Wilson/My Turn: Thoughts on JFK

I always read Daniel A. Brown’s columns, which are often thought-provoking and insightful, but his article on Nov. 2 was not up to his usual high standards. His statement, “Facts rarely sway those set in their ways,” seems to apply to himself.

Brown likes to denigrate “the progressive left,” which he claims is, “planning to have a field day with their own brand of conspiratorial thinking.” Mentioning “conspiratorial thinking,” is a cheap rhetorical trick that automatically dismisses real, rational thought and a whole complex of important facts, insights and ideas.

Being a progressive leftist myself, I’m well aware that Noam Chomsky and many others believe John F. Kennedy was an unrepentant cold warrior, while others see a philandering aristocrat. The lack of uniformity on the left is one of its charms, and perhaps even one of its strengths.

Brown says, “The CIA, Mafia and Castro did hold grudges against Kennedy.” This is true, but who had the ability to slow down the motorcade in Dallas? Certainly not Castro. While the Mafia may have supplied professional killers, only people inside the power structure had the ability to pull off such a complex operation.

Kennedy went through a dramatic shift in his thinking, beginning when the CIA lied to him to manipulate him into supporting their disastrous “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba in 1961.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, many of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were prepared to launch an all-out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, arguing that we would “only” lose 10 or 20 or 30 million Americans. Again Kennedy refused.

Kennedy fired Allen Dulles, the powerful head of the CIA, and initiated a secret and well-documented correspondence with his “arch enemy,” Nikita Khrushchev, in which both men acknowledged that their military leaders were driving them toward nuclear war.

He also ordered the withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. military personnel from Vietnam by the end of 1963, an order rescinded by Lyndon Johnson four days after JFK’s assassination.

In June of 1963, Kennedy said he would wind down the nuclear arms race and move toward ending the Cold War. CIA insiders believed JFK was a traitor and had to be stopped. Kennedy said he was going “to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the wind.” The “why” of his assassination is obvious and he was stopped.

The CIA learned how to assassinate leaders of foreign countries and brought that “expertise” home to Dallas. Dulles, the fired head of the CIA, became a prominent member of the Warren Commission, a clear case of the fox guarding the hen house. The Select Committee on Assassinations of the House of Representatives, after two years of study, concluded Kennedy was “very likely assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

When the French withdrew from Vietnam in 1954, they promised there would be an election in 1956 to establish a unified government for all of Vietnam, which is one country. But President Eisenhower said 80 percent of the Vietnamese would vote for Ho Chi Min for president, which is why John Foster Dulles, our secretary of state, and his brother, Allen, CIA director, made sure the promised election never took place. When people don’t vote the way we want them to, our commitment to democracy disappears.

Kennedy saw the futility of supporting South Vietnamese dictators who were hated by their people. If the war in Vietnam had been ended in 1965 instead of 1975, 2 million Vietnamese people would still be alive. Instead, we killed them. Why?

Brown criticizes “a charitable view of human nature,” then displays his own in his description of “the peace, feminist and environmental movements ... that changed history.” I would argue that our history has changed for the worse in the last 50 years. We seem unable to reign in the military or to stop international capitalism from destroying the beautiful balance of nature that has evolved, to our benefit, over billions of years.

We are now paralyzed by military and corporate interests who have exercised greater and greater control over the past 50 years. The Republican Party has been taken over by ideologues who espouse ideas put forth over 50 years ago by the John Birch Society. “Liberal Republicans,” widely believed to be extinct, seem to be alive and well in the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Brown says, “The world today faces dire challenges that have nothing to do with the events of a half-century ago.” This bizarre statement is obviously wrong. No link between the CIA then and now? No connection between secrecy, lying, covert actions, and cover-ups then and now? No understanding that Eisenhower’s warning in 1961 about “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

If the idealism expressed by JFK, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had been allowed to change the face of our once great country, we might not be facing “the dire challenges” we now seem incapable of solving.

Douglas Wilson is a Unitarian Universalist minister and executive director of UU Rowe Camp and Conference Center.

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