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John Simkin

Robert Strange McNamara

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I thought it might be worth taking a look at Robert Strange McNamara. He complained that he lost a lot of money when he left the Ford Motor Company in 1961 to become JFK's Secretary of Defense. Is it possible he thought it was morally right to get kickbacks from military contracts? McNamara is not only implicated in the TFX scandal but also the desire to send troops to Vietnam.

In the last few months of Eisenhower’s administration the Air Force began to argue that it needed a successor to its F-105 tactical fighter. This became known as the TFX/ F-111 project. In January, 1961, Robert McNamara, changed the TFX from an Air Force program to a joint Air Force-Navy under-taking. On 1st October, the two services sent the aircraft industry the request for proposals on the TFX and the accompanying work statement, with instructions to submit the bids by 1st December, 1961. Three of the bids were submitted by individual companies: the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, the North American Aviation Corporation and the Boeing Company. The other three bids represented team efforts: Republic Aviation & Chance Vought; General Dynamics Corporation & Grumman Aircraft; and McDonnell Aircraft & Douglas Aircraft. (1)

It soon became clear that Boeing was expected to get the contract. Its main competitor was the General Dynamics/Grumman bid. General Dynamics had been America’s leading military contractors during the early stages of the Cold War. For example, in 1958 it obtained $2,239,000,000 worth of government business. This was a higher figure than those obtained by its competitors, such as Lockheed, Boeing, McDonnell and North American. (2) More than 80 percent of the firm’s business came from the government. (3) However, the company lost $27 million in 1960 and $143 million in 1961. According to an article by Richard Austin Smith in Fortune Magazine, General Dynamics was close to bankruptcy. Smith claimed that “unless it gets the contract for the joint Navy-Air Force fighter (TFX)… the company was down the road to receivership”. (4)

General Dynamics had several factors in its favour. The president of the company was Frank Pace, the Secretary of the Army (April, 1950-January, 1953). The Deputy Secretary of Defense in 1962 was Roswell Gilpatric, who before he took up the post, was chief counsel for General Dynamics. The Secretary of the Navy was John Connally, a politician from Texas, the state where General Dynamics had its main plant. When he left the job in 1962 he was replaced by another Texan, Fred Korth. According to author Seth Kantor, Korth, the former president of the Continental National Bank of Fort Worth, Texas, only got the job as Secretary of the Navy after strong lobbying from Johnson. (5) A few weeks after taking the post, Korth overruled top Navy officers who had proposed that the X-22 contract be given to Douglas Aircraft Corporation. Instead he insisted the contract be granted to the more expensive bid of the Bell Aerosystem Development Company. This was a subsidiary of Bell Aerospace Corporation of Forth Worth, Texas. (6) For many years Korth had been a director of Bell (7). The chairman of the company, Lawrence Bell, was a fellow member of the Suite 8F Group.

Korth also became very involved in discussions about the TFX contract. Korth, was the former president of the Continental Bank, which had loaned General Dynamics considerable sums of money during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Korth later told the McClellan committee that investigated the granting of the TFX contract to General Dynamics “that because of his peculiar position he had deliberately refrained from taking a directing hand in this decision (within the Navy) until the last possible moment.” (8).

As I. F. Stone pointed out, it was “the last possible moment” which counted. “Three times the Pentagon’s Source Selection Board found that Boeing’s bid was better and cheaper than that of General Dynamics and three times the bids were sent back for fresh submissions by the two bidders and fresh reviews. On the fourth round, the military still held that Boeing was better but found at last that the General Dynamics bid was also acceptable.” (9)

Stone goes on to argue: “The only document the McClellan committee investigators were able to find in the Pentagon in favour of that award, according to their testimony, was a five-page memorandum signed by McNamara, Korth, and Eugene Zuckert, then Secretary of the Air Force.”

Zuckert was a close friend of Tommy Corcoran who helped to get him a post with the legal staff of the fledgling Securities and Exchange Commission in 1937. He was also closely associated with John McCone. Zuckert worked with McCone as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission in the early 1950s.

