Category Archives: Erosion of civil liberties

What revolution could look like

In his latest book, Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (2015), Chris Hedges urges us to rebel against the corporate imperial system killing us and our earth-home to profit a small elite. Seeing us beginning to fall off the proverbial cliff, he says “we’ll have to make hard decisions about how to ensure our own survival and yet remain moral beings. We’ll be called upon to fight battles, some of which we’ll have no hope of winning, if only to keep alive the possibility of compassion and justice. We’ll depend on others to survive…The greatest existential crisis we face is to accept what lies before us – for the effects of climate change and financial instability are now inevitable – and find the resilience to fight back. When the unraveling begins, it will be global…any sanctuary will be temporary.”

Hedges and others he quotes, including E.M. Forster, William Faulkner, and Edward Said, see Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick as a metaphor for the hubris and ultimate destruction of Western “civilization,” in particular, American corporate culture, now fighting a losing battle with nature. “Like Ahab and his crew,” Hedges says, “we rationalize our collective madness, bowing slavishly before the enticing illusion provided by our masters of limitless power, wealth, and technological progress…To emotionally accept the impending disaster, to attain the visceral understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality.” Mutiny, “the only salvation for the Pequod’s crew,” will be “our only salvation.”

We must be strictly nonviolent, however, according to Hedges, seeking to transform rather than destroy, and creating above all “a radical shift in consciousness…making citizens aware of the mechanisms of power” and “drawing larger and larger numbers of people into acts of civil disobedience.” Hedges believes, rather naively in my opinion, that nonviolent acts of civil disobedience could lead to the “conversion” of our “oppressors.” The revolutionaries will be debtors, the unemployed, and service workers in the developed world and workers in Asia and the global south. “No one knows where or when the eruption will take place,” or “what form it will take. But a popular revolt is coming.

If a nonviolent popular movement is able to ideologically disarm the bureaucrats, civil servants, and police – to get them to defect – nonviolent revolution is possible. But if the state organizes effective and prolonged violence against dissent, it can spawn reactive revolutionary violence, what the state calls ‘terrorism,’” creating nihilistic chaos and/or empowering ruthless, Lenin- and Stalin- (or Hitler-like) “revolutionaries.”

Hedges’ nonviolent creed extends to the protection of private property, because destruction of such property wouldn’t be “living in truth…A resistance movement’s most powerful asset,” he says, “is that it articulates a fundamental truth. As this truth is understood by the mainstream – ‘the 99%’ – it gathers a force that jeopardizes the credibility of ruling elites…if a mass movement is to retain its hold on the majority, it has to fight within self-imposed limitations of nonviolence.” But how can we expect 99% of the population to understand and support every important revolutionary idea? Like, for example, the idea that certain things, like most land, cannot and should not be “owned” by private individuals or corporations. And what if you want to protest some destructive technology by damaging the equipment used to effect it – monkeywrenching à la Edward Abbey? I’m also personally and theoretically, against the idea of offering oneself up for arrest and imprisonment by an illegitimate government. Edward Snowden, one of the greatest heroes of recent time, hasn’t done that, and I won’t either – especially after reading, a chapter later, Hedges’ litany of the tortuous abuses to which US prisoners can be (and are) subjected. Hedges invokes the values of accountability and transparency in his brief for strict nonviolence, but there are other conflicting needs and values that may be as or more important – like the right to resist and the right of self-defense. It seems to me that a variety of tactics by different groups is the answer.

“We are not a people with a revolutionary or insurrectionary tradition,” Hedges writes. “The War of Independence, while it borrowed the rhetoric of revolution, replaced a foreign oligarchy with a native, slave-owning oligarchy. The founding fathers were conservative. The primacy of private property, especially slaves, was paramount to the nation’s founders,” who went on to design a government meant to “thwart the popular will…The few armed rebellions, such as the 1786 and 1787 Shay’s Rebellion and the 1921 armed uprising [of miners] at Blair Mountain, were swiftly and brutally put down by a combination of armed vigilante groups and government troops.” These uprisings expressed local grievances that could have been made more general, but “the universal, radical ideologies and utopian visions that sparked revolutions in Russia and Germany after World War I are alien to our intellectual tradition. ‘Most American violence,’” as Richard Hofstadter observes in American Violence (2012), “‘has been initiated with a conservative bias…unleashed against abolitionists, Catholics, radicals, workers and labor organizers, Negroes, Orientals, and other ethnic or racial or ideological minorities.’” For this reason, Hedges believes, we’ll “have to form a new language, articulating our reality through the ideas of socialism rather than capitalism in an age of diminishing resources.” Turn to socialism only for practical reasons? That not only seems ideologically weak; it ignores the fact that words like “socialism” and “anarchism” are tainted in this country, and will have to be reclaimed. There is also the danger, as Hedges points out, of Nazi-like movements and the scapegoating of minority groups that we’re seeing already (Muslims, “illegal” immigrants, women who want control over their bodies).

