For a long time, this site has maintained that the cover up about President Kennedy’s assassination is institutional and multi-leveled. The aim is to conceal both the facts of his murder and his achievements as a politician. Those twin goals permeate almost every aspect of American society across the board: academia, broadcast media, print media, publishing, even our judicial and political system. A good example of the last is illustrated in an article written for this site by the late attorney Roger Feinman. That article was about associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and it derived from Feinman’s personal experience with her. His article was quite acute at showing how these institutions crossed over and intersected and how ultimately the judiciary branch—as represented by Sotomayor—salvaged people as repulsive as author Gerald Posner and publisher Robert Loomis from exposure. (If you were not aware of this essay, please take the time to read it now.)
The message underlying Feinman’s memorable essay about Sotomayor was simple: to advance one’s career in the professional realm, one does not defy the conventional wisdom on the JFK case. Or, to put it more generally and prosaically: to get along, one goes along—and it doesn’t matter if one has to prevaricate, be a hypocrite, or dispense with one’s value system. People can learn to live with those things as long as their personal ambitions are fulfilled. Some examples in the JFK field would be the late Tom Pettit, Rachel Maddow, and Gus Russo. The denizens of the MSM have all learned that if one wants to feed off our society’s gravy train, one must submit to the absurd tenets of the Warren Commission. On the other hand, people like Mark Lane, Oliver Stone, and Feinman himself, all discovered that if one does not so genuflect, one’s career will suffer.
One of the subjects of this current essay has been dealt with on this site previously. Jeff Greenfield wrote a book in 2013 entitled If Kennedy Lived. That book was an example of what is called alternative history. As I noted previously, since it was a novel, it was in the looser category of that genre, as opposed to the non-fiction, much more historically solid category (e.g. Virtual JFK, by James Blight). For someone like me, what Blight did is much more interesting and rewarding. The Greenfield example is supposed to be more entertaining. Except, unlike say with Philip Roth and his excursion into the genre--The Plot Against America--Greenfield’s gifts as a novelist were leaden. Therefore, the entertainment value was, for me, nil.
The year before If Kennedy Lived was released, Greenfield published a work in the same genre of alternative history. That volume was entitled Then Everything Changed. In that volume, he took three different examples of alternative history. They dealt with John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Gerald Ford. In the first, President Kennedy was killed by suicide bomber Richard Pavlick in December of 1960. In the second, Bobby Kennedy exited the Ambassador stage a different way and was not shot in the kitchen pantry. (Although as Lisa Pease’s book, A Lie too Big to Fail notes, this would likely not have made any difference.) In the third, Jerry Ford manages to salvage his notorious gaffe in the 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter about Eastern Europe not being under the control of the communists. And this allows him to defeat Carter in the election.
As the reader can see, Greenfield likes churning out these alternative history products. The problems I have with Greenfield are twofold, and they both loom large in evaluating his work and his persona. First, in order to do any kind of alternative history that has real value, it helps if one is an historian. Greenfield is not. He is another in the long line of journalists who tries to masquerade as such. The second problem with Greenfield is that he is a dyed-in-the-wool premium member of the MSM. These two aspects of his character combine to make his work so compromised as to be pretty much worthless.
To show just how bad Greenfield is, one should just browse through his book on the Florida voter debacle of 2000. It is entitled Oh, Waiter! One Order of Crow. In that book, he actually tries to say that the reason George W. Bush ended up in the White House was the Democrats gave out the wrong instructions on how to mark the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach. This is the same excuse that Karl Rove was droning on about to any media charlatan who would listen—of which Greenfield evidently did. A second excuse he allows for was the candidacy of Ralph Nader. In my opinion, it is pretty hard to make CNN reporter Jeff Toobin look good, but in this instance, Greenfield does. In his book on the subject, Too Close to Call, Toobin described the whole Roger Stone choreographed “Brooks Brothers riot” that stopped the recount since it would have given Gore the election. If not for that phony event, the butterfly ballot and Nader’s campaign would not have mattered. As Toobin also reveals, Stone later reported to Dick Cheney about his success. This was made even worse by the fact that Antonin Scalia overruled the Florida Supreme Court in permanently halting the recount of votes. As any lawyer can tell you, a court issued stay order should only be granted if there is irreparable harm involved. There was no irreparable harm in counting each and every vote. And if there was, the irreparable harm was to Al Gore. Plain and simple: Scalia knew Gore would win if the votes were recounted to measure the intent of the voter. He did not want to see that happen and that is why he issued his order.
There are at least three good books on the monumental heist in Florida that address this issue head on: Greg Palast’s The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, John Nichols’, Jews for Buchanan, and Lance DeHaven Smith’s The Battle for Florida. All three of those works show that what took place in Florida was not due to the networks naming the wrong winner too early, or to butterfly ballots, or because of Ralph Nader. What happened in Florida was a preplanned, methodical deprivation of voter rights in which people of color were specifically targeted since the GOP knew that they would much more likely vote for Gore than Bush. The network calls of the state were off for the simple reason that they did not have the slightest inkling that this scheme was being enacted. The fact that no one was ever brought to justice in either state or federal court shows just how hapless and lost the system has become. But by writing such a breezy, cavalier book, Greenfield also ignored the deeper background factors that plagued the political system before their exposure in Florida—and have only gotten worse since the Florida heist. That is the planned and carefully executed methods by which the Republican Party has done all they could to dilute the votes of any demographic group that they feel will vote largely Democratic. This has come to be called voter suppression. And the Republicans have raised it to an art form.
