans would get anxious or impatient about Vietnam, but “withdrawal only makes it easy for the Communist. I think we should stay.” When Stone included these interviews in JFK, he chopped them to exclude those remarks.

Then, in his final speech, at Fort Worth on 11/22/63, Kennedy admitted that  “without the United States, South Vietnam would collapse overnight.” And much more telling were the remarks he was scheduled to deliver at the Dallas Trade Mart that evening. The entire document in bellicose and unwavering, and it should be read in full to get a real sense of where JFK’s foreign policy ideas stood at the moment he was allegedly targeted by the military and intelligence complexes for being a dove. Kennedy’s speech both boasted and warned enemies of American strength.

Fourth, neither Stone nor DiEugenio or any of the other conspiracy theorists even mention the U.S. military’s reservations and pessimism about war in Vietnam.  If the military-industrial complex wanted JFK dead, which is the key element in their theory, then the fact that military officials were opposed to a war there clearly refutes their argument. My book Masters of War provides a detailed account of the military’s own views on Vietnam so I’ll not detail them here.  Suffice it to say that military officials had no desire for war in Indochina and even Maxwell Taylor in September 1963 said he “would not be associated with any program which included [a] commitment of U.S. Armed Forces.”

Fifth, there was great continuity between both personnel and policy before and after November 1963. LBJ did not change course because he was opposed to an alleged withdrawal by Kennedy. There was no shift in Vietnam policy. In fact, William Westmoreland, one of the architects of the war and the most hawkish military official in the Vietnam era, said in 1964 that he “did not contemplate” putting U.S. troops into combat; that “would be a mistake,” he told Taylor, because “it is the Vietnamese’s war.” In late 1964, again insisting that “a purely military solution is not possible,” Westmoreland did not even mention using ground troops in his reports to Washington. In probably his most prophetic analysis, in January 1965, just ten weeks before the introduction of combat troops at Da Nang, he and his staff urged a continuation of the flawed advisory system, but no combat troops.

The United States, they recognized, had spent vast amounts of time and money to develop the ARVN, with little luck, and “if that effort has not succeeded, there is even less reason to think that U.S. combat forces would have the desired effect.” The involvement of American troops in the RVN, the military staff in Saigon concluded, quite amazingly, “would at best buy time and would lead to ever increasing commitments until, like the French, we would be occupying an essentially hostile foreign country.”

Kennedy’s Aggression in Cuba, Latin America, and the Rest of the World

He also tried to rebut my claims about JFK’s continued commitment to oust Castro in Cuba and the American role in coups d’etat against João Goulart in Brazil and against Karim Qasim in Iraq.  He doesn’t address the evidence, again, and I’d simply suggest anyone interested read my article on JFK’s aggressive militarism and intervention about those two episodes as well as many others. 

I would, however, briefly like to comment on JFK’s position on Cuba, since one of the other main arguments that the Stone clique makes is that the Cuban Missile Crisis shook Kennedy so much that he was on the path to normalizing relations with Cuba.  Once again, the record, the archives, the documents tell a very different story.  In December 1962, post-missile crisis, JFK ended the year in Miami paying public tribute to the Cuban Invasion Brigade and pledging that Cuba would be made “free” with Alliance for Progress and American help.  In an April 1963 meeting, JFK made clear he had not given up on removing Castro but insisted it had to be a Miami-Cuban effort and wondered “whether active sabotage was good unless it was of a type that could only come from within Cuba.”

Headline after Bay of Pigs Disaster

At the same time Bromley Smith, the executive secretary of the NSC, presented an analysis that made it clear that Kennedy had decided to end the “restraint” he had shown on Cuba and was recommitting American assets to the campaign against Castro with harassment, sabotage, and economic damage—and as we know, assassination attempts against Fidel continued.

And on Castro’s end, despite claims by Stone and others, like journalist Peter Kornbluh, that the Cuban leader was warming up to JFK, he continued to be as wary as possible about the U.S. president.  At a reception at the Brazilian embassy in Havana on September 7th, Castro held a spontaneous interview with an AP reporter where he called JFK a “cretin” . . . the Batista of his times . . . [and] the most opportunistic president of all time.” He also denounced the continuing American-sponsored raids on Cuban territory and said “we are prepared to fight them and answer in kind.  U.S. leaders should think if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe.”

In fact, in Kennedy’s last public words about Latin America, in Miami on November 18th Kennedy emphasized the need to aid the region against Castro and said that “my own country is prepared to do this.” He urged states throughout the hemisphere to “use every resource at our command to prevent the establishment of another Cuba in this hemisphere. . . .”

Once again, the documents offer a markedly different version than Stone’s and DiEugenio’s anecdotes do.  The U.S. attempt to oust Castro did not end after the missiles of October 1962, and both the U.S. and Cuba were aware that the acrimony, interference, and subversion was continuing.  Indeed, on the day Kennedy was shot in Dallas, a Cuban asset close to Castro, code-named AM/LASH, was in Paris receiving a poison pen from a CIA officer in a ham-handed effort to have Castro killed.

I would also like to respond to DiEugenio’s charge that I was unaware of the date the Cuban embargo was put in place.  Since the Stone thesis gives significant agency to Allen Dulles and the CIA, I pointed out that JFK had replaced Dulles in late 1961 and then put the Cuban embargo in place in February.  DiEugenio pointed out that I didn’t even know that there had been an embargo in place prior to that point.  But in the debate I said that and pointed out that Kennedy escalated tensions and tightened the embargo in February 1962, after, importantly, he had removed Dulles—my point being that Dulles was not driving Kennedy’s hardline against Cuba.  For DiEugenio to disingenuously make such allegations surely says a great deal about his knowledge and character.  (The February embargo notice is here).

His apologetics for Kennedy regarding Brazil and Iraq are simply not worth any response.  Again, I’d urge anyone interested to look at my longer piece on this here .

As for Khrushchev and the Soviet Union, everyone who’s studied the Cold War in any detail, and who has done research using documents and archival collections, is aware that the Soviet leader understood that his country was far, far behind the U.S. in terms of military power and weapons (the U.S. had almost 20,000 nuclear weapons and the USSR had about 1600) and made overtures to thaw the cold war from the earliest part of the Kennedy presidency.  In response, JFK built up military budgets and weapons systems, and increased military aid to “friendly”—i.e. anti-Communist—regimes globally.  His signal achievement, the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, was a long-standing and popular goal that had wide the p bi-partisan, and military, support, and in no way at all indicated that Kennedy was trying to end the Cold War.

Liberal Imperialism . . . is Still Imperialism

Rather than repeat the points I made in my writing or in the debate, I’d like to here explain to DiEugenio and the rest of the Stone fan-club that Kennedy’s rhetoric about democracy and modernization, and his grief at Lumumba’s assassination (a point Jimmy Die brought up to “prove” he was a man of peace), are not symptoms in a change in ideology or doctrine.  In Stone-World power is wielded through force, and if Kennedy did not use force, he must have been beating swords into plowshares (having said that, they also embarrassingly downplay the myriad instances of Kennedy’s use of force—39 times in less than 3 years).  But power and imperialism can be wielded many ways, and the most interventionist of 20th Century presidents were Liberals—Wilson, FDR, Truman, JFK and, later, LBJ, Carter, and Clinton.  Liberals were not doves.  Liberals believed in the expansion of American hegemony to the utmost degree.  Simply look at the work of Gabriel Kolko, William Appleman Williams, Walter LaFeber, Marilyn Young, Lloyd Gardner, Arno Mayer, and Bruce Cumings, to name just a few, to understand the inherent need for strength and power in Liberal global policies.

JFK understood that too. He entered the White House in the aftermath of Bandung, as Mao Zedong was becoming a beacon to Third World nationalists and revolutionaries, as Khrushchev promised to support wars of national liberation, as a global decolonization movement was on the offensive.  To be sure, most notably in Vietnam and Cuba and throughout Latin America, JFK used American military strength to try to quash those movements.  But he also understood, as in the Congo crisis, the need to meet the global Left on other terms—to try to offer a better world with economic development and modern institutions to the less-developed nations.  So the Alliance for Progress, as I show in my longer article, was intended to “modernize” Latin America but in reality it “militarized” the region even more, and as such it followed the model created by Wilson and FDR, especially in the Good Neighbor Policy.

Understanding that your rivals were making a more effective pitch to the 3d World doesn’t make one a peacemaker. It means you find new strategies for hegemony, and that’s what JFK was doing, while subverting other states, spending more money on weapons, and posturing against the Communists. 

JFK was following in the footsteps of  American presidents who, since the later 1800s, had understood that financiers and manufacturers and other capitalists could use investment money and products to gain a foothold and power in areas where they could establish markets for consumer goods, gain access to raw materials, get strategic outposts for military bases, and find cheap labor.  It was, in the old equation, the idea of “replacing bullets with dollars.”  Doing that doesn’t make one less of an imperialist or less hegemonic. It’s a difference in strategy, not intent.  And to be clear, Kennedy did not, and never meant to, engage with Vietnam, Cuba, Brazil, Iraq, Indonesia, or any of those other countries DiEugenio likes to invoke, as an equal or a country worthy of respect.  JFK always took account of the world within the context of U.S. power—how could he benefit from American involvement in those regions and what means would he have to use to assert U.S. strength!

Anecdotes Aren’t Documents, and Not All Documents are Equal

While the Stone platoon relies heavily on recently-released documents from the ARRB, I do find it more than ironic that a group of people who’ve dedicated their lives to rejecting the government’s claims on JFK’s assassination are now leaning so heavily into documents released by…..that very same government.  I’ve spent more time than I ever wanted to looking into the ARRB documents, and they come from the CIA, FBI, and other government agencies.  Why would you suddenly have faith in government record-keeping?  If they’ve lied to you since Nov 22 1963, why would you think they’re telling you the truth now? 

Ultimately, their conspiracy thesis really relies on stories, connections they’ve created out of thin air, untenable connections like DiEugenio’s use of Gullion noted above, interviews conducted years after the fact, and anecdotes.  If you enter a research project with your conclusion made, it’s not hard to find “evidence” to support it.  Prior to my dissertation research, which became Masters of War, most scholars wrote that the military was supportive or hawkish on Vietnam, so I began with that idea in my head.  But as I read more and more documents, another powerful theme emerged.  Military officials were constantly expressing their wariness, pessimism, and even outright opposition to any kind of military involvement there.  As I visited more archives and read more documents, that military reluctance and opposition became an expanding theme, to the point where I had no choice but to emphasize and write about it.  Had I simply been looking for examples of military hawkishness, I could have found those.  But that’s not what the full record told me ultimately.

Documents are tools, not sacred texts. I’ve collected many tens of thousands of pages of documents on Vietnam. Many are useful but the vast majority aren’t worth much at all. Often they simply retell something that you could find in the daily papers at the time. Sometimes they give you a real insight into what’s going on, but you might find that in the official records of The Joint Chiefs of Staff for the Department of Defense for the National Security Council or the White House as well. Sometimes the documents themselves provide what I called a non-sequitur approach to policy—the military knew what JFK and LBJ wanted to hear and wouldn’t come right out and dismiss them, but wrote frank appraisals of what it was seeing in Vietnam along with telling the presidents what they wanted to hear.  None of this was happening in smoke-filled rooms.

The government’s classification system is also Byzantine and often impossible to understand. I’ve done a huge number of mandatory records reviews and more often than not when I get the papers I requested my first thought is that the particular document never should have been classified in the first place, there’s nothing in it of any real value or nothing that needed to be kept secret. And sometimes I get documents back that are totally redacted. And sometimes I’ll get a document 10-15 years after I requested it and it’s the same document that was in a published collection years ago, and sometimes it’s a blank page.  One could cherry-pick those documents to find evidence of a conspiracy, but it wouldn’t pass muster against the backdrop of the entire archival collection.

It’s also worth noting, that in the entire archive system at least as of 10 years ago when I was still looking for documents in government collections on Vietnam, the JFK library was the worst, keeping documents classified and not responding to review requests for long periods of time, unless you were Doris Kearns Goodwin or Michael Beschloss or someone like that. But there’s a reason the large majority of scholars, including the most critical Left scholars, of Vietnam don’t agree with Stone’s conspiracy; they’ve done exhaustive work in the records, and they’ve found no evidence of it. There’s just no evidence that JFK was about to reverse the centuries-long record of American intervention and war and usher in a new era of global comity.

DiEugenio also likes to cite books written on the topic by the likes of David Kaiser, Howard Jones, Robert Rakove and others, and charges that I’m not familiar with them. Of course I am.  I’ve been studying U.S. foreign policy, especially Vietnam, for decades and I’m well aware of the literature.  I just don’t think those books have anything valuable to add and they make weak arguments about JFK’s alleged peaceful intentions.  For DiEugenio, a book that agrees with his view is valuable, and those that don’t, aren’t. It’s a terribly immature way to look at history, but DiEugenio isn’t a scholar so it’s not surprising.

