Posted tagged ‘Cold War’

Those JFK Assassination Conspiracy Theories May Not Be So Crazy After All

October 19, 2009

On November 22, 1963, something happened in Dallas that would haunt the American psyche for generations to come.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was gunned down in a motorcade in the heart of Dallas, Texas by an assassin’s bullet. He was later pronounced dead and was immediately replaced by then Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine and apparent defector, was charged with Kennedy’s murder. He was later gunned down by Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner who had shady connections with the Italian mafia. The Warren Commission, a federal investigation panel appointed by President Johnson to look into the assassination, deemed Oswald to be a “lone nut” who acted alone in slaying Kennedy.

These are the established “official” facts. Anything beyond this depends on your predisposition to believe any of the conspiracy theories that have been circulated over the years.

The New York Times recently reported that the CIA is still resistant to releasing documents from the early 1960s that could possibly shed some light on the assassination. If you believe the Warren Commission, Oswald was a “lone nut” who acted alone under no orders. If you believe Oliver Stone, an Oscar winning filmmaker whose controversial 1991 film “JFK” brought almost every major conspiracy theory into the public light, Oswald was anything but a lone wolf out to put his name in the history books.

The JFK assassination has been discussed many times before in the nearly 66 years that have passed since it happened. The image of John Kennedy Jr. saluting his dead father as his body was carried past him will forever be ingrained in our collective memories. It is not hard to view these conspiracy nuts as insensitive paranoid jerks that refuse to bury the past.

However, “conspiracy buffs” will argue that it is the rest of us who need to wake up. If we are so naïve to believe that it is impossible for our own president to be killed by means of conspiracy and deception, then we need to get out more. America may be the most free and democratic nation in the world, but we in no way immune to government/military corruption.

We all know that politicians sell their souls to special interest groups, corporations, and religious organizations in order to get their votes. We all know the military will cover up any scandal if it puts them in a bad light (My Lai massacre, anyone?). We should all be aware that during the Cold War, the CIA was doing things so secret even they probably had no idea what they were doing. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone.

It has been reported that shortly after 9/11, the CIA secretly authorized for top secret assassination teams to travel around the world killing al Qaeda leaders in retaliation for the attacks. This should sound familiar to anyone who knows about the “Wrath of God” operation set up by Mossad to kill Palestinians linked to the Black September terrorist group after the murders of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Though the CIA supposedly cancelled the al Qaeda assassination plan before it could begin, it is not a stretch to imagine that this practice is nothing new.

So what does this all mean? That the CIA really did kill Kennedy? And for what reason? Because he refused to support the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which sought to remove Fidel Castro from power? Or perhaps it’s because he was soft on the Soviets after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and allowed them to swallow up more nations to Communism. Or maybe because he didn’t want to play ball in Vietnam. All of these theories have been spread around.

To be completely serious and objective, we can never know for sure until all these secretive documents have been released to the public. The government claims they contain top secret information that could jeopardize our national security if they are leaked. Even though the Cold War is long over, apparently our new enemies in the Middle East can catch on and learn something valuable if they got their hands on them.

What we do know for sure is that all options should be put on the table. It’s not unpatriotic to believe that our own government would kill our own Commander in Chief. The 1960s were a rough time in U.S. history. The paranoia of the Cold War during the 1950s had us seeing Communism everywhere, even in our own backyard. We just came off an apocalyptic nuclear showdown with the Soviets that brought us to the brink of mutual assured destruction. And of course, there was the Domino Theory (which some scholars believe to be a fabrication), which believed that if South Vietnam fell to Communism, all of East Asia would soon follow.

We lived in times that were unparalleled before in our nation’s history. The intelligence and military communities actually believed our way of life was being threatened by the Soviet Union and their umbrella states. Kennedy was accused within many circles (mostly unfairly) of being “soft on Communism” and letting the Soviets have their way. This “appeasement” argument believed that it was the lack of resolve against fascism in the 1930s that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and Imperial Japan.

All of this can possibly lead to many people concluding that Kennedy was killed because either he was too soft on Nikita Khrushchev, or Fidel Castro, or Ho Chi Minh, or all three of them. Whether he was or not is beside the point. What does matter is that many people believed he was not doing enough, and some of those voices came from within the Pentagon, CIA, and the White House.

