JFK didn't send us to Cuba
Coming of age in a time of assassination
by Daniel Borgström
I was in the Marine Corps, a teenager and still not old enough to vote, when JFK was elected, and about the first thing that happened after he took office was the Bay of Pigs invasion. That was in April 1961. Fourteen hundred anti-Castro paramilitaries landed on the coast of Cuba at Playa Girón, intending to overthrow the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro. Almost immediately, the invaders ran into stiff resistance, and we thought we'd be sent to back them up.
We were ready to go. This is what we'd all joined the Marine Corps to do, and being the nearest available USMC unit, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, it looked like we'd be seeing action in Cuba. The atmosphere of the whole base was electrified; guys had their field gear out, were wearing their hunting knives and stuff, looking very much like a regiment of Boy Scouts eagerly gearing up for a camping trip.
Hours passed, then a day, and yet another day. From news reports we knew that the situation was critical. The invaders were in deep trouble, but there we sat, apparently not going anywhere. On the third day of the invasion, the news came. Invasion crushed.
So it was over with, and the base settled back into the humdrum routine of peace time garrison duty. I just remember feeling terribly disappointed. I'd been following news reports of the Cuban revolution for years, from the time Fidel Castro and the revolutionaries were in the hills, then the overthrow of the Batista regime, and later the break with the U.S. I'd been quite engrossed in those events, rather like a baseball fan tuned into the game, but without much understanding of what the revolution was all about, what the issues were, what the Cubans were fighting for and against. I believed what I read in the newspapers, that the invaders were our team, the good guys. And they got left on the beach.
Details of the disaster came seeping out in newspaper and magazine articles during the weeks and months that followed, and I learned of an entity called the Central Intelligence Agency, a secretive branch of government that had been created to fight in the Cold War. It was the CIA that had organized the Bay of Pigs invasion, and it caught hell for the fiasco. I guess that's when most Americans first heard of the CIA. President Kennedy fired CIA chief Allen Dulles; as we were later to learn, that was the beginning of a confrontation between the Agency and the president which led to his assassination. In a private conversation that was disclosed years later, Kennedy said, "I want to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds."
After a few months at Camp Lejeune NC, I was transferred to the Far East, stationed on Okinawa. While I was there the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred, but I was on leave at the time and missed the drama. I heard about it a few days later, that a major confrontation had taken place, but to me it seemed to me like confrontations were constantly going on, rarely coming to much of anything. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco I found it difficult to take any of that very seriously. I really had no thought of what nuclear war might look like, or how close they'd came close to blowing us off the face of the planet on that occasion. It didn't happen that time, so life went on, leaving me no wiser.
Eventually my four-year enlistment in the Marine Corps came to an end. That was in 1963, and I went back to finish high school. I didn't look any older then the other kids, and in fact I wasn't really much older. So that's where I was, sitting in a high school classroom that November day when the teacher came in and told us that the president had been shot in Dallas. I still remember how shocked everyone was, people were in tears, openly crying. The world was in tears.
Everybody seemed to like Kennedy. He was a popular president, but I wasn't really a fan. The JFK rhetoric did not inspire me, and the "Camelot" stuff in particular seemed to me a bit corny. And there was that Bay of Pigs fiasco, resulting in a major victory for the Cuban revolution; I blamed him for that. Now that I look back on it, I realize I need to be very grateful to Kennedy for not sending us to Cuba.
But, it took me a long, long time to understand that a U.S. intervention would not have benefitted the Cubans -- or us Norteamericanos either. "War is a racket," said General Smedley Butler, a legendary Marine Corps hero who fought in the Spanish-American war and numerous "small wars" of the following three decades. Here is what he said after thinking it over: "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in." Those lines are from a speech the general made back in the 1930s, later published as a book, and I guess you can imagine my surprise when I eventually read it.
The class I was in when the news came of the assassination, incidentally, was a history class, an outstandingly good one. The teacher, though staunchly anti-Communist and also in other ways rather conservative, explained to us the folly of military solutions. In his view, when a social upheaval occurred, it was due to social problems that needed to be addressed. Using the example of the civil rights movement which was then going on in the Deep South, he pointed out that the cause of the trouble was segregation and the various forms of racial injustice that blacks suffered; it was not, as was so commonly alleged, that rabble rousers were making trouble.