Pop Culture, Conspiracies, Heroes, and Reality: Why Stone Harms the Left

This will be my last response to DiEugenio.  I entered this fray because not to convince him and the rest of the Stone’s Conspiracy Cohort that they were wrong—that’s impossible as they have a evangelical fervor on this issue that’s immune to evidence or reality—but to urge the Left principally not to fall into the trap of looking for mythical heroes and conspiracies in lieu of analysis, organizing, activism, and action–it’s shameful that Jacobin, Counterpunch, Majority Report, The Empire Files and other lefty celebrity media have fallen into this conspiracy abyss.  Stone and DiEugenio and the other assassinologists make all kinds of twists and turns to try to make their argument make sense—Kennedy wasn’t aware of the plots against Castro, Mexican peasants cried when he was killed, Nasser and Sukarno were sad on 11/22/63, and so on. It’s the detritus of people desperate to believe in the myth of a glamorous young warrior for peace cut down in his prime. And it’s not relevant or convincing.

While the issue of JFK’s actions on the global stage deserve further consideration—and I’m working on a manuscript on the topic right now—I think the larger issue concerning Stone’s popular theories is that they do a disservice to the study of history and to our understanding of how the ruling class operates and what needs to be done to challenge that oligarchy.  Hollywood treatments of historical events can be great entertainment, and can even be educational (I’ve used clips from Grapes of Wrath, Paths of Glory, Norman Rae, and Matewan in my classes, to name a few), but they don’t take the place of documents, archives, government records, and, well, facts…..

In this regard, the Kennedy assassination is a great example of the misuse of popular culture to teach history.

Some people look for heroes and villains, instead of doing a systematic analysis of historical episodes.

Some people find conspiracies because the reality is too uncomfortable or contrary to the answers they find. Affluent Liberals benefit from conspiracy theory because it dissuades a structural analysis of class and power, of a system from which they often benefit.

Some people see dark forces and the deep state and don’t consider doctrine, material conditions, hubris, caprice or just plain incompetence to explain historical episodes.

There’s a reason some people make movies and some people write history books.  The standards are very different.  They can both tell a story, but one doesn’t allow you to create a reality that doesn’t exist in the record.  And Stone’s film and documentary are, at the core, about reality vs. wishes and fantasies

Stone has created a great story that creates a hero who was cut down in his prime by dark forces before he could create a new society.  Who doesn’t want to have that?

But it’s not so, no matter how many contortions he and Jimmy Die make.  No matter how many old interviews they pore over. No matter how many anecdotes they piece together like a rag doll and present as a fine Saville Row suit.  No matter how many new documents get released.  It’s been almost 60 years and it’s the same old song. 

The Kennedy-Assassination-Conspiracy Industry would suggest that the deep state feared that Kennedy had discovered a Cold War, a permanent wartime economy, subversion abroad, and a society saturated in war…..and had him killed before he could change all that. 

But there’s a huge and unforgiving hole in that theory…..Kennedy was one of them. He was in and of that ruling class. He was a Kennedy!

He wasn’t an apostate, but a full member.  And on top of that, there’s no evidence.  You’d have to find evidence of the military and other government officials breaking with him.  Not fictions of the mind.  Real evidence.

JFK was one of them.  Where is the proof that these people wanted him dead? JFK was going to end permanent wartime economy?  Ridiculous.  You’re trying to prove the most amazing conspiracy, the biggest conspiracy, of all time.  I’m held to a different standard. I’m a historian not a movie maker. 

Stone has created “Schrodinger’s Kennedy”—Trying to get out of Vietnam and end the Cold War while simultaneously ramping up the American intervention in Southeast Asia, trying to overthrow Castro, increasing the military budget, and taking a hard line toward Khrushchev

Open the box what do you see?  They see conspiracy while the rest of us see Kennedy for who he was.  And that’s what a real examination of Kennedy’s actions as president shows, someone who acted consistently within the Cold War/Interventionist framework of his time, someone who sought to overturn revolutions in Vietnam and Cuba, and elsewhere, someone who believed in big military budgets, big weapons, and big showdowns.  No swords were beaten into plowshares, no new worlds were built.  As the great historian Tom Paterson, who edited a great collection about JFK’s foreign policy said, he had his chance and he failed.

On Conspiracies . . . Last Thoughts

There is a growing, and disturbing, obsession with conspiracy theory to explain history—from Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy Assassination to more recently the Wuhan Lab Theory or Trump’s “Big Lie” about the 2020 election.  Conspiracies energize people, sometimes to violence, and make it harder if not impossible to speak in realistic and evidence-based ways about what happened.

In this case it’s worth noting that a conspiracy to kill a president of the U.S. would have to be immense—including various departments and government officials.  Yet, JFK had personal relations with the key actors.  Probably his closest military adviser was Maxwell Taylor, whom he named Chair of the JCS in 1962, and on Vietnam, the reality is that Taylor was far from gung-ho and always was wary of a war there.  The Army Chief of Staff was George Decker, who was very reluctant to escalate in Vietnam (as was his successor, Earle Wheeler), as was Marine Commandant David Shoup (and Commandant Wallace Greene too)—both appointed by JFK and wary of seeing their services fight a land war in Asia.  The Air Force Chief of Staff was Curtis LeMay, famous for wanting to bomb Vietnam to the stone age but in reality urging airpower to avoid a long and costly war there, and another Kennedy appointee.  And CIA Director John McCone was appointed by JFK  in December 1961

What would their motive be? There’s no evidence of any.  A Texas D.A. might indict a ham sandwich, but he would certainly no-bill Stone’s case for this immense conspiracy.

Speaking of conspiracies, there are a couple people I’d like to invoke here—Israel Feinstein Stone and Stephan Jay Gould.  Stone was highly respected with good sources inside government, and he read the voluminous Congressional Record cover to cover, finding news stories in the public domain.  “All my adult life as a newspaperman,” he observed, “I have been fighting, in defense of the Left and of a sane politics, against conspiracy theories of history, character assassination, guilt by association and demonology.”

Gould, in a takedown of the Piltdown Conspiracy, explained that “coincidences recede into improbability as more and more independent items coagulate to form a pattern. The mark of any good theory is that it makes coordinated sense of a string of observations otherwise independent and inexplicable.”   He’s a scientist, but good research is universal.  It doesn’t rely on interviews done years after the fact, 3d person stories, books written by people in the same circle,  people coming out of the woodwork, long social media arguments over the detritus of a murder in Dallas.  It’s based on what actually happened, not on alchemy.

James DiEugenio refers to himself as a scholar and an activist. He is neither.

Finally, I’d like to just refer to one of his many insults directed at Chomsky, who obviously has defended himself against Stone-type slanders for decades.  Jimmy Die said, “I would like to append one last point about how leftist ideology clouds the picture of who Kennedy was. Peter Scott wrote an essay for the Gravel Edition of the Pentagon Papers back in 1971. That essay was one of the earliest efforts to detect that Kennedy was withdrawing from Vietnam at the time of his death. The editors of that series were Chomsky and Howard Zinn. They did not want to print that essay, because to them it would indicate that whoever is president makes a difference. I do not know any clearer way of showing that Chomsky’s concept amounts to writing history according to ideology. And to me, that is not writing history. Its [sic] polemics.” 

So I sent this paragraph to Noam Chomsky, and he responded in an email

The claim is of course based on zero evidence, and happens to be pure nonsense, as is perfectly obvious.  On his idiotic grounds, why did we publish the essay?  Did someone force us to?  Maybe the “deep state”?

I was personally responsible for the essays.  Howard was involved, but doing other things.  At the time I was writing extensively about the PP, which I had (from Dan, and Tony) before they were released. For Reasons of State, was mostly about the PP, both the Gravel and government editions.

I solicited the essays, including Scott’s.  He was a personal friend.  I had just spent a semester at Berkeley, where there was then an active antiwar faculty group, and we worked together in it.  I also greatly admired his work.  Neither Howard nor I found his (rather tortured) essay impressive, but decided to include it anyway, as an interesting point of view.  What he says here is totally “unhinged.”

Conspiracies, and looking for heroes, amounts to wasting your summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from the streets.  I’d like to quote someone here, who (correctly) dismissed the idea that Castro was involved in the JFK assassination and said in 2017 “if you can’t make your case in 54 years, I think you don’t have one.”  Those are DiEugenio’s words.

It’s been almost 60 years now for the JFK Conspiracy-Assassination Industry, and they haven’t made their case . . . . And we’re still waiting…..

Posted in Civil Rights, Conspiracies, Cuba, Fidel Castro, Foreign Policy, History, Imperialism, John F. Kennedy, Liberals, Military, Oliver Stone, Russia, Vietnam, War | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

John F. Kennedy Goes Hollywood: Oliver Stone’s Fantastic History

©Robert Buzzanco

Jim Garrison: I never realized Kennedy was so dangerous to the establishment. Is that why?

X: Well that’s the real question, isn’t it? Why? The how and the who is just scenery for the public. Oswald, Ruby, Cuba, the Mafia. Keeps ’em guessing like some kind of parlor game, prevents ’em from asking the most important question, why? Why was Kennedy killed? Who benefited? Who has the power to cover it up? Who?

That brief discussion between characters played by Kevin Costner and Donald Sutherland in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK remains at the heart of this entire issue as a documentary about and new cut of the movie are coming out more than three decades later, and it’s a question that Stone has never been able to answer in any meaningful way. The “why” of Kennedy’s assassination, the famous director has contended. was that the young president was breaking away from the entire path of U.S. foreign policy, especially in the post-1945 era.

JFK, Stone claimed, essentially had a Road to Damascus and realized that constant wars and interventions, sabotage and meddling in other countries, immense military budgets and a politically-powerful military-industrial complex, far too-independent intelligence agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency and government groups like the National Security Council, and an entire government apparatus profiting from militarism and war had brought the globe to the brink of disaster or even annihilation, especially during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and had to end. And so Kennedy was set to withdraw U.S. military forces from Vietnam, ending the growing conflict there, and reach out to the Soviet Union and other Communist countries to thaw and ultimately end the Cold War. And that provided the answer to “why?”

For this turn toward peace, this commitment to beat swords into plowshares, those very forces Kennedy had identified as the beneficiaries of military budgets and espionage and wars conspired to have him killed. While much of the Kennedy conspiracy theory (or theories) focus on the intricacies of Lee Harvey Oswald’s past and his movements, anti-Castro Cubans and mafiosi, magic bullets and grassy knolls, the Texas Book Depository and other physical elements that affected the events in Dallas on 22 November 1963 — an there is abundant documentation on those things — Stone is correct that it’s mostly scenery for the public. The real question, the one that has historical immanence, sui generis, is the “why.” What Stone posits is so massive, so world-historical — a large cabal of state agents working together to conspire to murder the leader of that state for political reasons — that it has to be presented, should have been invented, with a profound and surgical focus on “why.”

Stone’s response, that the military and intelligence communities wanted JFK dead because he was on to them, is more than unfulfilling. It is intellectually specious and an epistemological void to offer up such a theory, and offer no substantial evidence to back it up. The idea that perhaps thousands of state functionaries worked together, secretively, to plot to kill the president, and then maintained that perfidy for decades, is hardly the stuff of rigorous intellectual inquiry. The fact that it has become accepted by a significant number of thinkers, scholars, journalists and others, especially on the Left, is frightening, for it substitutes heroic myths for solid research.

And so this is my response to Stone’s argument that the military-industrial complex, the CIA, even perhaps the Vice President all joined together to kill JFK. It’s a simple argument — that there is nothing in the actual historical record to validate Stone’s claims about Kennedy’s apparent change of heart about peace in Vietnam without victory or ending the Cold War. In fact, the opposite is more true — Kennedy entered political life as an aggressive, militarist liberal who morphed into perhaps the prototypical Cold Warrior of his generation.

In order to show this I’m going to present my argument in three sections. First, I will offer a brief analysis of the reality of Kennedy’s decisions in Vietnam, with a specific emphasis on the U.S role in the coup of November 1963, hardly the action of someone seeking a way out of a conflict, with some discussion of NSAM 263, one of the favorite documents of Stone and his conspiracy followers.

In part two I will discuss a vital yet mostly ignored aspect of this decision — the fact that U.S. military leaders, whom in Stone’s world were so upset by Kennedy’s weakness on Vietnam than they wanted him dead, were in fact themselves never supportive and mostly against any type of military commitment to the state the U.S. had invented in southern Vietnam. I also will discuss JFK’s aggressive foreign policies beyond Vietnam in this section, with a focus on his national security policies in Europe.

Finally, in part three, I will discuss Kennedy’s programs and plans for Latin America and internal security and debunk Stone’s claim that the Cuban Missile Crisis had caused Kennedy to look at that region differently and decide to seek peace with Cuba and other Left movements. To conclude, I’ll consider the strange way that partisans of the idea that Kennedy was ready to leave Vietnam only revised their stories long after the president was assassinated, and then I’ll add a few ruminations about the mythology and meaning, and danger, of making JFK a hero, especially on the Left.


Part I

In 1991, millions of Americans plunked down their money to see Oliver Stone’s epic film JFK and today are watching and talking about his new documentary “JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass” and a new director’s cut of the original movie. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), Stone suggested, had seen the futility of the Cold War and was ready to withdraw from Vietnam and create global peace when the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] , the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], the Joint Chiefs of Staff [JCS], the military, other representatives of the military-industrial complex, the intelligence bureaucracy, and even Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, fearing that his new-found pacifism was bad for business, had him assassinated.

