1962: An Unbridgeable Gulf Opens Up Between JFK and the Pentagon Over His Resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis
JFK’s Meeting With the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday, November 19th, 1962
Thanks to President Kennedy’s secret taping system, and the conscientious efforts of historians Philip D. Zelikow, Ernest R. May, and Timothy Naftali to transcribe the sometimes difficult to understand audio recordings, we now have a very good record of what transpired during countless ExComm meetings, as well as during JFK’s one sole meeting with his Joint Chiefs of Staff during the crisis. Some key excerpts from this startling meeting, revealing the pressure JFK was under to bomb and invade, and to eschew the blockade option, are reproduced below. (Horizontal lines between passages of dialogue indicate where some material has been omitted for the sake of brevity.) The dramatis personae other than President John F. Kennedy referred to below are the new Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Maxwell Taylor; the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral George Anderson; the Marine Corps Commandant, General David Shoup; the Army Chief of Staff, General Earle Wheeler; and of course the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Curtis LeMay.
As Dino Brugioni summarized in Eyeball to Eyeball,
…the Joint Chiefs of Staff were unanimous during the crisis in calling for immediate military action, believing that a blockade of Cuba would be ineffective. A military attack was essential. The strike plan they advocated was a massive attack on all missile sites, all airfields, and all military camps, and invading the island.
In the work they edited, The Presidential Recordings, Zelikow, May, and Naftali wrote about the hardening of resolve by the Pentagon after additional U-2 surveillance detected the installation of fixed, concrete launch sites for the longer range R-14 IRBMs on October 18th:
As officials received this new information on the morning of October 18th, their attitudes hardened. McNamara called McCone to say that he now thought prompt and decisive action necessary. Taylor told the Joint Chiefs that the news tipped him toward supporting the maximum option — full invasion of Cuba. This then became the unanimous position of the JCS.
General Taylor met with the Chiefs at 9:00 AM on October 19th, and told them that after the ExComm meeting of the previous evening, President Kennedy and his principal advisors were leaning toward a blockade of Cuba, instead of an immediate attack. Before meeting with JFK, the Chiefs agreed unanimously that the United States should launch a massive airstrike against Cuba, with no advance warning. Secretary McNamara joined the Chiefs for their meeting with President Kennedy, which took place between 9:45 and 10:30 AM.
First, a word about personalities. Maxwell Taylor, a WW II paratroop commander (of the Army’s famous 101st Airborne Division), jumped into battle with the Screaming Eagles at the Normandy invasion of France in June of 1944, and during Operation Market Garden later that year, and commanded the 101st throughout the remainder of World War II. Taylor served as Army Chief of Staff under President Eisenhower, but resigned over differences in national defense policy. Taylor did not agree with the Eisenhower administration’s doctrine of “massive retaliation” and its emphasis on nuclear brinksmanship; rather, he favored larger conventional forces and a doctrine of “flexible response,” which came to be favored by Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy. Maxwell Taylor was called out of retirement in the spring of 1961 by President Kennedy to perform an analysis of what went wrong with the Bay of Pigs invasion; thereafter, Taylor stayed on as President Kennedy’s personal military advisor (an unusual arrangement, this was JFK’s response to the strained relations between him and JCS Chairman Lyman Lemnitzer), and came to head the Special Group, Augmented (“Mongoose”). President Kennedy killed two birds with one stone, when McNamara forced the arrogant and independent NATO Supreme Commander, Lauris Norstad, to retire — and Kennedy simultaneously got rid of his “Lemnitzer problem” at the Pentagon by promoting the JCS Chairman into the vacancy created by Norstad’s precipitate departure. The handsome, urbane, erudite and well-spoken Maxwell Taylor, known in 1961 and 1962 inside Washington as “Kennedy’s favorite general,” assumed the duties of JCS Chairman on October 1, 1962 — just prior to the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Some also described him as “haughty” on occasion.
I have already written much, in other installments of this essay, about General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force Chief of Staff. Dino Brugioni wrote that LeMay “was characterized by one observer as always interjecting himself into situations ‘like a rogue elephant barging out of the forest.’ ” Brugioni wrote in Eyeball to Eyeball: “Petulant and often childish when he didn’t get his way, LeMay would light a cigar and blow smoke in the direction of anyone challenging his position.” LeMay, a combat aviator, was uneasy in Washington. Brugioni continued: “He saw himself as an outsider, yet continually prided himself as the only authority on warfare available to the JCS. Most of all, he felt that the Joint Chiefs of Staff dallied over vital decisions and were not responsive.” General Taylor told Brugioni that “…as a bomber commander there was none finer…. But a good bomber commander doesn’t automatically make a good Chief of Staff, and appointing Curtis LeMay as Chief of Staff of the Air Force was a big mistake…LeMay would ‘jam that damn cigar in his mouth and place a chip on his shoulder and parade through the Pentagon looking for a fight.’ “ LeMay had a visage and personality reminiscent of a bulldog, and believed nuclear war with the USSR was inevitable. During World War II, after serving courageously in Europe (where his tough, driving management style was instrumental in rescuing the 8th Air Force from early failure in the daylight precision bombing campaign of the United States Army Air Force), LeMay was sent to the Pacific and personally designed, and commanded, the devastating firebombing campaign with the new B-29 bombers which killed between 50-90% of the residents of 67 Japanese cities. He later frankly acknowledged that if the United States had lost the war with Japan, that he would probably have been branded a war criminal — and yet had no regrets about his actions or decisions in the firebombing campaign. Robert McNamara later said of LeMay that he was “extraordinarily belligerent and even brutal,” and that was a description of his relationships with his own subordinates — not with the enemy.
Brugioni also wrote about the Commandant of the Marine Corps in Eyeball to Eyeball: “The performance of General David M. Shoup was less than distinguished during the crisis. Seemingly uninformed on a number of details of the war plans and seriously lacking knowledge of Cuba, he had difficulty making contributions to the discussions…Sitting passively in meetings, he would support one side of a position and then the other. Often in response to a very specific question, he would switch to irrelevant matters such as his experiences in Marine landings in the Pacific during World War II. As a colonel in 1943, he was the senior officer ashore [in the first wave] and won the Medal of Honor during the landings at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands…Shoup’s constant reverting to World War II experiences irritated most of his colleagues, but especially General LeMay.”
