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Halberstam, JFK and Nixon


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I just taped a long interview today for Len Osanic's upcoming Black Op Radio show, this Thursday.

I spent a lot of time on two topics:

1.) The historical impact of the assassinations of the sixties on that decade

2.) Nixon vs. JFK on VIetnam

The reason I did so is that I have a long two part essay coming up on Bob Parry's fine site Consortium News based on the latter subject. See, Nixon fought for a long time not to have the NARA take over and start declassifying his tapes and papers. In fact, when a former friend of mine tried to get a look at his papers in the nineties, he told me, "Jim, there is almost nothing there. Its a disgrace."

Well, after Nixon died, this situation changed. And now scholars can go through a lot of his stuff. I based my essay on two new books dealing with Nixon on Vietnam: Nixon's Nuclear Specter, and Fatal Politics. The combination of these two books pretty much covers most of what the guy did while he was president on Vietnam.

The net result is devastating to Nixon's attempt to rehab himself after Watergate. He should have burned the tapes. When you compare him talking about Vietnam, with Kennedy talking about Vietnam, there is simply no comparison. Kennedy is an intelligent analyst and statesman. Nixon is a smartass/stupid thug: a man who has little or no regard for how many innocent people die in a war he knew could not be won.

In my article I say that if these tapes had been available to David Frost, Nixon would have been eviscerated in public. In fact, he would have never agreed to be interviewed. They are that bad.

Edited by James DiEugenio
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But before we get to that, I want to demonstrate just how badly secrecy can harm a democracy.

See, way back in the late sixties, David Halberstam started writing a mega bestselling book called The Best and the Brightest, which was supposed to be about America's involvement in Vietnam. It was not about that really.

It was about Kennedy's and Johnson's involvement in Vietnam. In other words, the Democratic Party in Vietnam. I mean he started the book as a magazine assignment suggested by rightwing nut Midge Decter. So how could it be anything else? (Halberstam, p. 607)

But further, Halberstam's book was largely based on interviews. In fact, he admits that. (p. 668) Further, in many cases, he did not source the interviews. And he did not catalog the people he interviewed. And although he says he managed to look at the Pentagon Papers before publication, it could not have been for very long. Since they had only just been published as his book was being completed. So he relied on interviews with Leslie Gelb, the editor of the Pentagon Papers. (p. 671)

These decisions have made his book pretty much superfluous today. In fact, its worse than that really. Its pernicious in the face of the declassified record.

Here is my analysis of his book today, as I show how imbalanced it is. Nixon could not have hoped for anything better. Kennedy could not have been done much worse.

http://www.ctka.net/2011/Halberstam_pt1.html

Edited by James DiEugenio
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But before we get to that, I want to demonstrate just how badly secrecy can harm a democracy.

See, way back in the late sixties, David Halberstam started writing a mega bestselling book called The Best and the Brightest, which was supposed to be about America's involvement in Vietnam. It was not about that really.

It was about Kennedy's and Johnson's involvement in Vietnam. In other words, the Democratic Party in Vietnam. I mean he started the book as a magazine assignment suggested by rightwing nut Midge Decter. So how could it be anything else? (Halberstam, p. 607)

But further, Halberstam's book was largely based on interviews. In fact, he admits that. (p. 668) Further, in many cases, he did not source the interviews. And he did not catalog the people he interviewed. And although he says he managed to look at the Pentagon Papers before publication, it could not have been for very long. Since they had only just been published as his book was being completed. So he relied on interviews with Leslie Gelb, the editor of the Pentagon Papers. (p. 671)

These decisions have made his book pretty much superfluous today. In fact, its worse than that really. Its pernicious in the face of the declassified record.

Here is my analysis of his book today, as I show how imbalanced it is. Nixon could not have hoped for anything better. Kennedy could not have been done much worse.

http://www.ctka.net/2011/Halberstam_pt1.html

I read this book about 10-15 years ago. I remember very little about it. I do recall thinking it was long and boring. I interpreted the 'intent' to show what the US got into even having the "Best and the Brightest" running things and how bad everything got all screwed up. And the final conclusion was that "sometimes the Best and the Brightest" are NOT.

