JFK, The CIA, Vietnam and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy
Stone's JFK-and the Conspiracy
Few motion pictures of the past several decades have had the impact
upon the general public as did Oliver Stone's film JFK. The fact of the
existence of a conspiracy to kill the President of the United States is
shocking; yet many Americans try to brush it aside.
Although the great majority of Americans do not believe the Warren
Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald by himself killed
Kennedy, they find it all but impossible to believe the alternative. This
homespun psychological safety net was shattered by Stone's film. From
the time they saw that film they have been unable to accept the creative
falseness of the cover story. That film made conspiracy the only true
Of particular note was the film's effect upon the professional community of assassination buffs. To begin with, these writers and researchers are not a homogeneous society. There am some who support
the government line, with its Warren Commission, magic bullet, Lee
Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, and all the rest of that massive, highly
contrived fiction. Then there are the dedicated researchers who know
that the Warren Commission Report was a smoke screen and that all of
its mythology is a masterful cover story designed and nourished at the
highest level by those who have spent a lifetime concealing the facts of the case. It was this latter group of buffs who found encouragement in Stone’s masterful film, as well as renewed strength in its message.
To these more or less well organized groupings, we must add the new and rapidly growing hordes of assassination investigators who encountered reality and encouragement in the film and who have become interested in its challenging message. For them Stone’s film presented a comprehensive coverage of the assassination and all of its ramifications, public and private, that provided everyone with material they may not have heard before.
And, then there are the pure professionals. Many of the more prominent of this groups viciously attacked Oliver Stone and his movie. Now why would they, of all people, so violently denigrate the film that supported the fact of the conspiracy? Don’t they see the truth? Have they made public their own personal beliefs? Quite frankly, I doubt it. These hard-liners comprise the most ardent sector of the assassination buff melange because they are professional writers and journalists who work for some of the most important media outlets in the country.
One of them, Leslie Gelb, is the man Robert McNamara placed in charge of the task force that produced the “Defense Department History of United States Decision making in Vietnam”, aka the Pentagon Papers. His task force is the one that came up with the following “historical fact”:
22 Nov 1963 Lodge confers with the President.
Having flown to Washington the day after the conference, Lodge meets with the President and presumably continues the kind of report given in Honolulu.
Gelb had all but concealed Kennedy’s NSAM #263 in the Pentagon Papers, by dividing it into meaningless sections, and continued his assault on that Kennedy policy as he berated Stone for his film.
Another of these prominent writers was Tom Wicker of the New York Times. He also attacked Stone’s use of Kennedy’s Vietnam policy statement, NSAM #63, with the comment, “I know of no reputable historian who has documented Kennedy’s intentions.” NSAM #263 is the official and complete documentation of Kennedy’s intentions. It was derived from a series of White House conferences and from the McNamara-Taylor Vietnam Trip Report, and it stated the views of the President and of his closest advisers as is made clear in the U.S. government publication Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, vol. IV, “Vietnam: August-December 1963”. That source is reliable history. Wicker’s December 22, 1961, Times article was a lengthy and unnecessarily demeaning diatribe against Stone and his movie.
So many of these professional writers attacked the film, even well before it was on the screens of the nation, that Oliver Stone took the unusual step of publishing The Book of the Film in 1992. In this important work, Stone does what few others have done. He presents the full JFK debate by publishing the demeaning articles of his detractors and the responses of his supporters side by side in the text. This even-handed approach is rare in such public debates.
For the record, these reactions and commentaries came from the following people (number of articles in parentheses):
David Ansen, (2); Robert Sam Anson, (1); David W. Belin, (3); Jimmy Breslin, (1); Joseph A. Califano, Jr., (1); Alexander Cockburn, (4); Alan M. Dershowitz, (1); Roger Ebert, (); Gerald R. Ford, (1); Leslie H. Gelb, (1), Tom Hayden, (1); Robert Hennelly, (2); George Lardner, Jr. (4); Anthony Lewis, (1); Norman Mailer, (1); William Manchester, (1); Richard M. Most, (1); Daniel Patrick Moynihan, (1); John Newman, (1); Andrew O’Hehir, (1); L. Fletcher Prouty, (2); Ron Rosenbaum, (1); Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., (1); Katherine Seelye, (1); Brent Staples, (1); Oliver Stone, (12); Garry Trudeau, (1); and Tom Wicker, (1); and others.
This latter group, among them Robert Sam Anson, Leslie Gelb, George Lardner, Anthony Lewis, William Manchester, Arthur Schlesinger, and Tom Wicker came out of nowhere to attack Oliver Stone, Jim Garrison and myself for what the movie offered the public: much of their work was done before the film had been produced and shown to the public. This is a rare form of movie review and was almost universally adversarial, even though, in most cases, they, the writers, were in error and not the film itself. What is it that bonds these major writers together? The truth?
What is most interesting about this latter group of professional writers, most of whom work for major media bosses, is that they all wrote negatively about the film and all wrote in support of the anticonspiracy, lone-gunman, Warren Commission theory. They are a highly motivated clan...for money.
