Robert Dallek Camouflages John F. Kennedy, Twice
Robert Dallek had been a longtime history professor at UCLA with about ten books on American history under his belt when he published a 700-page biography of John F Kennedy, An Unfinished Life. That volume was timed for release in 2003, at the 40th anniversary of Kennedy's murder. Then, in 2013, for the fiftieth anniversary, Dallek published another biography of Kennedy. This one was called Camelot's Court. The ostensible reason for the second book was that it was more focused on other figures in Kennedy's White House. This was a rather dubious pretext for Dallek to use. For the second book is almost wholly reliant on the first.
An Unfinished Life was rather quickly embraced by the mainstream media at the time of its publication. In fact, newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post have since accepted it as a – perhaps the – standard biography of both Kennedy and his presidency. The Atlantic Monthly has also embraced Dallek and given him much space. He has since made many appearances on television, even one with Jon Stewart. At the 50th anniversary, PBS made a four-hour two part series largely based on his work. This was the longest program aired during that three week avalanche of denial.
If an historian is to be judged as having done a good and complete job, generally speaking, that means three major traits are manifest in his work. First, he produced something that was in some way new and original. Second, he was fair, objective and complete in his depiction of his subject. Third, his work did not cut corners or use questionable sources in order to fulfill a pre-conceived agenda.
In these books, it is very hard to give Dallek passing grades in those three areas. In the area of surfacing anything new, An Unfinished Life was trumpeted as dealing with many of the drugs and medicines Kennedy had to use for his back and adrenal ailments. Its not like this material had not been out there before. It had been available in several other books. Dallek just went further with it and in more detail. But the relevant question has always been: Did these medications impact Kennedy's performance in any way? In a 2003 interview with Juan Williams of NPR, Dallek himself concluded they had not. Which is a judgment that almost any Kennedy historian could have delivered without these records.
The second "new" element used to market the book was an alleged discovery Dallek made about a heretofore unknown dalliance Kennedy had with one Mimi Alford, who's name in 1963 was Marion Beardsley. Alford went in An Unfinished Life by her maiden name in the trade paperback edition. But she did not appear in public or write anything. That all changed in 2012. Now she wrote a book and went on a book tour. The MSM was greatly interested for a week or so. But Alford, and her book quickly disappeared. It wasn't until afterwards that researchers like Greg Parker, Tom Scully, and Vince Palamara began to poke holes in the specious Dallek/Alford story. I cannot do better than to refer the reader to Parker's fine work on this subject (also see Parker's Fiddle & Faddle). But no matter how many holes were poked in this story, Dallek used it again in Camelot's Court, published in 2013. Here he actually quotes the Alford book in saying Kennedy slept with her during the Missile Crisis, and told her he would rather his children be Red than dead. (Camelot's Court, p. 330) This is after Kennedy has demanded that every missile be removed from Cuba, and that any missile launched from there would meet with a retaliatory strike from him at the Soviet Union.
In reality, what was trumpeted as new in An Unfinished Life was, in the first case, irrelevant, and in the second case, with Alford, quite dubious. Therefore, what any real critic should have asked was: is there anything else to recommend these books? In other words, what is there of real and lasting value in Dallek's work about Kennedy? Let us now deal with that substantial, but ignored, matter.
To begin to answer that question, one must say that even though the combined length of the books is well over 1,100 pages, one begins to sense that Dallek's work is not at all complete. The first thing one notices is the absence of a very important influence on young Congressman John Kennedy. In fact, today, some would say it might have been the single most important influence in forming his view of the world. You will not find the name of Edmund Gullion in either book. Which, today, is pretty much inexcusable. Especially after the work of Richard Mahoney and James W. Douglass; respectively JFK: Ordeal in Africa, and JFK and the Unspeakable. Quite naturally, it follows that neither of those books is in either of Dallek's bibliographies. And that tells us something about his work. Because even though Mahoney's milestone book gets the back of Dallek's hand, and Douglass' fine volume is absent from Camelot's Court, somehow Dallek did find the space and time to list books about Kennedy by authors like the late John Davis, the writing team of Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Victor Lasky, Thomas C. Reeves, Chris Matthews, and Seymour Hersh. Now, some of these books are written by rightwing hitmen e.g. Collier, Horowitz, Reeves and Lasky. Some are very questionable works by people who were on the make, like Matthews and Davis. Hersh's book is an out and out hatchet job done for big money. And make no mistake, Dallek uses these books. Why the author would use these kinds of books, but not Mahoney or Douglass, makes his book – to put it mildly – incomplete and lopsided.
The case of State Department official Edmund Gullion is a good example as to why. Gullion was an important figure for Mahoney and Douglass-and for this reviewer in Destiny Betrayed – because he had a definite impact on Kennedy's thinking about the issue of anti-communism in the Third World. As Mahoney details in his fine book, it was after his 1951 meeting with Gullion in Saigon that Kennedy began making speeches railing against American foreign policy by both parties in the Third World. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, pgs. 21-22) These early speeches are pretty much absent from both of Dallek's books.
Kennedy's opposition to Operation Vulture is simply absent from Dallek. In fact, you will not find it in the index to either book. Vulture was the Dulles brothers' solution to lift the siege of Dien Bien Phu and save the French empire in Indochina. It was a giant air armada of well over 200 planes designed to bomb North Vietnamese General Giap's army, which was closing in on Dien Bien Phu in 1954. That mission included the dropping of three atomic bombs. Senator Kennedy rose on the senate floor twice to object to this mission and ask John Foster Dulles how atomic weapons are meant to be used within the tactics of guerilla warfare. (ibid, p. 23) Also missing from Dallek's 1,100 pages is the letter that Kennedy wrote to Foster Dulles asking him what his plans were for Vietnam after France fell. (ibid)
These points are important for two reasons. First, they clearly show a growing conflict between the Dulles/Eisenhower/Nixon view of Vietnam and Third World colonialism, and Senator Kennedy's. Second, all of this will inform Kennedy's policy toward Vietnam and Southeast Asia when he becomes president. It helps demonstrate why Cold Warrior Lyndon Johnson was so eager to involve America directly in Indochina and why Kennedy was not.