Edited by Kenneth Drew
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Let me tell you something about Halberstam's book Ken.

When McGeorge Bundy started doing his memoir about Vietnam, with Gordon Goldstein, he went back and revisited the whole declassified record. That, combined with his memory, made him conclude that JFK would have never gone into Vietnam. In fact, he had nothing but admiration for what Kennedy had done. He even said that JFK was so smart that he perceived that Bundy was too hawkish on the issue, so he went around him and through McNamara to enact his withdrawal program.

In fact, there is a phone dialogue in the book Virtual JFK where McNamara and Kennedy are talking about getting out of Vietnam, and Bundy does not know what the heck they are talking about. When he listened to it, he told Goldstein that Kennedy had appointed McNamara as his emissary to get out of Indochina. Therefore bypassing him, which he had no problem with.

He then went back and reread Halberstam's book. He said Halberstam got it all wrong because he completely missed out on who JFK was, especially in comparison to Johnson.

And you are right Ken, his book is a bloody bore to read today. Especially in relation to books like Kaiser's and Douglass' and Newman's. Since he did not have the pertinent facts and evidence, he padded it out with peripheral and irrelevant attempts at biographies. I want to know what a guy did in relation to an epochal event, not how long he was married, or what his town folk thought of him or how he could memorize term papers in high school.

I mean Indochina resulted in the death of about 3 million innocent civilians. The vast majority were killed after 1954, when the USA took over the situation. I want to know how that happened, not about Bob McNamara's or Dean Rusk's reading habits.

Edited by James DiEugenio
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The argument I will make in this essay is simply this: If any President's name deserves to be attached to the VIetnam War its Nixon's.

Direct US involvement was from 1954-1973.

NIxon was in the White House for 11 of those years. LBJ was there for 5, and JFK for 3.

Further, it was Eisenhower/NIxon/ Dulles who made the initial commitment and who actually created South Vietnam. And it was really Nixon who extended the war in a very large way into Cambodia and, to a lesser extent, into Laos.

Somehow, Halberstam discounted all that.

But there are two other things he missed about Nixon, which he probably should not have. Because they are indications that Nixon helped extended the war. Even when he was out of office.

Edited by James DiEugenio
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The link below leads to an utterly fascinating, but much overlooked article by the exemplary investigative journalist Jim Hougan. (Who, among other things, has written what I--and many others-think is still the best book about Watergate, Secret Agenda.)

http://jimhougan.com/NixonInTheJungle.html

Once you read it you will see that it poses a mystery that almost defies explication. What the heck was Nixon, a private citizen at the time, doing in the jungles of Vietnam in 1964? As Jim notes, the explanation given does not really wash. I am not saying I agree with Jim's interpretation, but it seems to me that the timing of the visit is more than a bit suggestive. It does seem to jibe with the beginning of the end of Kennedy's efforts to exit, and the start of Johnson's to escalate. Was Nixon giving a bit of a boost to the latter?

Edited by James DiEugenio
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As I said, there are two indications of Nixon attempting to lengthen the war. The second instance is much more clear.

It happened in 1968 during the presidential race between Humphrey and Nixon. LBJ was trying to get a peace agreement with Hanoi negotiated before he left office, or at least serious negotiations in place. And he was careful to let both candidate's know what was going on. But Nixon thought that this would work to his detriment if successful. Especially if it was a close election, which it was.

Therefore, he enlisted Anna Chennault, the veteran GOP China lobbyist to sandbag the negotiations. And she did so through contact with Saigon. Nixon told Theiu and Ky to hold out and he would get them a better deal.

LBJ suspected as much. So he told the FBI to investigate. They confirmed his suspicions about Nixon's perfidy. LBJ now had a choice, expose it and go public thereby helping HHH. Or bury it for the mythical good of the country. He chose the latter and Nixon won the election.

Read the sordid details here.

https://consortiumnews.com/2012/03/03/lbjs-x-file-on-nixons-treason/

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End of story? As Nagell used to write in his letters exposing the Kennedy conspiracy from prison: "Not hardly."

Nixon had lied to LBJ about what he had done. But as is the case in Washington,when he became president, through Hoover, Nixon found out about the FBI investigation. Nixon alway liked running his own covert operations. And this penchant would bring the story full circle.

