Friday, November 22, 2013

John F. Kennedy: Requiescat in Pace

The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings. 
The success of our leadership is dependent upon ... a clearer recognition of the virtues of freedom as well as the evils of tyranny.
-- JFK

President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed exactly 50 years ago today. The coverage of this anniversary in the media has been fairly incessant. There is nonetheless more to say because, first, the coverage has focused on the photogenic qualities of the president and his wife and has neglected matters of substance. Secondly, as has been argued here, the CIA and major news outlets such as the New York Times continue to mislead the American people about the circumstances of Kennedy’s death -- more on that later.

Kennedy’s time in the White House was brief, but he nonetheless accomplished a great deal in that short time. Among other things, he brought the controversial program known as Medicare close to passage. He averted what could have been a catastrophic military disaster during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He lent his support to the burgeoning civil rights movement. Still, it is safe to say that Kennedy is remembered not as much for what he achieved as what he represented. And what he represented was an alternative to the kind of politics embodied by Richard Nixon.

Nixon had been Kennedy’s opponent in the 1960 presidential campaign. Nixon had been an avid McCarthy supporter at the height of the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s. Nixon maintained a consistently bellicose attitude toward the Soviet Union, and supported illegal and provocative operations by U.S. spy planes in Soviet territory. 

Kennedy was more moderate on each of these issues, going so far as to suggest areas in which the U.S. and Soviet Union could cooperate. One may reasonably conjecture that when Kennedy spoke out against communism, he did so because no political figure at the time could do otherwise and remain viable. Indeed, the historical record shows that Kennedy had to strenuously fight the perception of being “soft” on communism. 

Example of anti-Kennedy sentiment
One point of contrast between Nixon and Kennedy bears particular attention: The two leaders had very different assessments of Cuba. Prior to the revolution, the country had been ruled by a brutal dictator by the name of Batista. When visiting Batista's Cuba in 1957, Nixon was apparently blind to the suffering of the Cuban people and said that he was pleased to be in a land that “shares with us the same democratic ideals of peace, freedom, and the dignity of man (see The Arrogance of Power by Anthony Summers).” 

In Nixon’s eyes and in the eyes of many conservatives, as long as Batista remained staunchly anti-Communist and pro-business, he was a friend to the United States (source).
Batista has been a tyrant. There were no elections. He did as he pleased.
The rich on the island did well as long as they ensured that they ‘rewarded’ Batista. However, little if anything was done for the poor. Batista allowed Cuba to become a playground for America’s rich. Just fifty miles from Florida, rich Americans would fly out to Havana to gamble and to enjoy the good life. Nothing could have been in more stark contrast to the lives of poverty led by the Cuban poor.
 On July 26th 1953, a small group opposed to Batista attacked a barrack’s in Santiago. The attack, led by Fidel Castro, was a failure but Batista responded with his infamous ’10 for 1’ order – that the local military commander had to shoot ten civilians for every one soldier killed (source).
Kennedy did not turn a blind eye to the oppressive nature of Batista’s regime. He understood that that United States had made no effort to aid the Cuban people. Instead, the U.S. policy consisted of bolstering Batista’s regime by supplying him with weapons. In an October 6, 1960 speech, he candidly stated that the U.S. had “refused to help Cuba meet its desperate need for economic progress. In 1953 the average Cuban family had an income of $6 a week. Fifteen to twenty percent of the labor force was chronically unemployed.” He added, “Only a third of the homes in the island even had running water, and in the years which preceded the Castro revolution this abysmal standard of living was driven still lower as population expansion out-distanced economic growth (source).”

Anti-Batista Protest

Although he had a more balanced view of Cuban politics than Nixon, Kennedy nonetheless acquiesced to a plan, developed during the preceding Eisenhower administration, to arm rebels in an effort to overthrow the Castro regime. The Cuba plan was a replay of an earlier, successful CIA operation in Guatemala that had been directed by Allen Dulles. The CIA had declared (falsely) that Guatemalan president Arbenz was a communist sympathizer and covertly hired several hundred mercenaries to conduct a coup d’état in that country. 

The role of Eisenhower in CIA operations abroad is a fascinating story in itself. Eisenhower did not agree with the CIA’s action – and particularly, disagreed with Operation Mockingbird, an ongoing strategy of applying propaganda and covert military actions in foreign nations to promote regime change and policies favorable to U.S. business interests. Apparently, however, Eisenhower had limited power to restrain the CIA. 

