Saturday, 16 April 2022 23:26

Cleaning up after My Debate with Buzzanco

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While Oliver Stone was excited about the results of Jim DiEugenio’s debate with Robert Buzzanco on Aaron Good’s podcast American Exception, Jim follows up on the debate in this article by addressing some of the charges made during the debate which require careful and detailed refutation.

As our readers know, I wrote a column not long ago on Noam Chomsky’s appearance on a podcast called Green and Red. Chomsky and the podcast co-host, Bob Buzzanco, were fulminating about how Oliver Stone’s recent media appearances were misleading the left about both President Kennedy and the whole issue of what America’s role was in Vietnam. I replied to both of them. (Click here for that column) When Buzzanco later challenged the people behind JFK Revisited to a debate, I decided to oblige him. I would not do so on his show, since it would help him raise his audience, which I had moral reservations about. I said I would do so on Aaron Good’s American Exception podcast, a neutral site.

That debate did take place. (Click here for that debate) When Oliver Stone heard it, he immediately called me, as he was excited about the result. The problem with debates, of course, is trying to balance out the positive points you wish to make with the necessity of playing defense, that is negating the charges being made by the other side. Therefore, in addition to doing a follow up show with Aaron on this, I would like to make some comments on that score here.

First of all, to dispose of the last part of the debate, Buzzanco had said that there was little discovered about Oswald’s intelligence ties since the days of the House Select Committee (HSCA), which is an utterly false statement. John Newman wrote a whole book about this area which, contrary to what Buzzanco tried to imply, was not directly explored by the HSCA. In Oswald and the CIA, Newman discovered that both the CIA and FBI had anti Fair Play for Cuba Committee campaigns ongoing in the summer of 1963, which, of course, Oswald’s activities in New Orleans would seem to fit neatly into both. In addition to missing this, there was no place in those volumes where Oswald’s relationship with either the CIA or FBI was examined in any formal way. It turns out that the work of the HSCA’s Betsy Wolf, who was studying Oswald’s relationship with the CIA, was not declassified into the new millennium. To put it mildly, her work created a new plateau in this field. (Click here for details)

In the last part of the debate, it is hard to comprehend how someone who likes to pontificate about the impact of JFK’s murder could declare he knows little or nothing about the actual circumstances of his assassination, but like Noam Chomsky, such is the case. Suffice it to say that what happened during Kennedy’s autopsy—both the main one and the supplementary—would appear to indicate just what Chomsky says did not occur: a high-level plot. In the film JFK: Destiny Betrayed, we show that:

  1. The photos of Kennedy’s brain cannot be of Kennedy’s brain, simply not possible.

  2. In all probability, General Curtis LeMay was in attendance that night and tried to disguise how he got there.

Buzzanco is apparently ignorant of all this, as is Chomsky, which is no surprise really. What they lack in knowledge, they make up for in arrogance and snark.

Like so many leftist critics of Kennedy, Buzzanco said that somehow I should watch myself in talking about JFK’s civil rights program. This shows that, in addition to swallowing Chomsky, he has bought into the almost incessant and deceptive MSM campaign to bury what Kennedy did on civil rights. I made it a purpose of mine to go back into the record and find out what the truth was about this issue. Why? Because a while back, someone said to me words to the effect: Jim what you did with Kennedy’s foreign policy, you could probably do with all the other aspects of his presidency.

That turned out to be accurate. After a long four-part analysis, which surveyed literally dozens of books on the subject, I concluded that President Kennedy had done more for civil rights in less than three years than Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower did in three decades. In fact, it was not even close. Kennedy went to work on the issue the night of his inauguration. He was disappointed that there were no African Americans in the Coast Guard parade that day. He called up Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon and asked him about it. When Dillon said he had no idea why that was, Kennedy told him: Well, find out what the problem is.

The result of this was two affirmative action orders within a year. The first taking place in March, just two months after his inauguration. That first order dealt with employees in the federal government. There was a second one about purchases by the federal government, that is any contracting, with say the Pentagon or State Department, by a private vendor made that company also responsible for affirmative action guidelines.

