Monday, 20 November 2023 19:09

The Execution of JFK: Extremism in Defense of Liberty

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Jerry Fresia argues that the assassination of JFK was the result of Kennedy's failure to play by imperialist rules.

“There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party…and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat.” – Gore Vidal

“Give me liberty or give me death.” - Patrick Henry, Founder.

Ideological managers have had a field day responding to Trump shenanigans. “Democracy is foundational” to our way of life we have been told ad nauseam. But it isn’t and never has been. What is foundational is just the reverse. It’s liberty.

This sounds like an innocent assumption, but it has a fundamental consequence. The concept of liberty, when used by elite Americans, is not a garden variety, context-free, concept of freedom. It is a concept that has embodied within it a system of private enterprise. It signifies the right of individuals to own and dispose of productive property.

So, when Patrick Henry announces that he would prefer death than to have his liberty denied, he is saying that the King has no right to tax him, an owner of private property.[1] Only property owners themselves have the right to decide such things, only owners have the right to dispose of their property (that they stole). What Henry can’t live without is free enterprise.

Recall that the revolutions of Europe, of which the American revolution is an extension, emerged along the routes of commerce, throughout the medieval market towns or burgs, and within the larger centers of trade where the demand for credit and capital resonated with the vision of some type of government where owners could call the shots. After all, “No one can deny,” asserted the foreign merchants of Antwerp angered by the restrictions placed on trade, “that the cause of the prosperity of this city is the freedom granted to those who trade here.”[2] Justice Story would distill the fundamental notion further: “the equation of personal liberty with private property should be held sacred.” Henry’s siren call, then, could just as easily have been turned around: restrict my right to own and dispose of property you risk your life.

The post-war political murders and coups through the 1960s fit this frame. It is structural.

New Realities of Liberty Post-WW II

“It’s tyranny,” Benjamin Rush shouted in reference to some of the democratic features of the Articles of Confederation before they were cast aside by the men of property. “The moment we submit to them we become slaves.”

Similarly, in 1948, with the US owning 50% of the world’s wealth and having but 6.3% of the population, George Kennan urged that the US maintain this relationship of “disparity” and, in so doing, “dispense with all sentimentality…[concentrating] our attention everywhere.”

With the newly minted CIA sanctioned to carry out “massive covert” operations, Allen Dulles, then head of the CIA under Eisenhower, had the cover he needed to use violence for simple annoyances. “Dag is becoming troublesome…and should be removed,” Dulles said of Dag Hammarskjöld, apparently murdered in 1961.[3]

Complicating the postwar defense of liberty was the “greatest threat,” as perceived by the CIA: the rise of anti-colonial, national liberation movements. The approach to this problem, urged by the CIA, was to return former colonial populations to “traditional subordination” or re-colonization.

Coups and Murders

Since its inception, the CIA’s attention had been “concentrated everywhere” but three major foreign events prior to Kennedy’s inauguration belie the structural constraint of having to defend liberty. For example, in 1953 in Iran, the government of Mohammed Mosaddegh stripped foreign investors of their property rights in oil and perhaps unaware, crossed a sacred red line and invited a coup.

Similarly, the ouster of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala was triggered because corporate investors and those who owned huge swaths of land, such as the United Fruit Company, sounded the alarm when Árbenz gave property to landless peasants and softened exploitative labor practices – a “communist reign of terror”- that diminished private control by United Fruit.

In 1961, Patrice Lumumba, as the first prime minister of the resource rich Democratic Republic of the Congo, was uninterested in re-colonization. He was an African nationalist who sought independence and neutrality, not subordination. The Belgian government tagged Lumumba a communist. President Eisenhower authorized his “elimination.” And so the CIA helped remove him.

The 1960s murders of Malcom X, MLK, Jr., and Fred Hampton follow similar patterns. X, as with Lumumba, supported national liberation movements, working with leaders of former colonies across Africa. In addition, X brought the issue not of property rights but of human rights to the UN. MLK, Jr. and Hampton both were overtly committed to transforming “the very structure of American society.” Hampton was explicitly anti-capitalist and had innovatively organized across racial lines developing a host of successful social programs.

But you may ask, so what? Aren’t these good things? No one is getting hurt. Many people are being helped. My response is this: think structure and recall Kennan’s plea: drop the sentimentality. And think of what the architects of our system admonished. Madison: “Democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security and the rights of property” (my emphasis). And here is where the Kennedys, not socialists at all, get snared. All the programs to mitigate the harshness of the market or to dampen competition over wealth are “wicked projects” because they also mitigate and dampen private rights to property. Moreover, the CIA was concerned with charismatic young leaders, movement builders, who could influence a majority which could then shift power. “The majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, … unable to…carry into effect schemes of oppression.” Rendered unable!. It’s structural.

