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The Vietnam War and the Assassination of JFK


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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 03 March 2006 - 07:01 PM

In his book, The Military-Industrial Complex, Sidney Lens argues: “It is no accident that Washington has been almost universally on the side of conservative forces in the developing areas – Syngman Rhee in Korea, Chiang Kai-shek in China, the Shah in Iran, the militarists throughout Latin America, the king in Jordan, the king in Saudia Arabia, the military regimes in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. These conservative elements, to secure their own “vested interests,” have been willing to accept American military and economic support in return for concessions to American “vested interests”. Nor is it an accident that by and large the same legislators – Stennis, Russell, Rivers, Mundt, Goldwater, Tower, McClellan, to name a few – who are the fiercest advocates of military spending and military ventures, are also the fiercest opponents of social programs such as medicare, higher minimum wages, antipoverty, social security, and favourable trade union legislation.” (1)

In 1960 Kennedy presented himself as someone who held conservative views on both domestic and foreign issues. As Richard D. Mahoney points out in his book, Sons and Brothers: “As senator, Kennedy had zigzagged through the long obstacle course of civil rights legislation, siding in most cases, as a Ted Sorensen memo to Bobby proudly explained in December 1959, ‘with our friends in the South.’ He meant white friends.” (2)

Mahoney goes on to argue: “The most entrenched and skilled leaders of that majority in the Senate – McClellan of Arkansas, Eastland of Mississippi, Ervin of North Carolina, and Fulbright of Arkansas – were all vehement opponents of civil rights as well as close friends of Bobby Kennedy.” Kennedy admits in several interviews that were recorded as part of the Oral History Project, that he had several conversations with people like McClellan and Eastland during the campaign to assure them that the Kennedy administration would not promote the “civil rights issue”. (3)

Harris Wofford, Kennedy’s special assistant for civil rights, supports this view in his memoirs, Of Kennedys and Kings. He points out that Kennedy was forced into taking a stand on the issue because of the activities of Martin Luther King and pressure groups like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). For example, Kennedy did all he could to get the Freedom Riders to call off their activities in 1961. (4)

Once in power, Kennedy appeared to support the foreign policy established by Dwight Eisenhower. The historian, David Kaiser, argues that Eisenhower’s policies “called for a military response to Communist aggression almost anywhere that it might occur”. Kaiser provides evidence that this strategy was “adopted by the State and Defense Departments in 1954-1956 and approved secretly by President Eisenhower.” (5)

This policy began with the overthrow by the CIA of President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in Guatemala in the summer of 1954. According to one historian: “The Agency had learned a lesson from the Guatemalan revolution in the early 1950s, when a nationalist government expropriated the land and the public service enterprises of U.S. monopolies to the benefit of the peasants and the population in general. This experience gave rise to a program of infiltrating agents into countries convulsed by communist ideas.” (6)

In the final months of his administration, Eisenhower was mainly concerned with trying to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro in Cuba. He was also worried about events in Laos and Vietnam. However, Kaiser convincingly argues that Kennedy subtly changed foreign policy after he gained office. “Ironically, while Eisenhower’s supposedly cautious approach in foreign policy had frequently been contrasted with his successors’ apparent aggressiveness, Kennedy actually spent much of his term resisting policies developed and approved under Eisenhower, both in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. He also had to deal with the legacy of the Eisenhower administration’s disastrous attempts to create a pro-Western rather than a neutral government in Laos – a policy he quickly reversed, thereby avoiding the need for American military intervention there.” (7)

Kaiser admits that he the Kennedy administration did increase the number of American military personnel in South Vietnam from 600 in 1960 to 17,500 in 1963. However, although he sincerely wanted to help the South Vietnamese government cope with the Viet Cong he rejected war as a way to do so. Kennedy’s view of America’s involvement in Southeast Asia was expressed clearly at his first ever press conference. When asked about Laos he expressed his intentions to help create “a peaceful country – an independent country not dominated by either side but concerned with the life of the people within the country.” (8) This was a marked departure from Eisenhower’s policy of supporting anti-communist military dictatorships in Southeast Asia and the Americas.

This analysis of Kennedy’s foreign policy is supported by two of his most important aides, Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers. In their book, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, they describe how on 19th January, 1960, Eisenhower briefed Kennedy on “various important items of unfinished business”. This included news about “the rebel force that was being trained by the CIA in Guatemala to invade Cuba.” O’Donnell and Powers claimed that: “Eisenhower urged him to keep on supporting this plan to overthrow Castro. But Eisenhower talked mostly about Laos, which he then regarded as the most dangerous trouble spot in Southeast Asia. He mentioned South Vietnam only as one of the nations that would fall into the hands of the Communists if the United States failed to maintain the anti-Communist regime in Laos.” Kennedy was shocked by what Eisenhower told him. He later told his two aides: “There he sat, telling me to get ready to put ground forces into Asia, the thing he himself had been carefully avoiding for the last eight years.” (9)

According to David Kaiser, it was not only the CIA and the Pentagon who wanted him to send troops to Laos and Vietnam. Members of his own administration, including Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, Alexis Johnson, McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and Roswell Gilpatric, were also strongly in favour of Eisenhower’s policy of “intervention in remote areas backed by nuclear weapons”. (10)

Kaiser suggests the reason for this was that “these civilians were all from the GI generation, and to varying degrees they saw themselves as continuing the struggle against aggression and tyranny that had dominated their youth.” However, it has to be remembered that Johnson, McNamara and Gilpatric had all played an important role in the ensuring that General Dynamics got the TFX contract. (11) Is it possible that they had other motives for involving the United States in a long-drawn out war?

Kennedy continued with his policy of trying to develop “independent” Third World countries. In September, 1962, Souvanna Phouma became head of a new coalition government in Laos. This included the appointment of a left-leaning Quinim Pholsema as Foreign Minister. However, Kennedy found it impossible to persuade Ngo Dinh Diem to broaden his government in South Vietnam.

Kennedy continued to resist all attempts to persuade him to send troops to Vietnam. His policy was reinforced by the Bay of Pigs operation. Kennedy told his assistant secretary of state, Roger Hilsman: “The Bay of Pigs has taught me a number of things. One is not to trust generals or the CIA, and the second is that if the American people do not want to use American troops to remove a Communist regime 90 miles away from our coast, how can I ask them to use troops to remove a Communist regime 9,000 miles away? (12)

In April, 1962, Kennedy told McGeorge Bundy to “seize upon any favourable moment to reduce our involvement” in Vietnam. (13) In September, 1963, Robert Kennedy expressed similar views at a meeting of the National Security Council: “The first question was whether a Communist takeover could be successfully resisted with any government. If it could not, now was the time to get out of Vietnam entirely, rather than waiting.” (14)

The decision by Kennedy to withdraw from Vietnam was confirmed by John McCone, the director of the CIA: “When Kennedy took office you will recall that he won the election because he claimed that the Eisenhower administration had been weak on communism and weak in the treatment of Castro and so forth. So the first thing Kennedy did was to send a couple of men to Vietnam to survey the situation. They came back with the recommendation that the military assistance group be increased from 800 to 25,000. That was the start of our involvement. Kennedy, I believe, realized he'd made a mistake because 25,000 US military in a country such as South Vietnam means that the responsibility for the war flows to (the US military) and out of the hands of the South Vietnamese. So Kennedy, in the weeks prior to his death, realized that we had gone overboard and actually was in the process of withdrawing when he was killed and Johnson took over.” (15)

On 1st April, 1963, the attempt by Kennedy to create a all-party coalition government in Laos suffered a terrible blow when Quinim Pholsema, the left-wing Foreign Minister, was assassinated. As David Kaiser has pointed out: “In light of subsequent revelations about CIA assassination plots, this episode inevitably arouses some suspicion.” (16)

It would seem that Laos was not the only country where Kennedy was trying to develop a coalition government. According to Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartman, in the early months of 1963, a plan was put into action that would result in a palace coup led by “one of Castro’s inner circle, himself a well-known revolutionary hero.” Waldron and Hartman argue that the “coup leader would be part of the new Provisional Government in Cuba, along with a select group of Cuban exiles – approved by the Kennedys – who ranged from conservative to progressive.” (17)

Kennedy told Mike Mansfield in the spring of 1963 that he now agreed with his thinking “on the need for a complete military withdrawal from Vietnam”. After the meeting with Mansfield, Kennedy told Kenneth O’Donnell that when he pulled out of Vietnam in 1965: “I’ll become one of the most unpopular Presidents in history. I’ll be damned everywhere as a communist appeaser. But I don’t care. If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have Joe McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m re-elected. So we had better make damned sure that I am reelected.” (18)

In his book, Sons & Brothers, Richard D. Mahoney remarked: “Truman had lost his presidency over the “loss of China,” which in turn had touched off the anticommunist witch hunts by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Troubled as Kennedy was about slipping into the Asian land war, he temporized on the method of disengagement.” (19)

On 10th June, 1963, Kennedy made a commencement address at the American University. “In a speech written in the White House without Pentagon or State Department clearance, Kennedy called specifically, and for the first time, for a whole new attitude towards the soviet union and a greater effort for true peace.” (20)

Nine days later Kennedy discussed a new proposal by the State Department to take overt military action against North Vietnam. Kennedy was told that the Pentagon wanted to start bombing North Vietnam and the mining of North Vietnamese ports. (21)

As David Kaiser points out in American Tragedy, Kennedy refused to approve this plan: “Ever since assuming the Presidency, Kennedy had received a long series of proposals for war in Southeast Asia from the State and Defence Departments. Rejecting them all, he had established the goals of a neutral regime in Laos and an effort to assist the South Vietnamese against the Viet Cong.” (22)

Kennedy continued to have problems from the leaders of the military. On 9th July, 1963, General Maxwell Taylor explained to the National Security Council that individual Joint Chiefs did not believe that an atmospheric test ban would serve the nation well. Sixteen days later, Averell Harriman, Andrei Gromyko and Lord Hailsham signed the atmospheric test ban in Moscow.

On 14th August, Diem was informed that the U.S. government would be unable to continue their present relationship if Diem did not issue a statement reaffirming a conciliatory policy towards the Buddhists and other critics of his regime. Ten days later, Ted Szulc of the New York Times reported that “policy planners in Washington” had reached the stage where they would prefer a military junta in South Vietnam to a government ruled by Diem. (23)

Kennedy also gave the order for the withdrawal of 1,000 American personnel by the end of 1963. The plan involved taking the men out in four increments, in order to achieve maximum press coverage. General Maxwell Taylor spoke out against this policy and argued that the Joint Chiefs of Staff believed no withdrawal of troops should take place “until the political and religious tensions now confronting the government of South Vietnam have eased.” (24)

In an interview with Walter Cronkite on 2nd September, Kennedy clearly stated his policy on Vietnam: “I don’t think that unless a greater effort is made by the government to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it.” Kennedy then went on to criticize Diem’s “repressions against the Buddhists”. (25)

On 9th September, Henry Cabot Lodge met with Diem and threatened him that aid would be cut-off unless Ngo Dinh Nhu left his government. Yet according to a New York Times story, the CIA continued to back Nhu. This included John Richardson, the Saigon CIA station chief disbursing a regular monthly payment of $250,000 to Nhu and his men. (26) Four days later, Lodge suggested that Richardson should be ordered back to Washington as “he symbolized long-standing American support for Nhu.” John McCone defended Richardson and objected to the idea that he should be replaced by someone like Edward Lansdale.

Kennedy met with Robert McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor on 2nd October, 1963. Kennedy told McNamara to announce to the press the immediate withdrawal of one thousand soldiers from Vietnam. Kennedy added that he would “probably withdraw all American forces from Vietnam by the end of 1965”. When McNamara was leaving the meeting to talk to the white house reporters, Kennedy called to him: “And tell them that means all of the helicopter pilots too.” In his statement to the press McNamara softened the President’s views by stating that in his judgment “the major part of the U.S. military task” in Vietnam could be “completed by the end of 1965.” (27)

Diem and Nhu were murdered on 1st November, 1963. The news reached Kennedy the following day. According to David Kaiser, Kennedy “left the room in shock”. (28) Despite this news, Kennedy made no move to change or cancel his troop reduction. As his aides, Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers pointed out: “The collapse of the Diem government and the deaths of its dictatorial leaders made the President only more skeptical of our military advice from Saigon and more determined to pull out of the Vietnam War.” (29)

It has been suggested by William Colby, Frederick Nolting, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon that Kennedy had ordered Diem’s assassination. There is no evidence for this view. In fact, the behaviour of Diem was giving Kennedy a good excuse to withdraw support for his government. Kennedy knew that Diem was incapable of providing a coalition government that would gain the support of the South Vietnamese people. Robert Kennedy argued against the assassination of Diem as it would leave the government in the “hands of one man that we don’t know very well.” (30) The Kennedy brothers were aware that the man who took control in South Vietnam would probably be no better than Diem at establishing a coalition government. The assassination of Diem was therefore not part of Kennedy’s policy to withdraw from Vietnam.

