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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 49 November 26, 2022

US Democracy Never Really Recovered from the Shock of Kennedy’s Sudden Death— Wider Story of A Coup Attempt and Three Assassinations | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 26 November 2022, by Bharat Dogra


[On Death Anniversary of President John Kennedy —November 22, Tuesday]

It was on November 22 1963 that John F. Kennedy, the hugely popular President of the USA, was assassinated. This extremely tragic death had a special historical importance as it signified a very violent signal from the right wing, militarist forces in the USA that they will not allow a President (or a popular leader with mass support) to survive for long if he/she is determined to pursue an agenda of peace and civil rights, including taking effective action against the forces and persons who oppose this, and is also showing some signs of being successful in this. The same forces struck again in 1968 when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.
However before we come to these tragic episodes, we should go back about three decades to the 1930s to trace the first important link in this story. This was a coup effort against FDR, or the very popular president Franklin D. Roosevelt. He had recently won elections on a platform of prioritizing reduction of poverty and unemployment and reducing inequalities, at a time when the Great Depression and unfettered capitalism were playing havoc with the lives and livelihoods of workers and farmers. To keep public attention away from the richest financiers and industrialists who were amassing wealth at the cost of people, fascist and extreme right wing forces were being supported by some of the richest persons in such a way that the USA too could be pushed on the same path that Hitler and Mussolini were taking in Europe. For these forces the election victory of FDR was a big setback and they felt that their highly privileged position would be threatened by his policies. Therefore some of the richest industrialists and corporations, bankers and Wall Street financiers agreed to commit millions of dollars to prepare a force of tens of thousands of armed veterans to remove FDR and install a fascist or extreme right-wing regime. Major General Smedley D. Butler was contacted to play an important role in this, but he took the historically important decision to side with FDR and gave the government prior information about the coup attempt so that timely action could be taken to prevent the coup.

This was confirmed by a Congress Committee, but the names of big planners were buried by the Committee. It appears that FDR too realized the power of these conspirators and a compromise was made at high levels secretly—the big conspirators were spared legal action against them and they in turn committed to give up their opposition to the New Deal policies of FDR which eventually brought much relief and hope to the American working classes.

The importance of this coup attempt is obvious. If this had succeeded, the USA too would have gone much along the fascist path taken by Mussolini and Hitler in Europe. This coup attempt reveals that extreme right wing with fascist leanings has a continuity and strength in US which has been often underestimated.

Thus the tendency of the extreme right wing forces to be ready and willing to intervene at very high levels to promote their agenda goes back to much before Kennedy. Subsequently the decision of Truman to use the first two atom bombs when these were not really needed for securing the surrender of Japan was indicative of growing militarist tendencies even after the end of the Second World War. After this President Eisenhower was pressurized by these forces to again use nuclear weapons against Korea/China during the Korean War but he successfully resisted this and also warned against the military-industrial establishment at the time of ending his presidency.

It is against this background that we come to the decade of the 1960s, with President Kennedy getting elected at a very young age and being helped in his presidency by his younger brother Robert ‘Bobby’ Kennedy and both of them having good relations with the great civil rights leader Martin Luther king Jr. (MLK) . During 1963-68 the USA was shaken by assassinations of these three most promising and popular leaders. The overall impact was in terms of a big loss to forces of peace and civil rights, and a boost to forces of militarism, aggression, inequalities and injustice.

After his historical important and mature handling of the Cuban missile crisis (helped by similar maturity on the part of Khrushchev ) which helped the world to avoid what would have been a very catastrophic exchange of nuclear weapons, Kennedy was seen to be willing to come out more strongly for an agenda of peace and civil rights, and to act against those, including the CIA, who were a major obstacle in this. It was at this stage that the extreme right wing and militarist forces decided to act against them, including persons from this lobby against whom the President had taken punitive action or was planning to do so. More than one assassination attempts against him are likely to have been planned, as emerged from evidence later.

On November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The youngest US President died at the age of only 46. Two days later the man accused of this assassination, Oswald (who had been denying any role in this) was also killed. Since then there have been widespread allegations of some wider planning behind these two killings (as well as of a local police official).

Various polls reveal that 60 to 75% of US citizens do not believe the official version of Oswald killing Kennedy on his own. In 1979 the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded that Kennedy was probably assassinated in a conspiracy and that Oswald did not act alone.
After returning from the funeral of President Kennedy to France, President Charles de Gaulle confided to his Information Minister Alain Peyrefitte (as described in the latter’s book L’etait de Gaulle) , “What happened to Kennedy is what nearly happened to me. His story is the same as mine…The security forces were in cahoots with the extremists…But you will see. All of them together will observe the law of silence. They will close ranks. They don’t want to find out. They won’t allow themselves to find out!”

Despite the huge cover-up, researchers have over the years exposed very widespread official efforts to tamper with evidence, ignore evidence that is not in line with official line, and intimidate witnesses. In fact a very large number of witnesses whose testimony may have gone against the official line have died in mysterious circumstances. Lists of over 50 such witnesses have been drawn up by researchers and published.

It is extremely difficult to believe how the police could have failed in the elementary duty of transferring Oswald to a nearby jail, how someone running strip clubs and known to be close to criminals was allowed to gain entry in police premises and later get so close to someone who had been accused of assassinating the President of the country. This man, Jack Ruby, was allowed to kill Oswald when he was surrounded by policemen and in broad daylight, in the presence of reporters, covered live on TV!

