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Correspondence with Noam Chomsky (1989-1995),
By Michael Morrissey
23 Jan. 1993
Thanks for giving it one more try. I'll make this as short as possible, since I guess we're both tired of it.
As for the rhetoric, I'm sorry if I overdid it. I didn't mean to sneer.
I think we can simplify, and agree, finally, on the facts, although you find them uninteresting.
As for the "C-thesis"--that JFK planned to withdraw without victory--the one you wish to refute, we can drop it. I am not defending it.
The "M-thesis"--that JFK planned to withdraw on the assumption of military success--is a fact, as you say (not a "thesis"):
# It is surely true, and uncontroversial, that when McNamara, Bundy, and the other planners realized that their assumptions were false, they withdrew the plans [for withdrawal] based on those assumptions, and that LBJ followed their advice (dragging his feet all the way.
We should also be able to agree that it is equally true and uncontroversial that this change in plans--and of the assumptions--took place after the assassination. As far as I know, NSAM 263 is the last document that directly attests to JFK's plans--and assumptions--regarding the war, and there is no evidence that his plans or assumptions changed after that.
We thus have:
1. a president (JFK) who thought he was winning a war (with a total of 50 or so casualties) and could therefore end it
2. his murder
3. a new president (LBJ) who began to doubt the success of the war within days of the murder of his predecessor and reversed the withdrawal policy within days, weeks, or months (take your pick).
You take these facts, if I understand you now, as uncontroversially true, uninteresting, and--though you did not use the word--coincidental, at least until proven otherwise. Here we disagree. I am content to leave it at that.
We can also agree that the policy reversal has been treated as unimportant in Establishment propaganda (with, as you say, some exceptions) and by "historians of the war, independent of their political persuasion." You say they are right, that "they treat the withdrawal plans as without much importance, for a simple reason: they were without much importance." Here too we disagree.
I say they are behaving in full accordance with the (dominant, but not the only) propaganda model (PM 1) that dictates: "No Vietnam policy change between JFK and LBJ." As for the apparent exceptions, Hilsman and Schlesinger, I have no quarrel with your pre- and post-Tet analysis. Post-Tet, in order to accommodate the Schlesingers and Hilsmans who wish to dissociate themselves with the US defeat, PM 1 can be modified to PM 2 (though PM 1 remains dominant): "LBJ reversed JFK's policy, and JFK might have acted differently"--but God forbid that this should imply any connection with the assassination (note Schlesinger's hysterical insistence on this point).
I am referring to Arthur Schlesinger's review of JFK ("JFK: Truth and Fiction," Wall Street Journal, Jan. 10, 1992). Schlesinger reads Johnson's NSAM 273 as "reversing the Kennedy withdrawal policy." But to connect this with the assassination, as Stone and Garrison do, is "reckless, paranoid, really despicable fantasy."
PM 2 will be extended in due time to PM 3--that powerful, but "renegade," elements in the CIA and elsewhere were behind the assassination. Eventually, the passage of time will allow the arrival of PM 4, which will be a version of the coup d'état theory (which now has the status of a paranoid pipe dream), with the difference that by then the world will be assumed to be (and may be) a completely different (i.e., reformed) place, and nobody will give a damn about Vietnam. Do you notice anyone getting upset now at the suggestions (treated seriously even by Newsweek) that Churchill and Roosevelt had prior knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and chose to let it happen for strategic reasons? [See "Pearl Harbor Surprise."]
Newsweek 11/25/91. I wrote a couple of pages about this article that I included in Looking for the Enemy.
Of course I am talking here about the dominant PMs shared by the elite, not necessarily by the general population, among whom PM 4 is already well established. This is a striking demonstration of the degree of control exercised by the ruling class, regardless of which PM you consider closer to the truth. Half the population thinks the assassination may have been a coup d'état (PM 4), with Vietnam as a direct consequence, the message is flashed across the silver screen to millions--and nothing happens.
The lesson is clear: they have us by the balls. Result: further resignation. The Stone film may have been a bit of a gamble by Time Warner, the biggest propaganda machine in history, but it was well calculated, and it worked. The coup theory has been effectively laid to rest, at least for the time being, and the more general point has been made again, with emphasis: it doesn't matter at all what "the people" think. This particular PM, that we are powerless, is of course a total lie, but it is firmly entrenched, and the end effect of the Stone film, unfortunately, is to entrench it further.
You ask how I would answer your questions about Schlesinger. To the extent that it is worthwhile trying to dig into people's individual psyches, we do not have to assume that he was either lying or ignorant, pre- or post-Tet. He believed what he was supposed to believe, according to PM 1 or PM 2, as one evolved into the other. The third alternative--that there was no withdrawal plan, even one based on the assumption of military success ("victory" if you like)--can be eliminated, as I hope we can finally agree.
Schlesinger's behavior is an fine example of the propaganda model at work, applying more readily to academic elites than to the less "educated" population, who are much slower to conform.
I wrote to Schlesinger recently, by the way, to ask him about the phone call Rusk supposedly made to Kennedy the night before the Bay of Pigs invasion, since the account in A Thousand Days implies that he was there (at Glen Ora) when the call came.
His reply was that he did not have the time to refresh his memory of those events. These are the words of a man whose memory of critical events he (may have) personally witnessed is not directly accessible, even to himself. He must "refresh" them. How would he go about this, even if he wished to? This is a man, neither a liar nor an ignoramus, who has consistently done what has been expected of him, and what he expects of himself, according to the evolving models of permissible thought which he submits to. I don't think I need to explain further. You wrote the book [Manufacturing Consent].
One more time on the Bundy draft business: 1) Stone started working on JFK long before the declassification (at least summer 1989); 2) that particular aspect/version of the coup theory (that 273 reversed 263) has been around since 1972 (Scott); 3) it doesn't matter anyway (my point).
Chomsky had said my comments on the Bundy draft 273 were "...; I'll skip the only adjective that comes to mind." It was declassified in January 1991, "before Stone's film, at a time when there was little interest in Garrison's version" of the assassination. In other words, it could not be a false document, as I had suggested, created to detract from the film's thesis, because it was declassified 11 months before the film was released.
Chomsky must know, however, that such a commercial film can hardly be prepared in secrecy, and government agencies would certainly have known about the film before January 1991, if they were interested in knowing about such things--as I believe they were (and are).