In an interview Greenfield did for Chicago Gate in 2016, he even said there was nothing wrong with the 2004 election either. He added that only “diehards” would hold out about that one. After all, Bush won by 3 million votes. He does not note that Al Gore won by a half million votes, but lost the Electoral College due to Florida. Perhaps he doesn’t because then we would have to add this fact: if John Kerry had won Ohio, he would have emerged victorious in the Electoral College. And according to the son of the man Greenfield used to work for, what happened in Florida did happen in Ohio. And that is what gave us two terms of one of the very worst presidents in history. Greenfield began his political career as a speech writer for Senator Robert Kennedy. It was Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who wrote what is probably the best expose on how the Republicans managed to rig the vote in Ohio in 2004. Kennedy also wrote that there was a large media blackout on how this was achieved.
Why is this important to this discussion? For the simple reason that elections have consequences. And no alternative history exercise is necessary to demonstrate that fact. It was the heist in Florida that allowed George W. Bush to enact one of the worst crimes ever committed by an American president. One which everyone can be pretty certain Al Gore would not have committed. That is, of course, the disastrous American/British invasion of Iraq. There was never any reason for such utter folly. It was quite simply a war of choice. W and his neocon fruitcakes from the Project for the New American Century thought they could somehow turn the Middle East into a laboratory for democracy. To say the least, it did not work out that way. It was a disaster for the people of Iraq, it bankrupted the American treasury, and it caused tens of thousands of American casualties—God knows how many Iraqis perished. All based on nothing but a pack of lies. Not to mention that it also caused a whole new mutation of Islamic fundamentalism now represented by the likes of ISIS. So when the late Antonin Scalia requested that Americans should get over that horrendous Supreme Court decision that he initiated, someone should have flown him to Iraq, helicoptered him to an ISIS stronghold and said, “Please go negotiate with ISIS and then we can get over your decision.” These were the results of Greenfield’s—and the MSM’s—lighthearted accommodation with the Florida crime. To put it bluntly, they were part of the cover up. In reality, people should have gone to jail for what happened there.
Make no mistake about Greenfield. He made a U-turn shortly after his boss Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. In 1972, he and Jack Newfield wrote a book that I read at the time. I was much impressed by it. It was called A Populist Manifesto. It is a book that is worth reading even today. It would serve as a good guidebook for someone like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. It clearly reflected the influence of Robert Kennedy and his unforgettable 1968 campaign; one which, in historical terms, can only be matched by those of Jessie Jackson and Bernie Sanders for pure populist impact. But clearly, after a few years in the wilderness, working for the likes of political consultant David Garth, Greenfield learned his lesson. The politics of Bobby Kennedy would not work in the age of Reagan. This fact is exemplified by Greenfield’s comments on his late boss Robert Kennedy and his brother, John F. Kennedy. A most recent example would be his contribution to last year’s magazine, What if, a collection of alternative history topics.
Before we address Greenfield’s specific comments, I should note something about non-historians masquerading as historians. The debilitating trend of journalists impersonating historians probably began in its modern form with David Halberstam and his book The Best and the Brightest. That volume was so pernicious because it ended up being both a critical and a popular success. It sold almost 2 million copies, and was nearly universally praised. Therefore, its portrait of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and the Vietnam conflict held sway for approximately 25 years. That is, until the coming of Oliver Stone’s film JFK and the book by John Newman entitled JFK and Vietnam. It was only at that time and with the later declassification of documents that one could finally see how utterly wrong Halberstam was.
But as with Halberstam, so with Greenfield. Somehow, he is an historian and he can pontificate about historical matters, especially those dealing with the Kennedys. Consequently, with a pseudo-historian like Greenfield, Joseph Kennedy has an “at best” questionable relationship with the Mafia. And somehow, the best biography of Bobby Kennedy was penned by Evan Thomas. (Daily Beast, April 13, 2017 “What we lost when Bobby Kennedy Died”). Concerning Evan Thomas, how any biographer who uses the late literary fraudster David Heymann as a source—which Thomas did—can he praised in any way, that claim alone makes Greenfield’s judgment laughable. But beyond that, I can name five books on RFK that are all better than Thomas’, and I could explain at length why they are better. As per Joseph Kennedy and his mythological relationship with organized crime, I was at pains to show why this concept is so clearly false in my review of Mark Shaw’s last book, Denial of Justice. In that review, I refer to two scholarly books—not alternative history novels—to show why this charge is bunk. But again, this shows that Greenfield would rather rely on the likes of Frank Ragano and Chuck Giancana—both proven liars—rather than read archived documents or scholarly works. This is why he is not an historian. He is a journalist and not a very good one.
