Monthly Archives: July 2008
-Nocturnally fixated millionaire GOP donor Bruce Wayne
The needle on the good ole puke-o-meter got buried early this week when it came to my attention that certain fascist propagandists (chiefly that foreign pig Rupert Murdoch’s recently acquired shit rag WSJ) were – get this – actually comparing the comic book hero Batman in the new mega-blockbuster The Dark Knight to George W. Bush and his phony war on terror.
What Bush and Batman Have in Common
By Andrew Klavan
July 25, 2008; Page A15
A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .
Oh, wait a minute. That’s not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a “W.”
There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.
And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society — in which people sometimes make the wrong choices — and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.
“The Dark Knight,” then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror. And like another such film, last year’s “300,” “The Dark Knight” is making a fortune depicting the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans.
Conversely, time after time, left-wing films about the war on terror — films like “In The Valley of Elah,” “Rendition” and “Redacted” — which preach moral equivalence and advocate surrender, that disrespect the military and their mission, that seem unable to distinguish the difference between America and Islamo-fascism, have bombed more spectacularly than Operation Shock and Awe.
Why is it then that left-wingers feel free to make their films direct and realistic, whereas Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth? Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense — values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right — only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like “300,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Narnia,” “Spiderman 3” and now “The Dark Knight”?
The moment filmmakers take on the problem of Islamic terrorism in realistic films, suddenly those values vanish. The good guys become indistinguishable from the bad guys, and we end up denigrating the very heroes who defend us. Why should this be?
The answers to these questions seem to me to be embedded in the story of “The Dark Knight” itself: Doing what’s right is hard, and speaking the truth is dangerous. Many have been abhorred for it, some killed, one crucified.
Leftists frequently complain that right-wing morality is simplistic. Morality is relative, they say; nuanced, complex. They’re wrong, of course, even on their own terms.
Left and right, all Americans know that freedom is better than slavery, that love is better than hate, kindness better than cruelty, tolerance better than bigotry. We don’t always know how we know these things, and yet mysteriously we know them nonetheless.
The true complexity arises when we must defend these values in a world that does not universally embrace them — when we reach the place where we must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love.
When heroes arise who take those difficult duties on themselves, it is tempting for the rest of us to turn our backs on them, to vilify them in order to protect our own appearance of righteousness. We prosecute and execrate the violent soldier or the cruel interrogator in order to parade ourselves as paragons of the peaceful values they preserve. As Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon says of the hated and hunted Batman, “He has to run away — because we have to chase him.”
That’s real moral complexity. And when our artistic community is ready to show that sometimes men must kill in order to preserve life; that sometimes they must violate their values in order to maintain those values; and that while movie stars may strut in the bright light of our adulation for pretending to be heroes, true heroes often must slink in the shadows, slump-shouldered and despised — then and only then will we be able to pay President Bush his due and make good and true films about the war on terror.
Perhaps that’s when Hollywood conservatives will be able to take off their masks and speak plainly in the light of day.
Mr. Klavan has won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. His new novel, “Empire of Lies” (An Otto Penzler Book, Harcourt), is about an ordinary man confronting the war on terror.
Well there it was. I just had to post that gut-wrenching piece of shit in it’s entirety, how fitting that the hack who wrote it has a novel called “Empire of Lies” but of course it’s not the only one, far be it from neocons to actually use anything remotely resembling originality (note the hysterical commercial from the war criminal McCain comparing Jesus Obama to the ubiquitous Paris Hilton and that twisted little fuck bunny Brittney Spears – only in America), the Bush-Batman comparisons are rapidly spreading through the reich wing brain dead blogosphere and accompanying fascist media machine like freshly torched gas from a lighted Heineken fart. Even Spanky Limbaugh weighs in on it (no pun intended) as he panders to his addle brained dittohead dipshit co-dependent audience. In a strange bit of irony that largely goes unmentioned (especially in conservative circles) the guy who played Batman was recently arrested for beating his mother – real swell for the ‘values’ volk but certainly not surprising that the bottom feeders identify with such behavior. As with George W. Bush the Oedipus Complex seems to run deep with the sort of deviant fucks who gravitate the the fascist Republican party.
I haven’t actually seen The Dark Knight myself as of yet although I plan on it. I loved the first one and am a big Christopher Nolan fan (you have just got to fucking see The Prestige if you haven’t already) and even better it is supposed to have the trailer for my favorite graphic novel of all time, Watchmen premiered before it. The Dark Knight’s reviews have been spectacular and I tend to like movies that are more than a bit on the dark side, after all, the world is certainly not a candy-coated apple like far too many ass ostriches and Pollyannas skipping down their white picket fence lined primrose paths to perdition would like to believe it is. It is a serious morality play in which Batman must cross the lines of morality to take down a psychotic and vicious enemy in Heath Ledger’s Joker. who is pretty much a ‘terrorist’ in this one (actually a chaos loving anarchist would be a better description but in the post-Orwell era of 2008 what the fuck are words really worth?) and the think tankers have brilliantly seized on the plotline to unbelievably try to plant their freak flags right in the middle of Gotham City as justification for their ongoing war on American ideals and their savage stealing away of our freedoms under the cover of darkness.
It should come as no surprise that I feel the same tactics and worldview is merited when confronted with those who don’t play by the rules and the neocons and their ilk are the real life villains who I speak of. To hell with peering into Nietzsche’s abyss because sometimes you really DO have to become a monster to fight one and the fascist Republican war on America has certainly been waged by immoral monsters against a largely innocent albeit woefully ignorant public. I have always said that if you are going to deal with the large scale extermination projects that really rid us of our rats and cockroaches that you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, in order to deal with slime you have to be willing to climb down into the gutter in which it resides. I dig Batman but really V For Vendetta is much more my bag when it comes to getting down and dirty with the scum and it is a much more serious depiction of the neocons and their perfect society as laid forth by Leo Strauss, Karl Schmidt and the rest of the fucking Nazis who so have so inspired them as they have hijacked America using their dirty little coup d’etat that 9/11 provided cover for.
Despite all the adoration of the extra-legal tactics utilized by the Batman as he throws down with the Joker an important point that is missed by the neocon goofballs is that while Batman may engage in illegal surveillance, random beatings and renditions, hard core vigilantism and a general willingness to operate outside the pesky confines of the law like Dirty Harry or any other stock action figure of the past thirty years he is doing so for a good reason – trying to save Gotham City from evil and the existential threat that the Joker represents. The key distinction however that is missed is that he is not engaging in these sort of end runs around the law for the purpose of illegally eavesdropping and blackmailing journalists and political opponents, thumping those who may be nuisances to the looting spree, imprisoning without trial members of an opposition political party and providing protection for the racketeers who pay the Republican crime machine for their mob style tactics. Also Batman doesn’t engage in torturing naked Muslim men in gruesomely sadistic, sexually perverse tableaus which are then presumably filmed for the enjoyment of the sick fucks who run this big time con game that by now has become more revolting than even a jar of fresh vomit. The Rovian revisionism and use of movies and pop culture to manufacture consent for a very anti-American agenda would really be approaching parody if it weren’t so dangerous.
These neocons are very strange people, one would speculate that they are fixated on black leather batsuits which would indicated a serious kink factor leaning towards BDSM, I can only imagine them going gaga over George Clooney’s nippled bat suit and codpiece in the colossal failure Batman and Robin. There was also GOP hero and son of former Nazi goon Arnold Schwarzenegger in that one so the orgasm accelerator must have been irresistible. Then again, in this idolatry of Batman’s crusade against the Joker maybe they are still more than a little pissed off at the late Heath Ledger for putting a burr under the saddle of the great American macho John Wayne archetype by playing a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain. There are certainly a lot of seriously conflicted folks over in the Cult of the Elephant and for every Larry Craig that is exposed trying to suck a cock in a public toilet stall there are many more who are smart enough to keep a lower profile.
For those who are buffs of both history and American pop culture you may remember a certain Dr. Fredric Wertham who wrote a book called Seduction of the Innocent on the dangerous effects of comic books on America’s youth that was then used as justification for a Congressional inquiry into the comic book industry back in the heyday of the good ole Joseph McCarthy era. Wertham’s gaydar went off when he speculated that Batman and Robin may have indeed (and I shit you not) been homosexual partners and that Batman comics were a potential endorsement of such heinous and deviant lifestyles (I speak tongue in cheek of course, the water fountains in much of the country were still in many places still labeled as “colored” back in those days), he also inferred that Wonder Woman was a lesbian and railed against lurid depictions of murders in the popular horror comics of that day that ultimately resulted in the Comics Code Authority which was created as a form of self censorship by the industry.
Could it be that Wertham may actually have been onto something real? Perhaps Batman did trigger latent, prurient impulses in some – one can imagine the little wimpy Jewboy Billy Kristol beating off over Batman comic books in a darkened coat closet in daddy’s upper east side digs, his Joker like grin already present as the demons in his noodle that would one day lead him to become a shill for mass murder on a grand scale feasting on the darkness of those little psychological cues that were sinisterly implanted in the stories. Normal dudes jacked off to hard and soft core porn, semi-normal (although sheltered dudes like boy Kristol) at least jacked off to Catwoman but now we are living in the PNAC world of sick freaks and fantasy as reality so who the fuck knows that the fuck people jack off to anymore…Armageddon perhaps?
I don’t know, as freaky as it may be it is possible that Dr. Wertham is right about the leather fetishes and shit and perhaps the Murdoch Journal has a point that that bat cowl could fit squarely on King George’s pointy little head – after all, Jeff Gannon was sitting on someone’s face during all of those back door White House visits that he made awhile back.
Jesus Fucking Christ, is nothing sacred to these diseased pigfuckers
Belching forth hatred, vitriol and clouds of sulfuric brimstone, reeking of rotting corpses and hypocrisy the anti-American foreign agent Pastor John Hagee convened the CUFI coven of dual loyalists and hard core Zionist warmongers for their latest befoulment of all things American. The corpulent delusional toad once again led the legions of the fucked and doomed Raptureheads and the idiot militant right-wing Jews who are too fucking bent on mounting a campaign of genocide that will make Hitler look like a piker to get it through their thick skulls that Hagee’s particular brand of good ole time religion ends with them being immolated so that Jesus can return to Planet Shit and the true believers can fly dirty, nasty nekkid up to sit at the foot of God’s throne while the rest of us heathens and the Jews be made to suffer plagues, pestilence, war and hell on Earth. Israel, you see is just the tinderbox that the death freaks who are goaded on by the false prophets like Hagee needs to serve as the crucible for the apocalypse and like a come filled rubber it will be discarded once the blessed orgasm of the biggest fuck of all time – Armageddon has been blown like a screeching, soul-cleansing wad of “OH GOD” intensity.
Hagee and his masses of miscreants are organizing for the big push to ensure that unstable, half senile, self-admitted “war criminal” and potential Manchurian Candidate John Sidney McCain III is able to gain possession of the nuclear football and with the help of that dastardly little mole Joe Lieberman (more on him later) get the PNAC game plan back on track and green light the Israeli war machine for it’s Nazi style blitzkrieg through the Middle East. You could just hear the sound of puckering assholes from Johnny Mac and the Likudniks when that picture of Barrack Hussein Obama sitting in the chopper with the sainted General Petraeus looking cooler than all get out in those mirror lensed sunglasses while flying over Baghdad. I can’t imagine anything that puts a burr further up the neocon’s asses than the prospect of an Obama presidency that dares to not give 110 percent to Zionist aggression and to lick the jackboots of those who in all likelihood proudly display to guests lampshades made out of the skin of Palestinians and consider the blood of Muslim children to be one of the greatest of all delicacies to be savored like a fine wine. Lieberman and Hagee are readying the shock troops and preparing the dead enders for battle, these are the type of Jews who killed Christ and the same sort of ‘Christians’ who would nail his long-haired, liberal ass up tomorrow if he were to suddenly return preaching against the warmongers and the moneychangers.
The chatter about ‘terrorist’ plots, foiled assassinations and the new call for a formal declaration war aginst al Qaeda – courtesy of the Zionist tool A.G. Michael Mukasey who can’t be bothered to enforce the fucking rule of law in the U.S. but has no problem foisting off this giant lie that will justify the police state and lifelong civilizational war against Muslims – has been being ratcheted up this week to sow fear, gestate anger and racism and potentially lay the ground for that long awaited false flag attack that will trigger NSPD51 and allow for that sweet apple pie authoritarianism to be locked in forever. Quite a useful bogeyman like al Qaeda ( actually a database of CIA assets) has been instrumental to shill for Israel’s wars and in this nation of television addled dopes weaned on the image of the swarthy Arab fanatics portrayed in films and series who in their everlasting cowardly ignorance and lives of pathetic shame lap it, hell, I’m not exagerating in stating that at least a quarter of the populace here in our Idiocracy would eat a bowl of fresh dogshit and swear it was chocolate pudding so woefully fucked are they and by extension fucked are we as it is the rational ones who must suffer for their sins.
Then there is Lieberman, the treacherous little termite who infiltrated the Gore campaign in 2000 and destroyed it from within so that the neocons could pull off their dirty little theft of the election and subsequently the Edward Luttwak style coup d’etat that was piggybacked on the back of the ‘terrorist’ attacks on 9/11 that were not only known about by certain rogue elements of the United States Government but were aided and abetted by several renegade elements of foreign intelligence services most notably Israel (see story about the celebrating Mossad agents disguised as movers right after the WTC towers were taken down). Lieberman, who once had the raw chutzpah to compare the maniacal demagogue Hagee to fucking Moses, was once again prominently on display at the big CUFI bund meeting where he did his level damnedest to pimp for U.S. involvement in Israel’s war against Iran, here are some excerpts from his speech:
All of you here, united as Christians for Israel, have chosen to be part of the “covenant of destiny.” You have chosen a mission for yourselves. By fate you are Americans with an ability to make your voice heard. You then freely chose to use your voice for a cause. By doing so you are turning your fate into destiny.
And that choice has brought you now to Washington D.C. at a truly historic and pivotal time for both America and Israel.
On the one hand there have been some positive developments in the Middle East over the past few years. Most importantly, Saddam Hussein, a man who mass-murdered his own people, attacked his neighbors, and launched missiles at Israel and paid families of suicide bombers, is gone.
On the other hand, the threat that the U.S. and Israel face from the Islamic Republic of Iran is today greater than ever.
The threat from Iran lies not just in their arming, training, and funding terrorists throughout the Middle East and the world, but even more from the nuclear weapons development program they are clearly pursuing.
A nuclear Iran is a mortal danger to all of our allies in the Middle East–both to the Arabs and Israel–and it is a threat to us. A nuclear Iran would transform the balance of power in the region in the worst possible way. As Iran continues to expand the reach of its missiles, it will soon not just be the Middle East that is threatened, but Europe as well.
The President of Iran has made his genocidal intentions toward Israel clear. And he regularly leads his Iranian audiences in chanting “Death to America.”
History warns us what can happen when we don’t take the threats of such tyrants and terrorists seriously. We must not repeat this mistake.
Although 76 senators voted for the amendment Senator Kyl and I offered, a handful opposed it–so take nothing for granted as you speak to members of Congress this week.
People who move the world do not believe that it is inevitable they will sit atop the world. They lead not because they believe in their greatness, but because they believe in a cause that is greater than themselves. They see a mission to accomplish, a destiny to shape.
That is precisely what all of you here do. You see Israel and America under threat–and so you stand up for both.
You stand up for Israel not because it is easy or because it is popular–but because it is right. You stand up for Israel because you recognize that it is a cause that is just and honorable, because it is a cause greater than yourself.
In addition to being a dangerous zealot, the Senator representing Tel Aviv is one hell of Jew, so concerned with perpetuating a campaign of rape and pillage that is the grand Zionist genocide that he willingly throws in with a man who once fondly cooed over Adolf Hitler’s mission as an earthly extension of God’s plan for the creation of the state of Israel. Hagee is an anti-Semite as are every last one of the Raptureheads whose glorious becoming can only occur once the Jews have been incinerated but hypocrisy rules in Der Homeland and long ago conquered reason, the lemmings quite simply prefer magic, myths and fairy tales and Hagee is a pied piper leading a rat army who marches in goose-stepping unity. As for Lieberman, he is by definition a traitor, to his party, to his religion and ultimately to his country and were the rule of law as set forth by the founders respected in anything remotely resembling their true intents Lieberman would find his ass placed on trial, convicted and then hung – not only as justice dictates but as an example to every other duplicitous bitch and bastard who sells out America on behalf of a foreign interest.
Were this an organization run by Muslims then there would have to be another wing built at Gitmo so outrageous would be the outcry. For the sake of argument let’s say it were a black minister like Reverend Jeremiah Wright calling for racist wars of aggression, terrorism and genocide – you can rest assured that so vicious would be the calls for shunning, the cries of treason and the death threats that there sure as shit wouldn’t be any U.S. Senators making keynote speeches in front of the flock at that church. CUFI is a terrorist organization and the full force of the law should be brought down upon it. Their funding sources need to be investigated, their assets frozen if found to be a product of radical foreign meddlers and their leaders put on trial for sedition, crimes against the republic and outright treason for if they are to be successful then the body count from their next fucking war will make Hitler look like an amateur.
In my ongoing project to make available online the entire text of Carl Oglesby’s book on the JFK assassination, Watergate and the various elements that influenced the events –The Yankee and Cowboy War – I am not going to present the first part of Chapter Four. This chapter is a very long one and full of important details on what happened that dark day in Dealey Plaza and the characters and subplots involved in both the highly-coordinated takedown of President Kennedy as well as the cover-up that exists to this day. Like 9/11 the true story of what happened has yet to be told and the same rogue secretive infrastructure that blew off JFK’s head for crossing them has morphed and adapted over the years into a similar one that aided and abetted the ‘terrorist’ attacks on September 11, 2001 as the implementation of a militarized police state domestically as well as a relentless and illegal war machine abroad has been swapped out with what used to be a constitutionally protected republic.