I meant that as I had said in my letter/article, the draft 273 doesn't matter, doesn't determine anything, because you can interpret it any way you choose. You can argue about whether it is significantly different from LBJ's 273 (Newman), or not significantly different (Chomsky). Then you can argue about whether 273 was really LBJ's, or JFK's, since it was penned one day before the assassination. Chomsky and Newman seem to agree that is was JFK's.
What I was trying (in vain) to get Chomsky to see was the salient point that both versions of 273 explicitly (Paragraph 2) continued JFK's withdrawal policy as stated in 263. The official changes in policy, clearly reversing the withdrawal policy in favor of escalation, came in the first few months of LBJ's administration. And that is the entire point: the change came after the assassination. Whatever the differences between 263 and draft 273, or draft 273 and final 273, the withdrawal policy did not officially change according to those documents; it changed according to documents issued later. In other words, I was trying to say, the whole discussion about 273 and its draft was completely irrelevant, unless we wish to assume that Paragraph 2 of 273 is simply a bald-faced lie.
I did not bring up the matter of the Bundy draft again, but in his next letter (2/11/93), Chomsky supplied the adjective he had skipped in his letter of 1/7/93: "irrelevant." (I suspect originally it was something stronger.) Why? Because "the draft was declassified, pretty much on the normal time scale, before anyone knew of what Stone might be doing."
The illogic here merits attention. First of all, what is the "normal time scale" for declassifying documents? Second, how could it be "normal" for the draft to be declassified (on 1/31/91) 13 years after the final version (May 1978)? Third, as I have said, plenty of people knew what Stone was doing with JFK before January 1991. Fourth, Chomsky is begging the question: my comments are only "irrelevant" if you assume that his comments are correct, which they are not.
There was another reason why my comments were "irrelevant," namely that falsification of the kind I was postulating was "absolutely unattested in the documentary record." I should note, he remonstrated, "that it would not involve just Bundy--also, all the other top advisers, the State Department historians, etc."
What I should note here, too, is that this point is different from the one that follows. Here Chomsky is dismissing out of hand not the larger conspiracy of the assassination and the war (discussed next), but the mini-conspiracy that would be involved in producing a false government document. These are conspiracies of immensely different proportions, and the fact that Chomsky dismisses both with equal vehemence shows that he is thinking purely categorically here, not realistically.
It is in fact an interesting to ask how many people might be involved in forging such a document. Why did Chomsky assume that "all the top advisers" and "State Department historians" (did he mean the authors of the Pentagon Papers?) would have to be "involved"? What does this mean? It only takes one man to write a letter, and presumably one man could slip it into whatever original archive preserves such things (presuming there is one--another interesting question). Did Chomsky mean that "all" these people--and how many are we talking about, exactly, a half-dozen, perhaps?--would have to remember, in 1991, NOT having seen that piece of paper in 1963? Does Chomsky have such faith in "State Department historians" that if they do not object to the appearance of the document in 1991, and accuse the government (for whom they work, or worked) of forging it, then that must mean the document is authentic?
Finally, I agree that it is difficult to conceive of a coup being carried out under the noses of so many people (about 220 million).
But it would not have required nearly as many conspirators as you imagine. Just look at Schlesinger. He was close to the action, and I don't think he was a conspirator, a liar, or a fool, either then, when he conformed to PM 1, or now, when he conforms to PM 2. Why should anyone have thought differently? That takes care of 99.9 % of everybody involved. As for the rest, the conspirators themselves (e.g., for my money, Bundy), surely you don't expect them to have left a paper trail, or to confess. A historical first? So what? So was the holocaust, the moon landing, the capitalization of the Soviet Union, etc.
Chomsky replied on 2/11/93, mostly repeating his version of the "facts," which are "well-established, and about as uncontroversial as historical facts of this nature can be." "Specifically," he continued, "contrary to what you say, there was no policy reversal. The logic "is extremely clear. Those who have any faith that JFK might have reversed his invariant policy, and called for withdrawal even with impairment of the war effort, are assuming that he had some special quality that distinguished him from all of his advisers and associates, and that he kept so secret that none of them had an inkling of it and it has left no trace in the voluminous record." If I were to "think it through," I would see that this position came down to nothing but "religious faith, akin to faith in the Messiah."
April 5, 1993
First I must try again to make clear to you that my motivation for persisting on this point has nothing to do with hero-worship, despite your comments about "millenarian movements," etc.
Chomsky had said (2/11/93) that what I called the "coup" theory of the assassination was supported by "no evidence at all, just faith in JFK's hidden mystical qualities." We were dealing here, he said, with "faith and doctrine, not reason." He characterized this as a "millenarian movement" in his Z article.
The coup theory, to which our discussion is directly connected, is in my opinion the most powerful intellectual force for potential revolutionary change that is likely to come along. Discussions of yet another example of despicable US policy, however often repeated and well footnoted, are nothing compared to this. If any idea can mobilize significant numbers of people and lead to radical change, this is the one. Otherwise we'll have to wait for the next big war, depression or other catastrophe. I don't think I am exaggerating.
Suppose you, for example, agreed with me. Add the thousands (literally--no need for modesty) that would follow your lead to the millions--half the US population, according to the polls--who already think Garrison/Stone may be right, and what do you think would happen? If ever there was a chance for peaceful revolution, this is it, and I see the chance slipping by. The point is not to chase down individual culprits, as the anti-conspiracy theorists contend. The point is to use this most dramatic example to expose and destroy the structure of secret government and the inherent collusion of the national security state with the anti-democratic capitalist forces which combined to make the coup, the war, and the continuing coverup possible.
My motivation is therefore quite simply that if I can change your mind on this point, I feel I would be doing a service to what I presume is our mutual cause. JFK hagiography has absolutely nothing to do with it.
I suppose you think that besides having messianic illusions I have been overly influenced by Fletch Prouty, since I think I mentioned that I correspond with him (and met him a couple of years ago at his home).
Chomsky had said (2/11/93) that he had talked with Prouty for about 15 minutes 25 years earlier and "realized that he couldn't be believed if he said it's raining outside," and that "every other serious researcher, independent of politics, has drawn the same conclusion." This judgment, Chomsky said, was "nailed down tight by the current book" (JFK: The CIA, Vietnam and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, NY: Birch Lane Press, 1992).