Another reason why Greenfield is not an historian is his failure to place events in any kind of historical context. In the Daily Beast article noted above—and elsewhere—Greenfield says that RFK hated welfare programs, attacked federal aid to education, and wanted more community control over government funds. Now, if one just states those stances outright, then it sounds like politicians like the late Jack Kemp could claim Bobby Kennedy as one of their own. (Which is what some GOP hack writers do.) But as I reviewed at length in my four-part series on the Kennedys and civil rights, this is simply not the case. For example, concerning community control, RFK differed from President Johnson on the issue of community action grants—part of the War on Poverty—which originated with RFK’s assistant on juvenile delinquency David Hackett. As Hackett originally designed that program for John Kennedy’s version of the War on Poverty, he wanted the citizens in the impacted areas to vote on where the federal funds would end up in their communities. Whereas in Johnson’s version, he wanted the money to go to established bureaucracies like school districts and the mayor’s office. But in either case, the funds would come from Washington and so would the guidelines.
This is part of a larger issue that Greenfield has helped distort. That larger issue was using Bobby Kennedy’s name to help the likes of Bill Clinton, Dick Morris, and Al From phase out welfare. When Clinton decided to greatly cut back on these programs, he used Bobby Kennedy’s name to do so. Peter Edelman, who was working in the Clinton administration at the time, resigned in protest. Edelman worked with Bobby Kennedy when he was a senator from New York. It was Edelman who helped persuade RFK to fly to Delano, California and listen to the complaints of Cesar Chavez and the migrant workers there. Unlike Greenfield, Edelman never became a part of the MSM. When Clinton made his decision, Edelman got so angry with the invocation of RFK’s name that he wrote a whole book—Searching for America’s Heart—about why this was wrong. (Please note, as far as I can find, Greenfield did no such thing.) The bill that Clinton signed in the election year of 1996 turned over welfare to states in the form of block grants. From his experience as Attorney General, RFK knew what would happen to poor African Americans in the South under those conditions, which is one reason Edelman was so incensed about the issue. What Bobby Kennedy was proposing was a large reform of the welfare system, which included things like massive job creation, day care centers, plus improvements in education. His program would actually have initially cost more than what had existed. As Edelman wrote, the act Clinton signed did not even resemble what Bobby Kennedy had proposed before his death. Under Clinton’s auspices, what happened is that states have now used the 1996 bill in the worst way possible since the states were allowed to define the poverty line. Since the deaths of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the poverty stricken had no one representing them. Therefore, it was an easy thing to do.
But distorting his former boss is only half the story. And really, it’s the smaller half. In the What if magazine noted above, at greater length, Greenfield does the same with President Kennedy. In that interview, Greenfield does say that Vietnam would likely not have happened if Kennedy had lived. Yet, he does not relate Kennedy’s policies there to JFK’s other foreign policy forays (e.g. Congo and Indonesia). Or how what happened in Vietnam under Johnson is then roughly paralleled in those two places. Kennedy’s policies about supporting a nationalist leader (e.g. Cyrille Adoula in Congo and Sukarno in Indonesia) were quickly altered beyond recognition. In Indonesia and Congo, what LBJ and the CIA designed and executed were fascist takeovers with horrible results for the populaces. Therefore, what Kennedy wished to avoid, a replacement of colonialism with imperialism, occurred and stayed in place for decades on end. Again, if Greenfield is not aware of this, he is not an historian.
Like other MSM talking heads (e .g. Larry Sabato), Greenfield says that John Kennedy came late to civil rights. He further pontificates that JFK was not really passionate about the issue. With an apparent straight face, he then says that Lyndon Johnson was. (When one notes Johnson’s record and statements in congress from 1937 until 1957, this is an almost ludicrous statement.) As I noted in my four-part series on the Kennedys and civil rights, Greenfield is simply and utterly wrong about this issue. Senator John Kennedy endorsed the epochal Brown vs. Board decision in public in 1956. He then did it again in 1957. The first instance was in New York City, the second was in, of all places, Jackson, Mississippi.
In other words, contra Greenfield, JFK was in favor of civil rights and school integration before he entered the White House. Either Greenfield was not aware of this or he chose to ignore it. If the former, then it proves he is no historian. If the latter, it shows him to be a compromised hack. When Kennedy became president, he went to work on the civil rights issue the evening of his inauguration. That day, he was disturbed that there were no African Americans in the Coast Guard procession. Therefore, that night he called up Secretary of Treasury Douglas Dillon and asked him why that was so. Within weeks, the Coast Guard policy was being changed to actively recruit young men of color. In other words, at the time he should have been celebrating the triumph of his career, he was on the phone beginning his campaign to overturn, more or less, a century of neglect on civil rights. If that is not being passionate about the issue, then what is? I would also ask: if Nixon had won the election, would he have done the same thing?
As a result of that phone call to Dillon, Kennedy decided to make active recruitment of minorities an overall policy of his government. He therefore signed an executive order to that effect. This was the beginning of affirmative action. He signed that order in March of 1961. I ask Mr. Greenfield: how does two months in office translate into being late on civil rights?