The Yankee and Cowboy War
By Carl Oglesby
Chapter Four (part one)
According to the Warren Commission, Lee Harvey Oswald was a chronic malcontent and loner who in 1959 broke off his career in the U.S. Marines with an irregular discharge in order to defect to the Soviet Union, to which he may have supplied valuable military secrets. He married in Russia, tried to settle down to a Communist domesticity with a job in an electronics factory in Minsk, but reconsidered after two years and decided to come home. He returned in mid-1962 with his wife Marina and their two children, stayed briefly in New Orleans then settled in Dallas-Fort Worth.
He clung to his Marxist beliefs in spite of his evidently unhappy experience in Russia and became an activist, setting up the New Orleans chapter of a pro-Castro group called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee – a chapter of which he remained, however, the only member. Early in 1963, he may have fired a shot at retired General Edwin Walker, a hard-line rightwinger. Strangely for one of his apparent views, he tried later to join up with Prio’s Cuban Revolutionary Council, the major anti-Castro grouping among the militant Cuban exiles camped those days in Miami and New Orleans and still seething over the Bay of Pigs. But then Earl Warren finds him back in character a few days later passing out pro-Castro leaflets (a courageous act in the New Orleans of that period), then going to Mexico City in September in an (unsuccessful) effort to get a visa to visit Cuba. On November 22, in Dallas, at 12:31 p.m. at Dealey Plaza, according to Warren, he shot and killed the president and shot and severely wounded Texas Governor John Connolly in the presidential limousine; then less than an hour later, in another part of town, desperate to escape, he shot and killed Dallas patrolman J.D. Tippit.
He was captured soon after by a police squadron alerted to a gate-crasher at the Texas Theater. He was interrogated for six hours off the record by Dallas officers, who charged him early with the murder of Tippit, then later with the Dealey Plaza shootings. Unlike the standard political assassin qua lone nut, who characteristically boasts of his deed and claims it before history, Oswald took an unashamedly frightened stance, begged someone to come forward to help him, and said from the beginning that he was being made a patsy and could prove it.
On the Sunday morning after that Friday, Oswald was to be transferred to the city jail to the county jail, where it was said he would be more secure. The millions absorbed in television scenes of the funeral procession were rudely switched to Dallas for the on-camera murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby in the very basement of the Dallas jail. Ruby was a Dallas nightclub operator who said he was motivated by sorrow for the plight of the widow, who would have to come to Dallas for the trial of Oswald, a further ordeal he wished to spare her. As a result of his act, the case against Oswald was effectively closed. Ruby’s extensive ties to the Dallas police, organized crime, and the Dallas oligarchy were briefly noted by Warren, but not explored. Like Oswald, Ruby was painted as another lone nut.
Ruby died in prison in 1967, protesting in a voice constantly breaking into hysteria that the real truth about Dallas was still not known.
As will emerge from point to point in the following critique of the Warren theory of Dealey Plaza, the early objections to this theory have only been fortified over the years of debate by new discoveries and insights. More than a dozen years later, the classic critique of Warren retains its original form and power. The first-generation critics, notably Sylvia Meagher, Harold Weisberg, Josia Thompson, Mark Lane, Edward Epstein and Penn Jones, have not been surpassed.
This attests to their good sense, but it also points to the magnitude of the Warren theory’s main faults. There they stand for all who look to see – the problems of the bullet and the rifle, the medical indications, the sloppy, not to say prejudiced character of the deliberation over the evidence, the concealment of doubts, etc.
The newcomer to the detailed evidence is often surprised to find the Warren Report’s flaws so apparent. For example, Connally never gave up his conviction that he was hit by a different bullet from the one that went through Kennedy’s neck. If that is true, then (as we see in detail below) any lone-gunman theory tied to Oswald is ruled out absolutely, no subtlety to it. Yet Connally is today, as he always has been, a supporter of the Warren theory. Asked to reconcile the two beliefs, he answers that he knows he was not hit by the first Kennedy shot, but that the Warren commissioners were “good patriots” whose would could not be doubted. The main support for the Warren no-conspiracy theory was Warren’s reputation.
Contemporary critique is not so dazzled by Warren’s moral genius. We do not for a moment doubt his passionate desire to do the right thing. We insist, however, that in the complex moral predicament into which the assassination of Kennedy plunged Warren (and Warren liberalism), it was entirely possible that Warren lost his way and did not know what the right thing was. Then he could not resist taking the path others were expecting him to take, the path of the lone-assassin pretense.
We criticize the Warren theory of Dallas in any case on purely factual terms, concentrating on (1) the physical details of the shootings of Kennedy and Connally, (2) the identity of Oswald, and (3) the testimony of Ruby. Then we take up (4) the politics of the evident Warren cover-up. Finally we attempt (5) an alternative reconstruction of the crime.
Oswald had been a stock handler at the depository since October. At lunchtime on Friday, November 22 – according to Warren – he was alone in the southeast corner window of the sixth floor with a 6.5 mm bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcanno rifle in his hands, an early World War II weapon, which, according to Warren, he had purchased only a few months before from Klein’s Mail-Order Sporting Goods for $12.79, and which he had brought to work that morning wrapped as curtain rods.
At 12:30 the lead cars in the motorcade from Love Field appeared below him at the corner of Main and Houston, turned up Houston directly toward him, then turned again to pass in front of him down Elm toward the triple underpass. Then the presidential limousine followed. J. Edgar Hoover once observed that Oswald’s easiest shot came as his target was approaching him up Houston. He waited until the car had made the turn and was several hundred feet down Elm. According to Warren, he then fired three shots at the president’s back within a period not longer than 5.6 seconds.
Of the first two shots, according to Warren, one of the other struck Kennedy high up on the back, deviated the first of several times from its original flight path, ranged upwards and leftwards through his body, exited at his neck, nicked the left side of the knot in the necktie, deviated again downwards and to the right, struck Connally in the back over the right armpit, tore through the governor’s body, and came out just inside the right nipple, leaving a gaping exit wound. It then deviated again to strike his right hand at the wrist, smashing the wrist bone into seven fragments. It exited the wrist and plunged into the left thigh just above the knee. Then it worked its way out Connally’s thigh on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital, where it was found by a hospital attendant and turned over to the Dallas police. This bullet found on the stretcher, Commission Exhibit 399, is the totality of the hard evidence tying Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to the crime, just as the rifle itself is the only hard evidence tying the crime to Oswald. Everything else is circumstantial. But we are getting ahead.
The other of the first two shots missed altogether and hit the curb far ahead of the car. A fragment of curbstone chipped off by the bullet superficially wounded the cheek of a bystander, James Tague.
Oswalds third shot, said Warren, hit Kennedy above the front right temple and blew off that portion of his head. The limousine had been slowing until then. At that point it sped off for Parkland Hostpital.
The physical and logical inadequacies of this reconstruction may grouped into three areas:
(1) the magic bullet
(2) the magic rifle, and
(3) indications of a front shot.
Its pristine condition is the simplest of these reasons and in any other situation would be easily conclusive all by itself. One can simply see from the Warren photos that the bullet is all but undamaged. It never hit anything harder than a bale of cotton; it had nothing to do with these wounds.
As if indeed to force us to see this, Warren prints the photograph of CE399 alongside an identical bullet fired by the FBI through the wrist of a cadaver. As all can see, the test bullet came through severely distorted; the whole upper body of the bullet was flattened by impact with the wristbone, one of the denser bones in the body. The only real explanation offered by Warren for CE399’s pristine condition was that it must have tumbled upon smashing through Connally’s ribs and hit his wrist flying backwards, that is, with the blunt-end, that is with the blunt end to the fore –as though a blunt-end impact would not lead to a still more radical shape deformation and still greater weight loss.
Second, as we have noted, Connally was convinced that the bullet that hit him and the bullet that hit Kennedy in the neck were two separate bullets, not the same CE399. Warren Commission Attorney Arlen Specter, the author of the single bullet theory, examined Connally before the commission on April 21, 1964. The exchange on this point went as follows:
MR. SPECTER: In your view, which bullet caused the injury to you chest, Governor Connelly?
GOVERNOR CONNALLY: The second one.
MR. SPECTER: And what is you reason for that conclusion, sir?
GOVERNOR CONNALLY: Well, in my judgment, it just couldn’t conceivably have been the first one because I heard the sound of the shot. In the first place, I don’t know anything about the velocity of this particular bullet [2000 fps], but any rifle has a velocity that exceeds the speed of sound [6-700 fps], and when I heard the sound of that first shot, that bullet had already reached where I was, or it had reached that far, and after I heard that shot, I had time to turn to my right, and start to turn to my left before I felt anything.
It is not conceivable to me that I could have been hit by the first bullet, and then I felt the blow from something which was obviously a bullet, which I assumed was a bullet, and I never heard the second shot, didn’t hear it. I didn’t hear but two shots, I think I heard the first shot and the third shot.
MR. SPECTER: Do you have any idea as to why you did not hear the second shot?
GOVERNOR CONNALLY: Well, first, again I assume the bullet was traveling faster than sound. I was hit by the bullet prior to the time the sound reached me, and I was in either a state of shock or the impact was such that the sound didn’t even register on me, but I was never conscious of hearing the second shot at all.
Obviously, at least the major wound that I took in the shoulder through the chest couldn’t have been anything but the second shot. Obviously, it couldn’t have been the third, because when the third shot was fired I was in a reclining position, and heard it, saw it and the effects of it, rather – I didn’t see it, I saw the effects of it –so it obviously could not have been the third, and couldn’t have been the first, in my judgment.
Third, the famous Zapruder film shows that as much as a full second after Kennedy was shot in the neck, Connally remained apparently unwounded. When he did react, there was nothing ambiguous about it. His hair shot up. His mouth dropped. Then he seemed to be hit a second time. He slumped immediately to his left into his wife’s lap.
The Warren lawyers explain away the time lapse as a “delayed reaction,” even though the specific pathology of Connally’s wounds, notably the breaking of the ribs and the wrist, make such a theory implausible on its face, and even though the commission had heard expert medical testimony against the delayed-reaction explanation. (Connally is visibly holding his Stetson in the hand with the shattered wrist many Z-frames after Kennedy has first been hit.)
Fourth, the commission produced out of it’s own inquiries the most technically conclusive evidence against the magic bullet theory, although the significance of this evidence may have been concealed from the commission by the FBI, which arranged for the test to be conducted for the commission by the Atomic Energy Commission. This test, neutron-activation analysis, or NAA, involves the same technique that two Swedish scientists used to prove in 1961 that Napolean had actually been murdered by gradual arsenic poising. The method is to bombard the specimen material with neutrons and then measure the emissions thus produced. The operating premise is that any difference in atomic structure of two materials, however slight, will be observable in these emissions. This is why Allegheny County coroner Cyril Wecht describes NAA as “one of the most powerful and sophisticated science methods ever developed.”
In the current case, NAA was used to compare fragments of a bullet taken from Connally’s wrist (and elsewhere) with material taken from the nose of CE399. If the fragments and the slivers are from the same bullet, they will give off precisely the same emissions under neutron activation.
Until the success of Harold Weisberg’s Freedom-of-Information Act suit in 1974, it was not known for a fact that NAA had been performed. Hoover reported that it had been, but knowingly or not, he concealed the significance of it in a letter to Warren’s chief counsel Rankin dated July 8, 1964. By that time, Specter’s draft of chapter 3 of the Report, setting forth the single-bullet theory, had already been submitted to Rankin. As Wecht observes, Hoover’s language “hast to be read in its entirety to be appreciated,” so I follow him in repeating the letter in full:
As previously reported to the Commission, certain small lead metal fragments uncovered in connection with this matter were analyzed spectrographically to determine whether they could be associated with one or more of the lead bullet fragments and no significant differences were found within the sensitivity of the spectrographic method.
Because the higher sensitivity of the neutron activation analysis, certain of the small lead fragments were then subjected to neutron activation analysis and comparisons with larger bullet fragments. The items analyzed included the following: C1 – bullet from stretcher; C2 – fragment from front seat cushion; C4 and C5 – metal fragments from President Kennedy’s head; C9 – metal fragment from the arm of Governor Connally; C16 – metal fragments from the rear floor board carpet of the car.
While minor variations in composition were found by this method, these were not considered sufficient to permit positively differentiating among the larger bullet fragments and thus positively determining from which of the larger bullet fragments any given small lead fragment may have come.
[s] J. Edgar Hoover.
The boiling obfuscations of that last paragraph show us Hoover at his best. There is no way for the technically uninformed to know that in the NAA test any difference is “sufficient.” If one could strip down Hoover’s subordinate clause to its grammatical essentials, one would have the heart of the matter right enough: “Variations…were found.” Therefore the fragments from Connally’s wrist and CE399 were not of the same bullet. Which should have been obvious to grown men to start with from looking at bullet CE399 with their own two eyes open.
2. The magic rifle is Oswald’s 6.5 – mm Mannlicher-Carcano. Like its companion bullet CE399, it rates the status of magic because it shows so little sign of having been able to do what, for Warren theory purposes, it must have done.
The weapon Oswald is supposed to have selected for his great moment was a bolt-action Italian army rifle mass-produced in the early 1940s. It was not a serious sharpshooting weapon when it was made and two decades of aging could not have improved it.
The telescopic sight was fitted for a left-handed marksman. Oswald was right-handed.
The scope was misaligned so badly that the FBI had to adjust the mounting apparatus before it could test-fire the rifle.
But the deeper problem would still exist even if the rifle had been straight-shooting and fitted with a properly mounted and adjusted scope, because the deeper problem is that the maximum number of shots Oswald could have taken with that rifle in five-and-half seconds was three, and three shots are too few to explain all the damage that was done at that moment to people and things in Dealey plaza.
Add to this the fact that Oswald was rated only a poor marksman in the Marines and that, in one expert’s words, “The feat attributed to Oswald at Dallas was impossible for any one but a world champion marksman using a high-precision semiautomatic rifle mounted on a carriage and equipped with an aim corrector, and who had practiced at moving targets in similar set-ups.”
The most impressive defense of the Mannlicher and Oswald’s ability to use it in the way claimed by Warren that anyone has seen so far was produced by CBS News in the first of its four-part special called The American Assassins, aired in most cities around Thanksgiving 1975. The first part was devoted to the physical analysis of the JFK case. Setting out to settle the dispute about the rifle’s capabilities once and for all, CBS erected in the countryside a target-sled and platform arrangement simulating the geometry and distances of the shot from the southeast corner of the sixth floor of the Book Depository, then brought 11 expert riflemen- from the military, from the police, from the firearms industry – to give it a crack: Here toes the sled at the speed and along the path of the limousine. You have 5.6 seconds to squeeze off three shots and score with two of them. After practice, two of the eleven experts were able to do what Oswald is said to have done, two hits out of three shots in 5.6 seconds. CBS does not pause to say how many total series were fired by these eleven, or how many times the two who did it once could do it again. They are impatient to state their interpretation of this result. The reasoning now goes: Since a small percentage of expert riflemen could do it, it was possible. Since it was possible, it was possible for Oswald. Therefore he must have done it. CBS knew that Oswald had never practiced from that position or elevation, that he had not even been on a target range for at least two months, and that all his ex-Marine comrades regarded him as a poor shot. CBS is forced to make the argument, read from the teleprompter by an unblinking Dan Rather, that Oswald had scored, “after all, in the second highest category of marksmen in an outfit, the United States Marines, that prides itself on its marksmanship.” Whoever wrote that had to know that when Oswald was in the Marines, there were only three categories, that you were already in the third of these if you could heft the rifle to your shoulder, and that the minimum score required to enter “the second highest category” was 190, and that Oswald’s score was 191. CBS knew this. It is all in the Warren hearings. It is all nicely accessible in Sylvia Meagher’s work which CBS says it consulted. Misunderstanding or difference of interpretation can always be understood, but does this treatment of the rifle’s capabilities, the demands of the shot, and Oswald’s skill with the weapon fall within that dispensation? Do these look like honest mistakes?
But the worst problem is that for all its testing and proving, CBS is not even addressing the real issue with the rifle. The problem that leads people to doubt that Oswald did what Warren said he did with that rifle is that shot that first hit Kennedy and the shot that first hit Connolly came only 1.8 seconds apart, as is easily determined by analysis of the Zapruder film, and not even the fastest of CBS team of experts was able to reload and fire the Mannlicher anywhere near that fast.
3. Among several indications of a front shot, the backward snap of Kennedy’s head and body visible in the Zapruder film at frame 313 is without doubt the most gruesome and most convincing piece of evidence against the lone-Oswald theory. Indeed, not taking Zapruder into advance account may ultimately prove the big mistake the assassination cabal made.
With his brand-new 8-mm Bell and Howell camera, Abraham Zapruder was standing part way up the grassy knoll that borders Elm on the north and runs up to the railroad tracks. He looked to his left (east) to pick up the motorcade at it turned from Houston left onto Elm, and panned with the Kennedy limousine as it passed in front of him. Kennedy disappeared momentarily behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. He was shot first at precisely that one moment offstage to Zapruder’s camera. When he reappeared a fraction of a second later, his hands were already going to his throat. Then in about a second and a half Connally was going over too.
Just when the episode seems finished comes that endless-seeming moment before the fatal headshot. Zapruder had steadied his camera again. The limousine is actually slowing down. Four-one-thousand, five-one-thousand. Kennedy is straight in front of us. Then his head explodes in a plume of pink mist and he is driven violently into the back of the carseat.