This should lead any one of us to rethink our view of America and see that we are no different from any other country in the world. We may be bigger and richer than most others, but that does not mean we cannot do some terrible things in our own right. Critiquing our country is not the same as hating it. In fact, criticism means you love your country because you want it to improve and be better.

And we should all want it to be better. This is why it is essential that we learn about the activities of government, corporations, and other organizations/people that make important decisions in our country. This is why the media are so important. We need to keep the powers that be in check. If we do not, who is to say our current president or future presidents could not fall victim to assassination?

Thus, does this mean the CIA must be hiding something incriminating because they refuse to release so many documents? Possibly. Does this mean our country is continuing to be run by secret fascists who want nothing more than U.S. hegemony at all costs? I will not go that far, though there are plenty of people out there who would.

I think it is fair to say that we need to keep an open mind and rethink our definition of patriotism. If patriotism means loving your country no matter what decisions they make, then count me out. If patriotism means loving your country but being allowed to question your fellow countrymen with the desire to make things better, then I can get aboard with that. And all of us should, too.

It is no wonder why so many people today distrust their government. It didn’t start with Iraq, or torture allegations, or the JFK assassination, or Vietnam, or Watergate, or Monica Lewinsky, or Hurricane Katrina, or the Iran-Contra affair, it all started in 1776 when those colonists decided to form their own country free of monarchy, tyranny, and authoritarianism.

Things have been far from perfect since then, but it is the intrinsic human desire for freedom that will carry us well into the next century and beyond.


Sins of Foreign Policy Are Always Clearer in Hindsight

July 11, 2009
Robert S. McNamara remains one of the most controversial political figures in U.S. history.

Robert S. McNamara remains one of the most controversial political figures in U.S. history.

Things are always easier in hindsight. Ask George W. Bush. Ask FDR. Ask John F. Kennedy. Ask former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. Decisions that seemed so right at the time can later be proven to be so gravely wrong. And you’ll never figure this out until it’s all over. What a shame.

McNamara’s recent death has brought about a rebirth of decades-old debates about foreign policy, the Cold War, and the disastrous American adventure in Vietnam. One cannot help but to think about Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney when McNamara’s name is mentioned. All three men were hated in their day. They misled the American people, lied to them, and told them their decisions would protect them from evil. One lie followed another.

The Kennedy White House believed in the “Domino Theory,” a theoretical prediction that if one nation were to fall to Communism, their neighbors would do the same. If South Vietnam were to fall under Soviet influence; Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan would soon follow. Then Greece, France, West Germany, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. Then eventually the whole Western world. Then us.

Historians have debated whether the Domino Theory was a plausible reality or just a product of irrational fear of losing American hegemony. And even if all of Southeast Asia were to fall to Communism, what would happen then? Would tyranny, poverty, despotism, and institutionalized atheism overcome our way of life? Would our national security come into serious jeopardy? All these possibilities were considered by the Kennedy administration.

But it is unfair to paint Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, McNamara, and Dean Rusk as the only ones who thought this way. The infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy thought the infiltration of Communism onto American soil wasn’t just a theory, but reality. His Communist witch hunts of the 1950s destroyed many people’s lives and blinded us to believing that the enemies were at our gates, when such fears proved to be nothing but just that: fear.

Much talk has come up about how such smart, intelligent, and enlightened men like Kennedy, McNamara, and Rusk got us so close to nuclear war and later architected a war in Vietnam that would take the lives of 58,000 U.S. troops and close to 2 million Vietnamese. People have argued that they were nothing but a bunch of liberal fascists, much like how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice are considered right winged fascists.

But maybe all these accusations are a little off. Consider the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that I believe played a very significant role in beginning the Vietnam War. For thirteen days in October of 1962, the Soviet Union and United States went on the brink of total annihilation. Thanks to “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD for short, both sides had the ability and will to completely obliterate the other side. If one side launched their missiles and destroyed most of their enemy’s homeland, that side had the ability to return the favor. Thanks to B-52 bombers and nuclear submarines, this can happen.

Then Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev didn’t think Kennedy had the guts to kill more people than Adolph Hitler. Hitler had a whole war to slaughter millions. Kennedy just had one simple phone call to make. I hope you shudder when you think about this.

Kennedy later estimated that there was a 33%, or a one in three, chance of nuclear war breaking out at that moment. Rusk believed the odds were much lower. Either way, it was close. The presence of nuclear weapons in Cuba was intolerable. Fidel Castro could not have been trusted to not use them. The Soviets didn’t like our missiles in Turkey, a country just in their backyard. We compromised, mutually agreed to remove our missiles from both sites, and total annihilation was averted. Whew.

