Part 2: 1963-1975
What happens next, of course, is that Johnson essentially passes NSAM 273 which had been drafted for JFK at his Honolulu conference at which Kennedy said, “When these guys get back, we're going to have a long discussion about how the heck we ever got into Vietnam.” LBJ rewrites this and he orders three important revisions in the rough draft that McGeorge Bundy had written. One of them was that they would be able to use American naval equipment to raid the north coast of Vietnam and the other two were to make it easier to do special forces cross-border operations into Cambodia and Laos.
In other words, what you were going to have now was the beginning of the Gulf of Tonkin incident because South Vietnam didn't have any navy. South Vietnam itself couldn't do those raids coupled with the destroyer communications missions, what they called the DESOTO patrols, which is going to result in the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Second of all, this now spreads the war across the borders into Laos and Cambodia which Kennedy really didn't want to do. He wanted to keep [Cambodian Prince] Sihanouk in Cambodia and he wanted to try and keep Laos neutral.
If you can believe it, and by now you can, Burns and Novick don't mention NSAM 273 and how it altered Kennedy's policies. After the election, when Johnson then is elected president in a landslide in which he campaigned essentially on the idea that we're not going to send American boys to fight a war that Asian boys should, he uses this incident in the Tonkin Gulf as a war declaration.
I'm going to go with that just briefly because I think everybody listening to this understands what the Tonkin Gulf incident was. These patrols that I mentioned, these raids by the South Vietnamese army aboard these American sponsored patrol ships, they were coupled with American destroyers decked out with high-tech communications equipment to find radar spots and communication spots along the North Coast of Vietnam off the Tonkin Gulf. They were clearly … even George Ball who worked for Johnson in the State Department, and even McGeorge Bundy, later said that they were designed as provocations.
When the North Vietnamese went ahead and counter attacked the raids, they actually put one machine gun bullet into one of the destroyer's hulls then, of course, there was a so-called second attack, which never really happened. That was enough pretext for Johnson to use as a way to attack the North which is, by the way, what he wanted to do since March of 1964 when he signed NSAM 288, which more or less reversed NSAM 263 and which mapped out certain targets that we would use. He sends these airplane jet sorties over North Vietnam, bombing petroleum refineries and also navy shipyards. I think it was something like at least 65 sorties. Two guys were shot down, one was killed, one was taken prisoner. That signaled to Hanoi that Johnson planned to go to war in Vietnam.
Giap actually admitted towards the end of his life, through his son, that he understood Kennedy was withdrawing at the end of 1963. (https://kennedysandking.com/john-f-kennedy-articles/general-giap-knew) This new signal told the North to start planning for a war because Johnson's attitude was completely different.
And that, of course, is what happened. Once Johnson won the landslide election, then very shortly after that he began to militarize this, by the way, I should say over Bobby Kennedy's protests.
There's a really nice book out by a guy named John Bohrer called The Revolution of Robert Kennedy, where for the first time that I know of, it's revealed that Bobby Kennedy did not agree with what Johnson was doing, and he did not agree as early as 1964. Everybody says it's 1967, but that was only when Bobby Kennedy, this is in public; privately, he was trying to discourage Johnson from militarizing the war. That's what Johnson's intent was.
In early 1965, he begins to send all kinds of bombing planes into South Vietnam. I think about 90 some bombers come over from Thailand. Of course, if you're going to put all these bomber planes in there, the Viet Cong are going to raid them – which they did. That was the excuse for sending in the first American combat troops.
I think there was something like 5,000 who went ashore at Da Nang in March of 1965 and then that increased amazingly by the end of the year if you can believe it, by the end of 1965 there's 175,000 combat troops in the country. Amazing escalation.
Operation Rolling Thunder which was, like I said, the biggest bombing campaign the world had ever seen. You got to wonder what the hell is there to bomb? The reason you bombed Germany or Japan was because there was an industrial base that supplied the war machines of both countries; but how the heck can you bomb rice fields and palm trees? There really wasn't a heck of a lot of industrial base in North Vietnam to bomb, or in South Vietnam. Of course you ended up killing a heck of a lot of civilians.