Hedges concludes his book with a chapter on the “sublime madness” he believes is necessary to devote oneself to expressing the truth as one sees/feels it, whether in art or other revolutionary action. Unconcerned about “the possibility of success,” he says, “we must refuse to allow our reality to paralyze us;” we must fight for life. Fight – not meekly go to jail, opening oneself to whatever fate this illegitimate, death-dealing system may choose to mete out to us.
















Who killed JFK?

Two days ago we remembered President John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. In honor of that milestone and of the man I began admiring in 1960 at the age of 16, I bring you yet another article from the Rolling Stone. This one’s by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., detailing his uncle’s vision of world peace and how the US military and CIA opposed it. Kennedy doesn’t say — and maybe doesn’t even believe — that this is what got JFK killed, but I will.

Along with the majority of Americans, I reject the official version of this critical event. Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t kill President Kennedy — he was a left-wing radical patsy, murdered himself  two days after the assassination so as to preserve the lie. The real assassin or assassins were put in place by the powers-that-were (and still are) behind the scenes, with CIA leadership or involvement probable. The later assassinations of Robert Kennedy, who would have been elected president in 1968 instead of Richard Nixon, and Martin Luther King, Jr., two months earlier, were part of the same pattern. King, campaigning for radical changes in the capitalist and imperialist systems at the time of his death, was a major threat to the established order. Now we know how any real threat to that order will be dealt with. Figures with less authority — like Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, advocate of campaign finance reform and opponent of the Iraq War — have met the same fate: Wellstone died in a suspicious plane crash in 2002 on the eve of his reelection. Everybody now knows the limits.

In case you’re wondering, the answer is “Yes;” I also believe that the Bush administration, specifically Vice President Dick Cheney, allowed the 9-11 attacks to occur in 2001 in order to facilitate the Iraq War for increasingly precious oil, as well as the reduction of civil liberties in the so-called “Patriot” Act. Some day I’ll put my book notes on these conspiracies up on the site, but for now — here’s RFK Jr.’s article (also available at

The speech JFK was going to deliver in Dallas indicates that, even though he was bucking the national security establishment to a degree it evidently found intolerable, he was still very much in the mainstream. The text, available online, shows that, by no means a pacifist, he planned to emphasize the US lead in nuclear weapons, space, and military force. He also, however, was trying to make the point that things like education and securing equal rights for all US citizens were equally important to the nation’s security.

John F. Kennedy’s Vision of Peace by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Rolling Stone, 11-20-13

On the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, his nephew recalls the fallen president’s attempts to halt the war machine.

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.” Despite the Cold War rhetoric of his campaign, JFK’s greatest ambition as president was to break the militaristic ideology that has dominated our country since World War II. He told his close friend Ben Bradlee that he wanted the epitaph “He kept the peace,” and said to another friend, William Walton, “I am almost a ‘peace at any price’ president.” Hugh Sidey, a journalist and friend, wrote that the governing aspect of JFK’s leadership was “a total revulsion” of war. Nevertheless, as James W. Douglass argues in his book JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, JFK’s presidency would 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. His first major confrontation with the Pentagon, the Bay of Pigs catastrophe, came only three months into his presidency and would set the course for the next 1,000 days.

JFK’s predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had finalized support on March 17, 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 at the caper’s stench, 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.” 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.”

The next confrontation with the defense and intelligence establishments had already begun as JFK resisted pressure from Eisenhower, the Joint Chiefs and the CIA to prop up the CIA’s puppet government in Laos against the communist Pathet Lao guerrillas. The military wanted 140,000 ground troops, with some officials advocating for nuclear weapons. “If it hadn’t been for Cuba,” JFK told Schlesinger, “we might be about to intervene in Laos. I might have taken this advice seriously.” JFK instead signed a neutrality agreement the following year and was joined by 13 nations, including the Soviet Union.

