Friday, 22 August 2014 16:46

Michael Swanson, The War State

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A valuable Big Picture book, one with many new sources for study, which bring in much fascinating information. The light [Swanson] sheds on men like Nitze and Acheson show just what hollow clowns the so-called Wise Men of the media really were. [The book] also demonstrates just how powerful and dangerous the Military Industrial Complex has become. By showing Kennedy's opposition to it, he may have also shown why Kennedy was killed, concludes Jim DiEugenio.

Michael Swanson's book, The War State, seems to me to be a unique and worthy volume. This is not a book on the Kennedy assassination. It's not even mainly about Kennedy's presidency; although it does deal with that subject in the second half of the book. What it really is about is the construction of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) after World War II. How that complex, as in no other country, then became a permanent and an integral part of our society. And how it then began to siphon and strangle parts of the American economy. It also deals with how two presidents helped start the phenomenon, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman; and how two presidents then crashed into it, Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy. But the author makes clear that the crash by the latter was much more extensive. In other words, Swanson has written a Big Picture book, one in the tradition of, say, Fletcher Prouty. In my opinion, we need more of these types of books these days. Especially in light of what has happened to the USA since 1963.


Swanson begins the book with a telling quote by statesman and author George Kennan. Kennan writes that if the USSR would disappear tomorrow, the American military-industrial complex would remain unchanged, "Until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy." The remarkable thing about this quote is that Kennan wrote it in 1987, two years before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and four years before the collapse of the USSR. And true to form, the MIC did hang on for a decade. And then, almost to fulfill the dreams of Project for the New American Century (PNAC), came Osama Bin Laden and the 9-11 attacks. The MIC now had its new nemesis. And, as per PNAC, American foreign policy demanded an invasion into Central Asia (Afghanistan) and one into the Middle East (Iraq-twice). PNAC also demanded a reshaping of that area into republics; something they were not at all ready to be. That stipulation created a new Perpetual War to replace the Cold War. All of this was predicted in advance by Kennan.

From here, the author flashes forward to the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Pgs. 3-9) And he shows how the extremes in both the Russian and American camps made it difficult to settle that nightmare peaceably. To the point that President Kennedy had to use his brother to create a back channel to Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to come to a peaceful conclusion to the crisis. Swanson then comments that this may be why Kennedy allowed director John Frankenheimer to use the White House while filming Seven Days in May, a book and film which depicts an attempted military takeover of America.

For his theme, Swanson now segues to Eisenhower's famous Farewell Address, in which, for the first time, the MIC, as we know it, was named and described, and its dangers outlined. (p. 10) And now, Swanson begins to describe just how powerful and sprawling the MIC has become. The USA spends 15 times as much on the military as does Russia. It spends 6 times as much as China. (p. 11) If one adds up all global spending on arms and the military, the USA is responsible for 40% of it. More than the next 20 countries combined.

How was this monster created? Prior to World War II, the USA had always demobilized after major wars. For example, in the thirties, the USA had an army of 140,000 men. We had only 80 tanks and 49 bombers. The total arms budget was only 243 million dollars. As Swanson comments, no one, not Huey Long, not John Maynard Keynes, could get Roosevelt to spend enough money to counter fully the Great Depression. But the threat of Germany and Japan did that in spades. By 1944, unemployment went from 14.6 % to 1.3 %. In constant dollars, FDR spent over 840 billion on the military. That figure dwarfed what he spent on the programs of the New Deal. By the end of the war, the USA had built 88,000 tanks, 97,000 bombers, 400 destroyers and cruisers and an amazing 22 aircraft carriers. (p. 13) Military spending was now 36% of GDP and had reached 86% of total budget expenditures in its biggest year. (p. 13)

Prior to World War II, very few people paid income tax, and it was usually the rich who did. But this war was much more expensive than World War I, therefore bonds were not enough to finance it. Therefore, taxes had to be supplemented by the withholding income tax feature on middle class people. By 1945, that tax had now surpassed the corporate income tax as the base of operations for the American budget. (pgs. 14-15)