Members of the Assassination Information Bureau, including myself, presented the Zapruder film and other photographic evidence to the editorial board of the Boston Globe and at a meeting at the Globe offices on April 23, 1975. Two days later Globe Executive Editor Robert Healey published a long editorial in which he summed up the board’s general reaction to the Zapruder film as follows:
It is this particular piece of film, with stop action and with individual still frames, that is being shown around the nation and which has convinced some, at least, that Oswald could not have fired all the shots that killed President Kennedy….The visual presentation is far more convincing than all the books and all the magazine articles that have ever been advanced. They make a simple and convincing case that President Kennedy had to be killed by bullets fired from two directions and thus by more than one person. And no words can make the case better than the Zapruder film. It is as simple as that.
It was not as simple as that to CBS, of course, or its carfully selected array of medical and ballistics experts.
Warren defenders, among them CBS prominently, have searched over the years for a plausible explanation of the backward movement of Kennedy’s head. How could a shot fired from behind the President have driven him backward?
An early theory was that the car lurched forward at just that moment, but that was abandoned when it was pointed out (from Zapruder) that the limousine continued to slow down until Secret Service agent Clint Hill got to the back of the car and climbed on. It did not speed up until Jackie Kennedy had crawled out on the rear deck to pick up a piece of her husband’s skull.
Then it was explained that “a neuromuscular spasm” was to blame, but that lost favor when resort to Zapruder’s film showed Kennedy’s body had not stiffened but rather hitting the back seat (in Robert Groden’s phrase) “like a rag doll.” Then came the theory that the bullet hit the back of the head with such force that it caused the brain to explode, that in exploding, the brain blew out the front of the head, and that, as a “jet effect” of this explosion, the head was driven backwards. This novel explanation suffers unfairly from the painfulness of explaining it, but its main problem is that the technical premise has never been demonstrated outside its creator’s backyard.
CBS was satisfied with none of these explanations and preferred, again through an unblinking Rather, to offer an altogether new explanation for the backward motion. “Jackie pushed him!” (??) Yes, in her shock, she pushed him away. Again we turn to the film. Can we see it? Does she push? Is there the least sign of a pushing motion on her part? We go frame by frame again and again through the horrible sequence of images from Z-300 or so through 313 and on to 330. What could be clearer? He is knocked backwards out of her hands by a violent force. She is like a statue as he moves. CBS people can see that as readily as you and I. Then why do they say Jackie pushed him?
There are other indications that shots were fired from the front. Here are a few of these.
Another film of the assassination moment, this one taken by Orville Nix from the south side of Elm. He was on the inner mall of the plaza panning with the limousine from right to left. In much poorer quality exposures and with eye-level crowd interference, we nevertheless see everything in the Nix film we see in the Zapruder film, except from the other side – the president thrown backwards. We see Zapruder filming this. We also see the whole crowd on that side of the street reacting spontaneously as though they hear gunfire from the area of the grassy knoll and the railroad bridge.
Two thirds of the ninety witnesses whom Warren asked said the firing came from the grassy knoll area.
Two Parkland Hospital doctors, the first to reach and examine Kennedy upon his arrival at emergency, thought the hole in Kennedy’s neck was a would of entrance, not exit. A complete autopsy might have determined this one way or another, but the throat wound was never explored by the autopsy surgeons.
A Dallas policeman named Joe Smith, one of several policemen who hurried to the grassy knoll area and the shoulder of the railroad bridge in the belief that the gunfire had come from there, said he was summoned by a woman crying: “They are shooting the President from the bushes.” When he got to the knoll he found a man. He told the FBI, “I pulled my gun from my holster and I thought, ‘This is silly, I don’t know who I am looking for,’ and I put it back. Just as I did, he showed me he was a Secret Service agent.” Secret Service records, which I this respect are careful, show that no Secret Serviceman was assigned that area. No Secret Service agent afterward identified himself as the person confronted by Smith.
The Case Against Oswald
Here is the chain of evidence that convicts Oswald: The wounds to Kennedy and Connally are caused by CE399. The bullet CE399 was fired from the Mannlicher-Carcano found in the depository at the sixth-floor window. The Mannlicher-Carcano had been purchased from a mail-order gun supplier a few weeks before in the name of one A. Hidell. Oswald was carrying papers identifying him as Hidell at the time of his arrest.
The astonishing thing is that this is the entirety of the case against Oswald. Besides that chain of associations, the rest of the evidence comes down to an eyewitness who could not repeat his identification of Oswald at a police line-up and a photograph of the alleged assassin published to the whole world on the cover of Life which contained as plain as the nose on Oswald’s face the ocular proof of its totally bogus character.
First take up the links of this chain one by one.
1. The bullet’s link to the wounds: We have already seen how conjectural this link is . It simply does not appear that CE399 was fired into anything harder than a bale of cotton. No test, whether old technology or new, has ever established that any of the fragments found in Kennedy, in Connally, or on the floor of the car came from CE399.
2. The bullet’s link to the rifle: This is the Warren theory’s strong point. There is no doubt that CE399 was fired from a 6.5-mm Mannlicher-Carcano.
3. The rifle’s link to Oswald: As we have noted, Oswald did not own this rifle in his own name. He used the name A. Hiddell to buy it through the mail, said the Dallas police, who claimed the found papers on him identifying him as that person. The Alek Hidell whom Oswald supposedly pretended to be is reckoned by Warren to be the same A. Hidell who left off the Mannlicher-Carcano at a Dallas gunshop several weeks before the shooting to have the sight mounted.
The problems with this link are several. Fist, the gunshop tag showing that the weapon had been scopesighted was discounted by the commission itself as unverifiable and suspect because at the time “Hidell” brought it into the gunshop, Oswald was supposed to be in Mexico City. Second and most important, Warren’s only source for this Hidell information was the Dallas police, and the Dallas police cannot be relied on in this matter. Even one of the Commission’s members, Assistant Council (now Judge) Burt W. Griffin, has discredited the role of the Dallas police in the investigation, telling reporter Robert Kaiser in 1975, “I don’t think some agencies were candid with us. I never thought the Dallas police were telling us the entire truth. Neither was the FBI.
This is not to say that the rifle could not be Oswald’s. The Dallas police are not reliable in this case, but one may still not claim that they always lied in it, or presume that since it was the police who found the Hidell papers on Oswald, then the Hidell papers must be attributed to them as part of the frame-up; or that since it was the police who discovered the rifle at the depository window with its three spent shells neatly in a row against the wall and the cartridge jammed in the firing chamber, it must be the police who set the scene. It would be playing games to deny that there is a certain temptation toward saying the cops did it because who else could get away with it.
But there may be other answers to our questions going beyond current anticipations and fantasies. It would be better to wait for a real investigation, if only because of the likelihood that there are several cover stories hiding the truth of Dallas, of which the lone-Oswald cover story is only the most thinly transparent. Once the necessity for some conspiracy hypothesis is clearly and widely acknowledged, only then will the real arguments erupt. What kind of conspiracy? Left or right? Foreign or domestic? Private or public?
We are already seeing the Castro-plot theory recirculated.
ON the CBS News for April 24, 1975, Walter Cronkite screened for the first time some footage from his September 1969 interview with Lyndon Johnson which had formerly been suppressed to comply with a government request based on the usual standard of national security. CBS now revealed this footage, said Cronkite, because a columnist had lately given the secret away. Actually, it had been out of the bag since Leo Janos’s reminiscence of Johnson’s final days published in the Atlantic Monthly of July 1973, in which Janos quotes Johnson as saying that while he could “accept that Oswald pulled the trigger” he could not be sure the Commission had got to the bottom of it, and his hunch was that Oswald might have been linked to pro-Castro Cubans out for revenge for the Bay of Pigs.
So we have the first-degree cover story that Oswald was alone; now we have the second-degree cover story that Oswald was Castro’s agent. There are likely to be other stories increasingly difficult to challenge and explore from afar: The CIA did it. The FBI did it. The Secret Service did it. The Pentagon did it. The Dallas cops did it. The White Citizens Council did it. The Syndicate did it. The Texas oligarchy did it.
We have every citizenly need and right to voice our intuitions in this matter; we also have a citizenly right to force the questions politically on the basis of the flimsiness of the official case against Oswald, not on the basis of a necessarily speculative interpretation. No new interpretation could possibly be elaborated and defended in the absence of subpoena powers and a strong national commitment to find the truth. The issue is not whether I or someone else can tell you who killed JFK. The issue at the moment is whether or not the government has been telling or concealing the truth.
Next take the Life magazine cover photo of Oswald which appeared on February 21, 1964. People will find it easy to locate. They will see for themselves what might have been obvious at once to the whole world, and certainly to the photo lovers who put Life and the Warren Report together, namely, that this is a doctored photo, and more than that, it is a crudely doctored photo, and doctored more than once, by different hands, at different times.
At first glance, we see simply Oswald in his battle gear, more encumbered-seeming than menacing. In his left hand with the butt against his thigh is (possibly) the weapon of the sixth floor. In his right hand he shows us some literature of the Socialist Workers Party (the FBI’s favorite radical whipping boy; see Hoover’s antileft “conintelpros”). On his right hip is the pistol with which he is supposed to have slain patrolman Tippit.
But if we notice the shadows on Oswald’s face and the shadows his body casts, at once we see that they fall at obviously different angles. The shadow under his nose falls straight down, as though the sun were in front of him. All the other shadows in the photo, including the shadow of his body, fall off sharply to his right behind him, as though the sun were to his left. Then we notice how the entire body is standing seemingly at a gravity-defying angle.
A still closer look at Oswald’s face shows another give-away: the chin is not Oswald’s sharp cleft chin but a broad, round, blunt chin bearing no resemblance to Oswald’s at all. The horizontal line separating the face of Oswald from the rest of the body is also perfectly apparent once one looks.
Where did this bogus photo come from? It was said to have been found among Oswald’s effects by the Dallas police, who also produced another photo of Oswald armed, similarly doctored, taken with the same camera as the first. No other pictures in the collection had been taken by the camera, nor was the camera found among Oswald’s things.
But we said it was doctored more than once. The second time was in the photolab of the Time-Life building, where someone unknown, but with the authority to do so, told and illustrator to paint a telescopic sight on the rifle shown in the photo, something the rifle had when the police presented it to the world after the killing but not when this picture was taken. What could have possessed Time’s editors, that they would tamper in the least respect with this critical piece of evidence?
But there was to come yet a third and much worse tampering, again by the specialists of Time, Inc. In its issue of November 24, 1975, once more sallying forth to lay all doubts of the lone-Oswald theory to rest, Time reprinted this photo – rather, an artfully selected portion of it. For as though to solve the problem of the contradictory shadows, Time cut off the picture at Oswald’s knees, so there was simply no shadow on the ground to see. And as though to solve the problem of the tilting figure, Time rotated the whole photo a few degrees to straighten the sides and lightly airbrushing the background of fence and houses to obscure the fact that the background was now tilting crazily to the right.
What kind of journalism is this? The only possible innocuous explanation is ignorance, and how could ignorance un-aided have hit all these hidden bases so squarely? The layout man at Time is not an expert on Dealey Plaza, but surely the writers and editor of that story cannot claim such an excuse. How do we avoid drawing an inference of intentional deception.
To top it off, with the same article, Time printed a diagram of Dealey Plaza which totally mislocated the famous grassy knoll. As every schoolchild to the debate about JFK’s death learns on the first day in class, “grassy knoll” is a term used exclusively to refer to the area north of Elm up an incline towards the triple overpass, that is, the area to Zapruder’s right. But in the Time drawing the grassy knoll is shown at Zapruder’s left, just next to the depository.
Could this be another accidental slip? Certainly it is not trivial. The whole debate about JFK’s assassination hinges on the shots which Warren’s critics say came from this area, the grassy knoll. What gives so much concrete power to this claim is the massive congruity between the president’s reaction to the headshot and the response of the crowd: he is thrown backwards, and they, after a moment of shock, surge up the knoll in the direction they thought the shots were coming from. This area, of course, is totally separated from Oswald’s supposed perch in the depository at Zapruder’s left.
But on the other hand – as evidently occurred to someone – if the grassy knoll were next to the depository instead of at the other end of the Plaza from it, then the immensity of this problem for the Warren reconstruction of the crime would be lost on the newcomer to the dispute. The newcomer will look at Time’s diagram and justly conclude that, since the grassy knoll and the depository are next to each other, the conflict among the witnesses about the origin of the shots must not be so important.
The Case for Oswald as Patsy
Over and above the weakness of the case against him, Oswald has a handful of interesting positive arguments in his defense. One of these is that he may be visible (in the ubiquitous Altgens photo) in the crowd inside the depository entranceway at the very instant of the shooting. Another is that he was seen by a Dallas policeman and his boss at the depository, standing calmly in the lunch room on the second floor, a maximum of a minute and a half after shooting the president of the United States and the governor of Texas – supposedly – and supposedly having run down four flights of stairs in the meantime, Oswald showed not the least discomposure, Said another depository employee, “I had no thoughts…of him having any connection with it all because he was very calm.”
A different kind of evidence was introduced in 1975 with the so-called Psychological Stress Evaluator, PSE, an instrumental technique that came into being through the CIA efforts to improve the standard lie-detector test. Its technical premise is that the frequency patterns of normal, relaxed speech disappear under stress. A person can show stress and be telling the truth at the same time, say ex-CIA officer George O’Toole and other advocates of the PSE, but if there is no sign of stress, that is a positive indication of truthfulness. “Stress is a necessary but not sufficient condition of lying,” says O’Toole, “but the absence of stress is a sufficient condition of truthfulness.” The device has the added interest of being usable with any voice record, even on low-quality telephone tapes. Its inventors, says O’Toole, originally intended it as an additional channel in their conventional polygraph setup, but found in use that “the new variable was so reliable and accurate a measure of psychological stress that there was really no need to measure the other polygraph variables.”
Two acoustic tape recordings of Oswald’s voice denying his guilt are preserved, recorded during his stay in the Dallas jail between Friday and Sunday. O’Toole found one in the CBS archive. It contains the following exchange between Oswald and the press at midnight Friday in the basement of the jail, Oswald shackled between two policemen.
OSWALD: I positively know nothing about this situation here. I would like to have legal representation.
OSWALD: Well, I was questioned by a judge. However, I protested at that time that I was not allowed legal representation during that very short and sweet hearing. I really don’t know what this situation is about. Nobody has told me anything, except that I’m accused of murdering a policeman. I know nothing more than that. I do request someone to come forward to give me legal assistance.
REPORTER: Did you kill the President?
OSWALD: No, I have not been charged with that. In fact, nobody has said that to me yet. The first thing I heard about it was when the newspaper reporters in the hall asked me that question.
O’Toole tracked down the second specimen in the private collection of a conspiratorialist of Dallas, Al Chapman, in a Columbia Records audio documentary attack on Warren’s critics put out in 1966. Oswald speaks once on this record. O’Toole conjectures the recording was made while Oswald was being led along the crowded third-floor corridor of the police station that Friday night.
OSWALD: These people have given me a hearing without legal representation or anything.
REPORTER: Did you shoot the President?
OSWALD: I didn’t shoot anybody, no sir.
In both specimens, says O’Toole, Oswald shows low stress. The second, categorical denial “contains almost no stress at all.” O’Toole finds in this a proof “that Oswald was telling the truth, that he was not the assassin.” He has support in this judgment so far from several leading technical specialists and practitioners in the PSE field, although at the time of the publication of his book The Assassination Tapes in spring 1975, he says he had not sought expert endorsement. The only criticism of his findings so far is the criticism of the PSE method itself. Presumably this means that if the method is ound, then we have an acoustical companion piece to the Zapruder film. As the film shows us that others had to be shooting at Kennedy, the tape shows us that Oswald was not.
Oswald joined the Marines in 1957 and after basic training was sent to Atsugi, Japan, where one of the CIA’s larger out-front bases was located, a staging area at the time for covert operations into the Chinese mainland and for U-2 overflights.
In September 1959, tow months before normal mustering out, Oswald suddenly applied for a hardship discharge to take care of his mother, who had been slightly injured at work ten months before. Mother Oswald was supported by her regular doctor and an Industrial Accident Board when she denied that this or any other accident cost her any wage-earning capacity or that it was the real motive of her son’s hasty discharge. According to researcher Peter Dale Scott, “…the swift handling of Oswald’s release suggests that it was a cover: Oswald was being ‘sheep dipped’ [prior to] assignment to a covert intelligence role.” Scott points out that his immediate application for a passport for travel to Europe suggests that that role concerned his “defection” to the Soviet Union.
The commission was of course not interested in such speculation and decided to take the word of two CIA and five FBI officials that, in the Report’s words, “there was no, absolutely no type of informant or undercover relationship between an agency of the U.S. Government and Lee Harvey Oswald,” even though in its secret session of January, 27, 1964, the commission heard its own member say that the CIA and the FBI both would deny a connection with Oswald even if one existed.
From the moment of Oswald’s arrest, the story circulated to the effect that he indeed did enjoy such an FBI relationship. This story was finally passed on to the Warren Commission as a formal charge by Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr. Carr said he had learned from reliable informants (who turned out to be on the Dallas district attorneys’ staff) that Oswald got two hundred dollars every month from the FBI as an informer and that his FBI number was 179. On January 27, 1964, the commission went into a secret session to deliberate on this. The record of that meeting would not be released for ten years. The transcript shows Chief Counsel J. Lee Rankin defnining the problem and the task: “We do have a dirty rumor that is very bad for the Commission… and it is very damaging for the agencies that are involved in it and it must be wiped out insofar as it is possible to do so by the Commission.”