All of these shortcomings and lacunae presage what Dallek is going to do with the great Algeria speech Kennedy gave in 1957. Many people, including myself, think this speech might be the greatest Kennedy ever gave. It was courageous since it clearly marked out and named the GOP White House team as being complicit with France in trying to crush the colonial rebellion in Algeria, part of the French African empire. The speech itself is an impressive piece of understanding, insight and nuance, at times, almost visionary. Kennedy actually warns against the dangers of Arab radicalism breaking out against the USA if it insists on being on the wrong side of the struggle. Recall, this was 1957 and Kennedy was 39 years old. Mahoney, understanding its importance, spends over seven pages on the speech and its aftermath. (Mahoney, pgs. 19-27) Dallek spends one paragraph on it. (An Unfinished Life, p. 222)
Dallek does discuss an article that Kennedy wrote in Foreign Affairs on the subject. But he quotes it very briefly, and then says that Kennedy's proposals for change were as limited as Eisenhower's. He then adds, Chris Matthews' style, that Kennedy's article was really "a political slogan as much as it was a genuine departure in thinking about overseas affairs." (ibid, p. 223)
When I read that, I understood what Dallek was up to. No objective scholar could write such a thing. For the simple reason that Kennedy's speech, and his ideas, were anything but a political slogan. They were so complex and subtle that one could not express them in a slogan. They reflected a change in Kennedy's thinking which Gullion had launched six years before. And those ideas would be implemented in the White House in relation to leaders like Patrice Lumumba, Achmed Sukarno and Gamal Abdel Nasser; in places like Congo and Indonesia and Egypt. But just as Dallek does not mention Gullion, he does not mention Nasser or Sukarno, and he deals with Lumumba and the colossal Congo crisis in just two paragraphs. (An Unfinished Life, pgs. 348-49) And to put it mildly, those two paragraphs are pretty much a distortion of what really happened there.
When I read those two paragraphs, I again saw what Dallek was up to. Dallek tries to draw the Congo struggle as a competitive affair between Kennedy and the Russians. In other words, primarily as an extension of the Cold War. This is simply not accurate or nearly complete. For, unlike Eisenhower, Kennedy did not see Congo as a primarily East-West struggle. As with Algeria, Kennedy saw the Congo as a nationalist crusade by the local rebels against European imperialism. Incredibly, Dallek mentions the colonizing country of Belgium exactly once in those two paragraphs. He mentions Khrushchev or the USSR six times. And even though this titanic struggle went on for the entire three years Kennedy was in office, this is the only place where Dallek deals with it. Therefore, the whole idea that Kennedy took up the struggle that U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld began – which is what happened – is completely lost. After Hammarskjold was murdered, Kennedy worked with the United Nations to make sure Belgium would not retake the country, or that European imperialism would not dominate it. For those European interests (and the CIA) were working to split the very wealthy Katanga province off from the rest of the country. Dallek mentions Katanga. He does not mention this aspect of the imperial struggle around it.
In fact, Dallek actually writes that Khrushchev accused Hammarskjöld of plotting to kill Lumumba. (An Unfinished Life, p. 349) That accusation was false. But what he leaves out is that Eisenhower and Allen Dulles actually plotted to kill Lumumba. Which is true. (DiEugenio, p. 28) Further, some writers feel these plots were hurried along by Dulles. Because he knew that, once inaugurated, Kennedy would back Lumumba. Which, not knowing he was dead, Kennedy did. (ibid, p. 29) Finally, Dallek leaves out the fact that Congo was really the first foreign policy issue which Kennedy fully addressed with an intense policy review. And when he formulated this policy, it ended up being a reversal of what had preceded him in the Eisenhower White House. (DiEugenio, p. 29)
As the reader can see by now, Dallek has designed both of his books along the lines that Larry Sabato did in The Kennedy Half Century. They are not full and complete works which try and capture all nuances and tendencies in an objective manner; a manner which will actually elucidate for and enlighten the reader. Like Sabato, Dallek wishes to constrict the biography he is writing to keep Kennedy from being any kind of liberal icon.
If one needs any more proof of that, then all one needs to do is take a look at what Dallek does with Senator Kennedy and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Dallek writes that Kennedy's support for the far-reaching powers of Title III, which allowed the Attorney General to intercede in state cases where he could establish discrimination, was simply showboating. Kennedy knew it would not pass in the final form. (An Unfinished Life, pgs. 216-17) But it did pass in slightly modified form in the final bill. And one can observe by just reading the legislation, especially Parts 3 and 4.
As the reader can see, in Part IV, section c, it allowed for the Attorney General to institute civil actions when he thought voter discrimination was taking place. In my review of Sabato's book I showed, from personal correspondence, this was the part of the law that Kennedy was actively interested in. It was not any kind of "liberal posing" either. Which is what Dallek tried to dismiss it as. Kennedy really thought this would be a good and effective way to challenge voter discrimination laws in the south. As I further wrote in that review, that is what he told his campaign staff in October of 1960: that he would challenge voter discrimination with Title 3 once he was elected. And this is what he did once Robert Kennedy was approved as Attorney General. There is a through line here which Dallek camouflages.
Dallek tries to blunt the impact of Kennedy's epochal civil rights achievements in ways similar to Sabato. He tries to say that Kennedy did not sign an open housing bill until 1962. (Camelot's Court, p. 251) Again, as Helen Fuller explained in Year of Trial, it was never a question as to if Kennedy was going to sign the open housing order. It was simply a matter of trying to get his trade bill through congress. Something he did not think he could do if he signed the housing bill first. (Fuller, pgs. 37-42)
Dallek also criticizes Kennedy for appointing judges who would not support his civil rights program. (Camelot's Court, p. 251) Again, this does not tell the whole story. Bobby Kennedy discussed this problem in the posthumous oral history entitled Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words. President Kennedy did not really appoint these judges. This whole appointment privilege had evolved over time as a result of the advise and consent clause of the constitution. When a vacancy would appear, senators would recommend a short list from which the president would then choose. As RFK said, if the president did not choose, then the senator might be in a position to bottle up whole parts of the president's legislative program. As, for example, Senator Bob Kerr could have down with Kennedy's revenue and tax programs. (Robert Kennedy : In His Own Words, edited by Edwin O. Guthman and Jeffery Shulman, pgs. 107-118) RFK is very frank and honest about this dilemma he and his brother faced. And also how they tried to navigate a system they did not like, and had nothing to do with constructing. I would be able to treat Dallek more respectfully if it was not so obvious that he had read this book. I would also be less dismissive if he noted that this problem confronted both Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Yet Kennedy did more for civil rights in less than three years than either of those presidents did in twenty.
