Tuesday, 19 December 2023 10:11

Counterpunch is at it Again

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Counterpunch is at it again, smearing President Kennedy on civil rights, Indochina and the economy. We correct the record on all three.

Every once in a long while, Counterpunch will run a decent enough story on the JFK case by someone like Jeff Morley. More often the material they run is pretty much useless, and at times, worse than that. This is probably due to the legacy of the late Alexander Cockburn who teamed with Jeffrey St. Clair to edit the ‘zine. Back in 1991, Cockburn took up arms to attack Oliver Stone’s feature film JFK.

For the 60th anniversary, Counterpunch was at it again. On two consecutive days, they ran very questionable articles that can only be called smears of President Kennedy. The first was by Howard Lisnoff on December 6th and the second was by Binoy Kampmark on December 7th.

The first article began with a brief discussion of the Paramount Plus channel documentary entitled, JFK: What the Doctors Saw. Lisnoff acknowledges that the film produces evidence that Kennedy’s neck wound was one of entrance, and the rear head wound was an exit. He even admits that “there is no reason to doubt their clinical assessments.” But then he writes that there are few chances of “someone speaking out, or documents giving some clarity to these events…” Well Howard if you do not keep up with the declassifications of the Assassination Records Review Board or read sites like Kennedys and King, then you can say that. But if you did, you would know something about say Betsy Wolf and her inquiry into the Lee Oswald file at CIA for the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Which showed that someone was rigging that file when Oswald was on his way to defect to Russia in 1959. Does that not provide some clarity?

From here Lisnoff jumps to the famous Walter Cronkite interview with President Kennedy on September 2, 1963. Lisnoff starts in with the Alabama school case that had just begun at Tuskegee High School. Lisnoff does this without any mention of Kennedy facing down Governor George Wallace less than three months earlier at the University of Alabama on national television. Or saying a word about Kennedy’s civil rights speech of that evening, also broadcast on TV, which is probably the greatest speech on that topic by a president since Abraham Lincoln. That is quite a neat piece of censorship is it not?

Wallace was clearly stung by these acts and chose to retaliate by preventing the court ordered integration of Tuskegee High in Macon County. During the Cronkite interview, Kennedy refers to federal court orders—which Lisnoff also ignores. The reason Kennedy does this is because he is relying upon the relationship between his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and the great southern judge Frank Johnson from Alabama, to handle both Wallace and the case. Bobby Kennedy filed a lawsuit to prevent Wallace from interfering in the local issue. Johnson then issued an order to that effect. Wallace called up the Alabama National Guard to block entry into the school. The next morning JFK asserted federal authority over the National Guard. (Click here for the whole story)

Lisnoff also says that Kennedy made strikingly few appointments of minorities. In March of 1961, Kennedy signed the first affirmative action law in American history. He later extended that order to deal with, not just hiring practices by the federal government, but to all federal contracting to private companies. So, for the first time, companies and businesses in the south had to follow affirmative action guidelines in their hiring practices. For example, textile plants in North Carolina had to hire African American employees or they would lose federal contracts. (Promises Kept by Irving Bernstein, pp. 55-56). Lisnoff might not think this was important. But the conservative enemies of JFK sure did, since they began a 60-year campaign to neutralize it. Which finally succeeded this year.

LIsnoff then turns to the Vietnam conflict to address what Cronkite brings up about it and how Kennedy replied. He mentions NSAM 263, the order that Kennedy approved of on October 11, 1963 that would begin the withdrawal of American forces at the end of 1963, to be completed in 1965. Lisnoff replies that this was based on rosy predictions about the war made by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and JCS Chair Max Taylor. He then tries to throw this all out by saying that Kennedy was a Cold Warrior in light of the Bay of Pigs debacle and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the first instance, Kennedy refused the requests of the military to save the Cuban exile invasion with American forces, even though it was obvious it was about to fail. In other words, he did not escalate even though he was in a losing situation. During the Missile Crisis, Kennedy was in a defensive position. It was the USSR that had provoked that situation by secretly importing a huge atomic armada 90 miles from Florida, and then lying about it. That Russian arsenal included all three branches of the triad: missiles, bombers and submarines. Kennedy rejected an invasion, and he also rejected bombing the missile sites. He settled on the most peaceful alternative which allowed for a negotiated settlement to the crisis, namely the blockade. Far from branding JFK a Cold Warrior, this showed Kennedy at odds with the hawks in his administration.