Notes

1. Stanley Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex, 1970 (page 146)

2. Richard D. Mahoney, Sons and Brothers, 1999 (page 117)

3. Edwin Guthman and Jeffrey Shulman (ed.), Robert Kennedy in his Own Words, 1988

4. Harris Wofford, Of Kennedy and Kings, 1980 (pages 103-200)

5. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 2)

6. Fabian Escalante, CIA Covert Operations 1959-62: The Cuba Project, 2004 (page 12)

7. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 2)

8. Howard W. Chase and Allen H. Lerman, Kennedy and the Press: The News Conferences, 1965 (page 25)

9. Kenneth P. O’Donnell & David F. Powers, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1972 (page 281-282)

10. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 50)

11. I. F. Stone, The New York Review of Books, 1st January, 1969

12. Jim Marrs, Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy, 1989 (pages 306-307)

13. Memorandum written by McGeorge Bundy’s aide, Michael Y. Forrestal, dated 26th April, 1962. It was first published in The New York Times, 5th December, 1998.

14. Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation, 1967 (page 501)

15. John McCone was interviewed by Harry Kreisler on 21st April, 1988.

16. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 198)

17. Lamar Waldron & Thom Hartmann, Ultimate Sacrifice, 2005 (page 4)

18. Kenneth P. O’Donnell & David F. Powers, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1972 (page 16)

19. Richard D. Mahoney, Sons & Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, 1999 (page 279)

20. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 198)

21. William J. Rust, Kennedy and Vietnam, 1985 (page 119)

22. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 212)

23. Ted Szulc, The New York Times (24th August, 1963)

24. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 226)

25. Walter Cronkite, CBS News, 2nd September, 1963

26. The New York Times, 9th September, 1963

27. Kenneth P. O’Donnell & David F. Powers, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1972 (page 17)

28. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 275)

29. Kenneth P. O’Donnell & David F. Powers, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1972 (page 17)

30. Edwin O. Guthman and Jeffrey Shulman, (eds.) Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words, 1988 (page 40)

#2 J. Raymond Carroll

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Posted 04 March 2006 - 01:22 AM

“It is no accident, " Sidney Lens argues, "that Washington has been almost universally on the side of conservative forces in the developing areas –


This essay deserves to be "published" in the real world, not just in this virtual one.

#3 Tim Carroll

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Posted 04 March 2006 - 08:05 AM

Robert Kennedy argued against the assassination of Diem as it would leave the government in the “hands of one man that we don’t know very well.”(30) [Unfortunately, there is no source provided for source note #30]

I know of no source or mention of RFK opposing the assassination of Diem, or that assassination was even discussed. Many have argued that a coup would obviously result in the assassination of Diem and that the Kennedys had to have known this, but that is not reflected in the notes, transcripts or oral histories of the time. Robert Kennedy himself described his and the president's positions about the Vietnam coup, not assassination, thusly:

He would have liked to have gotten rid of Diem if he could get rid of him and get somebody proper to replace him. He was against getting rid of him until you knew what was going to come along, whether the government that was going to replace it had any stability, whether it would, in fact, be a successful coup.

But he didn't know - I mean, other than the fact that there were rumors about coups all the time. He had no idea that this particular coup was going to take place, other than what I've described. This looked more serious, but he had sent out and asked for certain information before any coup should take place. Henry Cabot Lodge was going to come home during this period of time; and it was felt that he should delay his departure but still act as if he were going home, because otherwise, it would disturb everybody.

We had the difficult problem that, in fact, people had been encouraged to have a coup and now to pull the rug out from under them meant their death. That complicated the problem. And then what really brought the coup on - I guess, from what I've read since then - is the fact that Diem planned a coup himself, a fake coup: He was going to pick up all these people and arrest them and say they were participating in a coup and then execute them.


Bobby's words have relevance to the recent arguments advanced in the book, Ultimate Sacrifice, about plans for a Cuban coup just one month later, as well as to current U.S. foreign policy: "It's a bad policy to get into, for us to run a coup out there and replace somebody we don't like with somebody we do, because it would just make every other country nervous as can be that we were running coups in and out."

Robert Kennedy, Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words, New York: Bantam Books, 1988, p. 40.

Tim

Edited by Tim Carroll, 04 March 2006 - 08:08 AM.


#4 John Simkin

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Posted 04 March 2006 - 09:14 AM

Robert Kennedy argued against the assassination of Diem as it would leave the government in the “hands of one man that we don’t know very well.”(30) [Unfortunately, there is no source provided for source note #30]

I know of no source or mention of RFK opposing the assassination of Diem, or that assassination was even discussed. Many have argued that a coup would obviously result in the assassination of Diem and that the Kennedys had to have known this, but that is not reflected in the notes, transcripts or oral histories of the time. Robert Kennedy himself described his and the president's positions about the Vietnam coup, not assassination, thusly:

He would have liked to have gotten rid of Diem if he could get rid of him and get somebody proper to replace him. He was against getting rid of him until you knew what was going to come along, whether the government that was going to replace it had any stability, whether it would, in fact, be a successful coup.

But he didn't know - I mean, other than the fact that there were rumors about coups all the time. He had no idea that this particular coup was going to take place, other than what I've described. This looked more serious, but he had sent out and asked for certain information before any coup should take place. Henry Cabot Lodge was going to come home during this period of time; and it was felt that he should delay his departure but still act as if he were going home, because otherwise, it would disturb everybody.

We had the difficult problem that, in fact, people had been encouraged to have a coup and now to pull the rug out from under them meant their death. That complicated the problem. And then what really brought the coup on - I guess, from what I've read since then - is the fact that Diem planned a coup himself, a fake coup: He was going to pick up all these people and arrest them and say they were participating in a coup and then execute them.


Bobby's words have relevance to the recent arguments advanced in the book, Ultimate Sacrifice, about plans for a Cuban coup just one month later, as well as to current U.S. foreign policy: "It's a bad policy to get into, for us to run a coup out there and replace somebody we don't like with somebody we do, because it would just make every other country nervous as can be that we were running coups in and out."

Robert Kennedy, Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words, New York: Bantam Books, 1988, p. 40.

Tim


Thank you for that. This has now been corrected.

The idea that John Kennedy ordered the assassination of Diem is a lie that was first promoted by Lyndon Johnson and later by Richard Nixon. Not surprisingly, Tim Gratz has also argued it on this Forum.

John Kennedy never disguised the fact that he held some responsibility for the death of Diem. On 4th November he dictated his thoughts on the assassination. He made it clear that he was against the assassination. He pointed out that others, including his brother, were against the idea. He blames Lodge, Averell Harriman, George Ball, Roger Hilsman and Mike Forrestal for promoting the idea. However, he acknowledges that he should have made it clearer that the assassination of Diem was unacceptable.

The important thing to remember was that Kennedy’s foreign policy was consistent. It was a complete rejection of Eisenhower’s secret foreign policy where he was willing to use the CIA to overthrow government that appeared to be “soft” on communism. Kennedy’s view was the best way of saving countries from communism was to establish reforming coalition governments. That was his policy in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Cuba. As a result of this policy, he was unwilling to send combat forces into these countries. Nor was he willing to use the CIA in order to establish military dictatorships.

This policy brought him in conflict with the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence Complex. As Arthur Schlesinger pointed out in an interview he gave in 1978, in 1962-63, the CIA and others were attempting to subvert the foreign policy of the administration. Kennedy suspected that the CIA was behind the assassination on 1st April, 1963, of Quinim Pholsema, the left-wing Foreign Minister in Laos. This was a heavy blow to Kennedy’s foreign policy: an attempt to create neutral, democratic countries as a buffer to communism.

#5 Bill Cheslock

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Posted 04 March 2006 - 06:20 PM

John
The idea that President Kennedy ordered the assassination of
Diem is indeed a lie. In his book, "Plausible Denial" Mark Lane described the
testimony of E. Howard Hunt under oath during the second Hunt v. Liberty Lobby trial.
The trial began in January of 1985, and Hunt testified in court on
February 6. Here is a portion of the transcript which deals with Lane
questioning Hunt about blaming Kennedy for the Diem assassination.

Q "Were you ever involved in any kind of disinformation to embarrass
him?

Hunt "President Kennedy?"

Q "Yes."

Hunt "No."

Lane interjects here and explains that Hunt was lying.

Q "Did you ever have discussion with Mr. Colson about forging some cables
in order to blame John F. Kennedy for the death of the leader of South Vietnam?"

Lane states that Hunt paused, looked at his attorneys for help, but there
was nothing they could do. The question was proper.

Hunt "Yes, that is a matter of public record. I can't remember whether Kennedy
himself was to be blamed. But certainly the Nixon administration--the Kennedy
administration, by the Nixon administration."

Q "Did you ever have discussions with Mr. Colson in which you agreed to falsify
State Department cables to show that President John F. Kennedy's administration
ordered the assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem?"

Hunt "I did."

Q "And, in fact, did you falsify and forge those documents?"

Hunt "Did I?" (lengthy pause) "Yes I did." ("Plausible Denial" page 269)

Hunt confirmed what Lane had suspected. President Kennedy did not
order the assassination of Diem, but was rather framed by Hunt and the Nixon
administration when Hunt falsified State Department cables.
Bill C

#6 Tim Carroll

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Posted 04 March 2006 - 09:35 PM

In the final months of his administration, Eisenhower was mainly concerned with trying to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro in Cuba. He was also worried about events in Laos and Vietnam. However, Kaiser convincingly argues that Kennedy subtly changed foreign policy after he gained office. “Ironically, while Eisenhower’s supposedly cautious approach in foreign policy had frequently been contrasted with his successors’ apparent aggressiveness, Kennedy actually spent much of his term resisting policies developed and approved under Eisenhower, both in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. He also had to deal with the legacy of the Eisenhower administration’s disastrous attempts to create a pro-Western rather than a neutral government in Laos – a policy he quickly reversed, thereby avoiding the need for American military intervention there.”*

*David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 2)

History has not sufficiently recognized the matrix of aggression that was Eisenhower's legacy, involving numerous circumstances requiring Kennedy's courageous resistence. Some of this is the result of Eisenhower's seeming passivity, in contrast to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles's maniacal "Onward Christian Soldiers" approach to foreign policy. Fred Greenstein has characterized Eisenhower as a "hidden hand president" who preferred to utilize behind-the-scenes methods to avoid expending mass political support. "Covert action allowed Eisenhower to achieve foreign policy aims without alienating American or world opinion."[1]

In John Foster Dulles' black and white world, neutrality was a form of evil, to be contested at every turn. As Dulles' employer, Ike clearly subscribed to the notion that the Cold War could not be waged according to accepted rules of international conduct. In 1955 he wrote, "I have come to the conclusion that some of our traditional ideas of international sportsmanship are scarcely applicable in the morass in which the world now founders."[2] This attitude was reinforced by the issuance of the Doolittle Report, which asserted that in fighting the Cold War, "hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of fair play must be reconsidered. We must ... learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us. It may become necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand, and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy."[3]

The most dangerous of Eisenhower's bequeathed policies was the mutual deception with Khrushchev to exaggerate Soviet nuclear strength in order to pretextualize massive military industrial expenditures by the U.S. Many felt that the U.S. had missed its opportunity for global dominance immediately after WWII, when it held a nuclear monopoly. Through the Fifties, under Eisenhower's stewardship, a build-up of a first strike capability was conducted. The plan reached fruition in August 1961, when the Corona satellite became operational. At that moment, all Soviet forces became immediately vulnerable to a first strike elimination. It was in resisting the entrenched forces eager to seize the moment and launch a Nazi-esque First Strike Final Solution that Kennedy most dramatically and importantly established his own greatness and stature as a world leader.

Tim

[1] Robert Smith Thompson, The Missiles Of October. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 130-131.

[2] Michael R. Beschloss, Mayday: The U-2 Affair. (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1986), p. 130.

[3] Thompson, p. 64.

#7 John Simkin

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 07:04 AM

It has been argued that Johnson followed the policies of Kennedy when he became president in November, 1963. This is a myth that was encouraged by Johnson. The two main changes involved Kennedy's tax policy and foreign policy.