But as spy-wise Commissioner Allen Dulles was quick to point out, even if Oswald was an agent for Hoover, it would never be possible to prove it because Hoover would deny it and there would be no way to prove him wrong. “I think under any circumstances,” said Dulles, “…Mr. Hoover would certainly say he didn’t have anything to do with this fellow….If he says no, I didn’t have anything to do with it, you can’t prove what the facts are.” Would Dulles lie in the same situation, asked the commissioners. Yes, said Dulles, and so would any other officer of the CIA. Whereupon the commission goes on to ask two CIA and five FBI officers if Oswald was secretly connected with their outfits, and records their answer that he was not as the basis of their official conclusion on the matter.
Discharged in record time from a CIA-related detachment of the Marines on a seemingly fabricated need to take care of a mother who was not infirm, Oswald stayed home a total of three days, then set off for the Soviet Union by way of France, England and Finland with a $1500 ticked purchased out of a $203 bank balance (never explained).
By 1960 he was in Moscow to stage a scene at the U.S. Embassy. First he renounced his American citizenship, then declared that he was about to give the Russians valuable military secrets. He was then shipped off by the Russians to a factory job in Minsk. There he met and married Marina Pruskova, the niece of a top Soviet intelligence official in the Ministry of the Interior.
He decided in 1962 that he now wanted to come back to the States. In spite of his former scene at the Embassy and the radar secrets and failure to recant, the State Department speedily gave him a new passport and an allotment of several hundred dollars of the return trip with Marina.
The Oswalds were met in the United Sttes by Spas T. Raikin, whome Warren identifies as an official of Travelers Aid. Warren knew, of course, but decided not to add that Raikin was also the former secretary general of the American Friends of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, a group with extensive ties to intelligence agencies in the Far East and Europe, including the Gehlen-Vlassov operation (chapter 2) and the CIA.
In April 1963, the Oswalds moved to New Orleans. According to former CIA official Victor Marchetti, Oswald at that time came into contact with Clay Shaw, now identified positively (by Marchetti) as a CIA officer. Shaw was also close to David Ferrie, an instructor at the guerilla training camps at which, at this point, militant anti-Castro exiles and possibly breakaway elements of the CIA were preparing raids if not new invasions of Cuba. This was the month in which Kennedy for the first time publicly acknowledged the existence of these bases and ordered them closed. The world does not now know what Oswald’s relationship to the CIA’s Shaw was, only that it existed (this by the testimony of nine witnesses). It was while this immediate association with the CIA was alight, however, that Oswald became the one-man New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, supposedly a pro-Castro organization.
The pro-Castro leaflets Oswald once distributed for this committee were stamped with the address, “544 Camp Street.” The commission found no evidence that Oswald kept an office there, but it did find the office of an anti-Castro group, the Cuban Revolutionary Council. We now know the Cuban Revolutionary Council was a CIA creation put together by Howard Hunt, and that the 544 Camp Street was a major headquarters of anti-Castro activity throughout that period.
In August 1963, while passing out his pro-Castro leaflets (something he did twice), Oswald got into a scuffle with some anti-Castro Cubans and was arrested by the New Orleans police. The first and only thing he said at the police department was that he wanted to speak to the FBI, a novel request for a leftwinger of that place, period and predicament. The agent appeared and Oswald got off quickly with a ten-dollar fine.
In September 1963 Oswald supposedly took a bus from New Orleans to Mexico City. His purpose is said to have been to obtain a Cuban travel visa. On October 1, the CIA cabled the State Department and the Office of Naval Intelligence to tell of information from a “reliable and sensitive source” that one Lee Henry Oswald had entered the Soviet Embassy. When the National Archives released a previously classified memo from Helms to the commission dated March 24, 1964, another piece fell into the puzzle: “On 22 and 23 November,” said Helms, “immediately following the assassination of President Kennedy, three cabled reports were received from [deleted] in Mexico City relative to photographs of an unidentified man who visited the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in that city during October and November 1963” (Commission Document 674, National Archives).
The original description of this Oswald in the CIA report ran like this: “The American was described as approximately 35 years old, with an athletic build, about six feet tall, with a receding hairline.” Oswald was 24, about 5’8” and 160 pounds. Who was pretending to be Oswald at the Russian and Cuban embassies in Mexico City a month before this same Oswald allegedly was to shoot the president?
There is evidence actually of several Oswalds in circulation at this time. There is in the first place the presumptive original himself installed since late October in the depository. There is the thirty-five-year old Oswald in Mexico City freshening up the Red spoor at the Cuban and Soviet missions. There is the Oswald or Oswalds who move around Dallas just before the hit planting unforgettable memories of a man about to become an assassin: the Oswald of the firing range who fires cross-range into other people’s targets and then belligerently starts a long argument in which he carefully and loudly repeats his name; the Oswald of the used-car lot who sneers at Texas and the American flag and drives recklessly, though Oswald had no driver’s license and did not know how to drive; the Oswald who visited exile Sylvia Odio a few weeks before the assassination in the company of two anti-Castro militants at a time when the real Oswald (or is it the other way around?) is supposed to be in Mexico City. Who are all these Oswalds?
In another crucial Freedom of Information suit, Harold Weisberg forced the government to make and release the transcript of a theretofore untranscribed stenographer’s tape of another secret meeting of the Warren Commission on January 22, 1964. The transcript indicates that Congressman Gerald Ford suspected Oswald of being an informant for the FBI. Ford participated in a discussion concerning Oswald’s repeated use of post office boxes, an operating method characteristic of undercover FBI informants, and remarked on Oswald’s informer-like behavior in playing both sides of the wrangle between the Communists who identify with Stalin and the Communists who identify with Trotsky. “He was playing ball,” said for of Oswald, “writing letters, to both elements of the Communist Party. I mean, he’s playing ball with the Trotskyites and the others. This was a strange circumstance to me.”
In the meeting, Chief Counsel Rankin told the commissioners the FBI was behaving in an unusual way in the Oswald investigation and seemed to be attempting to close the case without checking out numerous leads into Oswald’s activities. On the final page of the thirteen-page transcript, Allen Dulles summed up his reaction to an Oswald connection to the FBI by saying, “I think this record out to be destroyed.”
Rarely a column (especially one in an establishment shitrag like the Washington Post) is able to completely sum up a decades running American tragedy that has led to 2008’s march of the lemmings into the abyss like Harold Meyerson’s Why Were We In Vietnam? This piece in and of itself should be an essential part of the arsenal when it comes to the inevitable re-fighting of the Vietnam war that is going to go live soon as a key part of the upcoming presidential campaign. The Vietnam war, always just below the surface of the American subconscious (although a good amount of the population hadn’t even been fucking born when the choppers lifted of that embassy roof for the last time) like a trailside booby trap just waiting to be tripped anew by a ruthless post-Nixon political party of perverts, jackals, thieves, looters and thugs and their billion dollar propaganda machine. This piece is stunning in pointing out that ugly elephant in the middle of the room that is the pursuit of Vietnam as the latest destination in the off-shoring exodus, it seems like the availability of ever cheaper labor, the crack cocaine to Wall Street parasites and traitors is very alluring in the former Indochina.
From Meyerson and at length because I can’t do it justice otherwise:
Why Were We In Vietnam?
Doing business in China is beginning to cost real money. Not that Chinese workers are buying second homes or anything like that: Their average wage is still a little short of a dollar an hour. But so many Chinese have now left their villages for the factories that the once bottomless pool of new young workers is beginning to run dry, and the wages of assembly-line employees are rising 10 percent a year.
Worse yet, new labor laws are making it harder for employers to cheat their workers out of their wages and benefits. Many American businesses that do their manufacturing in China had warned against those laws; the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai had flatly opposed them. But the good old days of Maoist labor discipline, when the government could send tens of millions of skilled workers down to the farms to be toughened up and periodically tortured, are gone. Mao’s heirs, though not above a touch of torture here and there just to keep the system humming along, are concerned, as he was not, with achieving social harmony, even if that means compelling employers to sign, and honor, contracts with their employees.
Confronted with such appalling squishiness, what’s a good, cost-cutting American business to do? Many are fleeing south of the border — not our border (Mexico costs way too much) but China’s.
They’re bound for Vietnam.
According to a report by Keith Bradsher in the New York Times last month, such multinational companies as Canon (the printer and copier maker) and Hanesbrands (the North Carolina-based underwear empire) are expanding or building factories in Hanoi, where they churn out products for Wal-Mart and other American retailers. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam increased 136 percent between 2006 and 2007, while it increased just 14 percent in China.
The reason for the move south is straightforward: Vietnamese factory workers make about a quarter of what their Chinese counterparts earn.
But why Vietnam and not, say, Thailand, where labor is similarly cheap?
Vietnam’s edge, it seems, is political. “Communism means more stability,” Laurence Shu, the chief financial officer of Shanghai-based Texhong, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of cotton fabrics, told Bradsher. This view, Bradsher reports, is common among Asian executives and some American executives, too, though they have the presence of mind never to say so on the record. After all, Vietnam, like China, outlaws independent unions. Absent free speech and free elections, no radical shifts in the government’s economic policies are likely to be sprung upon unsuspecting American businesses.
Now, far be it from me to begrudge the Vietnamese their moment in the sun before global capital finds them too costly and moves on to Bangladesh and Somalia. But didn’t we fight a war to keep Vietnam from going communist? Something like 58,000 American deaths, right? And now American business actually prefers investing in communist Vietnam over, say, the more or less democratic Philippines? In all likelihood, it would prefer investing in communist Vietnam to investing in a more chaotic, less disciplined democratic Vietnam, if such existed.
Let’s imagine, just as an exercise, that we’re trying to explain this to those 58,000 Americans and their loved ones. We could argue that by investing in communist countries, we’re pushing them toward democracy. But everything we know about China suggests that, in reality, such investments merely make authoritarian regimes stronger. We could argue that what we’re really doing is bringing communist nations into the world capitalist system. Then again, the effect of bringing into the global labor pool hundreds of millions of low-wage workers — people whose wages are held in check by both capital mobility and communist repression — is to hold down wages in democratic nations with advanced economies and with no national strategy to preserve and expand good jobs at home (i.e., in the United States).
Or we could argue that our onetime opposition to communism was noble and all that but that, unburdened by the illusions of the past, American business, backed by the American government, has realized that the problem with communism wasn’t that it was undemocratic but that it was anti-capitalist. And that once communism was integrated into a world capitalist system, its antipathy toward democracy not only wouldn’t be a bad thing but would actually be good. That is clearly the political logic that underpins our involvement with China. It’s a little dicier to say this about our growing involvement with Vietnam, since all those Americans whose names are on that wall on the Mall probably didn’t realize how compatible with global American enterprise Vietnamese communism would turn out to be or how the cause of democracy would turn out to have been of no real importance at all.
I guess a note from the American establishment to those men and women with their names on the Wall would be in order. Something like: Say, guys — sorry ’bout that!
Maybe the Vietnamese can now start manufacturing those crappy little flag pins that have so cheapened the concept of patriotism, they are nothing but merkins (a pubic wig, originally worn by prostitutes after shaving their genitalia to eliminate lice or disguise the marks of syphilis) anyway, displayed upon increasingly empty vessels who shamble about in a fog of fear and jingoism even as they are herded towards the network of fences that end at the shoot where the pneumatic air hammer stuns them in preparation of the slaughter. The ‘gooks’ can even take away the American flag business from China now that it is no longer a cost effective destination for labor arbitrage.
With ‘free trade’ that the flip-flopping charlatan John Sidney McCain III has just spent the better part of a week sliming his way through Latin America promoting as a shill for the rapacious, anti-American strain of virulent looter capitalism (how could you ever expect anything less from an elitist who owns EIGHT houses) that has cut a swath of economic destruction through Der Homeland it would seem that the issue of using Vietnam as the latest destination for exported American jobs while cloaking himself in the immunity of some sort of phony war hero is more than a tad hypocritical.
When and if those ludicrous public relations gimmicks used by McCain actually allow anyone other than another adoring sycophantic war freak to ask questions the ‘maverick’ should be called out on this but it of course he won’t be, it is just too dangerous to the entire bogus Vietnam storyline that has been constructed around the self-admitted war criminal. For all of his paeans to the moneychangers to even acknowledge that America has now sought out Nam as the latest and greatest Mecca for labor arbitrage would be as if he himself were to walk up to that black granite wall, whip out his dick and piss all over those names that are carved into it.
Not only are we prepared to export jobs en-masse to Vietnam but the ongoing cynical invocation of that goddamned fucking war has been used as a cudgel to brutally beat into submission those who were suckered into accepting all of that hogwash about the American Dream at face value only to see their pockets picked and their bank accounts sucked dry by those who cashed in on the four decade tragedy of fighting and re-fighting it, like some acid and viscera drenched version of the movie Groundhog Day. Manchurian McCain and the fascist Republican party will escalate the fighting in Vietnam in the next few months, count on it! The carpet bombing runs are already being planned, the napalm pods polished with loving care, the effigies of Hanoi Jane to be burned slowly stitched together.
The Republican Tet Offensive is coming and coming soon and their pimping of the ongoing revisionist history of the war that the hippies and liberals didn’t let us win, the horseshit of spitting on the troops and the media blame game are all going to spring this bouncing betty one more time for their war criminal candidate and free trader McCain, a man whose only ‘qualification’ for the job is his phony Vietnam narrative.
And once again the Democrats will be true to form, they will capitulate, dissemble, plant big wet, sloppy kisses on McCain’s mangy ass, triangulate, cower and likely even in some cases even contemplate fleeing to Canada to avoid the war rather than fight in what to them has been a lost cause ever since they allowed themselves to be labeled as the party of “acid, amnesty and abortion” and allowed George McGovern to be defined as some sort of anti-American pinko even though history has proven that he was right..
As no less an authority on Nam than Captain Willard once: “Saigon…shit, I’m still only in Saigon”
During this long period of delay and potential litigation, ugly passions would again be aroused. And our people would again be polarized in their opinions. And the credibility of our free institutions of government would again be challenged at home and abroad…. My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed. My conscience tells me that only I, as President, have the Constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book. My conscience tells me that it is my duty, not merely to proclaim domestic tranquility, but to use every means I have to ensure it.
-President Ford pardons Nixon
September 8, 1974
“The Whole Bay of Pigs Thing”
At the 10:00 A.M. Oval Office meeting of June 23, 1972, the fifth day of Watergate, alone with Haldeman, Nixon said, “Of course, this Hunt, that will uncover a lot of things. You open that scab, there’s a hell of a lot of things, and we just feel that it would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves….”
Moments later Nixon returned to this problem: “when you get in – when you get in (unintelligible) people, say, ‘Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the President just feels that ah, without going into the details – don’t, don’t lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is a comedy of errors, without getting into it, the President believes that it is going to open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And ah, because these people are plugging for (unintelligible) and they should call the FBI in and (unintelligible) don’t go any further into this case period!…”
Then at the 1:00 P.M. meeting that same day, again alone with Haldeman, Nixon said “O.K., just postpone (scratching noises) (unintelligible) Just say (unintelligible) very bad to hae this fellow Hunt, ah, he knows too damned much, if he was involved – you happen to know that? If it gets out that this is all involved, the Cuba thing would be a fiasco. It would make the CIA look bad, it’s going to make Hunt look bad, and it is likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing, which we think would be very unfortunate – both for the CIA, and for the country, at this time, and for American foreign policy. Just tell him to lay off…”
At the meeting of 2:20 P.M., the same day, Haldeman said to Nixon: “Gray called Helms and said I think we’ve run right into the middle of a covert CIA operation.”
Nixon: “Gray said that?”
Haldeman: “Yeah. And (unintelligible) said nothing we’ve done at this point and ah (unintelligible) says well it sure looks to me like it is (unintelligible) and ah, that was the end of that conversation (unintelligible) the problem is it tracks back to the Bay of Pigs and it tracks back to some other, the leads run out to people who had no involvement in this, except by contracts and connection, but it gets into areas that are liable to be realized. The whole problem (unintelligible) Hunt…”
What could all this be about? What does Hunt know about some still-secret “thing” associating Nixon in some new, dreadful way with the invasion of Cuba of April 1961? Was the Bay of Pigs Fiasco not Kennedy’s fiasco? By the time of the invasion, Nixon had already been out of office for three months. What did Nixon have to do with it? And whom exactly does Haldeman protect with this haunting phrase, “except by contracts and connection”?
True, as vice president, Nixon had been chief political officer on the National Security Council’s Special Group (5412/2) in which the Cuban invasion was conceived, decided upon, planned and directed. He has written of flying from California to Washington on the day of the invasion and that evening receiving CIA Director Allen Dulles, who brought the news that all was lost.
But there was nothing secret about any of this. What could Hunt now add to the story of the Bay of Pigs that would put Nixon in such steep new peril?
So far in the national analysis of Watergate, this question has been largely overlooked. What was fastened upon in the June 23 tapes was rather the brief passage in which, unmistakably, Nixon tells Haldeman to cover up White House complicity in the Watergate cover up. That bit of evidence convicted Nixon in the public mind of an impeachable offense and the remaining salvos were left unfired.
So what could “the whole Bay of Pigs thing” be? The book of standard American impressions badly overstates the respect in which the Bay of Pigs Fiasco was a Cold War confrontation between the Free World and communism and understates the respect in which it was also a confrontation between rival American power elites, each with its strengths and weaknesses, Kennedy on one side and Nixon on the other and as I would say, Yankee and Cowboy in makeup. That is why the operation turned out the “Fiasco” which all parties promptly agreed to call it.