Army Chief of Staff General Earle Wheeler, a protégé of Maxwell Taylor, replaced George Decker as Army Chief of Staff on October 1, 1962 — the same date Maxwell Taylor was formally installed as the new Chairman. Wheeler did not have a combat record like LeMay or Shoup, but had a reputation as a brilliant staff officer, and had served for a time as director of the Joint Staff in the Pentagon. LeMay was suspicious of him because he was Taylor’s protégé, and contemptuous of him because he was a staff officer who did not have a combat record. Brugioni writes: “Wheeler…was a by-the-numbers general and would later be criticized for a lack of imagination and single-minded doggedness when he [later] became Chairman of the JCS. As early as 1962, General Wheeler was advocating strong military action in Vietnam and, later, as Chairman of the JCS, helped conceal the fact that bombing raids had been conducted in Cambodia. His [later] support to the Johnson and Nixon administrations regarding Southeast Asia was unquestioning.”
The Chief of Naval Operations (or “CNO”), Admiral George Anderson, had been picked by Kennedy’s first Secretary of the Navy, John B. Connally. He was handsome and personable, had the nickname “Gorgeous George,” and throughout his career had bombarded his men with maxims on clean living, and had sermonized on the evils of prostitution, earning him a second nickname, “Straight Arrow.”
With the context of this crucial meeting established, and its participants identified, let us examine some of the key exchanges between JFK and his Joint Chiefs of Staff on October 19, 1962 [all emphasis added by me]:
…From the outset I would say that we felt we were united on the military requirement: we could not accept Cuba as a missile base; that we should either eliminate or neutralize the missiles there and prevent any others from coming in. From the military point of view that meant three things. First, attack with the benefit of surprise those known missiles and offensive weapons we knew about. Secondly, continued surveillance then to see what the effect would be. And third, a blockade to prevent the others from coming in…I reported the trend last night which I’ve detected for a couple of days, to move away from what I would call a straight military solution toward one based on military measures plus blockade. And that has been reported to the Chiefs this morning…I think the benefit this morning, Mr. President, would be for you to hear the other Chiefs’ comments either on our basic, what I call military plan, or how they would see the blockade plan.
Let me say a little bit, first, about what the problem is, from my point of view. First, I think we ought to think of why the Russians did this. Well, actually, it was a rather dangerous but rather useful play of theirs. If we do nothing, they have the missile base there with all the pressure that brings to bear on the United States and damage to our prestige.
If we attack Cuba, the missiles or Cuba, in any way then it gives them a clear line to take Berlin, as they were able to do in Hungary [in 1956] under the Anglo [-French-Israeli] war in Egypt [i.e., the Suez Crisis]. We will have been regarded as — they think we’ve got this fixation about Cuba anyway — we would be regarded as the trigger-happy Americans who lost Berlin. We would have no support among our allies. We would affect [negatively] the West Germans’ attitude toward us. And [people would believe] that we let Berlin go because we didn’t have the guts to endure a situation in Cuba. After all, Cuba is 6,000 or 7,000 miles from them. They don’t give a damn about Cuba. And they do care about Berlin and about their own security…I must say I think it’s a very satisfactory position from their [the USSR’s] point of view…if we do nothing then they’ll have these missiles and they’ll be able to say that any time we ever try to do anything about Cuba, that they’ll fire these missiles. So that I think it’s dangerous, but rather satisfactory, from their point of view.
If you take the view, really, that what’s basic to them is Berlin and there isn’t any doubt [about that]. In every conversation I’ve had with the Russians, that’s what…Even last night we [Gromyko and I] talked about Cuba for a while, but Berlin — that’s what Khrushchev’s committed himself to personally. So actually, it’s quite a desirable situation from their point of view. Now, that’s what makes our problem so difficult. If few go in and take them out on a quick air strike, we neutralize the chance of danger to the United States of these missiles being used…On the other hand, we increase the chance greatly, as I think they — there’s bound to be a reprisal from the Soviet Union, there always is — of their just going in and taking Berlin by force at some point. Which leaves me only one alternative, which is to fire nuclear weapons [in Europe] — which is one hell of an alternative — and begin a nuclear exchange, with all this happening.
On the other hand, if we begin the blockade that we’re talking about, the chances are they will begin a blockade [of Berlin, as the USSR previously did in 1948] and say that we started it. And there’ll be some questions about the attitude of the Europeans. So that, once again, they will say that there will be this feeling in Europe that the [new] Berlin blockade has been commenced by our blockade [of Cuba].
So, I don’t think we’ve got any satisfactory alternatives. When we balance off that our problem is not merely Cuba but it is also Berlin and when we recognize the importance of Berlin to Europe, and recognize the importance of our allies to us, that’s what has made this thing to be a dilemma for three days. Otherwise, our answer would be quite easy…
…I think we’d all be unanimous in saying that really our strength in Berlin, our strength anywhere in the world, is the credibility of our response under certain conditions. And if we don’t respond here in Cuba, we think that the credibility of our response in Berlin is endangered.
Well, I certainly agree with everything General Taylor has said. I’d emphasize, a little strongly perhaps, that we don’t have any choice except direct military action. If we do this blockade that’s proposed and political action, the first thing that’s going to happen is that your missiles are going to disappear into the woods…now, we can’t find them then, regardless of what we do…Now, as for the Berlin situation, I don’t share your view that if we knock off Cuba, that they’re going to knock off Berlin. We’ve got the Berlin problem staring us in the face anyway. If we don’t do anything in Cuba, then they’re going to push on Berlin and push real hard because they’ve got us on the run. If we take military action against Cuba, then I think that the —
What do you think their reprisal would be?
I don’t think they’re going to make any reprisal if we tell them that the Berlin situation is just like it’s always been. If they make a move we’re going to fight. Now I don’t think this changes the Berlin situation at all, except you’ve got to make one more statement on it. So I see no other solution. This blockade and political action, I see leading into war. I don’t see any other solution for it [other than direct military action]. It will lead right into war. This is almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich. [Pause] Because if this blockade comes along…we’re going to gradually drift into a war under conditions that are at a great disadvantage to us…I just don’t see any other solution except direct military intervention right now.