Stone has been promoting his documentary on this topic recently, claiming that JFK was murdered by domestic enemies with renewed vigor and citing new documents that have been released since the 1990s. Kennedy was a “rebel against the establishment” and was a “warrior for peace,” Stone argues, and he challenged the military and intelligence communities as they gained bigger and bigger budgets and more power. Their interest in money and power and continued global conflict to justify their roles, “is what Kennedy understood,” the filmmaker believes, “and this is what he paid for with his life.”[1]

As the late, great muckraker Alexander Cockburn explained it years ago, Stone had bought into a right-wing view that the state was afraid of the liberal peacemaker Kennedy and had him killed on 22 November 1963, because, in Stone’s mind, “Kennedy was moving to end the Cold War and sign a nuclear treaty with the Soviets; he would not have gone to war in Southeast Asia. He was starting a back-door negotiation with Castro.” In In order to stop this new progressive American Canaan, the deep state engineered “the first coup d’etat in America.”[2]

Stone originally based this theory on the work of others, most significantly Fletcher Prouty, an officer assigned to work with the JCS, and John Newman, an Air Force veteran who also worked with the NSC. Both argued that Kennedy was a victim of what is today frequently described as “the deep state” — various intelligence and military agencies who operate the levers of the state in secret and eliminate, in many ways, people who challenge them. More recently he has gotten backup especially from David Talbot, whose book on Allen Dulles and the CIA perpetuates the theme that the deep state saw Kennedy as a threat and wanted him eliminated.[3] Others, including many ex-Kennedy officials, provided fodder for Stone with their arguments that the young president had decided to quit Vietnam, though their statements were usually made after JFK had been killed and the war had gone very wrong.

Ironically the revival of the JFK conspiracy theory, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of the JFK movie, has been well-received across the political spectrum, not just by typical conspiracy theorists on the fringe. Jacobin, Counterpunch, and Majority Report, for instance, have presented discussions favorable to Stone’s documentary, while on the far right, QAnon supporters have also long believed that Kennedy was killed by the deep state, and just recently went to Dallas on the anniversary of the assassination to await the return of his late son, John F. Kennedy Jr.[4]

Stone and his allies have also stressed the release of new documents about the assassination from the Assassination Records Review Board[5], in large measure a continuing response to Stone’s allegations from the 1990s. In particular, they are contending that new information about surveillance by state agencies like the CIA, FBI, and Army against Lee Harvey Oswald has offered even more powerful, if not “smoking gun”-level, evidence of the plot against JFK. Because the new records show that various government agencies were aware of Oswald’s political leanings and whereabouts in 1963, the conspiracy theorists are convinced that dark government forces knew what Oswald was planning and did nothing to deter him.[6]

While the new documents do add detail to Oswald’s movements before 22 November 1963, various reports, including the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978–79, had already shown that state agencies had Oswald, a public supporter of the Cuban Revolution, in their sights. The new records definitely add more detail, but do not come close to proving anything remotely like a government conspiracy to allow Oswald to kill JFK. In fact, Oswald’s political ideologies were well known long before the JFK assassination. He was on the radar already. Right now, one can purchase a “Fair Play for Cuba” pamphlet from August 1963 with Oswald’s name on it as the public New Orleans contact for the group on EBay, hardly the stuff of deep state machinations.[7] All historians want more documents declassified at a better pace, so the release of these new materials is welcome, but the does not change the story of JFK’s role in Vietnam or his assassination at all. While Stone’s supporters have been jamming social media with shrieks of “look at the new records,” once one does, there’s nothing to change what we have already known. The song remains the same.

This fascination with conspiracies and the deep state is similar to the current right-wing movement in support of Donald Trump’s lies about the election and various QAnon theories about the CIA and FBI. Though not as pernicious, Stone’s claims about various dark forces operating outside of normal bounds to rig elections, overthrow governments, and assassinate national leaders do the Left no favors. They substitute circumstantial evidence in the place of analysis and they look for heroes rather than creating resistance and organizing. Of course the CIA and other American agencies have a long record of malicious behavior, overthrowing governments abroad, assassinating foreign leaders, and repressing unions, socialists, women, African Americans, Native Americans, environmental and animal-rights activists, and other forces of liberation inside the United States. One can find that in the pages of corporate media and in public government documents. It is policy, not conspiracy. The ruling class’s behavior has been well-known for years — if it’s hiding, it’s in plain sight.

But one cannot make the leap from the fact that these groups have done horrible deeds to the conclusion that they thus killed JFK. Kennedy was one of them[8] — he firmly bought into the doctrine of containment, which he dressed up with talk of “development” and “modernization” in the Third World; he was a Cold Warrior; he invaded Cuba and contemplated a first-strike nuclear attack on Berlin within his first months in office[9]; he supported repressive Third World states per his newfound emphasis on “counterinsurgency”; he tried to overthrow Left governments abroad; he used the military to oppose national liberation movements across the globe; and he used the state to attack domestic enemies, most notably Martin Luther King (whose murderer, an illiterate drifter, was caught in London with a forged passport . . . if you’re looking for a conspiracy theory). The fascination with JFK as a young leader struck down because he was going to forge a new path away from the Cold War (and the Vietnam War more importantly) is utterly baseless and it is politically toxic, the product of nostalgia over a handsome young president who evoked images of Camelot, American exceptionalism, and innocence in the last days before racial conflict and the Vietnam War scarred the country in ways that might have been unimaginable on 20 January 1961.

The Reality of Vietnam

Stone’s conspiracy theories, his movie, and now his documentary have created great splashes in both popular culture and in the intellectual communities which study such things. Historically, however, they are nightmarish. With Vietnam as the linchpin of the thesis that JFK was killed because he was going soft on Communism and was going to end the power of the military and intelligence complexes, and specifically was going to de-escalate and withdraw troops and end the war by 1965, it becomes essential to look at Kennedy’s actual plans, policies, and actions with regard to the conflict there.

JFK and Ngo Dinh Diem

In truth, JFK, in less than three years, committed American soldiers, treasure, and credibility to the Republic of Vietnam [RVN], the American-invented state below the 17th Parallel, and dramatically enlarged the American role there. By 22 November 1963, the United States, rather than pull out, was deeply involved in the revolution-cum-civil war in Vietnam. Far from being a dove, Kennedy was the driving force behind that intervention in Indochina. His record in Vietnam, far from being a cause for the so-called deep state to want him dead, was opposite what assassination conspiracy theorists claimed that it was.

Kennedy had risen to power as a Cold Warrior and strong supporter of Joseph McCarthy and other witch hunts against alleged subversives, and the U.S. role in Vietnam from January 1961 to November 1963 continued those hardline policies upon which he had accomplished political success. The noted linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky has dissected Kennedy’s approach to Vietnam with great detail and provides overwhelming evidence that the president always sought military success in Vietnam with constantly-escalating commitments.[10] He did not waver and was not going to withdraw.

Inside Vietnam, in late 1960, the northern Vietnamese Communist Party finally agreed to organize armed resistance in the RVN, and hence the National Liberation Front (NLF) and Viet Cong (VC) were born. These groups represented a life-or-death challenge to the southern regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, who was repressive and lacked significant public support. Just weeks after the creation of the NLF, Kennedy pledged to Diem and the RVN that the U.S. would meet any new challenges with them.

As he took office on 20 January 1961, he famously pledged to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.” Kennedy had run to the right of Richard Nixon in the 1960 campaign, alleging that the administration of Dwight Eisenhower had allowed a “Missile Gap” to emerge (and he had — the U.S. had about 20,000 nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union had about 1600), warned of the Soviet Union’s growth in intercontinental ballistic missiles, and pledged to increase and revitalize American nuclear forces.

Ironically, outgoing President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, had warned against the growing militarism in American society and such bellicose rhetoric, but JFK sent an opposite message. Though Kennedy had not specifically referred to Vietnam in his speech, the Diem regime could feel comfortable that their old friend would not let them down. In 1956, as a senator, Kennedy had called the RVN “the cornerstone of the free world in Asia”; it was, he admitted, “our offspring, we cannot abandon it.”[11]As president, he would not.

Vietnam had not been crucial to JFK as he entered the White House; in fact, Eisenhower had warned him that events in Laos would be more difficult in 1961. But, just months into his presidency, Kennedy was beset with challenges and failure. In Laos, he had to agree to the formation of a government which included the Communist Pathet Lao. Worse, in Cuba the U.S.- backed Bay of Pigs invasion was a fiasco. The leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, added to Kennedy’s woes, pledging support for wars of liberation in the Third World, refusing to remove the Berlin Wall, and treating the American president with disdain at a summer meeting in Vienna. Kennedy thus believed that he had to make a stand somewhere — “that son of a bitch won’t pay any attention to words, he has to see you move,” he told reporters — so why not Vietnam? Walt Whitman Rostow, one of his closest advisors, suggested that “clean-cut success in Vietnam” could erase the stain of disaster from the Bay of Pigs. In Saigon, the head of the American Military Assistance Advisory Group [MAAG], General Lionel McGarr, likewise noted the “strong determination” in the White House to stop the “deterioration of US prestige” in April 1961.[12]

Thus JFK, if not desperate at least anxious for a Cold War success, began to increase significantly the U.S. commitment to the RVN and prepare to conduct an aggressive war there. In January, he authorized the Counterinsurgency Plan for southern Vietnam, which called for training the southern army in anti-guerrilla tactics, not just conventional warfare. He then approved expanding the Army of the RVN [ARVN] by 20,000 troops, to 170,000, and then by another 30,000, while enlarging the Civil Guard from 32,000 to 68,000 troops. To pay for these reinforcements, the White House sent Diem an additional $42 million in 1961, on top of the $225 million per year he was receiving already. And in May, Kennedy sent Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson [LBJ] to Vietnam as a public relations measure. While in Saigon, the Vice President told the media that Diem was “the Winston Churchill of Southeast Asia,” though he privately laughed later that “shit, man, he’s the only boy we got out there.”[13]

Recognition of Diem’s repression and America’s limited choices did not deter the White House. Indeed, JFK refused to even talk with Ho Chi Minh or the NLF, warning that negotiations would make him look weak: “If we postpone action in Viet-Nam to engage in talks with the Communists, we can surely count on a major crisis of nerve in Viet-Nam and throughout Southeast Asia. The image of U.S. unwillingness to confront Communism — induced by the Laos performance — will be . . . definitely confirmed. There will be panic and disarray.” To the president, American credibility — appearing strong against Communist advance — would thus be a major factor driving his Indochina policy, and he would not back down. Nor would his Secretary of Defense, Robert Strange McNamara, who informed military officials that the administration “had made the decision to pursue the Vietnam affair with vigor and that all reasonable amounts of resources could be placed at the disposal of the commanders in the area.”[14]

And so, in 1962, it was done. In January, a new commander, Paul D. Harkins, arrived in Vietnam convinced that America’s technological superiority would reverse conditions there. The war was going badly, with the NLF’s political influence growing and the armed wing of the insurgency, the VC, holding the military initiative. To Harkins, and the White House, American tanks and aircraft could be used to flush out the VC and destroy them. In 1962, then, JFK went big and deployed Army helicopter companies, fixed-wing aircraft, a troop carrier squadron, reconnaissance planes, air controllers, crop defoliants to destroy the VC’s jungle cover, Navy mine sweepers, CS gas and napalm — a gasoline gel that seared human flesh. He also authorized the development of strategic hamlets in the RVN — a disastrous program in which Vietnamese peasants were removed from their homes and possessions and relocated to allegedly safe hamlets where they would be protected from the NLF, but which in fact alienated even more villagers from the government and helped VC recruiting efforts.

At the same time, the number of U.S. “Advisors” in Vietnam, 800 in January 1961, rose to 3400 in April 1962 and over 11,000 by the end of the year, and would go up again to 16,700 by the time of Kennedy’s assassination. The ARVN grew again too, to 219,000, while the Civil Guard increased to 77,000. That level of commitment and the introduction of American firepower had the desired impact. The VC fled in horror as U.S.- provided weapons and ammunition rained down on them. As Harkins put it, the napalm “really puts the fear of God into the Viet Cong . . . and that is what counts.” McNamara was similarly pleased with the “tremendous progress” in 1962, and the American commander was assuring him that “there is no doubt we are on the winning side.”[15]

As the evidence made clear, Kennedy was deeply committed to success in Vietnam with heavy firepower and a growing commitment, and believed that he had gained the upper hand in Indochina in 1962. The administration was so flush with success and optimistic that the war would be over quickly, in fact, that it later approved the withdrawal of 1000 American troops (a point Stone would later use to argue that JFK was souring on and planning to get out of Vietnam).

Breakdown 1963: The Coup and “I think we should stay”

The optimism of 1962 was short-lived. On 2 January 1963, the VC routed the ARVN, even though it had a 4 to 1 troop advantage, artillery, armor, and helicopters, at the village of Ap Bac, 35 miles southwest of Saigon in the Mekong. The enemy struck, eluded the southern army, and struck again, killing three Americans and downing five helicopters in the process. ARVN commanders, under orders from Diem not to lose troops, did not force their men to fight and so allowed the VC to take the initiative and then escape from Ap Bac. For the NLF, the battle marked a turnaround from the previous year, and its prospects would improve throughout the next twelve months, while Diem’s took a corresponding downturn, militarily and politically.