The Unfamiliar[4] JFK

Noam Chomsky has noted that slight deviations from the orthodoxy of power can be met with removal. “The liberal intellectuals…are typically the guardians at the gates: we’ll go this far, but not one millimeter farther; and it’s terrifying to think that somebody might go a millimeter farther.” 

Below are examples when JFK went one millimeter farther and more. I’ll also include context and the reactions of power when appropriate.

- JFK, as a Senator in 1957, on the floor of the Senate, criticized French and American colonial imperialism and supported African national liberation efforts. As we have seen this was a direct confrontation with the CIA agenda.

- Also as a Senator, JFK bought copies of The Ugly American for every senator. Dulles refused to hang the standard presidential photo at Langley.

- A poisonous atmosphere greets JFK when he arrives at the White House in 1961. The Church Committee suggests that Allen Dulles rushed the murder of Lumumba so that it would take place before JFK was sworn in.

- The CIA and the JCS approve the CIA invasion force for an assault on Cuba. The CIA knows that the Soviets have learned the date of the invasion more than a week in advance and have informed Castro. The CIA never tells JFK and instead tells the president that the invaders will be greeted as liberators. JFK approves the plan but stipulates no US military support will be given. The CIA and the JCS believe JFK will be forced to send in US military forces once the plan fails. He doesn’t. Gen. Lemnitzer, Chairman of the JCS urges JFK to send in troops. JFK still refuses and accepts defeat. Afterwards, Lemnitzer will say, “Here was a president who had no military experience at all, sort of a patrol-boat skipper in World War II. Kennedy’s attitude was absolutely reprehensible, almost criminal.” JFK told Arthur Schlesinger that Lemnitzer “was a dope.” JFK fires Dulles and the next two top men at the CIA. JFK also tells Schlesinger draw up a plan to radically restructure the CIA and cut its budget. That document is not released in full by the CIA even today.

- Castro nationalizes Standard Oil and other industries held by the Rockefellers.

- June 1961, in a White House meeting with Khrushchev’s spokesperson who asked why he wasn’t moving faster to improve relations between the USSR and the US, JFK said “You don’t understand this country. If I move too fast on U.S.-Soviet relations, I’ll either be thrown into an insane asylum, or be killed.”[5]

- July 1961, at a National Security Council meeting, Lemnitzer presented Kennedy with an official plan for a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Kennedy was disgusted and walked out of the meeting and later remarked to Secretary of State Dean Rusk “and we call ourselves the human race.”

- Early 1962 CIA plans to murder Castro. JFK is kept unaware; no approval is given.[6]

- CIA, with French Generals, plan to murder De Gaulle for allowing national liberation movements to unfold in Algeria. French Ambassador calls JFK to inquire. JFK responds, “I’m not in control of my own government.”

- March, 1962, General Lemnitzer presents a plan, Operation Northwoods, that would arrange a terror campaign in Miami and Washington in order to blame Castro and foment revulsion against the Castro government. JFK rejects the idea and three months later he transfers Lemnitzer to Europe.

- In 1962 JFK sends over 30,000 troops to Mississippi to block segregationists and permit African American James Meredith to attend college.

- 1961: Despite the Joint Chiefs’ demand to put combat troops into Laos, advising 140,000 by the end of April, JFK bluntly insisted otherwise. Speaking to Averell Harriman, ““Did you understand? I want a negotiated settlement in Laos. I don’t want to put troops in.” Cambodian neutrality and a coalition government is achieved in Laos. CIA fails to honor.

- Roger Hillsman, advisor: on multiple occasions JFK was only the person in his administration to oppose the introduction of US ground troops [Vietnam], “he was a barrier in that sense.”

- For several months, the JCS withheld from JFK what they knew about the coming Russian deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba to insure that JFK would have no time to stop the deployment until they were in place nearly ready to fire. They wanted Kennedy to be backed up against the wall with no option other than to attack Cuba while carrying out a massive surprise nuclear strike to destroy the USSR and China.[7]

- Cuban Missile Crisis: JFK holds out against his advisors, for a negotiated settlement, refuses to use force, even after a US pilot is shot down. JFK, by means of private messages, aligns with Khrushchev against his own hardliners. Khrushchev does the same to avert hostilities and a likely nuclear war. LeMay, who believes this is the last chance to attack USSR, calls JFK’s actions “dismaying weakness,” sacrificing the defense of Europe.

- As a result, JFK gives Khrushchev assurances that there will be no US invasion of Cuba. Operation Mongoose is dead. The CIA is angry and concludes that JFK is “dropping even the pretense of overthrowing Castro.[8]

- Daniel Ellsberg noted that when the missile crisis was over there was a “fury” within the Air Force. “There was virtually a coup atmosphere in Pentagon circles. Not that I had the fear there was about to be a coup -I just thought it was a mood of hatred and rage. The atmosphere was poisonous, poisonous.”