In the weeks following the assassination, Johnson was concerned with Kennedy’s tax reform bill that had been submitted to Congress in January 1963. This included the removal of the oil depletion allowance. As Donald Gibson has pointed out: “He (Kennedy) also proposed changes in foreign tax credits which allowed U.S. based oil, gas, and mineral companies to avoid paying U.S. taxes.” (1)

In September, Congress passed the bill after it had deleted many of Kennedy’s proposals to close tax loopholes, including the abolition of the oil depletion allowance. When Kennedy was assassinated, the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Harry Byrd of Virginia, was still discussing the proposed legislation.

Johnson feared that in a wave of sympathy, the Senate might now agree to Kennedy’s original proposals. A few days after the assassination, James Reston wrote in the New York Times: “President Kennedy had to die to create a sympathetic atmosphere for his program.” (2)

The day after Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson phoned up George Smathers, his man on the Finance Committee: “Tell me, what is the situation on the tax bill?” Smathers replies: “I made a deal, just confidentially, that Ribicoff and Long and myself and Fulbright would vote against any motion to take the bill away from the Chairman. He (Harry Byrd) would agree to close the hearings.” He adds “the smart thing to do, in light of developments, would be for you to get the appropriation bill through real quick.” (3) Johnson follows Smathers’ advice and the issue of the oil depletion allowance is removed from the agenda.

The main change that Johnson makes to Kennedy’s policies concerns his foreign policy. As David Kaiser points out in American Tragedy, Johnson returned to Eisenhower policy “which decided upon a militant response to any new Communist advances virtually anywhere on the globe.” (4)

One of Johnson’s first decisions was to move Kennedy’s Ambassador to Mexico, Thomas C. Mann, to the post of Under Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs. Mann, a fellow Texan, had held liberal views during the early 1950s, he had for example, argued against the CIA overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. However, by 1963, he shared the Eisenhower/Johnson view of international communism.
Johnson also called off the secret meetings that were taking place between Fidel Castro and people like Lisa Howard on behalf of the Kennedy administration. On 12th February, 1964, Howard took a message from Castro to Johnson asking for negotiations to be restarted. It included the following comment about the forthcoming presidential election campaign: “If the President feels it necessary during the campaign to make bellicose statements about Cuba or even to take some hostile action - if he will inform me, unofficially, that a specific action is required because of domestic political considerations, I shall understand and not take any serious retaliatory action.” (5)

When Johnson did not respond to this message she contacted Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations. On 26th June 1964, Stevenson sent a memo to Johnson saying that he felt that "all of our crises could be avoided if there was some way to communicate; that for want of anything better, he assumed that he could call (Lisa Howard) and she call me and I would advise you." (6) In a memorandum marked top secret, Gordon Chase wrote on 7th July that it was important "to remove Lisa from direct participation in the business of passing messages" from Cuba. (7)

It was at this point that negotiations between Johnson and Castro came to an end. Peter Kornbluh, a researcher at Washington's National Security Archives who has reviewed all the new evidence, recently told the Guardian newspaper: "It shows that the whole history of US-Cuban relations might have been quite different if Kennedy had not been assassinated." (8)

Lyndon Johnson showed little interest in either negotiating with, or removing, Fidel Castro. As he told Dean Rusk, Maxwell Taylor and John McCone on 2nd December, 1963, South Vietnam is “our most critical military area right now.” David Kaiser points out that Johnson “never seriously considered the alternatives of neutralization and withdrawal.” Kaiser adds: “Johnson, in short, accepted the premises of the policies that had been developed under Eisenhower – premises whose consequences Kennedy had consistently refused to accept for three years.” (9)

Johnson also opposed Prince Sihanouk’s new proposal for a conference on Cambodian neutrality. Johnson feared this would encourage Thailand and South Vietnam to follow the neutral policy that had been with Kennedy’s encouragement, achieved by the government in Laos. He also rejected suggestions by Mike Mansfield for a truce in Vietnam as he did not want “another China”. Mansfield replied, that the “United States did not want another Korea either”. (10)

Johnson told General Paul Harkins that it was necessary to “make clear that the US will not accept a Communist victory in South Vietnam and that we will escalate the conflict to whatever level is required to insure their defeat.” (136) According to Stanley Karnow, Johnson told the joint chiefs at a White House reception on Christmas Eve 1963, "Just let me get elected, and then you can have your war." (11)

In February, 1964, Johnson removed Roger Hilsman as Assistant Secretary for the Far East. Hilsman, who had been in charge of Kennedy’s Vietnam policy, had been a loyal supporter of his neutralization policy. Hilsman was replaced by William Bundy, who shared Johnson’s views on military involvement in Vietnam.
In an interview for the 1999 CNN Cold War documentary on the Vietnam War, Hilsman explained Kennedy’s policy during 1963: “First of all, from the beginning, he was determined that it not be an American war, that he would not bomb the North, he would not send troops. But then after …you remember the Buddhist crisis in the spring of '63, this convinced Kennedy that Ngu Dinh Diem had no chance of winning and that we best we get out. So, he used that as an excuse, beat on McNamara to beat on the JCS to develop a withdrawal plan. The plan was made, he approved the plan and the first one thousand of the sixteen thousand five hundred were withdrawn before Kennedy was killed. If he had lived, the other sixteen thousand would have been out of there within three or four months.”

Hilsman went onto explain how Johnson changed policy towards Vietnam: “Well, what Johnson did was, he did one thing before he expanded the war and that is he got rid of one way or another all the people who had opposed making it an American war. Averill Harriman, he was Under Secretary of State, he made him roving ambassador for Africa so he'd have nothing to do with Vietnam. Bobby Kennedy, he you know, he told Bobby Kennedy that he ought to run for governor of Massachusetts, you see. Bobby confounded him by running for the Senate… He wanted to get rid of me, Lyndon Johnson did. Well, Johnson's a very clever man. When he wanted to get rid of Grenowski, who was the Postmaster General, he offered him the chance of being the first American ambassador to Poland. he offered me... he found out that I'd spent part of my childhood in the Philippines, and he tried to persuade me to become ambassador to the Philippines, but that was just to keep me quiet, you see and so instead I went to Columbia University, where I could criticize the war from outside. Johnson was a very clever man, so the first thing he did was he nullified or got rid of all the people - and he knew as well, he knew who were the hawks and who were the doves… Johnson literally transferred, fired, drove out of government all the people that were really knew something about Vietnam and were opposed to the war. (12)

Robert Komer sent a memo to McGeorge Bundy showing concern about Johnson’s decision to reverse Kennedy’s foreign policy. He complained that this new “hard line” would “increase the chances that in addition to the Vietnam, Cuba, Cyprus, Panama and other current trials – will be added come summer Indonesia/Malaysia, Arab/Israeli, India/Pakistan crises which may be even more unmanageable.” (139)
On 2nd March, 1964, Johnson telephoned Robert McNamara, to prepare a statement on Vietnam. Two days later, McNamara issued a statement rejecting withdrawal, neutralization, or American ground troops. This was discussed with the five Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Maxwell Taylor argued for “the progressive and selective attack against targets in North Vietnam”. General Curtis LeMay advocated an immediate “hard blow”. Johnson replied he did “not want to start a war before November”. (13)

Later that month, a group of generals, with the approval of Johnson, overthrew Joao Goulart, the left-wing president of Brazil. This action ended democracy in Brazil for more than twenty years. Once again, Johnson showed that his policy was to support non-democratic but anti-communist, military dictatorships, and that he had fully abandoned Kennedy’s neutralization policy.

In June, 1964, Henry Cabot Lodge, resigned as ambassador of Saigon. McGeorge Bundy gave Johnson six recommendations for his successor: Robert Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, Robert McNamara, Roswell Gilpatric, William Gaud and himself. Johnson rejected all the names on the list and instead selected General Maxwell Taylor. Bundy complained bitterly that Johnson had appointed a military man. However, Johnson, who was determined to have a war in Vietnam, replied that the ambassador of Saigon would soon be a “military job” and that Taylor was “our top military man”. (14)

Johnson always intended to wait until after the election in November, 1964, before beginning the war against Vietnam. Public opinion polls showed that the American people were overwhelmingly against sending combat troops to South Vietnam. Most leading figures in the Democratic Party shared this view and had told Johnson this was a war he could not win as China was likely to send troops into Vietnam if the country was bombed or invaded.

Johnson’s strategy changed when the right-wing Barry Goldwater won the Republican Party nomination in July. Goldwater had been arguing that Johnson had not been aggressive enough over Vietnam. When interviewed by Howard K. Smith on television, Goldwater argued that the United States should start bombing North Vietnam. Smith suggested that this “risked a fight with China”. “You might have to do that” Goldwater responded.” On other occasions, Goldwater had insisted that atomic weapons should be used in Vietnam. (15)

Johnson was now free to trigger a war with North Vietnam. He therefore gave permission for OPLAN 34A to be executed. This was a new operations plan for sabotage operations against North Vietnam. This included hit-and-run attacks along the North Vietnamese coast. On 30th July, the American destroyer, the Maddox, left Taiwan for the North Vietnamese coast. On 2nd August, the Maddox opened fire on three North Vietnamese boats, seriously damaging one boat but not sinking it. (16)

Later that day the incident was discussed by Lyndon Johnson, Dean Rusk, George Ball, General Earle Wheeler and Robert McNamara’s new deputy, Cyrus Vance. As a result of the meeting, Vance approved new attacks on North Vietnam beginning on the night of 3rd August.

Soon after entering North Vietnamese waters on 4th August, Captain Herrick of the Maddox reported that he was under attack. However, later he sent a message that raised doubts about this: "Review of action makes reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather reports and over-eager sonar men may have accounted for many reports. No actual sightings by "Maddox". Suggest complete evaluation before further action." David Kaiser argues that “exhaustive analysis of the evidence makes it impossible to believe that any attack occurred that night.” (17)

Despite this, President Johnson immediately ordered “a firm, swift retaliatory strike” against North Vietnamese naval bases. (18) He ordered the bombing of four North Vietnamese torpedo-boat bases and an oil-storage depot that had been planned three months previously.

President Johnson then went on television and told the American people that a total of nine torpedoes had been fired at American ships and as a result he had ordered a retaliatory strike. Warned by Johnson’s announcement, the North Vietnamese managed to bring down two American planes, killing one pilot and capturing the other. (19)

Congress approved Johnson's decision to bomb North Vietnam and passed what has become known as the Gulf of Tonkin resolution by the Senate by 88 votes to 2 and in the House of Representatives by 416 to 0. This resolution authorized the President to take all necessary measures against Vietnam and the National Liberation Front (NLF).

As James Reston pointed out in the New York Times: “The Congress was free in theory only. In practice, despite the private reservations of many members, it had to go along… it had the choice of helping him or helping the enemy, which is no choice at all.” He then added, as a result of this resolution, who could be trusted with this enormous new power – Johnson or Goldwater?” (20)

As David Kaiser has argued convincingly in his book, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War: “By initiating 34A attacks and simultaneously authorizing DeSoto patrols, the administration had brought about one brief military confrontation between North Vietnamese and American forces. The second spurious attack had then become the pretext for retaliation, a congressional resolution authorizing war, and the movement of additional U.S. air assets into South Vietnam.” (21)


Notes

1. Donald Gibson, Battling Wall Street: The Kennedy Presidency, 1994 (page 23)

2. James Reston, New York Times (28th November, 1963)

3. Lyndon B. Johnson, telephone conversation with George Smathers (9.01 p.m., 23rd November, 1963)

4. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 2)

5. Message sent by Fidel Castro via Lisa Howard on 12th February, 1964.

6. Adlai Stevenson, memorandum sent to Lyndon Johnson on 26th June, 1964.

7. Gordon Chase, White House memorandum, 7th July, 1964

8. Julian Borger, The Guardian (23rd November, 2003)

9. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (pages 288-290)

10. Mike Mansfield, memorandum sent to Lyndon Johnson (6th January, 1964)

11. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 292)

12. Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History, 1991 (page 342)

13. Roger Hilsman, The Vietnam War, CNN (broadcast on 6th December, 1998)

14. Robert Komer, memo to McGeorge Bundy (25th February, 1964)

15. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 304)

16. Michael R. Beschloss, Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1997 (pages 407-411)

17. Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm, 2001 (pages 346-347)

18. Edwin E. Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War, 1996 (pages 73-74)

19. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 334)

20. Michael R. Beschloss, Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1997 (pages 503-504)

21. Edwin E. Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War, 1996 (pages 214-231)

22. James Reston, New York Times (9th August, 1964)

23. David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 2000 (page 338)

#8 John Simkin

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 03:43 PM

Why then was Lyndon Johnson so keen to start a war with North Vietnam? One view is that he was convinced by people such as General Maxwell Taylor and Robert McNamara that it would be fairly easy to defeat communism in Vietnam. However, this is not supported by the evidence. On 27th May, 1964, Johnson had a long telephone conversation with his close friend and adviser, Richard Russell. Johnson asked Russell: “What do you think of this Vietnam thing?” Russell replied that Johnson should get completely out of Vietnam: “If I was going to get out, I’d get the same crowd that got rid of old Diem to get rid of these people and get some fellow in there that said he wished to hell we would get out. That would give us a good excuse for getting out” This is of course a strategy that Kennedy had been considering the previous summer.