His own instincts against intervening with American combat forces in Laos were fortified that April by the judgment of retired Gen. Douglas MacArthur, America’s undisputed authority on fighting wars in Asia. Referring to Dulles’ mischief in southeast Asia during the Eisenhower years, MacArthur told JFK, “The chickens are coming home to roost, and [you] live in the chicken coop.” MacArthur added a warning that ought to still resonate today: “Anyone wanting to commit American ground forces to the mainland of Asia should have his head examined.”

About six months into his administration, JFK went to Vienna to meet Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev with high hopes of beginning a process of détente and mutual nuclear disarmament. Khrushchev met his proposals with bombast and truculent indifference. The Joint Chiefs and the CIA, which had fulminated about JFK’s notion of negotiating with the Soviets, were relieved by the summit’s failure. Six weeks later, military and intelligence leaders unveiled their proposal for a pre-emptive thermonuclear attack on the Soviet Union, to be launched sometime in late 1963. JFK stormed away from the meeting in disgust, remarking scathingly to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, “And we call ourselves the human race.”

As JFK’s relationship with his military-intelligence apparatus deteriorated, a remarkable relationship with Khrushchev began. Both were battle-hardened war veterans seeking a path to rapprochement and disarmament, encircled by militarists clamoring for war. In Kennedy’s case, both the Pentagon and the CIA believed war with the Soviets was inevitable and therefore desirable in the short term while we still had the nuclear advantage. In the autumn of 1961, as retired Gen. Lucius Clay, who had taken a civilian post in Berlin, launched a series of unauthorized provocations against the Soviets, Khrushchev began an extraordinary secret correspondence with JFK. With the Berlin crisis moving toward nuclear Armageddon, Khrushchev asked KGB agent Georgi Bolshakov, a top Soviet spy in Washington, to communicate directly with JFK. Bolshakov, to the horror of the U.S. State Department, was a friend of my parents and a frequent guest at our home. Bolshakov smuggled a letter, the first of 21 declassified in 1993, to JFK’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger, in a folded newspaper. In it, Khrushchev expressed regret about Vienna and embraced JFK’s proposal for a path to peace and disarmament.

On October 27th, Gen. Clay made an unauthorized threat to knock down the Berlin Wall using tanks equipped with dozer plows, seeking to provoke the Soviets into some action that would justify a nuclear first strike. The Kremlin responded with its own tanks, which met Clay’s forces at the border crossing known as Checkpoint Charlie. A 16-hour face-off ensued. Through my father, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and Bolshakov, JFK promised 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. Two weeks later, with tensions still running high, 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. After the confrontation, Gen. Clay railed against JFK’s unwillingness to “face the risk of nuclear war” against the Soviets.

One year later, on October 16th, 1962, 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 next 13 days were the most perilous in mankind’s history. From the outset, the Pentagon, the CIA, and many of JFK’s advisers urged airstrikes and a U.S. invasion of the island that, as a Soviet military commander later revealed, would have triggered a nuclear war with the Soviets. JFK opted for a blockade, which Soviet ships respected. By October 26th, the standoff was de-escalating. On October 27th, it reignited when Soviet forces shot down a U.S. reconnaissance plane, and the brass demanded overwhelming retaliation. Castro was also pushing the Kremlin military machine toward a devastating first strike. In a secret meeting with Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, my father told him, “If the situation continues much longer, the president is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power.” That night, many people in our government went to sleep wondering if they would wake up dead.

On Monday, October 29th, the world moved back from the brink. An artfully drafted letter my father wrote with Ted Sorensen pledging that the U.S. would not invade Cuba – plus JFK’s secret agreement with Khrushchev to withdraw obsolete Jupiter missiles from Turkey – persuaded the Kremlin to back down.

My father was not exaggerating to Dobrynin the fragility of White House control over the military. During the 13 days, the president’s hold on power became increasingly tenuous as spooks and generals, apoplectic at JFK’s reluctance to attack Cuba, engaged in dozens of acts of insubordination designed to trigger a nuclear exchange. CIA spymaster William Harvey screamed at the president and my father during a White House meeting: “We wouldn’t be in such trouble now if you guys had some balls in the Bay of Pigs.” Defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who years later leaked the Pentagon Papers, reported, “There was virtually a coup atmosphere in Pentagon circles.” Incensed brass were in a state of disbelief at what they considered treason by the president. Spoiling for a war to end all wars, Gen. Curtis LeMay, the man who pioneered the use of napalm against civilians in Tokyo during World War II, found consolation by allowing himself to believe all was not lost. “Why don’t we go in there and make a strike on Monday anyway?” he said.