This points up another serious failing in Dallek's work. One way that a historian/biographer elucidates his subject is by using contrast. That is, what came before him that either influenced the subject or which he rebelled against. As we have seen, Dallek does not even mention Edmund Gullion. But also, Dallek spends very little time on the character of John Foster Dulles. Which is odd since, as most historians of Eisenhower explain, Foster Dulles had an inordinate amount of influence in the White House. For example, I could not find the fine book, Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia in either of his bibliographies. That book was published in 1995, eight years before An Unfinished Life. With reference to that work, Dallek could have studied the contrast between the Dulles' brothers approach to Sukarno and Indonesia, and Kennedy's. After all, Foster Dulles did try to overthrow Sukarno in 1958. Kennedy tried hard to mend that relationship. To the point that he negotiated with the Dutch to return West Irian back to Indonesia, something Dulles would not do. The significance of this is that West Irian was either as rich, or richer, in mineral wealth as Katanga. Again, this was a perfect example of what Kennedy was talking about in his 1957 speech, about the problems with the Foster Dulles approach to anti-communism in the Third World. And it was a concrete example of Kennedy acting to change that. If you ignore all of this-Foster Dulles, the 1958 coup attempt, Kennedy and West Irian-then you can reduce Kennedy's ideas on the subject to just slogans. But that is not writing good history. Its censoring history.
The final stroke of contrast in the episode would be what happened to Indonesia after Kennedy's assassination. Within about 18 months of Kennedy's death, the CIA was now going to make another attempt to displace Sukarno. Lyndon Johnson owed some political favors for his 1964 election to backers who had corporate interests in Indonesia. He placed some of them in a position to influence American foreign policy there. In late 1964, the Dutch intercepted a cable saying that Indonesia would soon fall into the hands of the west. Ten months later, in October of 1965, the CIA's attempt to dethrone the non-aligned Sukarno succeeded. (DiEugenio, p. 375) It's most unusual that Dallek left the Indonesia coup story out. Because he had previously written a two part biography of Johnson. But again, these are the kinds of things that allow an historian to mark differences in approach by presidents. Authors like Ronald Rakove in his book Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World, understood this part of the contrast, the Kennedy-Johnson part. Dallek either does not comprehend it, or he wants to ignore it. Either way his books suffer because of it.
There is another lack in these books that Dallek seems unaware of. Dallek is not the stylist, that say, Robert Caro is. Whatever the failings of Caro, the man is an elegant wordsmith. Dallek is perhaps serviceable in that regard. But there is a larger point here that relates to the lack of building any contrast between Eisenhower and Kennedy. That is the issue of the character and shape of the Sixties. Because he makes so little of what preceded Kennedy – Eisenhower/Dulles and the Fifties – Dallek completely misses the explosiveness of the new decade. But further, because his portrait of Kennedy is so constricted, he fails to place Kennedy as the man who helped launch that sensational decade. In other words, there is simply no attempt to capture the temper of the times. And as anyone can attest, they were explosive times to live through. Its obvious today, as historian Philip Muehlenbeck has noted, that Kennedy designed his foreign policy as a reaction to what he was opposed to previously. As Muehlenbeck notes in his fine book, Betting on the Africans, Kennedy spoke about this difference to both George Ball and Harris Wofford. He consciously and specifically rejected the policies of both previous Secretaries of State: Dean Acheson and Foster Dulles. (Muehlenbeck, p. 37) As Ball noted, Kennedy did not want the USA to back the status quo in the Third World. Which usually meant that America would be against nationalism and non-alignment. Kennedy wanted the USA to break out of that Cold War paradigm of "you're either for us or against us." Kennedy understood that if America rejected the nationalist and revolutionary leaders, they would inevitably turn toward the Soviets. Therefore, America should amend its policies so as not to be seen resisting the tides of history. (ibid, p. xiv)
Kennedy mentioned the continent of Africa 479 times during his campaign speeches. He then sent an expedition to Africa led by Senator Frank Church. Church recommended "sweeping changes in America's attitude towards Africa." Again, this shows that Dallek is just plain wrong in his characterization of the Algeria speech. Kennedy was not just sloganeering. Because those ideas all ended up influencing his policies. And it resulted in a break with Eisenhower. And not just in the Congo, where Dulles and Eisenhower wanted Lumumba dead. For the first time, the USA voted with an African nation and against the European powers at the United Nations. (ibid, p. 97) Kennedy said he would not trade votes there in order to "prevent subjugated people from being heard." Even the New York Times understood this was a major shift in American foreign policy. And they called it that. (ibid) What does it say when the New York Times notes a milestone and historian Dallek misses it? Kennedy was consciously breaking with Foster Dulles and what he represented.
But the point is, because Kennedy's foreign policy and his civil rights program contrasted with Eisenhower, it was part of the new excitement of the early sixties. Kennedy had promised to get the country moving again with his New Frontier speech at his nominating convention. And this became a part of the trajectory of that fateful decade. One that began with so much expectation and hope. Yet it ended with tens of thousands of body bags returned from Indochina, Nixon as president, blood in the streets of Chicago, and LSD everywhere, perhaps supplied by the CIA. The end was captured symbolically by the stoned out acid rock of Woodstock. Dallek has no sensitivity to any of this. Or President Kennedy's role in it.
With Dallek, its instructive I believe to begin with the end of his first book, An Unfinished Life. As noted, he was very much interested in noting Kennedy's medical conditions and ailments. And since he had a big publisher in Little, Brown and Company, and the book was coming out at the 40th anniversary, he was clearly courting the MSM.
Therefore, at the end of the book, he clearly comes down in the "Oswald as lone assassin" camp. But he actually goes beyond that. He borrows a phony fact from Seymour Hersh and his trashy The Dark Side of Camelot. Hersh was also in the Oswald did it camp. But he wanted to partly blame Kennedy's death on himself. So he wrote that, Kennedy may have survived the first shot. But his back brace kept him upright, and this set him up for the fatal headshot.
Now, in the intervening seven years between when Hersh wrote that balderdash, and Dallek published An Unfinished Life, more than one writer noted that Hersh was off base here in both his information and implication. Kennedy's "back brace" was really more like a thick belt with a wrapping bandage. (See Robert Groden, Absolute Proof, p. 175) It was therefore flexible. It did not stop him from tilting forward or downward. Dallek could have easily looked this up. The fact that he 1.) trusted Hersh, and 2.) included it without cross-checking, is revealing. (Dallek, p. 694)
But that's not all. Dallek recites the whole Warren Commission creed about the Kennedy assassination. Oswald is referred to as "an unstable ne'er-do-well", who had a "mail-order Italian rifle"from which he fired three shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building. Incredibly, and like his mindless quoting of Hersh, he also writes that a bullet struck "Kennedy in the back of the neck." (ibid) Which is another lie. We know from the autopsy photos that this wound was not in the neck. It was in Kennedy's back. But these kinds of things don' t matter to him.
Going back from this point, in both books, Dallek closes with Kennedy's Vietnam policy. Like Larry Sabato, Dallek cannot bring himself to write the phrase "National Security Action Memorandum 263". In over 1,100 pages of text, I couldn't find the term. There seems to be a kind of general understanding among those in the media that this is now a taboo phrase. It reached the heights of absurdity in the Tom Brokaw/Gus Russo NBC special, Where Were You? There, either Russo or Brokaw got Richard Reeves, whose book on Kennedy is even worse than either of Dallek's, to say that this executive order only meant to return kitchen help from Vietnam.