[Note: LeMay’s comment about the appeasement at Munich was a calculated slur against JFK’s father, Joseph Kennedy, who had been the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1938, and had supported the giveaway of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Germany which had been engineered by the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. This infamous “appeasement” gambit failed to satisfy Hitler’s lust for new territory, and World War II occurred anyway. Most historians today believe that the appeasement at Munich was an overt sign of weakness by the British and French, and therefore only encouraged Hitler’s appetite for conquest. Ambassador Kennedy later shamed himself even further in 1940, when active hostilities began between Great Britain and Germany, by openly predicting Britain’s early defeat, and by stating that the United States would simply have to learn to live with dictators. Joseph Kennedy was recalled to the United States early in 1941, and replaced as Ambassador; his political career ended in disgrace as a result of the public statements he made about the war in Europe following his return. JFK did not rise to the bait.]
Well, Mr. President, I feel that the course of action recommended to you by the Chiefs from the military point of view is the right one…If we institute a blockade, from a military point of view we can carry it out…the blockade will not affect the equipment that is already in Cuba and will provide the Russians in Cuba time to assemble all of these missiles…to get…their command and control system ready to go…I think we have a good chance of greatly minimizing loss of life within the United States under the present conditions, if we act fairly soon…I do not see that, as long as the Soviet Union is supporting Cuba, that there’s any solution to the Cuban problem except a military solution…
Mr. President, in my judgment, from a military point of view, the lowest-risk course of action if we’re thinking of protecting the people of the United States against a possible strike on us is to go ahead with a surprise airstrike, the blockade, and an invasion, because these series of actions progressively will give us increasing assurance that we really have got the offensive capability of the Cuban-Soviets cornered. Now admittedly, we can never be absolutely sure until and unless we actually occupy the island… Increasingly, they can achieve a sizeable increase in offensive Soviet strike capabilities against the United States, which they do not now have. They do have ICBMs that are targeted on us, but they are in limited numbers. Their air force is not by any manner of means of the magnitude and capability that they probably would desire. And this short-range missile force [in Cuba] gives them a sort of a quantum jump in their capability to inflict damage on the United States. And so as I say, from a military point of view, I feel that the lowest risk course of action is the full gamut of military action by us. That’s it, sir.
Thank you, general.
[After a long, meandering discussion in which the Marine Corps Commandant demonstrated that he had no real understanding of how the missiles in Cuba changed the entire strategic balance between the USSR and the United States, he nevertheless recommended invading anyway]…in my opinion, if we want to eliminate this threat…if we want to eliminate it, then we’re going to have to go in there and do it in a full-time job to eliminate the threat against us. Then if you want to take over the place and really put in a new government that is non-Communist, then you’ll have to invade the place. And if that decision is made, we must go in with plenty of insurance of a decisive success and as quick as possible.
General LeMay:…And you [addressing President Kennedy] have made some pretty strong statements…that we would take action against offensive weapons. I think that a blockade and political talk would be considered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as being a pretty weak response to this. And I’m sure a lot of our own citizens would feel that way, too. In other words, you’re in a pretty bad fix at the present time.
What did you say?
You’re in a pretty bad fix.
You’re in there with me. [An outburst of forced laughter can be heard in the background.] Personally.
[Note: LeMay’s presumption in lecturing the President on domestic and international political considerations — and in such a gloating manner — is stunning, even 51 years later.]
[Obviously changing the subject to defuse the situation — to the one option that President Kennedy favors…] With regard to the blockade plan, Mr. President…I think Guantanamo is going to cease to be a useful Naval base and become more of a fortress more or less in a permanent state of siege.
…There’s a good deal of difference between taking a strike which strikes just the missiles that are involved — that’s one action which has a certain effect — an escalating effect. The other is to do a strike which takes out all the planes, that’s very much of an island sweep. Third is the invasion, which takes a period of 14 days or so by the time we get it mounted. Maybe 18 days. We will have to assume that — I don’t know what — the Soviet response to each of these would have to be different…
I think we have got to do more than take out the missiles, because if you don’t take out their air at the same time you’re vulnerable [to attack on the southeastern United States by MiGs and IL-28 medium bombers]…
Well…except that…they’ve had the air there for some time…You know, as I say, the problem is not really some war against Cuba. But the problem is part of this worldwide struggle where we face the Communists, particularly, as I say, over Berlin…
If you lose in Cuba you’re going to get more and more pressure right on Berlin. I’m sure of that.
…we can never talk about invading again, after they get these missiles [operational], because they’ve got those pointed at our head.
Well, the logical argument is that we don’t really have to invade Cuba. That’s not really…that’s just one of the difficulties that we live with in life, like we live with the Soviet Union and China…Well, let me ask you this. If we go ahead with this air strike, either on the missiles or on the missiles and the planes, I understand the recommendation is to do both, when could that be ready?
We can be ready for attack at dawn on the 21st [Sunday], that being the earliest possible date. The optimum date would be Tuesday morning [the 23rd].
Why is it Tuesday rather than Sunday, General? What’s the argument for that?
We can’t hold this much longer [worried about the story leaking to the press, which would then force his hand before he was ready].
[Coming to LeMay’s rescue] We were told to get ready as fast as possible. We aren’t recommending Sunday. We prefer Tuesday.
Then, now, the invasion would take —
Seven days after [the] airstrike you could start the invasion going on for about 11 days.
It would go on for 11 days and then we would…we would, in other words, be prepared for it, but not necessarily…we’d still have seven days to decide whether we want to go in.
We have flexibility.
Mr. President, going back to the relationships between Cuba and Berlin…There is no acceptable military solution to the Berlin problem, whereas there is in Cuba…
…I appreciate your views. As I said, I’m sure we all understand how rather unsatisfactory our alternatives are. The argument for the blockade was that what we want to do is avoid, if we can, nuclear war by escalation or imbalance. The Soviets increase; we use [force]; they blockade Berlin. They blockade for military purposes. Then we take an initial action to that…We’ve got to have some degree of control. Those people last night [Gromyko and Dobrynin] were so [far] away from reality that there’s no telling what the response would be.
Did he give any clue, Mr. President?
Well, he talked tough about Berlin. On Cuba he really just talked about their defensive aspirations. He said, “We’re only sending defensive weapons in.” Of course, that’s how they define these weapons, as defensive.
[Note: At this point President Kennedy departed for a previously scheduled mid-term election campaign swing through Ohio and Illinois — part of the campaign of deception, designed to keep the Soviet Union unaware of our knowledge. But the tape recording system was left on, and captured some very frank comments among some of the Chiefs — after the President, Maxwell Taylor, and Secretary of Defense McNamara had left the Cabinet Room.]
Well, what do you guys [think]? You, you pulled the rug right out from under him [apparently speaking to LeMay].
Jesus Christ. What the hell do you mean?