But we should not forget the impact of the Cuban Missile Crisis on the thinking of McNamara and Lyndon Johnson, who would later become president after Kennedy’s assassination. If the Domino Theory were to actually happen and all of East Asia were to fall to the Communist bloc, who is to say all of Asia wouldn’t become nuclear? Who is to say mass slaughter like what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime wouldn’t become the norm? No one could know for sure.

Let’s now wind the clock ahead forty years and think about 9/11 and the “War on Terror.” Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the catastrophic 9/11 that never happened. Political analysts have said that our country has changed its opinion on national defense and foreign policy ever since the Sept. 11 attacks. That might be true to some extent. Bush administration officials have defended their questionable practices of torture, invading two Middle Eastern countries, and domestic spying that these measures are necessary to protect our country from our enemies. Similar measures were done in the 1960s and 70s (and during World War II, the so-called “Good War”) under similar justifications.

I am in no way excusing Bush and his team for approving of torture, the horrors at Guantanamo Bay, and invading Iraq. These were decisions that were motivated by anger, greed, revenge, and pride. But then again, we said the same about Nixon when he increased bombing campaigns over North Vietnam and Cambodia. We said this when President Johnson increased our troop presence in a war that was “unwinnable.” Times might change, but mistakes do not.

But this is all easy to say in hindsight. They say hindsight is 20/20 because we know the outcomes and can accurately judge the wisdom of our decisions. But let us consider the fact that we were this close to total destruction in October 1962. Let us consider that from the comfort of our armchairs in the safety of our living rooms, politics and history seem like a piece of cake. Decisions are simple. Don’t escalate the Vietnam War. Don’t bomb Cambodia. Don’t support Saddam Hussein in his fight against Iran. Don’t approve of the Patriot Act. Don’t allow U.S. interrogators to use waterboarding to get information out of terror suspects. These decisions might seem easy and very straightforward 40 years after the fact, but they did not at the moment.

Robert S. McNamara came from a business background, as he was in charge of the Ford Motor Company before becoming Secretary of Defense. In his world, he was a number cruncher. His world was based on facts, figures, theories, and already proven models of success. That is how the business world operates. In foreign policy, there are also rules. We had just defeated fascism in Europe and the Pacific and were now moving on to defeat the Soviet empire. If it worked before, why can’t it work again?

That is why McNamara thought sending hundreds of thousands of more troops to Vietnam would win the war. That is how we defeated Hitler. The D-Day invasion was a large ground assault that aimed at pushing back our enemies till they gave up. Nixon thought bombing the Viet Cong would force them to surrender. That much ridiculed strategy made sense in Japan, when heavy bombing campaigns, ending in the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, broke their will to fight and made them accept unconditional surrender. Nixon and Johnson thought if it worked in the 1940s, why couldn’t it work in the 1960s?

Bush might have thought the same when he invaded Iraq in 2003. He probably figured it would be a short war and that military occupation wouldn’t be such a big deal. We occupied West Germany and Japan after WWII and look at where they are now. They are now first world democracies. Iraq could have a similar future if they would just get their act together.

President Obama is being criticized by his own supporters of not doing enough to reverse Bush-era policies relating to anti-terrorism. Instead of drawing back our forces in the Middle East, he is increasing them by sending 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The scheduled June 30 pullout of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities was a timetable agreed to by Bush, not Obama. Had McCain won the election, that pullout would have still happened.

Obama has not been the anti-war president that many of his peace loving liberal supporters have hoped for. He will completely withdraw from Iraq on the Iraqi government’s terms, not his own. He will increase our troop strength in Afghanistan, a country that is becoming very weary of our continued presence there. Meanwhile, back at home, people are getting tired of war. We voted for Obama to change things, not for them to remain the same. I suppose that’s how politics work. They make promises, and they later break them.

But Obama isn’t completely breaking his lofty campaign promises. He is shutting down Guantanamo Bay, but it’s moving a lot slower than some people expected. He promised to shut down military tribunals of terrorist suspects, but he has recently re-approved of them. What does this all mean? Simply put, the world is a lot simpler from the campaign trail. Once you get to the White House, read those daily memos, listen to important people in the Joint Chiefs, Pentagon, CIA, and State Department, the world becomes a little more complex. Just ask Kennedy, or McNamara, or even Bill Clinton.