To unravel this, start with the conventional picture of the Bay of Pigs as a Cold War confrontation. In the 1960 campaign, Kennedy promised to get tough with Castro, trying to get to the right of Nixon on the Cuban issue at the very moment that Nixon was secretly operating as the chief political officer in the invasion planning group. Within scant months of taking office, Kennedy seemed to keep his promise; within hours more, he had failed to make it good. As a result of the Fiasco ending, the Russians got more deeply involved in Cuban affairs and brought Kennedy to the test of wills over the October Missile Crisis a year and a half later, in which Kennedy is supposed to have stood his ground and regained his manhood.
To this general picture, the activists of the anti-Castro invasion, such as Nixon and Hunt, add a critical detail, namely, that the fault for the failure of the Cuban invasion lies with Kennedy. Kennedy, they, cut back on critical U.S. support to the invasion forces at the last moment and thereby doomed to failure a project they believe could otherwise have succeeded easily.
This theory suffers from the crude partisanship which keeps it from looking beyond such notions as cowardice and treachery to explain Kennedy’s apparent about-face at the beach. But it does recognize that the Kennedy administration was in sharp internal conflict over what to do about Cuba, and that the formulation and implementation of Frontier Camelot Cuban policy were affected by this conflict, or as might be said, disfigured by it.
That is the key point which the Cold War conception of the Bay of Pigs Fiasco cannot bring into focus: that the Cuban question and the question of hemispheric revolution so divided the Kennedy administration that the United States could neither accept Castro nor act with a will to destroy what Castro stood for. The cause of Nixon’s panic a decade thereafter about what his comrade Hunt know of “the whole Bay of Pigs thing” may thus lie within the terms of this conflict, which we now explore.
Nixon testified offhandedly to the division in his November 1964 Reader’s Digest piece, “Cuba, Castro, and John F. Kennedy.” He wrote:
But, as had happened in the Eisenhower administration, a sharp difference of opinion about Castro developed among President Kennedy’s advisors. One group of activists urged him to go forward with the invasion plan. His liberal advisors…advised that the United States should either try to get along with Castro or find some other method of dealing with him….Kennedy finally over-ruled his soft-line advisors and decided to go forward with the plan….But in the end the soft-liners won their point and, by last-minute compromises, doomed the invasion to failure.
Thus, in the eyes of the invasion’s self-styled “strongest advocate,” Kennedy did not go forward with the agreed-to plans, he went forward with a new and different set of plans, plans that no one had actually proposed or defended or thought would work, plans (a) minus the use of the B-26s ready and waiting in Central America and (b) minus a CIA subplot to assassinate Castro.
What was the actual significance of these two last-minute changes? For an insight into this, we first have to sketch out the CIA’s most probable invasion scenario. From the sophistication, if not the overwhelming competence, it has shown in other such operations, the CIA should not be thought vain enough to think its Free Cuba exile army could actually endure against the arms of the Cuban revolution, much less march to the capital. The CIA strategy was more roundabout: “to maintain an invasion force on Cuban territory for at least 72 hours and then to proclaim the Free Government of Cuba there on that bit of territory.” From threw they would unveil a world-wide network of Free Cuba exile government offices, already assembled, in an effort to pull the U.S. military into demonstration-state alert and exert U.S. diplomatic influence with the OAS, the UN, the Soviet Union, and other countries to move “the Cuban situation” to an international-negotiations setting. They would thust hrow open again the whole political question of Cuba’s internal direction, with many opportunities for counterrevolutionary maneuver.
The fate of such a strategy would hinge on the missions of the B-26s and the assassination squad.
The B-26s were important because in order for the invading forces to hold a position on the beach without direct U.S. aerial support, it was necessary for Castro’s air force to be suppressed. This amounted only to two trainer jets left behind by Batista on which Cuban mechanics had mounted rudimentary armament systems. But if the invaders were to have a chance at their basic positional objectives, these two little jets would have to be kept out of the air. Crude as they were, unopposed against ground forces on a beach, they could be decisive in the battle. Had the B-26s flown in from the Atlantic out of the sunrise, as first planned, and caught the Cuban jets on the ground, the landing forces would have encountered no Cuban air resistance. That might have made it possible to hold the beachhead a little longer.
From a technical standpoint, the assassination of Castro was equally important to the success of the invasion. The revolutionary government was at that time a little more than two years old. It still consisted in some part of antagonistic groupings held together mainly by Castro’s great prestige. Wouldn’t the elimination of the Castro brothers encourage fragmentation? Look at the CIA’s broad daylight murder of Allende in 1973 for the component of the Bay of Pigs invasion plan that Kennedy vetoed in 1961: the assassination of the leader.
The particular importance of the Castro hit to the overall success of the invasion may be inferred from the intensity of the struggle about it. Journalist Cuba-watcher Ted Szulc reported thirteen years later that in a private Oval Office interview with Kennedy in November 1961, with Richard Goodwin present, seven months after the invasion had been repulsed and/or betrayed, Kennedy said to him, “What would you think if I ordered Castro to be assassinated?” Szulc says he objected to this idea and that Kennedy “leaned back in the chair, smiled, and said that he had been testing me because he was under great pressure from his advisors in the intelligence community (whom he did not name) to have Castro killed, but that he himself violently opposed it on the grounds that for moral reasons, the United States should never be party to political assassinations.
Another anecdote has Florida’s Senator Smathers pressing Kennedy for Castro’s head at a formal White House dinner. Kennedy is finally infuriated and breaks plates and scatters flowers to convince Smathers he must stop asking.
The intensity of feeling no doubt flowed both ways. Early in 1975 an item long familiar to conspiracy researchers became big-time news: It was that around the time of the Bay of Pigs the CIA used Howard Hughes’s special agent Robert Maheu to contract the services of Syndicate Capo John Roselli to get rid of Castro. The immediate question posted by this now authenticated story is whether it was Kennedy to actually authorized the CIA to use a Syndicate hitman to liquidate Castro, or somebody else. Why should the CIA have to rent assassination capabilities from the Syndicate?
The timing of these events is uncertain. We do not know at what moment Kennedy vetoed the Castro assassination plot or at what moment the CIA used its Hughes-Maheu connection to retain a Syndicate assassination squad. It appears that Kennedy first told the CIA not to carry out the assassination, and that the “activist” elements of “the intelligence community” then took it upon themselves to mobilize Syndicate resources to the task.
“By the advent of the Kennedy administration,” writes R. Harris Smith, “the CIA had indeed become a schizophrenic organization, torn between political left and right. Yet few outside the government understood these divisions. The CIA conservatives and swashbucklers found warm support for their position in Congress; the Agency liberals were forced to fend for themselves.” The basis of the CIA’s need for the Syndicate may ultimately lie in the politics of that split. In any case, there was no internal Camelot consensus on Cuba or on the Bay of Pigs invasion project. Kennedy’s veto of the B-26 raids and the assassination plot embodied a basic change from the original invasion plan. The judgment of Nixon and Hunt is surely borne out in this respect if in no other, that is Kennedy’s veto of these two moves did indeed “doom the invasion to failure.” The quarrel between Nixon and Kennedy was thus a quarrel of basic political and operational substance, not merely a technical falling-out among comrade militarists. And if an epitaph makes it clearer, there is Nixon’s memorable remark to Dean and Haldeman in the Oval Office on February 28, 1973: “…I was reading a book last night. A fascinating book, although fun book, by Malcolm Smith Jr. on Kennedy’s Thirteen Mistakes, the great mistakes. And one of them was the Bay of Pigs. And what happened there was Chester Bowles had learned about it, and he deliberately leaked it. Deliberately, because he wanted the operation to fail. And he admitted it! Admitted it!”
That is the whole point. From the standpoint of the Nixon side, the Kennedy side wanted the Cuban invasion to fail. There is no other explanation for the quickness and venom with which the pro invasion side fastened on Kennedy’s “betrayal” of their project.
Nixon tells us the conflict about Castro began in the State Department before Kennedy came on. Obviously it sharpened with his arrival. We know Kennedy was furious in the Bay of Pigs aftermath and he felt betrayed – betrayed by the CIA and the larger clandestine state in fact – and that he tried to reorganize the overall clandestine apparatus, and especially the CIA, precisely to make it responsive and accountable to the White House.
Yet the left denounces Kennedy for invading Cuba as casually as the right denounces him for invading it too timidly. One side sees Kennedy’s “betrayal” and the other sees his “failure to understand the situation.” The idea that the actual policy as carried out was the free synthesis of a totally absorbing internal conflict over which neither side had complete control does not seem to be widely entertained.
David Halberstam, to take an important liberal example, writes that “the crux of [the Bay of Pigs] was how the U.S. government could have so misread the Cuban people.” Was Kennedy not the founder of the Peace Corps and the Alianza? “How a President so contemporary could agree to a plan so obviously doomed to failure, a plan based on so little understanding of the situation, was astounding.”
Rather more astounding looking back post-Watergate is the insensitivity of liberal commentary to the importance of the internal conflict that wracked Frontier Camelot from the first. It is general knowledge that Kennedy was at odds with powerful hawks from the outset of his administration on the question not only of Cuba but of Laos, Vietnam, and the Congo, on the questions of the Third World as a whole, disarmament, Berlin, nuclear weapons, etc., that he came to mistrust the whole security-intelligence apparatus, and that he finally should to reduce the influence of Johnson and his circles. Halberstam’s book is actually a treasure chest of examples of that mistrust and shows clearly the Yankee/Cowboy outlines of the Kennedy Administration. Why then do Halberstam and other liberals now weigh this division in with the other forces acting on policy?
We see Kennedy’s Cuban policy better if we simply recognize that it was formed under conditions of internal conflict, within the executive policy apparatus itself. Frontier Camelot was the Kennedy’s attempt to transform an exaggeratedly wide electoral coalition – the Kennedy/Johnson, Yankee/Cowboy coalition – into an effective governing coalition, an attempt which failed at the Bay of Pigs, its first test, as it ultimately failed in Vietnam, its most tragic test. Thus, we simply put what we know about the “irrationality” of Kennedy’s policy together with what we know about the conflict within the “irrational” policy was formed, and we answer Halberstam’s question about how Kennedy “could have so misread the Cuban people” with another question: How could the liberals have so misread Kennedy’s situation? And still misread it a decade and more later? How could they have read the Bay of Pigs invasion as a Camelot project while at the same time claiming to be baffled at the inconsistency of that invasion with Camelot values and consciousness? Yes, Kennedy would have been foolish some other way. The Bay of Pigs seemed Nixon’s way of being foolish.
The trick of how the invasion could come about nevertheless, how there could be a Bay of Pigs against the will of the president, is that the president is not an absolute monarch ruling a submissive bureaucracy. Rather, a “corporate” presidency is nested within the federal power grid along with a variety of institutional strongholds, such as the Pentagon, the CIA, the Department of Transportation, the Texas Railroad Commission, etc. The president in proper person is only one among many others on the larger board of national directors – a special stronghold clearly but by no means the only power source on the scene. The presidency of the corporate state is the presidency of factional and bureaucratic coalitions that can weaken, grow old and brittle, fail in crises. The tragedy of Frontier Camelot, whose prince is said to have sought the presidency “because it’s where the action’s at,” unfolds in the princes gradual discovery of the corporate and limited nature of his office, then more particularly of its relative weakness against the will of the clandestine establishments of defense and security.
The Bay of Pigs invasion project began on April 19, 1960, in the vice-president’s offica at the Capitol at some point in Nixon’s celebrated interview with Castro. At Nixon’s insistence, only interpreters were present, so there is no record of the meeting other than his recollection of it. “After 3 ½ hours of discussion,” wrote Nixon four years later, “I summed up my impressions in this way-he looked like a revolutionary, talked like an idealistic college professor and reacted like a communist…At the conclusion of our conference I wrote a four-page secret memorandum, and sent copies to President Eisenhower, Secretary [of State] Herter and Allen Dulles…. My conclusion was, ‘Castro is either incredibly naïve about communism or is under communist discipline.’”
Nixon proceeds to describe the “spirited policy discussions on Cuba” that then took place within the Eisenhower foreign policy establishment and tells how his position hardened around the conviction that Castro was not naïve, while (as he says) “the majority view in the State Department was in sharp disagreement with my appraisal of Castro.” He says the foreign-policy elite harbored the view that Castro was “liberal” (Nixon uses the word with quotes).
Nixon says Eisenhower realized the majority view was wrong: “By early 1960 President Eisenhower reached the conclusion that Castro was an agent of international communism and a menace to peace in this hemisphere. In a top-secret meeting in his office, at which I was present, the authorized the CIA to organize and train Cuban exiles for the eventual purpose of freeing their homeland from Castro’s communist rule.”
Then came the agony of the TV debate in which Kennedy (says Nixon) “emerged as the man who was advocating a ‘get-tough’ policy toward Castro. I was the man who was ‘soft’ on Castro – the exact opposite of the truth.” Nixon says he had to pretend to be “soft” in order to protect the security of the invasion project going forward. “The irony was,” writes Nixon, “that I had been the strongest and most persistent advocate for setting up and supporting such a program.”
Nixon does not record the evidence for this self-estimate, but we have no reason to challenge it, and we know that someone in a position to do something about it was doubtful enough of JFK’s commitment to a winning invasion to take steps toward implementing the plans for it before the election, thus obviating the question of Kennedy’s will. That was the discovery of Washington Post reporter Haynes Johnson who wrote in his book Bay of Pigs, that “on November 4, 1960, four days before the Presidential election, the CIA sent a long cable to Guatemala informing it’s men there of the decision to carry out the Cuban invasion plans.” Johnson quotes Cuban exile commanders as saying their “CIA advisers ordered them to continue with the invasion even if Kennedy called it off altogether, that if this happened the Cubans were to rebel against their CIA instructors and present Kennedy with a situation in which he would have no political alternative to supporting them.”
We do not know that Nixon was the author of this decision, but we do know that Nixon was the chief political officer of the decision-making body, the Special Group of the National Security Council. Further, Johnson writes that “in reconstruct [ing] the process by which the ‘Special Group’ made its decision, one impression comes through very strongly: Dwight D. Eisenhower was not a major participant. Eisenhower himself has said publicly that there was no plan for an invasion while he was in office; that the only plan was to train guerrillas. His contention varies so sharply with the facts that an explanation for the discrepancy must be sought, for Eisenhower’s integrity cannot be questioned.
Such an explanation is mentioned by Air Force Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, a retired officer of the Defense Intelligence Agency, now an executive at Amtrak. Prouty is one of several intelligence-community insiders who have come forward over the past several years with expose-memoirs variously supporting the theme that there is, in Prouty’s phrase, “a Secret Team” operating clandestinely within governmental structures toward ends it unilaterally defines as “vital to the national interest.” Prouty worked as the DIA’s “Focal Point Officer” for all interaction between the CIA and the Pentagon. If the CIA needed something from the Navy for project x, or something from the Army for project y, Prouty knew. He did this kind of work for some eight years, operating as a staff-briefing officer to the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense on vital policy memoranda. His claims therefore have a certain interest. (At one point in his book, The Secret Team, he uses the phrase, “my membership in the Secret Team.” He never goes into this or tells us why, when, how or indeed if he left it, why he is telling on it now, etc.)
Prouty’s main purpose in this book is to counter Daniel Ellsberg’s thesis that the CIA was largely right about Vietnam and the Department of Defense largely wrong. Prouty says it was the other way around. It was in reality such “hardnosed liberals” as the CIA’s Tracy Barns and Edward Lansdale (for whom Ellsberg worked in Vietnam) and Kennedy’s chief military adviser Maxwell Taylor who advocated clandestine war, or Special Forces warfare, as an alternative to conventional military and diplomatic options and thus got the U.S. involved untenably in Cuba and Vietnam. This is an intriguing and subtle dispute: the spies proving we should trust them and not the soldiers, the soldiers proving the spies lie and it is they who saw the truth.
Prouty supports Haynes Johnson’s view that Eisenhower did not support the decision to invade Cuba. He writes, “In fact, all of the Eisenhower-era schemes were extremely modest when it came to action against Cuban soil and property.” In an interview I had with Prouty in Washington in May 1973, he added an interesting detail. What Eisenhower had approved in the way of an anti-Castro action program, said Prouty, was a thirty-three man project looking toward the feasibility of forming a guerilla base in the countryside. But within days of the election of Kennedy, says Prouty, “orders came down” (he does not say from where) to change the 33s on the program’s personnel records into 3300s.
One might find it an incredible spectacle were it not before us as a model, so to speak, that Howard Hunt himself, a black propagandist par excellence, sat down with a gluepot, a typewriter, a Xerox copier, a light-table, an X-acto knife, and sameple and related communiqués from the inner-sanctum files of the State Department to prove in 1972 that the Kennedys in 1963 had ordered the assassination of Diem and his brother-in law Nhu as well as the coup that toppled them from power. This make it easier to picture someone like Prouty – big, distinguished, honorable – sneaking around in the office at night with a flashlight carefully typing in two zeros after every 33 in all the records of the anti-Catro guerilla project, records which may for that matter at that moment been few.
Thus it was, in any case, according to Prouty, that the myriad approvals of the 33-man job were fobbed off on Kennedy by the pro-invasion group as approvals of a much bigger project, the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Another kind of evidence that the Bay of Pigs invasion was engineered by conspiracy was developed by Robert Scheer and Murray Zeitlin in their 1963 book, Cuba: Tragedy in Our Hemisphere. By the method of comparing translations of Castro speeches used in White House papers with translations appearing elsewhere in the world press as well as with official Cuban transcripts, Zeitlin and Scheer established that the CIA translator either was naïve about the Spanish language or intentionally changed Castro’s meaning. Uniformly, the CIA translations being presented to Schlesinger and the Kennedys for analysis made Castro sound harsher and more belligerent than he was, encouraging the picture of a tyrant governing against popular will. This played into a wider concert of Hunt style disinformation being orchestrated from somewhere outside the Oval Office with the purpose of making the Oval Office, the Kennedy brothers, think Castro had an unstable popular base and would be overthrown by Cuban people if the United States would show support.