There was grave internal crisis in 1963 as well, particularly religious turmoil. The Ngo family had favored Catholics in administrative and military matters since 1954 and began to repress the majority Buddhists — which they saw, with reason, as a political enemy — more intensely in the spring, forbidding them from celebrating Buddha’s birthday and even sending troops into their temples to attack and kill the faithful. Then, on 10 June, the monk Quang Duc famously sat down in the middle of a busy Saigon street, doused himself with gasoline, and lit himself on fire to protest Diemist repression.

International media, tipped off by the Buddhists, was there and Quang Duc’s story and photo were front page news worldwide. For his part, Diem continued to strike at the Buddhists. After nearly a decade of supporting the RVN and the Ngos, it was finally clear that Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were beyond rehabilitation. The United States, which had followed a policy of “sink or swim with Ngo Dinh Diem,” finally agreed he had to go.

RVN Generals launched a coup against Diem and Nhu on 1 November, deposing and murdering them in a van rather than allowing them to flee to Paris. While there is abundant evidence of Kennedy’s commitment to escalate the war in Vietnam to achieve success from early 1961 onward, Stone and others argue that by later 1963 he had developed strong misgivings and was prepared to withdraw, thus prompting dark forces in the intelligence and military communities to assassinate him. With that in mind, then, the U.S. role in the coup against Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu is a critical piece in debunking Stone’s argument about Kennedy. The coup took place just three weeks before Kennedy himself was killed, so the president’s role in deposing the Ngos offers overwhelming evidence that JFK or other government officials were doubling down in Vietnam, not preparing to get out.

JFK himself had been critical to Diem coming to power and the U.S. inventing the RVN and subsequently sending immense funding and weapons to southern Vietnam — and he was immersed in the deliberations over what to do about Diem in the autumn of 1963, that pivotal point where Stone claims Kennedy was making plans to withdraw from Vietnam. Indeed, even before deliberations over ousting Diem became organized, the White House began to express its concerns over instability in the RVN due to Diem’s repression and in a 9 July briefing with the Director of Central Intelligence, CIA officials told the White House that “South Vietnam continues restive over the unresolved Buddhist issue and a coup attempt is increasingly likely,” that the ARVN Commander Tran Van Don had told CIA officers that military was planning to overthrow Diem and Buddhist leaders were becoming more engaged in anti-Diem struggle, and that RVN officials were blaming anti-regime activity on the American media for its reporting on the Buddhist protests and Diem’s corruption and repression in general.[16]

By late August the crisis in the RVN was much more grave and in a meeting to discuss the well-known “Hilsman Cable,” an important document in which Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Roger Hilsman had laid out in bleak terms a situation in the RVN that was “pretty horrible to contemplate.” The U.S. government, Kennedy’s main military and diplomatic officials agreed, “cannot tolerate [a] situation in which power lies in Nhu’s hands,” especially after another series of pagoda raids he had just directed. “Diem must be given [a] chance to rid himself of Nhu and his coterie and replace them with best military and political personalities available,” but if “Diem remains obdurate and refuses, then we must face the possibility that Diem himself cannot be preserved.” Officials in Saigon and Washington who were in contact with RVN military officials opposed to the Ngos were also directed to tell potential coup-planners in southern Vietnam that “we will give them direct support in any interim period of breakdown [of the] central government mechanism.”[17]

Just days later, JFK discussed the Hilsman cable with his national security officials. Kennedy began, “if we’re unsuccessful here, and these [RVN] generals don’t do anything, then we have to deal with Diem as he is . . . Then the question, what do we do to protect our own prestige and also to make it — see if we can have this thing continue on successfully?” Hilsman, like most U.S. officials, believed Nhu, not Diem, was the key problem and that he was “basically anti-American” and showed signs of “emotional unstability [sic].” To Hilsman it was “most important” to recognize that key elements in the southern government and the army were abandoning Diem in the wake of the Buddhist uprisings and that “the situation will rapidly worsen.” Secretary of State Dean Rusk said much the same, adding that “we’re on the road to disaster” and the U.S. could “take it by our choice, or be driven out by a complete deterioration of the situation in Vietnam, or move in such [U.S.] forces as would involve our taking over the country”[18]

After hearing such bleak appraisals, Kennedy suggested talking with McNamara, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, and Harkins to get their views, and JFK was already considering removing Diem and his brother — ”I don’t think we ought to let the coup . . . maybe they know about it, maybe the [RVN] generals are going to have to run [the Ngos] out of the country; maybe we’re going to have to help them get out of there.” Kennedy remained cautious, advising to defer action on a coup “unless we think we got a good chance of success.” The president concluded “we’re not really in a position to withdraw” [my emphasis] so he would rely on Lodge and Harkins to advise him on whether to go forward with the action against Diem and Nhu. But ultimately, the administration was on board, with JKF, Secretary of State Dean Rusk (who said that if JFK signed off he would give “a green light too”), Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, and General Maxwell Taylor, chair of the JCS, all signing off on the hard-line recommendations.[19] There is no evidence that Kennedy was reconsidering his commitment to war in Vietnam. Indeed, the opposite was the case.

Maxwell Taylor, Robert McNamara, JFK

In fact, at that very same time Rusk reported that the U.S. was prepared to supply RVN military coup-planners in the field with arms, ammunition, and logistical support, Kennedy ordered his advisors to compile a list of potential successors should the ouster take place. Rusk made it clear what was at stake, admitting that if a coup failed the U.S. would be “on an inevitable road to disaster. The decision for the United States would be . . . to get out and let the country go to the Communists or to move U.S. combat forces into South Viet-Nam and put in a government of our choosing.” So JFK, like everyone else, knew exactly what was in play regarding the potential coup against Diem, and made no move to stop it, for the memorandum ended with the statement that “there was no dissent from the Secretary’s analysis.”[20]

Already, in late August, American planning to oust Diem and Nhu was well underway with the president’s support, a far cry from Stone’s argument that Kennedy was ready to withdraw from the war. It was clear, as diplomatic and military officials in southern Vietnam had reported “that the war against the Viet Cong in Vietnam cannot be won under the Diem regime,” and at a 29 August meeting at which Lodge and Harkins reported that JFK asked if anyone had reservations about the current campaign of seeking alternatives to Diem and Nhu, the president answered his own query by asserting that “if Diem says no to a change in government there would be no way in which we could withdraw our demand.” The White House, quite clearly, had drawn a line in the sand and the Ngos had to either change dramatically and enact serious reforms or they would be ousted.

Toward that end, the he offered a summary of actions to be taken which included Harkins and the CIA approaching southern generals about a coup; authorizing Lodge to announce a suspension of U.S. aid to the RVN when the time was right according to the White House; making no announcement of any movement of U.S. forces to the area in support of a coup; and giving Lodge authority over all operations to get rid of Diem and Nhu, overt and covert. At another meeting on Vietnam later that day, McNamara urged a final overture to Diem because he doubted any successor government could run the country, to which, according to the minutes of the meeting, “the president asks who runs it now; that it seemed to him it was not being run very well.”[21]

The positions taken and decisions made in late August regarding the U.S. determination to eliminate Diem and Nhu were made with a clear goal of regaining some initiative in the RVN and stalling what American officials recognized as an inevitable march to victory by the NLF and VC in the south. There was no idea given to leaving Vietnam. In fact, in two important interviews with TV anchors Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley just shortly before his own death, Kennedy doubled down on his commitment to Vietnam.

While Stone and others have cited the interviews where JFK admitted that the situation in Vietnam was going badly, they left out key parts that attested to the president’s resolve. During a 2 September interview with Cronkite, the president said that it was the RVN’s war to win or lose and that “all we can do is help,” but did not “agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake. I know people don’t like to see Americans to be engaged in this kind of effort… But it is a very important struggle even though it is far away.” A week later he told Huntley essentially the same thing. Although Americans would get anxious or impatient about Vietnam, “withdrawal only makes it easy for the Communist. I think we should stay.”[22]

At the same time Kennedy was publicly reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Vietnam, the president sent McNamara and Taylor to Vietnam to appraise the situation there. Their report formed the basis of National Security Action Memorandum [NSAM] 263, which Stone and the Kennedy conspiracy cult have cited as their smoking gun to show JFK was ready to leave Vietnam. Like the rest of the Stone theory, this episode has been misrepresented to make a claim opposite of the truth. In Vietnam, McNamara and Taylor heard Harkins talk of the “great progress” in the war there and came back and told the president that he should publicly report that he was going to withdraw 1000 military personnel and anticipated the bulk of American troops could be phased out by the end of 1965. Even so, the White House issued a statement again making clear its support of the commitment to the RVN.[23]

On October 11 Kennedy then authorized NSAM 263, which approved of the McNamara-Taylor recommendations to withdraw 1000 troops, though not publicly announce it, and said a “major part” of military tasks can be done by end of 1965, or 24 months in the future. The Americans continued to insist that South Vietnam improve its military performance, and stressed that the U.S. would have to emphasize training the Vietnamese to take over “essential functions” of warfare by late 1965. In other words, NSAM 263 continued the U.S. approach to Vietnam that had been in effect the entire Kennedy presidency, as it remained the “central object” of the U.S. in South Vietnam “to assist the people and Government of that country to win their contest against the externally directed and supported Communist conspiracy. The test of all decisions and U.S. actions in actions in this area should be the effectiveness of their contributions to this purpose.”[24]

Rather than a striking break from the U.S. war in Vietnam that would indicate a change of heart by JFK, NSAM 263 was a continuation of the American doctrine in the Cold War from the end of World War II forward. It was essentially a restatement of the Truman Doctrine and NSC-68, yet Stone and his followers created a myth to substitute for the obvious reality and have convinced huge numbers to believe it. In fact, even after the assassination, U.S. policy in Vietnam remained the same. (And, just a few days after the assassination, Lyndon Johnson signed off on NSAM 273, which had been prepared under Kennedy and, again, emphasized that America’s “central objective” in Vietnam was still to take the actions necessary to prevent Communist victory in the south.)[25]

So the evidence of Kennedy’s continued commitment to the war in Vietnam was overwhelming as the coup planning continued. In late October, in two of the later meetings regarding a potential coup, the State Department and National Security Council produced separate check-lists of possible actions in the event of an overthrow of Diem. All the options involved deep U.S. involvement and all were based on the high likelihood, if not certainty, of a coup attempt.[26]

On the morning of 1 November, as the coup in Saigon began to unfold, Kennedy again met with his advisors. Rusk was concerned that the U.S. get the support of the RVN’s vice-president so “the façade of constitutionalism would thus be preserved.” Kennedy himself did not suggest regret about the coup (though by all accounts he was aghast that Diem and Nhu were murdered) and stressed that all officials publicly deny any role in the ouster of the Ngos. Strikingly, he was concerned with public relations, that he and his advisors might have to reconcile supporting this coup against an ally in the RVN and recognizing a new government after recently refusing to recognize a rebel government which had overthrown the government in Honduras, and he directed that a paper on the topic be prepared “so that everyone in the government would be saying the same thing in response to this question.”[27]

Image from Coup Against Diem 11/1/63

JFK himself would be assassinated 3 weeks later in Dallas, but there is no reason for the so-called deep state to have wanted him dead because he was trying to get out of Vietnam and usher in a new era of global peace. In a speech early on 22 November in Fort Worth, Kennedy admitted that “without the United States, South Vietnam would collapse overnight.” Much more telling were the remarks he was scheduled to deliver at the Dallas Trade Mart that evening. The entire document in bellicose and unwavering, and it should be read in full to get a real sense of where JFK’s foreign policy ideas stood at the moment he was allegedly targeted by the military and intelligence complexes for being a dove. Kennedy’s speech both boasted and warned enemies of American strength.

“In this administration,” he said firmly, “it has been necessary at times to issue specific warnings — warnings that we could not stand by and watch the Communists conquer Laos by force, or intervene in the Congo, or swallow West Berlin, or maintain offensive missiles on Cuba. But while our goals were at least temporarily obtained in these and other instances, our successful defense of freedom was due not to the words we used, but to the strength we stood ready to use on behalf of the principles we stand ready to defend.” He added that his administration had increased the number of Polaris submarines by 50 percent, the Minuteman Missile purchase program by 75 percent, raised the number of strategic bombers on 15 minute alert by 50 percent, increased the total number of nuclear weapons available in strategic alert forces by 100 percent, and raised the level of tactical nuclear forces deployed in Western Europe by 60 percent.