What had happened was this: Kennedy was disappointed with the Civil Rights Commission set up by Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson while he was in the senate. Although Kennedy voted for it, he thought it was toothless. So, he decided to enlist the Commission’s lawyer, Harris Wofford, as a campaign advisor in 1960. After Kennedy was elected, he instructed Wofford to write out a program for civil rights. Wofford specifically wrote that the president should not even think of trying to pass an overall bill in the first or even the second year since it would be stymied by the southern filibuster. Wofford advised Kennedy to try and get some momentum through executive orders, the Justice Department and perhaps the courts.

And that is what Kennedy did. For example, differing with Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, Attorney General Robert Kennedy said the administration would support the Brown vs. Board decision. Bobby Kennedy then indicted the Secretary of Education in Louisiana for resisting that ruling. In Prince Edward County Virginia, the state would not support an integrated school system. The Kennedys collected contributions from wealthy donors and William Vanden Huevel actually built a new school system from scratch—superintendent, principal, counselors, teachers, and buildings—so that the local children could register for classes. (Click here for that story)

I could go on and on, for example funding voting drives, integrating both state and private universities in the south, filing suits against voting rights violations. No previous president went as far on as many fronts than JFK did. It’s not even close. And this was before he submitted his omnibus civil rights bill to congress in February of 1963. (For all the details, click here) As with Indochina, Buzzanco drank the Kool-Aid on this one.

Buzzanco also said that in my claim that Kennedy was much more reformist than what is made out to be, all I had to back me was Richard Mahoney’s book JFK: Ordeal in Africa, which shows that Buzzanco has not read this site very often. On the concept of President Kennedy’s reformist foreign policy, Robert Rakove’s book, Kennedy, Johnson and the Non-Aligned World is one of the best. That was published in 2013, decades after Mahoney’s 1989 book. On just the area of Africa, there is Philip Muehlenbeck’s fine work, Betting on the Africans. That volume was published in 2012, again decades after Mahoney. Decades prior to Mahoney, there was Roger Hilsman’s book To Move A Nation, which was astute on Kennedy’s foreign policy ideas, particularly about Indonesia. About the 1965 Indonesian upheaval, there is Bradley Simpson’s book Economists with Guns. Simpson says in that 2010 book, as he did for Oliver Stone in JFK: Destiny Betrayed, the epochal overthrow of Sukarno would not have happened if Kennedy had lived. Greg Poulgrain says the same thing in his book, JFK vs Allen Dulles: Battleground Indonesia, which was published in 2020.

As far as Indochina goes, it is just as bad for Buzzanco. Since the film JFK came out, there have been books by Howard Jones, David Kaiser, James Blight, and Gordon Goldstein which all agree with the views of that film: that Kennedy was withdrawing from Vietnam at the time of his death. There is also John Newman’s second edition of his milestone work JFK and VIetnam. In my view, that version is even better than the 1992 edition. There is also Richard Parker’s biographical work on John K. Galbraith. Galbraith was one of the strongest influences advising Kennedy on this issue, and the president took his advice to begin his withdrawal plan. (Click here for details)

Considering all this new scholarship, what is hard to understand is this: Why is Buzzanco still abiding by Noam Chomsky’s badly dated and intellectually shabby 1993 book? Because in the face of over 800 pages of new information declassified by the ARRB, no one else is. Need I add that since Chomsky’s book came out, both Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy (posthumously) published scholarly tomes in which they said the same thing: Kennedy was not going into Vietnam. Just how much evidence, how many witnesses, and how many scholars does one need in this regard?

Like the late Alexander Cockburn, Buzzanco wants us to think that somehow President Kennedy was involved in the Ramadan Revolution of February 1963. This was the overthrow of the Iraq leader Karim Qasim and his (temporary) replacement by the Baath party. Since I found Cockburn about as convincing as Chomsky on the issue of Kennedy’s foreign policy, I did some research on this. I read three works on the issue—one book and two Ph. D. dissertations—and none of them agreed with either Cockburn or later the work of Vincent Bevins on this score. All three writers stated that, unlike Eisenhower, the Kennedy administration was not all that interested in Qasim. For instance, the interagency committee Eisenhower had on Iraq was more or less dropped under Kennedy. And by late 1961, Qasim had turned on the communists, so there was no Cold War motive to dethroning him.