Dallek is not quite that goofy – or mercenary. But he does something fairly odd. Something that does not align with the new record adduced by scholars like Howard Jones. In both books, he actually tries to insinuate that it was really Defense Secretary Robert McNamara who recommended to Kennedy a withdrawal plan, one beginning in 1963 and culminating in 1965. ( E.g. Camelot's Court, p. 411) It is true that the actual NSAM does say that Kennedy accepted a recommendation by McNamara and Maxwell Taylor to withdraw a thousand military personnel by the end of 1963. But in the larger context of the issue, to lay the withdrawal plan at McNamara's feet is simply wrong headed. So much so that it only makes sense as part of the author's larger scheme: to make JFK into a Cold Warrior, only a slightly more mild and stylish version than Eisenhower or LBJ. Dallek's problem is that his McNamara thesis is completely counterfeit.
For many, many years – actually decades – Vietnam had been saddled with the subtitle of being McNamara's War. In other words, contrary to what Dallek is postulating here, many observers saw it as a war that McNamara actually advocated. This is how bad the MSM reporting on that war actually was. There was some evidence for this of course. During the debates about inserting combat troops in 1961, McNamara was one of the many who advised Kennedy to do so.
Incredibly, in one part of An Unfinished Life, Dallek writes that no one wanted combat troops injected into Vietnam in 1961. (p. 443) Gordon Goldstein has demonstrated that this is simply false. In his fine book, Lessons in Disaster, Goldstein pinpoints nine different requests for combat troops that year from several different sources-including Defense Secretary McNamara! (Goldstein, pgs. 52-58) These were all submitted before the delivery to Kennedy of the trip report by Max Taylor and Walt Rostow, which again, requested combat troops. Kennedy turned that down also. In light of these facts, what Dallek does here is to seriously distort the issue, and Kennedy's role in it. Many of the president's advisers-e.g. Rostow, Taylor, Ambassador Nolting, Ed Lansdale, and Deputy Defense Secretary Alexis Johnson – wanted him to insert combat troops into Vietnam in 1961. It was Kennedy who rejected each proposal. As Goldstein notes, only two men backed Kennedy in arguing against Americanizing the war: George Ball and John Kenneth Galbraith. They were outnumbered by a factor of about 3 to 1.
So for Dallek to also write that somehow, the idea to withdraw was McNamara's, this is doubly bizarre. Because, in 1961, McNamara requested combat troops, not once, but twice. The first time he requested 3,600 men. But in the November debates over the Taylor-Rostow report, he upped this to over 60,000! (Goldstein, p. 60) And he argued in a memo that these were needed in order to stop the domino effect from taking place in Indochina. So the obvious question is one that Dallek does not pose. The obvious question is: How and why did McNamara switch sides by 1963? Because it's quite clear that this happened. There is an October 1963 tape of a meeting between Kennedy, McNamara and McGeorge Bundy in which McNamara essentially insists that they must begin to disengage from Vietnam. (James Blight, Virtual JFK, pgs. 99-103) When Goldstein heard this tape he was so stunned that he asked: Who is this guy? (ibid, p. 124) In other words, how did McNamara go from one side of the issue to the other, and then back again in 1964. So much so that the Vietnam War bore his name?
Dallek cannot answer these questions because, again, he leaves the relevant information out. The book Virtual JFK was published in 2009. So there really is no excuse for the following information not being in Camelot's Court. In late 1961, Kennedy sent Galbraith to Saigon in order to give him a counter-report to what Taylor and Rostow had submitted, the insertion of combat troops. Galbraith returned a report saying that there was really no point in America staying in Vietnam. That report was handed to McNamara. As Roswell Gilpatric, a McNamara deputy, later stated, Kennedy had now entrusted McNamara to begin to wind down American involvement in the war. (Blight, pgs. 125, 371) This is an important point, both generally and specifically. Generally, it pinpoints the beginning of Kennedy's withdrawal plan. Specifically, it counters the Dallek idea that the plan originated with McNamara. It also shows how and why McNamara switched sides. You will not find this turning point in either of Dallek's books.
The next step in the withdrawal plan is also seriously discounted by Dallek. After getting his instructions, McNamara then tasked the Pentagon with putting together a withdrawal plan. Predictably, they dragged their feet. But in May of 1963, there was a meeting in Hawaii at which McNamara conferred with a large in-country task force from Vietnam. At this meeting, McNamara heard from each department and reviewed their individual plans for leaving the country. If anything, he wanted the plans speeded up. The documents on this meeting, declassified in 1997, were one of the key finds released by the ARRB. (DiEugenio, p. 366)
The way Dallek handles this key discovery is puzzling. In Camelot's Court, he writes that McNamara directed the Pentagon to discuss a plan to withdraw. Be he says this was done for fear of a coup against Diem. He then discussed it with Kennedy. (p. 349). In the earlier book, he wrote that in May of 1963, "Kennedy began planning the withdrawal of U.S. military advisers." (An Unfinished Life, p. 668) But he based this on oral conversations Kennedy had with people like Ken O'Donnell and Dave Powers and John McCone. Which were related after the fact. This allows him to then write: "But a plan was not a commitment." (ibid) In neither instance does he refer to the Hawaii meeting. Nor does he refer to any of the declassified documents. Which, with pages of transcriptions of dialogue, numbers, and datelines, certainly does constitute a plan. Again, it is very hard to believe that Dallek was not aware of this new and crucial Hawaii record. Because when it was released, stories were written about it in the mainstream press e.g. The New York Times.
As late as the autumn of 1963, Dallek is still doing what he can to separate Kennedy from a withdrawal plan. Dallek mentions the trip to Vietnam by McNamara and Taylor at that time. He then says that they told Kennedy that the major part of the mission would be done by 1965 and the USA could begin withdrawing advisers in December of 1963. (Camelot's Court, p. 411) He then writes that the two emissaries "gave no explanation for why the United States could leave Vietnam in a little over two years."
This might take the cake as far as keeping the president away from his own initiated policy. As both John Newman and Fletcher Prouty revealed many years ago, this trip was really more like a staged playlet. The trip report was not written by McNamara or Taylor. It was penned in Washington by General Victor Krulak under the direction of President Kennedy. While composing the report, Krulak was working from instructions he had been given before the visiting party left! (John Newman, JFK and Vietnam, p. 401) He carried the drafts to the White House each day for approval. In other words, the report by Taylor and McNamara was not presented to Kennedy. Kennedy's report, written in Washington, was presented to those two men. And the reason it included a phased withdrawal was because that is the objective Kennedy wanted. (ibid, p. 402) Only if this is all left out, which Dallek does, can one add the superfluous and pointless rejoinder about the two men not giving any explanation as to why the Unites States should leave Vietnam.