This parallels what Kennedy was doing in Vietnam. The USA could help Saigon, with advisors and equipment, but no combat troops. Kennedy had drawn that line in 1961. He never crossed it. And he was planning on getting out at the time of his death. This is proven by other ARRB declassified documents that Lisnoff seems unaware of: the records of the May 1963 SecDef meeting in Hawaii. (Probe Magazine Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 18-21) These documents showed that McNamara was collecting withdrawal schedules from all American departments in Vietnam. When he saw them he said the plans were too slow. These papers were so convincing that even the New York Times ran a story saying that Kennedy had a plan to exit Vietnam in 1963.

Lisnoff gets utterly embarrassing in his desperation on the Vietnam topic. He actually uses David Halberstam’s obsolete book The Best and the Brightest to somehow show what Kennedy’s intent was in Indochina. That book was published over a half century ago. It was put out to pasture long ago by scholarship based on new documents that Halberstam either did not see, did not use, or discounted. If that was not enough, Lisnoff then trots out another journalist who initially promoted the Vietnam conflict, Neil Sheehan. I mean please Howard. (Click here for Sheehan)

Authors like John Newman, Gordon Goldstein and David Kaiser, among others, have shown why Halberstam and Sheehan’s works are museum pieces. Kennedy was withdrawing and Lyndon Johnson purposefully reversed that policy within 48 hours of JFK’s death. It was Johnson who first sent in combat troops at Da Nang on March 8 1965, after carefully and secretly planning for war in 1964. (See Truth is the First Casualty by Joseph Goulden and Frederick Logevall’s Choosing War for long treatments of this planning.)

Kennedy had no such plans. He did not even want American generals visiting Vietnam. (Monika Wiesak, America’s Last President, p. 133) And, in fact, McNamara declared in his Pentagon debriefs that he and the president had decided that America had only an advisory role in Vietnam. Once that was done we were leaving and it did not matter if Saigon was losing or winning at the time. (Vietnam: The Early Decisions, edited by Lloyd C. Gardner and Ted GIitinger, p. 166)

Lisnoff closes with comments on what Cronkite asks JFK about the economy and the unemployment rate. At the time, the unemployment rate was about 5%. Kennedy talks about this and faces it head on, specifying where the pockets of unemployment are and what he is doing to counter it. But what Lisnoff leaves out is what Kennedy did with the economy in a short three years. The entering unemployment rate for Kennedy was about 8% inherited from Eisenhower. (John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited, edited by Paul Harper and Joann Krieg, p. 184) Once Kennedy’s economic program was enacted in 1964, that rate went down to 3.8 %. (ibid, p. 188). When one adds in that Kennedy increased GNP by 20%, and inflation was quite low, at about 1 % throughout, and with relatively small deficits, Kennedy’s performance on the economy is pretty impressive.

The following article by Kampmark is probably even worse. It essentially dismisses all the hoopla over the 60th as sentimental hagiography, at times terming it as hysteria. Kampmark dismsses books by Arthur Schlesinger and Ted Sorenson with the usual charge of being done by “court historians”. My reply to this is: then what does one term the works of later writers like Richard Mahoney, James Blight, David Kaiser, Philip Muehlenbeck, Robert Rakove, Monica Wiesak and Irving Bernstein? These books were all done after careful research by men and women who were not working for or associated with the Kennedy administration. (The one exception being that Richard Mahoney’s father worked in the Kennedy state department.)

The books by these latter-day authors, exploring both foreign and domestic policy, more or less agree with the verdicts of Sorenson and Schlesinger. Should we then add in the debacles that followed? For example, the disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War by Lyndon Johnson which led to the largest air war operation since World War II, Rolling Thunder, over a backwards economy? How about the invasions of Cambodia and Laos by Richard Nixon—the former of which led to the genocide in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge? Or the Gerald Ford approval of the Indonesia invasion of East Timor, which led to another genocide there.

Sorry if Kennedy looks pretty good in comparison. But facts sometimes get in the way of propaganda.

Last modified on Thursday, 21 December 2023 08:18
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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