Three days before John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president, outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell address to the nation. He issued a warning: An emerging labyrinth of power involving the military and big business had become a ubiquitous presence in America.
Eisenhower stated: “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.”
Eisenhower did not mention the National Security Act of 1947 signed by his predecessor, President Harry Truman. That legislation heralded the Cold War and established the National Security State. One entity created by the act was the Central Intelligence Agency. Originally intended solely to convey pertinent intelligence information to the president, it had become, under Director Allen Dulles, an instrument for clandestine operations and policy-making unaccountable to anyone but its own power brokers. Often elected officials — even the president — were kept in the dark.
Kennedy was president for only a few months when the Bay of Pigs fiasco occurred. It was a CIA operation formulated during the Eisenhower administration. Fidel Castro had rid Cuba of Fulgencio Batista and his corrupt regime. Castro declared himself a Marxist, and many Cubans politically at odds with Castro soon immigrated to the U.S. Some exiles were recruited by the CIA for a fighting force known as Brigade 2506 that would attempt to overthrow Cuba’s communist regime. Intelligence officers assured Kennedy that disgruntled masses on the island would rise up and support the invasion. Though he allowed the venture to proceed, Kennedy made it clear that no U.S. military forces should be involved.
The CIA had lied. They had no evidence that the invasion would spark a popular uprising, and at the Bay of Pigs, the brigade became trapped and embattled on the beach. The architects of the invasion believed Kennedy would now be coerced into sending U.S. Marines to rescue the brigade and topple Castro. Kennedy proved resolute. No U.S. forces intervened, and Brigade 2506 surrendered. Though Kennedy took full responsibility, he was furious with the CIA. Eventually he fired Dulles and others who had been in charge of covert operations. In the process Kennedy made some formidable enemies within his own national security state.
In October 1962 the world came close to nuclear catastrophe. The Cuban Missile Crisis played out over nearly two weeks. Soviet missiles installed on the island precipitated an unprecedented emergency. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba to prevent any more Russian ships from reaching the island. Both Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev were pressured by their respective military advisors to engage. Surely things would have escalated swiftly into a nuclear exchange. Thanks to back channel negotiations, unknown to their bellicose advisors, the two leaders were able to defuse the standoff. The world breathed a collective sigh of relief. In the electrifying book “JFK and the Unspeakable,” by the revered Catholic peace theologian and activist James W. Douglass, a cogent and painstakingly documented argument is made that Kennedy was transformed by the missile crisis. He collaborated with his counterpart Khrushchev to achieve a Limited Test Ban Treaty, and he made a remarkable speech in June 1963 in which he outlined a strategy to end the Cold War and pursue the urgent need for disarmament.
Ultimately, Kennedy would sign National Security Action Memorandum 263 in October 1963, ordering the complete withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Vietnam by the end of 1965. These efforts to end the Cold War and guide the U.S. and the world to an era of hope and peace were heresy to the unyielding cold warriors in the Pentagon and CIA. Only 48 hours after JFK’s assassination, NSAM 263 was annulled by President Johnson and the doors to the Vietnam tragedy were flung open.
The Kennedy Act of 1992 was signed on the heels of director Oliver Stone’s powerful film “JFK,” and the act created the Assassination Records Review Board to oversee the release of the many still sequestered records pertaining to the assassination.
As a result millions of pages of documents became available and have helped to further clarify the political nature and context of Kennedy’s assassination. However, the CIA is still withholding 1,100 pertinent records from the public. Why would a 50-year-old crime require an ongoing cover-up? For 10 years former Washington Post journalist Jefferson Morley has been pursuing a lawsuit to free these materials. Truth and decency demand their release.
A recent History Channel poll indicates that 71 percent of Americans do not believe that Kennedy’s assassination was the work of one lone gunman. Indeed, evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that Kennedy’s murder on the streets of Dallas was a carefully orchestrated ambush and that expert shooters plied their heinous trade with murderous results that altered the course of history. Five decades of dedicated research and investigation have revealed a ruthless assassination conspiracy followed by a meticulous and cynical cover-up involving the CIA, the military and other sectors of government. The crime reverberates to our own time.
Will a U.S. president ever again have the courage to confront the forces of war and oppression on behalf of justice and peace?
We still await an answer to that urgent question.