McNamara justified his support for General Dynamics because “Boeing had from the very beginning consistently chosen more technically risky tradeoffs in an effort to achieve operational features which exceeded the required performance characteristics.” (10)

The TFX program involved the building of 1,700 planes for the Navy and the Air Force. The contract was estimated to be worth over $6.5 billion, making it the largest contract for military planes in the nation’s history. (11)

On 24th October, 1962, Seth Kantor reported in the Fort Worth Press that: “General Dynamics of Fort Worth will get the multibillion-dollar defense contract to build the supersonic TFX Air Force and Navy fighter plane, the Fort Worth Press learned today from top Government sources.” (12)

This was confirmed the following month when the Pentagon announced that the TFX contract would be awarded to General Dynamics. Henry M. Jackson was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Government Operations Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He learned that: “Boeing’s bid was substantially lower than its competitor’s. Reports indicated Boeing’s bid was $100 million lower on an initial development contract and that the cost difference might run as high as $400 million on the total $6.5 billion procurement.” (13)

On 12th December, Lyndon Johnson visited Forth Worth to join in the festivities at the General Dynamics plant. Congressman James Wright, the Texas Democrat representing the Fort Worth district introduced Johnson as the “greatest Texan of them all”. He pointed out that Johnson had played an important role in obtaining the TFX contract. Wright added “you have to have friends and they have to stick with you through thick and thin even if you do have merit on your side.” (14)

During the McClellan's Permanent Investigations Committee hearings into the contract, Senator Sam Ervin asked Robert McNamara “whether or not there was any connection whatever between your selection of General Dynamics, and the fact that the Vice President of the United States happens to be a resident of the state in which that company has one of its principal, if not its principal office.” At this point McNamara was close to tears and commented that: “Last night when I got home at midnight, after preparing for today’s hearing, my wife told me that my own 12-year-old son had asked how long it would take for his father to prove his honesty.” (15)

McNamara rejected the idea that Johnson was involved in the decision but evidence was to emerge that he did play an important role in the awarding of the TFX project to General Dynamics. For example, William Proxmire, while investigating the role played by Richard Russell in the granting of the C-5A contract to Lockheed. The C-5A was built in Marietta, Georgia, the state that Russell represented. The Air Force Contract Selection Board originally selected Boeing that was located in the states of Washington and Kansas. However, Proxmire claimed that Russell was able to persuade the board to change its mind and give the C-5A contract to Lockhead.

Proxmire quotes Howard Atherton, the mayor of Marietta, as saying that “Russell was key to landing the contract”. Atherton added that Russell believed that Robert McNamara was going ahead with the C-5A in order to “give the plane to Boeing because Boeing got left out on the TFX fighter.” According to Atherton, Russell got the contract after talking to Lyndon Johnson. Atherton added, “without Russell, we wouldn’t have gotten the contract”. (16)

On 26th June, 1963, Clark R. Mollenhoff managed to interview Robert McNamara about his role in awarding the TFX contract to General Dynamics. McNamara claimed that Johnson had applied to political pressure on him concerning the contract. He admitted that he knew all about Fred Korth’s business relationship with General Dynamics and Bell Aerospace. He also revealed he was aware of Roswell Gilpatric’s role “as a lawyer for General Dynamics just prior to coming into government, the role of Gilpatric’s law firm in continuing to represent General Dynamics, and the amount of money Gilpatric had received from the law firm since becoming Deputy Defense Secretary”. However, he was convinced that this did not influence the decision made by Korth and Gilpatric. (17)

Several journalists speculated that Johnson and his friends in Texas had played a key role in obtaining the TFX contract for General Dynamics. (18) When "reporters discovered that the Continental National Bank of Fort Worth, was the principal money source for the General Dynamics plant" in October, 1963, Fred Korth was forced to resign as Secretary of the Navy. (19)

Hanson W. Baldwin believed that the main villain was Robert McNamara. In an article in the Saturday Evening Post, Baldwin wrote: “Mr. McNamara has pressured the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sign written statements testifying to Congress that the Administration’s defense budget is adequate. He has censored, deleted and altered statements to Congress by the chiefs of the services and their secretaries. He has downgraded, ignored, bypassed or overruled the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff… It places more and more power over the military-industrial complex in the hands of a few men in the executive branch of the government. The dollar volumes of military contracts amount to more than $20 billion annually, with billions more in backlog orders outstanding. The individual services no longer have the final power to contract… The awarding or cancellation of contracts… is now ultimately controlled by a very few men in the top echelons of the Defense Department.” (20)

Johnson’s role in these events was confirmed when Don B. Reynolds testified in a secret session of the Senate Rules Committee. As Victor Lasky pointed out, Reynolds “spoke of the time Bobby Baker opened a satchel full of paper money which he said was a $100,000 payoff for Johnson for pushing through a $7billion TFX plane contract.” (21)

David 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.” (22) 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.” (23)

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”. (24)

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. (25) 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? (26)

In April, 1962, Kennedy told McGeorge Bundy to “seize upon any favourable moment to reduce our involvement” in Vietnam. (27) 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.” (28)

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.” (29)

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.” (30)

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.” (31)

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.” (32)

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.” (33)

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.” (34)