I just agree with that answer, General. I just agree with you a hundred per cent. I just agree with you a hundred per cent. That’s the only Goddamn…He [the President] finally got around to the word escalation. I heard him say escalation. That’s the only Goddamn thing that’s in the whole trick. It’s been there in Laos; it’s been in every Goddamn one [of those crises]. When he says escalation, that’s it. [Pause] If somebody could keep them from doing the thing piecemeal. That’s our problem. You go in there and [start] friggin’ around with the missiles. You’re screwed. You go in and frig around with anything else you’re screwed.
You’re screwed, screwed, screwed…. Goddamn it, if he wants to do it, you can’t fiddle around with taking out missiles. You can’t fiddle around with hitting the missile sites and then the SAM sites. You got [sic] to go in and take out the Goddamn thing that’s going to stop you from doing your job.
It was very apparent to me, though, from his earlier remarks, that the political action of a blockade is really what he’s…
That’s right. His speech about Berlin was the real —
He gave his speech about Berlin, and —
He equates the two.
This was true. For President Kennedy, the crisis was not just about Cuba. He viewed the Soviet installation of nuclear ballistic missiles in Cuba as a move on the global chessboard by America’s Cold War adversary, designed ultimately to checkmate NATO and force the Allies out of Berlin, with nuclear blackmail. As stated by historian Philip Zelikow in the 2003 A&E documentary JFK: A Presidency Revealed:
He is on a knife’s edge between pools of fire — with a potential nuclear war over Cuba in October on the one hand, and what he perceives as a potential nuclear war over Berlin, with even greater stakes, and even worse position, a month later.
In the same documentary, Zelikow also commented on JFK’s performance as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief throughout the entire Cuban Missile Crisis, as revealed by the Kennedy tapes:
It just — you sit back, I mean, here’s an administration reputedly consisting of the best and the brightest — if you listen to the tapes in the Missile Crisis, it’s just obvious that Kennedy is the best and the brightest in the room; that he’s often one or two steps ahead of all his advisors, in thinking through the implications. He’s asking the best questions; he’s very poorly served, in my judgment, by his staff, but because his capabilities can be so impressive, [he] can regularly rescue the system from disaster.
As revealed in the previous installment of this essay, President Kennedy (despite increasing pressure from the Pentagon for a “military solution” as the crisis progressed) achieved a diplomatic solution to the crisis: in exchange for a U.S. no-invasion pledge, contingent upon the USSR not reintroducing offensive weapons to Cuba — and a secret pledge to eventually remove U.S. medium range nuclear ballistic missiles from Turkey — the Soviet Union “caved” and removed all of its ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads from Cuba. [Unbeknownst to the United States, they also removed all of the tactical nuclear weapons from Cuba, which we did not even learn about until 29 years after the crisis was resolved.]
The narrator of JFK: A Presidency Revealed, Frank Sesno, expressed this opinion:
War was avoided in part because this President had learned from the Bay of Pigs that recommendations coming from the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to be questioned; that the greatest exercise of Presidential leadership is often knowing when not to employ the military option.
Philip Zelikow summed up as follows, speaking about President Kennedy’s leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis:
You do read in the documents, though, that a lot of his contemporaries were plainly, profoundly impressed by his performance in the crisis; but you don’t know whether to credit that to mythmaking, or to something real — and then you listen to the tapes of the crisis, and you understand.
But the record makes clear the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not understand, or appreciate, President Kennedy’s leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
President Kennedy Meets With the Joint Chiefs of Staff After the Cuban Missile Crisis to Thank Them for Their Support, and Instead of an Exchange of Mutual Respect, He Is Harshly Rebuffed, and Insulted
Shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis ended, President Kennedy met with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the cabinet room at the White House to thank them for their efforts, after achieving a negotiated settlement with the Soviet Union that both guaranteed the removal of the nuclear ballistic missiles from Cuba, and avoided war. (The USSR also finally agreed to remove all of the IL-28 medium range bombers, by late November.) The overwhelming strategic and tactical superiority held during the crisis by the United States in our own backyard of the Caribbean, and the clearly visible and undeniable preparations for massive airstrikes and an invasion, had both contributed materially to the diplomatic settlement. Khrushchev was faced with the sure knowledge on October 27th and 28th that airstrikes and a Cuban invasion were imminent, and this knowledge of the impending stick made it easier for him to accept the carrot. It was this material contribution of the military — readiness to go to war, and the high credibility of the U.S. military option at the time of the crisis — that President Kennedy wanted to acknowledge in a face-to-face meeting with the Chiefs.
President Kennedy tried to put a good face on what had been a difficult and stressful two weeks with his military leadership, saying that he wanted to tell them how much he admired them and had benefitted from their advice and counsel. (The friction with his military leadership was worse than JFK realized. In private correspondence with Jacob Hornberger, Michael Swanson, author of the 2013 book The War State, revealed recently that unknown to JFK, toward the very end of the crisis, notes taken at JCS meetings reveal that Curtis LeMay had wanted to go meet with JFK one-on-one and demand a military solution — demand war. He was dissuaded by his colleagues in uniform.) This meeting did not go well at all, and in fact was a disaster. I have reconstructed the account below using the book The Crisis Years, by Michael Beschloss, and the 2004 Errol Morris documentary The Fog of War, as my primary sources.
President Kennedy kicked off the meeting by saying to the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Gentlemen, we’ve won. I don’t want you to ever say it, but you know we’ve won, and I know we’ve won.” JFK consistently counseled his advisors in the wake of the crisis, and even the press, not to gloat. Having been seared in the crucible — and grateful to have escaped the possibility of nuclear war (which had been much more likely than even he knew at the time) — he did not believe it was useful to brag or rub the Russian’s noses in their own humiliation, lest they harbor a grudge and manufacture provocations elsewhere. At this point the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral George Anderson, exclaimed: “We’ve been had!” General Curtis LeMay’s own emotional outburst followed immediately thereafter. LeMay — who was enraged that the United States had not bombed and invaded Cuba — pounded the table in the cabinet room and blurted out: “Won, Hell! We lost! We should go in and wipe them out today!” LeMay then proclaimed the resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis to be “the greatest defeat in our history,” and ejaculated: “Mr. President, we should invade today!” — leaving President Kennedy stunned and stammering in amazement.