- Ellsberg notes that civilian distrust of leadership, becomes more intense under JFK. JFK believed that his generals, especially LeMay, were “essentially insane, mad, reckless, or out of touch with reality.”

- LeMay argues that in nuclear war, the president should not be part of the decision making process at all. “After all, who is more qualified to make that decision…to go nuclear….some politician who may have been in office for only a couple of months or a man who has been preparing all his adult life to make it? Some politician who held back air support from the invasion force at the Bay of Pigs, who had refrained from knocking down the new Berlin Wall, who had refused to send combat troops to Vietnam, having earlier rejected sending them to Laos?[9]

- JFK forces US Steel to rescind its price increase, by means of a public humiliation. “My father always told me,” JFK shares, “that all businessmen were sons of bitches, but I never believed it until now.”

- Against the CIA, Kennedy supports Sukarno, Nasser, Nehru and the Non-Aligned movement.

- By 1963, the CIA is heavily invested in continuing the Vietnam conflict under its own control, was “virtually running the show.”[10]

- In June 1963, JFK delivers his “peace speech” in which he advocates the abolishment of nuclear weapons, rejects the Pax Americana (the military and economic architecture, which gave US worldwide military and economic supremacy ) in favor of closer relationships and joint projects with the US’s official enemy, the Soviet Union.

- In June 1963, JFK makes a national televised address saying that civil rights are a moral issue.

- October 1963, JFK fights for, gets ratified, and then signs the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union.

- In June 1963, JFK makes a national televised address saying that civil rights are a moral issue.

- On the last day of his life, a Kennedy emissary was in Cuba meeting with Castro in the hope of organizing future direct meetings between the two leaders. This is the message that JFK sent to Castro:

I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.


Let me clarify what I mean by a structural analysis. We may refer to Chomsky’s famous summary of post-war US presidents whom he argues could have been tried at Nuremberg for war crimes as were certain Nazis. What does this tell us? That Americans have a terribly faulty way of choosing presidents? Well, we do, but that’s not it. Chomsky is telling us that late capitalism – as a system - is necessarily imperialist. It doesn’t matter who is president, if he or she wishes to stay in that job, he or she will pull the levers of imperialism, as directed by corporations. And so it was with JFK.

However, we find JFK sporadically, early on, moving in directions that were somewhat troublesome for imperialists. By 1963 he simply was not doing his job. I believe elements within the national security state, rang the alarm, as had been the case with others outlined above, and planned his removal. Supporting liberation movements in Africa undercut the wish of foreign investors to see an abundance of new investment opportunities that recolonization would bring. His support of non-aligned movement leaders threatened investments of men and women of property over vast swaths of the globe as did his efforts at peace making which so annoyed General Le May and others. His willingness to confide in his official enemy against his own generals throughout 1963 was placing the interests of the majority over the opulent few. He was standing liberty on its head and had to be removed.

Using the language of the Framers, I believe JFK was simply “incompatible” and was “rendered unable” to beautify the world as were the other “bothersome” people who were splendid leaders of non-propertied people. Given that all these leaders were young, popular, and charismatic must have simply freaked out those who ran the national security state. Simply put, a substantial shift in power was in the offing.

One final point: NARA has not released 8 pages of the Church Committee report on “assassinations.” Disappearing bothersome people is not uncommon. But let us be clear: the murders of the 60s were done at the behest of a corporate directed government or state power. They were not assassinations. An assassination occurs when a lone nut murders a powerful figure. With assassinations, there is no culpability by the state. To call these murders assassinations suggests that the national security state did not direct the murder. It’s time we pull back the curtain, understand what liberty means, and call a spade a spade. JFK, Malcom X, MLK, Jr, RFK, and Fred Hampton were executed by the state for not serving corporate interests and the interests of the opulent few. These people were murdered in the defense of liberty.


[1]Henry was a slaver and stealer of lands belonging to indigenous people.

[2]Hannah Josephson, The Golden Threads (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949). 231.

[3]South African National Intelligence Agency, 1993. Hammarskjöld was killed when his plane was sabotaged in the air.

[4]The word used by Daniel Ellsberg to characterize the JFK found in James Douglas, JFK and the Unspeakable.

[5]Edward Curtin. Click for more.

[6]Church Committee and the CIA’s own Inspector General Report

[7]John M. Newman, Official Website

[8]David Talbot, Brothers, 173.

[9]Daniel Ellsberg, Doomsday Machine, 113.

[10]Douglas, 185-186.

Last modified on Monday, 04 December 2023 02:45
Jerry Fresia

To be updated.

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