Here is where this remarkable film of Stone’s hits the hardest among all of these “experts”. It strengthens the arguments of those who believe that there was a massive conspiracy, and it does battle, as did David versus Goliath, against the power of the throne. To all of this, the film - for both sides - enlivened the game and created new flocks of believers.
One of the film’s major achievements was that it aroused the United States Congress to “mandate a comprehensive review of all federal government records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, including the records of the Warren Commission, the House Assassinations Committee, the Church Committee, and all Executive branch agencies, including the CIA and the FBI”. This was well intentioned; but in reality it is a sham. The answers to the source of the decision to murder John F. Kennedy are not in government files.
This actions alone aroused the profession of the assassination buff to its highest level, as evidenced by the activities of the Coalition On Political Assassinations and others like it.
These achievements serve to make the film exceptional; but this was not the end. It was the goal of Oliver Stone and of those of us who worked with him that the truth about the murder of John F. Kennedy be brought to as many viewers as possible, not only in the United States of America but also around the world. This has been done, and the impact upon the ordinary layman who has not made a special study of this subject has, in many instances, been far greater, proportionately, than upon the professionals.
As the reader will have noted, this has been a primary objective of this autobiographical book of mine. This is one reason why Stone used parts of it in his script.
I have tried to put the Kennedy assassination in proper prospective with a chronological time-line as a guiding star. I recall well the first acts of the Cold War that began in 1944, even before the end of the hot war known as World War II. I have underscored the beginning of the warfare in Indochina that actually began on the same day as the surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945, and of the Korean War that the “Big Four” at the Teheran Conference so amply provided for in November 1943.
With this time-line, it became imperative that I fit the assassination of the President into the most crucial of periods: the twenty years from 1955 to 1975 that the military-industrial complex had set for the superescalation of the warfare in Vietnam. It was then, in late 1963, that President Kennedy, in full coordination with his closest team of top-level advisers in the White House and in the Pentagon, signed his National Security Action Memorandum #263 of October 11, 1963. This directive, among many other things, ordered that 1,000 U.S. military personnel be brought home by the end of 1963, and that the bulk of U.S. personnel be withdrawn by the end of 1965. NSAM #63 and its accompanying policy became the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” That carefully crafted and determined policy in the impending climate of Kennedy’s assured reelection in 1964 led directly to the consensual decision at the highest levels that the President must be killed and that control of the U.S. government must be put in other hands. In other words, Kennedy’s Vietnam policy announcements made a coup d’etat necessary.
This was the burden of the Stone film. The inclusion of this little-known NSAM #263 in the film became the principal point of attack of the big guns that were leveled at Stone, Garrison, and myself. It really is amazing that the most vitriolic attacks were those that attempted to inform the public that there was no such directive. The furor over that one item, NSAM #263, was evidence that Stone had hit his target. This alone uncovered the “Why?” of the assassination.
IN the film’s closing scenes between “Garrison” and Man X”, who was a representation of this author, one could feel the tension build in every audience in every theater. When “Man X” says “Why? Why was Kennedy killed? Who benefited? Who has the power to cover it up?” the audience is forced to look at the real cause of the assassination and not at some prearranged fabrication of that terrible event. Stone had succeeded in carrying the theme from the comprehensive, widespread scope of the early and disorganized misapprehensions of the assassination lore, as typified by the Warren Commission’s report, through the specific tensions of the Garrison trial in New Orleans to the summit of activity in Washington, and then attacked the real issue, “Why was John F. Kennedy killed?”
It was altogether fitting, it was purely masterful, that Stone had those last scenes filmed on the mall in Washington, D.C., between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument with the rising dome of the Capitol building looming over Costner (Garrison) and Sutherland (Prouty) in the distance. Only a few steps farther down the road from there, the Kennedy Center itself is overlooked by the old faded yellow brick building that was CIA headquarters and the long-time office of Director of Central Intelligence Allen W. Dulles until Kennedy fired him. The setting itself was classic. This scene tells its own story. This is the heart of the District of Columbia. It is the place where so much of that fatal decision, for the U.S. government and for all of us, was made by the cabal.
And with those words about the film and its terrific impact on all assassination buffs of all kinds and all beliefs, I wish to close with a few words that have become more meaningful with the passage of the decades since November 22, 1963. During my nine years in the Pentagon, I can recall no month that was more hectic, more confused and more explosive than January 1961, the last month of the eight-year Eisenhower administration and the month during which Kennedy was inaugurated. there was something about that period that bore some special message of its own - for the future. What was happening, especially there in the Pentagon, was not simply the routine changing of the guard. That month carried its own message, a premonition of sinister things to follow.
