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Arthur Schlesinger


John Simkin
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Arthur Schlesinger was interviewed by Anthony Summers in 1978 for his book Conspiracy: Who Killed President Kennedy (1980).

The CIA was reviving the assassination plots at the very time President Kennedy was considering the possibility of normalization of relations with Cuba - an extraordinary action. If it was not total incompetence - which in the case of the CIA cannot be excluded - it was a studied attempt to subvert national policy.... I think the CIA must have known about this initiative. They must certainly have realized that Bill Attwood and the Cuban representative to the U.N. were doing more than exchanging daiquiri recipes…They had all the wires tapped at the Cuban delegation to the United Nations….Undoubtedly if word leaked of President Kennedy’s efforts, that might have been exactly the kind of thing to trigger some explosion of fanatical violence. It seems to me a possibility not to be excluded.

His remarks seem to be very important. Do you know if he said anything else about the assassination.

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Highlighting part of this statement:

"If it was not total incompetence - which in the case of the CIA cannot be excluded - it was a studied attempt to subvert national policy...."

40 years later, visiting Cuba, Robert Reynolds, (who was the CIA station chief in Miami at the time of the BOP invasion) seems to have had an insight into the why of failure, indicating how wide off the mark CIA Cuba analysis was/is.

http://granmai.cubaweb.com/playagiron/index-i.html (and related pages)

"Castro gave an animated narration of his role commanding the Cuban troops, standing before the group using a microphone, a pointer and a large map. All said Castro was charming; some said his intensely detailed accounts were overwhelming.

"I didn't know anyone could talk so long and so intelligently about everything from world affairs to the most trivial details," said Robert Reynolds, who was the CIA station chief in Miami at the time of the invasion. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a top Kennedy aide during the invasion, said Castro displayed "an endearing sense of humor" and "an extraordinary memory."

also

"Kennedy advisor Arthur M. Schlesinger wrote what the U.S. establishment press was too cowardly to say. According to him, the truth was that Fidel Castro was a much more formidable enemy, leading a regime much better organized than anyone had suspected. His patrols pinpointed the invasion practically from the first moment. His planes reacted quickly and forcefully. His police eliminated any possibility of rebellion or sabotage behind the lines. His soldiers remained loyal and fought bravely, he added."

It strikes me that there is a divergence here in Kennedy and Schlesinger having a better grasp on the reality of the situation than the CIA. For some reason there were two foreign affair efforts working against each other.

I suggest that the CIA represents an Interest Grouping that is not interested in truth but rather its own survival, or supremacy. When truth negates its aims (and if truth was a superior aim, negates its existence) it switches to propaganda mode.

Edited by John Dolva
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I can think of two instances where US policy and CIA programs were

hijacked by the party out of power, which amounts to

treason ---

first, when Nixon dealt with South VIetnam previous to the 1968 election,

convincing them to hold off on peace talks until Humphrey lost

and again in 1980 when bill casey flew to Paris to negotiate with

the Iranian student radicals, convincing them to hold off on releasing

the hostages until Carter was defeated ---

I think the Cuba provocations followed

this pattern ----------

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  • 4 months later...

Arthur Schlesinger died of a heart attack on 28th February, 2007.

Schlesinger was the son of the historian, Arthur Meier Schlesinger. Schlesinger supported the theory expressed by his father in his book, Tides of American Politics, that American history followed a wave pattern of 11 alternating periods of liberal and conservative dominance. Schlesinger argued that the average length of these waves was 16 years.

Schlesinger became convinced that the 1960 elections would herald a new liberal era. A strong advocate of John F. Kennedy he worked hard behind the scenes trying to convince former Adlai Stevenson supporters of the candidate's liberal credentials. Schlesinger argued that Kennedy was "a man of action who could pass easily over to the realm of ideas, and confront intellectuals with perfect confidence in his capacity to hold his own."

In 1961 Schlesinger was appointed the president's special adviser on Latin America. In this post he became aware of JFK's secret negotiations with Fidel Castro (via William Attwood).