When Roosevelt began to taper the economy to switch over to a wartime basis, he felt he had to go to the Eastern Establishment to man the high positions in this new behemoth. Therefore, the heads of companies like Sears and GE were placed on the War Production Board. And these men told Roosevelt only big companies could ramp up production fast enough to create a great war machine. Which, the author points out, may or may not have been true. (p. 18) These men also recommended the no-bid contract for much of the work to be done. Almost 75% of all contracts since have been of this variety. Further, they have also been cost plus contracts. Which means all costs of production are paid with a profit built into the contract. As the reader can see, this was the beginning of corporate socialism in military contracting. The biggest companies got even bigger and the MIC was now created. (p. 20)

As the author notes, these abuses eventually led us down the path to Ronald Reagan and the Pentagon's $435 hammers, $600 toilet seats, and $7000 coffee makers. Many of these men FDR appointed, like Charles Wilson, urged him not to demobilize after the war. Others, like historian Charles Beard, saw the danger this created and said it was necessary to demobilize. Since FDR died before the end of the war, he did not make that decision.


As many scholars have noted, including the illustrious Barton Bernstein of Stanford, Harry Truman was responsible for many of the excesses of the national security state. Whatever his regrets were later, whatever New York Times hagiographers like David McCullough may write about him, Truman is popular with Republican mouthpieces like George Will for a reason. The reason is that, along with Winston Churchill, he bears a large part of the responsibility for the Cold War. (As I previously pointed out, the best book on this subject is Frank Costigliola's Roosevelt's Lost Alliances.)

As Swanson sees it, the Cold War began in earnest with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Swanson agrees with authors Gar Alperovitz and Stewart Udall that the dropping of these bombs was completely unnecessary. He also quotes people in the government at the time who agreed with that view. For example, Herbert Hoover, Curtis LeMay, Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur. (pgs. 38-39) That is quite a conservative gallery for the allegedly populist Truman to be out of step with.

As Swanson incisively writes, the arms race was accelerated because of the influence of Secretary of State James Byrnes. Byrnes was as much a contrast to Secretary of State Cordell Hull as Truman was to FDR. Byrnes pushed Truman into using the atomic bomb as leverage over the Russians at Potsdam. Which was an incredible misjudgment of Josef Stalin. Truman and Byrnes also looked askance at Stalin's attempt to control Poland after the war; something that even Churchill understood and privately agreed to in principle. (pgs. 60-61) As Alperovitz postulated, one reason for the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki was to thwart any more Russian influence in Japan since Roosevelt had agreed to have Stalin open a second front in Asia. Something Stalin did. But the Russians were so easily successful that this alarmed many of the White House hawks, who Hull and FDR had overridden. With the second bomb, and the closing off of the Russian military drive in Manchuria, Stalin now saw the handwriting on the wall. The USSR now had to build its own atomic bomb. In a monumental miscalculation, Truman thought this would take the USSR many, many years to do. (pgs. 66-67) He was wrong. They did it in four.

As Swanson astutely comments, this was not all to the origins of the Cold War. There were two other distinct elements. First, there was the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944. Named after the town in New Hampshire where the representatives met, this was the creation of the economic internationalist system that would mark the post war world. Bretton Woods marked the beginning of incredibly influential agencies like the IMF and the World Bank. In other words, the Western financial centers of London and New York would now have a reach that would be truly global. (p. 48)

The second distinct aspect outside the creation of the bomb was the Truman Doctrine. Swanson mentions the struggle in Greece between the monarchists and the socialists after the war. The United States sided with the monarchists. (p. 69) Both Bill Donovan, former OSS chief, and George Kennan backed this move. Although Kennan did have his reservations about the USA becoming the policeman of the world. Senator Arthur Vandenberg, a former isolationist, urged Truman to use the aid to Greece issue as a fear tactic against the Russians, to herd the American people into following him. (p. 72) Needless to say, the tactic was successful. The Truman Doctrine passed in 1947 by the large margin of 67-23. The USA was now allowed to direct aid and weapons to any nation perceived to be in danger of being taken over by communists. This gave the president a huge new power that really did not require a lot of consultation with congress. Therefore, as his advisers told him, Truman now had a great issue in his hands, that of anti- communism. These men did not understand how ogres like Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover would now demagogue that point.