I'm not interested in defending him, but I honestly see nothing in his latest book or the previous one, or in his letters, that remotely justifies calling him a "raving fascist" or a "fraud." He is short on footnotes, yes, and his view of the world is depressing (if that's what you meant), but--appalled as you will be to hear it--not fundamentally different from yours (or mine), or yours, in my opinion. For example, you wrote in Z last July-August:
# Another objective [of "the corporate sector, its political agents, and ideological servants"] is to establish a de facto world government insulated from popular awareness or interference, devoted to the task of ensuring that the world's human and material resources are freely available to the Transnational Corporations and international banks that are to control the global system.
Prouty could have written that. Chomsky calls it the "corporate sector"; he calls it the High Cabal. Others call it the "ruling class," the "power elite," the "military-industrial-intelligence complex," etc. What's the difference?
You think Prouty is a raving fascist fraud, he thinks you're "on the payroll" (CIA), and I think you're both wrong--about each other--and both right about a lot else.
Chomsky had referred to Prouty as a "raving fascist" (5/21/92) and to "pure frauds like Prouty" (7/1/92). Prouty's equally inimical opinion of Chomsky--though he did not remember having met or talked with him--was expressed in a letter to me.
Which leaves me in the middle of nowhere, I guess, but that's my problem.
Re. your "facts":
1. What you call "Thesis I" and "IA" do not exist. They are facts--namely, NSAM 263 and the three McNamara-Taylor recommendations it approves. These recommendations were not "basic policy" but Kennedy's last specific policy directive regarding Vietnam.
What Chomsky had called the "M-thesis" he had now re-named "Thesis I: the US should withdraw after victory was assured" (2/11/93). This was "basic policy" that "never changed" until after the 1968 Tet offensive. But "the question that continually arose was whether that policy could be implemented with a specific plan."
"Thesis IA" was fully consistent with the "unchanging policy" of Thesis I: "there was a plan to implement the policy stated in Thesis I. As NSAM 263 put it, the US should plan to withdraw 1000 men by the end of 1963 and the rest by the end of 1965 if this could be done 'without impairment of the war effort.'"
2. There is no indication in NSAM 263 that Kennedy was "hesitant" or had "reservations" about the recommendations he implemented. Your speculation as to Kennedy's reason for not formally announcing the 1000-man withdrawal does not amount to a "reservation," even if it is correct.
Chomsky had said that "JFK more or less went along with the McNamara-Taylor recommendations, though he was hesitant about committing himself to the 1000-man withdrawal, since he thought the predictions might be too optimistic." NSAM 263 "was the McNamara-Taylor plan endorsed with reservations by JFK."
3. I cannot believe you fail to see a significant difference between:
a) Mary is doing well in school. She should graduate on schedule.
b) If Mary continues to do well in school, she will graduate on schedule.
Chomsky never budged an inch in maintaining that the phrase "without impairment of the war effort" in McNamara-Taylor's Recommendation 3 was the "explicit" and "crucial condition [his emphasis] of NSAM 263 (contrary to your contention that it is merely an assumption, not a condition)."
The irony of this should not be missed. Here I was explaining the difference between an assumption and a condition to the world's most famous linguist!
a) is analogous with McNamara-Taylor, containing a prediction and an assumption, or, if you like, an implicit condition. In a), graduation is assumed to be probable. In b), which contains an explicit condition, graduation is neither probable nor improbable. You refer to McNamara-Taylor as if it were analogous to b), implying that withdrawal was assumed to be neither probable nor improbable. This is simply not true, and misleading. The implication of NSAM 263 and the McNamara-Taylor recommendations was that withdrawal by the end of 1965 was probable.
The phrase "without impairment of the war effort," which you attach great significance to, means, from the point of view of the people who made the statement (McNamara, Taylor, and JFK, confirming them), "without impairment of the effort by the South Vietnamese government, with US assistance, to suppress the Viet Cong insurgency." This was the official definition of "victory."
The quotation is from the McNamara-Taylor report (PP Gravel, Vol. 2, p. 757), the conclusion of the section entitled "Military Situation and Trends":
# Acknowledging the progress achieved to date, there still remains the question of when the final military victory can be attained. If, by victory, we mean the reduction of the insurgency to something little more than sporadic banditry in outlying districts, it is the view of the vast majority of military commanders consulted that success may be achieved in the I, II and II Corps area by the end of CY 1964. Victory in the IV Corps will take longer--at least well into 1965. These estimates necessarily assume that the political situation does not significantly impede the effort.
When Kennedy issued NSAM 263, no such impairment was foreseen, and "victory" was in sight--probable--by the end of 1965.
All speculation as to how Kennedy may have really seen the situation is irrelevant to establishing the facts. My opinion is that he must have seen the writing on the wall, and was creating a context for withdrawal that would allow a "victory" of sorts regardless of the true military situation. You will disagree, but again I remind you that Bush withdrew from the Gulf after declaring a "victory" that was unconvincing to many, and Reagan withdrew from Lebanon without declaring anything at all. You insist that Kennedy would not have accepted any "victory" short of what Johnson and Nixon vainly pursued, but this is just as speculative as my opinion (and that of O'Donnell, Powers, Mansfield, etc.) that he would have.
4. The facts of the withdrawal plan are of marginal interest to you because you misstate them, in my opinion.
Chomsky had repeated that Thesis I and IA were uncontroversially true and therefore of no interest. "I take it you reject Thesis II as well," he said, "in which case our entire correspondence is a total waste of time, since that is the only thesis with any interest at all."
A crucial part of the "uncontroversial" truth of Thesis I and IA, however, for Chomsky, was the "condition" of "victory," which I did not accept.
The point is not that JFK would withdraw if victory was assured. The point is that he was withdrawing because victory was, if not assured, probable. This is the fact which has been ignored or misrepresented by most "serious historians," including the New York Times edition of the Pentagon Papers. The Gravel edition makes it clear, but it is incompatible with most secondary accounts, including yours.
5. The entire Oct. 2 White House statement was attributed to McNamara and Taylor, not just the 1000-man withdrawal.
Chomsky had said that JFK was "hesitant enough about the prospects [for withdrawal] that he dragged his feet in October-November 1963, not entirely convinced by the optimistic pronouncements of the military and McNamara." That was why "he insisted that the 1000-man withdrawal be left as their recommendation, not part of his proposal, so he wouldn't be stuck with it."
The Oct. 2, 1963 statement read:
# Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their judgement that the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 1965, although there may be a continuing requirement for a limited number of U.S. training personnel. They reported that by the end of this year, the U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point where 1,000 U.S. military personnel assigned to South Viet-Nam can be withdrawn (Documents on American Foreign Relations 1963, Council on Foreign Relations, New York: Harper & Row, 1964, p. 296).