Or as Fred J. Cook said in his review of Haynes Johnson’s Book:
When Kennedy took office, he was confronted with what amounted to a fait accompli. The invasion plans were perfected; he was given to understand that they had been drafted under the direction of his predecessor, a man of awesome military reputation. During the election campaign, he had called for aggressive action to topple Castro. Now he was presented with the opportunity. If he turned back, he would have to pit his untested judgment against, presumably, that of Eisenhower and all the military experts. He was on the spot.
Against the Nixon-Hunt impression of Castro, Kennedy himself projected an impression formed of quite different assumptions. In his 1960 work, Strategy of Peace, Kennedy wrote of Castro as follows:
Just as we recall our own revolutionary past in order to understand the spirit and the significance of the anti-colonialist uprising in Asia and Africa, we should now reread the life of Simon Bolivar, the great “Liberator” of south America…in order to comprehend the new contagion for liberty and reform now spreading south of our borders…Fidel Castro is part of the legacy of Bolivar, who led his men over the Andes Mountains, vowing “war to the death” against Spanish rule, saying, “Where a goat can pass, so can an army.” Castro is also part of the frustration of that earlier revolution which won its war against Spain but left largely untouched the indigenous feudal order.
There is obviously a collision of two worldviews in these disparate impressions of Castro. The cornerstone assumption of the liberalism that underlay Kennedy’s Alianza reformism is that the people rebel when conditions are bad, and that the wise prince therefore sees to the improvement of the people’s condition. The explicit message of the Alianza was that the modern empire’s only way to fight revolution was through reform.
This is not to sentimentalize our picture of Kennedy. His reformist strategy was after all a strategy of imperialism. But we have at the same time no need to condemn him for the crimes of his political adversaries. He did not accept the assumption that America could ever take as its enemy a foreign population as a whole. The JFK theory of “special war” presupposed that the native population would mostly support the regime for whose protection the U.S. Special Forces had been deployed, and that the insurgent forces could be isolated from the general population. When experience proved these criteria could not be met, Kennedy’s response was to disengage, Johnson’s to escalate.
Besides the B-26s and the assassination question, friction within the CIA between the Nixon “activists” of the invasion, such as Hunt, and the Kennedy group expressed itself also in a dispute over the form the post-Castro Cuban government should take should the invasion actually succeed. Tad Szule reports that as the date of the invasion approached, in March, Hunt was summoned to the Washington CIA office from Guatemala to be told that Manuel Rey, a liberal anti-Castroite, was going to be placed on the Cuban Revolutionary Council, the exile group’s political leadership committee. Hunt also objected strongly to being instructed to put land reform in the new Cuban constitution he was drafting. “With a touch of desperation,” writes Szulc, “Hunt insisted that Rey was proposing ‘Castroism without Fidel,’…Rey was ‘a revisionist and an opportunist,’…But his objections were met with stunning silence from the senior CIA officers assembled in Bissell’s office. They had their instructions from the White House. Hunt finally blurted out that he would rather withdraw from the operation than compromise on the issue. To his astonishment, no attempt was made to dissuade him from resigning. …This marked the end of Hunt’s direct involvement with the Bay of Pigs invasion”
On April 19, 1961, precisely the second anniversary of Nixon’s meeting with Castro, the Free-Cuba invasion forces hit the beach at the Bay of Pigs – without B-26s and without assassination squads.
Nixon writes, “I flew to Washington from my home state of California….I was scheduled to make a foreign-policy speech in Chicago the following week, and I had written Allen Dulles to ask that he brief me on some of the latest developments. President Kennedy readily gave his approval; I had an appointment to meet with Dulles at six o’clock on the afternoon of the 19th.” Dulles arrived an hour and a half late, demanded a drink and pronounced the final judgment: “Everything is lost. The Cuban invasion is a total failure.”
The Fiasco was on.
The outcome seemed to vindicate the argument made by such liberals as Bowles (at the time) and Halberstam (ten years later) to the effect that the invasion attempt would be “counterproductive,” that it would increase Castro’s prestige. Halberstam reports that Undersecretary of State Bowles, a blood Yankee liberal, stumbled onto the invasion plans as they were hatching and hurried to the office of Secretary of State Rusk to protest. His argument was that “the chances of success are not greater than one out of three. This makes it a highly risky operation. If it fails, Castro’s prestige and strength will be greatly enhanced.
In some ways, this is what happened. Yet the argument seems cynical. Halberstam and Bowles are not actually anti-Castro; neither one actually wants to see Castro’s “prestige” destroyed. Their argument about counterproductivity seems an easy way to get a desired result – hands off Cuba, in effect – without having to be explicit in the Cuban people’s right to revolution and without having to attack the assumption that the United States has the right to invade country x if only practical standards can be satisfied.
But what about the CIA’s job on Mossadegh in 1953, Arbenz in 1954, the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, the subversion of the Allende government in 1973? Equally ruthless acts, but effective, successful. On the Halberstam-Bowles argument, how do we state our objection now? How do we meet the anti-Castroites’ rejoinder that the original invasion plan would have succeeded, and would not have increased Castro’s prestige, if the new president had not interfered with the prearranged plan of operations and introduced enormous changes at the last minute. From the standpoint of practical results alone, we cannot tell why Bowles and Halberstam could not just as easily object, “Then why were the colors not shown? Where were the Marines?” A logical Bay of Pigs invasion, existed in other words; if it existed in the minds of its advocates. In this logical Bay of Pigs invasion, the president of the United States was to have been a friend, not an enemy. Nixon would have made everything different – with Nixon in command the bombers would have flown, the assassins would have struck, the fleed would have steamed again into Havana harbor if necessary.
But the bad fortune of the Cuban invasion project was to overlap an executive changeover installing a Yankee reformist, a Yankee who talked tough on communism only to upstage Nixon on his best side and who played at coalition with Johnson mainly to help get control of the Senate out of the South. What came forth as the Fiasco, so-called by all parties, each with its own private irony, was not the product of a unified venture. It was rather the product of palace conflict. One side began by wanting a logical Bay of Pigs and the other side began by wanting no Bay of Pigs at all. The result was the Fiasco.
Vietnam is the same story writ larger. Once again the left blames Kennedy for invading with enough strength to win. Once again the right blames him for not invading with enough strength to win. Our counterthesis is also the same: that the Quagmire was made of the same inner stuff as the Fiasco. Or in the words of Colonel Prouty, “Very few would ever be party to striking first in any event. So the first strike takes place in deep secrecy. No one knows this hidden key fact.”
The elements of the growth of the Vietnam war are schematically the same as those of the Bay of Pig: (1) Clandestine beginnings with limited objectives; (2) the small force gets pinned down and a regiment must be sent to extricate it; (3) the regiment gets pinned down, etc.
From a domestic political standpoint, the Special War period under Kennedy was the link between the commando-style espionage and political action taken under Eisenhower and the full-dress air, ground, and sea war waged under Johnson. But Special War was supposed to lead away from Strategic War, not toward it, much as the commando politics of the late Eisenhower period was supposed to avert the necessity of engagement in the higher strategic scale of nuclear big-power confrontation. Indeed, each phase of escalation is begun with a definition of aims and limits that looks every bit like a built-in guarantee against the frantic rescue missions that inflame the original problem, but the limit is always defined in terms of a strong initial expectation of positive success. The spy will achieve the objective. The commandos will achieve the objective. The Special Forces will achieve the objective. The infantry will achieve the objective. The air forces will achieve the objective. But at last the objective is lost altogether in what becomes the supervening need to rescue the very rescue capability itself.
What was the theory of Kennedy’s Special Forces phase? Its chief theoretician, Walt Whitman Rostow, defined communism as “a disease of transition,” a social breakdown to which a society is peculiarly susceptible as it experiences the process of modernization. Once, across the line, Rostow philosophized, a society again becomes stable, as though industrial life is stable in its natural state, as though there is or has been stability in American or European life. But just at the crossing, there is the temptation to go Red, to break faith with the universals of natural rights and free enterprise of the monopolies and turn the problem of development over to international communism.
That is where the Special Forces come in. They are there to hold the future for U.S.-world capitalism across the line of Third World social transition. Protected thus from its own transient delirium, country x can lock into the world system of American technical (i.e. military) development assistance and corporate activity defined as the Free World by those who most prosper in its games. That is the basis of the Alliance for Progress, the Peace Corps, the Special Forces, and the Special War expedition to Vietnam.
Kennedy carried the Rostowian assumptions to their own combined conclusion. With an Alliance for Progress reform program depicted as working away at the larger social-economic base of the problem, he positions a Special Forces capability to nip the bud of transitional diseases in the social margin. Nipped, these diseases do not grow into revolutions, revolutions do not seize the small states one by one and carry them off into the camp of the adversary, and the United States continues to dominate a generally happy and prosperous world sphere, meanwhile easing toward détente in Europe, which really counts. Country x will have been protected from transitional diseases by the American exertions and can float up into the modern world system on a bubble of American aid, mainly in the form of military assistance designed, above all, to secure the local ruling group and thus keep that kind of peace, ultimately to conglomerate with all the other country x’s in the happy molecule whose master atom is the multinational corporation.
That was the system of Special Forces/Alianza world-making for which Kennedy died: the vision of the Round Table, the CFR, the liberals in the Rockefeller-Morgan-Mellon-Carnegie group. What cost Kennedy his life was his attempt to impose the limits of Camelot Atlanticism on a Frontier-minded defense and security elite. His sense of the Cuban and Vietnamese situations seems to have been much the same. In each case, from a practical political standpoint, his immediate adversary was not Cuban of Vietnamese communism so much as it was the American prowar power elite to which he was so beholden and exposed. Recall that Kennedy could assume the loyalty of none of the clandestine and/or armed services – not the FBI, certainly not the CIA, a thousand times not the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This is why it is so important to see that the Kennedy Administration’s record not in terms of its outward rationality, for it has none, and not as the expression of Kennedy’s will alone, for his will did not prevail, but in terms of the impassioned political in-fighting that in reality constituted its actual life. It is the relations of power in America that speak in Kennedy’s apparent formula: If the Cuban exiles can make the invasion alone, let it be done, but only if. Or again: If the Vietnamese threat can be contained with a Special Forces-level commitment, and without disrupting North Atlantic relations, let it be done, but only if.
How strong is the evidence that Kennedy intended a Vietnam pullback? We have a few fragments, a chronology.
1. In the summer of 1961, as an outgrowth of the bitter experience of the Bay of Pigs (says Prouty), the Kennedy circle promulgated two key National Security Agency memos, NSAM 55 and 57. The first, a “red-striped” memo on which Prouty was the JSC briefing officer, directed the chiefs to take the command of the Vietnam operation away from the CIA and commence a policy of disengagement. The second, not yet released, emerges in Prouty’s description as a vast philosophical document of comprehensive scope propounding a doctrine of nonintervention in Third World revolutions and a concept of severe limitation in future clandestine operations.
2. (Ret) General James M. Gavin in 1968: “There has been much speculation about what President Kennedy would or would not have done in Vietnam had he lived. Having discussed military affairs with him often and in detail for 15 years, I know he was totally opposed to the introduction of combat troops in Southeast Asia. His public statements just before his murder support this view. Let us not lay on the dead the blame for our own failures.
3. Paul B. Fay, Jr., Navy Undersecretary under JFK “If John F. Kennedy had lived, our military involvement in Vietnam would have been over by the end of 1964.”
4. Kennedy remarked to his aide Kenneth O’Donnell in 1963: “In 1965 I’ll become one of the most unpopular presidents in history. I’ll be damned everywhere as a Communist appeaser. But now I don’t care. If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m reelected. So had better make damned sure I’m reelected.
5. Wayne Morse, however, maintained that Kennedy was changing his Vietnam policy at the very hour of Dallas: “There’s a weak defense for John Kennedy,” he told the Boston Globe in mid-1973. “He’d seen the error of his ways. I’m satisfied if he’d lived another year we’d have been out of Vietnam. Ten days before his assassination, I went down to the White House and handed him his education bills, which I was handling on the Senate floor. I’d been making to to five speeches a week against Kennedy on Vietnam….I’d gone into President Kennedy’s office to discuss education bills, but he said, ‘Wayne, I want you to know you’re absolutely right in your criticism of my Vietnam policy. Keep this in mind. I’m in the midst of an intensive study which substantiates your position on Vietnam.
6. We come to know this study through the Ellsberg Papers and the McNamara study (see especially volume 8, detailing in Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s phrase “Kennedy’s plans to extricate the United States from the Vietnam War”). In an interview in late 1973, Ellsberg said, “A very surprising discovery to me in the fall of ’67, as I began to study the documents of ’61 in connection with the McNamara study project, was that the major decision Kennedy has made was to reject the recommendation made to him by virtually everyone that he send combat units to Vietnam. Kennedy realized that most of the people in the country, whatever their politics, would have said, ‘If it takes combat troops, or if it takes heave bombing or nuclear weapons, it’s obviously not worth it for us. We won’t succeed’. Prouty supports this view also from personal Pentagon and intelligence community experience and believes that Kennedy “gave a hint of his plans for disengagement when he said [in September 1963], speaking of the Vietnamese, ‘In the final analysis it is their war. They have to win it or lose it.’”
7. September 1963: The Kennedy administration launches a general program for disengagement while trying to make it appear we have won the war without having actually fought it. Taylor and McNamara go to Saigon and come back saying they have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. It is announced that the American mission is beginning to draw to a successful end. It is a foreshadowing of the Senator Aiken Plan of 1967: Announce a victory at a press conference and march home as in triumph. General Paul Harkins, commander of the Military Assistance Command in Saigon, tells the troops: “Victory in the sense it would apply to this kind of war is just months away and the reduction of American advisers can begin any time now.” At that point U.S. “advisers” stood at 16,732.
8. October 2, 1963: McNamara takes to the steps of the White House to tell the press of plans to withdraw one thousand U.S. troops from Vietnam before the year is out.
9. November 1-2: the Diem regime, hopelessly tied to a policy of no negotiations with the Viet Cong, is overthrown, then Diem and his brother Nhu are mysteriously assassinated. General “Big” Minh’s regime, incubated in Bangkok exile for exactly this purpose, takes over shortly and proclaims its intention of negotiating a settlement and a coalition government with the Viet Cong. It is no secret that Kennedy was behind the coup and the coming of Big Minh, although there is a question as to whether he was also behind the assassinations of Diem and Nhu. Kennedy had professed public disfavor with their rule and had declared Diem “out of touch with the people.” He sanctioned the Minh takeover and approved of its pronegotiations policy. But what do we make out of Howard Hunt’s furtive work in the files of the State Department, busy with scissors and paste to create his own little “Pentagon Papers” convicting Kennedy of the murders of Diem and Nhu? Was he helping the truth or plying his disinformation trade?
10. November 15: In spite of confusion in Saigon resulting from the coup, “a U.S. military spokesman carried on the McNamara-Taylor-Harkins line,” as recorded in the GOP’s 1967 Vietnam study, “and promised 1,000 American military men would be withdrawn from Vietnam beginning on December 3”
11. November 22: Dallas. Within days of taking over Johnson issues National Security Agency Memorandum 273, reversing the Kennedy policy of withdrawal and inaugurating the period of build-up leading toward conventional war.
12. Early December: The first of one thousand U.S. troops ordered home begin withdrawal from Vietnam. Johnson’s new orders have not reached the field.
13. March-April 1964: Joint Chiefs draw up and submit to Johnson a list of ninety-four potential targets for bombing in Vietnam.
14. May: The new government in Saigon calls on the United States to bomb the North. Johnson declines to rule it out.
15. June: There is a big war powwow of LBJ and the JCS in Honolulu. Johnson resists pressure for a congressional resolution and decides to step up the war effort. General William Westmoreland takes command of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Ambassador Lodge resigns and is replaced by Taylor.
16. July: South Vietnamese commandos, i.e. CIA/Special Forces units, raid two North Vietnamese islands in the Gulf of Tonkin.
17. August: On intelligence patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin, U.S. destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy report being attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Circumstances of the attack remain unclear. Doubt remains as to whether the incidents were real or staged. In the posturing at which he was so adept, in his imitations of passion, Johnson terrified all but Morse and Gruening of the Pacific Northwest and got the Senate to give him the Tonkin Gulf resolution, opening the way for major escalation.
18. November: The Viet Cong hit Bien Hoa air base in the South and the Joint Chiefs grow heated in their demand for heavy U.S. retaliation. Johnson wins the 1964 election on a “peace” platform vs. Goldwater’s (and later Nixon’s) air-war line; Johnson’s was the biggest “peace mandate” ever until Nixon’s of ’72.
19. December: Johnson approves a plan for air attacks on North Vietnam, “reprisal air strikes for 30 days, then graduated air warfare against North backed by possible deployment of ground combat troops.
20. February 1965: The Viet Cong attack U.S. military adviser’s compound at Pleiku. In “retaliation” Johnson orders the first air strikes against the North. The air war is on.
21. April 1965: The First March on Washington to Protest the War in Vietnam is held by Students for a Democratic Society; twenty to twenty-five thousand hear SDS and SNCC speakers call for a mass antiwar movement.
