Category Archives: 1968
The gold-outflow crisis of January-February showed the Yankees how vulnerable the Vietnam war of the Cowboy administration had made the American economy and all those economies that depended on it. There were sophisticated ways to mystify the fact, and they were used, but most of the world had no trouble grasping the main thrust of events. The larger economic system of the Western world as a whole was suffering from another great malaise which in some way or another was connected to the Vietnam war. Interpretation was, as it remains, of course, open to the usual ideological variations, and as there were those who decided Vietnam was getting too expensive to win and those who decided Vietnam was getting to expensive to lose, the new realization about the actual magnitude of the cost did not in itself settle a thing, except that the firght would grow more intense.
The Tet Offensive
This was another event both fatally unambiguous and ultimately mystifying. All parties to the dispute would continue to agree that Tet was a major event, full of military meanings and political consequences – whatever they might turn out to be. For who in 1968 could see how the war was going to turn out? Cowboys thought the main thing about Tet was that the opposing forces, in all-units, all-out attack, had been beaten back from their objectives, mauled and spent beyond powers of recovery, provided that the United States and friendlies would now seize the time. Yankees tended to think, on the contrary, that Tet’s main teaching was that it was indeed the strategy of military escalation itself that had failed. If you could field a half-million men in Vietnam and commit the strategic quadroons at such length and such intensity and still get a Tet offensive unannounced, then something was wrong with the strategy and/or the assumptions upon which it was founded. The economy was meanwhile bleeding away, main arteries open and gushing. West Europe was blanching. If the Americans lost grip, what would become of the rest? The correct strategy must then be to cut Vietnam losses and bid to hold the line in Thailand, where conditions were better.
Precisely according to their material interests and their historical perspectives, Yankee consciousness affirmed the priority of the Atlantic basin while Cowboy consciousness affirmed the priority of the Pacific rim. Formerly these images had been harmonized in the conduct of a two-front, two-ocean, two-theater war, a great Atlantic and Pacific effort joined and supported equally by all descendents of Civil War foes. This World War II coalition endured in the strategy of two-front Cold War in which Red Russia traded places with Nazi Germany and Red China with Fascist Japan, a friend for a foe and a foe for a friend. With the Tet offensive, people started pulling back from the coalition. Naturally enough, the ones who were the first to pull back were the ones who had the least to win from staying in and winning and the most to lose from staying in and losing, the Yankees.
Historian Geoffrey Barraclough of Oxford and Brandeis writes of this moment “that the war in Vietnam, and the mounting inflation that ensued, undermined the international system built up since 1947, and in particular weakened the position of the United States, the linchpin of the system.” He quotes C. Fred Bergsten of the Brookings Institution and the Kissinger fraternity: “After 1967, the rules and institutional bases of the old structure began to disintegrate.”
This sense of collapse prompts the Yankee rejection of Johnson. Barraclough observes, “In retrospect, it would seem probable that the operative cause [of Johnson’s “retirement”] was less the much advertised student unrest than a revolt of big business and corporate finance, frightened by the damage Johnson’s policies were inflicting on the U.S. economy and on its economic position abroad.” This “revolt of big business and corporate finance” is what I imagine was at the base of the movement afoot early in 1968 to get rid of Johnson: a Yankee revolt.
The Abdication of Johnson
The tell-tale sign that Johnson’s March 31 stepdown was a result of a power play was the number of chieftains of the opposing tribe who played key roles in the ceremonies of transition, most notably and visibly the top-class Yankee gunslingers Clark Clifford, Averill Harriman, Cyrus Vance, and George Ball. Defense Secretary Clifford was the acting chief national executive presiding behind the scenes from his perch over the Defense Department because it was (and is) basically the Defense Department that the president of the United States is required to rule. Harriman and Vance set up the Paris peace talks. Vance defused the Pueblo incident. Ball went to the UN. All the old boys were spinning and driving together.
