John F. Kennedy’s Vision of Peace – 1


On the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, his nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., recalled the fallen president’s attempts to halt the war machine, describing President John F. Kennedy’s aspiration for a peaceful, demilitarized foreign policy as ‘the forbidden­ debate of the modern political era’. He opened:

‘On November 22nd, 1963, my uncle, president John F. Kennedy, went to Dallas intending to condemn as “nonsense” the right-wing notion that “peace is a sign of weakness.” He meant to argue that the best way to demonstrate American strength was not by using destructive weapons and threats but by being a nation that “practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice,” striving toward peace instead of “aggressive ambitions.”  ‘

However, James W. Douglass argued in his book ‘JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters’, that JFK’s presidency was to be a continuous struggle with his own military and intelligence agencies, which engaged in incessant schemes to trap him into escalating the Cold War into a hot one.

A Cuban invasion? The first major confrontation with the Pentagon, only three months into his presidency:

‘JFK’s predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had finalized support on March 17th, 1960, for a Cuban invasion by anti-Castro insurgents, but the wily general left its execution to the incoming Kennedy team. From the start, JFK recoiled . . . as CIA Director Allen Dulles has acknowledged, demanding assurances from CIA and Pentagon brass that there was no chance of failure and that there would be no need for U.S. military involvement. Dulles and the generals knowingly lied and gave him those guarantees.

‘When the invasion failed, JFK refused to order airstrikes against Castro. Realizing he had been drawn into a trap, he told his top aides, David Powers and Kenneth O’Donnell, “They were sure I’d give in to them and send the go-ahead order to the [U.S. Navy aircraft carrier] Essex. They couldn’t believe that a new president like me wouldn’t panic and try to save his own face. Well, they had me figured all wrong.’

Robert Kennedy continues: ‘JFK was realizing that the CIA posed a monumental threat to American democracy. As the brigade faltered, he told Arthur Schlesinger that he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” ‘


Resisting pressure for military intervention in in Laos against the communist Pathet Lao guerrillas, JFK signed a neutrality agreement the following year and was joined by 13 nations, including the Soviet Union.

Russia: secret correspondence

About six months into his administration, JFK went to Vienna to meet Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev hoping to begin a process of détente and mutual nuclear disarmament but was rebuffed. Later, however, Khrushchev opened a secret correspondence with JFK by expressing regret and embracing JFK’s proposal for a path to peace and disarmament.

tanks checkpoint charlie

When Gen. Clay made an unauthorized armed threat to knock down the Berlin Wall seeking to provoke the Soviets, the Kremlin responded with its own tanks, meeting at Checkpoint Charlie. General Robert F. Kennedy relayed JFK’s promise that if Khrushchev withdrew his tanks within 24 hours, the U.S. would pull back 20 minutes later. Khrushchev took the risk, and JFK kept his word. Khrushchev sent a second letter to JFK: “I have no ground to retreat further, there is a precipice behind [me].” Kennedy realized that Khrushchev, too, was surrounded by a powerful military and intelligence complex intent on going to war.

One year later Kennedy saw aerial photographs proving that the Soviets had installed nuclear missiles in Cuba capable of reaching much of the eastern U.S. seaboard. the Pentagon, the CIA and many of JFK’s advisers urged airstrikes and a U.S. invasion of the island but JFK opted for a blockade, which Soviet ships respected.

Soviet forces then shot down a U.S. reconnaissance plane, killing its pilot, and the ‘top brass’ demanded retaliation by destroying the Soviet missile sites; two days later Robert Kennedy and Ted Sorensen wrote pledging that the U.S. would not invade Cuba and this persuaded the Kremlin to back down.

Khrushchev said afterward that Kennedy had won his “deep respect” during the crisis: “He didn’t let himself become frightened, nor did he become reckless. He showed real wisdom and statesmanship when he turned his back on the right-wing forces in the United States who were trying to goad him into taking military action against Cuba.”


JFK and advisers

JFK and advisers

JFK was wary of the conflict from the outset and determined to end U.S. involvement at the time of his death. In his first months in office, the Pentagon asked him to deploy ground troops into Vietnam but he agreed only to send another 500 advisers, under the assumption that South Vietnam had a large army and would be able to defend itself against communist aggression.

J.K. Galbraith

J.K. Galbraith

When Vice President Lyndon Johnson visited Vietnam in May 1961, he returned adamant that victory required U.S. combat troops. Virtually every one of JFK’s senior staff concurred. Yet JFK resisted. Saigon, he said, would have to fight its own war. As a stalling tactic, John Kennedy sent Gen. Taylor to Vietnam on a fact-finding mission in September 1961, Taylor would say, “I don’t recall anyone who was strongly against [sending troops to Vietnam] except one man, and that was the president.” Frustrated by Taylor’s report, JFK then sent a confirmed pacifist, John Kenneth Galbraith, to Vietnam to make the case for nonintervention.

Senator Barry Goldwater was campaigning for the presidency against Kennedy on the platform of “bombing Vietnam back into the Stone Age”.

In the spring of 1962, JFK told McNamara to order the Joint Chiefs to begin planning for a phased withdrawal. In September1963, in a televised interview, JFK told the American people he didn’t want to get drawn into Vietnam. “In the final analysis, it is their war,” he said. “They are the ones who have to win or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment. We can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it, the people of Vietnam.”

On November 24th, 1963, two days after JFK died, Lyndon Johnson met with South Vietnam Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, whom JFK had been on the verge of firing. LBJ told Lodge, “I am not going to lose Vietnam. I am not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.” Over the next decade, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam.

Read the full text here:


John F. Kennedy’s Vision of Peace – 2: nuclear disarmament


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