Double-faulting on the invasions of Cuba and Vietnam was not Kennedy’s only failure in the eyes of chauvinism but that was without doubt the major problem. Cuba and Vietnam bracket Frontier Camelot as the ends of a coffin. But in between, there is much more for the Cowboy conscience to find deplorable in Kennedy’s administration. Making no attempt to be inclusive, and leaving aside the much-observed differences of style and manners between the Kennedy group and the Johnson group. I cite the following examples of making the case that from the Cowboy standpoint Kennedy was as bad as he could be.
1. Kennedy’s 1962 Geneva Accords on Laos made concessions to the Communists and led to the pullout of eight hundred U.S. military advisers.
2. Kennedy intervened through the UN and, with direct U. S. assistance, supported Congolese nationalism against Belgian-backed secessionists.
3. Kennedy cut off foreign and military aid to seven Latin American countries, most sensationally Haiti, on the grounds that repressive strongman government was incompatible with the aims of hemispheric reform.
4. He struggled with Big Steel and Detroit Iron to hold down prices. Faced with an inflation rate of 4 percent, minuscule by the standards of the seventies, Kennedy actually wanted to impose a provisional price freeze and won labor’s agreement to the most limited settlements since World War II on the promise the industry would hold the line on prices. When Big Steel took it all back, Kennedy fought (unsuccessfully) for a court-ordered price rollback. It brings to mind the observation of Indira Gandhi that Kennedy “died because he lost the support of his peers” – i.e., the support of the Yankee financial powers animating the vast reaches of the iron and steel industry. For contrast, when steel raised its prices five dollars a ton in 1967, Johnson merely said that steel executives “knew his feelings” and that price controls “could not be ruled out” in the future. Johnson allowed another steel price raise to pass without comment in 1968.
5. JFK proposed elimination of the oil-depletion allowance in January 1963. This by itself could easily have screwed to the sticking point the courage of the American oil cartel as a whole, and most particularly its mainly Southwestern components, the so-called Independents (distinct from the mainly Yankee “Majors”). The oil depletion allowance was and remains the whole basis of Southwestern oil’s special power and glory. Kennedy had already aroused Texan ire in 1961 by attempting to collect a federal tax on state business transactions, a tax no Texan could remember having ever seen collected. Now came the attack on the depletion allowance. Oil industry spokesmen angrily predicted a 30 percent drop in earnings if Kennedy’s proposed tax reforms won out.
6. JFK encouraged the civil-rights movement openly. He introduced his civil rights bill in June 1963 in concert with Martin Luther King’s giant march on Washington. The temperature of Congress rose ten degrees and the whole Camelot legislative program was blocked by the civil-rights debate.
7. The New Frontiersman attack on Johnson as a personality began in 1961 and intensified toward Dallas, focusing in the Kennedy brothers’ pressure on Johnson’s Bobby Baker softspot. The feud between Johnson and Robert Kennedy was unrivaled. What was at stake was not simply Johnson’s political relationship to Eastern power. When Johnson’s man Connally was dispatched in October 1963 to convince Kennedy that he must come politicking soon in Texas, Connolly’s argument was that the Texas Democratic party was in a growing state of disaffection with the national party under the reign of the Kennedys and that fences had to be mended or Texas might bolt the party in ’64.
8. Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department campaign against Jimmy Hoffa, within a wider Frontier Camelot campaign to bust the larger Teamster-Syndicate connection, threatened to expose and destroy a major and basic sphere of Syndicate activity, the Teamster Pension Fund complex.
9. On the first of April, 1963, Kennedy announced that all U.S. raids on Cuba would stop. On April 4, Detective Sgt. C. H. Sapp of the Miami Police Intelligence Unit reported to Assistant Chief of Police A.W. Anderson the following:
For the past three days the Intelligence Unit has been receiving information concerning the feelings and proposed actions of the Cuban refugee colony in Miami. Since President Kennedy made the news release that the United States Government would stop all raiding parties going against Castro’s government, the Cuban people feel that the United States Government has turned against them….All violence hitherto directed toward Castro’s Cuba will now be directed toward various governmental agencies in the United States.
10. In September 1963, even as he was taking the first perceptible steps toward a Vietnam pullback, Kennedy ordered the FBI to raid secret CIA guerilla training camps and staging bases in Florida and Louisiana. Dave Ferrie, linked by New Orleans District Attorney James Garrison to Clay Shaw and the CIA, was infolved in the operation of the Louisiana camps. The camps were situated on land owned by a gambling associate of Jack Ruby’s, Bill McLaney. The McLaney brothers, cogs in the Lansky Syndicate, were among the big losers when the Cuban revolution ejected the Syndicate and its casinos from the island. Frank Sturgis (aka Fiorini) of the Watergate burglary was also connected to the base Kennedy closed at No Name Key. Sturgis was visible at Dallas two months later and was actually questioned by the FBI in connection with the assassination.
11. Constant and passionate struggle to win the hearts and minds of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was a leading existential feature of the actual life of Frontier Camelot. Camelot-Pentagon differences were multitudinous and many-layered, from theories of war to theories of peace, and they were heatedly joined, as indicated for example by Halberstam’s report that on the question of nuclear disarmament, “McNamara virtually locked [the Joint Chiefs] in a room for a week to fight it out with them.
12. But more gut-basic still was Kennedy’s assault on the sanctity of the defense budget. His administration drew up three defense budgets. The 1962 budget was $51.6 billion. In 1963 it went down to $50.8 billion. In 1964 it went down again to $49.9 billion. As of Watergate, after almost a decade of Cowboy rule, it had grown again to about twice that size.
Long-time no-conspiracy buff Garry Wills makes and opposite deduction about Kennedy’s politics, which he characterizes as a more genteel but otherwise conventional militarism, by focusing on a different fact” “On the very day he died [that morning in Fort Worth], Kennedy boasted publicly that he had ‘increased our special counter-insurgency forces in Vietnam by 600 percent.’”. Wills seems in no position to add (as late as 1973?) that “counterinsurgency” was Frontier Camelot’s euphemism for cheaper defense and a nonnuclear world strategy. It is not mischievous in serious polemic to decontextualize remarks made in a heightened context? Wills understands that Kennedy’s whole purpose in being in Texas that day to begin with, answering Connally’s imperative summons, was to persuade neo-Confederate elements in the Texas Democratic party that his administration had not been lax in the defense and national security areas in spite of signing on October 7 just past of his limited test-ban treaty, in spite of his closing of the anti-Castro staging bases in Florida and Louisiana, and in spite of his successive annual cuts in the defense budget from $51 to $50 to $49 billion.
But was it not clear enough in the contemporary dialogue itself, without “analysis”? Kenendy says, “Yesterday a shaft of light cut into the darkness. Negotiations were concluded in Moscow on a treaty to ban all nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water.” And the voice of the Joint Chiefs says, “True security lies in unlimited nuclear superiority.” Kennedy says, “There is the necessity for revolution in Latin America.” And the JCS says it is “anxious concerning our future security.” Kennedy says of the South Vietnamese, “We are prepared to continue to assist them, but I don’t think that the war can be won unless the people support the effort.” And the JCS says it is “not sure if it’s necessarily a good thing to cut down on the tensions.” One does not even have to believe that Krushchev was telling us the truth, or that he knew the truth to tell, when he said in his putative memoirs that he got a message from Robert Kennedy at the height of the 1962 Missile Crisis saying, “We are under very severe stress. In fact we are under pressure from our military to use force against Cuba….If the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power. The American army could get out of control.” Whether the threat specifically existed or not, the political outlines of that confrontation surely implied it.
The mystery which Nixon resigned to protect, and which the Ford pardon sought to “shut and seal,” appears to center on some as-yet-unknown intertwining of Nixon’s and Kennedy’s fates as adversaries in the great misadventure of the Bay of Pigs. To get at what this mystery might be, we find we have to go beyond the conventional Cold War picture of the Bay of Pigs operation. Instead of seeing the invasion simply as a U.S.-vs.-Cuba conflict and the “policy of the Kennedy administration”, we see it as the product of a conflict internal to the policy apparatus pitting a liberal-minded Yankee president against conservative-minded stalwarts of the defense and security bureaucracies.
The motive of the Cowboy-Nixon side in this conflict was its desire to push through with Cuban plans laid lovingly in the last days of Eisenhower. (Vice-President Johnson also supported the Bay of Pigs “activists.”) The motive of the Yankee-Kennedy side was its desire to avoid being drawn into a war against Castro’s Cuba. The pro-invasion side was strong enough to frustrate the anti-invasion side but not strong enough to break out, overcome, and be satisfied, just as the anti-invasion side was strong enough only to take the sting out of the invasion, not to stop it.
The result, the Cuban Fiasco, set the model for the Vietnam Quagmire, which followed exactly the same logical course, except in giant steps.
The period before Kennedy’s assassination is thus a period of accumulating polarizations throughout the universe of the White House policy apparatus. The Massachusetts-Texas electoral coalition that squeaked into the White House in 1960 had by 1963 proved itself nonfunctional and self-destructive as a governing coalition. It is one measure of the power relativities of this coalition’s crisis that the assassination of the president seemed to resolve it.
Whatever we decide about the evidence of the assassination, whether we walk away from Warren and the Warren critics believing in a right-wing conspiracy or a Castroite conspiracy or a left-wing lone assassin, we all will still acknowledge on monumental and central fact about the Dallas killing: It got rid of one policy and put another in its place. In the richness of his hypocrisy, Johnson successfully pretended to carry on the torch of domestic Kennedy reform and wholly mystified the question of war and peace in Vietnam by saying sometimes that Kennedy had actually been a hawk like him and other times that he, Johnson, was actually a dove like Kennedy. With Goldwater as an easy rightward foil, Johnson was able to represent his strategy of graduated ground, air, and naval escalation as the peace strategy and thus to campaign on all the arguments usually at the disposal of a peace candidate. Yet as the Ellsberg Papers later showed (and as the poet Brecht long before foretold), even as he beat his breast for peace in the ancient public drumshow, Johnson was secretly signing the marching orders. In this case it was the detailed day-by-day, target-by-target JCS plans for the bombardment of the North that would be launched, as though spontaneously against unexpected provocation (the VC attack on Pleiku), in February 1965, the elections safely past.
As for “the whole Bay of Pigs thing,” Johnson was shortly taking care of that, too, in the secret project launched by his Great Society in 1964 called “Second Naval Guerilla.” This project, as reported notably by Szulc, began as a let’s-do-it-right-this-time remake of the Bay of Pigs invasion in which U.S. troops would have been used and in which the assassination of Castro would have been attempted with presidential backing. It was to have been carried out sometime in 1965 after Johnson’s safe reelection, just as with Vietnam escalation. As Szulc observes, “it was an incredibly wild scheme because the resolution of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear confrontation, was based in part on Washington’s promise to let Castro be.” The reason the “Second Naval Guerilla” was never carried out is that the early 1965 rebellion in the Dominican Republic made it necessary to land in Santa Domingo the troops that had been made ready for Havana.
So Dallas was a turning point in any case, no matter who murdered Kennedy, no matter what the motive. Dallas brought to a close a period of Yankee dominance I the councils of state policy that stretched back essentially unbroken to the Civil War. Johnson easily attached to his own presidential coalition the bulk of Yankee forces willing to accept his reassurance that a military victory in Vietnam would soon be secured and that the advantages of it would be real. But the now splintered and demoralized detentist group found itself suddenly under the heel of precisely the man they had just been spitting on. Old New Frontierists hung on under Johnson, some on the strength of the argument that if they left those who came after would be worse or (as Halberstam suggests) out of a blend of naivete and arrogance that made them think they could find a solution; others because they thought their positions in the policy apparatus gave them power to hold the line of the Kennedy vision in spite of Johnson; others because Johnson seemed an improvement after all. For a long moment, there was even the heady fancy that by one of the ironies of politics, the death of the liberal prince and the ascendancy of the conservative would not make it still more possible to make peace in the world, more possible to bring about lasting changes for social and economic justice because (a) now everyone felt sorry for Kennedy and wanted to pay tribute to him and his social ideas, and because (b) now Johnson would be pulling all his people in, would actually bring the Solid South into the national civil-rights and peace coalition. Was there some uneasiness about that? But surely Johnson could be contained by the Yankees who controlled the bureaucracy around him? Outsiders are left wondering when, of if, the illusions finally wore through (for McNamara, say), or if any of the philosophers of Frontier Camelot ever asked if Kennedy died for Cuba and Vietnam in vain.
The illusion of the Cowboy-Yankee coalition proved ultimately the last illusion of Frontier Camelot, possibly because it was at bottom less an illusion than a gamble taken in the absence of alternatives. In any case, the consequences of that failure stretch out over the next decade like the ground path of a tornado. Here we anticipate our story of this failure enough to note briefly the long curve of it ahead: how the installation of Johnson in 1963 was in effect a transfer of presidential power from Yankee to Cowboy national ruling elites; how Yankee powers regrouped and challenged Cowboy rule with the bloodless power play of early 1968 which forced Johnson to abdicate, to start the peace negotiations in Paris, to stop the bombing of the North, and to open the way for the triumphal reform campaign of Robert Kennedy; how Johnson’s overthrow in March was followed by the conspiratorial assassination of King in April, then of Robert Kennedy in June; and how against a backdrop of general world tumult (Paris, Mexico City, Greece, Prague) all forces converged on the complex climax of the Democratic party in Chicago and the eventual triumph of Nixon, which sent the country slanting fiercely toward Watergate.
We do not yet know if or how Nixon might have been directly involved in any of this after leaving the office of vice-president, or if he was part of any secret group manipulating Eisenhower through control of information flowing through the National Security Council. But we have developed a more specific sense of the heart of this mystery when we come to see the Cuban invasion as a result of a conflict in which Nixon acted strongly against Camelot policy by way of an invasion group which we know for a fact included Hunt, Sturgis, the Watergate Cubans, yeasty parts of the CIA, Howard Hughes though his man Robert Maheu (to whom we return), and the Lansky Syndicate through John Roselli, whome Maheu reached on behalf of the CIA. What could be the organizational form of the ad hoc clandestine government which such details imply? Finding this, we would find the answer to the mystery of Ford’s pardon and Nixon’s crime.
Now our reconstruction comes to the turning point of Dallas. It is time to confront the question that the foregoing analysis of a divided Camelot suggests, namely: If we see that the JFK assassination was a coup d’etat in effect, is there any reason to suppose it was such a thing by design?
I now present the conclusion of this great essay that I stumbled across one day while listening to a segment of that wonderfully informative although largely unheard of radio program Unwelcome Guests (which has a tremendous archive of past shows available for downloads). The segment which I will link to here is a reading of this essay written by Dmitry Orlov that was posted on investigative reporter Michael Ruppert’s website From The Wilderness. Mr. Ruppert is the author of the very interesting book Crossing The Rubicon and while he has left the journalistic scene due to various problems his site still is up and there is a plethora of great information still available there.
While I remain somewhat of an agnostic on the Peak Oil theory that Orlov bases this essay on I found the parts about surviving after the collapse of the Soviet Union to be riveting and horrifying. We would be wise to pay heed to the material here as the oligarchy has put the United States on a similar path to economic collapse that none of the fraudulent candidates participating in the dog and pony show ‘debates’ will dare to bring up – choosing instead to stick to the sideshow issues like abortion, gay marriage, pandering to the dumbest of the dumb who are the overtly religious knuckledraggers and the left behinders and invoking fear at every opportunity. There is something to fear but it is not the ridiculous terrorist of the week – it is a Soviet style total economic collapse and from all reports outside of the ridiculously irrelevant American infotainment/propaganda ‘news’ system it is coming very, very soon.
You won’t read this in the corporate media but The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is about to embark on a review of the entire U.S. house of cards financial system. Globalism comes home to roost as the chicanery of the Wall Street crooks has only succeeded in causing international investors to be bilked out of their money by the Bernanke-Paulson flim flam men and their cronies. Looter capitalism is about to be shorn of all but its figleaf but then again anyone who is really not wrapped in a television induced cocoon of denial knows that something is amiss and as the stars and stripes fly over the world’s largest lemming colony on July 4th there will be far fewer BBQ’s simply because far fewer people now own homes as a result of the massive and long running financial fraud by Wall Street banks and their whores in Washington.
Economic collapse on a scale not seen since the Great Depression is now gaining momentum and that is the BEST case scenario. Now I give to you the conclusion of Orlov’s essay – pay attention to the tips on how to survive a complete systemic collapse.
Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century
By Dmitry Orlov
Security in post-collapse Soviet Union was, shall we say, lax. I came through unscathed, but I know quite a few people who did not. A childhood friend of mine and her son were killed in their apartment over the measly sum of 100 dollars. An elderly lady I know was knocked out and had her jaw broken by a burglar who waited outside her door for her to come home, assaulted her, took her keys, and looted her place. There is an infinite supply of stories of this sort.
Empires are held together through violence or the threat of violence. Both the U.S. and Russia were, and are, serviced by a legion of servants whose expertise is in using violence: soldiers, policemen, prison wardens, and private security consultants. Both countries have a surplus of battle-hardened men who have killed, and who are psychologically damaged by the experience, and have no qualms about taking human life. In both countries, there are many, many people whose stock in trade is their use of violence, in offense or defense. No matter what else happens, they will be employed, or self-employed; preferably the former.
In a post-collapse situation, all of these violent men automatically fall into the general category of private security consultants. They have a way of creating enough work to keep their entire tribe busy: if you don’t hire them, they will still do the work, but against you rather than for you. Rackets of various sizes and shapes proliferate, and, if you have some property to protect, or wish to get something done, a great deal of your time and energy becomes absorbed by keeping your private security organization happy and effective.
