A Brief Historical Reminder: Why the Cold Warriors Wanted John Kennedy Dead

With the danger of a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia becoming more likely every day, it is urgent that the message of the June 10 Schiller Institute conference (cf. above) become a rallying cry for a growing segment of the citizens of the U.S. and Europe. The conference focused on U.S. President John Kennedy’s (JFK) speech of sixty years earlier, on June 10, 1963 delivered at American University, in which he demonstrated publicly that he was committed to the pursuit of peace with the Soviet Union, based on overcoming differences through dialogue, and focusing on the common interests of all human beings of all nations.

JFK realized that the threat of nuclear annihilation, which had become real during the Cuban missile crisis, required a change in relations between the two leading nations. He recognized that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev faced the same pressure from his “hardliners” that he himself faced. The Cold War mentality, which dominated most of his military, diplomatic and intelligence/CIA advisers, had become embedded in the minds of the voters. Would they accept a shift away from a hard-line against Communism, or would the war hawks be able to sabotage any effort he made in pursuit of a policy of detente?

While JFK moved purposefully to lessen tensions with the USSR, continuing to use “back channels” formed to peacefully resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis to reach new agreements — such as the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, signed two months after his speech — he hesitated to more directly, publicly take on those who argued that talk of peace was “appeasement” of Communism. This was especially acute, with the 1964 election looming, and the increasing difficulty of maintaining America’s defense of the government of South Vietnam, without a much more robust military deployment.

Yet JFK believed that he was being lied to about the possibility of military success in Vietnam, and that it was necessary to break from a fixed anti-Communist strategy of deepening U.S. involvement in a war there. By the autumn of 1963, he began moving to withdraw from the conflict. On Oct. 11, he enacted National Security Action memo 263, which approved the withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of the year, and all out by the end of 1965.

But he struggled with the political implications of this decision. According to the documentary evidence compiled by James Douglass in JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, he was consumed with solving this dilemma. He told Charles Bartlett, a reporter and an old friend, “We don’t have a prayer of prevailing there….They [the Vietnamese] are going to throw our tails out of there at almost any point. But I can’t give up a piece of territory like that to the Communists and then get the American people to reelect me.” (For a compelling report on the American University speech and the related battle with hawkish advisers on Vietnam, see Chapter 5, “Saigon and Chicago”, in Douglass’s book.)

What can be learned from reflecting on this struggle JFK took on to transform American foreign policy — and which likely cost him his life – in light of the existential threat we face today? In a private conversation of the Kennedy assassination with associates in 2004, Lyndon LaRouche said that the mistake of JFK was to fight this as “cabinet warfare”, in the belief that he could either “win over” the war hawks to his plan, or hold them off until after the 1964 election, and then get out. This was a trap, LaRouche said, and it made both the war, and his demise, inevitable. Instead, he should have used his position as President, to shift public opinion away from blind loyalty to the Cold War, to correct the blunder committed when Harry Truman deserted FDR’s wartime alliance with the USSR and stumbled foolishly into Churchill’s division of the world into two empires, turning the U.S. into a “dumb giant on a British leash”.

It is evident that Joe Biden is no JFK and that, so far, none of the 2024 candidates have demonstrated the qualities of statesmanship required. But it is hoped that a growing movement of “patriots and world citizens” will take up personal responsibility to build a true peace movement, based on realizing the common aims of all mankind, as proposed by the Schiller Institute.

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