Russell added that if Johnson did send combat troops into Vietnam the United States would end up fighting a “major war with the Chinese” and the situation would end up worse than Korea. Johnson agreed with Russell on this and also admitted that he had doubts about the value of saving South Vietnam and Laos from communism.

Despite agreeing with Russell he rejected the idea of withdrawal as it would have a detrimental impact on his image. Russell replied: “You’d look pretty good, I guess, going in there with troops and sending them all in there, but I tell you it’ll be the most expensive venture this country ever went into.” (1)

Is it possible that what attracted Johnson to the Vietnam War was that it would be “the most expensive venture this country ever went into”? Let us look at the people who made money from Johnson’s decision to start a war in Vietnam.

Probably the single most important beneficiary was George R. Brown. The two men had been close friends since Johnson’s 1937 election campaign. At that time, George and Herman Brown ran a small construction company in Texas called Brown & Root. The brothers agreed to help fund Johnson’s political campaigns in return for help obtaining federal contracts. (2)

Over the next few years Brown and Root grew rapidly as a result of obtaining a large number of municipal and federal government projects. This included the Marshall Ford Dam on the Colorado River. This was worth $27,000,000. In a letter written to Johnson, George Brown, admitted the company was set to make a $2,000,000 profit out of the deal. In 1940 the company won a $90 million contract to build the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi. (3)

In 1942 the Brown brothers established the Brown Shipbuilding Company on the Houston Ship Channel. Over the next three years the company built 359 ships and employed 25,000 people. This was worth $27,000,000. This contract was eventually worth $357,000,000. Yet until they got the contract, Brown & Root had never built a single ship of any type. (4)

In the 1950s Brown & Root constructed air and naval bases in Spain, France and Guam for the United States government. The company also built roads, dams, bridges, petrochemical plants and large offshore drilling platforms. In 1961 the company won the contract for the $200 million Spacecraft Center in Houston. (5)
Herman Brown died in November, 1962. George Brown replaced his brother as president and later that year, sold the company for $37.7 million to Halliburton, another Texas company involved in government work. (6) Brown remained in charge of Brown & Root, and over the next few years made a great deal of money for Halliburton. (7)

The Vietnam War completely transformed Brown & Root’s fortunes. As Robert Bryce has pointed out: “Before Vietnam, Brown & Root was an arm’s length civilian contractor to the U. S. military. During the war in Vietnam, Brown & Root became part of the military. The war also established Brown & Root as one of the biggest and most important construction companies in America.” (8)

In 1965 Brown & Root joined forces with Raymond International, Morrison-Knudsen and J. A. Jones Corporation to form RMK-BRJ. This consortium was awarded government contracts worth nearly $2 billion during the Vietnam War. Brown & Root obtained revenues from this deal of over $380 million ($2.2 billion in 2006 dollars). George Brown was also able to negotiate a cost-plus contract. Whatever it spent doing each project, the government guaranteed that it would pay the company a profit on top of its costs. Brown & Root expanded the harbors at Saigon, Cam Rahn Bay and Da Nang. It also built the Phan Rang Air Force Base. (9)

By 1966 RMK-BRJ had 52,000 employees working in South Vietnam. This included construction and engineering jobs normally done by soldiers from the Army Corps of Engineers. It was the Vietnam War that began the mass privatization of military duties.

It was not long before RMK-BRJ was being accused of exploiting the American taxpayer. Abraham Ribicoff claimed that federal money was “being squandered because of inefficiency, dishonesty, corruption and foolishness.” The U.S. General Accounting Office agreed with Ribicoff and in 1967 it published a report criticizing RMK-BRJ, saying that the consortium “could not account for the whereabouts of approximately $120 million worth of materials which had been shipped to Vietnam from the United States.” (10)

By 1969 Brown & Root had become the biggest construction company in America. (11) It was not the only company in Texas to experience rapid growth as a result of the Vietnam War. Bell Helicopter Corporation, based in Fort Worth, also made a great deal of money during the conflict.

Johnson had enjoyed a long and profitable relationship with the company. Lawrence Bell had provided money for Johnson’s 1948 election campaign. In fact, Bell supplied Johnson with free use of a 47-B helicopter. As Robert Bryce has pointed out: "With a helicopter, Johnson could land right in the center of town and give a speech right on the landing spot, eliminating the need for time-wasting car trips and from the airstrip." (12)

At this time, Bell Helicopter Corporation was based in California. However, with encouragement from Johnson, Bell moved the helicopter plant to Fort Worth and joined the Suite 8F Group. (13) By 1960 the Bell Helicopter Corporation was in serious financial difficulties. However, during the Vietnam War, the company’s fortunes were transformed.

The UH-1 (Huey) was used extensively by the U.S. military during the war. By 1967 the Fort Worth plant was employing 11,000 workers who were producing 200 helicopters a month. 160 of which were for the American military.

General Dynamics, also based in Texas, and like the Bell Helicopter Corporation, had been close to bankruptcy in 1960. Once again the Vietnam War helped to increase profits. In 1967 some 83 percent of its sales were to the government. (15) When the F-111 proved to be a complete disaster, the company was given the FB-111, the bomber version of the TFX, instead. This contract alone was estimated to be worth $24 billion. (16)

Notes

1. Telephone conversation between Richard Russell and Lyndon B. Johnson (10.55 a.m. 27th May, 1964)

2. Craig Zirbel, The Texas Connection, 1991 (page 112)

3. Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, 1982 (pages 369-385)

4. Dan Briody, The Halliburton Agenda: The Politics of Oil and Money, 2004 (pages 86-87)

5. Alfred Steinberg, Sam Johnson’s Boy, 1968 (page 577)

6. Robert Bryce, Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, 2004 (page 109)

7. Robert Sherrill, The Accidental President, 1967 (page 244)

8. Robert Bryce, Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, 2004 (page 105)

9. Joseph A. Pratt & Christopher J. Castaneda, Builders: Herman and George R. Brown, 1999 (page 243)

10. General Accounting Office, Report on United States Construction Activities in the Republic of Vietnam, 1965-1966 (67-11159)

11. Kirkpatrick Sale, Power Shift, 1975 (42-43)

12. Robert Bryce, Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, 2004 (page 59)

13. Joseph A. Pratt & Christopher J. Castaneda, Builders: Herman and George R. Brown, 1999 (pages 158-59)

14. Robert Bryce, Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, 2004 (page 107)

15. I. F. Stone, I. F. Weekly, 1st January, 1969

16. I. F. Stone, I. F. Weekly, 5th June, 1969

#9 John Simkin

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Posted 17 March 2006 - 08:31 AM

I am currently reading Clark R. Mollenhoff’s Despoilers of Democracy. It is the best account I have read on the scandals surrounding Lyndon Johnson at the time of the assassination. It is especially good on providing information on Fred Korth, LBJ’s pal who replaced his other pal, John Connally, as Secretary of the Navy.

Mollenhoff points out that as well as being General Dynamics’ banker before becoming Secretary of the Navy, Korth was also a director of the Bell Corporation. Soon after taking the post, Korth granted the X-22 contract to Bell. This was in spite of the recommendation of the Navy Board that the contract should go to the Douglas Aircraft Corporation.

At the time the X-22 contract was given to Bell it was on the verge of bankruptcy. Bell went on to make billions from the Vietnam War.

John Connally said he resigned as Secretary of the Navy because he wanted to run for the post as Governor of Texas. Is it possible that he resigned because he thought that granting the X-22 and TFX contracts to Texas-based companies was too risky? After all, Korth was forced to resign over these issues in October, 1963. Connally survived and was able to serve under Richard Nixon (he was eventually forced out of this job for corruption).

LBJ was also aware that he was highly unlikely to get away with such a blatant example of corruption. In fact, the only reason he did get away with it was because of the assassination of JFK.

Mollenhoff points out that McClellan’s Senate Committee never issued its report on the TFX scandal. In fact, it stopped meeting after the assassination of JFK. Officially, it was because the report would have condemned JFK as well as Johnson, Korth, Gilpatric, and McNamara.

The main question concerns why JFK and McNamara went along with the X-22 and TFX decisions. If JFK had stepped in he would have had to have sacked both McNamara and Gilpatric. It also explains how LBJ was able to force McNamara into going along with sending combat troops to Vietnam. It was a common tactic of LBJ to involve as many politicians as possible in his various scams. Once they were implicated in these corrupt activities, they became under his control.

#10 Nathaniel Heidenheimer

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Posted 19 March 2006 - 06:21 PM

I am reading an interesting new book called Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam by Gareth Porter.

He suggests that North Vietnam perceived a clear difference between Kennedy and JBJ:

VPA staff officer Colonel Bui Tin recalled in a later interview that the assassinations of
Diem and of Kennedy had considerable impacts on Hanoi's thinking about the likelihood
of the United States sending its own forces. North Vietnamese leaders viewed Johnson as
more likely to change the character of the war from "special war" to "limited war, " he
recalled, and Hanoi perceived in late 1963 and early 1964 that thte United States was
actively debating whether to send its won troops. Another knowledgeable military source
also recalled that party leaders were becomin increasingly concerned that the United
States would send its own troops and that "there would be a big war in the south" p. 127


The main thesis of this book is that the Cold War was not as balanced as we were told. The U.S enjoyed
a strategic superiority that China, the Soviets, and North Vietnam all were aware of. This superiority effected how the Vietnam war played out.

In particular it led to strong tensions between the JCS on the one hand, and Presidents, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson on the other. The fact that Johnson is included in this group on the OTHER SIDE OF JCS and military bureaucracy, is problematic for me, but I have not yet reached this part of the argument. This book is interesting to read in conjuncotion with John Newman's account of back channel ties between Johnson and the JCS that seemed to have been designed to keep Kennedy in the dark about militray plans for Vietnam in 1961 (and maybe later?)

#11 John Simkin

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Posted 03 April 2006 - 12:35 PM

John F. Kennedy was not the only politician to be assassinated because he opposed the Vietnam War.

On 3rd April, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. made a speech where he outlined the reasons why he was opposed to the war. It is worth quoting in full:

Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have several reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor - both black and white - through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the build-up in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demoniacal destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years - especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my convictions that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But they asked - and rightly so - what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government.

They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least 20 casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What of the National Liberation Front - that strangely anonymous group we call VC or Communists? What must they think of us in America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of "aggression from the North" as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem, and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than 25 per cent Communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them - the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?

Here is the true meaning of value and compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.
(1)

King had decided to take this stand after reading an article on the Vietnam War in Ramparts Magazine. (2) King later wrote: “After reading that article, I said to myself, never again will I be silent on an issue that is destroying the soul of our nation”. (3)

After making his speech on Vietnam, the editor of the Nation, Carey McWilliams and the Socialist Party leader, Norman Thomas, urged King to run as a third-party presidential candidate in 1968. (4)

William F. Pepper, the author of the Ramparts article, suggested that King should challenge Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. King rejected this idea but instead joined with Pepper to establish the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP). “From this platform, Dr King planned to move into mainstream politics as a potential candidate on a presidential ticket with Dr Benjamin Spock in order to highlight the anti-poverty, anti-war agenda.” (5)

In his autobiography, William C. Sullivan, Deputy Director of the FBI, admitted that this decision created a great deal of concern to the ruling elite. “The Civil Rights Movement which began in the late 1950s gave organization and impetus to the antiwar movement of the late 1960s. The tactics of direct action against authority that proved successful in the earlier struggle were used as a model for the students of the New Left.” (6)

Pepper was later to discover that the wiretaps of the conversations that took place about King becoming a third-party candidate “were relayed to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and, through him, to Lyndon Johnson.” (7) According to Anthony Summers, Hoover suggested to Lyndon Johnson that the best way of dealing with King and Malcolm X would be to “get those two guys fighting”. He added the problem could be solved “if we could get them to kill one another off.” (8)

Hoover told Sullivan when he became head of the Intelligence Division in 1961 that “King was an instrument of the Communist Party” and posed “a serious threat to the security of the country.” Hoover instructed Sullivan to get evidence that “King had a relationship with the Soviet bloc”. Despite an intensive surveillance campaign, Sullivan was unable to find a clear link between King and the Communist Party. When told this by Sullivan, Hoover replied: “I kept saying that Castro was a Communist and you people wouldn’t believe me. Now they are saying that King is not a Communist and you’re just as wrong this time as you were with Castro.” (9)

