One of the most important questions surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) has always been why was he murdered? We do have the official explanation that Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963), a former Marine and attempted defector to the Soviet Union, murdered Kennedy due to his own deranged thoughts which no one has been able to accurately explain. And although he was murdered before he could stand trial in a Texas courtroom, Oswald remains labeled as Kennedy’s assassin. But to understand the murder of any politician, it is necessary to examine the political and social climate in existance at the time. There are many clues to why Kennedy was murdered if we are willing to look. Douglas Horne served on the Assassination Records Review Board, the organization that was developed to examine the voluminous recorsds produced in response to the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. The act was created as a result of Oliver Stone’s groundbreaking film JFK, starring Kevin Costner as former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (1921-1992). His unique position on the board, has allowed him to view documents that many had never seen before and some of what he found is covered here with regards to the internal battle between Kennedy and factions within his own administration.
To some readers it may sound unbelievable that a sitting United States President was at odds with his own cabinet but that is exactly what was taking place prior to Kennedy’s death. But what were the roots of the tensions and widely differing views? Horne clues us in as we re-examine the Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuban Missile Crisis, Laos and ultimately the Vietnam War. Kennedy did not live to see the escalating U.S. involvement and had set into motions plans for a far different course of action. A full discussion of his true plan for Vietnam is discussed by John Newman in his phenomenal book JFK & Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power, which I highly recommend to any reader interested in how the United States might have avoided war in Southeast Asia. The book is spellbinding and will leave readers in shock. But Newman’s work does not detract from the work of Horne, whose discussion of the very critical events during Kennedy’s administration present some very disturbing revelations. Also, Horne references Newman’s work on occassion even including information unvailable to Newman at the time.
The first event that Horne addresses is the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961. Fidel Castro’s (1926-2016) removal and the installation of a government favorable to Washington had become of the utmost urgency during the transition of power from Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) to John F. Kennedy. Before leaving office, Eisenhower had approved several covert plans and Horne explains Cuba quite pointedly:
On January 3, 1961, Eisenhower terminated diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, setting the stage for the paramilitary invasion. President-elect Kennedy had learned of the proposed invasion (by about 1400 Cuban exiles training in Guatemala) on November 17, 1960, after his election. Eisenhower left the invasion to his successor to implement.
The invasion was a failure and Kennedy soon came to distrust the intelligence community and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The seeds of division had been planted and grew exponentially over the next two years. Cold-War warriors had mistakenly believed the young president could be bullied into taking action but they would soon learn that Kennedy had a whole different idea for United States foreign policy.
Horne’s narrative is chilling to the core and at some points in the book I had to take a step back and digest what I had just read. In what could only be described as mind-boggling, the failed Cuban invasion did not deter the military from setting its sights on Southeast Asia, in particular Laos and later Vietnam. Kennedy’s refusal to invade Laos is the earliest indication of how he viewed the “Domino Theory” and the futility of a ground war in Indochina.
Behind the scenes in Washington, Kennedy was under enormous pressure to launch a first strike not only against Cuba but also against the Soviet Union on more than one occassion with China being collateral damage. It was estimated that in a nuclear exchange, well over three hundred million Americans and hundreds of millions of people in Russia, China and Eastern Europe would have died within a matter of hours or even minutes. Today, it seems unthinkable that those in power were actually considering intiating a nuclear confrontation but at the time, World War II was still fresh in the minds of Americans, in particular those who served in the war. Horne focuses highly on one person in particular who very well could have started World War III. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay (1906-1990) was chosen by Kennedy himself in the wake of his first summit with former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971). The summary Horne provides about LeMay sets the tone of the book going forward and at that point, it will be clear to readers that tensions are about to increase. But who was LeMay? Horne explains:
By the time President Kennedy attended the public swearing-in of General Curtis LeMay as the new Air Force Chief of Staff on June 30, 1961, LeMay was already a revered American icon to many. He had courageously led large elements of the 8th Air Force in Europe during World War II, and had personally designed, and commanded, the horrific firebombing campaign against Japan’s cities that had virtually razed that nation to the ground during 1945 (and in this role, his bombers had dropped the first two strategic nuclear weapons ever used in combat on Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
It is clear from the start that Kennedy had aligned himself with someone who saw combat as the only means to an end. And by the end of the book, the dysfunctional and bitter relationship between the two helps to explain the forces Kennedy was contending with unbeknownst to the American people. LeMay is just one of multiple figures in the book, whose actions and statements are nothing short of scary. A post-apocalyptic future akin to the film The Book of Eli, could have very well happened had some individuals been successful in their efforts to goad Kennedy into nuclear conflict. And if you have any doubts that this could have happened, considered this quote by Horne:
LeMay’s concept of nuclear war was total: he believed in what he called the “Sunday punch,” or throwing everything you had at the enemy at the very beginning of hostilities — an attack from all directions, with the majority of your own weapons — that would go on without stop, for several days. His concept of nuclear war was orgiastic, and Wagnerian.
When it became clear that Kennedy would not approve an invasion of Cuba nor attack the Soviet Union, the topic of Vietnam takes center stage, becoming the hotbed issue that researchers believe was the last straw, resulting in the “green light” to remove Kennedy from office. Horne’s essays are informative and should be read by those who study the Vietnam War, those who served and anyone in search of the truth about Dallas. It is a case study of when U.S. foreign policy does disastrously wrong. And for the young president, Vietnam became a moment of extreme clarity and proof that he could no longer trust his own administration.
The book is filled with dozens of important events, National Security Action Memos and transcripts of critical meetings. One committee meeting in particular stands out not for what was said in the meeting but what was captured by the secret recording system after Kennedy had departed the room. The discussion by the military generals who remained in the room is provided here showing that none supported Kennedy and wanted nothing short of a show of force. Nearly all of the former officials are deceased but their names will remain ingrained in American history. Kennedy had enormous foresight but had his hands full with powerful and intimdating figures including J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), Allen Dulles (1893-1969) and Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer (1899-1988), the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff whom Kennedy replaced with Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor (1901-1987). The military industrial complex, described by Presiden Eisenhower in his farewell address was alive and well, forcing Kennedy to make decisions that bucked the establishment and resulted in him being engulfed in a hornet’s nest of enemies. It is simply an American tragedy and the fictional book Seven Days in May, provided a blueprint for regime change which many never thought could be possible in the United States.
Research into Kennedy’s murder continues to reveal information that has been carefully hidden to elude investigators and curious citizens who intend on learning the truth about the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Some will always believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did in fact pull the trigger. But others who have long ago learned to see past the shots in Dealey Plaza, will find this book by Horne to be eye-opening and hair-raising. And as author John Newman has made clear in his own works on the assassination, a storm was definitely brewing before Kennedy’s murder.