That Johnson’s decision not to run in 1968 was somehow forced upon him is to my mind further indicated in such details as (a) the suddenness of his move, (b) his failure to pass power on to a designated heir the likes of John Connally, and (c) the extend to which the stepdown benefited his main blood enemies: The Kennedys and the Yankee Establishment. Johnson’s abdication as well as his switch to a negotiated settlement line on Vietnam may be more clearly seen as outcomes of an internal power struggle much like the struggle we discerned in the record of Frontier Camelot. I am far from wanting to say that Johnson’s downfall was in the least detached from the Tet Offensive, or the rise of the antiwar movement, or the degeneration of the Atlantic-system Free World economy under the burden of limitless Vietnam expenses. On the contrary, these large social motions, “contingencies” of world-historical scale, defined the terms of clandestine power struggle and determined the objectives of its participants: the Cowboy to win a war believed to be winnable except for domestic and internal dissension, the Yankee to break off a war believed to be unwinnable except through an internal police state, both sides fighting for control of the levers of military and state-police power through control of the presidency. Johnson’s Ides of March was a less bloody Dallas, but it was a Dallas just the same: it came of a concerted effort of conspirators to install a new national policy by clandestine means. Its main difference from Dallas is that it finally did not succeed.
The Turn Toward Peace
Was the Eugene McCarthy campaign a stalking horse for Kennedy? By design or by flaw, it had that effect. It warmed the waters and perfumed the air for the Kennedy antiwar campaign. When Kennedy stepped out to soar he already knew where the wind was. So did the hunters.
What is it about Kennedy’s politics and situation that makes it possible for this Irish Catholic and decidedly nonestablishment family to form national electoral coalitions inclusive of the big-city machines, acedemic liberals, and the Establishment? We have noted (chapter 2) how the Kennedy link with the WASP Establishment was formed in pre-World War II days when father Joseph and son John were at the Court of St. James. But what was the basis, for example, of John Kennedy’s access to Johnson in 1960 or Robert Kennedy’s to Daley in 1968?
However the Kennedy presidential coalition was formed, it was in the process of forming again in 1968 around Robert. We do not and cannot ever know whether he would have returned the crown to the East, but we should not forget that at the time of his assassination he had assembled a prowithdrawal coalition easily strong enough to dominate the Democratic party and carry off the nomination, and that owing to Johnson’s early “retirement,” he would have enjoyed the further advantage of not having to face an incumbent.
The Assassination of King
The problems of the lone-Ray theory are much the same as the problems with the lone-Oswald. Four eyewitnesses to the April 4 killing, including two police detectives spying on King, said they saw the gunman in the bushes on the ground, not in the second-story window in which Ray was said to have been perched. The angle of the mortal wound is consistent with a shot fired from the ground, inconsistent with a shot fired from the second story. For the alleged murder weapon, a rifle, to be aimed at the correct angle from the bathroom window alleged to have been Ray’s nest, the butt would have had to project into the wall. Ray’s travels after the assassination took him to Montreal and then Europe, although (like Oswald) he had no visible purse. He traveled under the aliases Eric S. Galt, Paul Bridgman, and George Ramon Sneyd, which turned out to be names of real people living in Montreal, all Ray’s age, all had Ray’s build, all bearing and astonishing facial resemblance to Ray, including in one case identical scars. And so on.
Ray’s first lawyer, Alabaman Arthur Hanes, convinced Ray to sell the rights to his story as the only way to raise funds for legal defense. The author thus retained came to pressure Hanes not to let Ray testify in court for fear of compromising the commercial prospects of the forthcoming book – according to Ray, who therefore dissolved the contract.
His next lawyer, Percy Foreman, connected to the H.L. Hunt empire, took the stance from the start that ray’s only reasonable tactic was to plead guilty, which he did only after he and his family strenuously resisted; all Foreman’s lawyerly skills almost could not make them see the necessity of a guilty plea. (The guilty plea guaranteed, of course, against a serious trial and a serious investigation.) Foreman was at the same time involved in a big-money deal on the book rights to Ray’s story, a deal whose only commercial premise obviously was that Ray would in fact be convicted as the real assassin of King. Foreman told the Ray family that he “didn’t want Jimmy to testify because he’d talk about conspiracy.” Strange reason, but it may ring a distant bell to learn that Foreman was also one of Jack Ruby’s lawyers during the no-conspiracy period. Meanwhile, the only witness who positively connected Ray to the crime was a drunk, alleged to be on the Memphis police payrolls as an informant, whose wife testified that, at the time of the shooting, he “was drunk and saw nothing.”