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.”

Today it’s fashionable to view the quagmire of Vietnam as a continuum beginning under Eisenhower and steadily escalating through the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations. But JFK was wary of the conflict from the outset and determined to end U.S. involvement at the time of his death.

When Eisenhower left office, there were 685 military advisers in Vietnam, sent there to help the government of President Ngo Dinh Diem in its battle against the South Vietnamese guerrillas known as the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese soldiers deployed by Communist ruler Ho Chi Minh, who was intent on reunifying his country. Ho Chi Minh’s popularity in the south had already led Dulles’ CIA to sabotage national elections required by the Geneva Accords, which had ended France’s colonial rule, and to prop up Diem’s crooked puppet government, which was tenuously hanging on to power. At home, Republican militarists were charging JFK with “losing Laos” and badgering him to ramp up our military commitment.

In JFK’s first months in office, the Pentagon asked him to deploy ground troops in Vietnam. He agreed to send another 500 advisers, and eventually committed 16,500 of them, technically forbidden from engaging in combat missions. He told New York Times columnist Arthur Krock in 1961 that the United States should not involve itself “in civil disturbances created by guerrillas.”

For three years, the refusal to send combat troops earned JFK the antipathy of both liberals and conservatives who rebuked him for “throwing in the towel” in the Cold War. His critics included not just the traditionally bellicose Joint Chiefs and the CIA, but also trusted advisers and friends, including Gen. Maxwell Taylor; Defense Secretary Robert McNamara; McNamara’s deputy, Roswell Gilpatric; and Secretary of State Rusk. 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 the president resisted, saying Saigon would have to fight its own war.

As a stalling tactic, he sent Gen. Taylor to Vietnam on a fact-finding mission in September 1961. Taylor was among my father’s best friends. JFK was frank with Taylor – he needed a military man to advise him to get out of Vietnam. But Taylor, persuaded by military and intelligence “experts,” came back recommending U.S. intervention. To prevent the fall of South Vietnam, Taylor suggested sending 8,000 U.S. troops under the guise of “flood relief” – a number that McNamara said was a reasonable start but should be escalated to as many as “six divisions, or about 205,000 men.” Later, 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. JFK confided his political weakness to Galbraith. “You have to realize,” he said, “that I can only afford so many defeats in one year.” He had the Bay of Pigs and the pulling out of Laos. He couldn’t accept a third. Former Vice President Richard Nixon and the CIA’s Dulles, whom JFK had fired, were loudly advocating U.S. military intervention in Vietnam. The New York Times agreed, warning that “the present situation is one that brooks no further stalling.” Public sympathies in the summer of 1963 were also 2-to-1 for intervention.

JFK told Schlesinger. “They say it’s necessary in order to restore confidence and maintain morale. But it will be just like Berlin. The troops will march in, the bands will play, the crowds will cheer, and in four days everyone will have forgotten. Then we’ll be told we have to send more troops. It’s like taking a drink. The effect wears off and you have to have another.”

In 1967 Daniel Ellsberg, a wavering war hawk and Marine veteran researching the history of the Vietnam War, interviewed my father. He asked how JFK had managed to stand against the virtually unanimous tide of pro-war sentiment. My father explained that his brother didn’t want to follow France into a war of rich against poor, white against Asian, on the side of imperialism and colonialism against nationalism and self-determination. Pressing my father, Ellsberg asked whether the president would have accepted a South Vietnamese defeat. “We would have handled it like Laos,” my father told him. Intrigued, Ellsberg pressed further. “What made him so smart?” Three decades afterward, Ellsberg would vividly recall my father’s reaction: “Whap! His hand slapped down on the desk. I jumped in my chair. ‘Because we were there!’ He slapped the desk again. ‘We saw what was happening to the French. We saw it. We were determined never to let that happen to us.'”