The U.S., he also boasted, raised the number of combat-ready army divisions by 45 percent, and had doubled the number of tactical aircraft, while ship construction and army procurement of materiel had also risen by 100 percent. In finishing his laundry list of the vast military build-up, he pointed out that he had increased special forces by nearly 600 percent, and those new troops “are prepared to work with our allies and friends against the guerrillas, saboteurs, insurgents, and assassins who threaten freedom in less direct but equally dangerous manner.” Finally, Kennedy detailed the aid that the U.S. was giving to other nations to fight against Communism and pointed out that “our assistance to these nations can be painful, risky and costly, as is true in Southeast Asia today. But we dare not weary of the task.”[28]

Part II

Civilian Hawks and Military “Doves”

A centerpiece of the JFK conspiracy theory is that the military wanted Kennedy gone because it wanted to be unleashed to fight in Vietnam. Kennedy’s actions as president, however, up to his role the anti-Diem coup just weeks before his own assassination, offer overwhelming evidence that the president was committed to a military solution in Vietnam with an ever-escalating presence, and it powerfully debunks Stone’s argument. But there are more firm reasons to refute the filmmaker’s theory about Kennedy withdrawing from Vietnam and ending the Cold War, and thus prompting the military-industrial complex and others to have him killed. In reality, the U.S. military was far more “dovish” on Vietnam than Kennedy and his civilian advisors. There would be no motive to want to harm Kennedy because he was going soft on Vietnam, because the military itself was never eager to fight there.

In the early 1950s, leading military officials from all the services had time and again voiced their reluctance to fight in Vietnam, including Generals Matthew Ridgway and James Gavin, General and later Ambassador Saigon J. Lawton Collins, and others. During the Kennedy years, the military’s opposition was not as pronounced, but it stood in juxtaposition to JFK’s hawkish approach to Vietnam. From 1961 to 1963 the military was variously ambivalent, critical, or even internally contradictory with regard to Vietnam. Leading officers might not have opposed war as strongly as their predecessors a decade earlier, but neither did ranking military figures — including CINCPAC Admiral Harry D. Felt, General McGarr, and Marine Commandant David M. Shoup, and even Maxwell Taylor — behave according to the hawkish caricature that many liberal critics have developed over the years.[29]

Most officers in Washington and Saigon in fact tended to be critics of the war or were aware of the political stakes in taking on the president so did not challenge him directly but did recognize the perilous situation in Vietnam. Most were never eager for combat, understood the obstacles to success, and were aware of the domestic political implications of warfare in Indochina, yet within two-and-a-half years, as Kennedy intensified the war in Vietnam, they had to put their reluctance to intervene on the backburner and began to pursue a military solution in Vietnam per JFK’s plans. Although they followed Kennedy’s lead, military officials — some of whom, like Generals Gavin and Maxwell Taylor, had campaigned for JFK and received posts in his administration — recognized that U S prospects in Vietnam were always uncertain and that American combat role would not ensure success and should be avoided. By November 1963 then, the U.S. military, obedient if not in concert with Kennedy’s political objectives, was involved in a war in Vietnam that would serve neither U.S. nor Vietnamese interests.

As he took office, Kennedy had a strong relationship with the military and had begun to make good on promises to give it more assets and bigger budgets. The brass certainly appreciated the money but did not share Kennedy’s enthusiasm for involvement in Vietnam. The heads of the Air Force and Navy, which would fight at a distance and take far fewer casualties, were willing to consider a military role in Indochina, but they were not a majority. More typically, Marine Commandant David Shoup rejected calls for intervention while the Army Chief of Staff, General George Decker, thought that “there was no good place to fight” in Southeast Asia. [30]

The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Harry D. Felt, was also “strongly opposed” to troop deployments, especially because he anticipated that the ARVN would fight even less if American troops were there to bail them out. Felt, like most officers, believed that the United States should limit its role to training and supplying the south Vietnamese military to take on the VC by themselves [what would become “Vietnamization” when Richard Nixon was president]. Perhaps no officer received as much publicity for his criticism as Colonel John Paul Vann, whose leaks to the New York Times revealed that the ARVN was avoiding battle and that the heavy use of American firepower and air strikes was killing huge numbers of civilian villagers — the very people that the Americans were trying to “save” — throughout the South. As one Army report from 1962 concluded, “the military and political situation in South Vietnam can be aptly described by four words, ‘it is a mess.’”[31]

As the Kennedy administration sent more resources and money into Vietnam, the military went along with Kennedy but continued to express conflicting views about Vietnam policy. Military officials generally supported Kennedy, especially after he replaced holdover brass with his own generals and because he put forward budgets with a projected increase for the Pentagon of $17 billion over five years. Optimism also grew within the military, as we have seen, with Paul Harkins’s arrival and the introduction of technological warfare and helicopters, among other resources, and even critics of the war fell in line as money flooded into the military and resources poured into Vietnam. However, U.S. officers continued to recognize that the Viet Cong was stronger and committed to conducting long-term, attritional warfare that could not be defeated with a conventional military response.

They also continued to lament the incessant political repression and chaos in Saigon which ultimately led to the Diem coup, and in the case of John Paul Vann and others pointed out the politicization and shortcomings of the South Vietnamese military forces. And, whatever their opinion of the wisdom or risks of intervention, virtually every American military official assumed during this time that the United States would not even contemplate sending combat forces into battle in southern Vietnam. The military had to take its cues from Kennedy, who was preparing to go all-in in Indochina over its the reservations, reluctance, or at times opposition. Stone’s position that the military feared or hated JFK enough to plot to kill him is absurd on the surface, but even more irrational, if not risible, when viewed within the context of how the military really felt about Vietnam and JFK.

Even more telling is that the military’s pessimistic evaluations and often-cautious recommendations essentially hardened after the assassination. If the military wanted Kennedy out of the way so it could go all-out against the Revolution in Vietnam, then ranking officers would have been sending along sanguine reports and urging a full-on war. Yet, Throughout 1964 and 1965, as the Johnson administration repeatedly escalated the war in Vietnam, the military remained unconvinced of the need for or value of intervention. Indeed, both Generals Taylor and William Westmoreland, the ambassador and commander who are remembered as hawks on Vietnam (indeed, some vets derided the commander as “General Waste-more-men”), strongly opposed the introduction of combat troops in the crucial 1964–65 period, as did ranking officers in every service.

In an address at Marine headquarters in late 1963 the incoming Commandant, General Wallace M. Greene, Jr., explicitly rejected American participation in the war in Indochina, lamenting that “we’re up to our knees in the quagmire [in Vietnam] and we don’t seem to be able to do much about it.” Greene hoped that the current Marine presence in Vietnam, about 550 troops, would remain low. “Frankly, in the Marine Corps we do not want to get any more involved in South Vietnam because if we do we cannot execute our primary mission,” he admitted. With more important commitments elsewhere, he feared that the Corps would be overextended in Vietnam. “You see what happened to the French,” Greene ruminated, “well, maybe the same thing is going to happen to us.” Generals Victor Krulak, who was assuming command of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific [FMFPac], and Donald Bennett, director of strategic planning for the Army, had similar reservations about expanding the U.S. role in Vietnam, with Bennett later charging that “certainly from September of [19]63 on, the forcing [into war in Vietnam], as far as I could tell, came from the civilian side.”[32]

To Taylor, it was neither “reasonable or feasible” to expect Caucasian American soldiers to take on the duties of Asian guerrilla warfare. As soon as American troops entered the RVN, the Vietnamese would “seek to unload other ground force tasks upon us” and would perform even “worse in a mood of relaxation at passing the Viet Cong burden to the U.S.” Taylor even went so far as to suggest that LBJ reduce the U.S. role to sending in advisors, or maybe even “disengage and let the [RVN] stand alone.”[33]

Westmoreland was likewise reluctant to fight in Vietnam. In September 1964, the commander “did not contemplate” putting U.S. troops into combat; that “would be a mistake,” he told Taylor, because “it is the Vietnamese’s war.” In late 1964, again insisting that “a purely military solution is not possible,” Westmoreland did not even mention using ground troops in his reports to Washington. In probably his most prophetic analysis, in January 1965, just ten weeks before the introduction of combat troops at Da Nang, he and his staff urged a continuation of the flawed advisory system, but no combat troops. The United States, they recognized, had spent vast amounts of time and money to develop the ARVN, with little luck, and “if that effort has not succeeded, there is even less reason to think that U.S. combat forces would have the desired effect.” The involvement of American troops in the RVN, the military staff in Saigon concluded, quite amazingly, “would at best buy time and would lead to ever increasing commitments until, like the French, we would be occupying an essentially hostile foreign country.”[34]

More than a year after JFK’s assassination, then, the military, which Stone and others would want people to believe plotted to have the president killed because of his reluctance to fight in Vietnam, were continuing to be far more hesitant and pessimistic about the war than the civilians were. . . .

Beyond Vietnam: Kennedy’s Record of Aggression and Intervention

National Security Policies

There are some who have argued that the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 tempered Kennedy and made him more dovish, and they point to the establishment of the hotline between Washington and Moscow, and, even more, the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to suggest that JFK was moving to dramatically deescalate and eventually end the Cold War. Kennedy did in fact take measures to reduce tensions between the Soviet Union and United States, but the idea that he was becoming so dovish that state agents had him assassinated is preposterous and without evidence.

To Stone, the alarming events of October 1962 caused JFK to take a hard line against the Soviet installation of missile sites in Cuba which ultimately forced Khrushchev to back down, and was “the greatest single act of human courage the world ever witnessed with that much at stake.”[35] More to the point, Stone and other partisans of the conspiracy to kill Kennedy believed that the crisis made the president realize how dangerous nuclear weapons were and thus reappraise life-long held beliefs about the Cold War and global conflict.

Kennedy Speaking During Missile Crisis 10/62

Yet Stone also contends, contradictorily, that suspicions arose that Kennedy was “soft on communism” because he failed to use military force in October 1962. In any event, Kennedy in truth took a hard line, imposing a blockade on Soviet ships that could have led to armed conflict or even a nuclear exchange. And the American people saw it that way, with 82 percent saying U.S. power had increased after the missile crisis, while 70 percent had a favorable view of his foreign policies, and 74 percent believed he would be reelected in 1964.

So, in truth, Kennedy’s political position had improved by late 1962, and in fact he did use that momentum to take some important measures with regard to the Soviet Union. In early 1963, the president established a hot line (a teletype machine, not a “red telephone”) to provide instant communication between Washington and Moscow in the event of conflict or emergency, and, more importantly, convinced congress to pass a Limited Nuclear Test Ban treaty in September 1963, which prohibited nuclear tests under water, in the atmosphere, and in outer space, and pledged all signatories to end the arms race.

But even this particular accomplishment was not indicative of any change of heart by Kennedy. JFK had been advocating a nuclear test ban since his days as a senator in the mid-1950s, and it had strong support in both parties by January 1961. Indeed, the final vote on the treaty was 80–19, so the idea that the military or intelligence communities were so angry that they would try to assassinate JFK over this issue (which was of the same nature as Eisenhower’s pursuit of the Open Skies Treay in 1955 anyway) is, again, without evidence or merit.[36] Indeed, in the period between making the agreement with Khrushchev and holding the senate vote, a large and diverse group of political figures publicly supported the test ban — officials from the Atomic Energy Commission, prominent Republicans like Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Everett Dirksen, former President Harry S. Truman, and various labor and church groups. Over 60 percent of Americans supported the treaty, while less than 20 percent opposed it.[37]

Most importantly, even the JCS supported the nuclear test ban. In the first deliberations about the treaty, the chiefs were reluctant to agree to limiting nuclear testing, but began to soften their positions in July, after Kennedy assured them that “we cannot reduce our military readiness if an accord is reached, for the whole situation could turn around in six months.” Feeling less apprehensive, the JCS consulted with CIA Director John McCone, AEC Chair Glenn Seaborg, various nuclear physicists, and other scientific and political officials. Their answers, according to the official history of the period “plainly eased JCS concerns.” Even hawkish Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay, who wanted the U.S. to develop a 100 megaton bomb to match the Soviet Union’s “Tsar Bomba,” knew that it would be to U.S. “political disadvantage” if it did not ratify the treaty. McNamara, the chiefs’ civilian boss, sent them a draft endorsing the treaty and recommending ratification, and in mid-August the JCS abandoned its reservations. Overall, the JCS said, “the US at present is clearly ahead of the USSR in the ability to wage strategic nuclear war, and is probably ahead in the ability to wage tactical nuclear war.” Ultimately, the Chiefs concluded that the treaty was “compatible with the security interests of the US” and supported its ratification.[38]

Kennedy’s national security policy, the record indicates, was consistent throughout his presidency, both before and after October 1962, and it was aggressive and based on military strength. In June 1962, the Policy Planning Council prepared a draft of the U.S. Basic National Security Policy that was complete with boilerplate Cold War analyses and recommendations. It began by reiterating that “now and for the foreseeable future U.S. military policy is a crucial determinant of the fate of the free community because our military strength is proportionately great in relation to our population and command over resources, and because the security of our allies is intimately dependent on our strength and will to exercise it.”

The planners behind the report did not anticipate that the Soviets would take any aggressive actions abroad (this was pre-missile crisis) but also were committed to keeping the U.S. military deployed abroad and well-funded in the event some crisis with the USSR did emerge. The report also discussed what the U.S. perceived as the Soviet threat in some measure and was open to changing the U.S. “no first strike” with nuclear weapons policy in the event war broke out. It also discussed America’s need not just for nuclear arms but also chemical and biological weapons, urged an increased commitment to supporting American allies and having adequate funding and production for U.S. military materiel at home, and said that the U.S. had to “be prepared to fight locally in direct conflict with Sino-Soviet forces.”[39]

In early 1963, as the dust settled after the missile crisis, JFK did not shift policies, but continued his aggressive and militarist approach, in rhetoric and action. In his State of the Union Address, the president continued to argue for a hardline against U.S. enemies. He could “foresee no spectacular reversal in Communist methods or goals,” but would be open to peace overtures from Moscow. However, until Khrushchev made that choice, “the free peoples have no choice but to keep their arms nearby.” Accordingly, Kennedy promised “the best defense in the world,” which meant a rising defense budget because there was no “bargain basement” way to achieve security.