As I noted in the last part of my series, no previous president had anywhere near the positive impact on civil rights that Kennedy did. No one even came close. But again, like the VIP member of the MSM that he is, Greenfield gives credit, not to JFK for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but to Johnson. Again, this conclusion is false. As Clay Risen showed in his fine book on the subject, The Bill of the Century, it was Bobby Kennedy and his Justice Department, Senator Hubert Humphrey, and Republican senator Thomas Kuchel who got the bill passed. And this was only after JFK organized the largest White House lobbying campaign in modern history to grease the skids. It’s a bit of a mindbender that Greenfield would actually take credit away from his former boss—and his boss’s brother—and hand it to LBJ, who, to put it mildly, Bobby did not like very much. But this is part and parcel of what can only be called a hatchet job on the subject by Greenfield. To illustrate what I mean by that, in the sources for If Kennedy Lived, he listed Nick Bryant’s atrocity of a book on the subject The Bystander. To me, this would be like doing a report on the American invasion of Iraq and using Judy Miller of the New York Times as a source.
Greenfield would not be Greenfield unless he mentioned another piece of mythology: President Kennedy’s alleged dalliance with Marilyn Monroe. As I have written for decades, this episode is dubious to the core. I tried to explain why in Part 2 of my essay The Posthumous Assassination of John F Kennedy. But the MSM never lets up on this phony issue, no matter how problematic the facts are (e.g. Robert Dallek and Mimi Alford). So, in 2005, when the late John Miner came out with what he and the MSM called tapes of Monroe talking to her psychiatrist, the media did not note that, in reality, these were not tapes. They were Mr. Miner’s notes on tapes he said he heard. Secondly, those notes are questionable since some of the things Miner presented have been discredited.
But further, how can one trust a former assistant Los Angeles DA who served as the executor to the estate of William Joseph Bryan? Which Miner was. Bryan is the man who many suspect programmed Sirhan Sirhan to assassinate Bobby Kennedy. Need I add that Bryan’s offices were immediately sealed after his death and that John Miner was part of the prosecution team at Sirhan’s trial? (The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy by William Turner and Jonn Christian, p. 229). Jeff Greenfield would not complicate his presentation with these troublesome details. They get in the way of the MSM narrative he wants to spin.
Before proceeding on to Jared Cohen and Condolezza Rice, it is important to review the origins of the neoconservative movement. If someone asked me to locate the provenance for it, I would suggest it began with President Gerald Ford’s appointment of what came to be called Team B. That watershed moment—when a White House approved special committee overrode the CIA’s official estimates of Soviet military power—occurred shortly after Ford performed one of the largest Cabinet shake-ups in modern presidential history. In early November of 1975, Ford did the following:
- Removed Henry Kissinger as National Security Advisor and replaced him with Brent Scowcroft.
- Fired James Schlesinger as Secretary of Defense and replaced him with his Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld.
- Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld’s deputy, now was named Chief of Staff.
- Ford terminated William Colby as CIA Director and appointed George H. W. Bush to that position.
- Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller was told he would not be on the presidential ticket in 1976.
Many commentators believe that these momentous maneuverings were caused by two factors. The first was pressure from the GOP far right in the form of early campaigning by California Governor Ronald Reagan for president. Secondly, Rumsfeld and Cheney wanted to curb the power of Secretary of State/National Security Advisor Kissinger. Those two friends and colleagues did not believe in the Kissinger/Nixon attempts at détente and arms agreements with the Soviets. Ford’s changes successfully sidelined those policy forays and greatly reduced Kissinger’s influence. Ford later said he regretted giving in to the ultraconservatives and—forgetting what he did on the Warren Commission—this was one of the few cowardly things he had done in his life. (Smithsonian, October 25, 2012, “A Halloween Massacre at the White House”).