Again, you can speculate as to Kennedy's reasons for putting it this way, but it does not mean he "dragged his feet" or was "hesitant" or "not entirely convinced" of their recommendations, which he approved three days later and officially implemented, secretly, by NSAM 263 on Oct. 11. This is your interpretation.
My interpretation is that Kennedy wanted the withdrawal to look as much like a sound military strategy as possible so as to contain the backlash of the hawks in his own administration, in congress, and in the public at large. He failed, as the events of November 22 showed.
I would be interested to see your documentation of JFK's "distancing himself from the withdrawal plans publicly announced by the military, and refusing to commit himself to them" after Oct. 11.
"In public," Chomsky had said, "he indicated his hesitations right through November, always distancing himself from the withdrawal plans publicly announced by the military, and refusing to commit himself to them.
He certainly committed himself to them with NSAM 263, and as I've said, I know of no evidence whatsoever that Kennedy himself changed his assessment of the war, much less his withdrawal plans, after Oct. 11. If such evidence exists, I will reconsider my position, but it would have to be directly attributable to JFK, on a par with NSAM 263.
And not attributable, for example, to a document drafted by McGeorge Bundy and that we are supposed to assume JFK would have signed.
I see no reason to reject Thesis II--that JFK intended to withdraw short of "victory." This, unlike what you call Thesis I and IA, is indeed a thesis, but none of the "evidence" you have reviewed undermines it. There can be no evidence of JFK's secret intentions or of what he would have done. The closest we can come to "evidence" in this case is what O'Donnell et al. said Kennedy told them he would do, and it supports Thesis II.
You accuse me of continually switching from Thesis II to Thesis IA.
Chomsky had said I was evading the question he had asked about Schlesinger et al. Since they mentioned JFK's withdrawal plan only after Tet 1968, were they 1) "lying, pre-Tet," 2) had JFK kept it a secret from his closest advisers, or 3) were there in fact "no plans to withdraw without victory"? "A rational person," Chomsky said, "will, naturally, assume (3)." I, however, was "continually evading the question by shifting from Thesis II to Thesis I (or the specific implementation of I, IA), which is too uninteresting to discuss."
The truth is that you are continually switching from the plain facts, which you insist on calling a "thesis" and dismiss as "uninteresting," to Thesis II. Then you say, in effect, "Either you defend Thesis II, or our correspondence is a waste of time"!
This is quite unfair. I believe Thesis II is correct, but I am trying to get to first base first, which is to get you to accept the facts as they are. You do not accept the facts as they are if you continue to insist that "there was no policy reversal." You can't have it both ways. You want to say: Of course the withdrawal policy was reversed, but this is totally uninteresting; the only thing that is interesting and important is that it wasn't really a policy reversal. It is you who are playing a word game.
If not, you would willing to state your position thus (as I have been urging you to do): LBJ did reverse JFK's withdrawal policy, but it was because conditions changed; their basic policy of victory remained the same. I suggest you ask yourself again why you find this formulation unacceptable.
6. Optimism may have declined after Diem's assassination on Nov. 1, but again, I know of no evidence that JFK changed his assessment of the war or his withdrawal policy after NSAM 263.
Chomsky had written that after the Diem coup, "it became clear that the optimistic projections were built on sand." Doubts mounted through November and "were aired among the top advisers" at the Nov. 20 Honolulu meeting, and in the draft 273, which "everyone expected" JFK to sign, "some modifications can be detected."
On the contrary, whatever one thinks of the Bundy draft and NSAM 273 itself, both confirm the policy announced on Oct. 2. I agree with Scott and (now) Schlesinger, who say Paragraph 2 of NSAM 273 is a lie, and I think Bundy wrote the draft for Johnson, but I need not insist on either point it for the purpose of our discussion.
Para. 2 of NSAM 273, in both versions, reads:
# The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963.
The point I was making--simple enough, one would think, but obviously not in this conversation--was that one only has to take this sentence at face value to establish the fact that the withdrawal policy was reversed at a later time (and therefore also after the assassination, of course).
7. Agreed that it was clear from late December that the withdrawal plan was doomed.
As Chomsky had put it, "From late December it became clear that withdrawal could not be carried out 'without impairment of the war effort.'" Therefore, "the plan to implement withdrawal on condition of military victory had to be cancelled by early 1964." None of JFK's top advisers "had any criticism of LBJ for departing from JFK's position--the reason being, of course, that they sensed no departure."
Note too, however, that Johnson began to have "doubts" about it in early December (according to PP Gravel), that is, within days of the assassination. The fact that JFK's advisers sensed no departure from JFK's policy--assuming we can know what they "sensed" at the time--is of no significance. NSAM 273 stated that there was no departure. In order to "sense" a departure, in contradiction to stated policy, one would have to have been psychologically willing and able to deal with the implications: that the new president was a liar and that the murder of the old one may have been a coup. People have trouble enough dealing with those implications now. How many do you think could have managed it then? Remember too that we are talking about military and government careerists, who are not generally noteworthy for their independence of mind, and this "sense of departure," given the implications, would require them to be revolutionaries.
This is also the answer to your argument that no conspiracy of such grand proportions could have occurred.
Chomsky had repeated his belief that the conspiracy I envisioned "must be huge," simply because there is "not a hint, not a phrase" in the "declassified record, which involves a very large number of people and their private conversations," that any of these people "even gave a thought to the possibility of any high-level involvement in the assassination." There could be only two explanations for that, Chomsky said: "either they were astonishingly well-disciplined in internal discussion, or the entire record was completely sanitized and rewritten--in which case the conspiracy reaches to a good part of the historical profession." It is also "necessary to assume that the physics profession is in on the plot, and has therefore concealed the truth about the analysis of alleged evidence about the assassination conducted by the National Academy of Sciences and others," and that the medical profession too has been concealing the truth about how the doctors and analysts allegedly falsified the record." This would require astonishing" "discipline among the high level planners, the historians, physical scientists, the medical profession, etc.," since "not one word has leaked, even in private gossip, for 30 years. Truly a miraculous series of events, absolutely unprecedented in history or personal experience."
How do you think the lie that US national security was at stake in Vietnam was propagated and maintained? That was not a deliberate lie, and thus not a conspiracy, for the great majority, even at the upper echelons. Lies work not because most people are liars but because most people believe them, if they support, rather than challenge, the general political mythology ("All Americans are on the same side," "American policy is always well-intentioned," "If there was a scandal the free press would expose it," "A coup d'état is impossible in America," etc.).
