Tuesday, December 11, 2012

JFK & Appeasement at Dealey Plaza

A Perspective on the JFK Case

By Patrick McCarthy, Esq. 

Appeasement and Anti-Neo-Colonialism

It is inherently speculative to discuss what foreign policies JFK might have pursued had he lived longer. However, such prognostication is not unusual for historians. For example, the different course that events might have taken had an earlier Johnson not succeeded to the presidency has prompted substantial discussion of Lincoln’s approach to the Reconstruction Era based on his record of statements and his conduct of political affairs and philosophy prior to his assassination. (See NY Times book review by Schlesinger of john Newman’s Kennedy and Vietnam.)

In his HSCA hearings, the “Umbrella Man” maintained that his use of the umbrella at Dealey Plaza was intended as a political protest. The umbrella was described as a reference to Nevelle Chamberlain and what was considered a policy of appeasement in the face of Nazi aggression prior to Churchill’s election as Prime Minister. Assuming for a moment, that this was the Umbrella Man’s intent, the protest was remarkably discreet. By comparison, previous Dallas protesters had simply bashed Adlai Stevenson over the head with a placard.

The “policy of appeasement” argument has been a prominent part of the political discussion in America since WWII and has been raised in conjunction not only with Vietnam, but previously in relation to Korea and recently relating to Iraq and beyone. (See, e.g. The Wages of Appeasement: Ancient Athens, Munich, and Obama’s America by Bruce S. Thornton.)

Indeed, the post-World War II argument about “appeasement” can be said to have initiated at least as early as Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech in 1946, which specifically stated:

                       Our difficulties and dangers will not be removed by closing our eyes to them. They will not be removed by mere waiting to see what happens; nor will they be removed by a policy of appeasement.

In May 2008, former president George W. Bush stated to Israeli Knesset:

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before as Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

If the Umbrella Man’s protest was indeed a reference to Chamberlain, it was a remarkably subtle gesture that made direct reference to JFK’s father’s stance in the period before England’s entry into World War II, a posture which led to Joseph P. Kennedy’s dismissal as ambassador to Britain by FDR in October 1940. (See, e.g., Citizens of London by Lynn Olson. 2011 for scathing assessment of Kennedy, Sr.’s position.)

This record of Joseph P. Kennedy’s historic reluctance to enjoin with arms the enemies of democracy was no doubt well known to Chief of Staff of the US Air Force General Curtis LeMay, as well as other Joint Chiefs. Did LeMay simply consider JFK a coward, unfit to lead the nation as commander-in-chief? Ro LeMay, JFK may well have been considered an unqualified former lieutenant who had disgracefully lost his ship when it was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. The fact that Kennedy’s administration was succeeding that of the former five star general who led the allied forces against the Nazis would not have been lost on the Pentagon following the Bay of Pigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the political settlement brokered in Laos.

In considering this perspective, Kennedy’s record on the issue of Algerian independence is relevant. Issues relating to the post-WWII armistice bore a direct relationship to the question of tensions among factions denouncing what was referred to as neo-colonialism, the perceived need to combat the spread of Communism, and the policy of containment.

Southeast Asia was a part of this discussion from the outset of the post-WWII period. The U.S. inherited the Indochina conflict from France following Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Indeed, in this history of nuclear weapons, McGeorge Bundy notes that “the first operational test of the Eisenhower administration’s new policy on the use of nuclear weapons came in the climatic months of the French effort to defend against Communist insurgency in Vietnam” – at Dien Bein Phu, where France was defending Indochina. (Bundy, Danger and Survival, 1988) In The Most Dangerous Man in America, Daniel Ellsberg describes his shame about having provided Robert McNamara with a report on an incident of Vietcong atrocity in order for McNamara to justify an LBJ bombing campaign. McNamara, as pointed out in The Fog of War documentary, worked during WW II as an analyst of the bombing campaign conducted under General LeMay in Japan. (It is sometimes forgotten that LeMay was George Wallace’s vice presidential running mate in 1968, when they garnered over 13% of the vote.)

France encountered the lethal conflict of its colonial legacy closer to home in Algeria. The ultra-right against Charles De Gaulle was embodied in the Organization de l’Armee Secrete (OAS). (JFK kept a desk set given him by De Gaulle on his White House desk.) The OAS was linked to notorious assassination attempts on de Gaulle, such as the novelistic portrayal of the attempt in Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal. On August 22, 1962 in the town of Petit-Clamart. Fourteen bullets struck de Gaulle’s car and 187 sell casings were found on the street. The organizer of the attempt, Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry, was the last man executed by firing squad in France (March 11, 1963).

During the period of the late-1950s, JFK prominently spoke for Algerian independence. (NY Times, July 3, 1957.) He was labeled a leader of the anti-neocolonialist forces in the Senate, (J.F.K.: the Man and the Myth, Victor Lasky, 1963.)

Of interest to researchers would be documentation of General LeMay’s reaction to the political solution of the Kennedy administration in Laos preceding the emerging crisis in Vietnam. Generally, he considered the approach of succeeding presidents Johnson and Nixon insufficiently aggressive, which contributed to his decision to run on the Wallace ticket.

JFK’s approach to the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, and the reaction of the hawkish elements in the Pentagon to the Cuban Missile Crisis, provide additional context to the political atmosphere prior to November 1963. None of this puts a smoking gun into the hands of the Pentagon, the “intelligence community,” or rogue elements of various factions, including organized crime and Big Oil interests. (See Robert Caro, Master of the Senate, pp. 232-303, for an illuminating account of LBJ’s treatment of Leland Olds.)

Nevertheless, as the 50th anniversary approaches, the political context of the transition from the Eisenhower administration to the Kennedy administration, and the attempted passage of the torch to a new generation that was belayed, are fertile areas for fresh research by a new generation of scholars who should have all the documents made available for a frank elucidation of the facts and circumstances leading up to the debacle in Dallas, as well as of the dubious legacy of the Warren Commission Report.

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