Schlesinger believed that the liberal wave would last until 1976 and was shocked by the election of Richard Nixon in 1968. He supported George McGovern in 1972 and claimed he was "leading a constituency as broad as Roosevelt's coalition in 1932" and predicted an easy victory for his candidate. In fact, Nixon defeated McGovern by 520 electoral votes to 17.

Schlesinger later readjusted his political wave theory from 16 to 30 years. He argued: "There is nothing mystical about the 30-year cycle. Thirty years is the span of a generation. People tend to be formed politically by the ideals dominant in the years when they first came to political consciousness." He added that the American people also had to "face up to the schism between our national instincts for aggression and our national capacity for civility and idealism".

I was a teenager in the 1960s when I developed my political philosophy. It also produced a generation of left-wing political activists. Is it possible that young people today are developing a radical approach to politics because of the reactionary polices of George Bush?

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

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I suggest that the CIA represents an Interest Grouping that is not interested in truth but rather its own survival, or supremacy.

It has always seemed so, but the CIA has been out of character during the George W. Bush regime. The CIA director takes the fall for 9/11 intelligence or lack thereof; a CIA agent gets outted by Dick Cheney or whoever in the White House; and the CIA director gets permanently demoted, now under a national intelligence director in one of the few 9/11 Commission recommendations actually implemented. I was amazed that the CIA, which used to so handily control things like the HSCA, let its demotion be implemented as law. The Company has taken a beating from Bush, and has taken it lying down, which is a mystery to me.

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Perhaps because Bonesman George The Elder knows where all the bodies are buried?

Why would Bush the Elder side with his idiot son against his beloved agency? From what I've read, father and son don't get along too well nowadays.

Why would Bush the Elder want to see the CIA not only humiliated but demoted, especially because of a recommendation from a whitewash commission that had to recommend something, so let's abuse the CIA.

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Perhaps because Bonesman George The Elder knows where all the bodies are buried?

Why would Bush the Elder side with his idiot son against his beloved agency? From what I've read, father and son don't get along too well nowadays.

Why would Bush the Elder want to see the CIA not only humiliated but demoted, especially because of a recommendation from a whitewash commission that had to recommend something, so let's abuse the CIA.

It's only speculation on my part, Ron, but we've seen enough instances in the past of CIA refusing to follow presidential orders to know that the Oval Office can dictate whatever it wishes, but with no guarantee that CIA will do what it is told. Now, the President has his own intelligence pitbull, whom he can sic upon CIA or any of the other agencies in his purview. Bush The Younger keeps his pitbull on a short leash, who in turn keeps CIA on an even shorter one.

Given CIA's astonishingly pallid performance over the years ["slam dunk," indeed!], it was overdue for some "abuse." I think this most recent demotion merely reinforced to the recalcitrant within Langley that there is a chain of command, and the man yanking that chain is not to be second-guessed or ignored.

Moreover, while Democrats from Kennedy to Carter tried in vain to rein in CIA excesses [we know what response their attempts earned them...], it took a crypto-fascist Republican to bring Langley to heel.

As for Bush The Elder, it may be a stretch to refer to CIA as "his beloved agency." After all, if we take him at his word [a-hem] during his confirmation hearings, he had no prior involvement with the Agency before being nominated to run it, and his tenure presiding over it lasted a grand total of two years, give or take. Why, he barely got a chance to warm up the chair before Carter turfed him. [before anyone gets apoplectic, I do not take Bush The Elder at his word, whether during his confirmation hearings, or at any time before or afterward. You can always tell when he's lying.... his lips move.]

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Arthur Schlesinger was interviewed by Anthony Summers in 1978 for his book Conspiracy: Who Killed President Kennedy (1980).

