President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev communicated often during the last year of Kennedy’s life. They spoke about having more in common with one another than with their generals. Kennedy initiated three policy changes that put him at odds with his generals, with the CIA, with most of his party leaders and advisors, and most definitely with the military industrial complex. He sought a nuclear test ban treaty as a way to slow, if not stop, Cold War escalation; he opened secret lines of communication to Fidel Castro, with an eye toward rapprochement with the Cuban communist regime; and he made firm plans to end the Vietnam War before it started.
President Kennedy doggedly resisted Pentagon and CIA efforts toward war during his first 1,000 days. And, ironically, his only real partner in that effort was his arch-enemy, Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who told his foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, “We have to let Kennedy know that we want to help him. We now have a common cause, to save the world from those pushing us toward war.” Each of the two most powerful leaders in the world understood that their real enemies were within their own governments.
1) Bay of Pigs Crisis, April 1961
1200 anti-Castro Cubans were being trained by the CIA in Honduras to get on repainted American naval ships to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro. The CIA had advanced knowledge that the KGB had warned Castro of the impending assault, but allowed the attack to fail in order to coerce JFK into a military escalation. The Cuban exiles were being slaughtered at the Bay of Pigs, but Kennedy refused to send in the several thousand Marines waiting just two miles offshore, personally calling the commander of the troop ship to tell him we’re not getting involved in jungle warfare in Cuba and to order him away from Cuba. He also refused to supply air support during the invasion. There was talk of impeachment.
2) Laos Crisis, 1961
The North Vietnamese were taking increasing territory in Laos and the USSR was supplying materiel, advisors and heavy weapons and supporting the Pathet Lao communists. JFK insisted on a political settlement in Laos against unrelenting pressure to engage. He ordered a few ships to the Thailand/Laos border, but no combat troops, and initiated negotiations with the Kremlin. Within two months, he established a cease fire and neutrality for Laos.
3) Berlin Crisis, Aug-Nov 1961
On August 13, the Berlin wall began to be erected, and Gen Lucius Clay moved US tanks into position at the border in defiance of presidential orders, which pushed the Soviets to move their tanks to the other side of the border. JFK called Clay directly and ordered him to “get those god damned tanks out of sight”.
4) Showdown over Vietnam, November 1961
JFK sent Gen Taylor to Vietnam to appraise the situation. On November 15, JFK faced off against his advisors, all of whom argued for a combat initiative. After listening for two hours, Kennedy said he’s not giving them a single combat troop, but offered only planes and military advisors.
5) Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962
Evidence showed Soviet nuclear missile sites under construction in Cuba, denied by the USSR. The Joint Chiefs were unanimous in pressing for a military response, but Kennedy instead ordered a strict military blockade and announced that any offensive missile strike from Cuba against any nation in the Western hemisphere would be considered an attack on the US by the USSR requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union, and called on Khrushchev to stabilize relations. Khrushchev informed Kennedy that all missiles would leave Cuba, and Kennedy agreed to remove missiles from Turkey as long as it wasn’t mentioned as a quid pro quo.
6) Withdrawal from Vietnam, November 1963
In spite of continued pressure to escalate US involvement in Southeast Asia, including the CIA-backed coup d’etat and assassination of South Vietnam president Ngo Dinh Diem on November 2, JFK proposed a quiet withdrawal of US advisors from Vietnam rather than a formally announced policy, and signed National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263 On October 11, calling for the withdrawal of 1,000 US military troops from Vietnam by the end of the year and a total withdrawal by the end of 1965, including all CIA operatives.
In his UN speech of September 25, 1961, President Kennedy challenged the Soviet Union to a “peace race…to advance together step by step, stage by stage, until general and complete disarmament has actually been achieved”.
Five days before that speech, his disarmament representative, John McCloy, and Khrushchev’s representative, Valerian Zorin, had signed an agreement outlining a “program for general and complete disarmament”. The McCloy-Zorin Agreement had then been quickly adopted by the UN General Assembly.
Nevertheless, Kennedy had said during the Cuban Missile Crisis that “Khrushchev must not be certain that, where its vital interests are threatened, the United States will never strike first. In some circumstances, we might have to take the initiative.”
Kennedy had intensified the arms race with the Soviet Union, doubling the production of Polaris missile submarines from ten a year to twenty, increasing the number of Strategic Air Command nuclear-armed bombers in the air on alert at all times from 33% to 50%, signing off on one thousand new US intercontinental ballistic missiles, each one with a charge eighty times as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. And on April 25, 1962, Kennedy had resumed atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the South Pacific.
It took walking to the very edge of nuclear holocaust during the Cuban Missile Crisis to turn Kennedy from a Cold Warrior to a champion of world peace and coexistence.
At the time of the creation of the great internationalist experiment called the United Nations, Kennedy had written to a PT boat friend:
“Things cannot be forced from the top. The international relinquishment of sovereignty would have to spring from the people – it would have to be so strong that the elected delegates would be turned out of office if they failed to do it… War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”
On May 6, 1963, President Kennedy issues NSAM #239, ordering his principle national security advisors to pursue both a nuclear test ban and a general and complete disarmament.
In his American University address the following month, Kennedy said, “Our primary long-range interest is general and complete disarmament – designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms.”