Our current president is realizing that the world is a little more difficult to handle than he had previously thought. He criticized Bush for making bad decisions that further endangered the American people, but now he realizes that you can’t solve the world’s problems with a push of a button. You have to make tough decisions. Even decisions that are unpopular.

I am not saying that Bush did the right thing to protect us from further terrorist attacks. I am not saying that Robert S. McNamara shouldn’t be critiqued for getting us involved in Vietnam when we had no business of being there. Nor am I saying that Henry Kissinger’s “Realpolitik” Cold War strategy was a good idea. Killing others to save others is never that easy of a concept. We should never consider a war to be our only option to solve our problems. We should be more pragmatic in our approach and realize that our actions do have consequences, despite what we may think at the time.

But, regardless, we should not stick our nose at them and believe we wouldn’t make the same choices if we were in their position. If you had a 50-50 chance of destroying your country and other people’s countries, if falling dominoes were more of a reality than a theory, if your country were just attacked by 19 hijackers, your perspective would change. You wouldn’t look at the world the same way. If you had the weight of the world on your shoulders, those so-called “easy decisions” to do the right thing suddenly becomes much more difficult.

This is not to say that people cannot make the right choice. What one can say is that we should be careful to play the accusatory card before really understanding the circumstances behind the decisions made by important people. We should judge their actions, but we should do it in a spirit of humility, perceptiveness, and intelligence. Without that, we become full of “retrospective snobbery,” where we feel free to condemn the sins of the past before thinking about whether we would truly have done things differently.

We may never get the chance to start a war, but we can certainly talk about what we would do if we could. But we should do this remembering that all actions, both horrible and honorable, are a product of its time. And those of us with the gift of knowing how the future unfolds should always keep in mind that years from now, maybe after we’re dead, our actions will be judged by later generations. If we weren’t too kind to our predecessors, who is to say ours will be kind to us?

America’s “War on Terror” Should Not Be Seen as Another World War II

June 7, 2009
D-Day, June 6, 1944: The day the Allies commenced the campaign to liberate Europe.

D-Day, June 6, 1944: The day the Allies commenced the campaign to liberate Europe.

As the memory of World War II starts to fade away and even the realities of the Cold War start to become stuff for history books, it is easy to forget, in our present realities of terrorism, that there once was a time when war was an easier concept to understand.

This is not to say that war is ever absent of moral or political ambiguities. Even World War II saw atrocities committed by the Allies, if the firebombing of Dresden, Germany is any indication. But the political realities of the Second World War makes our current “War on Terror” seem more like a game of chess than tic-tac-toe.

America’s war against al Qaeda and the Taliban is full of messy complications where elements of culture, politics, religion, economics, and history make things not as simple as the “good guys versus the bad guys.” As people everywhere across the world pay tribute to the veterans of D-Day, that fateful day on June 6, 1944 when the Allies stormed the beaches of France to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation, it is a grim reminder that we still are not ready to live in a world without war.

World War II offered us a relatively simple situation where three fascist governments in German, Japan, and Italy (Spain was also fascist under Francisco Franco’s regime, but they remained largely neutral during the conflict) went on a militaristic and imperialistic crusade against their neighbors and “enemies.” These conflicts were largely limited to nationalistic boundaries as it was a nation versus nation struggle, not culture versus culture.

The Allies were a coalition of nations who opposed this form of right-winged militarism and decided to take military action to stop it in their tracks. Their mission was to simply liberate the occupied territories and battle the opposing forces till their respective governments surrendered. The war ended when the German, Japanese, and Italian governments unconditionally surrendered to the Allies and agreed to end all military action immediately. This day, known as VE-Day (for Victory in Europe Day), was on May 8, 1945 and officially ended the reign of terror of Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich.

But today, America’s enemies will not go down that easily. Today fundamentalist terrorism is a threat much more complicated than fascism of the 1930s. That was a war against an enemy drawn from traditional national borders. They followed orders from a government and a definitive leader. Once that government surrendered, the people who followed it did likewise. In the Second World War, we fought against soldiers from a military. Terrorists today are not soldiers trained to fight a traditional war. They are hired thugs who are brainwashed by a hateful quasi-religious system of indoctrination. Very different from Nazism.