The Truman Doctrine was followed up by the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO. Both of which Stalin felt threatened by. Therefore, he joined neither one. As he did t join Bretton Woods. (p. 76) But when Stalin actually tried to act against this new coalition, he failed. Swanson describes here the attempt by the Russians to seal off West Berlin and force the USA out of the city and therefore make Berlin one, under Russian influence, inside of East Germany. The attempt failed due to the Berlin Airlift. And Swanson rightly states that, in practical terms, this was the extent of the Russian challenge to NATO in Europe. Which is why, for example, Kennan recommended unifying German as early as 1957. His doctrine of containment had won out.

Kennan, of course, with the famous Long Telegram from Russia, had predicted a struggle with communism and the Soviets. But he always regretted the fact that his message had been taken over by the hawks in the White House and turned into an excuse for higher military budgets. He felt that struggle would be much more of an economic, diplomatic, and cultural one. (p. 77)


Now comes one of the highlights of the book. After the Russians exploded their atomic bomb in 1949, Truman ordered a review of national security policy. (ibid) The wrong person was placed in charge of this review. The result was one of the great mistakes in modern American history. The man in charge was Paul Nitze, and the Frankenstein monster he composed was NSC-68.

Nitze is one of the most ignored figures present at the creation of the Cold War. Because not only did he play a major role in its construction, he was such an inveterate and unrepentant Cold Warrior that he stuck around for decades. He then revived it all under Ronald Reagan 30 year later.

He is one of the worst examples of the Eastern Establishment. Educated at Harvard, he went into investment banking and made a fortune before he was thirty. He then joined Dillon, Read, before founding his own company. But he returned to Dillon Read from 1939-41 as its president. His first wife was a member of the Rockefeller clan. Nitze therefore was one of the members of a privileged class of wealth who navigated between Republican and Democratic presidents for forty years. He had no real political convictions except 1.) to stay in a position of power and 2.) to exacerbate the Cold War. He achieved the last with spectacular success.

When Truman commissioned his review, Nitze was in charge of Policy Planning at State. He chaired a study group, which featured Dean Acheson and Chip Bohlen, among others. But as many authors agree, Swanson included, Nitze was the driving force behind NSC-68.

This infamous document recommended a huge, spectacular expenditure on new atomic bombs; a tripling of the conventional defense budget; and a raising of Kennan's containment policy to levels that Kennan never dreamed of or contemplated. Nitze did this by exaggerating the Russian threat out of all relation to its real military capabilities. But he also did so by attributing to it designs on Europe which it simply did not have. (pgs. 81-82) He then presented his report to Truman with three options: withdraw from Europe, attack the USSR, or follow his recommendations. A skilled bureaucrat, Nitze did his work behind Truman's back. He himself understood that many of his claims were unsubstantiated at best, and pure hyperbole at worst. But by going to each service chief separately, by getting their support for a huge budget increase, and then telling them he was doing the president's bidding, he had cornered Truman. He also went to the press to tell them how much this program was needed. (p. 84) Truman resisted, and then relented. (Swanson could have added that Nitze repeated this performance again in the late 70's with the Committee on the Present Danger. See Jerry Sanders fine book, Peddlers of Crisis.)

As a result of Nitze's handiwork, by 1952, defense spending had gone from 13 billion annually to 56 billion. As Swanson comments, NSC-68 made the MIC created by World War II a permanent industry. For example, in 1953, 75% of the national budget was devoted to the military. In the first decade of the Cold War, over 60% of the national budget was devoted to defense spending. (p. 85) But beyond that, Nitze wrote in NSC-68, that even if there was no USSR, it was the purpose of the USA to keep "order" in the world. In fact, this was one of the Nitze's favorite themes: America's duty to keep a world order.

When NSCA-68 was declassified in the seventies, the Russians were aghast at just how wrong the information it was. Later, the Russian military estimates for Nitze's Committee on the Present Danger were also shown to be wrong. In other words, instead of the media treating him like a Wise Man of the establishment, Nitze was nothing more than a rightwing shill. He did his shilling for his beloved Wall Street brethren's economic interests. His lies ended up bankrupting two countries: Russia and the USA.