Rumsfeld and Cheney had now set the stage for the construction of Team B. That journey started with the formation of a private body of conservative to centrist Democratic Party politicians and foreign policy mavens who titled their organization the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM). One of the prime movers behind the CDM was Senator Henry Jackson. (Robert Gordon Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics, p. 312) Jackson represented the Dean Acheson foreign policy school of the Democratic Party. It was this hardline attitude, especially in the Third World, which John F. Kennedy spent a large part of his senatorial career trying to ameliorate. Jackson also went up against Kennedy in the so-called “TFX Scandal”. As with the Sam Giancana mythological intervention in the 1960 West Virginia primary, this was another fabricated scandal. Since Jackson was from Washington, home of Boeing, and since Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, had bypassed that company in favor of General Dynamics to build the F-111 fighter, Jackson urged hearings in the senate in order to placate his backers at Boeing. In fact, Jackson’s nickname was “The Senator from Boeing”. (Columbia Magazine, Vol. 11 No. 4, article by Richard S. Kirkendall)
Jackson was so hawkish on defense, so conservative in foreign policy that some of his assistants and admirers later turned into Ronald Reagan staffers e.g. Richard Perle, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and Richard Pipes. It was Pipes who Rumsfeld appointed to head Team B in 1976. Two other members who CIA Director Bush allowed to contest Agency estimates of Soviet strength were Paul Nitze and Paul Wolfowitz. (Jerry Sanders, Peddlers of Crisis, p. 199) As journalist Fred Kaplan and analyst Anne Cahn have written, Team B’s report was so inflated it ended up being wrong on every important point. So wrong that Cahn actually labeled their estimates “a fantasy”. (Deadly Contradictions, by Stephen P. Reyna, p. 229)
Many commentators have deemed Paul Nitze perhaps the strongest behind the scenes promoter of the Cold War since 1950. In that year, he co-wrote NSC-68 and seven years later he had input into the Gaither Report. Those reports were ridiculously overwrought estimates of the Soviet threat and they did much to make the American expenditure on weaponry larger than the combined amount of the next twenty countries. For example, NSC-68 so alarmed Harry Truman that it caused a tripling of Pentagon expenditures. The Gaither Report actually stated that America was vulnerable to a Soviet first strike on her bomber force and that, by the early sixties, the Soviets would surge ahead in ICBMS. (Sanders, p. 128). It was issued in 1957, under Eisenhower. When the facts later emerged via U-2 flights, the situation was quite the contrary—the USA was wildly ahead in each leg of the atomic triad: submarines, ICBMs and strategic bombers. Concerning Wolfowitz, as almost everyone knows, he later was one of the strongest advocates—some would call him the architect—of the American invasion of Iraq. He seems to have learned from the master Nitze. Nitze taught him that one can achieve one’s goal by fixing intelligence estimates in advance, e.g. the mythological Weapons of Mass Destruction. (Mother Jones, “Secret Way to War”, May 16, 2005)
Wolfowitz learned, not just from Nitze’s prior examples, but also from his experience with Team B. As with the prior 1976 instance—which was allowed by President Ford and Director Bush—the exercise of overruling the CIA’s intelligence estimates was repeated as part of the buildup to the Iraq War. (Mother Jones, “The Lie Factory”, January/February 2004)
Like Richard Perle, Wolfowitz had worked for Henry Jackson. Wolfowitz later served in the Carter administration. In other words, he was a Democrat. In 1980, he retired from his position under Carter to work at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. As James Mann clearly denotes in his book, Rise of the Vulcans, this move was done in expectation of a Ronald Reagan victory. Therefore, around this time, Wolfowitz changed his party identification to Republican.
Which brings us to Jared Cohen. Cohen is the author of a recently published book called Accidental Presidents. That title stems from the fact that the book is about vice-presidents who became presidents. The three chapters that concern this site are those on the transitions from Franklin Roosevelt to Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson. What struck me most about what Cohen does in those chapters is that they amount to almost the inverse of what Peter Kuznick and Oliver Stone did in their film and book, The Untold History of the United States. In that book and documentary series, the authors clearly stated that 1.) The choice by the party bosses of Harry Truman as vice president over Henry Wallace in1944 was a mistake that altered history and jump started the Cold War, and 2.) The assassination of President Kennedy greatly impacted the foreign policy of the USA, especially in regards to Indochina.
To understand where Cohen is coming from, one needs to know a bit about him. At the age of 24, in 2006, he had a degree in International Relations from Oxford. He went to work as an intern for Condi Rice, Secretary of State. He was then promoted to the Policy Planning department. He stayed on after the election of Barack Obama and worked with Hillary Clinton. He left the State Department in 2010 and became director of Jigsaw, a division of Google.
I began to get suspicious of what Cohen was up to when he quoted someone as saying about Harry Truman, “he had never made any racial remarks.” (Cohen, p. 280) The author did not qualify that statement in any way, which is stunning. As far back as 1991, historian William Leuchtenburg found correspondence by Truman in which he wrote, “I think one man is just as good as another, as long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman.” (American Heritage, November, 1991). Further, Truman applied for membership in the Ku Klux Klan but was rejected because he was not a strong enough anti-Catholic. (Author interview with Peter Kuznick, June 17, 2019). Later on, Truman did alter his views and tried to pass a civil rights bill as president. But to let a statement like that stand without qualification is simply not leveling with the reader.
Cohen deals with the controversy over the selection of Truman over Henry Wallace in several pages. (Cohen pp. 281-92). Oddly, he writes very little about who Wallace was and what his policies were. Cohen does not even deal with the significant accomplishments of Wallace as Secretary of Agriculture. By not doing this, he achieves two things. First, there is no comparison between the two men; therefore, there is no explication of what was lost when Wallace was forced off the ticket by the party bosses. Second, by keeping Wallace a cipher, the motivation of those bosses (e. g. Robert Hannigan and Edwin Pauley) to eliminate Wallace is not addressed. And that motivation was almost rabid. They actually stooped to telling FDR that Wallace would sink the ticket because his approval ratings were in the single digits, when in fact they were a healthy 65%. (Peter Kuznick interview, July 17, 2019)
There is not enough space in this critique to try and convey why this creates such a lacuna in Cohen’s book. But I will say that Wallace was such a visionary progressive that the reactionary right spent decades trying to label his 1948 presidential campaign as some kind of Moscow backed Fifth Column. It is hard to believe but Truman actually took direct part in this ugly smear. (The Concise Untold History of the United States, by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, p. 139). That is how necessary William F. Buckley and his crowd felt it was to bury any scholarly look at Henry Wallace and his legacy. Wallace predicted in 1945 that the Russians would soon try and compete with America for hegemony in atomic weapons. (Ibid) He was calling for peaceful co-existence with Russia back in 1946, many years before John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. Once Wallace made the following speech in Madison Square Garden, focusing on that issue, Truman fired him as Secretary of Commerce.
