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The scale of the presumed conspiracy should be appreciated. There is not a phrase in the voluminous internal record hinting at any thought of such a notion. It must be, then, that personal discipline was extraordinary among a huge number of people, or that the entire record has been scrupulously sanitized. There has not been a single leak over thirty years, though a high-level conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy and conceal the crime would have to involve not only much of the government and the media, but a good part of the historical, scientific, and medical professions. An achievement so immense would be utterly without precedent or even remote analogue.
The conviction that JFK was assassinated by a high-level conspiracy, and that the crime has since been concealed by a conspiracy awesome in scale, is widely held in the grassroots movements and among left intellectuals. Indeed, it is often presented as established truth, the starting point for further discussion.38
Across this broad spectrum, there is a shared belief that history changed course dramatically when Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. Many believe that the event casts a shadow over all that followed, opening an era of political illegitimacy, with the country in the hands of dark forces.
Given the strong reactions that these issues have raised, perhaps it is worthwhile to make clear just what is and is not under consideration in what follows. This discussion addresses the question of the assassination only at the policy level: is there any reason to believe that JFK broke from the general pattern and intended to withdraw US forces from Vietnam even if that would lead to "impairment of the war effort" and undermine the "fundamental objective of victory"? Ancillary questions arise concerning the further beliefs about impending policy changes. These questions are addressed below.
The issue of the assassination is only obliquely touched by these considerations. They imply nothing about the thesis that JFK was killed by the mafia, or by right-wing Cubans, or other such theories. They bear only on the thesis that Kennedy was killed in a high-level conspiracy followed by a cover-up of remarkable dimensions. Serious proponents of such theses have recognized that credible direct evidence is lacking, and have therefore sought indirect evidence, typically holding that JFK's plans for withdrawal from Vietnam (or some of the broader policy claims) provide the motive for the cabal. If serious, the claim must be that the high-level conspirators knew something not publicly available, or had beliefs based on such material; hence the importance of the internal planning record for advocates of such theses. This line of argument has been at the core of the revival of the past few years. Currently available evidence indicates that it is entirely without foundation, indeed in conflict with substantial evidence. Advocates of the thesis will have to look elsewhere, so it appears.
The available facts, as usual, lead us to seek the institutional sources of policy decisions and their stability. Individuals and personal whim doubtless make a difference; one might, for example, speculate that the notorious Kennedy macho streak might have led to dangerous escalation in Indochina, or that he might have leaned towards an enclave strategy of the type advocated by his close adviser General Maxwell Taylor, or a Nixonian modification with intensified bombing and murderous "accelerated pacification" but many fewer US ground combat forces; while at home, he might not have committed himself to "great society" and civil rights issues to the extent LBJ did. Or one might make other guesses. They are baseless, and hold little interest. In the present case, there is a rich record to assist us in understanding the roots of policy and its implementation. People who want to understand and change the world will do well, in my opinion, to pay attention to it, not to engage in groundless speculation as to what one or another leader might have done.
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38 For a (very small) sample, see Tikkun, March/April 1992; Pete Karman, In These Times, March 11, 1992; letters, Nation, March 9, 1992, and an enormous number of similar letters not published, responding angrily to Alexander Cockburn's questioning of these beliefs; Michael Parenti, Z magazine, Jan. 1993. Also much discussion on communitybased radio, in movement journals, correspondence, and other channels out of the mainstream. See also next chapter, p. 85. For some early criticism of these tendencies, see I.F. Stone's Weekly, "The Left and the Warren Commission Report," Oct. 5, 1964.