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. (35)

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.” (36)

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. (37)

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.” (38)

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”. (39)

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. (40) 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.” (41)

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." (42)

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. (43)

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.” (44)

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”. (45)

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”. (46)

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. (47)

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. (48)

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.” (49)

Despite this, President Johnson immediately ordered “a firm, swift retaliatory strike” against North Vietnamese naval bases. (50) 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. (51)

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?” (52)

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.” (53)

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.” (54)

Notes

1. Robert J. Art, The TFX Decision: McNamara and the Military, 1968 (pages 62-63)

2. William Proxmire, speech in the Senate, 24th March, 1969

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

4. Richard Austin Smith, Fortune Magazine, February, 1962

5. Seth Kantor, Who Was Jack Ruby?, 1978 (page 19)

6. Clark R. Mollenhoff, Despoilers of Democracy, 1965 (pages 133-137)

7. Award of the X-22 (VTOL) Research and Development Contract, 1964 (page 9)

8. Robert J. Art, The TFX Decision, 1968 (page 5)

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

10. Quoted by Frederic M. Scherer, The Weapons Acquisition Process: Economic Incentives, 1964 (page 37)

11. TFX Contract Investigations Hearing Report, March 1963 (pages 3-4)

12. Seth Kantor, Fort Worth Press (24th October, 1962)

13. Clark R. Mollenhoff, Pentagon, 1967 (pages 299-300)

14. Fort Worth Telegram (13th December, 1962)

15. Clark R. Mollenhoff, Despoilers of Democracy, 1965 (page 171)

16. William Proxmire, Report from Wasteland: America’s Military-Industrial Complex, 1970 (pages 100-102)

17. Clark R. Mollenhoff, Despoilers of Democracy, 1965 (pages 188-193)

18. See “Missiles and Rockets” (11th February, 1963) and Aviation Week & Space Technology (25th February, 1963)

19. Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, 1993 (page 220)

20. Hanson W. Baldwin, Saturday Evening Post (9th March, 1963)

21. Victor Lasky, It Didn’t Start With Watergate, 1977 (page 144)

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

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

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

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

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

27. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I found these paragraphs from the new book House of War by James Carroll interesting.

McNamara on his second day in the Penatgon goes to look at Air Force Intelligence's "evidence of the "Missile Gap":

McNamara compared the U-2 photgraphs with those from the new reconnaissance

satellite Discoverer, and what he found wa not only that the missile gap charge was

false-- Arthur Schlessinger, not an uninterested observer later wrote that it was

"in good faith overstated"-- but that the intelligence system on which he and the

the president had to depend on was a shambles.

Each of the five services had its own intel. operation. When McNamara asked the

Army for its estimate of deployed and ready Soviet missiles as of jan.61, he was

told ten; the navy put the number at less than half that. the Air Force set the figure

at more than fifty. and perhaps as high as 200. Within the Air Force, the SAC had

yet another independent intelligence operation, and it insisted on higher numbers yet,

and there were equivalent disparities on projections of the gap in the future. The

Air Force had been the main source of all Missile gap alerts, beginning in 1957 with

the Gaither Committee's and including Stuart Symington's warning that by the early

1960's the Soviet Union would have three thousand ICBMs. When Mc. demanded that

AF intell. officers justify their estimates in light of the Discoverer photographs, they

could not. "Even Air Force analysts were embarassed by the pictures," the historian

Fred kaplan wrote. ...... Soon it would be "discovered" that the actual number of

deployed Soviet ICBMs was four........

As we have seen again and again, each service branch assessed enemy capacities

based less on objective readings of the Soviet arsenals than on the branch's own

procurement wishes......What Mc. was seeing was the third-generation effect of

intel. entities whose missions were defined so emphatically by the individual services

that thier ability to serve a broader national interest was almost entirely destoryed.

"I concluded that we just had to get rid of five independent intel. services" Mcnamara

said to me...... So I concieved of forming the Defense Intelligence Agency, with a

commitment to gathering and evaluating info. based on a higher loyalty than to any

service"....

Still-- and knowing that if he could not rely on the basic data about and interpretation

of enemy capacity and intention, all else was meaningless-- he remained determined

to take control of such information...... but intelligence gathering was the most

jealously guarded activity in the military. Everything from mission to budget to battle

order began and ended with the assessments of J-2, A-2, and ONI, and no service

chief was going to willingly surrender an inch of that turf. Mcnamara was a shrewd

enough manager to see a fight coming, but it soon became a test for him-- not

so much of his own authority but of the constitutional principle of civilian control. By

taking control of information and its interpretation, he would bring the Pentagon

behemoth to heel"

Did this intelligence struggle within the Pentagon play a role in the assassination? How?