Within three months, Kennedy successfully negotiated an atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty with Khrushchev. He also, over the strenuous objections of his staff and much of Congress, sold wheat to the Soviet Union during their grain shortage. As with the test ban treaty, the American people were far ahead of the government and supported his initiatives for peace, and Kennedy knew he had to take his case directly to the American public to force Congress to act on them.
The Test Ban Treaty was facilitated by the intermediation of political journalist Norman Cousins between the dying Pope John XXIII, whom Khrushchev admired for his tenacity in pursuit of world peace, and Khrushchev, to whom he relayed JFK’s thoughts on détente. In fact, Cousins hand delivered to Khrushchev an advance copy, translated into Russian, of the Pope’s final encyclical, Pacem in Terris, and the atheist Soviet leader studied it intensely.
On his return from Dallas, JFK had planned to find a way to fire US Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge, who was ignoring the President’s messages and secretly working to escalate the war. With Kennedy gone, LBJ supported Lodge and said “I am not going to be the President who saw Southeast Asia go the way China did. I am not going to lose Vietnam.” LBJ told his Pentagon generals, “Just let me get elected, and then you can have your war.” LBJ ran against Barry Goldwater as the “peace candidate”.
When JFK left for his fateful trip to Texas, he had said he was willing to accept an invitation from Indonesian President Sukarno, head of the non-aligned movement of third world nations (a term Sukarno had coined), and signal his support for neutrality. Kennedy had already received Sukarno warmly at the White House. To the dismay of his advisors, including his brother Robert, JFK was also financially supporting Sukarno’s ally, Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah, an African nationalist. In anticipation of the first US presidential visit to Indonesia, Sukarno was building a special guest cottage for Kennedy on his palace grounds.
Support of Third World nationalism and independence from the Cold War blocks was anathema to both the national security state and the corporate world which coveted the resources these countries contained. With JFK’s death, the CIA began funneling support to Sukarno’s disloyal generals, and the US embassy in Jakarta drew up a hit list of thousands of members of the Indonesian PKI, the communist party, to turn over to the generals. As many as a million died in the bloodbath. When RFK visited Indonesia after his brother’s assassination, Sukarno asked him, “Tell me, why did they kill Kennedy?”
Not only was JFK bucking the national security state in his support for Third World independence and his détente with Khrushchev and overtures to Castro, he had planned to be the first US president to visit the Kremlin “at the first suitable moment”.
When Khrushchev received the news about Kennedy’s death, he wept and then withdrew into a shell, wandering around his office for several days. He knew that his only hope for ending the Cold War had been murdered in Dallas. If Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy had visited the Soviet Union, they would have been warmly welcomed by the Russian people and the Cold War, and its implicit threat of nuclear holocaust, would effectively be over.
In 2009, Nikita Khrushchev’s son Sergei Khrushchev revealed that his father had decided, a week before Kennedy’s death, to take the President up on the offer to work together on a joint moon landing, thereby sharing some of their most secret rocket science and turning that knowledge from war to peace. Kennedy, for his part, had already anticipated Soviet cooperation, and issued, on November 12, 1963, NSAM #271, ordering NASA to begin planning for a joint lunar landing. Because of JFK’s death, the US went to the moon alone, and US and Soviet rocket technology continued to be aimed at death.
Following the JFK assassination, Robert and Jacqueline sent their intimate friend, writer and artist William Walton, who was already scheduled for a trip to meet Soviet artists in December 1963, to share with the Russians the Kennedy family perspective on the assassination of the President. This secret message remained in Soviet intelligence archives until discovered by a pair of Russian researchers in the 1990s.
Walton conveyed the Kennedy family assessment to trusted journalist/intelligence agent Georgi Bolshakov, who had been a conduit between Kennedy and Khrushchev during the Missile Crisis. The message was “despite Oswald’s connections to the communist world, there was a large political conspiracy behind Oswald’s rifle… and the President was felled by domestic opponents”. The Kennedy’s believed JFK had been “the victim of a right-wing conspiracy”.
Walton added that the Russian leaders should have no illusions that LBJ would continue JFK’s work for peace. The new President’s “close ties to big business would bring many more of its representatives into the administration”, whose adverse impact on hopes for peace Chairman Khrushchev would understand.
Walton also conveyed to the Kremlin that Robert Kennedy would remain as Attorney General only through 1964, after which he would run for elected office in preparation for a run for the White House. This was to inform the Soviets that the suspension of JFK’s vision for peace would not last forever.
Never-the-less, with Kennedy taken out of the picture, his peace partner Khrushchev was overthrown the following year. And the US national security state was going to make sure that their peace mission could not be revived.
As Wayne January of American Aviation Company at Red Bird Airfield in Dallas had learned from a CIA pilot who confided in him over sandwiches as they prepared the getaway plane for a November 22 departure, “They are not only going to kill the President, they are going to kill Robert Kennedy and any other Kennedy who gets into that position.”
And so they did, to Robert Kennedy on June 6, 1968, and to John F. Kennedy Jr. on July 16, 1999.
David Morales, the CIA’s top assassin in Latin America and Chief of Operations at JM/WAVE, the Miami-based CIA training camp for the anti-Castro crusade, told friends in 1973: “I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard.”
by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced with attribution for non-commercial purposes
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