Conspiracies, which are conglomerations of lies, work for the same reason. The number of actual conspirators does not have to be--cannot be--large. What is necessary for a conspiracy to obtain grand proportions, while initiated and maintained at the center by a relative small number of knowing participants (liars), is that the capacity of the human mind to shift "paradigms," as Thomas Kuhn calls them, or propaganda models, as Chomsky calls them, be quite limited ("Orwell's problem").
Schlesinger is a case in point. I believe I answered your question, but to repeat, the answer is: None Of The Above. I don't believe Schlesinger contends there was a "secret plan" to end the war. He is merely admitting the truth that he failed to recognize in 1965--that LBJ reversed the withdrawal policy. He knew there was a public plan to end American participation in the war, and a secret implementation of that plan (NSAM 263), but he failed to "sense" LBJ's reversal of the policy because it clashed with the imperative propaganda of the time, which was that there was "no change in policy." When the war had been clearly lost and it became permissible to blame Johnson and Nixon for it, and simultaneously exonerate JFK and, by implication, himself, his sense of reality changed accordingly. If he goes beyond that, now, and speculates as to what JFK would have done, that is also permissible now, but it remains speculation, just as your contention to the contrary is speculation.
Schlesinger was not lying, in 1965 or now. He knew the "facts," then and now--just as I think you and I know them, despite our discussion. The only thing that has changed, in Schlesinger's case, is that he no longer feels compelled (unconsciously) to maintain the myth that there was no policy reversal. He now permits himself to recognize that there was a policy reversal, but at the same time he does not permit himself to recognize its possible connection with the assassination. Since the latter position is obviously naive, he must defend it with the kind of hysterical name-calling he resorts to in his review of the Stone film, without even attempting justification.
Schlesinger's current position, though naive, is more tenable than yours, in my opinion. If he is driven by JFK hagiography, perhaps you are driven by an exaggerated anti-hagiographical reaction to the Cameloters (and a particular antipathy towards JFK?), and a general aversion to conspiracy theories. You simply cannot change the fact that JFK's assessment of the war and consequent plan to withdraw remained in place and on the record as his policy until it was reversed by Johnson sometime between Nov. 22 and March 1964 (at the latest). You can call it "Thesis IA" and "uninteresting" --though admittedly true--on the one hand, then dispute it by insisting there was "no policy change," and then accuse me of being irrational, playing word games, evading the issue, "shifting theses," etc., but with all respect, aren't you putting the shoe on the wrong foot?
In his letter of 6/1/93, Chomsky repeated his claim that JFK "reluctantly authorized withdrawal on the explicit condition that victory was guaranteed," that NSAM 263 "endorses the McNamara-Taylor recommendations for withdrawal, but only if this can be done 'without impairment of the war effort'--that is, on condition of victory."
All of my efforts to challenge his interpretation of that phrase as an "explicit condition," as opposed to an "assumption" or at best "implicit condition," were in vain. This was merely my "tortured revision" as an "attempt to show that NSAM 263 doesn't mean what it says." My argument concerning conditions vs. assumptions "does not merit further discussion."
"We've left the arena of rational discussion far behind," Chomsky concluded, "and it seems pointless to persist."
Shortly thereafter I sent Chomsky a copy of Looking for the Enemy, in which I had included his letter of 2/11/93. In a brief reply (6/21/93), he said he was "surprised, in fact, shocked" that I had done this without permission, "even more so than by the quality of the material."
This is where things stayed for the next year or so, until after the first COPA (Coalition on Political Assassinations) meeting in October 1994, where I had been invited to give a talk on the Bay of Pigs (see Appendix). John Newman, about whom I had my misgivings, was on the governing board, and believing the best way to express my suspicions was openly and publicly, I sent "An Open Letter to John Newman" (Oct. 20, 1994) to all the members of the board. I also sent a copy to Chomsky.
Newman did not reply. Michael Parenti sent me an "Open Letter," to which I responded with an "Open Reply."
I sent copies of these letters, too, to Chomsky. He replied briefly on February 9, 1995, fully exasperated, but "for the record" enclosing "a few excerpts from the book that you misquote with your usual consistency, which also extends to your treatment of the historical and documentary record." He then quoted, without further commentary, the following from Rethinking Camelot:
# Meanwhile [early Nov., 1963], evidence that undermined the optimistic assessments was becoming harder to ignore. A week after the coup, State Department Intelligence, with the concurrence of the CIA, reported that by late October the military situation had sharply deteriorated, predicting "unfavorable end-1963 values" for its statistical factors. The new government confirmed that the GVN "had been losing the war against the VC in the Delta for some time because it had been losing the population." A top-level meeting was held in Honolulu on November 20 to consider the next steps. The US mission in Vietnam recommended that the withdrawal plans be maintained, the new government being "warmly disposed toward the U.S." and offering "opportunities to exploit that we never had before." Kennedy's plans to escalate the assault against the southern resistance could now be implemented, with a stable regime finally in place. McNamara, ever cautious, stressed that "South Vietnam is under tremendous pressure from the VC," noting a sharp increase in VC incidents after the coup, and urged that "We must be prepared to devote enough resources to this job of winning the war to be certain of accomplishing it..." At an 8AM White House meeting on November 22, Bundy was informed that "for the first time" military reporting was "realistic about the situation in the Delta" (pp. 81-82).
On Nov. 13, Jack Raymond reported that Defense officials say that the 1,000-man withdrawal plans remain unchanged. Two days later, he reported that at a news conference, while keeping the "official objectives announced on Oct. 2 to withdraw most of the troops by the end of 1965," Kennedy weakened the withdrawal plans, reducing the estimate for 1963 to "several hundred," pending the outcome of the Honolulu meeting. JFK again emphasized the need to "intensify the struggle" (p. 83).
Feb. 21, 1995
Thanks for answering. It is more than Newman himself or Peter Scott have done--and we presumably agree on the political significance of the JFK assassination!
I did not "misquote" you in my letter to Newman. I referred to pp. 91-93, where you state clearly that the assessments of the military situation in Vietnam were radically revised after JFK's murder, beginning with McCone's report to Johnson on November 24.
You now quote to me from pp. 81-83, where you say there were negative reports in early November. I don't think anyone denies this. The question is when the consensus changed from optimistic to pessimistic. Your remarks on pp. 91-93 are the clearest statement I know of that the consensus changed after Nov. 22, and they are confirmed by Lodge's optimistic appraisal at the Honolulu conference on Nov. 20, which I quoted in the Newman letter.