To his inner circle, JFK privately expressed the desire to fire both LeMay and Anderson after the crisis. Admiral Anderson had clashed repeatedly with Secretary of Defense McNamara in the Pentagon during the crisis as the blockade was being executed, and as a result their working relationship was effectively over. LeMay had not only been insensitive to the omnipresent Berlin aspect to the Cuban Missile Crisis, but was both responsible and accountable for General Tommy Power’s freewheeling in placing all of SAC at DEFCON-2 during the crisis without informing or consulting the President of the United States. President Kennedy knew that politically, he could not indulge his personal desires and get rid of both Chiefs, for that would reveal to the world that there had been a serious internal schism within the American command structure during the crisis. So in the end, only Admiral Anderson was disposed of — sent packing to become U.S. Ambassador to Portugal. LeMay was kept onboard — retained as Air Force Chief of Staff — where as a continuing member of the JCS, he would be prevented from publicly criticizing the Commander-in-Chief. Paraphrasing one of LBJ’s earthy metaphors, it was considered better to keep the volatile LeMay “inside the tent,” and have him “pissing out,” rather than have him retire and leave the administration, where he would then be outside the tent, “pissing in.”
The rifts between President Kennedy and the Pentagon exposed during the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and the internal policy debates over Laos and Vietnam in 1961, had now expanded into an impassable, unbridgeable gulf. Their differences were now clearly irreconcilable. After all, the Joint Staff had raised the possibility in February of 1962 that the USSR could place missiles in Cuba; had then recommended twice in the spring of 1962 (in March, with “Northwoods;” and again in April, after “Northwoods” and its dishonest pretexts for war had been rejected) that the U.S. invade Cuba to forestall this possibility; and their invasion recommendations had been denied. When the Soviet nuclear ballistic missiles in Cuba were discovered, the United States had the “perfect excuse,” or rather ideal justification, to invade Cuba, from their standpoint — and John F. Kennedy elected not to do so. In their minds, the Joint Chiefs saw themselves as throttled, and prevented from doing their duty (as they saw it), by an irresolute, “chicken” president.
Of course, today, with 20-20 hindsight, we can be grateful that JFK’s caution, and preference for a diplomatic solution over war, delayed the initial inclination of almost everyone in ExComm to bomb, and then invade, Cuba. Because the unknown presence of 102 Soviet tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba meant that any American invasion would have been confronted with nuclear fire (see the previous installment of this essay for details), a U.S. invasion would quickly have escalated to a thermonuclear World War III, with dire consequences for all of humankind. The “nuclear war by miscalculation” that JFK so feared would indeed have resulted from a U.S. invasion of Cuba — we can be sure of that now. In subsequent interviews, conducted after the presence of the tactical nukes was first revealed to the world in 1991, some of the surviving former Red Army officers who served with the Soviet Rocket Forces in Cuba in 1962 have expressed the strong and unequivocal opinions that they would indeed have fired the tactical nukes at American invaders, rather than surrender without a fight. It is not appropriate to say (as Dean Acheson and Robert McNamara both did afterwards) that we avoided nuclear war in 1962 through “plain dumb luck.” Such statements are slander. We avoided nuclear war in 1962 only because the 35th President of the United States possessed a farsighted view of the global chessboard in the Cold War, rather than a myopic one; and because JFK believed “a primary responsibility of a President — indeed, the primary responsibility of a President” (as McNamara said in the documentary The Fog of War) was “to keep the nation out of war, if at all possible.” [This is one of the principal differences between President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and both Bush presidents; and is one of the reasons JFK’s approval rating is now at an astounding 85% in the minds of the American people.] As it turns out, this was perhaps the central theme of JFK’s presidency: upholding our responsibilities to our allies, and to national defense, without going to war, unless it was absolutely necessary. Scarred by his personal and family experiences in World War II, and haunted by the specter of cataclysmic war (such as written about by Barbara Tuchman in The Guns of August, about the irresponsible drift into World War I by the great powers), JFK truly viewed war as the last resort when all else had failed, not a policy option to be preferred over diplomacy, or “political talk.”
In the previously mentioned private correspondence with Jacob Hornberger, historian Michael Swanson expressed the opinion that in his study of the Kennedy tapes of the Cuban Missile Crisis, by October 27th almost everyone on ExComm — including, or rather, especially Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Kennedy’s national security advisor McGeorge Bundy, was resigned to the inevitability of war over Cuba. By Saturday, the tapes reveal McNamara was trying to figure out a way to keep the impending war contained to just Cuba, and was trying to figure out a way to overtly deactivate the U.S. missiles in Turkey so that the Soviets would not bomb our Turkey missile sites in retaliation for the impending air strikes on Cuba; he was grasping at straws. Only RFK and Ted Sorensen (JFK’s personal counselor and speechwriter) were actively seeking and hoping for a solution other than war at this point in the crisis. As Swanson has pointed out, the Chiefs had almost won the administration over to their point of view that a “military solution” was the only viable solution. (Indeed, hostilities were tentatively scheduled to begin one or two days after Sunday, October 28th.) Swanson’s point here is that if not for one man — President John F. Kennedy — the Pentagon and the civilian hawks (Nitze, Acheson, et. al.) would have gotten their way, and the U.S. would soon have commenced a massive bombing of Cuba, followed by an invasion about one week later, or perhaps even sooner.
In the wake of JFK’s assassination a little more than one short year later, one is compelled to view it as a likely regime change operation, designed to remove the one obstacle to the preferred foreign policy solutions of the Pentagon and the civilian hawks — namely, war. The Pentagon and key policy makers in the CIA had preferred war in Cuba (in 1961 and 1962), war in Laos, and war in Vietnam, and had been thwarted in each case by one man: John F. Kennedy. If not for him, and the brake he applied to their bellicose instincts, their war policies would have prevailed.
An extreme view? I think not. President Kennedy realized the danger himself. Consider his response to the bestselling 1962 book Seven Days in May, written by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II.