Where Qasim got into trouble was with the British and the Kurds. The former was over an oil rights dispute, the latter was over a territorial rebellion in the north. After the Kurds inflicted some defeats on the army, the Baath Party infiltrated the military and negotiated with the Kurds. And that is what set the stage for the overthrow in February of 1963. There is no credible evidence that the CIA or State Department commandeered the plot. (Peter Hahn, Missions Accomplished? p. 48) And unlike what Cockburn tried to imply, Saddam Hussein was not even in the country at that time. (For a longer treatment click here and scroll to part 6)

Buzzanco also brought up the overthrow in Brazil. It is true that Kennedy was worried about Brazil, but this is due to the horrible advice he was getting from Lincoln Gordon, who he should never have approved as ambassador. But it’s also true that he sent Bobby Kennedy to Brazil to advise Joao Goulart to moderate his government to avoid any conflict. Gordon had actually told JFK that Brazil was in danger of becoming a new Red China. (See Merco Press, April 8, 2022) We do not know what Kennedy would have eventually done in Brazil, but it was President Johnson and Warren Commissioner John McCloy who actually arranged for the overthrow in 1964. The Brazilian military was given aid by Vernon Walthers of the CIA. Operation Brother Sam was done hand-in-glove with the Rockefeller interests in Brazil, which is why McCloy was the front man for it. (The Chairman, by Kai Bird, pp. 550–53) I would like to add that, in reference to Latin America, Kennedy did not recognize rightwing takeovers in either Dominican Republic or Honduras. Also, unlike what Buzzanco said, the American embargo of Cuba did not start under Kennedy. Its initial stages began first in 1958, under Eisenhower. Ike extended it in 1960 to include most exports. Kennedy expanded it again in 1962. It’s quite surprising that a history professor could be inaccurate about something as simple as this.

My last point would be about the concept of what Rakove called “engagement.” This was his word for how Kennedy approached the concept of neutrality. Kennedy felt that if a country wanted to remain neutral in the Cold War, that was their decision. We could still send them aid and, in fact, we should send them as much as possible in order to keep them away from the communists. As Rakove notes, this was a large jump from John Foster Dulles, who did not want to deal with the concept of neutrality at all. With him, there was no neutral ground in the Cold War: you were either for the USA or against the USA. (See Rakove, pp. 6–11). A good example of this would be Kennedy’s attitude toward Nasser in Egypt versus Foster Dulles’ and, later, Johnson’s stance toward the charismatic pan-Arab leader. Any history scholar should be able to discern this wide difference. Nasser certainly did, as did most of the leaders in Africa. (Muehlenbeck, pp 227–228) For Buzzanco to say I agreed with him on this issue shows a combination of political spin and his lack of knowledge on who Foster Dulles was.

I would like to append one last point about how leftist ideology clouds the picture of who Kennedy was. Peter Scott wrote an essay for the Gravel Edition of the Pentagon Papers back in 1971. That essay was one of the earliest efforts to detect that Kennedy was withdrawing from Vietnam at the time of his death. The editors of that series were Chomsky and Howard Zinn. They did not want to print that essay, because to them it would indicate that whoever is president makes a difference. I do not know any clearer way of showing that Chomsky’s concept amounts to writing history according to ideology. And to me, that is not writing history. Its polemics.

John F. Kennedy was not a perfect president. We have never had a perfect president and there never will be one, but the best brief characterization of Kennedy was made by Richard Mahoney. He used Edward Gibbon’s description of the Byzantine general Belisarius as a point of comparison: “His imperfections flowed from the contagion of the times; his virtues were his own.”

Last modified on Saturday, 16 April 2022 23:47
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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