By the way, I should add that when I did some research on this, the numbers I found go way beyond what the Defense Department admitted. I found a study that was made by a British medical group that actually went to Vietnam today and they went ahead and they interviewed, they went door to door, which is what you're supposed to do with epidemiological work on this. You want to actually try and talk to people in the field. When they asked them, “How many members of your family did you lose when it was all over?” meaning to anything, not just bombing but also stepping on mines and things like that, they came to the rather astonishing figure – these revised figures – that between both the military casualties and the civilian casualties that the number is 4 million, which is amazing in a country of 35 million people. Which means that about one-tenth of the population was killed during this crazy, senseless, nutty war.
Let me add that this is one of the reasons Kennedy did not want to send combat troops in because he said, “How do you fight an enemy that is both everywhere and nowhere and at the same time has the support of the people? How do you send American combat troops in to fight that kind of a war?”
Johnson and Westmoreland, who was the guy who … Westmoreland was the general that Johnson chose to be the commanding officer in Vietnam; they didn't seem to understand that. They never came to a kind of tactical and strategic decision about how to fight the war except to try and overpower the enemy with this terrific artillery fire and air power, and it didn't work.
All it did was essentially kill a lot of civilians, not win over the population for us, in fact it did the opposite; and it bombed to smithereens the beautiful ecology of that country. This went on: '65, '66, and '67. By this time, the United States had something like 525,000 combat troops in country. By the way, when I say that figure, once Johnson made his decision to escalate, he asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff: he said “Tell me how many men it's going to take and how long to win this war?” And they actually told him they said 500,000 men, five to ten years to do it.
Johnson finally hit the 500,000 number in 1967, 1968, around that time; 500,000 combat troops in the country and it still didn't work. The horrible thing of course is that as it didn't work, the American army begin to collapse, began to fall apart internally, because they knew there really wasn't any plan to win the war.
Colonel Robert Heinl wrote a wonderful article in which he described this, called Collapse of the Armed Forces in Indochina. (https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/Vietnam/heinl.html) He reported all the drug abuse, because in addition to not being able to win the war, the United States got involved through the CIA, Air America, in this Golden Triangle Opium Trade in which President Thieu knew about it and Vice-president Ky was a part of it. By the way, Burns and Novick don't mention that involvement at all.
What happened is that many of these soldiers either begin to smoke pot or do heroin and then it got to be a business. It began to be refined because you refine opium into heroin and then it began to be shipped to Marseille a great French seaport on the Mediterranean, and then some of it got into the United States. There had been reports that some of it came in in the body bags of dead American soldiers. I'm not positive that happened, but I've seen reports that it happened. There was a report that Hoover talked about it in one of his memos but I've never actually seen the memo. That's how bad this thing got as the American army began to collapse. And then of course began what the military termed “fragging”.
As the American soldiers begin to see that there was no way to win this war, they began to do two things. They began to take it out on the civilian population by slaughtering many unarmed civilians; and then also by taking it out on their commanding officers. If they got a mission message the night before that they knew was hopeless, instead of going through with the mission, they would just go ahead and toss a grenade in the commanding officer's cabin.
There were numerous … Heinl in his article said that … I think it's from 1969 to 1971. There were well over 200 instances of that happening in Vietnam. You can't run an army, I don't have to tell anybody – even people who want to defend this war to this day and there's still some people who do – that you can't run an army like that. You can't run an army, if you got that many people mutinying.
The American army began to collapse, and then, of course, you have the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive took place at the beginning of 1968 and at the time when Johnson and Westmoreland were saying that there's light at the end of the tunnel. Well, the massive size and scope of the Tet Offensive, in which the Viet Cong raided almost every major city in South Vietnam, in which they actually had Viet Cong inside the American Embassy in Saigon; and there was a famous picture, and Burns and Novick didn't show this picture. There's a famous picture of an American diplomat shooting a handgun at a Viet Cong rebel running through the courtyard. That picture got published in Life Magazine.
Then the American people said “We can't even defend our own American Embassy in Saigon?” Like I said, these raids took place all throughout South Vietnam, from the northern part to the southern part. That showed the American public that we weren't winning the war, and Johnson refused to admit this.