JFK Reads Seven Days in May in 1962 Before the Missile Crisis, and Says “It Could Happen — But It Won’t Happen on My Watch”
The 1962 novel Seven Days in May, stimulated by the rank disloyalty toward President Kennedy exhibited to journalist Fletcher Knebel by Curtis LeMay in 1961, and by Knebel’s insider knowledge of the ongoing friction between the Pentagon and the 35th President, was the first in a new genre of fiction: the national security thriller. The novel is about an attempted military overthrow of a U.S. President (i.e., an Amercian coup d’etat) because of the Pentagon’s fervent objections to a disarmament treaty that the U.S. president had engineered with the Soviet Union. Co-author Fletcher Knebel had sent President Kennedy a copy, and a family friend, Mrs. John R. Fell, encouraged JFK to read it. In the summer of 1962, Kennedy (a speed-reader) read the book overnight on his family yacht, the Honey Fitz. Afterwards, President Kennedy provided his reaction to this hypothetical military coup in America to Undersecretary of the Navy “Red” Fay, an old PT-boat Navy buddy of Kennedy’s from World War II. The following excerpt of JFK’s reaction to the novel — “Red” Fay directly quoting John F. Kennedy — is from Paul “Red” Fay’s 1966 memoir, titled: The Pleasure of His Company:
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…then, if there were a third Bay of Pigs, it could happen…but it won’t happen on my watch.
But it did happen on his watch. The “second Bay of Pigs” in the context of JFK’s remarks to Fay, as things developed, was surely the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962; and the “third Bay of Pigs” was surely the “Peace Speech” at American University in June of 1963, which was a bold attempt by President Kennedy to end the Cold War by persuading Americans to accept diversity, and mutual co-existence, on planet earth (instead of attempting to winthe Cold War by defeating our Communist adversaries on the battlefield in proxy wars, which was the imperative of the civilian hawks and the Pentagon establishment). [The “Peace Speech” will be discussed in some detail in the next installment of this essay.]
Anyone who has studied the evidence in the assassination themselves, instead of relying on political spin and “goodthink” generated endlessly by the mainstream media in an attempt to control the boundaries of acceptable conversation, and political thought (and aggressively practiced lately by talking heads Chris Matthews and George Will), understands that there was a coup in America in 1963. The evidence I refer to here is twofold, and is crucial to understanding the assassination: (1) the overwhelming evidence of a medical cover-up at Bethesda Naval Hospital during and following JFK’s autopsy, designed to hide evidence of shots from the front in Dealey Plaza (i.e., crossfire), thus allowing the FBI to blame the assassination on a lone gunman firing from above and behind; and (2) the persuasive evidence of the damning impostiture of the accused assassin (the purported “lone gunman” patsy) in Mexico City, at both the Soviet embassy and Cuban consulate, in late September of 1963, in an attempt to link him to both Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Valery Kostikov (the KGB’s head of the USSR’s Western Hemisphere “wet affairs” serving under cover at the Soviet embassy in Mexico City). [I am convinced by the weight of the evidence that the real Oswald did go to Mexico City in late September of 1963 — but he was clearly impersonated at the Cuban consulate by a visiting impostor who claimed to be Oswald, but was not; and furthermore, while the real Oswald apparently did visit the Soviet embassy, he was subsequently crudely and badly impersonated on the telephone, in subsequent key phone calls to the Russian embassy. For in-depth discussions of these issues, read Conspiracy by Anthony Summers, and Oswald and the CIA, by John Newman. My own five-volume book, Inside the Assassination Records Review Board, carefully documents the poorly executed medical cover-up.] Anyone who studies this evidence with an open mind understands that there was a coup in America in 1963, and that the plot was cleverly designed in an attempt to blame the assassination of President Kennedy on both Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and the Soviet Union, at the same time. [Oswald, the patsy, was a low-level U.S. intelligence operative. He was a “false defector” to the Soviet Union in 1959 (one of several sent there by the United States); and he had continued to serve as a tool of U.S. intelligence after his return to the United States in 1962, by executing a charade for his handlers, in which he pretended to be a supporter of Fidel Castro’s Cuba throughout the spring and summer of 1963.]
The National Security Establishment Needed Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover on Its Side to Succeed with the Coup; LBJ and Hoover Enthusiastically Cooperated with the Regime Change Operation in 1963, and Were Its Principal Beneficiaries
The architecture of the plot was such that in the “ideal scenario” envisaged by the plotters, the assassination would not only have ended any developing détente with the USSR (as it did), but ideally, it might have served as justification for a Cuban invasion. The new President, Lyndon Johnson, and his crony and ally J. Edgar Hoover, together shut down any speculation that the patsy was part of an international Communist conspiracy. (Creating this impression was the original intent of the CIA plotters who set up the operational architecture of the plot, and handled the initial media spin.) Instead, Johnson directed the Dallas Police Department, and allowed Hoover, to portray Oswald as a lone nut malcontent, without a discernible motive. In doing so, LBJ double-crossed the assassination cabal that hoped for war with Cuba, and the removal of Castro. In compensation, he promised them the combat troops and the war they wanted in Vietnam [more on this in the final installment of this essay]. The successful assassination plot against JFK had salvaged the careers of both Johnson and Hoover, for they were both headed for oblivion — their skins were saved only by the assassination of President Kennedy. But in shutting down the international Communist conspiracy angle, Johnson and Hoover killed any chance that the assassination could serve as a casus belli for a Cuban invasion. This would have provided the ultimate satisfaction for the cheerleaders in the Pentagon — blaming JFK’s assassination on Castro and using it as a pretext for an invasion of Cuba, a la the “Northwoods” mindset documented for history in the spring of 1962. (The very structure and architecture of the “Northwoods” schemes — discussed in Part 4 of this essay — are a good indicator of what was likely beneath the surface of the public assassination story in November of 1963; the assassination was designed as a pretext for a Cuban invasion. The assassination succeeded, but it failed to provide the desired pretext.)