Ray’s later assertion of innocence does not reject the possibility that he may have been unwittingly used: “I personally did not shoot Dr. King, but I may have been partly responsible.” The evidence of conspiracy and cover-up has persuaded Coretta King among others that a new investigation is necessary: “I do not believe an impartial investigation has been held.” As of early 1976, it had not been held because of the refusal of the Tennessee court to let Ray reverse his guilty plea.
The May Memos of Hoover
This is the battery of memos signed May 10 with which Hoover formerly launched the FBI’s so-called counter insurgency intelligence program, called “Cointelpro,” the explicit purpose of which was to crush the civil rights and antiwar movement, the New Left. We do not yet know all the details of Cointelpro, we do not know its full range; above all, we do not know its impact – except that there is no longer a New Left. But we have the large print up front and it is not hard to deduce the basic variations. Directing all offices to mount an attack on the “New Left movement and its key activists…who spout revolution and unlawfully challenge society to obtain their demands,” Hoover wrote that “the purpose of this program is to expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize the activities of the various New Left organizations, their leadership and adherents. It is imperative that the activities of these groups be followed on a continuous basis so we may take advantage of all opportunities for counterintelligence and also inspire action where circumstances warrant.” He said, “consideration must be given to disrupting the organized anarchistic activity of these groups…the devious maneuvers and duplicity of whose activists…can paralyze institutions of learning, induction centers, cripple traffic, and tie the arms of law enforcement officials to the detriment of our society….Law and order is mandatory for any civilization to survive.”
The Assassination of RFK
Besides the woman in the polka dot dress, there are the following mysteries in the RFK shooting:
1: The Los Angeles coroner, Thomas T. Noguchi, insisted from the first that the shots fatal to Kennedy were fired from the rear, point blank to the back of his neck, not from Sirhan’s position several feet in front of Kennedy. As in the JFK case, this problem of the direction of the lethal fire is basic.
2: The bullet taken from Kennedy’s neck and the bullet taken from the body of newsman William Wiesel have never been matched to the same pistol.
3: The bullet removed from Kennedy has never been conclusive matched to the Iver Johnson .22 Cadet, the revolver the police took from Sirhan.
4: There is even a single-bullet theory. Since Sirhan’s pistol held only eight bullets and seven were recovered from the bodies and there were three bullet holes in the ceiling, the L.A. police were inspired, Specter-like, to theorize that one of these bullets went up through a ceiling panel, ricocheted off the floor above, came back through another ceiling panel, hit the floor, bounced up and wounded a bystander in the head. In the summer of 1975, Kennedy aide and former Congressman Allard Lowenstein reported that the Los Angeles police had destroyed the ceiling panels.
5: The L.A. police might have laid the ballistics doubts to rest long since by simply test-firing the Sirhan pistol. On one occasion they did carry out a test firing, but the results were odd. Yes, the police said, the test proved it against Sirhan, the bullet fired from his pistol into a watertank and recovered compared positively with the bullet removed from Kennedy. But closer inspection turned up the fact that the serial number of the pistol fired in this test was totally different from the serial number of Sirhan’s pistol. This embarrassment doubtless reinforced the natural shyness of the police, and the ten volumes of evidence collected by the unit set up to investigate “Special Unit: Senator” are still secret.
Whatever time teaches us to think about the origins of the RFK assassination, its result was the destruction of the Yankee effort at unhorsing the Cowboys in 1968. The nomination of McCarthy had always been impossible, and the ascendancy of Hubert Humphrey guaranteed against any basic new departures in U.S. foreign policy and Vietnam.
Then came Chicago against the background of Prague, Paris, Mexico City. The the election of Nixon, the continuation of war and repression – the secret wars, Bach Mai, Kent State, Jackson State, Watergate.
The Yankee and Cowboy War