At a famous meeting after the Tet Offensive, he called in his advisors and he called in some elder statesmen like Bob Lovett and Dean Acheson. He brought in the Pentagon to try and explain how United States had not lost Tet; we actually won: because we killed so many more of the enemy than they killed of us. And Acheson walked out. When Johnson called him up later and said: Why did you walk out, Dean? Acheson said something like: I'm not going to listen to any of this crap anymore. I'm not going to listen to some commissioned officer coming over and giving me the message that Pentagon wants to deliver. I actually want to see the raw reports.
That began to turn Johnson around. A couple of weeks later he sent a new Secretary of Defense, because McNamara had quit by now. One by one all the Kennedy people quit; Pierre Salinger, John McCone, McGeorge Bundy, George Ball, and then McNamara. One by one they all left. He appointed his own Secretary of Defense, Clark Clifford. He went over to the Pentagon and he talked about this on more than one occasion. He said words to the effect: When I started these interviews I was a hawk; after two weeks of asking these guys questions based on the documents they gave me, I realized that I had made a terrible mistake. Today, I have no problem saying that I could not have been more wrong about Vietnam.
At the end of that two-week review, he went back to Johnson and he said, “There's no way we're going to win this war. My best advice to you is to get out of this thing.” That's when Johnson went on TV, I think it was the end of March 1968, and he shocked the country and he said he was not going to run again, as he was going to devote the rest of his time to trying to get a peace treaty in Vietnam.
'68 is such an important year. Can you just give us a little chronology of the assassinations, the riots in Chicago, and these other things you were talking about?
1968 is one of the most … I mean to call it pivotal doesn't do it justice. It's really epochal because you had so many key events happening in that one year that there's no way around it: Individually they changed the shape of history. Put it together, they completely shifted history around.
In the beginning of 1968, of course we had the Tet Offensive. That leads to Johnson going on the air and saying he's not going to run again, which is a shock to everybody. Then a week later, you had the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, just a week later. Then you had McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy both running for president and slowly but surely Bobby Kennedy takes a lead. It looks like he's going to win the nomination because he won this great victory in California. Then that night, which I think is almost exactly one month after … no, no, excuse me, two months after King is assassinated, then Bobby Kennedy is assassinated.
In many ways, in many ways, anybody who studies history should be able to tell you this: With the death of Bobby Kennedy you really, I don't think we’re exaggerating this at all, you really had the death of the 60s. That was it. With him went all the hopes and dreams and the aspirations, whether well-founded or not, of that whole generation of people who really wanted to see the promises of the New Frontier, the promises of the civil rights movement, the promises of a new approach to foreign policy, the promises of a more equitable country. That was over with his death and that's what made it so shocking.
That led to the Chicago Convention. At that convention, you essentially had what was the RFK/King wing of the Democratic Party led by all those young people and people of color protesting against the Richard Daley/Lyndon Johnson wing of the Democratic Party. You had that split that was dramatized by the violence which I think most people who study that, that was really a planned attack by Daley who wanted to put down this uprising that he saw.
It was really kind of a street battle which the networks really didn't do a heck of a good job broadcasting. But there had been a lot of private pictures taken of what those cops were doing to those kids. It was really brutal. It leaked over to the convention where you had Abraham Ribicoff, a Kennedy guy, looking right at Daley and saying, “If George McGovern won this thing” – because McGovern was the guy they put up at the last minute in place of Bobby Kennedy to represent the Robert Kennedy wing of the party—“We wouldn't have this Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.”
You can see Daley, you can read his lips when he says “F – – K. You”; and the Democratic Party splintered apart at that convention. Then of course, you had Nixon … and I've said this more than once, Nixon essentially hijacked Johnson's peace plan. Because he began to perceive this as a way that Johnson was going to become the peace president and win the election for Hubert Humphrey, his vice president who, after Kennedy was killed, won the nomination in Chicago.