The CIA was reviving the assassination plots at the very time President Kennedy was considering the possibility of normalization of relations with Cuba - an extraordinary action. If it was not total incompetence - which in the case of the CIA cannot be excluded - it was a studied attempt to subvert national policy.... I think the CIA must have known about this initiative. They must certainly have realized that Bill Attwood and the Cuban representative to the U.N. were doing more than exchanging daiquiri recipes…They had all the wires tapped at the Cuban delegation to the United Nations….Undoubtedly if word leaked of President Kennedy’s efforts, that might have been exactly the kind of thing to trigger some explosion of fanatical violence. It seems to me a possibility not to be excluded.

His remarks seem to be very important. Do you know if he said anything else about the assassination.

I know of nothing said or written by Schlesinger that tipped his hand regarding any speculations he may have had re: 11-22-63.

However, it is clear that he had astonishing access inside the Oval Office, and remarkable knowledge regarding the dark forces then at play.

For example, in 1961, he penned a memo to Dick Goodwin regarding Operation 40, which included this astute observation:

"The ostensible purpose of Operation 40 was to administer liberated territories in Cuba. But the CIA agent in charge, a man known as Felix, trained the members of the group in methods of third degree interrogation, torture and general terrorism."

In two meagre sentences, Schlesinger parsed the situation and reported that what was constituted for one reasonably legitimate purpose, had been hiijacked to serve a purpose not previously contemplated by the White House.

It seems he knew a lot, in real time, about who was doing what, and for what purpose. And this knowledge served him well in refuting the scurrilous accusations by CIA and its various apparatchiks - Gus Russo, et al - that the Kennedys were obsessive in their quest to eliminate Castro, using all means, fair and foul, to do so.

Russo and others have pointed to JFK's conversations with Tad Szulc regarding murdering Castro, and used them as proof that he both knew and approved of such plots. However, as Arthur Schlesinger commented, had Kennedy been interested in a covert assassination operation against Castro, he would hardly have discussed this issue with a New York Times columnist.

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Arthur Schlesinger died of a heart attack on 28th February, 2007.

Schlesinger became convinced that the 1960 elections would herald a new liberal era....Schlesinger argued that Kennedy was "a man of action who could pass easily over to the realm of ideas, and confront intellectuals with perfect confidence in his capacity to hold his own."

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

New York Times Week In Review

March 4, 2007

Dispatches

History, Written in the Present Tense

By SAM TANENHAUS

With the death last week of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., at 89, America lost its last great public historian. The notion may sound strange, given the appetite, as voracious as at any time in recent memory, for serious works of history, and in particular the vogue for lengthy, often massively detailed biographies of the founders and of presidents.

But Mr. Schlesinger performed a different function. He stood at the forefront of a remarkable generation of academic historians. Richard Hofstadter, who died in 1970, and C. Vann Woodward, who died in 1999, were its other towering figures. All three, reciprocal admirers, wrote classic works that reanimated the past even as they rummaged in it for clues to understanding, if not solving, the most pressing political questions of the present. As a result, new books by these historians often generated excitement and conveyed an urgency felt not only by other scholars but also by the broader population of informed readers.

“The Vital Center,” which Mr. Schlesinger expanded from an article he wrote for The New York Times Magazine in 1948, began with a ringing series of declarative sentences.

“Western man in the middle of the 20th century is tense, uncertain, adrift,” Mr. Schlesinger wrote. “We look upon our epoch as a time of troubles, an age of anxiety. The grounds of our civilization, of our certitude, are breaking up under our feet, and familiar ideas and institutions vanish as we reach for them, like shadows in the falling dusk.”

“If I were writing ‘The Vital Center’ today, I would tone down the rhetoric,” Mr. Schlesinger wrote in his memoir, “A Life in the 20th Century,” published in 2000. But that rhetoric was attuned to its moment. (The phrase “age of anxiety,” for instance, was the title of an eclogue by W.H. Auden, published in 1947.) And the “hortatory lushness” Mr. Schlesinger rued in his memoir suited the case he was trying to make for a new political alliance between liberals and conservatives who “believe deeply in civil liberties, in constitutional processes and in the democratic determination of political and economic policies.”