In 1951, JFK, then a young congressman, and my father visited Vietnam, where they marveled at the fearlessness of the French Legionnaires and the hopelessness of their cause. On that trip, American diplomat Edmund Gullion warned JFK to avoid a similar trap. Upon returning, JFK isolated himself with his outspoken opposition to American involvement in this “hopeless internecine struggle.”

Three years later, in April 1954, he made himself a pariah within his own party by condemning the Eisenhower administration for entertaining French requests for assistance in Indochina, predicting that fighting Ho Chi Minh would mire the U.S. in France’s doomed colonial legacy. “No amount of American military assistance in Indochina can conquer an enemy that is everywhere and at the same time nowhere . . . [or an enemy] which has the sympathy and covert support of the people.”

By the summer of 1963, JFK was quietly telling trusted friends and advisers he intended to get out of Vietnam following the 1964 election. These included Rep. Tip O’Neill, McNamara, National Security adviser McGeorge Bundy, Sen. Wayne Morse, Washington columnist Charles Bartlett, Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson, Gen. Taylor, and Marine Commandant Gen. David M. Shoup, who, besides Taylor, was the only other member of the Joint Chiefs JFK trusted. Both McNamara and Bundy acknowledged this in their respective memoirs.

That spring, JFK had told Montana Sen. Mike Mansfield, who would become the Vietnam War’s most outspoken Senate critic, “I can’t do it until 1965, after I’m re-elected.” Later that day, he explained to Kenneth O’Donnell, “If I tried to pull out completely from Vietnam, we’d have another Joe McCarthy Red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m re-elected.” Both Nelson Rockefeller and Sen. Barry Goldwater, who were vying to run against him in 1964, were uncompromising Cold Warriors who would have loved to tar JFK with the brush that he had lost not just Laos, but now Vietnam. Goldwater was campaigning on the platform of “bombing Vietnam back into the Stone Age.”

The Joint Chiefs, already in open revolt against JFK for failing to unleash the dogs of war in Cuba and Laos, were unanimous in urging a massive influx of ground troops and were incensed with talk of withdrawal. The mood at CIA headquarters was even uglier. Journalist Richard Starnes, filing from Vietnam, gave a stark assessment in the Washington Daily News of the CIA’s unrestrained thirst for power in Vietnam, quoting high-level U.S. officials horrified by the its role in escalating the conflict. They described an insubordinate, out-of-control agency, which one top official called a “malignancy,” doubting that the White House “could control it any longer.” Another warned, “If the United States ever experiences a [coup], it will come from the CIA and not from the Pentagon.”

Defying such pressures, JFK, in the spring of 1962, told McNamara to order the Joint Chiefs to begin planning for a phased withdrawal. On May 8, 1962, following JFK’s orders, McNamara instructed a stunned Gen. Paul Harkins “to devise a plan for bringing full responsibility [for the Vietnam War] to South Vietnam.” The general ignored the order until July 23, 1962, when McNamara again commanded him to produce a plan for withdrawal. The brass returned May 6, 1963, with a half-baked proposal that didn’t complete withdrawal as quickly as JFK had wanted. McNamara ordered them back yet again.

On September 2, 1963, 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.”

Six weeks before his death, on October 11, 1963, JFK bypassed his own National Security Council and had Bundy issue National Security Action Memorandum 263, making official policy the withdrawal from Vietnam of the bulk of U.S. military personnel by the end of 1965, beginning with “1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.” On November 14, 1963, a week before Dallas, he announced at a press conference that he was ordering up a plan for “how we can bring Americans out of there.” The morning of November 21, as he prepared to leave for Texas, he reviewed a casualty list for Vietnam indicating that more than 100 Americans had died there. Shaken and angry, JFK told his assistant press secretary Malcolm Kilduff, “It’s time for us to get out. The Vietnamese aren’t fighting for themselves. We’re the ones doing the fighting. After I come back from Texas, that’s going to change. There’s no reason for us to lose another man over there. Vietnam is not worth another American life.”

On November 24, 1963, two days after JFK’s assassination, 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, nearly 3 million Americans would enter the paddies of Vietnam, and 58,000 would never return.

Former CIA director Allen Dulles, fired by JFK after the Bay of Pigs, returned to public service when LBJ appointed him to the Warren Commission, where he systematically concealed the agency’s involvement in various assassination schemes and its ties to organized crime. To a young writer, he revealed his continued resentment against JFK: “That little Kennedy . . . he thought he was a god.”