Sullivan continued in his campaign to discredit King. In a memo to Hoover in December, 1963, Sullivan wrote: “When the true facts concerning his (King’s) activities are presented, such should be enough, if handled properly, to take him off his pedestal… When that is done… the Negroes will be left without a national leader of sufficiently compelling personality to steer them in the proper direction.” (10)

In June, 1967, Hoover had a meeting with fellow gambler, close friend, and Texas oil billionaire, H. L. Hunt in Chicago. Hunt was very concerned that the activities of King might unseat Lyndon Johnson. This could be an expensive defeat as Johnson doing a good job protecting the oil depletion allowance. According to William Pepper: “Hoover said he thought a final solution was necessary. Only that action would stop King.” (11)
It was King’s opposition to the Vietnam War that really upset Hoover. According to Richard Goodwin, Hoover told Johnson that “Bobby Kennedy was hiring or paying King off to stir up trouble over the Vietnam War.” (12)

It is true that Robert Kennedy, like King, was growing increasingly concerned about the situation in Vietnam. Johnson became convinced that Kennedy was leaking information to the press about his feelings on the war. At a meeting on 6th February, 1967, Johnson told Kennedy: “I’ll destroy you and everyone one of your dove friends. You’ll be dead politically in six months.” (13)

The following month Kennedy made a speech where he raised the issue of morality and the Vietnam War: “Although the world’s imperfection may call forth the act of war, righteousness cannot obscure the agony and pain those acts bring to a single child. It is we who live in abundance and send our young men out to die. It is our chemicals that scorch the children and our bombs that level the villages. We are all participants.” (14)

In an television interview later that year Kennedy again returned to the morality of the war: “We’re going in there and we’re killing South Vietnamese, we’re killing children, we’re killing women, we’re killing innocent people because we don’t want a war fought on American soil, or because (the Viet Cong are) 12,000 miles away and they might get 11,000 miles away. Do we have the right, here in the United States, to say we’re going to kill tens of thousands, make millions of people, as we have, millions of people refugees, killing women and children, as we have.” (15)

Martin Luther King continued his campaign against the Vietnam War. This upset the Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. In October, 1961, McNamara established the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). This took over the U.S. Army’s Strategic Intelligence Unit. However, following the racial riots at Oxford, Mississippi, the on-scene commander, Major General Creighton V. Abrahams, wrote a report on the performance of army intelligence at Oxford. It included the following: “We in the Army should launch a major intelligence project, without delay, to identify personalities, both black and white, and develop analyses of the various civil rights situations in which they became involved.” Abrahams’ advice was accepted and in 1967 the Military Intelligence Branch (MIB) was formed as part of the U.S. Army Intelligence Command (USAINTC) based at Fort Holabird, Maryland. It was the MIB that now began to take a close look at the activities of Martin Luther King. (16)

On 19th February, 1968, Cesar Chavez, the trade union leader, began a hunger strike in protest against the violence being used against his members in California. Robert Kennedy went to the San Joaquin Valley to give Chavez his support and told waiting reporters: “I am here out of respect for one of the heroic figures of our time – Cesar Chavez. I congratulate all of you who are locked with Cesar in the struggle for justice for the farm worker and in the struggle for justice for Spanish-speaking Americans.” (17)

Chavez was also a strong opponent of the Vietnam War. Kennedy had begun to link the campaign against the war with the plight of the disadvantaged. Martin Luther King was following a similar path with his involvement in the Poor People’s Campaign. As William Pepper has pointed out: “If the wealthy, powerful interests across the nation would find Dr King’s escalating activity against the war intolerable, his planned mobilization of half a million poor people with the intention of laying siege to Congress could only engender outrage – and fear.” (18)

On 16th March, 1968, Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. “I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man but to propose new policies.” (19) As Richard D. Mahoney points out in his book, Sons & Brothers: “If there was one reason why Bobby was running, it was to end America’s war in Vietnam…. Politically, however, this looked self-destructive. A substantial majority of Americans supported the president’s policy. The antiwar movement, though a significant new factor in American politics, was not yet a defining factor.” (20) That was true, but that now had the potential to change. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King joining forces against the Vietnam War posed serious problems for Lyndon Johnson.

This decision by Robert Kennedy to take on Lyndon Johnson caused Jackie Kennedy great concern. A few days after Kennedy announced his candidacy, Jackie said to Schlesinger at a dinner party in New York: “Do you know what I think will happen to Bobby?” When Arthur Schlesinger replied that he didn’t, she said: “The same thing that happened to Jack.” (21)

It is the view of William Turner that Robert Kennedy intended to reopen the investigation into the death of his brother once he had been elected president: “Throughout the primary (in California), Bobby Kennedy was asked by audiences whether he would reopen the investigation of his brother’s death if elected. He hedged, saying he would not reopen the Warren Report, but remained silent on the question of whether he would take action on his own. RFK was a pragmatist, if anything, knowing that he had to control the Justice Department to launch a new probe.” (22)

In February, 1968, Memphis clergyman James Lawson, informed Martin Luther King about the sanitation workers’ dispute in the city. Over 90% of the 13,000 sanitation workers in Memphis were black. Men were often sent home by management during working hours and this resulted in them losing pay. Much of the equipment they used was old and in a bad state of repair. The dispute began when two sanitation workers, Echole Cole and Robert Walker were killed by a malfunctioning “garbage packer” truck. There was no company insurance scheme and the men’s families did not receive any compensation except for a month’s pay and a contribution towards funeral expenses.

The local branch of the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) threatened strike action unless working conditions improved in Memphis. When negotiations failed to achieve an acceptable solution to this problem, the sanitation workers went on strike. A protest march on 23rd February, ended in violence when the local police used Mace on the marchers. At this point, Rev. James Lawson, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), became chairman of the strike strategy committee. The Community on the Move for Equality (COME), a coalition of labour and civil rights groups, also gave its support to the sanitation workers. Roy Wilkins of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Bayard Rustin of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), agreed to speak at a strike meeting on 14th March. Martin Luther King also agreed to help and it was announced he would speak at a public meeting in Memphis on 18th March. (23)

At the meeting King expressed his solidarity with the sanitation workers and called for a general strike to take place in Memphis. This caused create concern amongst the ruling elite. Many people interpreted the idea of a general strike as a tactic that had been employed by revolutionaries in several European countries.

The strategy of King seemed to be an attempt to link the campaign against poverty with the civil rights struggle and the protests against the war in Vietnam. In his speeches King argued that the money being spent on the war was making it more difficult for Lyndon Johnson to fulfil the promises he had made about improving America’s welfare system.

James Lawson later claimed that King “saw the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike as the beginning of a non-violent revolution that would redistribute income.” He argued his long term plan was to “shut down the nation’s capital in the spring of 1968 through massive civil disobedience until the government agreed to abolish poverty.” He added that the government became especially upset after he began making speeches against the Vietnam War. (24)

King’s strategy of linking poverty, civil rights and the Vietnam War seemed to be mirroring the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy. Both men appeared to be seriously threatening the status quo and in that sense were acting as revolutionaries. Recently released FBI files show that during this period J. Edgar Hoover reported to Lyndon Johnson that Kennedy and King were working together in order to undermine his presidency. (25)

On 20th March a Gallup poll placed Kennedy ahead of Johnson in the race to get the Democratic Party nomination. Johnson now decided not to stand in the forthcoming election. However, this was not to be announced until the end of the month.

Despite his good poll ratings, senior staff members such as Ted Sorensen and Milton Gwirtzman warned Kennedy about his “win in the streets” strategy. They argued that his campaign looked like a “mobile riot” to people watching on TV. As Richard D. Mahoney pointed out: “Many of Kennedy’s advisors… thought his message needed to be broadened beyond Vietnam and the poor and targeted more toward the white middle class.” (26)

On 28th March, 1968, King led a march from Clayborn Temple to the Memphis city hall. Although the organizers had ordered the marchers to refrain from any acts of violence, groups of young people ignored the marshals’ instructions and created a great deal of damage to shops on the way to the city hall. A sixteen-year-old boy, Larry Payne, was shot dead by the police who claimed he was a looter. An eyewitness said that Payne had his hands up when shot.

King was convinced that the violence on the march had been caused by government provocateurs. According to Coretta Scott King, her husband returned to Memphis on 3rd April to prepare for a truly non-violent march and to prove SCLC could still carry out a pacifist campaign in Washington. That night King made a speech at the Mason Temple. It ended with the following words:

I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane - there were six of us - the pilot said over the public address system, "We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked and to be sure that nothing would be wrong on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night."

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out, or what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life - longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight , that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
(27)

After the meeting King and his party were taken to the Lorraine Motel. The following day King was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of the motel. Two months later, James Earl Ray was arrested in London and extradited to the United States. He pleaded guilty to King’s murder and was sent to jail for ninety-nine years.

People close to King were convinced that the government was behind the assassination. Ralph Abernathy, who replaced King as head of the SCLC, claimed that he had been killed “by someone trained or hired by the FBI and acting under the orders from J. Edgar Hoover”. (28) Whereas James Lawson, the leader of the strike in Memphis remarked that: “I have no doubt that the government viewed all this (the Poor People’s Campaign and the anti-Vietnam War speeches) seriously enough to plan his assassination.” (29)

William Pepper, who was to spend the next forty years investigating the death of Martin Luther King, discovered evidence that Military Intelligence was involved in the assassination. In his book, Orders to Kill, Pepper names members of the 20th Special Forces Group (SFG) as being part of the conspiracy. (30)

Even the Deputy Director of the FBI, William Sullivan, who led the investigation into the assassination, believed that there was a conspiracy to kill King. In his autobiography published after his death, Sullivan wrote: “I was convinced that James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King, but I doubt if he acted alone… Someone, I feel sure, taught Ray how to get a false Canadian passport, how to get out of the country, and how to travel to Europe because he would never have managed it alone. And how did Ray pay for the passport and the airline tickets?” Sullivan also admits that it was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and not the FBI who successfully tracked Ray down to London. (31)

In a television interview from prison that took place in 1988, Ray claimed the FBI agents threatened to jail his father and one of his brothers if he did not confess to King’s murder. Ray added that he had been framed to cover up an FBI plot to kill King. (32)

However, there is evidence that it was another organization that was involved in the assassination of Martin Luther King. According to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, military intelligence became very interested in the activities of King after he began making speeches against the Vietnam War. In a report published in 1972, the committee claimed that in the spring of 1968 King’s organization was “infiltrated by the 109th, 111th and 116th Military Intelligence Groups.” (33) In his book, An Act of State, William Pepper points out that the committee was surprised when it discovered that military intelligence appeared to be very interested in where King was “staying in various cities, as well as details concerning housing facilities, offices, bases of operations, churches and private homes.” (34) The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee commented: “Why such information was sought has never been explained.” (35)

Kennedy was deeply shocked by the assassination of Martin Luther King. Later that day he spoke in Indianapolis about the killing. He referred to the assassination of John Kennedy. When that happened he was “filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act” but pleaded with the black community not to desire revenge but to “make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.” (36)

The assassination of Martin Luther King further radicalized Robert Kennedy. During a speech at the Indiana University Medical Center, one of the students called out: “Where are we going to get the money to pay for all these new programs you’re proposing?” Kennedy replied: “From you. I look around this room and I don’t see many black faces who will become doctors. Part of a civilized society is to let people go to medical school who come from ghettos. I don’t see many people coming here from the slums, or off of Indian reservations. You are the privileged ones here. It’s easy for you to sit back and say it’s the fault of the Federal Government. But it’s our responsibility too. It’s our society too… It’s the poor who carry the major burden of the struggle in Vietnam. You sit here as white medical students, while black people carry the burden of the fighting in Vietnam.” (37)

The students reacted by hissing and booing Kennedy. His advisors warned him that if he was perceived as an extremist he would never win the election. However, Kennedy was no longer thinking like a politician trying to maximize his vote. Instead he was determined to say what he believed. Kennedy told Jack Newfield that he would probably not win the nomination but “somebody has to speak up for the Negroes and Indians and Mexicans and poor whites.” Despite this pessimism, Kennedy won the Indiana primary with 42% of the vote.

In an attempt to prevent Kennedy from being elected, J. Edgar Hoover leaked a report to Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson that when Kennedy was attorney general he had authorized the FBI to wiretap Martin Luther King. (38) Despite this news, Kennedy continued to get the vote of the black community and his campaign went well in California.