The closely knit Eisenhower team was so confident that Nixon would be elected that they had arranged such things as the annual budget, procurement schedules and other long-range objectives, including the Vietnam War, the anti-Castro activities, and the space program, for the Nixon administration to carry out. These plans included big-ticket items such as the Air Force’s scheduled procurement of the new TFX swing-wing fighter aircraft at $6.5 billion, among others. The Kennedy election, assuring a drastic change in key positions up and down the line, put all of those plans in jeopardy. No one stood more to lose than our friends in the highly dedicated industrial sector of the nation, particularly in the military-industrial group.
Then, on January 17, 1961, President Eisenhower delivered his Farewell Address to the American public. Oliver Stone chose to open his film JFK with a few selected lines from that memorable speech:
...The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the Federal Government... In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist... We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted...
Two days after Eisenhower’s address, I walked into the office of Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates at the close of the business day, as had been my custom for months, prepared to give him a few brief words on what was taking place in the business of “providing the military support of the clandestine operations of the CIA” - more specifically, an update on the status of the Cuban Exile operations - later to be known as the Bay of Pigs operation. On that late afternoon, a blizzard was raging outside. From the Pentagon we could barely see the buildings of Washington across the Potomac. And on that late hour, as I approached Mr. Gates‘s office, I saw that the hallway, the anteroom, and his office were jammed with well-wishers. This was to be his last day as secretary of defense.
As I look back at those nine years, I have always believed that he was the best and most qualified man ever to hold that office. As Mr. Gates was in no position for a briefing at that curtain-lowering time, his secretary ushered me into the office of Deputy Secretary of Defense James Douglas, another able gentleman. He greeted me with his characteristic smile, strolled across his office, and leaned against the window sill. As I looked over his shoulder, I saw nothing but raging snow. I said, “Mr. Douglas, I have briefed you from time to time over the past six years. I regret that this will be our last briefing.” Then I went on to give him a report on the status of the Cuban Exile program that the Eisenhower administration had stated, as a formal CIA activity, back in March 1960.
When I finished the brief report, I asked an essential question, “Each time I have come in here, or into Mr. Gates’s office, I have known that you gentlemen were well aware of the subject of these briefings over the years, and of their background; but tomorrow, when I come in here, there will be some new men to be briefed. Can you tell me, do I have to go back to B.C. or early A.D. with that briefing, or may I assume that they have been informed of the subjects I shall be covering?”
Mr. Douglas turned away and looked out at the snow and the dim outline of the city. Finally he turned back, and said, “Prouty, I’ll be damned if I know what to say. I haven’t met the bastards and I haven’t the slightest idea what they know and what they do not know. They have never asked us for such information.” Of course he was referring to Robert McNamara, the new secretary of defense, and to Roswell Gilpatric, the new deputy, a totally new team in both person and political ideology, let alone “military strategy in the days of the hydrogen bomb.” This was the best characterization, that I can recall, of the climate that existed in Washington between the two administrations since that unexpected election of John F. Kennedy.
Few people have realized the true atmosphere of the Eisenhower-Kennedy transition, and nowhere else in the government was that transition more acrimonious than in the Pentagon. As a military officer I worked with the Gates team and without a break continued along with the McNamara team.
I cite this fact, at the close of my book, because as I look back over those years it has become clear to me that the Kennedy victory at the polls, in 1960, was perhaps as much a cause of his eventual assassination, in 1963, as anything else. There was no way he could win against the in-place power centers, including that of the military-industrial complex, as President Eisenhower himself had warned.
As you can see, such things have nothing to do with a “lone gunman” (Oswald), with Fidel Castro and the Cubans, with the Mafia, and all the rest of the lore that has blossomed since November 22, 1963. They are a part of the true story, and the others are parts of the essential “cover story” that has lived and been made to flourish since mid-November 1963.
Stone asked me to become a technical advisor as he developed the script for his film back in July 1990. He came to my home a few days after I had triple bypass coronary surgery in October 1990 and gave me a copy of the initial version of the script. I noticed as I studied it that he was arranging things so that the general public would have “a level playing field”. He wanted those who knew little about the details of the assassination and its aftermath to get a good comprehensive view of the entire situation.
Then, as Stone himself learned more about the assassination, he chose the work of two highly regarded researchers and writers: Jim Garrison and Jim Mars, along with the experienced photography expert, Bob Groden. Garrison was an excellent selection because he was the first and only official member of any court jurisdiction in the country to do what ought to have been done in Texas, where the crime had taken place, i.e., take it into a court for trial. With this endeavor Jim had put many of the actual facts of the assassination into the record and had advanced public knowledge of the crime and of its raging cover story, including the Warren Commission ruse. With Jim Marrs, Stone had one of the finest and most honest technicians in the investigation business.
It has been my endeavor, since 1985 when I first sat down at my computer, to write the story of the Cold War as few have seen it, to explain what took place at the close of World War II that led to the Korean and Vietnamese wars, and to describe the events that led to the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, and answer the question why that terrible event was planned and executed. In this endeavor I had the invaluable assistance of Oliver Stone, Jim Garrison, and so many others dating from the eventful days of my own military career.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “There is properly no history; only biography.” With this work, I have added a bit of autobiography.
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