In 1963, that would mean spending $15 billion on nuclear weapons systems alone, “a sum which is about equal to the combined defense budgets of our European Allies.” In addition, JFK pledged improved air and missile defense systems, improved civil defense, a strengthened anti-guerrilla capacity, and “of prime importance” — more powerful and flexible non-nuclear forces (part of so-called “flexible response).[40] In less than three years as president, Kennedy and McNamara oversaw one of the largest increases in military spending in non-wartime conditions in U.S. history.[41]

Around this time he also proposed the establishment of the Multilateral Nuclear Force (MLF), which would put integrated North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] forces together on nuclear submarines and ships, and, most controversially, include personnel from West Germany to have partial control over nuclear weapons, less than two decades after the end of World War II. The Soviet Union, not surprisingly, was outraged by the idea of giving the Germans authorization over nuclear weapons and believed that Kennedy was making nuclear proliferation more likely. Though the U.S. had drafted a Non-Proliferation Treaty in early 1963, the MLF, as Khrushchev saw it, was exacerbating European instability, not limiting it.[42]

In fact, JFK supported the MLF even though one of America’s key allies, France, opposed it. “Our interest,” Kennedy said at an NSC meeting in January 1963, “is to strengthen the NATO multilateral force concept, even though de Gaulle is opposed, because a multilateral force will increase our influence in Europe and provide a way to guide NATO and keep it strong. We have to live with de Gaulle” (who was causing problems that “are not crucial in the sense that our problems in Latin America are”). At that same NSC meeting, Kennedy pointed out that one of “our big tasks” would be to persuade the Europeans to increase their defense forces. JFK, more than his predecessors, was also willing to assert American power and act unilaterally with regard to Europe and NATO. Kennedy did not believe that the “approval of the alliance was a condition that pressed on him.”[43]

“If we are to keep six divisions in Europe, the European states must do more,” he said. “Our forces in Europe are further forward than the troops of de Gaulle who, instead of committing his divisions to NATO, is banking on us to defend him by maintaining our present military position in Europe. While recognizing the military interests of the Free World, we should consider very hard the narrower interests of the United States.” [44] Once again, JFK was hardly going soft as a result of the nuclear crisis a few months earlier in Cuba. The MLF never became a reality, but Kennedy’s determination to expand Europe’s nuclear capability, with ex-Nazis involved in operational control of NATO weapons, showed his true colors. The president also showed his commitment to Germany, and his continued Cold War bona fides, during a visit to the wall in West Berlin in June, as his words assured the West Germans that they could rely on the U.S. for their security and condemned communism. “There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future . . . And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists . . . And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress,” and Kennedy admonished them, “let them come to Berlin” and finished with his famous declaration “Ich bin ein Berliner,” or “I am a Berliner.”[45]

Late into the year, even as Kennedy, in NSAM 270, announced the redeployment of some personnel and units from Europe, the U.S. still was keeping six ground divisions in Germany “as long as they are required.”[46] Even with the drawdown of some units and equipment, the U.S. was not withdrawing from Europe, as Dean Rusk made clear in an address in Frankfort at the very same time as NSAM 270 was authorized. “When we say that your defense is our defense,” he assured the Germans, “we mean it. We have proved it in the past [and] will continue to demonstrate it in the future. We have six divisions in Germany. We intend to maintain these divisions here as long as there is need for them — and under present circumstances there is no doubt that they will continue to be needed.” Rusk also stressed that U.S. had established “the world’s largest logistical system” in Germany which kept forces in the “highest state of readiness with the most modern and powerful equipment . . . . and they are backed by nuclear forces of almost unimaginable power.” Finally, Rusk reminded the Germans that the U.S. had 2.7 million active troops, with about 1 million outside the U.S. and would maintain security not just in Europe but worldwide with its power.[47]

JFK’s national security policies, from his time in the senate until the end of his life, were based on traditional concepts of power, containment, and nuclear superiority. Even as he agreed to a limited test ban, he was always sure to maintain vast American superiority and flex military strength if needed. There is nothing in the record to indicate that Kennedy had any plans that would fundamentally shift U.S. cold war doctrine and there was simply no reason for the military to have any deep conflict with him, let alone reason enough to want him killed. Again, Stone’s argument fails in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Part III

Latin America and Internal Security

Kennedy’s supporters point to his approach to the so-called Third World to assert he was charting a new path on foreign policy. JFK was familiar with the work of revolutionaries like Mao Zedong and understood that the social conditions in poverty-ridden, underdeveloped countries often led to communist success, both in organizing communities and in politics, and he was aware that Khrushchev had vowed to support wars of national liberation, creating more problems in parts of the world where western states had occupied an imperial role for decades or more. So Kennedy would help those places where the Left was growing with an alternative path to progress — the key ideology would be “modernization” and the centerpiece program would be The Alliance for Progress.

Modernization had been an increasingly popular idea among liberals in the Kennedy era, especially associated with Walt Rostow’s The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Modernization would use the lure of development and reform, rather than intervention and repression, to create better and more equitable societies in the Third World and thus make communism unappealing to the masses. The U.S. had tried out such ideas in other forms before, during the days of “Dollar Diplomacy” or with the “Good Neighbor Policy” for instance, but this would be more nuanced and much bigger, with the Alliance for Progress as its showpiece program. In reality, Kennedy’s policy would not be a departure from America’s past in that region and would, again, be based on militarization rather than modernization. JFK would support authoritarian regimes, exert diplomatic and economic inducements and threats, subvert Left movements and governments, and use American military forces to change the internal structure of other states.

Kennedy’s words about U.S. options in the Dominican Republic after its dictator Rafael Trujillo was murdered have often been quoted because they sum up his views so well — “there are three possibilities in descending order of preference: a decent democratic regime, a continuation of the Trujillo regime, or a Castro regime. We ought to aim at the first but we cannot renounce the second until we are sure we can avoid the third.”[48] Of course, in his first 100 days Kennedy tried to “avoid” the third option at the Bay of Pigs, which was a spectacular failure. But moving onward, JFK, Stone’s dove who was going to thaw relations with Cuba after the missile crisis and renounce America’s imperial past, continued long-standing U.S. policies.

The main Kennedy-era document on Latin American internal security was NSAM 134, adopted in early 1962. It was full of typical Cold War condemnations of communism and the Left, which was using “now-familiar techniques of pressure, infiltration, and division in weakening the will of governments for taking effective action, and of initiating violence principally in rural areas and on issues where internal security forces are vulnerable.” It provided a laundry list of areas where local U.S.-allied governments faced “critical problems in internal security” exacerbated by political and class divisions — Colombia and Bolivia, which required urgent attention; Peru and Ecuador, which were on the edge of crisis; and Venzuela, Brazil, and Argentina, which risked sudden deterioration.[49] Of course there was no need to mention Cuba, where the U.S. imposed a brutal embargo in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs invasion and continued to do so post Missile Crisis and had been trying to assassinate Fidel Castro, as chronicled by the Church and Pike Committees.[50]

Castro Commanding Troops at Bay of Pigs

Despite the rhetoric of modernization and the public relations hype of the Alliance for Progress, the U.S. was still going to rely on force to ensure its interests in Latin America, increasing the American Military Assistance Program, supporting and training military forces in that region, and developing local forces to not just fight conventional warfare but also to meet the challenge of internal subversive movements of the Left. And, counter to Stone’s claim that JFK was going to thaw relations with Cuba, JFK’s pressure on the island did not abate and Castro was cited as the justification for the use of force in Latin America in virtually every statement and document produced by diplomatic and military officials.[51]

Post-Missile Crisis, the time when Stone and other Kennedy supporters claim he was softening on Cuba and militarization, JFK did not shift course, but continued the U.S. obsession with Cuba and communism in Latin America. In November 1962, U.S. officials continued to insist that “the problem of Cuba and security transcends nuclear arms and purely military operations. Every Communist is dangerous. Cuba directly affects all the small nearby countries. These countries must develop socially and economically to offset Marxist propaganda. Communism will be no menace if countries are ruled democratically, and if assistance under the Alliance for Progress is forthcoming.”[52]

The continued U.S. assault on Latin America also belie the claims of Talbot and others that the president had alienated the CIA and was trying to weaken it, thus causing agents, especially those loyal to Dulles, to want him dead. Both before and after Dulles’s time as DCI, JFK used the CIA and other American groups (including prominently the AFL-CIO) to undermine and even overthrow Latin governments. Whether it be the JCS, NSC, FBI, or CIA, Kennedy was always involved in subversion, aggression, and intervention — at home and abroad.

In March 1963, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Edwin Martin wrote a pamphlet on Communist subversion in the area which again showed that democracy and the Alliance for Progress were fig leaves for continued imperium. The U.S. had two goals in the region, to “isolate Cuba from the hemisphere and discredit the image of the Cuban revolution” and to “improve the internal security capabilities” of America’s allies there. Toward that end the U.S. had been training Latin American military personnel in riot control, counterinsurgency, intelligence and counterintelligence, psychological warfare, counterguerrilla warfare, and in other areas to maintain “public order” at U.S. military schools in the Canal Zone and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Castro was the “aggressive element” that the U.S. had to confront, and JFK was even considering creating a Caribbean forced to use against guerrilla or insurgent groups.[53]

There was no hard evidence that JFK was having a change of mind or heart regarding the traditional U.S. role in Latin America. In May National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy presented the president with a report on Soviet “penetration” in the western hemisphere, and described the so-called Kennedy Doctrine. It was old Monroe Doctrine/Cold War wine in new casks. The declaration against the Soviet Union accepted the established premise that the extension of communist influence in the hemisphere was hostile to American interests and “such intrusion cannot be accepted,” and the U.S. and Organization of American States [OAS] would take the measures needed to prevent it “in the interest of freedom.” It also assumed that “the United States would take unilateral military action if necessary to prevent a Communist takeover of a Latin American government,” even thought that would raise “grave problems” between Washington and Latin America.

The group working on this study understood how delicate the issue of U.S. intervention on the internal affairs of another country was, so it had to be made effective with minimal opposition within the hemisphere. The declaration could be “surrounded with a good deal of hemispheric mood music,” but it would be a “major unilateral U.S. move” and would be met with “a lot of Latin American twittering” — especially in Brazil and Mexico. A potential way around that would be to have the declaration “issued in the context of some crisis in which in fact our decision to act would be generally approved. The hypothetical British Guiana case in the scenario is an example.”[54]

While Stone and others may claim JFK was prepared to thaw relations with Havana and open dialogues with other such groups to deescalate or even end the cold war, the record shows nothing of the sort. Kennedy ended 1962 in Miami paying public tribute to the Cuban Invasion Brigade and pledging that Cuba would be made “free” with Alliance for Progress and American help. In fact, the U.S. campaign of subversion and sabotage had continued even amid the Missile Crisis and afterwards. Kennedy did for a time try to tamp down the raids being conducted by Cubans out of Miami because they threatened to reignite a global political crisis with the Castro government and the Soviet Union, but never gave up on his goal of ousting Castro, even well into 1963. In an April meeting, JFK made clear he had not given up on removing Castro but insisted it had to be a Miami-Cuban effort and wondered “whether active sabotage was good unless it was of a type that could only come from within Cuba.”