On June 10, 1963, at American University, Kennedy gave his greatest speech ever, calling for an end to the Cold War and painting the heretical vision of America living and competing peacefully with Soviet Communists. World peace, he proposed, would not be “a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” He challenged Cold War fundamentalists who cast the world as a clash of civilizations in which one side must win and the other be annihilated. He suggested instead that peaceful coexistence with the Soviets might be the most expedient path to ending totalitarianism. He also acknowledged that now, “above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either humiliating retreat or nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy – or a collective death wish.” Different ideologies could be allowed to flourish, he said, and the immoral and destructive Cold War replaced by productive competition that, instead of “devoting massive sums to weapons,” would divert them “to combat ignorance, poverty and disease.”

He concluded by proposing a blueprint for bringing the Cold War to an end. “Our primary long-range interest,” he said, was “general and complete disarmament, designed to take place by stages permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms.” He announced unilateral suspension of atmospheric nuclear weapons and proposed immediate disarmament talks with Moscow.

It’s hard to understand today how heretical JFK’s proposal for coexistence with the Soviets sounded to America’s right wing. It was Cold War boilerplate that any objective short of complete destruction was cowardice or treachery. In his bestselling 1962 diatribe Why Not Victory? Barry Goldwater proclaimed, “Our objective must be the destruction of the enemy as an ideological force. . . . Our effort calls for a basic commitment in the name of victory, which says we will never reconcile ourselves to the communist possession of power of any kind in any part of the world.”

Despite opposition to the treaty from the generals and Republican leaders, including liberals like Nelson Rockefeller, Kennedy’s words electrified a world terrified by the prospect of nuclear exchange. JFK’s recognition of the Soviet point of view had an immediate salving impact on U.S.-Soviet relations. Khrushchev, deeply moved, later told treaty negotiator Averell Harriman that the American University address was “the greatest speech by an American president since Roosevelt.”

Knowing that America’s military-industrial complex would oppose him, JFK had kept the text of his speech secret from the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department. His call for a unilateral test-ban treaty shocked his own National Security and his military and diplomatic advisers.

In the month leading up to the speech, he had secretly worked with British prime minister Harold Macmillan to arrange test-ban negotiations in Moscow. Khrushchev embraced JFK’s proposal, agreeing in principle to end nuclear testing in the atmosphere and water, and on land and in outer space, and proposed a non­aggression pact between NATO and the Soviet satellite countries of the Warsaw Pact. Kennedy supervised every detail of the negotiation, working at astounding speed to end-run his adversaries in the Pentagon. On July 25, 1963, he approved the treaty. The next day, he went on TV, telling America, “This treaty can symbolize the end of one era and the beginning of another – if both sides can, by this treaty, gain confidence and experience in peaceful collaboration.” Less than a month later, the first arms-control agreement of the nuclear age was signed. Historian Richard Reeves wrote, “By moving so swiftly on the Moscow negotiations, Kennedy politically outflanked his own military on the most important military question of the time.”

Caught off guard, the military-intelligence apparatus quickly mobilized to derail the treaty, which still needed to be ratified by the Senate. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had announced months earlier that they were “opposed to a comprehensive ban under almost any terms,” joined CIA director John McCone in lobbying against the agreement in the Senate. The Pentagon tried to sabotage its passage by hiding information about the ease of detecting underground tests.

Initially, congressional mail ran 15-1 against the treaty. JFK ordered his staff to pull out every stop to mobilize the population, saying that he was determined to get the treaty passed, even if it cost him the 1964 election. By September, a monumental grassroots White House campaign had flipped public opinion to support the treaty by 80%. On September 24, 1963, the Senate ratified the treaty 80-19. As Ted Sorensen noted, no other single accomplishment in the White House “gave the president greater satisfaction.”

On October 10th, after signing the atmospheric-test-ban treaty, Khrushchev sent JFK the last of his personal letters. In that missive, Khrushchev proposed the next steps for ending the Cold War. He recommended the conclusion of a nonaggression pact between the NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations, and a number of steps to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and prevent their use in surprise attacks. JFK would never see the letter. State Department officials hostile toward Khrushchev intercepted it.