Previewing his next chapter, Swanson writes that the CIA would now become the chief mechanism for American control in all reaches of that world order.


Swanson begins his chapter on the CIA by quoting from a speech Dick Bissell gave about the Agency at a CFR meeting in 1968. There, Bissell talked almost exclusively about the methods and goals of covert action programs. In other words, there was very little discussion of the collection and collating of intelligence. Swanson then observes that in a covert action program, sometimes things come up that are unforeseen. These command spur of the moment further covert actions. In fact, in an internal CIA 1972 report, it was observed that presidential authority had approved only 25% of all covert actions. (p. 101) In the formative years of the Agency, the 40's and 50's, some senators who were supposed to be practicing oversight, really did not want to hear about the Agency's cloak and daggers activities. Therefore, the Agency had almost a blank check to do what it wished. An example of this was the extensive network of airlines the CIA developed over time. Which Director Richard Helms did not even know the extent of. He had to commission an officer to summarize their holdings. (p. 104)

From here, Swanson traces the history of the Agency from the Central Intelligence Group led by Sidney Souers to the formation of the CIA under the National Security Act. He notes the influence of Allen Dulles in the shaping of the National Security Act, especially those paragraphs dealing with the Agency. (p. 113) Some of the early employees of the Agency were Frank Wisner, E. Howard Hunt, James Burnham, and Bill Buckley (the last two would go on to found the National Review). One of the early propaganda projects these men worked on was the construction of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its flagship British magazine, Encounter. (p. 116) Some of its early covert action projects took place in Italy and Greece. But Frank Wisner, head of covert action at the time, utterly failed in his operations to undermine Russian control in Eastern Europe. The CIA also failed to predict the Korean conflict or the creation of the atomic bomb by the USSR.

Truman, gravely disappointed by these intelligence failures, now appointed Walter B. Smith as CIA Director. Smith had read the Dulles-Corrrea-Jackson report on CIA reorganization. So he brought in Dulles as Deputy Director of Plans, and then made him Deputy Director. Wisner's Office of Policy Coordination, where covert action was planned, was now brought out of the State Department and into the CIA. (p. 122)

Dulles had been friendly with the Rockefeller family for many years. Through them, he had met the Shah of Iran. Therefore, he was instrumental, along with his brother, Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, in recommending the overthrow of the nationalist Mossadegh in Iran. (p. 125) The CIA chief in Tehran suggested this was an attempt at Anglo-American colonialism. Dulles had him transferred out and replaced him with the head of the operation, Kermit Roosevelt. (p. 126) Needless to say the coup worked. But the warnings of the CIA chief turned out to be correct in the long run. In 1979, with the Iranian revolution, radical Islam began to sweep through the Middle East, along with radical anti-Americanism.

Allen Dulles now became CIA Director due to Smith's health problems. At the request of United Fruit, he and his brother advocated for the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 in Guatemala. United Fruit hired advertising wizard Edward Bernays to control the press coverage about Arbenz prior to the coup. Bernays of course played up the Red Menace angle. (p. 129) In reality, there were about 4,000 communists in the country, and only four members of congress were communists. The coup succeeded. But as with Iran, the long-term effects on Guatemala and the region were horrific. Some estimates state that the number of Guatemalans eventually killed by a series of fascist dictators mounted into the tens of thousands.

Eisenhower began to get reports about Allen Dulles that portrayed him as being ruthless and a less than competent administrator. So Ike set up the 5412 group to supervise CIA activities and report back to him. But since Dulles gave this group incomplete information, they were never able to get a real grip on the CIA. Swanson writes that it was at this point that Eisenhower began to get disgusted with the intelligence community. And he now issued his famous warning about the USA's intelligence apparatus being a mess since Pearl Harbor, and that he would bequeath his successor a "legacy of ashes." (p. 140)