However, rumours were already spreading that Kennedy would die during the campaign. The FBI had picked up reports of an overheard conversation between Jimmy Hoffa and a fellow prisoner in the Lewisburg penitentiary about a contract to kill Kennedy. (39)

One of the more chilling stories appeared in “American Journey”. Jimmy Breslin asked several reporters around a table whether they thought Kennedy had “the stuff to go all the way”. One of the men at the meeting, John J. Lindsay replied: “Yes, of course, he has the stuff to go all the way, but he’s not going to go all the way. The reason is that somebody is going to shoot him. I know it and you know it, just as sure as we’re sitting here. He’s out there waiting for him.” (40)

On 4th June, 1968, Harold Weisberg appeared on television in Washington where he discussed the possibility of Robert Kennedy being assassinated. Weisberg recalled a meeting with a Kennedy aide. Weisberg asked why Kennedy had supported the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report. He replied: “it is simple, Bobby wants to live.” Kennedy’s friend added that there were “too many guns between Bobby and the White House”. Weisberg asked who controlled these guns. The friend replied in such a way that Weisberg got the impression that he meant the CIA. (41)

Kennedy won the primary in California obtaining 46.3% to McCarthy’s 41.8%. On hearing the result Kennedy went down to the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel to speak to his supporters. He commented on “the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society; the divisions, whether it’s between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups or on the war in Vietnam”. Kennedy claimed that the United States was “a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country” and that he had the ability to get people to work together to create a better society. (42)

Kennedy now began his journey to the Colonial Room where he was to hold a press conference. Someone suggested that Kennedy should take a short cut through the kitchen. Security guard Thane Eugene Cesar took hold of Kennedy’s right elbow to escort him through the room when Sirhan Sirhan opened fire. According to Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi, who performed the autopsy, all three bullets striking Kennedy entered from the rear, in a flight path from down to up, right to left. “Moreover, powder burns around the entry wound indicated that the fatal bullet was fired at less than one inch from the head and no more than two or three inches behind the right ear.” (43)

An eyewitness, Donald Schulman, went on CBS News to say that Sirhan “stepped out and fired three times; the security guard hit Kennedy three times.” As Dan Moldea pointed out: “The autopsy showed that three bullets had struck Kennedy from the right rear side, traveling at upward angles – shots that Shiran was never in a position to fire.” (44)

Kennedy had been shot at point-blank range from behind. Two shots entered his back and a third shot entered directly behind RFK’s right ear. None of the eyewitness claim that Shiran was able to fire his gun from close-range. One witness, Karl Uecker, who struggled with Shiran when he was firing his gun, provided a written statement in 1975 about what he saw: “There was a distance of at least one and one-half feet between the muzzle of Shiran’s gun and Senator Kennedy’s head. The revolver was directly in front of my nose. After Shiran’s second shot, I pushed the hand that held the revolver down, and pushed him onto the steam table. There is no way that the shots described in the autopsy could have come from Shiran’s gun. When I told this to the authorities, they told me that I was wrong. But I repeat now what I told them then: Shiran never got close enough for a point-blank shot.” (45)

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) ignored this evidence and argued that Sirhan Shiran was a lone gunman. Shiran’s lead attorney, Grant Cooper, went along with this theory. As he explained to William Turner, “a conspiracy defence would make his client look like a contract killer”. Cooper’s main strategy was to portray his client as a lone-gunman in an attempt to spare Sirhan the death penalty by proving “diminished capacity”. Sirhan was convicted and sentenced before William W. Harper, an independent ballistics expert, proved that the bullets removed from Kennedy and newsman William Weisel, were fired from two different guns. (46)

After Harper published his report, Joseph P. Busch, the Los Angeles District Attorney, announced he would look into the matter. Thane Eugene Cesar was interviewed and he admitted he pulled a gun but insisted it was a Rohm .38, not a .22 (the caliber of the bullets found in Kennedy). He also claimed that he got knocked down after the first shot and did not get the opportunity to fire his gun. The LAPD decided to believe Cesar rather than Donald Schulman, Karl Uecker and William W. Harper and the case was closed.
Cesar admitted that he did own a .22 H & R pistol. However, he claimed that he had sold the gun before the assassination to a man named Jim Yoder. William Turner and Jonn Christian tracked down Yoder in October, 1972. He still had the receipt for the H & R pistol. It was dated 6th September, 1968. Cesar therefore sold the pistol to Yoder three months after the assassination of Robert Kennedy. (47)

Cesar had been employed by Ace Guard Service to protect Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel. This was not his full-time job. During the day he worked at the Lockheed Aircraft plant in Burbank. According to Lisa Pease, Cesar had formerly worked at the Hughes Aircraft Corporation. (48) Lockheed and Hughes were two key companies in the Military-Industrial-Congressional Intelligence Complex.

Cesar was a Cuban American who had registered to vote for George Wallace’s American Independent Party. (49) Jim Yoder claimed that Cesar appeared to have no specific job at Lockheed and had “floating” assignments and often worked in off-limits areas which only special personnel had access to. According to Yoder, these areas were under the control of the CIA.

Yoder also gave Turner and Christian details about the selling of the gun. Although he did not mention the assassination of Robert Kennedy he did say “something about going to the assistance of an officer and firing his gun.” He added that “there might be a little problem over that.” (50)

Cesar was afraid that the assassination had been captured on film. It was. Scott Enyart, a high-school student, was taking photographs of Robert Kennedy as he was walking from the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel to the Colonial Room where the press conference was due to take place. Enyart was standing slightly behind Kennedy when the shooting began and snapped as fast as he could. As Enyart was leaving the pantry, two LAPD officers accosted him at gunpoint and seized his film. Later, he was told by Detective Dudley Varney that the photographs were needed as evidence in the Sirhan trial. The photographs were not presented as evidence but the court ordered that all evidential materials had to be sealed for twenty years.

In 1988 Enyart requested that his photographs should be returned. At first the State Archives claimed they could not find them and that they must have been destroyed by mistake. Enyart filed a lawsuit which finally came to trial in 1996. During the trial the Los Angeles city attorney announced that the photos had been found in its Sacramento office and would be brought to the courthouse by the courier retained by the State Archives. The following day it was announced that the courier’s briefcase, that contained the photographs, had been stolen from the car he rented at the airport. The photographs have never been recovered and the jury subsequently awarded Scott Enyart $450,000 in damages. (51)

One possible connection between the deaths of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy is that they were all involved in a campaign to bring an end to the Vietnam War. One man who does believe there is a connection is Edward Kennedy. NBC television correspondent Sander Vanocur, travelled with Edward Kennedy on the aircraft that brought back his Robert’s body to New York. Vanocur reported Kennedy as saying that “faceless men” (Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan) had been charged with the killing of his brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King. Kennedy added: “Always faceless men with no apparent motive. There has to be more to it.” (52)


Notes

1. Martin Luther King, speech in New York (4th April, 1967)

2. William F. Pepper, The Children of Vietnam, Ramparts Magazine (January, 1967)

3. Clayborne Carson (editor), Autobiography of Martin Luther King (1998)

4. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (page 4)

5. William F. Pepper, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, 2003 (page 4)

6. William C. Sullivan, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI, 1979 (page 147)

7. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (page 4)

8. Anthony Summers, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993 (page 352)

9. William C. Sullivan, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI, 1979 (pages 135-137)

10. William C. Sullivan, memo ‘King’ (December, 1963)

11. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (pages 464)

12. Anthony Summers, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993 (page 355)

13. Jeff Shesol, Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy and the Feud That Defined a Decade, 1997 (page 351)

14. Robert Kennedy, speech in the Senate (2nd March, 1967)

15. Robert Kennedy, interview with Tom Wicker, Face the Nation (26th November, 1967)

16. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (pages 412-413)

17. Edwin O. Guthman, We Band of Brothers: A Memoir of Robert F. Kennedy, 1971 (page 326)

18. William F. Pepper, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, 2003 (page 7)

19. Robert Kennedy, speech, Washington (16th March, 1968)

20. Richard D. Mahoney, Sons & Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, 1999 (page 342)

21. Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, 1980 (page 921)

22. William Turner, Rearview Mirror, 2001 (page 233)

23. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (pages 11-16)

24. James W. Douglass, The King Conspiracy Exposed in Memphis, included in The Assassinations, 2003 (page 494-95)

25. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (page 21)

26. Richard D. Mahoney, Sons & Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, 1999 (page 357)

27. Martin Luther King, speech at the Mason Temple, Memphis (3rd April, 1964)

28. Anthony Summers, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993 (page 363)

29. James W. Douglass, The King Conspiracy Exposed in Memphis, included in The Assassinations, 2003 (page 495)

30. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (pages 311-492)

31. William C. Sullivan, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI, 1979 (pages 145)

32. Anthony Summers, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993 (page 363)

33. Senate Report, Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics, 1972 (page 21)

34. William F. Pepper, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, 2003 (page 205-06)

35. Senate Report, Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics, 1972 (page 111)

36. Robert F. Kennedy, speech in Indianapolis (4th April, 1968)

37. Robert F. Kennedy, speech at the Indiana University Medical Center (26th April, 1968)

38. Richard D. Mahoney, Sons & Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, 1999 (page 368)

39. Robert Blair Kaiser, RFK Must Die! A History of the Robert Kennedy Association and Its Aftermath, 1970 (page 469)

40. Jean Stein and George Plimpton, American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy, 1970 (page 334)

41. Lisa Pease, Sirhan Says “I Am Innocent”, included in The Assassinations, 2003 (page 535)

42. Robert F. Kennedy, speech at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles (4th June, 1968)

43. William Turner and Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: The Conspiracy and Coverup, 1993 (page 162)

44. Dan Moldea, Regardie’s Magazine, June, 1987

45. William Klaber and Philip H. Melanson, Shadow Play: The Murder of Robert F. Kennedy, the Trial of Sirhan Sirhan, and the Failure of American Justice, 1997 (page 96)

46. William Turner, Rearview Mirror, 2001 (page 244)

47. William Turner and Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: The Conspiracy and Coverup, 1993 (page 166)

48. Lisa Pease, Sirhan Says “I Am Innocent”, included in The Assassinations, 2003 (page 534)

49. William Turner, Rearview Mirror, 2001 (page 244)

50. William Turner and Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: The Conspiracy and Coverup, 1993 (page 166)

51. William Turner, Rearview Mirror, 2001 (page 246)

52. William Turner and Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: The Conspiracy and Coverup, 1993 (page xxxiii)

#12 Antti Hynonen

Antti Hynonen

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Posted 03 April 2006 - 02:20 PM

John Simkin Posted Today, 11:35 AM
John F. Kennedy was not the only politician to be assassinated because he opposed the Vietnam War.

On 3rd April, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. made a speech where he outlined the reasons why he was opposed to the war. It is worth quoting in full:

Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have several reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor - both black and white - through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the build-up in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demoniacal destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years - especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my convictions that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But they asked - and rightly so - what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government.

They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least 20 casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What of the National Liberation Front - that strangely anonymous group we call VC or Communists? What must they think of us in America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of "aggression from the North" as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem, and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than 25 per cent Communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them - the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?