Today these seem self-evident virtues, but Mr. Schlesinger was writing in the immediate aftermath of World War II, with its fresh memories of Nazi death camps, its ongoing spectacle of Soviet brutalities and the new threat of nuclear annihilation. Mr. Schlesinger’s argument that, amid these perils, democracy could not be passively accepted as a national birthright but must be struggled for reflected the emerging mood of the country. His work presaged the civil rights protests of the next two decades even as it expressed the national yearning for a new kind of politics divorced from totalizing extremism.

All this would have made for a fine polemic. But the power of the book radiates from Mr. Schlesinger’s knowledge of modern history, American and European — in his concise but learned discussions of the Federalists, Whigs and Progressives and also of the roots of Communism and Fascism. This ability to find latent connections between the present and the past, as well as between American and Continental thinkers, elevated “The Vital Center” above the ranks of articulate manifestoes and placed it in the company of other monitory classics written at more or less the same cold war moment, including George Orwell’s “1984,” Hannah Arendt’s “Origins of Totalitarianism,” Whittaker Chambers’s “Witness” and Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Irony of American History.” (I should note here that Mr. Schlesinger favorably reviewed my biography of Chambers in The New York Times Book Review.)

That the phrase “vital center” has become a catchword for Democratic Party strategists intent on capturing the mainstream electorate attests to Mr. Schlesinger’s gift for phrase-making — a gift capitalized on by politicians like Adlai Stevenson, whose campaign he worked on.

But the phrase’s popularity also suggests that he wrote with an authority not to be found among younger historians and political thinkers, who continue to borrow from their elders. Peter Beinart, the former editor of The New Republic, has repeatedly invoked the vital center — the term but also the book — in magazine articles and in his own recent book, “The Good Fight.” Indeed, his book is patently an homage to Mr. Schlesinger’s.

And this raises a troubling question. Why do current historians seem unable to engage the world as confidently as Mr. Schlesinger did?

One reason may have to do with an obvious but easily overlooked fact about Mr. Schlesinger’s sizable oeuvre. He wrote less often about the past than about the present — or the nearly present. His three-volume opus, “The Age of Roosevelt,” described events that occurred when Mr. Schlesinger was in his teens and 20s. His volumes on the Kennedys — “A Thousand Days,” about President Kennedy, and “Robert Kennedy and His Times” — were more current still, indeed full of news, since Mr. Schlesinger knew and worked intimately with both men.

This proximity to his subjects, not to mention Mr. Schlesinger’s unabashed admiration for both men, left him vulnerable to the charge that he had abandoned his objectivity and had become a “court historian.” Perhaps. But court historians have written masterpieces, the Duc de Saint-Simon’s memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV, to give one famous example. Mr. Schlesinger’s biographies of the Kennedy brothers have a similar glitter: large characters observed from close range but also with a wholeness only a professional historian could achieve.

When, for instance, Mr. Schlesinger described, in “A Thousand Days,” how the Kennedy family early on “was still marginal socially in Brahmin Boston; and its folk memories were those of a time, not too far distant, when to be Irish was to be poor and have gates slammed in one’s face,” it’s not just Mr. Schlesinger’s sympathy that absorbs us. It is also his detachment and the subtlety of his prose.

And when he wrote of Robert Kennedy that he combined the warring traits of an “incorrigible romantic” and “a realistic political leader” for whom “the ethic of responsibility prevailed over the ethic of ultimate ends,” Mr. Schlesinger was not simply spinning lyrical phrases. He was drawing explicitly on the great essay by Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation.” Mr. Schlesinger was plainly confident that Kennedy stood up to such large terms, and his narrative clinches that claim. It is hard to imagine our more recent leaders being discussed in such lofty terms.

Might they be unworthy? Well, the Kennedys may have been, too, if we measure them by the standards now applied to political figures. The point is not that our leaders have shrunk, but that, in some sense, our historians have.

This may seem unfair. After all, we live in what is often called a golden age of history and biography, when David McCullough, to cite the most obvious example, has attained fame and enormous sales.