In light of what we know today, the whole Vietnam aspect of the book is simply obfuscation and camouflage.
Another way to measure the qualities of historical scholarship is through the process called synthesis. That is, how does the author put together pieces of new and old information in order to form a cohesive whole? For example, Philip Melanson's 1990 Spy Saga, did not really contain very much new information on Lee Oswald. But it was, by far, the best biography to appear up until that time. Simply because of the way he synthesized other information in a new and coherent mosaic. It became the first biography of Oswald that showed him as an intelligence agent. Its influence on what came after was formidable. For anyone who had read Spy Saga could never again look at Oswald the way the Warren Commission portrayed him.
With this in mind, it's interesting to examine what Dallek does with the November 2nd coup in Saigon against Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Nhu. As the years go one, many authors have somehow tried to blame the coup, and the subsequent murders of Diem and his brother, on President Kennedy. This includes those on the right and the left, like Tom Blanton, John Prados and the National Security Archive at George Washington University. (Which is also still trying to deny Kennedy was withdrawing from Vietnam.)
We all know the sorry origins behind this movement. It began during Watergate. Charles Colson and Richard Nixon wanted to somehow say that Kennedy was responsible for the coup and the murders. So they sent Howard Hunt out trying to find witnesses and documents to show this was the case. Hunt couldn't find anything. But that was not a real problem. He then set about trying to forge a paper trail.
Dallek is not anywhere near that bad with the record. But he does do some rather inexplicable things. As most knowledgeable observers understand, by the summer of 1963, there was a split in Kennedy's government between those who wanted to maintain Diem as the chief of South Vietnam, and those who wanted to try and foment a coup to replace him. The reason being that, the Catholics Diem and Nhu, had become so intolerable of the Buddhists, and so anti-democratic, that the Saigon government was beginning to fall apart. Those who wanted to oust Diem were mostly concentrated in the State Department. They included Roger Hilsman, Averill Harriman, Michael Forrestal, George Ball, and, at times, even Secretary of State Dean Rusk. This cabal thought that there simply was no way that Diem's tyrannical rule, and his brother's brutal suppression tactics, could ever unite South Vietnam into a credible war effort against the north.
The real beginning of this terrible division was in January of 1963 and the disappointing results at the Battle of Ap Bac. This is where a division of the South Vietnamese Army faced off against a much smaller force of Viet Cong over two days. Even though Diem's troops had much more firepower and were supported by American advisers and helicopters, they were routed by the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong sustained less than half the casualties in both dead and wounded as opposed to the government. At the time of this battle, Forrestal and Hilsman were in Vietnam. (Newman, p. 305) They now began to understand that the Pentagon had been lying about the progress of the war effort there. American adviser Jean Paul Vann was on the scene. Through his press contacts with New York Times reporter David Halberstam, he now tried to expose just how bad the war effort was going. He pointed to a cover-up in the Pentagon being run by General Paul Harkins. (ibid, pgs. 306-08) Vann, along with Halberstam, now began to decry Diem's leadership and acknowledge that direct American involvement was needed. Which was the last thing Kennedy wanted to do.
This military failure, plus the popular civil unrest over Diem and Nhu's draconian security forces, managed to split Kennedy's government into two camps. As Dallek notes, that summer, Rusk sent an unauthorized memo to Diem ordering him to soften his treatment of the Buddhists. (Camelot's Court, p. 352) At the beginning of August, Hilsman told Ball that there was a 50-50 chance for a coup, and that he was in contact with opposition leaders since he wanted to control the outcome. (ibid, p. 394) What made Diem's position even more untenable were the vocal outcries against the Buddhists by his sister-in-law Madame Nhu. In late August, even Diem's own national security adviser told the American embassy, led by Henry Cabot Lodge, that the Nhus had to go. At this same time, Kennedy was desperately trying to get information on who was leading the crackdown against the Buddhists. (ibid, p. 396)
It is instructive at this point to note what happened next. Because most scholars consider it the single most important event leading to the actual coup. On August 21st, Hilsman cabled Lodge to ask him for the latest information on the scene. After a short stay in Tokyo, Lodge would arrive in Saigon the next day. The sending of that cable, knowing Lodge had yet to arrive, and requesting information about the politics of the new milieu, that should tell the reader something was not quite as it seemed. For how could Lodge understand what was going on in just one day? Nevertheless, within 48 hours of his arrival – on Saturday August 24th – Lodge wired back Hilsman. In fact, on that day Lodge sent back three cables. They culminated with a wire saying that the generals in Saigon said that all the USA had to do was indicate they wanted Diem and the Nhus gone, and they would be gone. (Newman, p. 346) This is startling because Lodge had been there for less than 48 hours. But already, he was not just advocating for a coup. He was relaying messages from the forces who were in a position to perform one. One has to wonder: Were these the men Hilsman was already in contact with? And is this why Hilsman sent the cable on the 21st?
Because clearly, what seems to have happened next was planned by that State Department cabal in advance. In order to make Kennedy do something he did not want to do: get rid of Diem. They waited for this weekend not just because Lodge – who also wanted to expel Diem – was in Saigon, but also because almost all the major national security players were out of town. This included Rusk, McNamara, CIA Director John McCone, Gilpatric, and Kennedy. National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy also appears to have been absent. The cabal therefore was able to send a reply to Lodge without the reply going through normal channels of debate and approval. The reply sent back – commonly called the Saturday Night Special – demanded the removal of Nhu; and if he did not go peacefully, Diem may not survive. Lodge was then told to consult with the military about these moves and get their approval. Diem was to be given the opportunity to retire his brother. But if he did not, then the USA would accept the implication that Diem could no longer be supported.