To round out the violent part of the population, there are also plenty of criminals. As their sentences expire, they are released into the wild, and return to a life of violent crime, but now there is nobody to lock them up again because the machinery of law enforcement has broken down due to lack of funds. This further exacerbates the need for private security, and puts those who cannot afford it at additional risk.
There is a continuum of sorts between those who can provide security and mere thugs. Those who can provide security also tend to know how to either employ or otherwise dispose of mere thugs. Thus, from the point of view of an uneducated security consumer, it is very important to work with an organization rather than with individuals. To be fair, the need for security is huge: with a large number of desperate people about, anything that is not watched will be stolen. The scope of security-related activities is huge: from sleepless grannies who sit in watch over the cucumber patch to bicycle parking lot attendants to house-sitters, and all the way to armed convoys and snipers on rooftops.
As the government, with its policing and law enforcement functions, atrophies, private, improvised security measures cover the security gap it leaves behind. In Russia, there was a period of years during which the police was basically not functioning: they had no equipment, no budget, and their salaries were not sufficient for survival. Murders went unsolved, muggings and burglaries were not even investigated. The police could only survive through graft. There was a substantial amount of melding between the police and organized crime. As the economy came back, it all got sorted out, to some extent. In a case where there is no reason to expect the economy to ever come back, one must learn how to make strange new friends, and keep them, for life.
Loss of Normalcy
An early victim of collapse is the sense of normalcy. People are initially shocked, but quickly forget that such a thing ever existed, except for the odd vague tinge of nostalgia. Normalcy is not exactly normal: in an industrial economy, the sense of normalcy is an artificial, manufactured item. We may be hurtling towards environmental doom, and thankfully never quite get there because of resource depletion, but, in the meantime, the lights are on, there is traffic on the streets, and, even if the lights go out for a while due to a blackout, they will be back on in due course, and the shops will reopen. Business as usual will resume.
The sumptuous buffet lunch will be served on time, so that the assembled luminaries can resume discussion of measured steps we all need to take to avert certain disaster. The lunch is not served; then the lights go off. At some point, somebody calls the whole thing a farce, and the luminaries adjourn, forever. In Russia, normalcy broke down in a series of steps. First, people stopped being afraid to speak their mind. Then, they stopped taking the authorities seriously. Lastly, the authorities stopped taking themselves seriously.
In the Soviet Union, as this thing called normalcy wore thin due to the stalemate in Afghanistan, the Chernobyl disaster, and general economic stagnation, it continued to be enforced through careful management of mass media. In the United States, as the economy fails to create enough jobs for several years in a row, and the entire economy leans towards bankruptcy, business as usual continues to be a top-selling product, or so we are led to believe. American normalcy circa 2005 seems as impregnable as Soviet normalcy circa 1985 once seemed.
If there is a difference between the Soviet and the American approach to maintaining a sense of normalcy, it is this: the Soviets tried to maintain it by force, while the Americans’ superior approach is to maintain theirs through fear. You tend to feel more normal if you fear falling off your perch, and cling to it for dear life, than if somebody nails your feet to it.
More to the point: in a consumer society, anything that puts people off their shopping is dangerously disruptive, and all consumers sense this. Any expression of the truth about our lack of prospects for continued existence as a highly developed, prosperous industrial society is disruptive to the consumerist collective unconscious. There is a herd instinct to reject it, and therefore it fails, not through any overt action, but by failing to turn a profit, because it is unpopular.
In spite of this small difference in how normalcy is or was enforced, it was, and is being brought down, in the late Soviet Union as in contemporary United States, through almost identical means, though with different technology. In the Soviet Union, there was something called samizdat, or self-publishing: with the help of manual typewriters and carbon paper, Russian dissidents managed to circulate enough material to neutralize the effects of enforced normalcy. In contemporary United States, we have web sites and bloggers: different technology, same difference. These are writings for which enforced normalcy is no longer the norm; it is the truth – or at least someone’s earnest approximation of it.
So what has become of these Soviet mavericks, some of whom foretold the coming collapse with some accuracy? To be brief, they faded from view. Both tragically and ironically, those who become experts in explaining the faults of the system and in predicting the course of its demise are very much part of the system. When the system disappears, so does their area of expertise, and their audience. People stop intellectualizing their predicament and start trying to escape it – through drink or drugs or creativity or cunning – but they have no time for pondering the larger context.
Before, during, and immediately after the Soviet collapse, there was a great deal of political activity by groups we might regard as progressive: liberal, environmentalist, pro-democracy reformers. These grew out of the dissident movements of the Soviet era, and made quite a significant impact for a time. A decade later “democracy” and “liberalism” are generally considered dirty words in Russia, commonly associated with exploitation of Russia by foreigners and other rot. The Russian state is centrist, with authoritarian tendencies. Most Russians dislike and distrust their government, but are afraid of weakness, and want a strong hand.
It is easy to see why political idealism fails to thrive in the murky post-collapse political environment. There is a strong pull to the right by nationalists who want to find scapegoats (inevitably, foreigners and ethnic minorities), a strong pull to the center by members of the ancien regime trying to hold on to remnants of their power, and a great upwelling of indecision, confusion, and inconclusive debate on the left, by those trying to do good, and failing to do anything. Sometimes the liberals get a chance to try an experiment or two. Yegor Gaidar got to try some liberal economic reforms under Yeltsin. He is a tragicomic figure, and many Russians now cringe when remembering his efforts.
The liberals, reformists, and progressives in the United States, whether self-styled or so labeled, have had a hard time implementing their agenda. Even their few hard-won victories, such as Social Security, may get dismantled. Even when they managed to elect a president more to their liking, the effects were, by Western standards, reactionary. There was the Carter doctrine, according to which the United States will protect its access to oil by military aggression if necessary. There was also Clinton’s welfare reform, which forced single mothers to work menial jobs while placing their children in substandard daycare in order to have access to social services.
People in the United States have a broadly similar attitude towards politics with people of the Soviet Union. In the U.S., this is often referred to as “voter apathy”, but it might be more accurately described as disgust with politics. The Soviet Union had a single, entrenched, systemically corrupt political party, which held a monopoly on power. The U.S. has two entrenched, systemically corrupt political parties, whose positions are often indistinguishable, and which together hold a monopoly on power. In either case, there is, or was, a single governing elite, but in the United States it organized itself into opposing teams to make its stranglehold on power seem more sportsmanlike.
In the U.S., there is an industry of political commentators and pundits, which is devoted to inflaming political passions, as much as possible, and especially before elections. This is similar to what sports writers and commentators do, to draw attention to their game. It seems that the main force behind political discourse in the U.S. is boredom: one could talk about the weather, one’s job, one’s mortgage and how it relates to current and projected property values, cars and the traffic situation, sports, and, far behind sports, politics.
Although people often bemoan political apathy as if it were a grave social ill, it seems to me that this is just as it should be. Why should essentially powerless people want to engage in a humiliating farce designed to demonstrate the legitimacy of those who wield the power? In Soviet-era Russia, intelligent people did their best to ignore the Communists: paying attention to them, whether through criticism or praise, would only serve to give them comfort and encouragement, making them feel as if they mattered. Why should Americans want to act any differently with regard to the Republicans and the Democrats? For love of donkeys and elephants?
As I mentioned before, crisis-mitigating agendas for “us” to implement, whether they involve wars over access to resources, nuclear plant construction, wind farms or hydrogen dreams, are not likely to be implemented, because this “we” entity will no longer be functional. If we are not likely to be able to implement our agenda prior the collapse, then whatever is left of us is even less likely to do so after. There is no reason to organize politically if you are trying to do something useful. But if you want to prepare to take advantage of a bad situation – well, that’s a different story!
Politics has great potential for making a bad situation worse, much worse. It can cause war, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Whenever people gather into political organizations, whether voluntarily or forcibly, it is a sign of trouble. I was at the annual meeting of my community garden recently, and among the generally placid and shy group of gardeners there were a couple of self-termed “activists”. Before too long, one of these was raising the question of expelling people. People who don’t show up for annual meetings and don’t sign up to do cleaning and composting and so on – why are they allowed to hold on to their plots? Well, some of the “rogue element” the activist was referring to consisted of elderly Russians, who, due to their extensive experience with such things during the Soviet times, are exceedingly unlikely to ever be compelled to take part in communal labor or sit through community meetings. Frankly, they would prefer death. But they also love to garden.
The reason the “element” is allowed to exist in this particular community garden is because the woman who runs the place allows them to hold on to their plots. It is her decision: she exercises leadership, and she does not engage in politics. She makes the garden function, and allows the activists to make their noise, once a year, with no ill effects. But if the situation were to change and the kitchen garden suddenly became a source of sustenance rather than a hobby, how long would it take before the activist element would start demanding more power and asserting its authority?
Leadership is certainly a helpful quality in a crisis, which is a particularly bad time for lengthy deliberations and debates. In any situation, some people are better equipped to handle it than others, and can help others by giving them directions. They naturally accumulate a certain amount of power for themselves, and this is fine as long as enough people benefit from it, and as long as nobody is harmed or oppressed. Such people often spontaneously emerge in a crisis.
An equally useful quality in a crisis is apathy. The Russian people are exceptionally patient: even in the worst of post-collapse times, they did not riot, and there were no significant protests. They coped as best they could. The safest group of people to be with in a crisis is one that does not share strong ideological convictions, is not easily swayed by argument, and does not possess an overdeveloped sense of identity.
Clueless busybodies who feel that “we must do something” and can be spun around by any half-wit demagogue are bad enough, but the most dangerous group, and one to watch out for and run from, is a group of political activists resolved to organize and promote some program or other; even if the program is benign, and even if it is beneficial, the politicized approach to solving it might not be. As the saying goes, revolutions eat their children. Then they turn on everyone else. The life of a refugee is a form of survival; staying and fighting an organized mob generally isn’t.
The Balkans are the post-collapse nightmare everyone is familiar with. Within the former Soviet Union, Georgia is the prime example of nationalist politics pursued to the point of national disintegration. After winning its independence, Georgia went through a paroxysm of nationalist fervor, resulting in a somewhat smaller, slightly less populous, permanently defunct state, with two former provinces stuck in permanent political limbo, because, apparently, the world has lost its ability to redraw political boundaries.
The U.S. is much more like the Balkans than like Russia, which is inhabited by a fairly homogeneous Caucasian/Asian population. The U.S. is very much segregated, usually by race, often by ethnicity, and always by income level. During prosperous times, it is kept relatively calm by keeping a percentage of people in jail that has set an all-time world record. During less prosperous times, it is at a big risk of political explosion. Multi-ethnic societies are fragile; when they fall apart, everyone loses.
Collapse in the U.S.
In the U.S., there appear to be few ways to make the collapse scenario work out smoothly for oneself and one’s family. The whole place seems too far gone in a particular, unsustainable direction. It is a real creative challenge, and we should be giving it a lot of serious thought.
Suppose you live in a big city, in an apartment or a condo. You depend on municipal services for survival. A week without electricity, or heat, or water, or gas, or garbage removal spells extreme discomfort. Any two of these is a calamity. Any three is a disaster. Food comes from the supermarket, with help from the cash machine or the credit card slot at the checkout station. Clean clothes come from the laundromat, which requires electricity, water, and natural gas. Once all the businesses have shut down and your apartment is cold, dark, smells like garbage because it isn’t being collected and like excrement because the toilet doesn’t flush, perhaps it is time to go camping and explore the great outdoors.
So let’s consider the countryside. Suppose that you own a homestead and have a tiny mortgage that shrivels to next to nothing after a good bout of inflation, or that you own it free and clear. If it’s in a developed suburban subdivision, there will still be problems with taxes, code enforcement, strangers from outer space living next door, and other boondoggles, which could get worse as conditions deteriorate. Distressed municipalities may at first attempt jack up rates to cover their costs instead of simply closing up shop. In a misguided effort to save property values, they may also attempt to enforce codes against such necessities as compost heaps, outhouses, chicken coops, and raising crops on your front lawn. Keep in mind, also, that the pesticides and herbicides lavished on lawns and golf courses leave toxic residues. Perhaps the best thing to do with suburbia is to abandon it altogether.
A small farm offers somewhat better possibilities for farming, but most farms in the U.S. are mortgaged to the hilt, and most land that has been under intensive cultivation has been mercilessly bombarded with chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, making it an unhealthy place, inhabited by men with tiny sperm counts. Small farms tend to be lonely places, and many, without access to diesel or gasoline, would become dangerously remote. You will need neighbors to barter with, to help you, and to keep you company. Even a small farm is probably overkill in terms of the amount of farmland available, because without the ability to get crops to market, or a functioning cash economy to sell them in, there is no reason to grow a large surplus of food. Tens of acres are a waste when all you need is a few thousand square feet. Many Russian families managed to survive with the help of a standard garden plot of one sotka, which is 100 square meters, or, if you prefer, 0.024710538 acres, or 1076.391 square feet.
What is needed, of course is a small town or a village: a relatively small, relatively dense settlement, with about an acre of farmland for every 30 or so people, and with zoning regulations designed for fair use and sustainability, not opportunities for capital investment, growth, property values, or other sorts of “development”. Further, it would have to be a place where people know each other and are willing to help each other – a real community. There may still be a few hundred communities like that tucked away here and there in the poorer counties in the United States, but there are not enough of them, and most of us would not be welcome there.
People often come to me and say: “I hear that the U.S. economy is going to collapse soon; what investment tips can you give me, so that I can adjust my portfolio accordingly?” Well, I am not a professional investment adviser, so I risk nothing by making some suggestions.
The nuclear scare gave rise to the archetype of the American Survivalist, holed up in the hills, with a bomb shelter, a fantastic number of tins of spam, an assortment of guns, and plentiful ammo with which to fight off similar idiots from further downhill. And, of course, an American flag. This sort of survivalism is about as good as burying yourself alive, I suppose.
The idea of stockpiling is not altogether bad, though. Stockpiling food is, of course, a rotten idea, literally. But certain manufactured items are certainly worth considering. Suppose you have a retirement account, or some mutual funds. And suppose you know for certain that it won’t exist by the time you are scheduled to retire. And suppose you realize that you can currently buy a lot of good stuff that has a long shelf life and will be needed, and valuable, far into the future. And suppose, further, that you have a small amount of storage space: a few hundred square feet. Now, what are you going to do? Sit by and watch your savings evaporate? Or take the tax hit and invest in things that are not composed of vapor.
Once the cash machines are out of cash, the stock ticker stops ticking, and the retail chain breaks down, people will still have basic needs. There will be flea markets to fill these needs, using whatever local token of exchange is available; bundles of $100 bills, bits of gold chain, packs of cigarettes, or what have you. It’s not a bad idea to own a few of everything you will need, but you should invest in things you will be able to trade for things you will need. Think of consumer necessities that require high technology and have a long shelf life. Here are some suggestions to get you started: condoms, razor blades, and drugs (over-the-counter and prescription). Rechargeable batteries (and solar chargers) are sure to become a prized item (Ni-MH are the less toxic ones). Toiletries, such as good soap, will be luxury items. Fill some containers, nitrogen-pack them so that nothing rusts or rots, and store them somewhere.
After the Soviet collapse, there swiftly appeared a category of itinerant merchants who provided people with access to imported products. To procure their wares, these people had to travel abroad, to Poland, to China, to Turkey, on trains, carrying goods back and forth in their baggage. They would exchange a suitcase of Russian-made watches for a suitcase of other, more useful consumer products, such as shampoo or razor blades. They would have to grease the palms of officials along their route, and were often robbed. There was a period of time when these people, called “chelnoki”, which is Russian for “shuttles”, were the only source of consumer products. The products were often factory rejects, damaged, or past their sell-by date, but this did not make them any less valuable. Based on their example, it is possible to predict which items will be in high demand, and to stockpile these items ahead of time, as a hedge against economic collapse. Note that chelnoki had intact, economies to trade with, accessible by train – while this is not guaranteed to be the case in the U.S.
A stockpile of this sort, in a walkable, socially stable place, where you know everybody, where you have some close friends and some family, where you own your shelter and some land free and clear, and where you can grow most of your own food, should enable you survive economic collapse without too much trouble. And, who knows, maybe you will even find happiness there.
Although the basic, and obvious, conclusion is that the United States is worse prepared for economic collapse than Russia was, and will have a harder time than Russia had, there are some cultural facets to the United States that are not entirely unhelpful. To close on an optimistic note, I will mention three of these. I will say nothing particularly original here, so feel free to whistle your own cheerful tune as you read this.
Firstly, and perhaps most surprisingly, Americans make better Communists than Russians ever did, or cared to try. They excel at communal living, with plenty of good, stable roommate situations, which compensate for their weak, alienated, or nonexistent families. These roommate situations can be used as a template, and scaled up to village-sized self-organized communities. Communism (obviously, under a more palatable name) makes a lot more sense in an unstable, resource-scarce environment than the individualistic approach. Where any Russian would cringe at such an idea, because it stirs the still fresh memories of the failed Soviet experiment at collectivization and forced communal living, Americans maintain a reserve of community spirit and civic-mindedness.
Secondly, there is a layer of basic decency and niceness to at least some parts of American society, which has been all but destroyed in Russia over the course of Soviet history. There is an altruistic impulse to help strangers, and pride in being helpful to others. Americans are culturally homogeneous, and the biggest interpersonal barrier between them is the fear and alienation fostered by their racially and economically segregated living conditions.
Lastly, hidden behind the tawdry veneer of patriotic bumper stickers and flags, there is an undercurrent of quiet national pride, which, if engaged, can produce high morale and results. Americans are not yet willing to simply succumb to circumstance. Because many of them lack a good understanding of their national predicament, their efforts to mitigate it may turn out to be in vain, but they are virtually guaranteed to make a valiant effort, for “this is, after all, America.”