So he ordered Haldeman to find the file. Not knowing LBJ took it with him, Haldeman said he could not find it. When he failed, he gave the job to Thomas C. Huston, of the infamous Huston Plan. Huston could not find it. But he finally got a lead that it might be at Brookings Institute. This was around the time the Pentagon Papers were preparing to be published. When Nixon heard about this, he said he wanted to have the Brookings Institute raided, and blow the safe to get it.

As Ken Hughes writes in his book Chasing Shadows, this is the real beginning of the Plumbers Unit. In a story that might have been written by a gifted playwright, over fear of exposrue of his Anna Chennault mission, Nixon was eventually undone through Watergate.

Now, did Saigon get a better deal through Nixon than with LBJ? Hard to say, but probably not. What this all did was simply guarantee Nixon's election, and then his reelection.

With four more years of bombing, fighting and horror in Indochina. Including now, the destruction of Cambodia.

Edited by James DiEugenio
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This is how bad Richard Nixon was. And this is why he had to rehab himself. It did not work because of the declassification process.

Those records make it manifestly clear that, as Henry Kissinger once said--when working for Nelson Rockefeller--that Nixon was unfit to be president. And this is why Nixon fought not to have those records open to the public.

As time goes on, and as scholars delve deeper and deeper into the declassified record, Kennedy looks better and better; while Nixon looks worse and worse. Which makes people like Chris Mathews with his nutty book Kennedy and Nixon look like a fool. Along with ideologues like Chomsky who see no differences in policy with any occupant of the White House. The people in the Third World knew better. As Gen. Giap's son told Mani Kang, he knew Kennedy was withdrawing in 1963.

http://www.ctka.net/2013/General_Giap_Knew_Kang.html

Moral of the story: the only thing more interesting than trying to figure out the plot to kill JFK, is sorting out the changes in the Big Picture after his death. They were immense, and we still don't have all of them. One pattern reinforces the other.

Which is why DVP wants us to keep on arguing about Nick McDonald, and not those three million dead civilians in Indochina.

Anyway, I hope this peaked your curiosity about the upcoming article. Everyone here, except for maybe two people, should enjoy it.

I will post it when its up.

Edited by James DiEugenio
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Nixon always has been castigated for expanding the war into Cambodia. Regardless of what one thinks about the American war in Viet Nam or about Nixon, the fact is that North Vietnam had already expanded the war into both Cambodia and Laos. Those two countries' border regions with South Vietnam contained the Ho Chi Minh Trail, supply dumps, base camps, POW prisons, and sophisticated hospitals. Cambodia and Laos were supposedly neutral, but they were taken over to the extent deemed necessary by North Vietnamese Army muscle. From bases within Cambodia and Laos, the North Vietnamese made powerful and deadly forays into South Viet Nam, always with the ability to retreat into sanctuaries in Cambodia and Laos. My principal job in the Fall of 1971 was to keep tabs, through agents, on three large, powerful North Vietnamese army divisions operating in the Cambodia-Viet Nam border region west and northwest of Saigon. The soldiers in these divisions were mainly hardened veterans who had two principle objectives: capture alive as many American GIs as possible and kill as many others as possible, all with the objective of undermining support for the war in the U.S.

In fact, the main battleground for the war from North Viet Nam's standpoint was the U.S. nightly news. When Walter Cronkite capitulated in 1968 in the wake of the Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese leaders knew they had won the war.

It was against this background Nixon sent U.S. Army units into Cambodia in 1970. His goal wasn't to expand the war, despite what any historian or journalist may write. It was to diminish North Viet Nam's war-making capability in the South, so as to buy time for an American troop withdrawal from South Viet Nam. Without the 1970 invasion of Cambodia, the U.S. troop draw-down in Viet Nam 1970-72 would have been extremely dangerous for the American troops remaining in Viet Nam.

When I arrived in country 15 September 1971, there were 199,000 American troops in South Vietnam, including units of powerful infantry divisions, including the 1st Infantry Division, the 25th Infantry Division, and the 1st Air Cavalry Division. I considered them and other U.S. combat units my protection for awhile. When I left, on 14 September 1972, there were no more U.S. combat units remaining in South Viet Nam.