Why are you hedging now? Do you want to say now that what you say on pp. 91-93 is misleading, or that only stupid readers like me would understand it the way I have? Do you want to say now that the consensus changed before Nov. 22, or that there never was a consensus either way?
The fact is that you say clearly in the book what I tried in vain to get you to say in our correspondence: that the assessment of the military situation changed radically--after Nov. 22, but only coincidentally--which caused the withdrawal policy to be reversed (or in your words, "which canceled the assumptions on which the withdrawal plans had been conditioned" [p. 91]). The facts are thus:
1. JFK was murdered (quite coincidentally, from your point of view) on Nov. 22.
2. "The first report prepared for LBJ (November 23) opened with this 'Summary Assessment': 'The outlook is hopeful. There is better assurance than under Diem that the war can be won. We are pulling out 1,000 American troops by the end of 1963'" (p. 91).
3. "The next day, however, CIA Director John McCone informed the President that the CIA now regarded the situation as 'somewhat more serious' than had been thought, with 'a continuing increase in Viet Cong activity since the first of November' (the coup). Subsequent reports only deepened the gloom" (p. 91, my emphasis).
4. McCone's reassessment was retrospective: "McCone agreed [in December] that 'indices on progress of the war turned unfavorable for the GVN' about July 1963, moving 'very sharply against the GVN' after the coup" (p. 92).
5. In the light of the "radically revised assessments of the military situation, which cancelled the assumptions on which the withdrawal plans had been conditioned" (p. 91)--all (coincidentally) after Nov. 22--the US position moved, as you put it in the title of this chapter, "from terror [JFK's policy of counterinsurgency] to aggression" (LBJ's policy of direct involvement).
Note that I have avoided saying that LBJ "reversed the withdrawal policy," since you made it clear in our previous correspondence that you will not accept this formulation. For you, LBJ was if anything less hawkish than JFK, and their policy of winning the war, and withdrawing only on condition of victory, was the same. As you know, I disagree with you on this, but this does not mean we have to disagree on points 1-5 above.
Can we agree, finally, on these five points? Or do you think I have "misquoted" you again?
I cannot understand why you think our discussion is a "waste of time," particularly since in one of your previous letters you said my questions had helped you clarify your own thinking on these matters (albeit with conclusions opposite to mine). I am hoping that you will be kind enough to return the favor, at least as far as my understanding of your position is concerned. Your book, especially pp. 91-93, made it clear to me that we agree on the one crucial (to me, anyway) point that I was trying to establish during our correspondence (or 5 points, as above). Now you say that I have misunderstood and misrepresented what you say in the book. Is it too much to ask you to say, as clearly as possible, whether you agree with points 1-5 above, which are stated almost entirely in your own words?
Yes, it was. Chomsky had lost all patience with me. As for my letter to Newman, he said (3/13/95):
# After having read your utterly convincing theory of Newman being an agent, programmed to write a book that could easily be dismissed in standard black propaganda style so as to conceal the real truth, maybe that's true of others too. There is someone who comes to mind. How about fessing up, finally, before someone else notices it too. Or maybe that would be too dangerous: the CIA has its ways of dealing with traitors, as we know.
March 23, 1995
Your resort to sarcasm demonstrates not only the poverty of your arguments but a very large measure of mauvaise foi. Perhaps I should thank you for liberating me from the obviously exaggerated esteem in which I once held you, but you do not deserve to be thanked and the transition from profound disappointment to "liberation" has been neither easy nor pleasant, so I'll skip it.
You show how willing, eager in fact, you are to slug it out with all the dirty tricks of a street thug (or our friends from Langley) when it is clear that your opponent is winning the argument. I noticed this before, when I saw how you insisted on simply repeating your own arguments rather than responding to mine, and how easily you resorted to name-calling in lieu of argumentation. I'm referring to your description of Prouty as a "raving fascist" and a "fraud." When I asked you to explain why you think so, besides the claim that he is "associated" with Liberty Lobby, you did not respond. And this from a guy who himself has been denounced as an "anti-Semite" because he defended Faurisson's right to speak!
I did not say or imply that the pessimistic reports you mention on pp. 81-83 of Rethinking Camelot came after Nov. 22, and you know it. I said that YOU SAY (on pp. 91-93) that the consensus changed radically immediately after Nov. 22. This is merely a ridiculous and totally transparent attempt on your part to avoid my question.
You protest far too much. If you were half as intelligent as I once thought you were, you would long ago have accepted the fact (especially since you make it clear yourself on pp. 91-93, and as the Gravel Pentagon Papers also make clear) that the military assessment was reversed immediately after JFK's murder. You would also have admitted that you consider this a coincidence unless it can be proved otherwise (which makes your position, as I have told you, essentially identical to Schlesinger's). I'm sure you could have trotted out a long list of similar coincidences, and any freshman composition student is aware of the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.
But no. Out of arrogance or just plain stupidity, you refuse to admit that the military assessment was reversed after Nov. 22--plainly contradicting yourself as well as the documentary record. You also continue to ignore my point, which I have made abundantly clear, by treating it as if it were the same as John Newman's, which it quite obviously is not.
The only people who are arguing about JFK's "secret intentions to withdraw without victory" are you and Newman. I am talking about JFK's documented and public intention to withdraw on the assumption (not condition) of continued military success. This assumption was reversed, AFTER Nov. 22, and subsequently the withdrawal policy was also reversed. I cannot believe that you are too stupid to understand the difference between this and Newman's much more speculative thesis, so I can only ascribe your stubbornness here to arrogance: How can a mere Michael Morrissey be right, and Noam Chomsky be wrong?
I don't think you are an agent. It has crossed my mind, but I don't think you would have written to me if you were. You would have been more likely to ignore me, as John Newman has done. I think you are a man who has been told far too many times how brilliant he is, an American who cannot rid himself of the illusion that the United States is still "the freest country in the world" (as you said in the film Manufacturing Consent--and you should have heard the German audience groan at that), and the best example of a propagandized intellectual that I can think of. I'm sure that your IQ by the Bell Curve's standard is impressively high, but you are still an American, and the idea that a coup d'état could take place in America, especially without perspicacious commentators such as your friend Alexander Cockburn and geniuses such as yourself even being aware of it, is simply beyond your capacity. The idea is too big for you. You cannot take the shock, confusion, and fear that this idea brings with it when you let it into your brain, especially the shock of recognizing that you are as subject to mind control as anyone else, and that you are a slave just like the rest of us.