With the problem of comparison with Wallace tucked under the rug, Cohen can ignite the other half of his agenda: justifying what Truman did after Roosevelt’s death to help jump start the Cold War. Many recent scholars believe that this was one of Truman’s aims in dropping the atomic bombs over Japan. It is hard to comprehend, but Cohen does not source what is probably the best book ever written on this subject. That would be The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb by Gar Alperovitz. If an author does not use such a valuable resource then what is one to conclude? It would be only natural to think that Cohen is not going to inform the reader of any of the strong evidence that demonstrates Truman’s decision to incinerate Hiroshima and Nagasaki was politically and not militarily guided. (Click here for a discussion)
After the terrible fire bombings of major cities by Curtis LeMay and the horrendous losses incurred in the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, the Japanese were being forced to negotiate. According to Peter Kuznick, who has done as much study on this as almost anyone except Alperovitz, if Truman had made it clear that Japan could keep the emperor and told them the Russians would join in an invasion from Asia, this would have very likely provoked a surrender—without the atomic bombs or an invasion. As many have pointed out, including Alperovitz, the Russian invasion of Manchuria started about ten hours before the second bomb was dropped. And the Russians simply overpowered the Japanese troops—it was a mismatch.
Although Cohen ignores Alperovitz, he uses David McCullough’s bestselling book on Truman. Because of this, he does something strange in his footnotes. (See page 461, note 115). Cohen uses an estimate of up to one million allied casualties in a Japanese islands invasion. McCullough did the same in his biography to defend Truman’s decision. Unlike McCullough, Cohen does not source this to General Thomas Handy. It was actually written by former president Herbert Hoover, who had little or no factual basis for his estimate. McCullough’s “error”—some suspect it was really not a mistake—was exposed by, among others, Professor Barton Bernstein. Although Cohen correctly sources the memo to Hoover, he does not tell the reader about McCullough’s faux pas. More importantly, he fails to note that Bernstein discovered the military actually ridiculed Hoover’s estimate. Bernstein wrote that the real Pentagon figures were at about 46,000 on the high side and 20,000 on the low side.
Recall, if LeMay was firebombing Japanese cities, what air force could the Japanese have had? Their navy had been pretty much rendered useless by the consecutive defeats at Coral Sea, Midway and, worst of all, Leyte Gulf. Further, the American invasion was not scheduled until November. Therefore, Truman had three months to negotiate before making a decision to either invade or drop the bombs. These factors have led some to speculate that Truman did what he did in order to, not just intimidate Stalin, but to also prevent the possibility of a shared occupation of Japan with the Russians. In fact, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s magisterial account of the last days of the war in the Pacific, Racing the Enemy, makes a powerful case that is was the Russian invasion that caused the Japanese surrender. (At this point it is almost superfluous to add that this book is not in Cohen’s bibliography.)
Just how much does Cohen want to defend Truman? At the Potsdam meeting in July of 1945, he describes how Stalin was not surprised when Truman hinted to him that America had developed a new and super destructive weapon. The author then adds that Stalin’s mild reaction can be explained because he likely knew about the Manhattan Project through the espionage of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. (Cohen, p. 312) Even some conservative authors do not maintain this. The two main sources of information to the KGB on the Manhattan Project were Klaus Fuchs and the lesser known Theodore Hall. (E-mail communication with Kuznick, June 17, 2019; also Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel, Bombshell: The Secret Story of America’s Unknown Atomic Conspiracy). Cohen is trying to justify the executions of the Rosenbergs, which is inexplicable in light of the fact that Fuchs was imprisoned for only nine years and Hall not at all. In keeping with this, Cohen also writes that Alger Hiss was convicted for espionage. (p. 324). Again, this is wrong. Hiss was convicted for perjury. And there is no doubt today that his principal accuser, Whittaker Chambers, was either a pathological liar or was enlisted by Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover to create a case against Hiss. There are three good books of recent vintage on the Hiss case, those by Lewis Hartshorn, Martin Roberts and Joan Brady. The Hartshorn book, which uses recently available grand jury records, devastates Chambers’ credibility to the extent that it proves it was he who should have been indicted.