I want to remind all here that the My Lai Massacre in 1968 occurred under LBJ's watch, as did just about all of the Agent Orange spraying.

Yes, many civilians were killed in the war. That's true in all wars. Nixon did not chiefly target civilians; he went after the North Vietnamese Army. Yes, the Christmas bombing in and around Hanoi in 1972 terrorized civilians. It also brought the North Vietnamese Government to the peace table in Paris in 1973. Congratulations, Henry Kissinger, who with Nixon left American POWs to rot in Laotian prisons.

Excoriating Nixon over Viet Nam is easy. I say, have at it.

Just a personal footnote. During the 1972 Easter Offensive in Viet Nam, Jane Fonda famously visited North Viet Nam. Her visit did not harm me physically, but I felt viscerally she was the enemy. Still do -- certain scars don't heal. Nixon during the same period went to China. As a warrior in Viet Nam, I felt my spirits lifted. China was potentially a dangerous enemy, even though its relations with Viet Nam had been unfriendly.

Yeah, Halberstam didn't understand the war in Viet Nam. JFK didn't have the chance to understand it. Nixon did understand it, in spades. He understood the North wanted to take over the South; he knew he didn't have the will of the American people to continue the American combat presence in the South; he wanted to withdraw American forces from the South with least losses to American forces. What he didn't plan was handing the South over to the North. That came following Watergate, when the U.S. cut off all aid to the South, including spare parts.

You perhaps remember video of Vietnamese clinging to American helicopters, trying to get out of Viet Nam, trying to escape the tender mercies of the North Vietnamese soldiers.

Yes, America made a terrible mistake under LBJ going into Viet Nam. Nixon was dealt the hand LBJ left to him. Criticize Nixon freely, but please acknowledge the facts.

Would JFK have made the same mistake in Viet Nam as LBJ. Some believe not. I believe, based on the record, he would have been sucked into some sort of war there. Sucked, because although he understood wars of national liberation, he was anti-communist as much as LBJ or Nixon.

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Wow Jon, sorry this hit home so personally with you.

But I'm sorry, the record is the record.

1. Dulles, Nixon, and Ike got us into Vietnam. They did this by essentially creating South Vietnam under the aegis of Lansdale. They then picked an Americanized Catholic, Ngo DInh Diem, to be the leader of this country. They then propped him up with an American support system, including anywhere from 750-1,000 advisors. And an open ended commitment.

This was a mistake. That commitment should have never been made.

2. LBJ knew that those VC were on the border of Cambodia and Vietnam. He knew all about the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He dropped something like 31 tons of bombs there and authorized some special forces units. That was it.

Nixon and Kissinger authorized the massive secret bombing of Cambodia. Which went on for 14 months. In which thousands of tons of bombs were now being dropped on a neutral country. It was not stopped until it was exposed in congress. Nixon also authorized an invasion of the country. In support of seeking COSVN, a mythical VC HQ which was never found. This destabilized Cambodia and Sihanouk was overthrown.

Now, there was a war between General Lon Nol and the Khmer Rouge. The latter barely existed under Sihanouk. We all know how this ended up.

3.) I could not disagree more with your comment about JFK not having a chance to understand Vietnam. He was there in 1951. Edmund Gullion of the State Department told him that France could never win the war. That message stuck with him forever. And it impacted his view of colonial struggles. In November of 1961, he objected to sending combat troops into Vietnam using the same arguments he learned from Gullion.

He did understand it was unwinnable by 1963, after the battle of Ap Bac, and was getting out.

Edited by James DiEugenio
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Wow Jon, sorry this hit home so personally with you.

But I'm sorry, the record is the record.

1. Dulles, Nixon, and Ike got us into Vietnam. They did this by essentially creating South Vietnam under the aegis of Lansdale. They then picked an Americanized Catholic, Ngo DInh Diem, to be the leader of this country. They then propped him up with an American support system, including anywhere from 750-1,000 advisors. And an open ended commitment.

This was a mistake. That commitment should have never been made.

2. LBJ knew that those VC were on the border of Cambodia and Vietnam. He knew all about the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He dropped something like 31 tons of bombs there and authorized some special forces units. That was it.