But in truth Mr. McCullough and others as talented, or nearly so, don’t command the broad cultural authority that Mr. Schlesinger and his contemporaries did. Nor, for that matter, do academic historians like Gordon S. Wood and James M. McPherson, though their books resonate beyond the university.

The problem is not one of seriousness, intelligence or skill. It is rather one of reach. Mr. Wood’s “Radicalism of the American Revolution” is a major contribution to our understanding of its subject, and Mr. McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom” enthralled readers. But neither work can be said to have affected how many of us think about current issues.

This is even truer of the many popular books on America’s founding founders, from Washington and Adams to Jefferson and Hamilton, and on the lesser figures from the period now being exhumed.

These are books that, for all their merits, seem not only about the past but also, to some extent, mired in it. They are archival. And that may be the problem. Mr. Schlesinger’s accounts of midcentury American politics have the pageantry, texture and depth we normally find in books about long-vanished eras in that they were written by a historian convinced he was living in a period no less than rich than those earlier ones.

And in fact he was. He — and Hofstadter and Woodward — reached maturity as historians at the precise moment when the nation itself was coming into its own, a freshly minted world power blessed with unparalleled wealth and social mobility.

But it didn’t always seem so. It began as an “age of anxiety.” That it seems grander in retrospect is partly owed to the brio and passion of Mr. Schlesinger and his generation of historians. If our own anxious age is to attain similar heights our historians must help lead the way.

Sam Tanenhaus is the editor of the Book Review.

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This proximity to his subjects, not to mention Mr. Schlesinger’s unabashed admiration for both men, left him vulnerable to the charge that he had abandoned his objectivity and had become a “court historian.”

This is definitely a problem. For example, in a “A Thousand Days” he has little to say about the corruption that was taking place. We know that JFK was taking measures to deal with this corruption but that is not covered in the book.

The same thing is currently happening in the UK. Journalists who are known supporters of the Labour Party are reluctant to write about the corruption of Tony Blair. I suspect that historians who are supporters of the party will take a similar position to Schlesinger over the next few years.

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Arthur Schlesinger was one of the former Kennedy aides who was on record, at least in the 1970s, as supporting a new investigation into the assassination. In his huge book about Robert F. Kennedy, written in the late 1970s, Schlesinger related an account about Jackie Kennedy warning Teddy not to run for president, because "they got Jack and Bobby and they'll get him, too" or something like that (sorry don't remember the exact quote). Like Ted Sorenson, Schlesinger was, imho, a real cut above the typical presidential aide. He might even have been among "the best and brightest."

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Like Ted Sorenson, Schlesinger was, imho, a real cut above the typical presidential aide. He might even have been among "the best and brightest."

I agree. We should not forget this memo to another JFK aide who believes that he was not killed by a lone assassin.

Arthur Schlesinger, memorandum for Richard Goodwin (9th June, 1961)

Sam Halper, who has been the Times correspondent in Havana and more recently in Miami, came to see me last week. He has excellent contracts among the Cuban exiles. One of Miro's comments this morning reminded me that I have been meaning to pass on the following story as told me by Halper. Halper says that CIA set up something called Operation 40 under the direction of a man named (as he recalled) Captain Luis Sanjenis, who was also chief of intelligence. (Could this be the man to whom Miro referred this morning?) It was called Operation 40 because originally only 40 men were involved: later the group was enlarged to 70. The ostensible purpose of Operation 40 was to administer liberated territories in Cuba. But the CIA agent in charge, a man known as Felix, trained the members of the group in methods of third degree interrogation, torture and general terrorism. The liberal Cuban exiles believe that the real purpose of Operation 40 was to "kill Communists" and, after eliminating hard-core Fidelistas, to go on to eliminate first the followers of Ray, then the followers of Varona and finally to set up a right wing dictatorship, presumably under Artime. Varona fired Sanjenis as chief of intelligence after the landings and appointed a man named Despaign in his place. Sanjenis removed 40 files and set up his own office; the exiles believe that he continues to have CIA support. As for the intelligence operation, the CIA is alleged to have said that, if Varona fired Sanjenis, let Varona pay the bills. Subsequently Sanjenis's hoods beat up Despaign's chief aide; and Despaign himself was arrested on a charge of trespassing brought by Sanjenis. The exiles believe that all these things had CIA approval. Halper says that Lt Col Vireia Castro (1820 SW 6th Street, Miami; FR 4 3684) can supply further details. Halper also quotes Bender as having said at one point when someone talked about the Cuban revolution against Castro: "The Cuban Revolution? The Cuban Revolution is something I carry around in my checkbook."