In his David-McCullough-type ode to Truman, Cohen quite naturally concludes that somehow there was continuity between Roosevelt and Truman. He thus ignores Frank Costigliola’s interesting book showing how Truman mangled Roosevelt’s plans for a continuing postwar alliance system. Costigliola begins his book with testimony from someone who was there and watched the transition, Anthony Eden. The British foreign secretary stated flatly that the turning point which began the disintegration of the alliance was Roosevelt’s death. Eden was quite disturbed at what happened between Truman, Churchill, and Stalin after FDR’s passing. He said, “had Roosevelt lived and retained his health he would never have permitted the present situation to develop.” To hammer his point home, Eden added, Roosevelt’s “death therefore was a calamity of immeasurable proportions.” (Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances, pp. 1-2).
Following from his treatment of Truman and FDR, his chapter on the transition from John Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson is predictable. Still, for anyone who understands the newest research in the field it is a bit shocking. He begins his chapter by saying that Kennedy would have had a tough race for reelection in 1964. (Cohen, p. 327) Which contravenes the Gallup poll published in the Dallas Morning News of November 17, 1963. That poll had Kennedy defeating Goldwater by a margin of 58-42%. The usual rule is that anything over a 10% margin is considered a landslide.
Cohen then tried to build on this foundation of quicksand. In New York Times/Robert Dallek style, he writes that Kennedy had no real achievements to campaign on either at home or abroad. The author somehow missed Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, his backing of Dag Hammarskjold in Congo, the Peace Corps, Alan Shephard and the Mercury project, the raising of the minimum wage, Kennedy standing up to the steel companies, the successful negotiations for the return of Gary Powers, the passage of the Manpower Training Act, the release of Allen Pope from Indonesia, Kennedy’s attempt to pass a Medicare program etc. (For a visual essay on JFK’s achievements, click here)
Ignoring all the above, Cohen gets even worse. He now tries to say—in an even worse way than Greenfield—that Kennedy only spoke about civil rights but it was unclear if he would do anything. (Cohen, pp. 334-35). Who does he use as his source for this? His old boss, Condolezza Rice. He uses her because she lived in Birmingham during the huge 1963 demonstration there and the September Klan bombing that killed four young girls. This shows just how completely Rice and Cohen wish to ignore the historical record. Either that or they committed a schoolboy howler. Because Kennedy had submitted his civil rights bill to congress in February of that year. (Clay Risen, The Bill of the Century, p. 36). In other words, it preceded the whole SCLC Birmingham demonstration. Another example: Kennedy’s great June 1963 speech on civil rights was made directly after his showdown with Governor George Wallace at the University of Alabama. It was Kennedy’s integration of that university—backed by a combined force of 3,500 military troops and federal marshals that spelled the end of segregation in higher education in the south. So when Rice and Cohen say Kennedy only used words and did not act for civil rights, this is either pure ignorance or pure propaganda. Knowing Rice, it is probably the latter.
It gets worse when Cohen then writes, “The Kennedy courtship of black America was an extraordinary deception.” (p. 335). Can one imagine an author who uses Condolezza Rice as a source talking about using deceptions? I again refer the reader to my four-part essay on the subject, especially the chart at the end of Part 3.
That evidence proves that the Kennedys accomplished more in less than three years on this issue than Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower combined did in almost three decades. This is a fact that Cohen and Rice do not wish to face. Further, because JFK was making so much progress and achieving so many tangible benefits for the African American community, he was sacrificing his popularity in the south. Again, this is a proven fact. If one reads the figures in this link, the reader will see that Kennedy would have been clobbering Goldwater by an even wider margin if not for his devotion to the civil rights cause.
In his aversion to the historical record, Cohen, like Greenfield, tries to give credit to LBJ for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As I noted in my discussion of Greenfield, this is simply false. (If one needs more evidence, click here) Like Michael Eric Dyson, Cohen actually wants to also give LBJ credit for the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Housing Act. As I noted in Part 2 of my series, this is simply wrong. The 1965 act passed as a direct result of King’s Selma demonstration. I still think this is King’s greatest accomplishment. Johnson told King he could not get the bill through without something like that happening. (Louis Menand, “The Color of Law”, The New Yorker 7/8/13) The 1968 Fair Housing Act was an expansion of the bill Kennedy signed in late 1962. Johnson needed another major event to get it passed, namely King’s assassination.
But as bad as Cohen is on the civil rights issue, he might be even worse on Vietnam. What can one say about an author who uses people like Rice and Henry Kissinger as interview subjects? Does this mean that Cohen will only use National Security Advisors and Secretaries of State who qualify as war criminals for his information? Another way to look at this is if someone had the record those two have in Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, East Timor, Iraq and the Middle East, then would you be willing to give Kennedy any credit for saving America from a disaster? I doubt it.
Cohen begins to address Vietnam in a mindboggling way. He quotes Johnson as saying that Kennedy never spoke a word of importance in the senate or accomplished anything. (Cohen, p. 343) Again, this is the problem I have with pseudo-historians. Anyone can read John Shaw’s volume entitled JFK in the Senate. That book is a fairly good chronicle of what Kennedy did once he arrived in Washington. It’s simply not true that Kennedy sat around and twiddled his thumbs. Shaw published his book in 2015, four years ago.
