John Kennedy came into the presidency as pretty much a standard Cold Warrior. Like most Americans in 1961, he believed that there was an international communist conspiracy to take over the world, a conspiracy that was based in Moscow.
America, it was believed, was in a life-or-death struggle for survival as a free nation. The communists were hell-bent, the Cold War mindset held, on conquering and subjugating the entire world, especially the United States.
That, in fact, was the reason why the U.S. government was converted into a national-security state after World War II. Being totalitarian, the communist regimes wielded omnipotent power to win the Cold War. It was believed that the U.S. government, whose powers were limited by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would be at a severe disadvantage in the war against communism. For example, since the communists could employ such extraordinary powers as torture and assassination, it was thought that the U.S. government had to wield the same powers if it was to have a chance at winning the war.
It is impossible to overstate the significance, depth, and extent of the Cold War mentality. For some 45 years, American life revolved around the Cold War and the supposed communist threat. The biggest fear was the prospect of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Ironically, the Soviet Union had been America’s partner and ally in World War II. Equally ironic was that the Soviet Union and “godless communism” had been the enemy of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Almost immediately after the war ended, U.S. officials declared that their former partner and ally, the Soviet Union, was now the new official enemy of the United States, one that needed to be stopped everywhere. In other words, after the war Hitler’s enemy became America’s enemy.
Reflecting the growing power and influence of the military establishment, U.S. officials began constructing the Pentagon even before U.S. involvement in World War II. After the war was over, the continued existence of the Pentagon reflected America’s move toward a permanent, ever-growing, all-powerful military establishment.
In 1947, the CIA was called into existence. Its purpose was to serve solely as an intelligence-gathering organization. Someone, however, slipped some nebulous language into the law that gave the CIA the excuse to wield omnipotent dark-side powers, such as assassination.
In 1952, the NSA was established. Over time, it would establish a vast and permanent secret system surveilling both Americans and people around the world.
Needless to say, the Cold War generated ever-increasing budgets for the national-security establishment, i.e., the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. As fear of a communist takeover of the United States grew, year after year, military-intelligence spending grew as well.
Hardly anyone questioned or challenged what was occurring. Most people were convinced that the Cold War and the ever-growing power of the national-security establishment were necessary, if unfortunate, evils.
In 1961, some 15 years after the end of World War II, Dwight Eisenhower made note of this phenomenon in what could be described as the most unusual Farewell Address in history. The address came in the form of a warning to the American people. Eisenhower said that this new governmental structure, which he called the “military-industrial complex,” posed a grave threat to America’s democratic process and to the liberties of the American people.
Mind you, he wasn’t challenging the existence of the national-security establishment. He made that clear. Like other U.S. officials, he believed that the communist threat had left the United States with no choice but to adopt a national-security-state type of governmental structure. He simply wanted Americans to be aware of the dangers that it posed to the country.
The danger that a national-security state poses to people’s liberties and democratic processes, as the Chilean people discovered, obviously includes assassination of a democratically elected president and a military takeover of the government. Why would national-security-state officials do such a thing? They would do it to protect the nation from a president whose policies they deemed posed a grave danger to national security.
Keep in mind that in any national-security state, the military and intelligence forces quickly become the most powerful segment of the government. In a war between governmental branches, they have the troops, tanks, planes, and weaponry with which to defeat the other three branches through force.
What Eisenhower was talking about was what was demonstrated on September 11, 1973, when the national-security branch of the Chilean government went on the attack against the executive branch of the government. Employing overwhelming power, the Chilean military and intelligence forces were able to easily win the war, at which point the legislative and judicial branches of the government quickly deferred to the supremacy and rule of the national-security branch of the government.
The Chilean people ended up with a brutal military dictatorship headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, whose goal was to restore “capitalism” and “freedom” to the Chilean people. In the process, the military regime rounded up some 50,000 innocent people and tortured, raped, “disappeared,” or executed most of them, with the full support of the Pentagon and the CIA, which considered the victims to be nothing more than communists or socialists. Later, the Pinochet regime, with the active participation of the CIA, would lead South America in establishing Operation Condor, a top secret international kidnapping, torture, and assassination program that victimized more thousands of innocent people.