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Like Ted Sorenson, Schlesinger was, imho, a real cut above the typical presidential aide. He might even have been among "the best and brightest."

I agree. We should not forget this memo to another JFK aide who believes that he was not killed by a lone assassin.

Arthur Schlesinger, memorandum for Richard Goodwin (9th June, 1961)

Sam Halper, who has been the Times correspondent in Havana and more recently in Miami, came to see me last week. He has excellent contracts among the Cuban exiles. One of Miro's comments this morning reminded me that I have been meaning to pass on the following story as told me by Halper. Halper says that CIA set up something called Operation 40 under the direction of a man named (as he recalled) Captain Luis Sanjenis, who was also chief of intelligence. (Could this be the man to whom Miro referred this morning?) It was called Operation 40 because originally only 40 men were involved: later the group was enlarged to 70. The ostensible purpose of Operation 40 was to administer liberated territories in Cuba. But the CIA agent in charge, a man known as Felix, trained the members of the group in methods of third degree interrogation, torture and general terrorism. The liberal Cuban exiles believe that the real purpose of Operation 40 was to "kill Communists" and, after eliminating hard-core Fidelistas, to go on to eliminate first the followers of Ray, then the followers of Varona and finally to set up a right wing dictatorship, presumably under Artime. Varona fired Sanjenis as chief of intelligence after the landings and appointed a man named Despaign in his place. Sanjenis removed 40 files and set up his own office; the exiles believe that he continues to have CIA support. As for the intelliigence operation, the CIA is alleged to have said that, if Varona fired Sanjenis, let Varona pay the bills. Subsequently Sanjenis's hoods beat up Despaign's chief aide; and Despaign himself was arrested on a charge of trespassing brought by Sanjenis. The exiles believe that all these things had CIA approval. Halper says that Lt Col Vireia Castro (1820 SW 6th Street, Miami; FR 4 3684) can supply further details. Halper also quotes Bender as having said at one point when someone talked about the Cuban revolution against Castro: "The Cuban Revolution? The Cuban Revolution is something I carry around in my checkbook."

Wow. Hadn't seen that one before. Didn't Sturgis have two case officers, Barker and Sanjenis? I remember when Ray came here for a second. The one question I asked him--if he had any information that Op 40 was designed to kill him and his followers--went unanswered. I suspect this is still a sensitive subject with him.

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This proximity to his subjects, not to mention Mr. Schlesinger’s unabashed admiration for both men, left him vulnerable to the charge that he had abandoned his objectivity and had become a “court historian.

This is definitely a problem. For example, in a “A Thousand Days” he has little to say about the corruption that was taking place. We know that JFK was taking measures to deal with this corruption but that is not covered in the book.

Not much to say about this, knowing how few of JFK's minutes needed to be filled such matters. That was Bobby's Department, he was the responsible officer of Government in all Federal matters of corruption.

Schlesinger devotes Chapter 17 of ROBERT KENNEDY AND HIS TIMES to the "Politics of Justice", and there, in its rightful place, you will find a discussion of corruption in the Kennedy administration.

The same thing is currently happening in the UK. I suspect that historians who are supporters of the party will take a similar position to Schlesinger over the next few years.

England should only hope someday to produce a modern historian who bears comparison with Arthur Schlesinger, or subjects who truly deserve such a worthy chronicler of their times.

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