But perhaps there is a method to the abeyance, because Shaw concluded that Kennedy’s most significant achievement in the senate was his mapping out of an alternative foreign policy to the reigning Cold Warrior ideas of John Foster Dulles and Dean Acheson. (Shaw, p. 110) Part of this included Kennedy’s doubts about the French military struggle in Vietnam. That broadened out to a whole new Gestalt view of American foreign policy in the Third World which culminated in his landmark 1957 Algeria Speech on the senate floor. Cohen mentions none of this: not one sentence about it! Perhaps because it completely contravenes Johnson’s statement, rendering it worthless?
From here, Cohen now begins to design an idea that dates from as far back as David Halberstam’s obsolete and pernicious book, The Best and the Brightest. He blames the escalation of the Vietnam War not on Johnson but on Kennedy’s advisors. (Cohen, p. 347) This completely ignores the declassified tapes made possible by the Assassination Records and Review Board. On those tapes, one can hear Robert McNamara proposing a plan to withdraw from Vietnam in October of 1963. (James Blight, Virtual JFK, pp. 100, 124). On another tape from February of 1964, we hear Johnson bawling out McNamara:
LBJ: I always thought it was foolish for you to make any statements about withdrawing. I thought it was bad psychologically. But you and the president though otherwise, and I just sat silent.
RM: The problem is—
LBJ: Then comes the questions: how in the hell does McNamara think, when he’s losing a war, he can pull men out of there? (ibid, p. 310)
This crystallizes the difference between the two men. Johnson knew Kennedy was withdrawing from Vietnam. He disagreed with that policy. The reason being that he knew America was losing and he did not want to countenance defeat. He kept quiet about this disagreement since he was only the VP. But now he was president and the policy would be reversed, which it was. But he had to work on McNamara, which, as shown above, he did. But Johnson went even further. In another taped phone call, he now wanted McNamara to take back his announcements about withdrawing. (ibid). So clearly, Johnson knew what he was doing and was now trying to blur the line between Kennedy’s policy and his planned escalation. This was made clear by National Security Action Memorandum 288, which began to map out target areas for a military escalation of the war, a much greater commitment to the internal affairs of Vietnam, and closing down any option of withdrawal. (Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War, pp. 128-29) In three months, Johnson was now doing something that Kennedy had not done in three years: he mounted an open-ended commitment to Vietnam containing a military option with direct American intervention. As we know, that was implemented due to the (ersatz) Tonkin Gulf incident.
What about Kennedy’s withdrawal program? Cohen goes to his old boss again. Rice says, well see Jared, those were all policy planning papers. And those change all the time, they really aren’t worth anything. (Cohen, p. 350) Recall, Cohen worked in the Policy Planning Department at State. Are we to believe that he and Rice do not know the difference between a policy planning paper and a National Security Action Memorandum? I have a hard time buying that one. Kennedy’s two major NSAM’s on Vietnam were numbers 111, and 263. In neither one did he allow direct American intervention or combat troops. In the latter he ordered the advisors in theater to begin coming home. Every major military advisor to JFK has said that he was not going to commit combat troops to Vietnam. This includes Defense Secretary McNamara, in his book In Retrospect, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy (Gordon Goldstein’s Lessons in Disaster, p. 245) and Joint Chiefs chairman Maxwell Taylor. (Virtual JFK, pp. 357, 365). But somehow, we are to believe Ms. WMD, “We don’t want the Smoking Gun to be a mushroom cloud”, Condolezza Rice?
In truth, as any honest observer understands, Kennedy’s withdrawal plan began in April of 1962. It was ignited by ambassador to India John K. Galbraith. Kennedy sent him to Vietnam since he knew he would be opposed to American involvement in the conflict. (Interview with Jamie Galbraith, June 3, 2019) Kennedy had Galbraith deliver his report to McNamara and this began the withdrawal plan. In 1997, the Review Board declassified those Vietnam withdrawal documents from McNamara’s Honolulu Conference in May of 1963. At that meeting, all elements of the American contingent in Vietnam understood Kennedy was withdrawing, (Jim Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, p. 126) In October, NSAM 263 enacted the withdrawal. These simple facts remain: there was not one combat troop in Vietnam on the day Kennedy was inaugurated, nor was there one there on the day he was killed. LBJ was inaugurated in January of 1965. By the end of the year, there were 185,000 combat troops in theater. As Fredrik Logevall proves in Choosing War, Johnson had planned his escalation around the election. Therefore, he continually lied about this during his campaign. (Logevall, pp. 171, 253). To top off Cohen’s clownish performance, he says that 250,000 South Vietnamese perished as a result. This is ridiculous. The best estimates available today place that figure about 4-5 times higher. And the total dead, on both sides, civilian and military is close to four million.
As noted above, the neocon revolution was begun by the man who did so much to cover up the death of President Kennedy. The contagion spread to the disciples of Henry Jackson and thus became a virus contaminating both political parties. Jared Cohen worked for both political versions of the virus: Condolezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. Thus, his book is not a work of history. It is an example of that strain. One of its uncontrollable symptoms is to wipe out the memory of what John Kennedy’s foreign policy really was.