Here is the true meaning of value and compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition. (1)

King had decided to take this stand after reading an article on the Vietnam War in Ramparts Magazine. (2) King later wrote: “After reading that article, I said to myself, never again will I be silent on an issue that is destroying the soul of our nation”. (3)

After making his speech on Vietnam, the editor of the Nation, Carey McWilliams and the Socialist Party leader, Norman Thomas, urged King to run as a third-party presidential candidate in 1968. (4)

William F. Pepper, the author of the Ramparts article, suggested that King should challenge Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. King rejected this idea but instead joined with Pepper to establish the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP). “From this platform, Dr King planned to move into mainstream politics as a potential candidate on a presidential ticket with Dr Benjamin Spock in order to highlight the anti-poverty, anti-war agenda.” (5)

In his autobiography, William C. Sullivan, Deputy Director of the FBI, admitted that this decision created a great deal of concern to the ruling elite. “The Civil Rights Movement which began in the late 1950s gave organization and impetus to the antiwar movement of the late 1960s. The tactics of direct action against authority that proved successful in the earlier struggle were used as a model for the students of the New Left.” (6)

Pepper was later to discover that the wiretaps of the conversations that took place about King becoming a third-party candidate “were relayed to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and, through him, to Lyndon Johnson.” (7) According to Anthony Summers, Hoover suggested to Lyndon Johnson that the best way of dealing with King and Malcolm X would be to “get those two guys fighting”. He added the problem could be solved “if we could get them to kill one another off.” (8)

Hoover told Sullivan when he became head of the Intelligence Division in 1961 that “King was an instrument of the Communist Party” and posed “a serious threat to the security of the country.” Hoover instructed Sullivan to get evidence that “King had a relationship with the Soviet bloc”. Despite an intensive surveillance campaign, Sullivan was unable to find a clear link between King and the Communist Party. When told this by Sullivan, Hoover replied: “I kept saying that Castro was a Communist and you people wouldn’t believe me. Now they are saying that King is not a Communist and you’re just as wrong this time as you were with Castro.” (9)

Sullivan continued in his campaign to discredit King. In a memo to Hoover in December, 1963, Sullivan wrote: “When the true facts concerning his (King’s) activities are presented, such should be enough, if handled properly, to take him off his pedestal… When that is done… the Negroes will be left without a national leader of sufficiently compelling personality to steer them in the proper direction.” (10)

In June, 1967, Hoover had a meeting with fellow gambler, close friend, and Texas oil billionaire, H. L. Hunt in Chicago. Hunt was very concerned that the activities of King might unseat Lyndon Johnson. This could be an expensive defeat as Johnson doing a good job protecting the oil depletion allowance. According to William Pepper: “Hoover said he thought a final solution was necessary. Only that action would stop King.” (11)
It was King’s opposition to the Vietnam War that really upset Hoover. According to Richard Goodwin, Hoover told Johnson that “Bobby Kennedy was hiring or paying King off to stir up trouble over the Vietnam War.” (12)

It is true that Robert Kennedy, like King, was growing increasingly concerned about the situation in Vietnam. Johnson became convinced that Kennedy was leaking information to the press about his feelings on the war. At a meeting on 6th February, 1967, Johnson told Kennedy: “I’ll destroy you and everyone one of your dove friends. You’ll be dead politically in six months.” (13)

The following month Kennedy made a speech where he raised the issue of morality and the Vietnam War: “Although the world’s imperfection may call forth the act of war, righteousness cannot obscure the agony and pain those acts bring to a single child. It is we who live in abundance and send our young men out to die. It is our chemicals that scorch the children and our bombs that level the villages. We are all participants.” (14)

In an television interview later that year Kennedy again returned to the morality of the war: “We’re going in there and we’re killing South Vietnamese, we’re killing children, we’re killing women, we’re killing innocent people because we don’t want a war fought on American soil, or because (the Viet Cong are) 12,000 miles away and they might get 11,000 miles away. Do we have the right, here in the United States, to say we’re going to kill tens of thousands, make millions of people, as we have, millions of people refugees, killing women and children, as we have.” (15)

Martin Luther King continued his campaign against the Vietnam War. This upset the Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. In October, 1961, McNamara established the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). This took over the U.S. Army’s Strategic Intelligence Unit. However, following the racial riots at Oxford, Mississippi, the on-scene commander, Major General Creighton V. Abrahams, wrote a report on the performance of army intelligence at Oxford. It included the following: “We in the Army should launch a major intelligence project, without delay, to identify personalities, both black and white, and develop analyses of the various civil rights situations in which they became involved.” Abrahams’ advice was accepted and in 1967 the Military Intelligence Branch (MIB) was formed as part of the U.S. Army Intelligence Command (USAINTC) based at Fort Holabird, Maryland. It was the MIB that now began to take a close look at the activities of Martin Luther King. (16)

On 19th February, 1968, Cesar Chavez, the trade union leader, began a hunger strike in protest against the violence being used against his members in California. Robert Kennedy went to the San Joaquin Valley to give Chavez his support and told waiting reporters: “I am here out of respect for one of the heroic figures of our time – Cesar Chavez. I congratulate all of you who are locked with Cesar in the struggle for justice for the farm worker and in the struggle for justice for Spanish-speaking Americans.” (17)

Chavez was also a strong opponent of the Vietnam War. Kennedy had begun to link the campaign against the war with the plight of the disadvantaged. Martin Luther King was following a similar path with his involvement in the Poor People’s Campaign. As William Pepper has pointed out: “If the wealthy, powerful interests across the nation would find Dr King’s escalating activity against the war intolerable, his planned mobilization of half a million poor people with the intention of laying siege to Congress could only engender outrage – and fear.” (18)

On 16th March, 1968, Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. “I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man but to propose new policies.” (19) As Richard D. Mahoney points out in his book, Sons & Brothers: “If there was one reason why Bobby was running, it was to end America’s war in Vietnam…. Politically, however, this looked self-destructive. A substantial majority of Americans supported the president’s policy. The antiwar movement, though a significant new factor in American politics, was not yet a defining factor.” (20) That was true, but that now had the potential to change. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King joining forces against the Vietnam War posed serious problems for Lyndon Johnson.

This decision by Robert Kennedy to take on Lyndon Johnson caused Jackie Kennedy great concern. A few days after Kennedy announced his candidacy, Jackie said to Schlesinger at a dinner party in New York: “Do you know what I think will happen to Bobby?” When Arthur Schlesinger replied that he didn’t, she said: “The same thing that happened to Jack.” (21)

It is the view of William Turner that Robert Kennedy intended to reopen the investigation into the death of his brother once he had been elected president: “Throughout the primary (in California), Bobby Kennedy was asked by audiences whether he would reopen the investigation of his brother’s death if elected. He hedged, saying he would not reopen the Warren Report, but remained silent on the question of whether he would take action on his own. RFK was a pragmatist, if anything, knowing that he had to control the Justice Department to launch a new probe.” (22)

In February, 1968, Memphis clergyman James Lawson, informed Martin Luther King about the sanitation workers’ dispute in the city. Over 90% of the 13,000 sanitation workers in Memphis were black. Men were often sent home by management during working hours and this resulted in them losing pay. Much of the equipment they used was old and in a bad state of repair. The dispute began when two sanitation workers, Echole Cole and Robert Walker were killed by a malfunctioning “garbage packer” truck. There was no company insurance scheme and the men’s families did not receive any compensation except for a month’s pay and a contribution towards funeral expenses.

The local branch of the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) threatened strike action unless working conditions improved in Memphis. When negotiations failed to achieve an acceptable solution to this problem, the sanitation workers went on strike. A protest march on 23rd February, ended in violence when the local police used Mace on the marchers. At this point, Rev. James Lawson, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), became chairman of the strike strategy committee. The Community on the Move for Equality (COME), a coalition of labour and civil rights groups, also gave its support to the sanitation workers. Roy Wilkins of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Bayard Rustin of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), agreed to speak at a strike meeting on 14th March. Martin Luther King also agreed to help and it was announced he would speak at a public meeting in Memphis on 18th March. (23)

At the meeting King expressed his solidarity with the sanitation workers and called for a general strike to take place in Memphis. This caused create concern amongst the ruling elite. Many people interpreted the idea of a general strike as a tactic that had been employed by revolutionaries in several European countries.

The strategy of King seemed to be an attempt to link the campaign against poverty with the civil rights struggle and the protests against the war in Vietnam. In his speeches King argued that the money being spent on the war was making it more difficult for Lyndon Johnson to fulfil the promises he had made about improving America’s welfare system.

James Lawson later claimed that King “saw the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike as the beginning of a non-violent revolution that would redistribute income.” He argued his long term plan was to “shut down the nation’s capital in the spring of 1968 through massive civil disobedience until the government agreed to abolish poverty.” He added that the government became especially upset after he began making speeches against the Vietnam War. (24)

King’s strategy of linking poverty, civil rights and the Vietnam War seemed to be mirroring the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy. Both men appeared to be seriously threatening the status quo and in that sense were acting as revolutionaries. Recently released FBI files show that during this period J. Edgar Hoover reported to Lyndon Johnson that Kennedy and King were working together in order to undermine his presidency. (25)

On 20th March a Gallup poll placed Kennedy ahead of Johnson in the race to get the Democratic Party nomination. Johnson now decided not to stand in the forthcoming election. However, this was not to be announced until the end of the month.

Despite his good poll ratings, senior staff members such as Ted Sorensen and Milton Gwirtzman warned Kennedy about his “win in the streets” strategy. They argued that his campaign looked like a “mobile riot” to people watching on TV. As Richard D. Mahoney pointed out: “Many of Kennedy’s advisors… thought his message needed to be broadened beyond Vietnam and the poor and targeted more toward the white middle class.” (26)

On 28th March, 1968, King led a march from Clayborn Temple to the Memphis city hall. Although the organizers had ordered the marchers to refrain from any acts of violence, groups of young people ignored the marshals’ instructions and created a great deal of damage to shops on the way to the city hall. A sixteen-year-old boy, Larry Payne, was shot dead by the police who claimed he was a looter. An eyewitness said that Payne had his hands up when shot.

King was convinced that the violence on the march had been caused by government provocateurs. According to Coretta Scott King, her husband returned to Memphis on 3rd April to prepare for a truly non-violent march and to prove SCLC could still carry out a pacifist campaign in Washington. That night King made a speech at the Mason Temple. It ended with the following words:

I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane - there were six of us - the pilot said over the public address system, "We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked and to be sure that nothing would be wrong on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night."

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out, or what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life - longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight , that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. (27)

After the meeting King and his party were taken to the Lorraine Motel. The following day King was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of the motel. Two months later, James Earl Ray was arrested in London and extradited to the United States. He pleaded guilty to King’s murder and was sent to jail for ninety-nine years.

People close to King were convinced that the government was behind the assassination. Ralph Abernathy, who replaced King as head of the SCLC, claimed that he had been killed “by someone trained or hired by the FBI and acting under the orders from J. Edgar Hoover”. (28) Whereas James Lawson, the leader of the strike in Memphis remarked that: “I have no doubt that the government viewed all this (the Poor People’s Campaign and the anti-Vietnam War speeches) seriously enough to plan his assassination.” (29)

William Pepper, who was to spend the next forty years investigating the death of Martin Luther King, discovered evidence that Military Intelligence was involved in the assassination. In his book, Orders to Kill, Pepper names members of the 20th Special Forces Group (SFG) as being part of the conspiracy. (30)

Even the Deputy Director of the FBI, William Sullivan, who led the investigation into the assassination, believed that there was a conspiracy to kill King. In his autobiography published after his death, Sullivan wrote: “I was convinced that James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King, but I doubt if he acted alone… Someone, I feel sure, taught Ray how to get a false Canadian passport, how to get out of the country, and how to travel to Europe because he would never have managed it alone. And how did Ray pay for the passport and the airline tickets?” Sullivan also admits that it was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and not the FBI who successfully tracked Ray down to London. (31)

In a television interview from prison that took place in 1988, Ray claimed the FBI agents threatened to jail his father and one of his brothers if he did not confess to King’s murder. Ray added that he had been framed to cover up an FBI plot to kill King. (32)

However, there is evidence that it was another organization that was involved in the assassination of Martin Luther King. According to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, military intelligence became very interested in the activities of King after he began making speeches against the Vietnam War. In a report published in 1972, the committee claimed that in the spring of 1968 King’s organization was “infiltrated by the 109th, 111th and 116th Military Intelligence Groups.” (33) In his book, An Act of State, William Pepper points out that the committee was surprised when it discovered that military intelligence appeared to be very interested in where King was “staying in various cities, as well as details concerning housing facilities, offices, bases of operations, churches and private homes.” (34) The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee commented: “Why such information was sought has never been explained.” (35)

Kennedy was deeply shocked by the assassination of Martin Luther King. Later that day he spoke in Indianapolis about the killing. He referred to the assassination of John Kennedy. When that happened he was “filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act” but pleaded with the black community not to desire revenge but to “make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.” (36)

The assassination of Martin Luther King further radicalized Robert Kennedy. During a speech at the Indiana University Medical Center, one of the students called out: “Where are we going to get the money to pay for all these new programs you’re proposing?” Kennedy replied: “From you. I look around this room and I don’t see many black faces who will become doctors. Part of a civilized society is to let people go to medical school who come from ghettos. I don’t see many people coming here from the slums, or off of Indian reservations. You are the privileged ones here. It’s easy for you to sit back and say it’s the fault of the Federal Government. But it’s our responsibility too. It’s our society too… It’s the poor who carry the major burden of the struggle in Vietnam. You sit here as white medical students, while black people carry the burden of the fighting in Vietnam.” (37)

The students reacted by hissing and booing Kennedy. His advisors warned him that if he was perceived as an extremist he would never win the election. However, Kennedy was no longer thinking like a politician trying to maximize his vote. Instead he was determined to say what he believed. Kennedy told Jack Newfield that he would probably not win the nomination but “somebody has to speak up for the Negroes and Indians and Mexicans and poor whites.” Despite this pessimism, Kennedy won the Indiana primary with 42% of the vote.

In an attempt to prevent Kennedy from being elected, J. Edgar Hoover leaked a report to Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson that when Kennedy was attorney general he had authorized the FBI to wiretap Martin Luther King. (38) Despite this news, Kennedy continued to get the vote of the black community and his campaign went well in California.