Swanson now veers off into a subtheme of, "the Road not Taken." He writes a chapter about Republican senator Bob Taft of Ohio. Like many in the Eastern Establishment, Taft was an Ivy League graduate of Yale and Harvard. But unlike, say Nitze, Taft did not migrate to Wall Street to make his fortune after graduation. He returned to Cincinnati and practiced law. He then went into government service to resupply Europe with food after World War I. Observing the Versailles Treaty, in which the Dulles brothers were involved, he disliked what he saw. He did not think it was a just peace, but an imperial peace. (p. 148) On his return to Ohio, he went into state politics and then entered the US senate in 1938. Opposing Roosevelt's New Deal, he became known as Mr. Republican. He opposed the concentration of power in the White House during World War II and the New Deal. He also feared the growing trend of the American president to be a czar in the field of foreign policy. Which tended to make the USA into a major player in international affairs. Taft called himself a non-interventionist. (p. 154) He frowned on the growing armaments industry. He felt that because of its geography; being bound by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; the USA only needed a strong navy to protect itself from invasion. Prior to Pearl Harbor, he was against American intervention in World War II. He felt that America should supply England and Russia with the money and weapons to defeat Hitler.

Taft saw the growing power of the presidency as making future wars more likely. He also felt that the growing spending on defense would weaken the economy by raising taxes and causing inflation. (pgs. 156-57) Taft's ideas caused a split in the Republican Party in the fifties between the Eastern Establishment and the Midwest non-interventionists. In 1952, when Taft ran in the primaries, Thomas Dewey got Harold Stassen to serve as a stalking horse for Eisenhower and he branded Taft an isolationist.

Taft's ideas did have an influence on Eisenhower. Ike wanted security with solvency. He complained that when he was in the military, no general ever wanted to get rid of anything, including horses, which stuck around 50 years after they were obsolete. (p. 171) But for all his efforts, by the time Eisenhower left office, military spending had declined only from 70% of the budget to 60%. Eisenhower and Foster Dulles wanted to rely more on atomic weapons, as a cheaper option to conventional armies. (This was called the New Look.)

But even at that, there were complaints about American weakness versus Russia. Curtis LeMay talked about a bomber gap. Senator Henry Jackson talked about a missile gap. Nitze now went to work on 1957's Gaither Report, formally titled Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age. Nitze did all he could to promulgate the LeMay/Jackson myths about Russian strength versus American weakness. His report said that the Russians had 1,500 nuclear weapons, 4,500 bombers, and 300 submarines, all aimed at the USA. Nitze also said the Soviets could knock out our SAC with ICBM's. Therefore, the report asked for 44 billion dollars over five years to repair the difference.

This was all a wild exaggeration. The Soviets only had four ICBM's that could reach America at the time. Their nuclear bomber and submarine capability was primitive compared to the USA. (p. 191) But Nitze again leaked part of the report to the gullible media, which swallowed it. But much to his credit, Eisenhower rejected most of the Gaither Report. Which very much angered Nitze who wrote a very harsh letter to Foster Dulles at the time. (ibid) If one is to the right of Foster Dulles on national defense, where does that leave one?

But the damage was already done. By 1960, the USA had over 18,000 nuclear warheads. This was an incredible 2,000% increase from Truman's era. Yet, as we have seen, the military still wanted more. Swanson sees this endless appetite, and Eisenhower's rejection of Nitze, as one of the causes for Ike's unforgettable Farewell Address, with its pregnant warning about the growing might of the Military Industrial Complex. (p. 193)


When Eisenhower briefed John Kennedy before JFK was inaugurated, the incumbent warned the senator about two trouble spots, Laos and Cuba. He said that Kennedy should be ready to send American troops into Laos. Eisenhower had already authorized a program of covert action against Cuba because of the large amount of American investment there. He also told him that contrary to what Kennedy said during the campaign, there was no missile gap. The upcoming Polaris submarine missile was invulnerable. (p. 203) Kennedy was disturbed by how calm Eisenhower was when the discussion broached the possibility of atomic warfare.

