The military coup in Honduras, which some U.S. conservatives are already hailing as a pro-democracy coup, as they did after military strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military coup in Chile, brings to mind a fantastic movie — Seven Days in May, starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Ava Gardner.
The movie is about a group of U.S. generals who planned to pull off a pro-democracy coup here in the United States in order to protect the country from a president whose policies threatened “national security.”
The scenario of the film may have been inspired by the clash between General Curtis LeMay and President John F. Kennedy. It is suspected that LeMay, furious after the Cuban missile crisis for not being allowed to use his atomic bombs, talked to some of his staff about removing the President from power….
[Director Frank] Frankenheimer said that [White House Press Secretary] Pierre Salinger conveyed to him President Kennedy’s wish that the film be made, “these were the days of General [Edwin] Walker” and, though the Pentagon did not want the film made, the President would conveniently arrange to visit Hyannis Port for a weekend when the film needed to shoot outside the White House.
The president’s friend Paul Fay, Jr., told of an incident that showed JFK was keenly conscious of the peril of a military coup d’état. One summer week-end in 1962 while out sailing with friends, Kennedy was asked what he thought of Seven Days in May, a best-selling novel that described a military takeover in the United States. JFK said he would read the book. He did so that night.
The next day Kennedy discussed with his friends the possibility of their seeing such a coup in the United States. Consider that he said these words after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and before the Cuban Missile Crisis: “It’s possible. It could happen in this country, but the conditions would have to be just right. If, for example, the country had a young President, and he had a Bay of Pigs, there would be a certain uneasiness. Maybe the military would do a little criticizing behind his back, but this would be written off as the usual military dissatisfaction with civilian control. Then if there were another Bay of Pigs, the reaction of the country would be, ‘Is he too young and inexperienced?’ The military would almost feel that it was their patriotic obligation to stand ready to preserve the integrity of the nation, and only God knows just what segment of democracy they would be defending if they overthrew the elected establishment.”
Pausing a moment, he went on, “Then, if there were a third Bay of Pigs, it could happen.” Waiting again until his listeners absorbed his meaning, he concluded with an old Navy phrase, “But it won’t happen on my watch.”
On another occasion Kennedy said of the novel’s plot about a few military commanders taking over the country, “I know a couple who might wish they could.” The statement is cited by biographer Theodore Sorensen as a joke. However, John Kennedy used humor in pointed ways, and Sorensen’s preceding sentence is not a joke: “Communications between the Chiefs of Staff and their Commander in Chief remained unsatisfactory for a large part of his term.”
Director John Frankenheimer was encouraged by President Kennedy to film Seven Days in May “as a warning to the republic.”
Kennedy’s concern about a democracy-defending coup at the hands of U.S. military generals followed President Eisenhower’s warning in his Farewell Address to the American people about the growing dangers to the American people posed by U.S. military-industrial complex.
Of course, needless to say, the last thing President Obama needs to fear is a military coup here at home, given that he, unlike President Kennedy, is doing everything the generals and the CIA want him to do.