And yes, I believe I am beyond you in this respect, because I KNOW that I can be wrong, can be deluded to a point that I would never have dreamed possible, especially because I always thought of myself as fairly well-informed, skeptical, independent, etc. I don't think you have ever had such an experience. You think you can see through the self-delusion and propagandization of others, and perhaps you do, but you have not seen through yourself. The idea that you can be (and are) a victim has not penetrated, and IQ doesn't help at all here.
My best defense against your snide suggestion that I am an agent is my quarrel with you. I believe the CIA killed JFK and have said so publicly, and about half of the American population have similar suspicions, according to a Time/CNN poll taken before the Stone film came out (Time, Jan. 13, 1992, European ed., p. 40). Your foolish insistence that there is no evidence of high-level conspiracy, and your even more foolish and (now) blatantly self-contradictory "position" on the withdrawal question, support the established lies on both issues and thus help to exonerate the CIA, the government as a whole, and the complicit media Establishment. Which of the two of us looks more like an agent? Your long association with MIT, despite the incongruity of the nation's most prominent "radical leftist dissident" being so tight with the nation's No. 1 educational institution with military and intelligence ties, is also suspicious.
But I do not stoop as easily as you do to mud-slinging, and I will not accuse you of being an agent, even though your actions aid the enemy much more than mine. Nor did I accuse Newman of being an agent. I referred to his well-known intelligence background and asked him a few perfectly legitimate and justifiable questions. If he were honest, he would have nothing to fear by answering them, and everything to gain--namely, credibility. But his silence is also an answer, and it speaks even worse for him than your sarcasm does for you.
I did not have the last word. In his curt reply (and last letter to me) on 4/3/95, Chomsky referred me to Rethinking Camelot concerning his "alleged refusal" to answer my question about Prouty (though in the book he says only that Prouty's evidence is "anecdotal"). "The remainder," he said, "is at the same level of respect for fact, making it clear that there is no point proceeding. That's it, for me."
That was it for me, too.
This was published in The Third Decade 1993, 9.6, 8-10.
Chomsky on JFK and Vietnam
Noam Chomsky has been described, justifiably, as the leading American (leftist) dissident, and his argument against what he calls the "withdrawal thesis" (see "Vain Hopes, False Dreams," Z, Oct. 1992) is a serious challenge to those who believe Kennedy was killed because he was planning to withdraw from Vietnam.
Although I have the greatest admiration for Chomsky and agree with him on most other issues, I think he is dead wrong here, and his argument is flawed. First of all, although it may be true that some biographers and assassination researchers are JFK "hagiographers," as Chomsky puts, one need not deny that Kennedy was as ruthless a cold warrior as any other president to acknowledge that he had decided to withdraw from Vietnam. Reagan's decision to withdraw from Lebanon doesn't make him a secret dove, either.
Secondly, the withdrawal "thesis" is not a thesis but a fact, amply documented in the Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers ("Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964," Vol. 2, pp. 160-200). Since Chomsky himself co-edited Vol. 5, I am surprised that avoids mentioning that this PP account states clearly that "the policy of phase out and withdrawal and all the plans and programs oriented to it" ended "de jure" in March 1964 (p. 198; my emphasis). It is also clear from the PP that the change in the withdrawal policy occurred after the assassination:
The only hint that something might be different from on-going plans came in a Secretary of Defense memo for the President three days prior to this NSC meeting [on Nov. 26]....In early December, the President [Johnson] began to have, if not second thoughts, at least a sense of uneasiness about Vietnam. In discussions with his advisors, he set in motion what he hoped would be a major policy review... (p. 191).
There can be no question, then, if we stick to the record, as Chomsky rightly insists we do, that Kennedy had decided and planned to pull out, had begun to implement those plans, and that Johnson subsequently reversed them.
The thesis which Chomsky is actually arguing against is his own formulation: that JFK wanted "withdrawal without victory." This is wordplay, but important wordplay. It is true that the withdrawal plan was predicated on the assumption of military success, but Chomsky, who is also the world's most famous linguist, should not have to be reminded that an assumption is not a condition. There is a difference between saying "The military campaign is progressing well, and we should be able to withdraw by the end of 1965," which is how I read the McNamara-Taylor report and Kennedy's confirmation of it in NSAM 263, and "If we win the war, we will withdraw," which is how Chomsky reads the same documents.
We do not know what Kennedy may have secretly wanted or what he would have done if he had lived. Whether he really believed the war was going well, as the record indicates, or privately knew it was not, as John Newman contends (in JFK and Vietnam, NY: Warner Books, 1992), is also unknowable. What we do know, from the record, Chomsky notwithstanding, is that Johnson reversed the withdrawal policy sometime between December 1963 and March 1964.
The point is crucial. If one manages to say, as Chomsky and others (Michael Albert in Z, Alexander Cockburn in The Nation) do, that in truth there was no change in policy, that in fact there never was a withdrawal policy but only a withdrawal policy conditional on victory (until after Tet), and that therefore Johnson and Nixon simply continued what Kennedy started, then the question of the relation of the policy change (since there wasn't one) to the assassination does not arise.
If, however, one states the facts correctly, the question is unavoidable. Exactly when Johnson reversed the policy, and whether he did so because conditions changed, or because perceptions of conditions changed, or for whatever reason, is beside the point. Why do Chomsky et al. avoid the straightforward formulation which is nothing but a summary of the PP account: JFK thought we were winning, so he planned to withdraw; Johnson decided that we weren't, so he killed the plan.
The reason is clear. Once you admit that there was a radical policy change in the months following the assassination, whether that change was a reaction to a (presumed) change in conditions or not, you must ask if the change was related to the assassination, unless you are a fool. Then, like it or not, you are into conspiracy theory--which is anathema to the leftist intellectual tradition that Chomsky represents.
Thus Chomsky, uncharacteristically, is telling us the same thing the government, the mass media, and Establishment historians have been telling us for almost thirty years--that the assassination had no political significance. The withdrawal plan was never a secret, but the overwhelming majority of historians have simply ignored those forty pages in the Gravel PP (also carefully circumscribed in the New York Times edition of the PP), treating the Kennedy-Johnson Vietnam policy as a seamless continuum, exactly as Chomsky does.