Swanson now discusses the shocking saga of the Bay of Pigs invasion. How it went from a small-scale guerilla operation to a large scale, big budget strike force. He brings up the key point that Allen Dulles and Director of Plans Dick Bissell, never left Kennedy any written plans to study. And how they stressed a reliance on thousands of defectors, and also the contingency of guerilla war in the Escambray Mountains if need be. Bissell even said that perhaps as much as one fourth of the Cuban population would rebel. (pgs. 222-24)

Kennedy requested a shift in the landing location and demanded a location with an air strip. The problem was that the CIA did not foresee that the new landing site contained a coral reef. It was also now 85 miles from the mountains. These two factors caused serious damage to two ships during the landing, and the impossibility of retreat to the mountains for prolonged guerilla warfare. (p. 225) Importantly, Swanson mentions the key fact that Kennedy wanted D-Day air strikes to proceed from an airstrip inside of Cuba. (p. 235)

The operation was a disaster from the beginning. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara offered to resign. Kennedy declined since every person in the room was also for the operation. The one exception was Senator Bill Fulbright, who was not on the White House staff. In retrospect, Kennedy told Dave Powers: "They couldn't believe that a new president like me wouldn't panic and try to save his own face. Well they had me figured all wrong." (p. 241)

After the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy learned to pull in others from his personal staff to consult with on major operations e.g. Bobby Kennedy and Ted Sorenson. This ratcheted up the tensions between military mainstays like General Lyman Lemnitzer of the Joint Chiefs and LeMay on one side, and the White House.

I have one serious disagreement with Swanson in this section. He writes that the program which followed the Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose, included assassination plots. I have not seen any of these Mongoose plans which did this. We do have the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro. But those were not part of Mongoose. They were done secretly without presidential authorization. Something which the CIA admits itself in the Inspector General Report on the plots.

From here, Swanson segues to the USSR and its new leader Nikita Khrushchev. Unlike Stalin, Khrushchev actually consulted with the Presidium on a regular basis. Khrushchev also did away with the terrorist tactics Stalin used against perceived rivals. But the Russian was intent on holding onto Eastern Europe and encouraging wars of national liberation. Therefore, this entailed a rivalry with the USA.

Economically, Russia could not afford to build a huge navy. Therefore, Khrushchev concentrated on finding a way to build an atomic arsenal. The main nuclear bomber Russia had, the Bison, could not reach the USA since it had only a 5,000 mile range. Further, the USSR had only four of these. As per ICBM's, the Russians were still reliant on liquid fuel boosters. These took hours to prepare. And in 1960, the Russians had only two launch pads and four rockets. (p. 267) It is debatable if they had a rocket that could reach the USA at that time. And they would not have one for certain until early in 1962.

Khrushchev requested a summit with Kennedy over Berlin. It was scheduled for June of 1961 in Vienna. Before this, JFK called a meeting with several advisers. Russian Ambassador Chip Bohlen was struck by how much Kennedy wanted to try for a peaceful co-existence strategy with the USSR. (p. 278)

The summit was unsuccessful because of the cross purposes involved. Khrushchev wanted an agreement on Berlin, which Kennedy would not give him. Kennedy wanted to talk about a nuclear test ban treaty and Southeast Asia. But Khrushchev would not seriously broach those areas without Berlin. Both sides were stymied. (p. 283)

On his return, many hawkish advisers, like Walt Rostow, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, and former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, recommended a large defense build-up. They thought the USSR would move on West Berlin. Some even talked about a nuclear threat. Put off by these dire warnings, JFK eliminated Johnson and Acheson from the second stage of talks about the Berlin Crisis. Kennedy decided on a reserve call up, and a speech on Berlin. He then called back Acheson and Johnson and announced his policy at an NSC meeting. When he left, Acheson said, "This nation is without leadership." (p. 294)

The result of all this was twofold. The Russians now built the Berlin Wall to stem the tide of refugees fleeing to West Berlin. Secondly, they exploded the Tsar Bomba atomic bomb. This was the largest atomic explosion ever detonated before or since: 50 megatons. (p. 295) The Pentagon now asked for more missiles and more testing. The requests were for as many as 10,000 more ICBM's. Kennedy granted them only a thousand. At that time the USA had hundreds of missiles that could reach the USSR; plus thousands of bombs on submarines and planes that could do the same. The mismatch was more underlined with the launching of Corona, an intelligence spy station in the sky. The Russians had all their ICBM's at one installation; therefore they could be knocked out in one strike. Secondly, they had three bombers, which perhaps could reach the USA. They had only 12 atomic submarines and they were in port most of the time. (p. 297)