The reason there was a bloody and violent assassination in America in 1963, and not a bloodless coup as envisaged in the novel Seven Days in May, was because the national security establishment that decided “JFK had to go” after the Cuban Missile Crisis understood, intuitively, that the American people loved their constitution — namely, civilian leadership and civilian control over the military — and would not tolerate an overt coup d’etat. So they opted for a coup by stealth, disguised as an assassination. Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had foreknowledge of the large conspiracy and had been brought in early by the cabal because they knew for a certainty he was sure to support the national security establishment’s desires to confront and defeat Communism on the battlefield, apparently became a driving force behind it, once he was “read in” by the cabal. [The best compendium and most persuasive analysis written to date about LBJ’s foreknowledge of the impending JFK assassination, and his culpability, is Phillip F. Nelson’s LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination.] JFK not only confided to his closest aides in 1963 that LBJ was not going to be on the ticket in 1964 (an open secret in Washington), but Johnson knew he was headed for imminent indictment on charges of corruption and bribery — and jail, if convicted — unless Kennedy were removed. So the majority consensus within the national security establishment — both the hawks in government, and outside of government — found the perfect accomplice and ally in Lyndon Johnson, someone who, like themselves, believed in the necessity and desirability of confronting “the Communists” on the battlefield; and someone with no moral scruples whatsoever, and with a raw lust for power, who had obsessed about becoming President of the United States from a young age. LBJ was therefore not only unlikely to flag in his enthusiasm for the plot, but the cabal also knew he could not survive politically unless he could become President himself, and wield the levers of power to shut down the ongoing investigations of his corruption. Hoover — who had been head of the FBI longer than the President’s brother (and his nominal boss, RFK) had been alive — knew JFK intended to force him into retirement at the mandatory retirement age on January 1, 1965, and had responded by widely proclaiming, “No one will ever make me retire.” Furthermore, James J. Angleton, the CIA’s paranoid Head of Counterintelligence and one of the likely architects of the assassination plot, possessed compromising photos of Hoover engaged in homosexual activity (absolute taboo and cause for immediate dismissal in 1963), and let Hoover know it; so Hoover, like Johnson, was not only a naturally cooperative accomplice, but Angleton at the CIA had an insurance policy in place that guaranteed Hoover would not flag in his resolve, either. [See the 1993 Frontline documentary The Secret File on J. Edgar Hoover for discussion of the compromising photo of Hoover held by Angleton, and Hoover’s widespread personal corruption, hatred of the Kennedys, and expertise in blackmail within the corridors of power. Read the new epilogue in the 2008 trade paperback edition of John Newman’s Oswald and the CIA for a cogent, compelling, and persuasive analysis of Angleton’s highly likely role as one of the architects of the assassination plot, especially the Mexico City angle.]
LBJ’s primary purpose in establishing the Warren Commission one week after the assassination was not only to pre-empt and shut down any Congressional investigations and a possible Texas inquest, but also to shift any potential blame away from himself. On February 17, 1964, Melvin Eisenberg, a Warren Commission staff attorney, wrote a memo for the record following a staff conference held by Earl Warren himself on January 20, 1964. In this now-famous “Eisenberg memo,” its author quotes what the Chief Justice told his own staff about Lyndon Johnson’s mindset:
The President stated that rumors of the most exaggerated kind were circulating in this country and overseas. Some rumors went as far as attributing the assassination to a faction within the government wishing to see the Presidency assumed by President Johnson. Others, if not quenched, could conceivably lead the country into a war which could cost 40 million lives…He placed emphasis on the importance of quenching rumors, and precluding future speculation such as that which has surrounded the death of President Lincoln. [My emphasis added]
I believe Johnson’s primacy concern in killing rumors that a faction within the government had wanted him to assume the Presidency reveals the true nature of the plot. It was born out of both hatred, and fear, by American hawks of JFK’s foreign policy at the height of our Cold War with the Soviet Union; and the plot quickly recruited two key enablers without which it could never have succeeded: LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover. But the involvement of Johnson and Hoover should not blind us to what I believe is the ultimate origin of the veto on JFK’s life — the basic cause of his death was his repeated rejection of war as the appropriate means of dealing with the Communist “threat” in the Cold War, and the proximate cause was JFK’s refusal to bomb and invade Cuba in October of 1962,in spite of the discovery of Soviet ballistic missiles on the island. His bold foreign policy initiatives in 1963, designed to end the Cold War, only reinforced the determination of the cabal to carry out what they had already decided must happen following the unsatisfactory way (from their viewpoint) the Cuban Missile Crisis had ended — through diplomacy, and not on the battlefield.
“Seven Days in May:” the Document
A revealing Secret Service document written by Inspector General Thomas J. Kelley (to Director Rowley) on February 14, 1964 (less than 3 months after Kennedy’s assassination) confirms that in Kelley’s mind, America had experienced a coup. In this “smoking gun” document (liberated by the ARRB) commenting on proposed legislation that would have made the assassination of the President a federal offense, Kelley wrote:
I consider this bill [HR 9958] and similar bills to be a very dangerous piece of legislation. It would make the killing of the President or the Vice President of the United States a Federal offense…This would give the FBI sole jurisdiction over the investigation of the assassination…
This to me is another opportunity for a “Seven Days in May” situation. A venal Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation could in the future bring about or allow the assassination of the President who he either felt was a poor President or a President unacceptable to him and so direct the investigation that the complicity would be unknown. To me it is much safer to have the State investigate the murder and have the Federal government looking over its shoulder during the investigation. [Emphasis added by me.]
When Kelley wrote that this legislation provided “another” opportunity for a “Seven Days in May” situation, he was stating, in effect, that one coup had already taken place, and that he did not want to see it happen again. His warning about how “a venal Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation” who disapproved of a President could, through his actions, make a coup possible, was a clear, undisguised indictment of J. Edgar Hoover’s recent behavior in the wake of the Kennedy assassination. The main thing I take away from this document every time I read it is that a high official in the U.S. government had just stated, in writing, that in his opinion America had experienced a coup — and he did not want to see it happen again. Kelley was in a position to know, for he had headed the Secret Service investigation into the assassination for about a month, until J. Edgar Hoover had shut it down.
“Seven Days in May:” The Emissary
Both Robert F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy also believed a coup had taken place in the United States — and they sent a personal emissary to the USSR one week after the assassination to relay that firm belief to the Soviet government. Artist Bill Walton, a family friend, was sent to the USSR under cover of a cultural exchange visit, but his primary purpose was to meet with Georgi Bolshakov, the KGB official who had carried private letters back and forth between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev in 1961 and 1962 while he was stationed in the United States. Bolshakov was trusted because he had proven to be a reliable messenger in the past; whereas neither the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow, nor the diplomatic structure of the State Department, was trusted by either the late President’s brother, or his widow.