Now, why do I say that this whole scenario seemed planned by the State Department cabal in advance? Because that is what Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Maxwell Taylor realized when he saw the cable. He wrote that once he read it, he immediately understood that:
...the anti-Diem group centered in State had taken advantage of the absence of the principal officials to get out instructions that would have never been approved as written under normal circumstances. (Newman, p. 349)
Yet he did not call Kennedy to relay this suspicion. Either on the night of the 24th, or on Sunday, the 25th. Taylor also told Krulak that the cable showed the desire of Hilsman and Forrestal to be rid of Diem, and if McGeorge Bundy had been in town, it would never have been approved or sent. (ibid, p. 350) Kennedy said he would approve the cable only if certain others did. To put it succinctly, he was deceived by the State Department about who signed off on it in order to get it sent. Kennedy had specifically requested McCone's approval. McCone never saw the cable. (ibid, p. 351) But further, unlike what was in the instructions, once it arrived in Saigon, Lodge never showed the cable to Diem. On Sunday, he went straight to the generals. Again, this was done without Kennedy's approval. In fact, it is uncertain as to who OK'd this revision in the plan. It may have been George Ball. (ibid, p. 350)
Kennedy was furious when he returned to Washington. Forrestal, one of the plotters, offered to resign. Kennedy said, "You're not worth firing. You owe me something." (ibid, p. 351) Clearly, Kennedy was upset about what happened ands its implications for his policy. For as Dean Rusk told him the next day, it would now mean either getting all our forces out, or moving American troops in. (Ibid, p. 351)
Now, let us compare the above with what Dallek writes in his books about what happened that fateful weekend. In that regard, reading An Unfinished Life is a bit unsettling. For in a rather disturbing lacuna, the reader will not see any of this in the book! Not one sentence about the State Department subterfuge, or Kennedy's anger about it. Dallek even writes that when Lodge asked to revise the cable and go directly to the generals with it, bypassing Diem, Kennedy agreed to this. (An Unfinished Life, pgs. 673-74) The author supplies no footnote for that sentence. Probably because there is no record of any communication between Lodge and Kennedy that weekend.
In Camelot's Court, Dallek spends all of two paragraphs on the subterfuge. Again, without providing the proper context. And he is also misleading. For example, he writes that Taylor was told Kennedy had approved the dispatch. (p. 397) Dallek does not say that 1.) Kennedy had demanded certain contingencies for his approval, which were not met, and 2.) Taylor was not shown the cable until after it was sent to Saigon. (Newman, p. 349) Probably because, as with McCone, the plotters knew he would not approve it.
What this did of course was create a new situation in Saigon. Now, certain military officers there seemed predisposed to move against Diem. Kennedy realized that the US delegation would now feel obligated to go even beyond what was in the cable. Especially since, as Jim Douglass showed in JFK and the Unspeakable, Lodge had teamed up with CIA officer Lucien Conein to encourage the plotters. Lodge also helped remove the CIA station chief who was supportive of Diem. But further, as Dallek notes, Harriman and Hilsman then got George Ball to countermand orders from the White House to slow down the process and discourage the coup plotters. On October 27th, Ball signed a cable giving Lodge permission to give a green light to the military. (Camelot's Court, p. 414) When McGeorge Bundy found out about this, he and Kennedy now tried to channel any further communications to Saigon through the White House. (ibid, p. 415) It was too late. Five days later the plotters, with much help from Lodge and Conein, succeeded. Not only was Diem's government overturned, Diem and Nhu were murdered. As Douglass shows, beyond any doubt, Lodge and Conein were relaying messages to the generals as to where the brothers were located so there would be no escape for them.
When it was all over, a disheartened Kennedy taped an anguished monologue in which he described his advisers as being completely split on the issue. He also mourned the fact that he had mishandled the original cable. It should have never gone out on the weekend in the form it did. (ibid, p. 418)
As with Kennedy's intent to withdraw from Vietnam, Dallek badly mangles the whole scenario dealing with the coup against Diem. It is badly truncated in the first book, and only slightly less so in Camelot's Court. But in both, the idea seems to be to downplay the secret maneuvering around Kennedy by people who were trying to make him do something he did not want to do. Which, of course, is the theme of Newman's milestone book. A big part of Dallek's agenda is to try and make everyone forget about JFK and Vietnam.
Correspondingly, and predictably, Dallek tries to insinuate Kennedy into the plots to kill Castro. (An Unfinished Life, p. 439) To do so, be again breaks the rules of historiography. As we saw with Vietnam, Dallek refused to consult the primary documents, the May 1963 Sec/Def meeting, which would vitiate his "no plan to withdraw" agenda. With the Castro plots, he does the same. He does not use the declassified CIA Inspector General Report. That document specifically contradicts what he wants to imply. For it says the CIA could not claim executive approval for the plots. (IG Report, p. 89) What does the historian do instead? Dallek uses George Smathers' 1988 statements to implicate Kennedy. In doing so, he commits another lapse. He does not inform the reader that, at that time, Smathers contradicted his earlier testimony to the Church Committee. (James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, editors, The Assassinations, pgs. 328-29) But that's not enough. He then commits a third error. He says the plots may have been excessive but it was the Mongoose program instituted by Kennedy that provided the license and atmosphere for the plots. (Camelot's Court, p. 220) As every informed observer knows, the problem in saying that is that the CIA plots to kill Castro did not begin under Kennedy. They started under Eisenhower.
One of the oddest imbalances in An Unfinished Life is the short shrift Dallek gives to the Bay of Pigs and its aftermath. The historian gives the Bay of Pigs all of five pages, but for example, he gives the Berlin Crisis seventeen pages. This strikes me as being quite a strange allotment. In my own book, the second edition of Destiny Betrayed, I devoted an entire 22-page chapter to the Bay of Pigs episode. I did that for many reasons. But one of them was that the ARRB had declassified two previously secret reports on the incident: Lyman Kirkpatrick's CIA Inspector General report, and second, the White House internal inquiry led by General Maxwell Taylor. In my book I referenced many footnotes to this new data.
Dallek references the Kirkpatrick report ever so slightly. He then makes almost no references to the Taylor Report in An Unfinished Life. (See pgs. 362-67) In Camelot's Court, he chides Kennedy for appointing Allen Dulles to the investigating committee. But for anyone who reads the record of the Taylor Committee, this allowed Bobby Kennedy, who was also on the committee, to listen to every question, and watch every move made by Dulles. It also allowed RFK to then pose pointed questions to Dulles. It is from Dulles' lame answers that the Kennedys discovered the worst: that the CIA knew the operation would fail. And they banked on JFK taking back his previous public statement, about no American intervention in Cuba, to save the invasion. (DiEugenio, pgs. 42-44) This is why President Kennedy was so upset afterwards. He tried to rein in the Agency through special instructions to foreign ambassadors abroad, and the issuing of three NSAM's, taking power from the CIA and giving it to the Pentagon. (ibid, pgs. 52-53)
Throughout Camelot's Court, Dallek tries to keep alive the myth of the "cancellation" of the D-Day air strikes. It is clear from the declassified record that these were always contingent upon securing a landing strip on the island. (ibid, pgs. 45-46) Which the invasion never did. Finally, Dallek leaves out the way that Dulles and Howard Hunt hit back at Kennedy for firing Dulles, Deputy Director Charles Cabell, and Director of Plans Dick Bissell. During the Taylor hearings, Hunt was detailed to Dulles. Realizing the writing was on the wall for Dulles' termination, they prepared a counterattack. That was through the infamous Fortune Magazine story blaming the failure at the Bay of Pigs on Kennedy. (ibid, p. 55) That article created the myth about the "cancelled" D-Day air strikes.