We do not know how Kennedy reacted to Eisenhower’s warning, but as his term in office proceeded it became clear that he perceived the same threat that Eisenhower had warned about. Kennedy read the novel Seven Days in May, which posits an attempt by high U.S. military officials to oust a president from office on grounds of national security. To issue the same type of warning that Eisenhower had issued, Kennedy induced friends in Hollywood to make the novel into a movie. He even gave permission to the movie-makers to use the White House to make it. The movie, which had the same title as the novel, starred Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, and Ava Gardner.
A friend once asked Kennedy if there was a real possibility that the military-intelligence establishment would ever oust a president from power. He responded that if a president made several mistakes in judgment in the war on communism, the national-security establishment could well conclude that it needed to take control in order to save the nation.
That’s in fact the argument that U.S. officials were making to the Chilean military-intelligence establishment — that they needed to act to save Chile by ousting Allende from office and taking control over the government. If the Chilean national-security establishment failed to do that, the argument went, the nation would inevitably fall to the Soviet Union and Red China, which, in turn, U.S. officials were convinced, would pose a grave threat to the national security of the United States.
U.S. officials viewed Allende as a grave threat to the national security of the United States and to the national security of Chile. Why had they reached that conclusion? Allende was a self-described socialist who believed that the government had a moral duty to help the poor, especially by seizing money and other property from the wealthy and redistributing it to the needy. If socialism were to succeed through democratic means, the communists would be closer to achieving their goal of worldwide control.
Also, Allende had no interest in engaging in America’s Cold War against the Soviet Union, Red China, and other communist nations. Indeed, his policy was to establish friendly and peaceful relations with the communist world, including Cuba, which had turned communist some 20 years prior to Allende’s election. Allende even invited Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro to visit Chile, an invitation that he readily accepted.
It was not the first time that the U.S. national-security establishment had viewed a democratically elected foreign president as a threat to U.S. national security. In 1954, some ten years before the Kennedy assassination, the CIA had initiated a military coup against the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. The reason? U.S. officials concluded that Arbenz posed a grave threat to the national security of the United States because he, like Allende, was a self-labeled socialist, one who wished to have normal, friendly relations with the Soviet Union and the rest of the communist world. Moreover, like Allende, Arbenz was nationalizing businesses, including American-owned ones in Guatemala, and pledging to give the money to the poor.
One year prior to the coup in Guatemala — 1953 — the CIA initiated a coup in Iran that ousted the democratically elected prime minister of the country, Mohammed Mossadegh, from power and replaced him with the shah, who became one of the most brutal dictators in the world, with the full support of the U.S. national-security establishment. Like Arbenz and Allende, Mossadegh had displayed socialist tendencies, as when he nationalized British oil interests in Iran. Moreover, he failed to demonstrate any interest in joining America in its Cold War against the communist world, which immediately meant, in the eyes of the U.S. national-security establishment, that he posed a grave threat to U.S. national security.
While Kennedy came into office as pretty much a standard Cold Warrior, he was viewed with suspicion by the national-security establishment. First, he sympathized with movements in Third World countries to win independence from colonial regimes, including those of Great Britain, France, and Germany. U.S. officials viewed such movements as communist-directed and, therefore, a grave threat to U.S. national security. Second, Kennedy sympathized with the Civil Rights movement in the United States, while the U.S. national-security establishment viewed the movement as a communist front. That was why, for example, the FBI, which had become a de facto member of the national-security branch, viewed Martin Luther King Jr. as a threat to national security.
A bad relationship
Kennedy’s relationship with the military and the CIA grew increasingly bad during his term in office. Upon taking office, the CIA presented him with a plan to have Cuban exiles invade Cuba and, with the assistance of anti-communist locals, oust Castro from power. The CIA told Kennedy that the mission would succeed without U.S. air support. It was a lie. The CIA was convinced that once the mission was in danger of failing, Kennedy would have no choice but to provide the needed air support. When the time came and the mission was failing, Kennedy refused to accede to the CIA’s request for air support, and the mission went down to humiliating defeat.
While he publicly took responsibility for the debacle, Kennedy was livid over having been played by the CIA. He fired the much revered CIA director, Allen Dulles, and his deputy director, Richard Bissell. He put his brother Bobby in charge of monitoring the CIA. Kennedy is also believed by many to have said that he was going to tear the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter them to the winds.
By the same token, the CIA was livid with Kennedy. It spread the word that the failure of the invasion was his responsibility: for failing to provide the needed air cover, he was said be a coward in the face of the communist threat and a traitor to America and freedom.