Social issues required social solutions, my teacher asserted, both here in the U.S. and abroad. He admired President Kennedy, but at the same time criticized many U.S. policy makers for their repeated recourse to military solutions in Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. Strangely enough, for me that was very hard to understand; I had totally bought into the Hollywood cowboy movie scenario where the good guys roll into town, shoot the bad guys, and that solves everything.
So JFK was gone, and LBJ became president. I got my high school diploma, and the following year the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred. That was in 1964, about a year after the murder. LBJ was on the TV announcing a bombing attack he'd ordered, and I sat there cheering. Yes, I cheered the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. The attack was followed by a Congressional resolution enabling LBJ to escalate the war. But I didn't see anything wrong with that. Not at the time I didn't.
It was also in the fall of 1964 that the Warren Commission issued its report, adhering to the official story that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, had assassinated Kennedy. My Marine Corps experience plus a bit of common sense should've been enough to tell me that no USMC trained rifleman would have been likely to choose an antique Italian army rifle for anything more serious than plunking at tin cans. And, if I had stopped to think about it, I would've also remembered from my training on the USMC rifle range that it's very difficult to hit a target when firing rapidly -- three shots in the short space of less than eight seconds is very rapid fire. Nevertheless, it just never occurred to me to suspect that our government might be lying.
Actually, I don't think I was alone in my childlike innocence. That was a different world back then, in the 1950s and early 1960s. There was a sense of optimistic idealism about our American system of democracy. Nobody had even heard of the FBI's COINTELPRO program. Only the "bad" countries spied on their people, lied to them, and manipulated them. Our government could be trusted. The CIA, then about fifteen years old, seemed to be a benign agency, part of our national defense system, protecting us against nasty invaders who aimed to steal our liberties and impose a police state. It was in defense of our freedom that the Agency engineered the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala, or assassinated foreign leaders, Patrice Lumumba among others. That the Agency may also have had a domestic agenda didn't seem at all likely. Such things don't happen here in America.
Former President Harry S. Truman had authorized the creation of the CIA back in 1947, but after the murder of John F. Kennedy, Truman had second thoughts about the CIA and composed a letter calling for the role of the Agency to be cut back. "There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it," Truman said. His letter was published in an early edition of the Washington Post on December 22, 1963 but was omitted from later editions of that day. Other newspapers did not reprint it. That in itself is astounding. Imagine! the U.S. media refusing to broadly publicize and discuss a statement from a former U.S. president! That says something about the power and status of the CIA. It also says something about the media, which to this day, fifty years later, continues to promote the official story of Oswald as lone gunman.
So the president of the United States was gunned down in broad daylight, just like a scene in a movie, and for whatever reasons of their own, the power elite and corporate media were willing to accept the lone gunman explanation as fact, ignoring evidence to the contrary, pretending that everything was resolved and taken care of. Looking back on those events, it appears that behind our backs, as of November 22, 1963, the CIA came into its own, taking its place and asserting its power as the fourth branch of our government, becoming one of the checks and balances. Like Congress, the CIA has the power to remove a president, though the process is quite different. We could almost call it the "extra-judicial branch."
As the 1960s rolled on, several researchers began independent investigations, presenting alternative theories of the assassination; among the investigators was James Garrison, New Orleans District Attorney, later portrayed in JFK, a movie by Oliver Stone. Those years also saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Robert Kennedy, as well as the undisguised police murders of Fred Hampton, George Jackson and other Black Panthers. At the time, however, I was only vaguely aware of those events. I was not even in the U.S., having set out to see the world, traveling through Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, taking in a melange of histories and geographies, returning eventually around 1970 to an America that was greatly changed, very different from the one I remembered.
Most surprising to me on my return, I saw huge numbers of people out in the streets, massive demonstrations, thousands and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of people marching against the war that our government was waging in Vietnam. Amazing! I thought it was only in other countries that people demonstrated and criticized their government. To see Americans protesting was quite an experience. "Stop the War!" they were saying, and yes, by this time I fully agreed with them. That being a conclusion I'd come to in my travels; it was kind of like I'd taken a very different route (literally) but arrived at much the same place together with people who'd stayed at home.