In sum, there is not one original quality about Dallek's writing on the Bay of Pigs in either book. Which, considering the fact both books were written after the record was declassified, is really quite a negative achievement.
No surprise, with Dallek, the Alliance for Progress was just an anti-communist gimmick with very little to show for it. It paled in comparison with FDR's Good Neighbor Policy. (An Unfinished Life, pgs. 467-68) This, of course, ignores Kennedy's ideas about economic development in the Third World. Ideas, which as I have tried to show, Kennedy was nurturing from his days as a senator and his opposition to the policies of John Foster Dulles. In a speech in Puerto Rico in 1958, Kennedy urged that Latin America be given a new priority by the White House. And he warned that not all the problems there were communist-inspired. He also endorsed the idea of an Inter-American Bank furnishing loans to encourage land reform. (Arthur Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, p. 191)
He again talked about these problems in an interview in 1959. He said the goal of raising the standards of living in Third World countries was something the USA should understand. And if a country wanted to remain neutral in the Cold War, then the USA had to live with that, and simultaneously help solve these internal economic problems. (Donald Gibson, Battling Wall Street, p. 39) What Kennedy was trying to do was break out of the Cold War confines that Dulles and Eisenhower had created. He was trying to find ways to allow for the Unites States to accept the non-aligned status of nations like Egypt and Indonesia. With the Alliance for Progress he was trying to extend help to the fledgling countries of South America. He was trying to show that, unlike Foster Dulles, he understood the economic havoc created by centuries of colonialism. And, unlike Dulles, he did not want to settle for a new form of that situation, be it called neo-colonialism, or imperialism.
Kennedy understood the system that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Export-Import Bank had created after the war. As Donald Gibson notes, Kennedy was not content with it. He once said, the desire to help our fellow citizens of the world had apparently been superseded by the narrow interests of bankers and self-seeking politicians. (Gibson, p. 37) As is his natural tendency, Dallek does not describe this prior existing system, or its many shortcomings. Which, as time has gone on, have become more and more exposed. This was done most recently and effectively by John Perkins in his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. As Perkins notes, these policies have tended to favor a small group of international oligarchs whose prime objective has been to keep Third World countries in economic debt while instilling a program of austerity and little in the way of public programs. This is why, to mention one example, Castro rejected this kind of aid package and turned toward the Soviets.
In the evolution of his ideas on the subject, Kennedy understood that Castro's choice was actually not so outlandish. Therefore, he thought that one way to compete with the Russians was to loosen up on the requirements of the whole World Bank, Exim Bank and IMF system. Therefore, in 1961, he proposed to congress a different kind of loan system. One that was more interested in infrastructure development, long-term loans, and low interest rates. In that address, Kennedy specifically said that these kinds of loans should not be considered in the realm of normal banking practice. (Gibson, pgs. 37-38) Another objective of Kennedy's program was to shift the volume of funding away from military aid and toward development. This was another break with the Dulles/Eisenhower approach.
The Alliance for Progress, which was specifically aimed at making these kinds of loans in South America, was a favorite of Kennedy's. When announced, it was bitterly attacked by upholders of the status quo on various grounds. But in a speech he gave in 1963, Kennedy said he was satisfied that the program had done what he designed it to do. In fact, Henry Luce's Fortune Magazine criticized Kennedy's specific approach with the Alliance as being too much economic interventionism and not enough military aid. (ibid, p. 84) Whereas Kennedy's ideas were to maintain a government-to-government relationship, the IMF approach, especially under LBJ, accelerated into "private domination of resource markets and credit with the authority of the U. S. government." (ibid)
What shows Kennedy was genuine in his new approach was the fact that he put Dick Goodwin and Adolf Berle in charge of the new policy formation. Goodwin was a liberal Harvard lawyer, congressional investigator and speechwriter. Berle had been a member of the FDR Brain Trust, and was assistant secretary for Latin America from 1938-44. Berle was very much for moving economic development forward in the southern hemisphere. Goodwin asked for input from Latin American academics in Washington. (ibid, Schlesinger, p. 203)
Kennedy himself attended the Punta del Este Conference launching the Alliance in Uruguay. Realizing the danger it represented to Castro, Che Guevara was there also. He said that, although Cuba was in sympathy with many of the aims of the program, Cuba would not take part in it. His rather moderate attack on the Alliance was evidence of its appeal. (ibid, p. 762) Kennedy placed Robert F. Woodward in charge of the program. Woodward was a lifetime diplomat who spent many years stationed in Latin America. Within one year, Kennedy funneled hundred of millions of dollars through the Alliance and into Latin America. Whether or not the Alliance was ultimately successful is an unfair question to ask. Since JFK was assassinated in 1963, and RFK left the government in 1964.
To cite another Latin America example completely missed by Dallek: consider the case of the Dominican Republic. Dallek mentions the assassination of Rafael Trujillo and the subsequent coming to power of the military junta led by Joaquin Balgauer. He even mentions that Kennedy sent a small fleet to the area in order to prevent Trujillo's brothers from resuming power. (An Unfinished Life, p. 468)But that is about it. From what I have written above, one can fairly conclude that Dallek does not want the reader to think that Kennedy actually tried to encourage democracy there.
But he did. Liberal democrat Juan Bosch had been elected in late 1962. He was the first democratically elected president in the Dominican Republic in nearly four decades. But, in less than a year, he was overthrown by the military. Kennedy was furious. Within hours he ordered the suspension of economic aid and diplomatic relations to the new government. (Gibson, p. 78) He then encouraged other Latin American countries to do the same. Which they did. By mid-October the new junta was bitterly complaining about Kennedy's interventionism and interference in internal affairs. A month later, Kennedy was assassinated and Bosch went into exile in Puerto Rico. But in 1965, he made a renewed effort to gain power. But President Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and Latin American assistant Thomas Mann decided to portray Bosch and his backers as communist threats to the hemisphere. Which they were not. But this created a pretext for an American invasion in April of 1965. The irony was that the Marines now opposed the same forces Kennedy had praised 18 months earlier as democratic and progressive. (Ibid, p. 79) This was another good example with which to demonstrate Kennedy's interest in fostering progressive governments in the Third World. And to show the contrast between Kennedy's cosmopolitan view of the world and Johnson's much more catholic one. Apparently, Dallek did not think it was important to history.