After the Bay of Pigs disaster, the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented Kennedy with a plan called Operation Northwoods, which called for terrorist attacks and plane hijackings carried out by CIA operatives posing as Cuban communist agents. The plan called for Kennedy to use the false-flag operation as a justification for launching a full-scale military attack on Cuba. Kennedy rejected Operation Northwoods, much to the anger and chagrin of the Pentagon.
The Joint Chiefs also presented the president with a plan to launch a surprise first-strike all-out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. The idea was that war with the Soviets was just a matter of time anyway. Therefore, why not attack now with a surprise nuclear attack, which would destroy much of the Soviet Union but leave much of the United States free of devastation, especially since the United States had vast nuclear superiority? Kennedy walked out of that meeting, re-marking to an aide, “And we call ourselves the human race.”
Then came the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Castro knew that the Pentagon and the CIA had not given up hope for a military invasion of Cuba. He also knew that there was no way his military could defeat the U.S. military. Therefore, he invited the Soviet Union to install nuclear weapons on the island, not to attack and invade the United States, but simply to deter U.S. officials from invading or, failing that, to defend against such an invasion.
One can only imagine the deep anger within the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) over the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. If Kennedy had provided the air support at the Bay of Pigs or if he had approved Operation Northwoods, the crisis would presumably never have arisen.
Over the fierce opposition of the military and the CIA, Kennedy struck a deal with the Soviets in which he promised that there would be no invasion of Cuba. One member of the JCS called it the worst defeat in U.S. history. Kennedy had effectively agreed that Cuba’s communist regime would be a permanent and grave threat to U.S. national security.
Ending the Cold War
After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy achieved a “personal breakthrough,” one that enabled him to recognize that the Cold War was just a great big racket that was not only making the world unsafe but also was enriching the coffers of the U.S. national-security state.
In June 1963, he delivered his now-famous Peace Speech, in which he declared an end to the Cold War. There was no reason, Kennedy said, that the United States and the Soviet Union and the rest of the communist world couldn’t live in friendly and peaceful coexistence. He then proceeded to negotiate a nuclear-test-ban treaty with the Soviets. He ordered a partial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam and told aides that he would pull them all out once he won the 1964 election. He also began personally negotiating with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who had achieved the same breakthrough as Kennedy. At the very time Kennedy was assassinated, he had an emissary having lunch with Fidel Castro to explore the possibility of a rapprochement.
Kennedy was moving America in a direction opposite to that chosen by the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. In the eyes of the national-security establishment, he was leading America down the road to defeat — the road to a communist victory and the subjugation of the United States to communism.
After all, what Kennedy was doing was no different from what Mossadegh and Arbenz had done and what Allende would do several years later. As a Democrat, he was leading America further in a socialist direction, through such welfare-state proposals as Medicare and Medicaid, but also reaching out to the communists in a spirt of friendship and peace.
Compounding the matter was Kennedy’s open support of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, which the FBI and the national-security establishment were convinced were the spearhead of a communist takeover of the United States.
When U.S. national-security state officials exhorted the Chilean national-security establishment several years later of its duty to oust Allende from power, they were essentially saying that it was the duty of the national-security establishment to protect the nation, even from a democratically elected president whose policies posed a grave threat to national security.
Moreover, U.S. national-security-state officials were essentially saying that nothing — not even the Constitution or fundamental moral values — could be permitted to serve as an obstacle to protecting national security from a president whose policies were leading the country to a communist takeover. That mindset was demonstrated perfectly when the CIA conspired to violently kidnap and assassinate a totally innocent man — Gen. Rene Schneider, the commander of the Chilean armed forces, who stood in the way of a U.S.-instigated illegal and unconstitutional coup in Chile.
The Chilean people ultimately came to grips with what the U.S. and Chilean national-security establishments did to their country, investigated it, and brought some of the Chilean malefactors to justice.
Over the years, Americans have come to accept that their national-security establishment effects regime-change operations in foreign countries, even using assassination, on grounds of national security. Unfortunately, however, there are still too many Americans who have yet to come to grips with what the Pentagon and the CIA did to their country on November 22, 1963. The result has been an increasingly powerful national-security establishment as well as a highly dysfunctional society, one in which all too many people insist on living what can be called the “life of the lie” when it comes to their national-security state and its evil activities. That is why the Kennedy assassination is just as relevant today as it was back in 1963.
This article was originally published in the February 2021 edition of Future of Freedom.