Khrushchev had already secretly proposed to his own government radical reductions in the Soviet military, including the conversion of missile plants to peaceful purposes. After JFK’s death, Kremlin war hawks viewed Khrushchev’s plan as a treasonous proposal for unilateral disarmament. Less than a year after Dallas, Khrushchev was removed from power.

JFK, at the time of his death, was planning his own trip to the Soviet Union, knowing nothing would do more to end the Cold War. Forty years later, Khrushchev’s son Sergei wrote that he was “convinced that if history had allowed them another six years, they would have brought the Cold War to a close before the end of the 1960s. . . . But fate decreed otherwise, and the window of opportunity, barely cracked open, closed at once. In 1963 President Kennedy was killed, and a year later, in October 1964, my father was removed from power. The Cold War continued for another quarter of a century.”

JFK’s capacity to stand up to the national-security apparatus and imagine a different future for America has made him, despite his short presidency, one of the most popular presidents in history. Despite his abbreviated tenure, John F. Kennedy is the only one-term president consistently included in the list of top 10 presidents made by American historians. A 2009 poll of 65 historians ranked him sixth in overall presidential performance, just ahead of Jefferson. And today, JFK’s concerns seem more relevant than ever: the dangers of nuclear proliferation, the notion that empire is inconsistent with a republic, and that corporate domination of our democracy at home is the partner of imperial policies abroad. He understood the perils to our Constitution from a national-security state and mistrusted zealots and ideologues. He thought other nations ought to fight their own civil wars and choose their own governments and not ask the U.S. to do it for them. Yet the world he imagined and fought for has receded so far below the horizon that it’s no longer even part of the permissible narrative inside the Beltway or in the mainstream press. Critics who endeavor to debate the survival of American democracy within the national-security state risk marginalization as crackpots and kooks. His greatest, most heroic aspirations for a peaceful, demilitarized foreign policy are the forbidden debates of the modern political era.

This story is from the December 5th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

Five Broken Cameras

If you haven’t already seen the 2011 documentary film “Five Broken Cameras,” please go to Hulu, iTunes, Netflix, or the PBS/POV website asap and do so! This is an amazing film about a small village in the Occupied West Bank and a courageous Palestinian farmer who filmed demonstrations there against illegal Israeli settlements and the building of a so-called security wall that cut villagers off from their land. The story is interwoven with the story of the filmmaker’s family, especially that of his youngest son, who watches the death of a friend at Israeli hands.

Films like this can be watched for free for a limited time at, so hurry if you don’t have the other services. You can also go to the filmmaker’s website, to offer your support.

As Americans, we need to do whatever we can to oppose our country’s support of illegal Israeli policies against Palestinians. Not satisfied with having taken most of their land, the Israeli government is determined to take the rest by making life untenable in Gaza and the Occupied Territories. Not only does this take a devastating toll on the Palestinian people (who’ve suffered this way for over 65 years), but it’s tearing up a beautiful, ancient land of hills planted with olive trees. We see beautiful, probably very old olive trees being uprooted with bulldozers and burned by Israeli settlers in this film, as well as a little Palestinian boy (the filmmaker’s son, Gibreel) offering an olive branch to an Israeli soldier.

Watch it, and see for yourself.

I have a long list of other films and books on the subject that I’ll post about in the future.

Occupy enthusiasm overshadowed by new worries

As the Occupy movement shifts into a new stage, its effectiveness yet to be determined, I find myself losing a bit of my “Occupy high,” and succumbing to some of the same negative emotions about the current system that I’ve had in the past. I believe current nation-states and their governments are irrelevant to what needs to happen, and that in the long run they won’t withstand the tides of mass protest and economic stagnation caused by energy descent. But they can cause a lot of unnecessary damage and suffering in the short run.

Two things in the news have evoked the old anger and worry in me: provocative US and Israeli policies toward Iran and the legislation just signed by President Obama that allows the military to detain US citizens indefinitely for aiding the country’s “enemies.” The aggressive posture of the former and the totalitarian nature of the latter should be mind-boggling (parallels with Nazi Germany anyone?), but, for now anyway, it seems that people are just accepting both and going on with business as usual.