He sabotaged it, quite literally, there's no other way around this. The evidence today is overwhelming that he sabotaged the peace talks that Johnson was trying to sponsor by having an emissary, Madame Chennault, the wife of Claire Chennault, and Bui Diem who was President Thieu’s Ambassador in Washington. They told President Thieu not to cooperate with Johnson's peace plan. If they held out, they would get a better deal from Nixon.
What's important to remember about that is you have to really understand how treacherous Nixon was. I don't think that the Burns-Novick special got that close to it. At that time Nixon is having Chennault and Diem report to John Mitchell, who's going to be his attorney general, and who was his campaign manager. Nixon knows about the meeting of Lovett and Acheson and Clark Clifford in Washington that took place in January and February. He tells people working on his speeches … literally he says, because he has heard about that meeting and he says: We know the war can't be won, but we can't let on to that. We have to make like it can be won to have more leverage in the campaign.
Here's a guy who knows that the Vietnam War was lost, who sabotages Johnson's attempt to end it for purely political purposes, and then once he becomes president due to this … because, see, on the eve of the election, I think four or five days before the election, President Thieu made a 27-minute speech – and by the way, Burns and Novick don't tell you this either – he made a 27-minute speech in Saigon that was carried by all three networks. Back in those days you had ABC, NBC, and CBS, and if you had those three, everybody in the country is watching it because that's all there was except for PBS which had a very small audience.
They all televised Thieu's speech, in which he made it clear that he was not going to cooperate with Johnson's plan because he perceived this as a sell-out to South Vietnam. Even people who worked for Nixon said that that speech won the election for him because Humphrey was coming on very strong in October and that speech put the stop to Humphrey's rally.
That's what happened in 1968 and that's how Nixon became president.
It was an unbelievable, mind-boggling year and it all happened in the space of a matter of months. That's what put Richard Nixon in the White House. It's a bloody shame what happened as a result of that because Nixon and Kissinger passed a paper around the first weeks they were in the White House, it's called NSSM1, which means National Security Study Memorandum. They wanted to know what people thought about in the foreign policy apparatus, what people thought about the Vietnam War.
Johnson had replaced Westmoreland with Creighton Abrams at this time. Even Creighton Abrams, in his response, said words to the effect that: in my opinion you cannot win a military victory. All you have is a stalemate there.
In other words, knowing that the best he could do was get a long stalemate and knowing the American people will never stand for that, Nixon begins to expand the air war into Laos and Cambodia. For political purposes, he then began to draw down the number of troops there.
In other words, you were doing a balancing act. You were getting out American combat troops, trying to turn the war over to South Vietnam; and at the same time you're increasing and expanding the focus of the air war. What that did, of course, is it destabilized Cambodia and Laos.
I don't have to tell about it, what happened in Cambodia, because once the air war began to rain down, it began to help the Chinese Marxist rebels led by Pol Pot. I shouldn't say that because most people, if you try and classify who Pol Pot was, nobody really knows what the heck he was. He is seen to be like an agrarian revolutionary who wanted to empty whole cities out and bring them to the countryside in a crazy, restructuring of society.
As the bombing campaign picked up, Pol Pot's forces strengthened. When Sihanouk brought in his Prime Minister Lon Nol, a military guy, when he went on vacation, Lon Nol staged a coup. Of course, Lon Nol encouraged Nixon because he was keeping what they were doing, and the country got destabilized even more and the bombing went inland. What happened, of course, was this built up Pol Pot's forces until he was able to lay siege to Lon Nol's new government, a horrible, horrible situation that resulted.
This went on, this expansion of the war, Nixon knowing that he really can't win but trying to find a way to get the best agreement he can, and at the same time he's polarizing and deceiving the public in America. He's going to sell out President Thieu because once he realizes that he can't win the war, he also knows he has to get out before the election or else people are going to ask him … rather, excuse me, he has to arrange to have the defeat come after the election or people are going to say, “You kept us here for four years for nothing.” He begins to create something called “the decent interval”.
The decent interval is something that both Nixon and Kissinger lied about in both their books; in Nixon's book, No More Vietnams and Kissinger's book, The White House Years. They denied that this thing existed, but it did exist. In fact, Kissinger even wrote about it in his notebooks he took over to China and he talked about it with Zhou Enlai. And Zhou Enlai communicated it to North Vietnam.