On the day of the assassination many serious security lapses were noticed and a local police officer who was courageous enough to draw attention to this faced several threats later. Earlier monitoring of related intelligence and action based on this was also found to be deficient. The HSCA Report stated- The secret service was deficient in the performance of its duties. Robert Blakey, Chief Counsel of HSCA stated that they were not able to conduct an appropriate investigation of the CIA as it had obstructed the availability of important information to the HSCA and also to the official Warren Commission, including information relating to plots to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro. Senior officials tasked with implementing the law enacted in 1992 for transparency on Kennedy assassination papers confirmed in writing that the CIA had obsructed the efforts for unraveling the truth.

Many researchers and books on this subject have pointed the accusing finger towards the military-industrial complex, powerful intelligence officials, mafias and hostile politicians who opposed the increasing tendency of President Kennedy in recent months to favor an agenda of peace, disarmament, reducing nuclear weapon threat, decreasing hostility with the Soviet Union. These forces and mafias were not happy also with his increasing emphasis on civil rights, curbing racism and the strong legal actions, led by the President’s brother— Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy— against organized crime. The role of the military industrial complex and intelligence agencies was also emphasized in Oliver Stone’s popular film JFK (1991) which has been an important part of this discourse since its release.

Therefore the cover-up attempted by the official Warren Commission has been badly discredited by now. The former CIA head Allen Dulles who had been fired by President Kennedy had been put in as one of its key members. Member of US Senate Select Committee Senator Richard Schweiker had called it “one of the biggest cover-ups of history.”

Martin Luther King Jr. emerged in the 1960s as the most prominent civil rights activist of the USA, as the most visible symbol of black resistance and struggles. His powerful oratory and inspiring struggles were attracting not just the black population but an increasing number of other supporters as well—all those who stood for justice, equality and peace. With the passage of time, King went one step ahead and emerged as a more committed anti-war activist— he raised a strong voice for ending the Vietnam War. One of his speeches which made this an important demand was widely quoted. He became known increasingly for linking civil rights and justice at home with peace and justice in foreign policy, something which made the militarists very angry. At the age of only 35 he became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

This alarmed and enraged powerful persons in the military-industrial complex and the intelligence agents and politicians colluding with it. Hence the hostility towards him arising from his civil rights actions was further aggravated. It was in these conditions that attacks against him were stepped up by powerful forces. One effort was to depict him as a communist enemy of the USA. Another was to depict him as a man of loose morals in personal lifel. The FBI sent him blackmailing letters which sought to put pressure on him to give up his public life and even intended to increase the pressure on him to such as extent that, as King himself stated, he would be driven towards suicide.

When all this failed, Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4 1968, exactly one year after he made the famous speech against the Vietnam War, the timing intended to convey a message, or so it seemed. He was only 39 at that time.Imagine what he would have achieved if he had been allowed to lead his full life. The establishment presented this as the work of one assassinator Ray and this view was persisted with for several years despite most glaring loopholes. Dexter King, son of Martin Luther King Jr., later stated this to be “the most incredible cover-up.”

Corretta Scott King (wife of Martin) and other friends of Martin continued efforts to expose the cover-up and bring out the truth of this most tragic assassination. Finally in December 1999, a jury in Memphis, Tennessee, reached the verdict that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed as a result of a conspiracy involving the FBI, CIA, US Army, Memphis Police and the mafia. This verdict came after a 5 week trial and examination of 70 witnesses. Corretta King called this verdict “a great victory for justice and truth.” Judge James Swearenges deserved great credit for this, as also attorney William Pepper. The jury exonerated Ray, who however had already died in prison by then.

Robert Kennedy, younger brother of President John Kennedy, also served as Attorney General during his tenure. During this time he was known for his strong and determined assault against organized crime and mafias. Subsequently he became stronger in his commitments for civil rights and peace. When he and his wife attended the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr he was the one white political leader who received the most welcome and appreciation of people assembled there. In 1968 after a lot of reluctance and dithering he finally joined the Presidential race. He was the candidate who appeared to be getting the most support of the minorities, the poorer people, the youth dedicated to peace and justice. When he scored some important victories, he was assassinated on June 6, 1968. He was only 42 then.

This was described as the act of one Sirhan Sirhan acting alone, but there were many loopholes in the official explanation of events. John Pilger, prominent journalist present at the site, pointed out evidence relating to the presence of more than one killer. Another prominent witness mentioned 12 to 14 shots being fired.

These three assassinations and the failure to answer several very significant questions relating to these over a period of more than five decades, as well as the earlier planning of a coup in the 1930s, points to the strong entrenchment and strength of wider right-wing forces of aggression, injustice and militarism.

The US democracy has never really recovered from these shocks and no president since then has even tried sincerely to work with consistency on an agenda of justice, equality, peace and disarmament. Much was expected of Barack Obama at one time, but he betrayed the trust by speeding up the nuclear weapons race, endlessly using drones for assassinations in distant lands, escalating tensions with Russia and in fact sowing the seeds of the present day disastrous Ukraine conflict by abetting a coup in Ukraine. There has been an increasing tendency among leaders of both the leading political parties to have almost common agreement on an agenda of aggression, dominance and continuing inequalities. This has very tragic and dangerous implications for justice, peace, cooperation and stability at world level too. There is a very urgent need to move away from this dangerous consensus of aggression, dominance and militarism among the dominant policy makers in the USA and for heeding alternative voices and agendas of peace, cooperation and diplomacy to resolve conflicts and threats.

(Author: Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Planet in Peril and Man over Machine)

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