Nixon and Kissinger authorized the massive secret bombing of Cambodia. Which went on for 14 months. In which thousands of tons of bombs were now being dropped on a neutral country. It was not stopped until it was exposed in congress. Nixon also authorized an invasion of the country. In support of seeking COSVN, a mythical VC HQ which was never found. This destabilized Cambodia and Sihanouk was overthrown.

Now, there was a war between General Lon Nol and the Khmer Rouge. The latter barely existed under Sihanouk. We all know how this ended up.

3.) I could not disagree more with your comment about JFK not having a chance to understand Vietnam. He was there in 1951. Edmund Gullion of the State Department told him that France could never win the war. That message stuck with him forever. And it impacted his view of colonial struggles. In November of 1961, he objected to sending combat troops into Vietnam using the same arguments he learned from Gullion.

He did understand it was unwinnable by 1963, after the battle of Ap Bac, and was getting out.

without going into a lot of detail, the Viet Nam war was over such a long period, it allowed for a lot of mistakes.

I do agree that Dulles, Nixon and Ike were on track to get heavily into it right after the 1960 election. But their plans had an 8 year pause while the conditions were allowed to go from deplorable to much more deplorable. This is speculation because we can't know what might have happened had Tricky won, but I'm guessing that they were going to make a big effort to get into control of the situation and make a 'real' attempt to win it within a 'short' (4 years or less or not expect to win their election again in 64) time.

But Kennedy won and didn't want any part of it. Had he lived, the US would have been out by the election in 64. But, LBJ took over and had a lot of buddies he wanted to make rich so he settled in for the long haul, hoping to have his friends sufficiently well off enough by 68 and in reasonable control of the situation so that he could wind it down gently over the next 4 years. He didn't count on not winning any battles and getting 40,000 people killed and the wholel thing turning to crap, so badly he had to run away from the presidency because he couldn't stand the heat.

Then Nixon took over, BUT the conditions were not what they were in 1961, the People in the US wanted nothing but OUT. Just throw in the towel. Nixon made a couple of semi-serious attempts to turn the tide, but no one wanted that, they only wanted out. Nixon never increased troops in Viet Nam, he only withdrew them. Congress fought Nixon on everything, especially in not giving him any funds to attempt to do anything. All the US was interested in by then was Surrender.

Basically as soon as he left, they waved the white flag.

Edited by Kenneth Drew
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Ken:

You are really going to like my article.

Although as a general outline, the above is correct, as they say, the devil is in the details.

These two new books shed a lot of new light on what Kissinger and Nixon were doing in private.

Nixon actually tried to use the Madman Theory on Hanoi and Russia.

Wait till you see what happened with that. These guys actually considered tactical nukes. And bombing the dikes.

And he essentially had his way there until 1972. Congress did not cut him off until 1973, and wait until you see what he did then.

I can only call it Nixonian.

Edited by James DiEugenio
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Ken:

You are really going to like my article.

Although as a general outline, the sbove is correct, as they say, the devil is in the details.

These two new books shed a lot of new light on what Kissinger and Nixon were doing in private.

Nixon actually tried to use the Madman Theory on Hanoi and Russia.

Wait till you see what happened with that. These guys actually considered tactical nukes. And bombing the dikes.

And he essential had his way there until 1972. Congress did not cut him off until 1973, and wait until you see what he did then.

I can only call it Nixonian.

I'm certainly looking forward to it.

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And I hope a lot of others are also.

I really think the Big Picture is important. We have a tendency to confine ourselves to Dealey Plaza, due to people like DVP etc. Which I think works right into their hands. Further its not a coincidence that people like John McAdams tried to deny all these policy changes took place.

But, I am doing my rock bottom best to try and expand the focus. So that some of us will understand that the disastrous policy changes that took place after Kennedy was murdered were not just a coincidence. They were deliberate. I mean just look at how fast it all happened.

I am looking forward to reading the new Talbot book on Allen Dulles and JFK which will be out in November.

I really hope his book gets some media attention. The debate needs to be opened up on that level to make the public understand that this is not just about forensics, and witness statements. Its about what happened to this country as a result of an unannounced coup.

Edited by James DiEugenio
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