The decent interval was this concept: Saigon could fall but it had to fall after the American troops were gone, because then we could blame it on President Thieu and the South Vietnamese army, and it wouldn't be blamed on us.
That's how treacherous these guys were. That's how bad these guys were. The countless tons of bombs … by the way, Nixon dropped more bombs in Indochina than Johnson did, and it was by of wide margin, just so he could ensure that he'd win the 1972 election and humiliate … these guys hated what they perceived as a liberal media and leftist intellectuals, and so that's what they were doing. That's what they were doing. That's what they did it for. That's what it went on for.
What happens, of course, is that there is the Easter Offensive in the spring of '72 that undoubtedly would have taken the country over at that time. It was a massive tank attack from the north, but then Nixon and Kissinger called in the American Air Force from as far away as Thailand and that stopped the Easter Offensive.
Then, when Nixon thought he had a peace agreement in the fall of 1972 and Kissinger brought the agreement back to President Thieu, and President Theiu went into a rage because he looked at it and it only mentioned three countries in Indochina; Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. In other words, Nixon and Kissinger were essentially saying: We know that it's all over and we know that the country is going to be united again with the north and you're not going to be a part of it. Thieu flew into a rage and Kissinger couldn't handle him. He let him write out a list of demands and he brought the demands back to Le Duc Tho, who was the negotiator in Paris, with Kissinger.
It was a list of 60 demands. Le Duc Tho says: Look, I can't settle every one of these in one-on-one with you. I got to take them back to Hanoi and I have to discuss a few of them with the Politburo there. Kissinger didn't want to admit that he wasn't making any headway because Nixon had already relieved Kissinger of his duties with Thieu, and he appointed Alexander Haig to run that aspect. Kissinger said that the North Vietnamese were being deliberately belligerent, and so Nixon ordered the Christmas Bombing which went on for something like 13 days. The North was so outraged by this...
There is a mythology on what people, like the military, that says somehow that it was the Christmas Bombing that brought Le Duc Tho back to the negotiating table. First of all, Le Duc Tho was going to return to the negotiating table anyway. What Nixon did that for was to try and show President Thieu that he would use American military power if there were any violations of the agreement. That's what that was for. Then, Hanoi got so angry because they didn't want to return to the negotiating table. Nixon had to ask them to come back. They didn't want to come back. The Chinese had to convince them to go back. China basically said: Look, Nixon has lost something like 12 points in his approval ratings because of that bombing. He is in deep trouble over this Watergate thing, which is not going to go away. All you have to do is wait them out and you can take the whole country because they’re going to have to leave.
Also, Congress has start cutting funding for the war.
After the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was repealed, and now the liberals in Congress and even some Republicans were so sick of this thing that they started to cut off the funding for the war. The Peace Movement accomplished that, which of course Burns and Novick don't tell you that in their documentary; but they did achieve that. A very significant achievement.
So Le Duc Tho went back to Paris and the agreements were signed in January of 1973. Nixon's big thing was always peace with honor. Well, first of all, there was no peace and there was no honor. The fighting continued, each side trying to get an advantage. There was nothing honorable about it because polarizing the country and selling out your ally at the same time, there's no honor in doing that.
Then, of course, in 1975 Nixon is finally out of office due to the Watergate Scandal like the Chinese predicted. Kissinger is running the evacuation of South Vietnam, and everybody remembers the famous image of the American helicopter at the top of … some people say it's the American Embassy but actually I think it's a CIA station building. That helicopter there with all the Vietnamese trying to get on the helicopter. Some of them didn't get on. The United States left. President Jerry Ford and Kissinger left about 500 people there.
That's the image that everybody remembers about America leaving Vietnam. That night, Kissinger got on the phone with an old friend of his from academic circles when he was at Harvard and said: Thank God it's all over. We should have never been there. In other words, that's what he really thought. That's what Kennedy was saying – we should have never had American combat troops there, we should have never had this huge military mission there.