Let me add a discussion of one more topic Dallek deals with, this time on the domestic side: Kennedy's economic policies. Like many other writers on the subject, Dallek deals with these in reviews of the steel crisis and the Kennedy/Heller request for a tax cut. And that is about it. Dallek does not even note the good performance of the economy under Kennedy, or the fact that he bequeathed very good circumstances to Lyndon Johnson. If you don't mention those good indicators then you don't have to explain why the economy improved under Kennedy.
In his appointment of Douglas Dillon to Treasury, Kennedy was making the usual bow to Wall Street. But when he appointed his Council of Economic Advisers, no such bow was involved. The leader on that council was Walter Heller, one of the most noted Keynesian scholars of the age. Heller found Kennedy very interested in the economy, and the forces which drove it. Kennedy was determined to counter what he perceived as a downtrend in the economy by expanding "the Nation's investment in physical and human resources, and in science and technology." (Gibson, p. 20) Or, as Gibson notes in his long analysis of Kennedy's economic program, "Kennedy consistently used his office in an attempt to inject growth-oriented planning into government policy." (ibid, p. 21)
After Kennedy's death, Walter Heller explained the overall program he and Kennedy tried to construct. Kennedy was interested in both productivity and growth. Therefore, three months after taking office, he submitted a tax investment credit plan to congress. This allowed companies tax deductions in return for investing in new plant and equipment. (ibid, p. 21) But he restricted it. The credit was only available on new plant and equipment, with an expected life of six or more years, located in the United States. Kennedy was clear about why he was offering this program. He said it would increase profitability, output and productivity by cutting modernization costs. (ibid, p. 22) As Gibson notes, although most authors only discuss the income tax proposal, most of Kennedy's tax programs contained this idea. Namely that the president would shape the decisions of those who controlled money and credit; shape them into a national plan encouraging growth.
Please note: Kennedy only offered this deduction on investments inside the United States. Even though Kennedy was not around for the massive transfer of production and profits overseas – as we call it today, globalization – he and Heller anticipated the dangers it posed. At that time, the tax code encouraged American investment abroad by eliminating taxes on offshore profits. Kennedy singled this out as a tax deferral privilege. Kennedy proposed stopping this by taxing those profits each year even if they stayed outside the USA. He would only allow the deferral if the investment was made in the Third World or developing countries. And only for purposes of actual production, not licensing or tax escape purposes. (ibid, p. 22) Which is perfectly consistent with his foreign policy goals.
Kennedy also wanted to eliminate tax breaks for companies set up as foreign investment entities. That is for sheer trade and speculative purposes. He and Heller also targeted rich individuals who were transferring wealth offshore to avoid paying estate taxes. (ibid) As the reader can see, Heller and Kennedy were going after those in the financial sector who were going outside the national boundaries to either create speculative enterprises or to dodge taxes.
As part of his overall 1963 tax cut proposal, Kennedy had a section about large oil and gas producers who manipulated a 1954 law to gain advantages over smaller companies. He also wanted to alter foreign tax credits which allowed energy companies to avoid paying U.S. taxes. (ibid, p. 23)
With all this, and more, in mind, Gibson has a different take on the 1962 steel crisis. To backtrack: Kennedy had made an arrangement between the steel corporations, unions, and the White House that prices and wages would stay at current levels in order to avoid an inflationary spiral. It was also meant to increase operating capacity. Since only 65% of that was in operation. Kennedy agreed to provide economic aid to cut down that high factor, thereby increasing employment. (ibid, p. 10) The work on this agreement went on for months. Contracts were signed by all the major companies in the field.
Within days of the agreement being made, the president of U.S. Steel, Roger Blough, flew into Washington. He wanted a meeting with Kennedy. At that meeting, he handed Kennedy a memo saying that he would announce a price increase of 3.5% effective that evening. The press had already been alerted. It would become public within the hour. (ibid)
Because of Blough's in-your-face tactics, some authors have suggested this was not just a dispute about the steel industry's bottom line. Kennedy had assigned several people on his staff, including Labor Secretary Arthur Goldberg, to run the complex negotiations. He had built up liaison with congress on the issue to attempt to funnel funding to crank up capacity. And after all this, contracts had been signed. As others, but not Dallek, have implied, Blough's move seemed designed not just to break an agreement, but to humiliate Kennedy in public. Blough's private audience lends even more credence to that scenario.
As many have noted, the problem with the insistence on the price increase is that, in economic terms, it was unnecessary. The profits for the first quarter in the industry were among the best in history. And the predictions for the next year were even better. Further, the steel companies had paid out hundreds of millions in stock dividends each year for the past five years. (ibid, p. 12)
Because of all these factors – which Dallek does not describe – some have guessed that the real reason for the direct challenge was to discredit Kennedy and his policies. In Blough's eyes – and the eyes of others he was working with – Kennedy's agreement reminded them of Roosevelt's New Deal planning. Gibson also concludes that U. S. Steel did not like Kennedy's investment tax proposal. Probably because it encouraged competition. (ibid, p. 11) In fact, Hubert Humphrey commented that Kennedy's facedown of the companies helped pass his investment tax credit. (ibid, p. 15) What also suggests an ulterior motive is that the decision to challenge Kennedy was made several weeks before the labor agreements were signed. (ibid, p. 13) In fact, Kennedy himself once alluded that the attempt at discrediting his economic programs might have been the reason for the showdown. (ibid, p. 14)
In May of 1962, in Fortune, it was theorized that Blough was not acting on his own. He was acting as an emissary for the business world to oppose Kennedy's "jawboning for price controls". Blough was trying to break through the "bland harmony that has recently prevailed between government and business." For as the article notes, "If Blough wanted to create the greatest possible uproar and provoke maximum presidential reaction, his procedure was beautifully calculated."
None of this, not one iota, is in any of the two discussions of this key episode in either of Dallek's books. Which indicates that, in almost every aspect, both of them are pedestrian and unrewarding. But really, that is being too kind to Dallek. As we have seen, like Larry Sabato, Dallek continually avoids information and circumstances which indicate Kennedy doing anything anti-status quo, or outside the realm of traditional anti-communism. The problem with this is that other authors – like Donald Gibson and John Newman – have demonstrated, with much evidence, that this was the case. To avoid this as rigorously as Dallek does is to write a book that is not really about John Kennedy. It's really about the New York Times/Washington Post version of Kennedy. So it's no surprise that both of those newspapers liked Dallek's books. For me, there is more truth in the much less voluminous tomes of Ronald Rakove, Philip Muehlenbeck and Gibson than there is in the over 1,100 pages of Dallek's drivel.
At the end of my review of Betting on the Africans, I wrote that one book like that was worth five by Robert Dallek. After now analyzing both of Dallek's books at length, I take that back. I was being too kind to Dallek. Muehlenbeck's book is worth, not five, but ten by Dallek. In his books, Dallek gives new meaning to the term non-distinction.