I hesitate to even mention the word “Israel,” because, supported by the US, it does so many awful things (particularly against the Palestinians) that I could go on all day. But for now, I’ll just address its apparent efforts to provoke a war with Iran. The good news, according to an Inter Press article by Gareth Porter and Jim Lobe posted on the Asia Times website yesterday, is that a “massive joint United States-Israeli military exercise” that looked like preparation for war with Iran has been postponed. Apparently, Israel’s actions and possible actions in the future on this score are or would be so egregious that, for once, the US feels the need to disassociate itself from them. “The exercise, called Austere Challenge 12, originally scheduled for April, was to have been a simulation of a joint US-Israeli effort to identify, track, and intercept incoming missiles by integrating sophisticated US radar systems with Israeli anti-missile defense systems. US participation in such an exercise, obviously geared to a scenario involving Iranian retaliation against an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, would have made the US Israel’s partner in any war following an Israeli attack on Iran. Obama and US military leaders apparently decided that the US couldn’t participate in such an exercise unless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured the administration that he wouldn’t attack Iran without prior approval from Washington.”

The article shows that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey pulled Obama back from all this after the president whined to him that he had “no say” in Israel’s policy.”  In November and December, US neo-conservatives aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud Party and what is sometimes called the Israel lobby engineered legislation that forced [??] on the Obama administration a unilateral sanctions law aimed at dramatically reducing Iranian crude oil exports and ‘collapsing’ its economy. The administration’s reluctant embrace of sanctions against the oil sector and Iran’s central bank led to an Iranian threat to retaliate by closing off the Strait of Hormuz, and the risk of a naval incident exploding into actual military conflict loomed large. Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak are widely believed to have hoped to provoke such conflict with a combination of aggressive sanctions, sabotaging Iranian missile and nuclear facilities, and assassinations against Iranian scientists associated with the nuclear program. Amid tensions already reaching dangerous heights, Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was assassinated in Tehran in a bombing on January 11th. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor immediately condemned the assassination and vehemently denied any US involvement in that or any other violence inside Iran.”

Israel’s Mossad (the equivalent of our CIA) has apparently assassinated other Iranian nuclear scientists prior to this, often just as negotiations on Iran’s alleged nuclear program look like they might bear peaceful fruit. The latest assassination was apparently inspired by the fact that there have been diplomatic efforts to lay the groundwork for another meeting between the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and Iran.

What else is Israel doing to provoke war? “A major investigative story published on Friday on the website quoted former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials as saying that Mossad operatives had been impersonating CIA personnel for several years in recruiting for and providing support to the Sunni terrorist organization Jundallah, which operated inside Iran.” That Israeli policy,” Porter and Lobe say, “also suggests a desire to provoke Iranian retaliation against the United States.”

In his signing of the Defense Authorization bill that includes the further elimination of our civil rights, Obama also appears to be weak and spineless, saying in his signing statements that he didn’t really wanna do it. In a recent article on Common Dreams political columnist and author Chris Hedges says he’s suing the administration over the legislation, which authorizes the military to carry out domestic policing for the first time in 200 years. Under this bill, Hedges says, “once a group is deemed to be a terrorist organization, whether it’s a Palestinian charity or an element of the Uighur independence movement, the military can pick up a U.S. citizen who supported charities associated with the group or unwittingly sent money or medical supplies to front groups” and either send them to Guantanamo or have them ‘extraordinarily renditioned’ to a country that tortures political prisoners.

Hedges says he suspects “the real purpose of the bill is to thwart internal, domestic movements [like Occupy] that threaten the corporate state. Dissent is increasingly equated with treason in this country.

The threat and reach of al-Qaeda are marginal, despite the attacks of 9/11. The terrorist group has been so disrupted and broken that it can barely function. So why, a decade after the start of the so-called war on terror, do these draconian measures need to be implemented? Why do U.S. citizens now need to be specifically singled out for military detention and denial of due process when under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force the president can apparently find the legal cover to serve as judge, jury and executioner to assassinate U.S. citizens, as he did in the killing of the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen? This law is a a huge leap forward for the corporate oligarchs who plan to continue to plunder the nation and use state and military security to cow the population into submission.”

According to Hedges, “the FBI, the CIA, the director of national intelligence, the Pentagon, and the attorney general didn’t support it. FBI Director Robert Mueller said he feared the bill would impede the bureau’s ability to investigate terrorism by making it harder to win cooperation from detainees. But it passed anyway, because the corporations, seeing the unrest in the streets, knowing that things are about to get much worse, worrying that the Occupy movement will expand, don’t trust the police to protect them. They want to be able to call in the army. And now they can.”