It always amazed me that Nixon and Kissinger were looked up to as these foreign policy mavens. When, in fact, they were nothing but dyed-in-the-wool Cold Warriors, who manipulated the Cold War for political purposes.
To show you how stupid Nixon and Kissinger were, in the '80s when Gorbachev took over the Soviet Union, after he met with Reagan … Reagan really liked him. He thought this guy is a real reformer. Margaret Thatcher, the right-wing nut from England actually said we can work with Mr. Gorbachev. Reagan called in Nixon and he then called in Kissinger and he told them: I think I can really work with this guy. I don't think he's one of those old hard line communist apparatchiks. Nixon didn't believe it. He told him, “Yes he is. That's how he got the power.” And then he told, as he was leaving, he told Reagan’s assistants: “Whatever you do, don't leave Reagan in the same room with Gorbachev alone.”
Kissinger said the same thing, How can you be that wrong about two important things, like the Vietnam War and that great moment in history which Reagan partly bungled because of the advice from those two guys? It has always puzzled me how Nixon and Kissinger, how the mainstream media made them out to be these foreign policy gurus when in fact they were nothing except a dressed up John Foster Dulles.
I'll take Kennedy any day of the week.
Right. Just from what happened in Vietnam, and just because you brought up Pol Pot. Eventually it was the Vietnamese themselves that had to go get rid of Pol Pot because of what he had done.
Correct. See, that's something that Burns and Novick don't even touch on. The horrible genocide that took place in Cambodia because of the Nixon-Kissinger bombing campaign. When Pol Pot took over, God knows … I usually go by a million people but if you go ahead and find that … because there was this investigation I think a few years ago, this long series of trials and investigations that went on. They actually put the figure much higher than that. They actually put the figure at about two million that perished by Pol Pot in Cambodia.
And you're exactly right. It got so horrible in Cambodia that the North Vietnamese had to go in, and it was they that overturned the Pol Pot tyranny, not us.
Right. When you think about what you just said with … you have Cambodia, two million people; you have Vietnam, four million people I don't think you can take out from this whole thing the Indonesian massacres of 1965 because it's obvious at the whole domino theory, so you're talking about seven million people in the course of 20 years, whatever it was.
No, that all happened. The vast amount of casualties in Vietnam all happened from about 1966 onward and you had the overthrow of Sukarno in '65, right? In the period of about a decade, you had the … going by the latest figures, the latest figures that I could find, when you add in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. What did you say, seven million?
Just roughly from what you had said earlier…
Yeah, that's what I would say. I would say a rough estimate would be about seven million. That might be wrong, that might be too high, it might be too low but it's around, from the latest figures I could find, the most accurate figures I could find, it's about seven million.
At the very least, it's five and a half million. And all because of the reversals of Kennedy's policies in both Indochina and Indonesia. Because Kennedy, as people who read my website and keep up on Greg Poulgrain's work, the wonderful scholar on Indonesia from Australia, Kennedy was backing Sukarno all the way to the end. I'm talking 1963, and he planned on visiting Indonesia in 1964.
Kennedy went as far as to arrange nationalization deals for Sukarno, because he thought Sukarno was getting screwed by these big petroleum companies. He actually got on the phone and relayed his message: I want a much more generous split to go to Indonesia. They wanted 90/10 in favor of the company. Kennedy insisted 60/40 in the favor of the Indonesian government.
That was the whole difference because we know what happened in Indonesia after. Under Johnson, it just became a pig out in which tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered and Suharto gave the government over to the big corporations, most of them being Americans.
Let's end on this. I want to put Kennedy's policies in perspective a little bit. Do you feel that there's any resemblance between his idea of what America's foreign policy should be and what FDR's vision for the post-war world should have been?
I think they're pretty similar when I look at this. When I see what FDR's foreign policy was and what he wanted to do with the Soviet Union and what he wanted to do in the third world. I think they're pretty much similar.