However, rumours were already spreading that Kennedy would die during the campaign. The FBI had picked up reports of an overheard conversation between Jimmy Hoffa and a fellow prisoner in the Lewisburg penitentiary about a contract to kill Kennedy. (39)

One of the more chilling stories appeared in “American Journey”. Jimmy Breslin asked several reporters around a table whether they thought Kennedy had “the stuff to go all the way”. One of the men at the meeting, John J. Lindsay replied: “Yes, of course, he has the stuff to go all the way, but he’s not going to go all the way. The reason is that somebody is going to shoot him. I know it and you know it, just as sure as we’re sitting here. He’s out there waiting for him.” (40)

On 4th June, 1968, Harold Weisberg appeared on television in Washington where he discussed the possibility of Robert Kennedy being assassinated. Weisberg recalled a meeting with a Kennedy aide. Weisberg asked why Kennedy had supported the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report. He replied: “it is simple, Bobby wants to live.” Kennedy’s friend added that there were “too many guns between Bobby and the White House”. Weisberg asked who controlled these guns. The friend replied in such a way that Weisberg got the impression that he meant the CIA. (41)

Kennedy won the primary in California obtaining 46.3% to McCarthy’s 41.8%. On hearing the result Kennedy went down to the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel to speak to his supporters. He commented on “the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society; the divisions, whether it’s between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups or on the war in Vietnam”. Kennedy claimed that the United States was “a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country” and that he had the ability to get people to work together to create a better society. (42)

Kennedy now began his journey to the Colonial Room where he was to hold a press conference. Someone suggested that Kennedy should take a short cut through the kitchen. Security guard Thane Eugene Cesar took hold of Kennedy’s right elbow to escort him through the room when Sirhan Sirhan opened fire. According to Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi, who performed the autopsy, all three bullets striking Kennedy entered from the rear, in a flight path from down to up, right to left. “Moreover, powder burns around the entry wound indicated that the fatal bullet was fired at less than one inch from the head and no more than two or three inches behind the right ear.” (43)

An eyewitness, Donald Schulman, went on CBS News to say that Sirhan “stepped out and fired three times; the security guard hit Kennedy three times.” As Dan Moldea pointed out: “The autopsy showed that three bullets had struck Kennedy from the right rear side, traveling at upward angles – shots that Shiran was never in a position to fire.” (44)

Kennedy had been shot at point-blank range from behind. Two shots entered his back and a third shot entered directly behind RFK’s right ear. None of the eyewitness claim that Shiran was able to fire his gun from close-range. One witness, Karl Uecker, who struggled with Shiran when he was firing his gun, provided a written statement in 1975 about what he saw: “There was a distance of at least one and one-half feet between the muzzle of Shiran’s gun and Senator Kennedy’s head. The revolver was directly in front of my nose. After Shiran’s second shot, I pushed the hand that held the revolver down, and pushed him onto the steam table. There is no way that the shots described in the autopsy could have come from Shiran’s gun. When I told this to the authorities, they told me that I was wrong. But I repeat now what I told them then: Shiran never got close enough for a point-blank shot.” (45)

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) ignored this evidence and argued that Sirhan Shiran was a lone gunman. Shiran’s lead attorney, Grant Cooper, went along with this theory. As he explained to William Turner, “a conspiracy defence would make his client look like a contract killer”. Cooper’s main strategy was to portray his client as a lone-gunman in an attempt to spare Sirhan the death penalty by proving “diminished capacity”. Sirhan was convicted and sentenced before William W. Harper, an independent ballistics expert, proved that the bullets removed from Kennedy and newsman William Weisel, were fired from two different guns. (46)

After Harper published his report, Joseph P. Busch, the Los Angeles District Attorney, announced he would look into the matter. Thane Eugene Cesar was interviewed and he admitted he pulled a gun but insisted it was a Rohm .38, not a .22 (the caliber of the bullets found in Kennedy). He also claimed that he got knocked down after the first shot and did not get the opportunity to fire his gun. The LAPD decided to believe Cesar rather than Donald Schulman, Karl Uecker and William W. Harper and the case was closed.
Cesar admitted that he did own a .22 H & R pistol. However, he claimed that he had sold the gun before the assassination to a man named Jim Yoder. William Turner and Jonn Christian tracked down Yoder in October, 1972. He still had the receipt for the H & R pistol. It was dated 6th September, 1968. Cesar therefore sold the pistol to Yoder three months after the assassination of Robert Kennedy. (47)

Cesar had been employed by Ace Guard Service to protect Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel. This was not his full-time job. During the day he worked at the Lockheed Aircraft plant in Burbank. According to Lisa Pease, Cesar had formerly worked at the Hughes Aircraft Corporation. (48) Lockheed and Hughes were two key companies in the Military-Industrial-Congressional Intelligence Complex.

Cesar was a Cuban American who had registered to vote for George Wallace’s American Independent Party. (49) Jim Yoder claimed that Cesar appeared to have no specific job at Lockheed and had “floating” assignments and often worked in off-limits areas which only special personnel had access to. According to Yoder, these areas were under the control of the CIA.

Yoder also gave Turner and Christian details about the selling of the gun. Although he did not mention the assassination of Robert Kennedy he did say “something about going to the assistance of an officer and firing his gun.” He added that “there might be a little problem over that.” (50)

Cesar was afraid that the assassination had been captured on film. It was. Scott Enyart, a high-school student, was taking photographs of Robert Kennedy as he was walking from the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel to the Colonial Room where the press conference was due to take place. Enyart was standing slightly behind Kennedy when the shooting began and snapped as fast as he could. As Enyart was leaving the pantry, two LAPD officers accosted him at gunpoint and seized his film. Later, he was told by Detective Dudley Varney that the photographs were needed as evidence in the Sirhan trial. The photographs were not presented as evidence but the court ordered that all evidential materials had to be sealed for twenty years.

In 1988 Enyart requested that his photographs should be returned. At first the State Archives claimed they could not find them and that they must have been destroyed by mistake. Enyart filed a lawsuit which finally came to trial in 1996. During the trial the Los Angeles city attorney announced that the photos had been found in its Sacramento office and would be brought to the courthouse by the courier retained by the State Archives. The following day it was announced that the courier’s briefcase, that contained the photographs, had been stolen from the car he rented at the airport. The photographs have never been recovered and the jury subsequently awarded Scott Enyart $450,000 in damages. (51)

One possible connection between the deaths of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy is that they were all involved in a campaign to bring an end to the Vietnam War. One man who does believe there is a connection is Edward Kennedy. NBC television correspondent Sander Vanocur, travelled with Edward Kennedy on the aircraft that brought back his Robert’s body to New York. Vanocur reported Kennedy as saying that “faceless men” (Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan) had been charged with the killing of his brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King. Kennedy added: “Always faceless men with no apparent motive. There has to be more to it.” (52)


Notes

1. Martin Luther King, speech in New York (4th April, 1967)

2. William F. Pepper, The Children of Vietnam, Ramparts Magazine (January, 1967)

3. Clayborne Carson (editor), Autobiography of Martin Luther King (1998)

4. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (page 4)

5. William F. Pepper, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, 2003 (page 4)

6. William C. Sullivan, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI, 1979 (page 147)

7. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (page 4)

8. Anthony Summers, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993 (page 352)

9. William C. Sullivan, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI, 1979 (pages 135-137)

10. William C. Sullivan, memo ‘King’ (December, 1963)

11. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (pages 464)

12. Anthony Summers, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993 (page 355)

13. Jeff Shesol, Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy and the Feud That Defined a Decade, 1997 (page 351)

14. Robert Kennedy, speech in the Senate (2nd March, 1967)

15. Robert Kennedy, interview with Tom Wicker, Face the Nation (26th November, 1967)

16. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (pages 412-413)

17. Edwin O. Guthman, We Band of Brothers: A Memoir of Robert F. Kennedy, 1971 (page 326)

18. William F. Pepper, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, 2003 (page 7)

19. Robert Kennedy, speech, Washington (16th March, 1968)

20. Richard D. Mahoney, Sons & Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, 1999 (page 342)

21. Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, 1980 (page 921)

22. William Turner, Rearview Mirror, 2001 (page 233)

23. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (pages 11-16)

24. James W. Douglass, The King Conspiracy Exposed in Memphis, included in The Assassinations, 2003 (page 494-95)

25. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (page 21)

26. Richard D. Mahoney, Sons & Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, 1999 (page 357)

27. Martin Luther King, speech at the Mason Temple, Memphis (3rd April, 1964)

28. Anthony Summers, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993 (page 363)

29. James W. Douglass, The King Conspiracy Exposed in Memphis, included in The Assassinations, 2003 (page 495)

30. William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill, 1995 (pages 311-492)

31. William C. Sullivan, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI, 1979 (pages 145)

32. Anthony Summers, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993 (page 363)

33. Senate Report, Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics, 1972 (page 21)

34. William F. Pepper, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, 2003 (page 205-06)

35. Senate Report, Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics, 1972 (page 111)

36. Robert F. Kennedy, speech in Indianapolis (4th April, 1968)

37. Robert F. Kennedy, speech at the Indiana University Medical Center (26th April, 1968)

38. Richard D. Mahoney, Sons & Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, 1999 (page 368)

39. Robert Blair Kaiser, RFK Must Die! A History of the Robert Kennedy Association and Its Aftermath, 1970 (page 469)

40. Jean Stein and George Plimpton, American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy, 1970 (page 334)

41. Lisa Pease, Sirhan Says “I Am Innocent”, included in The Assassinations, 2003 (page 535)

42. Robert F. Kennedy, speech at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles (4th June, 1968)

43. William Turner and Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: The Conspiracy and Coverup, 1993 (page 162)

44. Dan Moldea, Regardie’s Magazine, June, 1987

45. William Klaber and Philip H. Melanson, Shadow Play: The Murder of Robert F. Kennedy, the Trial of Sirhan Sirhan, and the Failure of American Justice, 1997 (page 96)

46. William Turner, Rearview Mirror, 2001 (page 244)

47. William Turner and Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: The Conspiracy and Coverup, 1993 (page 166)

48. Lisa Pease, Sirhan Says “I Am Innocent”, included in The Assassinations, 2003 (page 534)

49. William Turner, Rearview Mirror, 2001 (page 244)

50. William Turner and Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: The Conspiracy and Coverup, 1993 (page 166)

51. William Turner, Rearview Mirror, 2001 (page 246)

52. William Turner and Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: The Conspiracy and Coverup, 1993 (page xxxiii)


I didn't remember all the details of the RFK assassination. I have to say that I share the same sentiments as Senator Edward M. Kennedy regarding these three assassinations.

One thing comes to mind when reading John's post: in my native language there is a saying which translates to English in the following way: "Something which has been well planned, is already half completed."

Edited by Antti Hynonen, 03 April 2006 - 02:24 PM.


#13 Shepard G. Montgomery

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 04:22 AM

I'm very interested in learning more about the role of Bell Helicopter in the assassination and fomenting the Vietnam War. Can anyone recommend some good books on this topic?

#14 William Kelly

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 06:01 AM

I'm very interested in learning more about the role of Bell Helicopter in the assassination and fomenting the Vietnam War. Can anyone recommend some good books on this topic?


Hey Shep, I too would like to know more about this and think it should have a thread of its own if there already isn't one.

For starters, the Bell Helicopter was invented by Arthur Young, an eccentric Philadelphia inventor who married the mother of Michael Paine, the primary patron of Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin.

Michael Paine was in the cafeteria at Bell Helicopter discussing the idea of political assassinations when the assassination occurred.

Bell Helicopter also served as one of the primary defense contractors who hired, at the CIA's request, former Nazi officers brought into the USA under Project Paperclip,
mainly to work on the US missile program. Former Nazi General Walter Dornberger was a director of security at Bell Helicopter at the time of the assassination.

He is said to have tapped Michael Paine's phone and overheard him talking with his wife or father - saying that he knew Oswald wasn't guilty and knew who was responsible.

Although it appears the assassination was related to US covert operations against Cuba, Cuba was all but forgotten after Dealey Plaza, and LBJ told the military he would give them the war they wanted, but it would be in Vietnam.

The well documented book of JFK the film includes the entire footnoted screenplay, and when Colonel X discusses the Vietnam war with Jim Garrison, he mentions the fact that Bell Helicopter benefited tremendously from the war in its sale of helicopters to the military. This footnote also documents the profits made by Bell Helicopter and mentions the Boston bank who had invested heavily in Bell Helicopter.

Maybe someone who has that book can post the reference.

Hope this helps, and perhaps others can add some more.

Bill Kelly
More on Arthur Young and Bell Helicopter can be found in back posts here:
JFKcountercoup

Edited by William Kelly, 26 September 2011 - 06:01 AM.


#15 Joseph Backes

Joseph Backes

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 11:19 AM

John,

Have you read John Newman's book "JFK and Vietnam?" If you haven't, you should.




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