This story is revealed in the 1997 book One Hell of a Gamble, co-authored by American historian Timothy Naftali and Russian historian Aleksandr Fursenko. The following extensive excerpts reveal the tale (and the information in the book about Walton’s trip was obtained from the declassified KGB reports of what Walton told Bolshakov late in 1963 during his visit to the USSR):
The most striking information on the assassination came from a member of the Kennedy inner circle. In the first week of December, an emissary from Robert Kennedy flew to Moscow, with the news that the Kennedy family believed that the former President had been the victim of a right-wing conspiracy. William Walton had been one of John Kennedy’s closest friends. In March of 1961 LIFE featured him in an article entitled “The Painting Pal of the President.” When John Kennedy narrowed his circle of personal friends after entering the White house, Walton remained close…Walton has last seen Kennedy on November 19, 1963. Kennedy spoke confidently of his chances for reelection in 1964 and informed his good friend that he intended to be the first U.S. President to visit the Kremlin, as soon as he and Khrushchev reached another arms control agreement…Shortly before his death, Kennedy had asked Walton to visit Moscow to meet Soviet artists…the trip had been delayed…and Walton had a ticket to leave for London and Leningrad on November 22nd. The shocking news from Dallas delayed his trip a second time. After the assassination Robert Kennedy urged Walton to go. Instead of bringing the greetings of a happy and confident President, Walton traveled east on November 29th in the shadow of the tragedy in Dallas. [Emphasis added]
In the wake of the assassination, Walton had a secret mission besides his ostensible visit with Soviet artists. Robert and Jacqueline Kennedy wanted him to meet with Georgi Bolshakov, the man who for twenty months around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis had served as the Russian end of a secret link between the White House and the Kremlin. The Kennedys wanted the Russian who they felt best understood John Kennedy to know their personal opinions of the changes in the U.S. government since the assassination. Fearing interference from the Johnson administration, Robert Kennedy instructed Walton to meet Bolshakov before he moved into the U.S. embassy. The new U.S. ambassador, Foy Kohler, was not considered a Kennedy admirer. Walton, Jacqueline Kennedy, and the Attorney General had opposed his nomination, and they assumed Kohler knew this.
Bolshakov and Walton met at the Sovietskaya restaurant. “Dallas was the ideal location for such a crime,” Walton told the Soviet intelligence officer. “Perhaps there was only one assassin, but he did not act alone.” Bolshakov, who himself had been deeply moved by the assassination, listened intently as Walton explained that the Kennedys believed that there was a large political conspiracy behind Oswald’s rifle. Despite Oswald’s connection to the Communist world, the Kennedys believed that the President was felled by domestic opponents…Walton described in some detail the aftermath of the assassination…More dismaying to Khrushchev, who would have understood Robert Kennedy’s natural paralysis form grief, was what Walton told Bolshakov about Lyndon Johnson. The Kennedy clan considered the selection of Johnson a dreadful mistake. “He is a clever timeserver,” Walton explained, who would be “incapable of realizing Kennedy’s unfinished plans.” Walton relayed his own and Robert Kennedy’s fear that Johnson’s ties to big business would bring many more of its representatives into the administration. Surprisingly, Walton believed that the one hope for U.S.-Soviet relations was the former automobile executive Robert McNamara, who would probably remain in the cabinet as Secretary of Defense. Walton described McNamara as “completely sharing the views of President Kennedy on matters of war and peace.” For the sake of good relations between Washington and Moscow, Walton assured Bolshakov, it was even more important that McNamara stay put than that Secretary of State Dean Rusk remain. [Emphasis added by me]
Walton’s purpose was clear in his discussions of Robert Kennedy’s political future. He said that Kennedy intended to stay on as Attorney General through the end of 1964. He would then run for the governorship of Massachusetts to build up his political capital for an eventual run for the Presidency. Walton, and presumably Kennedy, wanted Khrushchev to know that only RFK could implement John Kennedy’s vision and that the cooling that might occur in U.S.-Soviet relations because of Johnson would not last forever. He added that he was surprised to hear some Russians say that Bobby was more reactionary on his views on the Soviet Union than his brother. “This is untrue,” asserted Walton. “If Robert differed from Jack, it was only in that he is a harder man; but as for his views, Robert agreed completely with his brother and, more important, actively sought to bring John F. Kennedy’s ideas to fruition.”
In 1967 Jackie Kennedy sued William Manchester, the author she and Robert Kennedy had hand-picked to write about the assassination, and forced him to remove material from his book, The Death of a President. The removed material, and the interviews Manchester conducted of Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy shortly after the assassination, are under court seal for a hundred years as part of the settlement, and cannot be unsealed until 2067. It is highly likely that the objectionable content, that was considered so sensitive in 1967, pertains to the opinions of the Kennedy family expressed during the Bill Walton visit to the USSR in late 1963.
Jackie Kennedy Confirms the National Security Coup (Indirectly) to Anastas Mikoyan at JFK’s Funeral
Indirect, but crucial support for the Seven Days in May scenario can be found in the 2003 A&E documentary narrated by Frank Sesno, titled JFK: A Presidency Revealed. Near the end of the program, Victor Sukhodrev — the Russian linguist who interpreted for Khrushchev at the Vienna Summit with Kennedy in the spring of 1961, and for Anastas Mikoyan, Khrushchev’s closest advisor, at Kennedy’s funeral on November 25, 1963 — recalled that when receiving Mikoyan’s condolences following President Kennedy’s death, Jacqueline Kennedy took Mikoyan’s outstretched hand into both of hers and said to him: “Mr. Mikoyan, thank you for coming, and would you tell Mr. Khrushchev, for me, that my husband and Mr. Khrushchev could have brought peace to this world by working together. Now, Mr. Khrushchev will have to do it alone.” [Emphasis as spoken] Sukhodev emphasized, with some emotion, “This I remember as if it were yesterday — I still have a tingling feeling, even today, because I can see it, as it happened. Those were her words.” [Emphasis as spoken]
I was absolutely stunned when I first heard this. I can think of no stronger endorsement of the Seven Days in May scenario. My interpretation of Jackie’s remarks is bolstered by the Bill Walton trip to the USSR discussed above, and the message he delivered to Georgi Bolshakov. These remarks by Jackie were confirmation that the “large political conspiracy” of domestic opponents consisted of men interested in confrontation and war, not peace. In my view, Jacqueline Kennedy’s certainty that Nikita Khrushchev would henceforth have to work for peace “alone” is confirmation that she believed the hawks in the Cold War national security establishment had engineered the assassination, and that the détente slowly burgeoning in 1963 was likely dead.
“What détente,” you say? Yes, this essay and the preceding one were about confrontation in Cuba, and how close the U.S. and USSR came to nuclear war. But 1963 was to see many changes, as President John F. Kennedy moved out confidently in a bold attempt to de-escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and to end the Cold War itself.
The final installment to this continuing essay will cover 1963, the last year of JFK’s presidency, and will examine what Jacqueline Kennedy was referring to when she talked about how JFK and Khrushchev, working together, could have brought peace to the world — and how diametrically opposed the mainstream national security establishment was to JFK’s new initiatives.
To Be Continued