Which is not to say that terrorism cannot be defeated. Indeed, President Obama is confident that sending 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan will help stamp out the Taliban insurgency once and for all. He is right in wanting to increase the Afghan people’s confidence in the corrupt and at times incompetent government. There cannot be stability without security. Our “surge” in that country will attempt to bring about that security.

This is the reason why the Allies were the true “liberators” in the sense that George W. Bush foolishly believed we would be seen as in Iraq. He often compared Saddam Hussein to Adolph Hitler and his chemical attack against Shi’ite Iraqis to the Holocaust. It is true that Saddam Hussein was a murderous dictator. No one can deny that. But was he a Hitler? Not by a long shot. Hitler went on a militaristic crusade around the European continent. Saddam started a war against Iran in the 1980s and attempted to invade Kuwait in the early 90s. Hardly the same, wouldn’t you say?

The hard lessons of the Vietnam War and our quasi-wars in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Greece, Chile, Nicaragua, and other parts of the world during the Cold War should serve as a reminder that the “simple” days of World War II are over. No longer will the enemy conveniently wear a military uniform. No longer will they fight like a traditional army. No longer will they even be governments. Terrorist groups today prove that the “enemy” can span many different countries, speak many different languages, and come from a diverse number of cultures. Al Qaeda is hardly a unified organization anymore, as if they were to begin with.

As people everywhere remember D-Day and the sacrifices our men and women in uniform made to liberate the world from tyranny, we should remember that that was a different time and a different place. A war in Europe and the Pacific will be significantly different than a war in the Middle East, Africa, or Latin America. Presidents, Prime Ministers, and monarchs need to stop comparing today’s “War on Terror” to World War II. That was then, this is now. Wars are like snowflakes: no two are ever alike.

But this returns to my original point. Is war ever easy to understand? The concept of putting on a uniform, carrying a gun, and shooting at people that your government tells you to is never easy to wrap your mind around. The world is not a simple black and white place to live. There exists plenty of ambiguity that makes living difficult. Living through the realities of war is one of those things that we may never understand.

But the GI-Joe days of war is over. There are no crystal clear good guys and bad guys anymore. As tragic events like the My Lai massacre or the Haditha killings in Iraq prove, the “villains” can belong to your own team. As the recent skirmishes with those Somali pirates prove, the “bad guys” can be just a group of aimless youngsters who will do anything to make a living. Somalia has never been without civil war in my lifetime. It is no wonder why those pirates are comprised of men my age and younger.

Presidents Bush and Obama have been criticized that increasing the American military presence in the Middle East will only further radicalize young Muslim men and encourage them to pick up an AK-47 and choose violence instead of peace. Seeing innocent Palestinian casualties on the evening news following an Israeli bombardment certainly doesn’t help bring an end to that conflict anytime soon. In today’s culture wars, sending troops into harm’s way can do more damage than good.

President Obama recently visited Egypt to speak to the “Muslim world” about his desire to restart America’s relationship with Islam. The strains caused by the Bush policies should be erased and a new friendship based on mutual respect should begin to develop. Obama is right in wanting to ameliorate our relationship with the Muslim world. That is the first step toward achieving long-lasting peace.

However, ironically, increasing our military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan can actually do the opposite and make matters worse. One can only wait and see.

This proves one thing: that war in the 21st century will not be a clean and easy endeavor. There will be cultural, social, economic, and technological factors that the “Greatest Generation” of the 1930s and 40s could never have dreamed of. This is one reason why honest and open dialogue with our “enemies” is crucial to ending future conflict. Picking up an M16 and shooting has been, unfortunately, counterproductive.

As time passes and the memory of the Great World War II fades into the history books, people are mourning that more WWII veterans are passing away every year. Pretty soon there will be no one left who remembers that fateful day when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy and ended one of the greatest threats to world peace in human history. But with that passing of an era, there is also another passing. That is the passing of a time when war was simply defined as “us versus the bad guys.” No longer will war be that straightforward.

As we move further into the 21st century and the rise of Islam, China, India, and globalization begins to challenge Euro-American dominance, we should remember that human conflict should never be reduced to terms that a child would understand. “Good guys” and “bad guys” dehumanizes the other side and makes us more likely to commit atrocities that we would never have done otherwise. We should remember that we are all people who depend on each other for survival. In today’s world of globalization, the “bad guys” are more likely to live right next door to you than on the other side of the world. Just remember that you can one day become a villain to someone yourself.

Try to wrap your mind around that.