Do we know of intelligence matters that were delibereately withheld from the DIA by the

other agencies that might relate to the assasinations? Does Joan Mellon's argument about

a New Orleans "end run" around the CIA in forming an alternative Castro assasination team involve the DIA?

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Excellent posts, John and Nathaniel.....

In 1970, Jim Garrison wrote:

The consequence of the development of the ultimate weapon (atomic bomb, MH) would be the militarization of America. By the time President Kennedy took his oath of office, sufficient change had taken place to make unacceptable for long any serious attempt to enforce genuine civilian control over the military. Conflicts between the Pentagon and the White House with regard to fundamental military strategy--and even with regard to foreign policy--no longer could be resolved by a unilateral decision at the White House. This is not to say that the military would allow the fact of the change to become apparent. The protocols, like the uniforms, would remain the same.

Garrison goes on to quote Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (A Thousand Days):

...When McNamara called [at the Pentagon] for the basic defense plans, he found that they still rested on the assumption of total nuclear war..."The Pentagon is full of papers talking about the presence of a viable society after nuclear conflict," he once said. "That viable society phrase drives me mad. I keep trying to comb it out, but it keeps coming back." Kennedy now charged McNamara with the problem of devising strategies to deal with a world in which total nuclear war was no longer conceivable. This called from a shift of massive retaliation to a capability for controlled and flexible response, graduated to meet a variety of forms and levels of aggression.

I have always felt that President Kennedy's clear record of aversion to the use of nuclear force formed an unbridgeable chasm between the White House and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that believed nuclear options were preferable to land wars. Many of them felt that way ever since the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima "saved countless American lives."

I grew up in an era of bomb shelters and missile gaps and the constant drumbeat that nuclear war was a real possibility. American citizens that opposed nuclear proliferation seemed always to represent the left wing of political ideology, and that political segment was "soft on Communism."

The possible role of the Central Intelligence Agency in the murder of President Kennedy has been explored by many. By and large, the Defense Intelligence Agency has remained in the background, relatively speaking. I have often wondered if elements within the DIA either framed or blackmailed the anti-Castro elements within the CIA that they considered expendable.

Mike Hogan

Edited by Michael Hogan

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for OZ viewers : Other Errol Morrris documentaries coming up on SBS Television:

Oscar-winning 'Fog of War' on Tuesday, May 15 at 10.00pm.

http://www.sbs.com.au/whatson/

Edited by John Dolva

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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”.

In his new book Brothers, David Talbot claims "It was McNamara who encouraged Kennedy to withdraw 1,000 soldiers by the end of the year." (Page 219)

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......

Talbot comments (Page 221):

Then Kennedy died and his antagonists got their war. But it was a smaller war, not the one the generals wanted, and the planet survived. He and Lyndon Johnson made sure of that, says McNamara today. He deservedly takes a deep sense of satisfaction from that.

Talbot also writes (Page 219):

But McNamara abruptly shifted his Vietnam thinkng under Kennedy's successor, dutifully realigning himself with the Johnson administration's escalating violence. The numbers cruncher with the shiny, shoe-polished hair and the whiz-kid wire rims would become an icon of failure, the reigning symbol of the tragic folly of fighting a war against impassioned peasant warriors with the cold logic of a statistician. Why did he allow himself to become the brains of the war under LBJ after plotting with JFK to disengage from it? "Oh, I don't want to talk about that," McNamara told me with the clipped authoritative voice of a CEO shutting down a disagreeable topic at a board meeting.

And in an interview Talbot conducted with Daniel Ellsberg (Page 222):

"McNamara believes that he kept Curtis Lemay and the others from doing to Hanoi what they did to Tokyo and Hiroshima in World War II," said Ellsberg. "And he did do that. It's possible that no one else in his position could have held back the U.S. Air Force from firebombing or nuking Vietnam, turning it into the parking lot that LeMay wanted to. So yes, that's how McNamara lives with himself--very easily......That's a pretty strong argument for his place in history."
Edited by Michael Hogan

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As has been previously discussed on this forum, I would like to know if McNamara gave Maxwell Taylor a cover story on the afternoon of 11/22/63 by saying Taylor was at the Pentagon, if Taylor was actually in Dallas (theoretically having stopped there on his return from the Honolulu Conference, possibly to meet with visiting Israeli military leader Yitzhak Rabin).