Roosevelt wanted to keep that grand alliance together after the war: that is between United States, England, and the Soviet Union. He felt he could control Stalin at least in the international field and so he wanted to keep that together after the war. He tried to understand the Soviet Union's insecurity about Eastern Europe. Now in the third world, Roosevelt did not want any more of the colonialism, this brutal colonialism that actually went in and made the native people even worse off than they were before the colonial state took over. He actually said that to one of his advisors: We can't tolerate a situation in which the native people are in worse conditions after the Europeans come in than they were before.
Those two things I think are pretty similar to what Kennedy's ideas were, certainly by 1963. In my opinion, what you had here is you had Kennedy trying to go ahead and turn back American foreign policy by rebelling against what the Dulles Brothers had done and restoring it back to Roosevelt. Then what you have when Johnson and then Nixon took over, you had essentially the overthrow of Kennedy's reform policy and you went back to what the Dulles Brothers were.
By the way, let me add one I'm pretty sure about, I'm right about this. At one time before the Burns-Novick series came on, I was going to do a very long two-part essay for kennedysandking,com, and this was going to be my central idea. I was going to go ahead and demonstrate, because most authors all they do is compare Kennedy with Johnson: what did Johnson do to Kennedy's foreign policy? I was going to take it all the way through Nixon and Kissinger. And I was going to do it in four central areas: Vietnam, Pakistan and India, Indonesia and the Middle East. I actually spent a lot of time on this. I spent about four months doing research on it.
Then, when the Burns-Novick thing came on I said, “Well, I can do it this way. I can do it with just focusing on this and this is going to be a big media event so more people will probably read this if I just focus it on Vietnam”, but I did do the preliminary research and so I'm pretty sure that I'm right about this. That was the historical contour: Kennedy was going back to Roosevelt and then after Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson and Nixon went back to Dulles. They repealed almost all the good things that Kennedy had done, and they went back to more or less a Dulles-Eisenhower paradigm.
To complete that thought – to show you how bad it got – once Nixon left office Jerry Ford, Mr. Warren Commission cover-up, took over. He brought in Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Those guys thought that Kissinger was too moderate, if you can believe it. They thought he was too moderate. That was the historical beginning of the Neocon movement, the Neoconservative movement that eventually swept through Washington. That was the complete elimination and destruction of whatever was left of Kennedy's foreign policy once those guys took power. Because we saw what happened first with the Reagan administration and then with both the Bushes. They did so much damage to the American image abroad that … I don't really honestly … I don't think you can even salvage it anymore. In my opinion that's what happened.
Kennedy's Foreign Policy today is essentially in a museum.
It's dead and buried and you can study it for historical purposes. But that series of events from Johnson to Nixon to Ford spelled the end of that kind of view of American foreign policy throughout the world. It's like that book that Kennedy liked so much, The Ugly American. Did you know that? That he was a big fan of that book?
It was a classic back then. It was trying to show how misguided American foreign policy was, and they made a movie out of it with Marlon Brando. It was how misguided American foreign policy was in the Third World. Kennedy liked it so much he bought a hundred copies and he gave it to everybody else in the Senate, so they could read it so they would understand, in a fictional form, what was happening.
That view that America could not be a controller, we had to let those people in the Third World have a degree of freedom and democracy for themselves; that we we're going to lose them to either fascism or communism. That was all dead and buried then, and that's what happened. I sincerely believe that that was the case from the work I did on this.
Can you give a list of books if people want to dig more into this issue?
To find out about Kennedy's foreign policy?
Okay. A really good one I believe is [by] Robert Rakove and it's called Kennedy Johnson, and the Nonaligned World;
[A second one is:] Betting on the Africans by Philip E. Muehlenbeck.
The third one is The Incubus of Intervention by Greg Poulgrain.
The last one is JFK: Ordeal in Africa by Richard Mahoney.
Is there anything you want to add, tag on at the end here?
No. I think we did a pretty good job covering it. There's a lot of information in this interview that's not in those essays, so I think we did a pretty good job on it and I got to actually be more explicit about what my original message was going to be.
Great. You're such a wealth of knowledge so it's always great to hear you go over all these things. Let me … is that Colby interview, is that in the new JFK releases?
Great. I'll dig that up at some links on there. Thanks for talking once again, and I really appreciate you taking the time.
This interview was edited for grammar, flow and factual accuracy.