In July of 1961, in light of this information, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Lemnitzer and Allen Dulles presented Kennedy with a plan to launch a first strike on Russia. They said they had a window of superiority, which would close within two years. Kennedy was disgusted by the proposal. He walked out of the meeting and told Secretary of State Dean Rusk, "And we call ourselves the human race." (p. 300) After the meeting, Kennedy put together the Foster Panel to place a cap on the construction of atomic weapons. He then approved a speech by McNamara's assistant, Roswell Gilpatric, to demonstrate that he USA had a large superiority over the Soviets. Therefore, there was no need for a big build-up. Also Kennedy began to replan American atomic tactics. This was based upon having a formidable second strike if the Russians would launch first. He thus began to phase out a first strike strategy. (pgs. 303-308)


Swanson closes out the book with a chapter long discussion of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I won't detail this section since there have already been many summaries of this episode, along with several books on the subject. I will only enumerate things which I think are new or revelatory.

Swanson sees the origins of the scheme as a counter to the American missiles in Turkey and Italy. (p. 308) Khrushchev would secretly install the missiles. He would then announce the installation in advance of the November elections and then sign a treaty with Castro.

Khrushchev was successful in the installation since there was a lull in U2 flights over Cuba for a five-week period. Once they were detected, the CIA predicted they would be ready to launch in ten days. This turned out to be wrong. The Russians had installed all the missiles by the time the blockade was set up. It would only take hours to ready them for launch. It was Kennedy's settling on the blockade option which allowed the time for both sides to come to a settlement short of warfare. For as Swanson notes, the Russians had given Cuba short-range tactical nukes which would have demolished any invading army.

Very adroitly, Swanson points out the difference between LBJ and JFK during the crisis. Johnson was clearly more militant and hawkish on the issue than Kennedy was. In fact, Johnson actually grew tired of the debate and called for action to be taken. (p. 321) Acheson also called for an immediate bombing strike. (p. 323) The Joint Chiefs also called for an immediate bombing strike followed by an invasion. (p. 327) General Maxwell Taylor also wanted a bombing strike. And later on National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy agreed with him, which disappointed Kennedy. Even Bill Fulbright and Sen. Richard Russell wanted an attack.

The night he ordered the blockade, Kennedy ordered his wife and children to the White House from there home in Glen Ora. (p. 333)

The break in tension occurred with two events. First, Khrushchev sent a letter asking for a pledge by JFK not to invade Cuba. Second, Kennedy sent his brother to see Ambassador Dobyrynin. RFK told the Russian that an exchange of the missile sin Cuba for a pledge, plus a removal of the American missiles in Turkey, would be acceptable. But the offer must be taken soon. Bobby did not know how long his brother could hold out against the Pentagon. Who he feared would act unilaterally if the situation was prolonged. (p. 348) Again, Kennedy cut Johnson out of these back channel communications. (p. 347) Incredibly, even after the offer was accepted, the Joint Chiefs still recommended an air raid. (p. 349)

Afterwards, Kennedy said, "But the military are mad. They wanted to do this [an invasion]. It's lucky we have McNamara over there." (p. 354)

After this, Kennedy moved for a wheat sale to Russia, the installation of a hotline to Moscow, a limited test ban treaty and a joint exploration agreement to the moon. He was successfully building toward a detente with Russia. It all ended in November of 1963.

Mike Swanson has written a valuable Big Picture book. One with many new sources for study, which bring in much fascinating information. The light he sheds on men like Nitze and Acheson show just what hollow clowns the so-called Wise Men of the media really were. It's a book that also demonstrates just how powerful and dangerous the Military Industrial Complex has become. By showing Kennedy's opposition to it, he may have also shown why Kennedy was killed.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 22:25
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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