At the same time Bromley Smith, the executive secretary of the NSC, presented an analysis that made it clear that Kennedy had decided to end the “restraint” he had shown on Cuba and was recommitting American assets to the campaign against Castro. “This paper,” Smith began, “presents a covert Harassment/sabotage program targeted against Cuba; included are those sabotage plans which have previously been approved as well as new proposals.” The NSC acknowledged that “while this program will cause a certain amount of economic damage, it will in no sense critically injure the economy or cause the overthrow of Castro.” It could however “create a situation which will delay the consolidation and stabilization of Castro’s revolution” and that was worth the U.S. effort.[55]

In fact, in Kennedy’s last public words about Latin America, in Miami on November 18th, he paid lip service to development or modernization — “There can be no progress and stability if people do not have hope for a better life tomorrow,” he said — but stressed the need to be on guard against communism in the region and be prepared to assist any state fighting off the Left. His rhetoric and plans for Latin America were not different than they had been in April 1961 when the U.S. invaded the Bay of Pigs. Communists were subverting and destroying development and if the U.S.-Latin alliance, manifested in the OAS, was to survive, it had to be prepared to aid any government requesting aid against forces deemed similar to Castro, and Kennedy emphasized that “my own country is prepared to do this.” He urged states throughout the hemisphere to “use every resource at our command to prevent the establishment of another Cuba in this hemisphere. . . .”[56]

So Kennedy, at the end of his life, was still a committed cold warrior in Latin America, not just in rhetoric but in practice as well. There are two key examples which demonstrate JFK’s continued hardline polices in the region, Brazil and Guiana. In Brazil, Kennedy laid the groundwork to oust the presidency of João Goulart, who was deposed finally in March 1964. Goulart was not himself a communist (in fact, there were just 25–40,000 communist party members in all of Brazil, a country of 75 million) but was allied with labor unions and other civil groups that had Left members and was pursuing a reformist agenda. In March 1963, Ambassador Lincoln Gordon began notifying Goulart that he would have to remove “anti-American” politicians from his inner circle or risk economic pressure from Washington. From then on, the CIA and Department of State were in frequent contact with anti-Goulart elements in the military, and also were creating paramilitary groups, to oust Goulart. Meanwhile officials from the AFL-CIO were making contact with labor representatives in Brazil to neutralize a group that once been allied with the government. Again, there is no evidence the Missile Crisis had forced JFK to reevaluate his hawkish policies or that he was trying to de-escalate the Cold War.[57]

Guiana, the hypothetical country in the May report, was also targeted by Kennedy. Kennedy showed no dovish epiphany as Stone and others would suggest when confronting the government of Cheddi Jagan, who “imperiled Latin America and the Alliance for Progress and threated the security of the United States,” as the administration saw it. Guiana, as part of the decolonization movement after World War II, was on the path toward independence, but Kennedy wanted Britain to “drag out” the process, while he also sent U.S. agents to the colony to undermine Jagan’s campaign and stir up racial tensions. Ultimately, Kennedy rejected Jagan (who was responsive to participating in the Alliance for Progress) and embraced a coup that later brought an authoritarian government to power in 1964.[58]

Such action, it should be noted, took place in areas beyond the Western Hemisphere too. In Iraq, Kennedy continued Eisenhower-era policies of opposing the government of of General ‘Abd-ul-Karim Qasim, a nationalist who’d overthrown the monarchy in 1958 and challenged the Anglo-American Iraq Petroleum Company’s (IPC) power. Because of U.S. opposition, Qasim sought more aid from the Soviet Union while also trying to reunite Iraq and Kuwait to reclaim the IPC’s oil concession. Kennedy increased the pressure on Iraq and the CIA worked closely with the Ba’ath Party and other groups in Iraq to oust and execute him in February 1963, after which the U.S. provided the new regime in Baghdad with military equipment, including weapons to use against Kurdish rebels, agricultural surpluses, and Export-Import Bank loans, while also encouraging private corporate investment in Iraq.

Even the New York Times, decades later, detailed the U.S. role in 1963, in an op-ed by ex-national security official and establishment scholar Roger Morris, who wrote that “Using lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the C.I.A., the Baathists systematically murdered untold numbers of Iraq’s educated elite — killings in which Saddam Hussein himself is said to have participated. No one knows the exact toll, but accounts agree that the victims included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers and other professionals as well as military and political figures.”[59]

Far from changing the U.S. approach to Latin America and other underdeveloped areas that had been doctrine since the days of James Monroe, Kennedy, as even moderate scholars who reviewed the record and the secondary literature about JFK in Latin America recognized, “in spite of his rhetorical promises, . . . was just another in a long line of cold warriors. Hence his efforts on behalf of the Third World were designed to combat communism, and only incidentally to improve the lives of people.”[60]

Revising Kennedy’s Legacy Post-Tet

Another piece to the story of Kennedy’s supposed desire to get out of Vietnam and reverse the Cold War that Stone did not engage is the fact that most of JFK’s associates who claimed that the president had soured on Vietnam and was going to withdraw did so much later, after he was assassinated and, importantly, after the war had taken a turn for the worse, especially after the Tet Offensive.

Kennedy’s friend and court historian Arthur Schlesinger’s “evolution” on JFK and Vietnam is quite telling. While the president was alive, Schlesinger agreed with him about the need to defeat the Revolution in the RVN and was optimistic about American prospects there. In his prize-winning A Thousand Days, published in 1965 with reprint in 1967, Schlesinger never made any mention of any plans to withdraw from the war (he did write that McNamara mentioned withdrawal as a possibility amid the Diem coup planning). Schlesinger then began to slowly turn when writing about Vietnam but even then questioning the war from the right, not in any dovish way. When his friend and hawk Joseph Alsop predicted victory in 1966, Schlesinger responded that “we all pray that Mr. Alsop will be right,” though he had his doubts by then. But he also wrote that withdrawal “would have ominous reverberations throughout Asia.” Presented with a chance to suggest JFK was going to get out of the war, Schlesinger did not say a word.

Theodore Sorenson, another Kennedy insider, made no mention of withdrawal in his 1965 book about the president but in fact said that JFK’s “essential contribution” was that he “opposed withdrawal or bargain[ing] away Vietnam’s security at the conference table.” JFK, he concluded, was going to “weather out’ the war. The president’s closest confidante, his brother and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, said in 1962 that the solution in Vietnam “lies in our winning it. This is what the president intends to do . . . . We will remain here until we do.” Like virtually everyone in the administration, Bobby Kennedy’s concern about the ability to win with Diem in charge was that he was damaging America’s efforts in Vietnam and stressed that the U.S. needed “somebody that can win the war,” and after 22 November 1963, he continued to support Lyndon Johnson’s continuation of his brother’s policies there until a break a few years later.

Hilsman, who was directly involved in Vietnam planning from the first, wrote in 1967 that the U.S. goal throughout his time in the administration was “to defeat the Communist guerrillas” and he suggested that JFK “might well have introduced United States ground forces into Vietnam . . . but would have limited their task to occupying ports, airfields, and military bases to demonstrate to the North Vietnamese that they could not win the struggle by escalation either.” Indeed, all of Kennedy’s closest advisors and friends, in the aftermath of the assassination, saw his efforts in Vietnam as positive if not laudatory. He was standing up to communism, had made early efforts to stem the tide of the Left and saved the RVN, and was prepared to do more as necessary to maintain the RVN as an independent state. There was no teeth-gnashing over a fallen hero who was about to reverse course and end the war struck down before he could bring peace.

A few years later, though, as the public began to turn against a war that was dragging on and as more Americans were being sent to, and dying in, Vietnam, JFK partisans began to revise the record, especially after Tet. Writing after that country-wide offensive that laid bare America’s dim prospects, Sorenson was “convinced” that Kennedy would have found diplomatic alternatives to war, and he began to stress the 1963 plan to withdraw 1000 troops in NSAM 263, though not mentioning it before. And he left out the key element in that plan — the precondition that troops would leave based on U.S. military success. Schlesinger took it further.

In a 1978 biography of Robert Kennedy, his version of JFK’s efforts in Vietnam diverged greatly from his work a decade or so earlier. Now, JFK’s likelihood to withdraw from Vietnam was worth a full chapter (even though the book was about Bobby Kennedy, who had little to do with Vietnam policy). He emphasized the withdrawal plans from NSAM 263 and claimed JFK had rejected both proponents of counterinsurgency and of military victory, he was opposed to “both win-the-war factions . . . vaguely searching for a nonmilitary solution.” He did not discuss the coup, JFK’s interviews with Huntley and Cronkite, or the Trade Mart speech. By 1992, in reviewing John Newman’s book, upon which Stone heavily relied, Schlesinger took things several steps further, and actually contended that he had always put forth the idea that JFK was going to withdraw from Vietnam.[61]

We Don’t Need Another Hero: The Meaning and Myth of JFK

Campaigning for the senate in 1952, John Kennedy invoked the Soviet threat to stress the need for American strength. “We are faced by an enemy . . . unrelenting and implacable who seeks to dominate the world by subversion and conspiracy and when all else fails military force.” Kennedy went on to falsely claim that the Soviet Union had military superiority and that it “may choose to plunge the world into the most destructive war in the human race’s long history.” Though the world faced myriad problems “all . . . are dwarfed by the necessity of the West to maintain against the Communists a balance of power.”[62]

Read those words and then parse the speech he was to deliver on 22 November 1963 in Dallas and they are virtually identical. While Stone, other Kennedy supporters, various assassinologists, and self-described liberals and radicals throughout America continue to believe that various crises like Laos, the behavior of Diem and Nhu, or especially the missile crisis “educated” JFK or led him to epiphany about throwing out U.S. cold war doctrine and beating swords into plowshares, there is just no meaningful evidence to show that, any more than there is confirmation of Kennedy’s commitment to the Civil Rights Movement, another piece of the JFK hagiography that Liberals promote.

Kennedy emerged as a national political figure immediately at the end of World War II and outset of the Cold War. I once had a professor of diplomatic history, very moderate and measured, who said that the three main Cold Warriors of that era were Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, and John F. Kennedy. JFK’s ideology was no secret to anyone who followed the operations of state. Indeed he was much more aggressive and unyielding in foreign affairs than his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower, whose “Cross of Iron” speech eloquently lamented the emphasis on warfare rather than education and labor and whom even warned of the military-industrial complex on his way out of office, or one of his successors, Richard Nixon, who finally ended the Vietnam War and created détente with the communist powers. Eisenhower and Nixon were not doves either and they overturned governments and used force against liberation movements, but the point is that Kennedy was very similar to them. They were cut from the same imperial and militarist cloth.

Indeed, there is voluminous proof, in deed and rhetoric, gathered over six decades, that John Kennedy entered political life as a cold warrior and remained so until he died. In Vietnam especially, despite Stone’s claims, JFK never wavered in his commitment to preserve the state he helped bring to life, the RVN. The contortions that the conspiracy theorists undertake to explain how NSAM 263 is a smoking gun are more vertiginous than the magic bullet theories they invoke to claim that the dark state had Kennedy killed because he was really a dove. Yet, 58 years after his death, and 30-plus years after Stone’s movie was released, more people than ever continue to insist that dark forces in the military and intelligence communities conspired to kill him. At this point, there is virtually no possibility of them ever changing their views no matter how exhaustive the evidence presented against their arguments is . . . they have a bibilical faith in the specter of JFK. No doubt there were domestic forces like the Miami Cubans and the Mafia who would benefit from Kennedy’s departure, but the countless theories about their machinations to kill him in concert with the deep state have never been proven, despite Stone’s circumstantial circus of claims.

As we have seen, there’s an abundant record to show that Kennedy was deeply committed to “winning” in Vietnam despite a clear awareness of the problems there and reluctance and pessimism by leading military advisors. As conditions in Vietnam worsened, he ramped up the U.S. commitment by sanctioning a coup against Diem and Nhu, the least likely measure to bring stability and create an atmosphere in which withdrawal was more likely. In his overall conception of national security, JFK never wavered from his promise to spend more money on the military and build more weapons, and he was willing to consider war and even nuclear weapons during crises over Berlin and Cuba. In the Third World, he never hesitated to use the rhetoric of modernization as a camouflage for counterinsurgency, supporting bloody regimes that contained “the Left,” constant interference in internal affairs, increased “training” of paramilitary and police forces in defense of local oligarchs, and, of course, frequent intervention, often coordinated by the CIA, another part of the deep state that allegedly wanted JFK dead, if Stone’s equally preposterous ally David Talbot is to be believed.

All of these theories, contrived interpretations, and conspiracies make for bad history. But the problem is bigger than that, for many people on the Left subscribe to them, as Stone has been featured in various progressive media outlets to great fanfare to continue his crusade against the deep state and his rectification of JFK. But as Alexander Cockburn pointed out after the movie JFK came out, the deification of Kennedy served right-wing purposes, as the links between Stone’s crew and QAnon today demonstrate.

Stone has somehow convinced large swathes of the Left that various government agencies and even the vice-president contrived an immense conspiracy, one that would have necessarily involved a huge number of people, many hundreds or thousands perhaps, and everyone fell in line, did not raise any objections to a plot to assassinate the most powerful political figure in the world, and then remained fully silent about it forever after. As we have seen time and again — in Watergate, in Iran-Contra, in Trump’s current lies about the election, in various COVID conspiracies involving ideas about everything from Wuhan labs to Ivermectin — any plan that involves more than a couple people is inevitably leaked and becomes a public scandal; less than a year after Trump left office we now have a spate of insider books detailing his efforts to monkeywrench the election. To suggest that what would arguably be the most incredible and biggest conspiracy in history could take place and remain silent at the time and survive 58 years of conspiracy theorists digging into every single atomic particle of JFK’s life and assignation without any real proof of it is too amazing to even contemplate . . .

Oliver Stone During Production of JFK

The Left doesn’t need heroes like JFK. It needs analysis, organization, and resistance. Waiting for the “truth” about JFK sets no one free but in fact keeps political people hostage to a nostalgic past that never was. It is not different than Confederates who seek a mythic past in preserving statues of Robert E. Lee, or conservative politicians who pray to return to “the American we grew up in,” or countless individuals of all political stripes who insist, despite repeated debunking, that 9/11 was an inside job. Kennedy was no more going to rescue the country from the clutches of deep state operatives than was Trump. The deep state that both Stone’s followers and QAnon invoke is “the state.” The CIA, FBI, NSC, and military do horrible things of which many of us are aware, while others are kept in the dark by media. Even today, journalists and scholars talk of the “secret war” in Laos and Cambodia even though millions of tons of bombs were dropped on those countries. That’s not a conspiracy; that’s the way the ruling class media works. That war was no “secret” to the people of Indochina on the targeted end of those bombings.