Dwight Eisenhower became concerned about CIA covert activities and in 1956 appointed David Bruce as a member of the President's Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities (PBCFIA). Eisenhower asked Bruce to write a report on the CIA. It was presented to Eisenhower on 20th December, 1956. Bruce argued that the CIA's covert actions were “responsible in great measure for stirring up the turmoil and raising the doubts about us that exists in many countries in the world today.” Bruce was also highly critical of Mockingbird. He argued: “what right have we to go barging around in other countries buying newspapers and handling money to opposition parties or supporting a candidate for this, that, or the other office (source).”
Three days before leaving office, Eisenhower warned the American people: “We must never let the weight of this combination [between the military and private industrial interests] endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together (source).”

Eisenhower delivering the 'military industrial complex' speech.

Eisenhower was keenly aware of the fact that the private economic interests of the business community were short-sighted. These short-sighted goals would always be at odds with decisions that affect America’s long term political and economic stability. “As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow (source).”

When Dulles planned to act in Cuba, he met with,

the Vice President for Latin America of Standard Oil of New Jersey, the Chairman of the Cuban-American Sugar Company, the President of the American Sugar Domino Refining Company, the President of the American & Foreign Power Company, the Chairman of the Freeport Sulphur Company, and representatives from Texaco, International Telephone and Telegraph, and other American companies with business interests in Cuba. The tenor of the conversation was that it was time for the U.S. to get off dead center and take some direct action against Castro (source).
This indicates very clearly that Dulles was highly attentive to the needs of American business interests in Latin America. Of course, the linking of business interests and foreign policy was at that time nothing new. President McKinley waged the Spanish American War in 1898 on behalf of business interests and secured Cuba’s independence from Spain. During the 1960 campaign, Kennedy likened Nixon’s foreign policy to that of McKinley.

The plan of arming mercenaries did not succeed in Cuba as it had in Guatemala. Castro thwarted the attack, remained in power, and the United States was publicly called to account for this illegal action. Dulles had known that the plan was likely to fail, but incorrectly believed that Kennedy would order U.S. military intervention in Cuba in the event that the mercenaries failed. After the incident, Kennedy demanded that Dulles resign as director of the CIA (source). He also expressed the wish to “to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds (source).”

In September of 1963, the CIA had been following the activities of Lee Harvey Oswald. Tape recordings were made of Oswald’s phone calls. We do not know what the recordings contained because, hours after Oswald assassinated Kennedy, the tapes were destroyed by the CIA (source). Researchers also believe that still-sealed CIA records will show that Oswald was in contact with George Joannides, a CIA agent and deputy director of psychological warfare in Miami, a CIA agent whose job was to discredit pro-Castro movements, and apparently hired Oswald to infiltrate pro-Castro groups (source).

In November of 1963, the CIA assassinated South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. The corrupt tyrant, through his outrages, had been turning Vietnamese public opinion against the U.S. supported government and in favor of the communists. Kennedy had authorized the assassination, but was later shocked by the brutality with which it was carried out. 

On November 22, 1963, the day when Kennedy lost his life, the CIA was attempting to deliver a poisoned pen to Castro in the hope that he would use it (source). The agency was then, and is perhaps today, on a murder spree. 

The Warren Commission, which had been appointed to investigate the Kennedy assassination, was aware of the fact that the CIA had covered up its activities involving Oswald; moreover, CIA leadership falsely claimed that it had not been in contact with Oswald. However, this was never mentioned it in their report. And, it is worth noting, Allen Dulles was a member of that commission.
A second investigation was led by the United States Congress. The House Select Committee on Assassinations found that it was very likely that two gunmen had been involved in Kennedy’s assassination and that the CIA had withheld information regarding its involvement in Cuba from the Warren Commission (source). These are not the conclusions of tin-hat conspiracy theorists. These are the findings of the U.S. Congress. And when major news outlets such as the New York Times continue to this day to promulgate the story that Oswald acted alone, it is not fulfilling its responsibility to provide accurate reportage. 

The relationship between the CIA and the mainstream news outlets was another revelation that came from the investigations into the Kennedy assassination. Frank Church reported that, “In examining the CIA’s past and present use of the U.S. media, the Committee finds two reasons for concern. The first is the potential, inherent in covert media operations, for manipulating or incidentally misleading the American public. The second is the damage to the credibility and independence of a free press which may be caused by covert relationships with the U.S. journalists and media organizations (source).”

Let us remember John F. Kennedy for the speech he didn’t give. It was the speech he’d prepared for November 22. The text reads, in part:

Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country's security. In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America's leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason -- or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.
... The strength [of this nation] will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions -- it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations -- it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.

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