"You missed the sixties," people would tell me, to which I'd reply: I did see the sixties, but from a different perspective. During my travels I met people from a good many countries, and I had many experiences of my own. I picked grapes in the Champagne district of France. I visited the Louvre, saw medieval castles, admired the Moorish architecture of Andalucía. I was in Israel/Palestine where I also visited the West Bank and Gaza. I worked my way across the Mediterranean on a Greek freighter. Passing through France in 1968, I saw the May Rebellion. (Nevertheless, a dear friend of mine continues to assert, "You missed the feminist revolution.")
Many things changed during the sixties, and some things did not. The media which had so warmly endorsed the Warren Report was often hostile to peace protesters, calling them spoiled college kids who didn't know what life out in the real world was all about. Newspaper columnists and TV pundits proclaimed that anyone wanting to hear the truth about the war should ask a GI. "Our soldiers know what they're fighting for! Ask a GI!" That sort of propaganda called for a response, and there sprang up groups of ex-military persons who opposed the war. I joined one of these antiwar veterans groups in San Francisco.
You might imagine that journalists would've been interested to hear what ex-GIs had to say. Once in a while they were, but generally not. I remember an occasion when the police arrested a dozen or so of us, and the SF Chronicle reported this, printing our names along with our ages and employment. But they omitted what was most significant: our former military status. On other occasions the media identified us as "alleged veterans."
I saw and experienced many examples like that; where the media would give accurate details, but omit significant parts of the story, and in that way shape the news to fit their own narrative agenda. Meanwhile they made a big thing of constantly calling themselves the "free, unbiased media," contrasting themselves with what they called "the controlled press" in Russia and China. There was also the widely held perception of the media as "liberal," an image largely transmitted through and by the media itself.
An incident which illustrates the reality of the corporate media comes from the life of Gary Webb, a journalist at the San Jose Mercury News. He investigated and reported on the CIA's complicity in the domestic drug trafficking which flooded American cities with narcotics. At first the Mercury stood behind the journalist and published his articles, but, under pressure, the newspaper eventually backed down and apologized to the CIA. Webb was demoted, given insignificant assignments. His career basically over, he became despondent and took his own life. That is the real story of U.S. journalism, of the media which, whenever the occasion seems to require, obsequiously functions as the voice of the 1%, endorsing wars, and steadfastly adhering to the official myth of the lone gunman in numerous political assassinations including MLK and RFK..
The death of JFK remains the classic whodunit, with the culprit sitting right there in front of us. But digging into questions about that murder is not a wise career move for historians or investigative journalists. Sadly, even progressive journalists are reluctant to touch the subject, or any so-called "conspiracy theory," a term invented by the CIA to characterize and marginalize critics of the Warren Commission. A legacy of that cover-up is that we live in a society where the CIA and the national security establishment do not answer for their misdeeds.
When Truman so unwisely allowed the formation of the CIA he must have believed that he and later presidents could control it. Kennedy's experience showed otherwise. I've come to remember John F. Kennedy as the courageous leader who refused to send us to Cuba.
updated March 27, 2015
The Legend of Dealey Plaza
Common sense vs. the lone gunman
by Daniel Borgström
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audio -- A special four-hour series of the
Project Censored Show, as co-hosts Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff examine the death of John F. Kennedy 50 years later. Featuring interviews with Oliver Stone, Peter Dale Scott, Mark Lane, Peter Kuznick, and Jefferson Morley. Originally aired on November 22, 2013 on KPFA 94.1 FM.
PART 1 Interview with Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick
PART 2 Interview with Mark Lane
PART 3 Interview with Peter Dale Scott, author of Deep Politics and the Death of JFK
PART 4 Discussion with Peter Dale Scott & Jefferson Morely
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-- Guns and Butter with Bonnie Faulkner. Aired on November 27, 2013 on KPFA 94.1 FM at 1:00pm
Interviewing Dr. James H. Fetzer. Setting Up the Hit; The Medical Scams; Framing the Patsy
President John f. Kennedy, Dallas Texas, November 22, 1963, critics of the Warren Commission, the conspiracy to kill the president, multiple gunmen, lone gunman, Secret Service, F.B.I., C.I.A., Texas School Book Depository, Grassy Knoll, Italian 6.5 mm. Mannlicher-Carcano, media cover-up, 50th Anniversary of JFK Murder