The fact that these U.S. institutions do terrible things abroad — coups d’etat, subversion, interventions — in no way creates some kind of circumstantial proof that these same agencies had Kennedy killed. JFK was not their enemy. He was in their world and of their world. He did nothing heroic and while it is certainly possible that the cold war might have thawed a bit more had he lived — and remember that it was cold warriors and war criminals Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger who reached out to Moscow and Beijing — there is no reason to believe that he was going to pull out of Vietnam, call off the dogs in Cuba, stop sending money for “internal security” in the Third World, build fewer bombs, or spend less money on the Pentagon. Nothing he had done in the past would indicate that and Stone’s belief in a Kennedy epiphany is nothing more than the wishful thinking of someone raised on the myth of Camelot.

The lamentations about a fallen hero whom we hardly knew, a warrior for peace slain before he could bring olive branches unto the world, are the stuff of fantasy. We have to live in the world of deeds and evidence. And as the noted historian Thomas Paterson observed long ago, and which holds true today, “he had his chance, and he failed.”[63]

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

[1] Interview with Oliver Stone, USA Today, 22 November 2021,

[2] Alexander Cockburn, “Why Bother to Conspire Against J.F.K.? : Oliver Stone has bought into the fascist fantasy that Kennedy was a father-leader-hero,” Los Angeles Times, 26 December 1991,

[3] Fletcher Prouty, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy (New York, 1992); John Newman, JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power (New York, 1992); David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government (New York, 2016).

[4] See, for example, “Oliver Stone Talks to Jacobin about JFK’s Killing,” 23 November 2021,; Jefferson Morley, “JFK Revisited: Oliver Stone and the New JFK Fact Pattern, Counterpunch, 31 December 2021, ; Jacob Hornberger, “Max Boot’s Rant Against Oliver Stone,” Counterpunch, 4 January 2002, ; and regarding QAnon, the delegation to Dallas to greet the resurrected JFK Jr. was widely reported, including Steven Monacelli, “Hardcore QAnon Believers, Regular Old JFK Conspiracy Theorists Converge in Dallas,” Rolling Stone, 22 November 2021,

[5] Guide to Assassination Records Review Board, at

[6] See, inter alia, Jefferson Morley, “JFK Revisited: Oliver Stone and the New JFK Fact Pattern City Watch LA, 3 January 2022,

[7] House Assassination Records Review Board, chapter 6, in; Oswald “Fair Play for Cuba” pamphlet on EBay at .

[8] For a thorough overview of Kennedy’s militarist approach to global affairs, see, inter alia, Walter S. Poole, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, 1961–1964. History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Volume VIII (Washington D.C., 2011).

[9] Fred Kaplan, “JFK’s First Strike Plan,” The Atlantic, October 2001,

[10] Noam Chomsky, Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture (Boston, 1993).

[11] In United States, Government Printing Office, Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents (Washington, D.C., 1961), 267–70; Kennedy in Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars, (New York, 1991), 58–9.

[12] Kennedy in Arthur Schlesinger, A Thousand Days (Boston, 1965), 391; Rostow, 24 April 1961, in Laurence Chang and Peter Kornbluh, eds., The Cuban Missile Crisis (New York, 1992), 16–9; Telegram From the Chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Viet-Nam (McGarr) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Felt), 10 May 1961, Foreign Relations of the United States [FRUS], Vietnam, 1961,

[13] In David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (New York, 1972), 167.

[14] Kennedy, 14 November 1961, in George McT. Kahin, Intervention: How America Became Involved in Vietnam (New York, 1986), 137–9, see also McNamara quoted in editorial note, Notes of Colonel Howard Burris, FRUS, Vietnam, 1961, /frus1961–63v01/d329.

[15] Harkins in Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation (Garden City, N.Y., 1967), 16; see also Pentagon Papers — Gravel Edition, 162–4; “Record of the Sixth Secretary of Defense Conference, Camp Smith, Hawaii,” July 23, 1962, FRUS, Vietnam, 1962,

[16] DCI Briefing, 9 July 1963, document 1, in John Prados, National Security Archive, JFK and the Diem Coup, National Security Archive [NSA] Electronic Briefing Book №101, Posted — November 5, 2003, Hereafter cited as NSA briefing book with specific document designation.

[17] State/Saigon Cable 243 (“The Hilsman Cable”), 24 August 1963 (drafted by Hilsman, Harriman, Forrestal), document 2, in NSA Briefing Book,

[18] Transcript and audio of Kennedy meeting with NSC Officials regarding Diem, 26 August 1963, Miller Center exhibit,

[19] Ibid., and Chapter 4, Pentagon Papers — Gravel Edition,[PP-Gravel]Volume 2, “The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November 1963” Kennedy’s biographer (and apologist) Arthur Schlesinger later claimed that JFK had misgivings about his approval of these actions against the Ngos and took a softer line. Those claims, as we will see, came years later, after JFK was dead and the war had turned out badly, and his reversals were never backed up with documentary evidence. As we shall see, JFK’s position on the coup did not weaken a bit through the autumn of 1963.

[20]Memorandum of Conversation, “Vietnam,” 26 August 1963, document 3, in NSA Briefing Book,

[21]Memorandum of Conference with the President, 29 August 1963, document 10, in NSA Briefing Book,, and Memorandum of Conversation, “Vietnam,” 29 August 1963, document 11,

[22] Kennedy interviews with Cronkite, 2 September 1963, in Roger Hilsman Papers, box 4, JFK Library; with Huntley, 9 September 1963, PP-Gravel, 2:827–8.

[23] White House Statement approved by President Kennedy, 2 October 1963, “Statements by President Kennedy on Vietnam,” NSF, Memos to the President, Walt Whitman Rostow, box 8, folder: volume 6, June 11–20, 1966 [2 of 2], LBJL.

[24] National Security Action Memoranda [NSAM]: NSAM 263, “South Vietnam,” 11 October 1963,

[25]The following materials are derived from Masters of War, 155–7; Peter Dale Scott and others suggest that NSAM marked a clear departure from Kennedy’s policy on Vietnam and set the United States on the path to war. The final draft of 26 November, however, was virtually a verbatim copy of earlier efforts, and the commitment to the RVN was precisely the same. Scott, The War Conspiracy. For an excellent refutation of Scott’s thesis, again see Chomsky, Rethinking Camelot.

[26]Department of State, “Check-List of Possible U.S. Actions in Case of a Coup,” 25 October 1963, document 17, in NSA Briefing Book,, and National Security Council, “Check List for 4 PM Meeting, 29 October 1963, document 18,

[27] Memorandum of Conference with the President, 1 November 1963, document 22, in NSA Briefing Book,

[28] Kennedy’s undelivered remarks of 22 November 1963 at Remarks for Nov 22:; see also Chomsky, Rethinking Camelot, 47–8.

[29] The following paragraphs derive largely from my book Masters of War: Military Dissent and Politics in the Vietnam Era (New York, 1996), especially chapters 4 and 5.

[30]Decker, 29 April 1961, in House Committee on Armed Services, U.S.-Vietnam Relations, 11:62–6.

[31]Felt in Edward Marolda and Oscar Fitzgerald, The United States Navy and the Vietnam Conflict, vol. 2: From Military Assistance to Combat, 1959–1965 (Washington D.C., 1986), 104–9; Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York, 1988); officers’ report, August 1962, in Krulak to Army, Navy, and Air Force Chiefs, 27 December 1962, John Newman Papers, JFK Library.

[32] Wallace M. Greene, Jr., “A Marine Corps View of Military Strategy,” tape #6276, MCHC, my transcription; Victor Krulak, Oral History, June 1970 interview, MCHC; Donald Bennett Oral History, section 7, 30–4, Military History Institute, Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA.

[33] Taylor memoranda of 6 January, 1 February, 22 February, 16 March 1965 in NSC History, “Deployment of Major U.S. Forces to Vietnam,” microfilm edition, University Publications of America.

[34]Taylor to State Department, 4 September 1964, Declassified Documents Reference System, 84, 737; Westmoreland Question and Answer Report, November 1964, William Westmoreland Papers, box 4, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Austin, TX; Westmoreland in Taylor to Johnson, 5 January 1965, NSC History, “Deployment.”

[35] Interview with Oliver Stone, The Guardian, 15 April 2013,

[36] JFK Library, “Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,”; and “Address on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” 26 July 1963,

[37] See Matthew Evangelista, Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War. Ithaca, NY, 1999)

[38] Poole, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, 1961–1964; Alex Wellerstein, “An Unearthly Spectacle: The Untold Story of the World’s Biggest Nuclear Bomb,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 29 October 2021,

[39] Draft Paper Prepared by the Policy Planning Council, “Basic National Security Policy,” 22 June 1962, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume VIII, National Security Policy,

[40] John F. Kennedy, “Annual Message on the State of the Union, 14 January 1963,”

[41] Some data on Kennedy’s commitment to military spending is below.

Military Budgets

Year $ billions % GDP

1964 53.4 8.05

1963 54.56 8.83

1962 54.65 9.33

1961 49.88 9.16

1960 47.35 8.99

Military Spending

Year $ billions

1964 364.4

1963 368.0

1962 363.4

1961 344.0

1960 344.3

[42] Kennedy-Khrushchev Exchanges,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume VI,

[43] Frank Costigliola, “Kennedy, the European Allies, and the Failure to Consult,” Political Science Quarterly 110, 1, 105–23;

[44] “Remarks of President Kennedy to the National Security Council Meeting, Washington, January 22, 1963,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume XIII, Western Europe and Canada, The satirical singer Tom Lehrer even called out the U.S. over this episode in his “MLF Lullaby,”

[45]John Kennedy, “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, 26 June 1963,

[46] National Security Action Memorandum №270, October 29, 1963.Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume XIII, Western Europe and Canada,

[47] Dean Rusk, “Toward a New Dimension in the Atlantic Partnership,” Address in Frankfurt, FRG, 27 October 1963, Department of State Bulletin, Vol XLIX, №1272, November 11 1963, HathiTrust,

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[48] Stephen Rabe, “The Caribbean Triangle: Betancourt, Castro, and Trujillo and U.S. Foreign Policy, 1958–1963,” Diplomatic History 20, 1, 55–78.

[49] “Report and Recommendations of the Washington Assessment Team on the Internal Security Situation in South America,” January 10, 1962, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume XII, American Republics,; which formed the basis of NSAM 134, “Report on Internal Security Situation in South America,”

[50] For the Church Committee Report see; For the Pike Committee Report see

[51]For evidence of the deep concern and vitriol at the growing Communist presence in Latin America and the belief that Cuba was sponsoring revolution throughout the region, see

[52] Memorandum of Conversation, “Communism, Cuba and Caribbean Security,”30 November 1962, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume XII, American Republics,

[53] Edwin Martin, Communist Subversion in the Western Hemisphere, Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, March 1963,

[54] Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Kennedy, “A Possible Declaration Against Further Soviet Penetration of the Western Hemisphere,” 25 May 1963, U.S. Department of State Archive,

[55] Memorandum for the File, “Meeting with the President — 5:30–15 Apr 1963 In Palm Beach, Florida,” with attached memorandum for the President on “Donovan Negotiations with Castro,” April 16, 1963 (Document 29). National Security Archive, Kennedy and Cuba: Operation Mongoose,; Bromley Smith, National Security Council, Draft, “A Covert Harrassment/Sabotage Program against Cuba,” April 16, 1963 (Document 30), Ibid. See also Kennedy remarks in Miami at the Presentation of the Flag of the Cuban Invasion Brigade, 29 December 1962,

[56] Remarks by President John F. Kennedy before the Inter-American Press Association at Miami Beach, FL, “The Battle for Progress With Freedom in the Western Hemisphere,” 18 November 1963, The Department of State bulletin., v.49 1963 Oct-Dec. HathiTrust Digital Library, Department of State Bulletin, December 9, 1963, 900–904,;page=ssd;view=plaintext;seq=372;num=900.

[57]Lincoln Gordon, “Unclassified Statement by Hon. Lincoln Gordon, U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, “General Situation in Brazil, 5 March 1963, House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

[58] National Security Archive, “CIA Covert Operations: The 1964 Overthrow of Cheddi Jagan in British Guiana,”; NSAM 135, “British Guiana,” 8 March 1962,; Stephen G. Rabe. The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America. (Chapel Hill: 1999).

[59] Eric Jabobsen, “A Coincidence of Interests: Kennedy, U.S. Assistance, and the 1963 Iraqi Ba’th Regime,” Diplomatic History (37, 5), 1029–59; Roger Morris, “A Tyrant 40 Years in the Making,” New York Times, 14 March 2003,

[60] Anna Kasten Nelson, “President Kennedy’s National Security Policy: A Reconsideration,” Reviews in American History 19, 1 (March 1991), 1–14,

[61] See Chomsky, Rethinking Camelot, and “Vain Hopes, False Dreams,” Z Magazine, September 1992,; on Kennedy revisionism, see especially Arthur Schlesinger, A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston, 1965), reprinted 1967, and Robert Kennedy and His Times (Boston, 1978); Theodore Sorenson, Kennedy (New York, 1965); and Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy (New York, 1967).

[62] John Kennedy on the containment of Communism, 12 August 1952, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History,

[63] Thomas G. Paterson, ed., Kennedy’s Quest for Victory (New York, 1989), 23.

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