The official story is that Taylor and the other joint chiefs were meeting that day with visiting West German officers at the Pentagon. Two legitimate pieces of evidence that this is not true: the "Lansdale" man in one of the tramp photos, IDed by Prouty and Krulak as Lansdale when he looks more like Taylor (Prouty and Krulak, who knew both men, didn't notice the resemblance to Taylor, it just had to be Lansdale?); and the fact that we know as a matter of record that Curtis LeMay attended no such Pentagon meeting, he was up north on vacation (rushing back to DC apparently to watch the autopsy).

Taylor, according to both McNamara and RFK, accompanied them to Andrews for the arrival of JFK's body. If Taylor was in Dallas as long as two hours after the assassination, the military had aircraft fast enough to get him to DC in time to depart from the Pentagon with McNamara and RFK.

It has also been noted previously that Taylor, according to his biography, choked up on two occasions when discussing the assassination, in one case about a year after the event and in the other case years afterward. What was that all about?

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I thought it might be worth taking a look at Robert Strange McNamara. He complained that he lost a lot of money when he left the Ford Motor Company in 1961 to become JFK's Secretary of Defense. Is it possible he thought it was morally right to get kickbacks from military contracts? McNamara is not only implicated in the TFX scandal but also the desire to send troops to Vietnam.

...

I have no idea what to believe. This scenario is nothing like the detailed description I'm reading of the TFX episode in Fletcher Prouty's book "JFK: The CIA, Vietnam and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy."

He says it was a strictly political decision. The Kennedys plotted maps to see where the geography of contractors and sub-contractors would most benefit them in the 1964 election and beyond in terms of picking up votes. They decided

they'd get less political capital/likely votes from Boeing so the chose the other one.

That's nothing like the account referenced here.

I sure wonder which is true, or if it's a third scenario, or if it's pieces of various scenarios.

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I thought it might be worth taking a look at Robert Strange McNamara. He complained that he lost a lot of money when he left the Ford Motor Company in 1961 to become JFK's Secretary of Defense. Is it possible he thought it was morally right to get kickbacks from military contracts? McNamara is not only implicated in the TFX scandal but also the desire to send troops to Vietnam.

...

I have no idea what to believe. This scenario is nothing like the detailed description I'm reading of the TFX episode in Fletcher Prouty's book "JFK: The CIA, Vietnam and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy."

He says it was a strictly political decision. The Kennedys plotted maps to see where the geography of contractors and sub-contractors would most benefit them in the 1964 election and beyond in terms of picking up votes. They decided

they'd get less political capital/likely votes from Boeing so the chose the other one.

That's nothing like the account referenced here.

I sure wonder which is true, or if it's a third scenario, or if it's pieces of various scenarios.

None of the pro-Kennedy historians have been willing to tackle the "TFX/F-111" issue. To most it is an embarrassing story and shows the JFK administration was corrupt and under the control of the Military Industrial Complex. However, there is evidence that at the time of JFK's death he was attempting to deal with this problem. Maybe it was this that got him killed. Just a few days before he died he sacked Fred Korth the Secretary of the Navy. Korth had replaced John Connally, another Texan politician, in the post in 1962. Connally and Korth had both been appointed after lobbying from LBJ.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKkorth.htm

Evelyn Lincoln, JFK's secretary, wrote in Kennedy and Johnson (1968)

As Mr. Kennedy sat in the rocker in my office, his head resting on its back he placed his left leg across his right knee. He rocked slightly as he talked. In a slow pensive voice he said to me, 'You know if I am re-elected in sixty-four, I am going to spend more and more time toward making government service an honorable career. I would like to tailor the executive and legislative branches of government so that they can keep up with the tremendous strides and progress being made in other fields.' 'I am going to advocate changing some of the outmoded rules and regulations in the Congress, such as the seniority rule. To do this I will need as a running mate in sixty-four a man who believes as I do.' Mrs. Lincoln went on to write "I was fascinated by this conversation and wrote it down verbatim in my diary. Now I asked, 'Who is your choice as a running-mate?' 'He looked straight ahead, and without hesitating he replied, 'at this time I am thinking about Governor Terry Sanford of North Carolina. But it will not be Lyndon.'"

I believe that JFK was thinking about TFX when he made this statement. Remember, at this time, Robert Kennedy was leaking information about LBJ and Bobby Baker to John Williams who was running with the story in Congress. This is why Lincoln believed that LBJ was behind the assassination. On 7th October, 1994, she wrote in a letter to Richard Duncan, a teacher at Northside Middle School in Roanoke:

As for (sic) the assassination is concerned it is my belief that there was a conspiracy because there were those that disliked him and felt the only way to get rid of him was to assassinate him. These five conspirators, in my opinion, were Lyndon B. Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, the Mafia, the CIA, and the Cubans in Florida.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKlincoln.htm

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