Conspiracy does not explain this degree of unanimity of opinion in the face of facts clearly to the contrary, but Chomsky's own propaganda model does (see Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent, NY: Panteon, 1988). One variation of this model, as Michael Albert has made clear in recent articles in Z, this magazine, is that conspiracy theory is incompatible with "institutional" or "structural" theory. That this distinction is spurious, and counterproductive for progressive goals, becomes clear with one example. The CIA (Operations, at least) is by definition a conspiracy, and at the same time a structural part of the US government, i.e. an institutionalized conspiracy. When Garrison, Stone et al. say the President was removed by the military-industrial-intelligence complex because he was getting in the way of their war plans (or was perceived to be getting in the way), what could be more "structural"?
If the withdrawal policy reversal is now entering the realm of permissible knowledge (e.g. Arthur Schlesinger, Roger Hilsman), some version of the propangada model, which includes truths and half-truths as well as lies, will explain this too, just as it will explain why CIA (Colby) endorses a book by an Army intelligence officer (Newman) that apparently supports the coup d'état theory, and why a film such as JFK was produced by the world's biggest propaganda machine (Time Warner). As always, the realm of permissible knowledge is infused with smoke and mirrors.
Which brings me to the document Chomsky attaches so much importance to, the Bundy draft of NSAM 273, supposedly showing that Johnson's Vietnam policy was virtually identical to Kennedy's. Bundy, as National Security Adviser, was the highest common denominator in the intelligence community in the Kennedy-Johnson transition--above even CIA, and far above Johnson. Whatever the nation's darkest secrets were on November 22, 1963, it was Bundy who filled Johnson in on them, not vice versa. Now, after a quarter of a century, just as Garrison, Stone et al. are bringing the question of the relation between the assassination and Vietnam to a head, a Bundy document appears that ostensibly proves (for Chomsky) that there was no change in policy. How convenient.
In fact the Bundy draft can be seen as supporting any one of several contradictory analyses, which I'm sure is exactly the way the smoke and mirrors artists at Langley like to have things. If you take NSAM 273 and the Bundy draft at face value, as Chomsky does, they prove there was no change in the withdrawal policy, as explicitly stated in paragraph 2. If you take that as a lie, and the other paragraphs (6-8) as an implicit reversal of the withdrawal policy, as Peter Scott and Arthur Schlesinger do, they prove that either Kennedy reversed his own policy, or Johnson reversed it, depending on whether you believe Bundy wrote the draft for Kennedy or for Johnson (meaning, in the latter case, that Bundy was part of the coup). To this must be added the question of the authenticity of the Bundy draft (worth asking, considering the circumstances), and the question (unanswerable) of whether Kennedy would have approved it, since he never saw it or discussed it with Bundy.
Here again, Chomsky is beating a straw man. One need not prove that Johnson reversed the policy with NSAM 273 to prove that he reversed it. All we need for the latter is the PP and all the documents, including Bundy's draft, taken at face value, which prove that withdrawal was official U.S. policy in November 1963, and that Johnson began abandoning that policy the following month. Chomsky's Camelot debunking, on target as it may be in some respects, cannot obscure this fact, and should not distract us from the enormously important question that Garrison, Stone and many others are asking.
The following is a review of Noam Chomsky, Rethinking Camelot (1993) published in The Fourth Decade 1.4, 22-23 (1994).
Rethinking Camelot (Boston: South End Press, 1993) is Noam Chomsky's worst book. I don't think it merits a detailed review, but we should be clear about the stand that "America's leading intellectual dissident," as he is often called, has taken on the assassination. It is not significantly different from that of the Warren Commission or the majority of Establishment journalists and government apologists, and diametrically opposed to the view "widely held in the grassroots movements and among left intellectuals" (p. 37) and in fact to the view of the majority of the population.
For Chomsky, the only theories of the assassination "of any general interest are those that assume a massive cover-up, and a high-level conspiracy that required that operation." These he rejects out of hand because "There is not a phrase in the voluminous internal record hinting at any thought of such a notion," and because the cover-up "would have to involve not only much of the government and the media, but a good part of the historical, scientific, and medical professions. An achievement so immense would be utterly without precedent or even remote analogue."
These arguments can be as glibly dismissed as Chomsky presents them. It is simply foolish to expect the conspirators to have left a paper trail, much less in the "internal record," or that part of it that has become public. It is equally foolish to confuse the notion of conspiracy and cover-up with the much more broadly applicable phenomenon of "manufacturing consent," to use Chomsky's own expression. You don't have to be a liar to believe or accept or perpetuate lies. This is exactly what Chomsky himself and Edward Herman say about the media, and it applies to the "historical, scientific, and medical professions" as well:
Most biased choices in the media arise from the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power. Censorship is largely self-censorship, by reporters and commentators who adjust to the realities of source and media organizational requirements and by people at higher levels within media organizations who are chosen to implement, and have usually internalized, the constraints imposed by proprietary and other market and governmental centers of power (Manufacturing Consent, NY: Pantheon, 1988, p. xii).
Nevertheless, Chomsky admits that a "high-level conspiracy" theory makes sense if "coupled with the thesis that JFK was undertaking radical policy changes, or perceived to be by policy insiders." Rethinking Camelot is devoted to refuting this thesis.
I've addressed this subject before ("Chomsky on JFK and Vietnam," The Third Decade, Vol. 9, No. 6, pp. 8-10), so I won't repeat myself. But two things should be clear. First, Chomsky has loaded the deck. The theory that Kennedy was secretly planning to withdraw from Vietnam regardless of how the military situation developed is not the only one that supports a conspiracy view of the assassination. This is John Newman's highly speculative argument in JFK and Vietnam (NY: Warner Books, 1992), which is so easy to refute that one wonders if it was not created for this purpose. Why else would the CIA, in the form of ex-Director Colby, praise the work of Newman, an Army intelligence officer, as "brilliant" and "meticulously researched" (jacket blurb)? In any case, accepting the fact that we cannot know what JFK's secret intentions were or what he would have done, the fact that he was planning to withdraw by the end of 1965 is irrefutable.
Secondly, it should be clear that Chomsky's view of the relation, that is, non-relation, of the assassination to subsequent policy changes is essentially the same as Arthur Schlesinger's. They are both coincidence theorists. Schlesinger says Johnson reversed the withdrawal plan on Nov. 26 with NSAM 273, but the idea that this had anything to do with the assassination "is reckless, paranoid, really despicable fantasy, reminiscent of the wilder accusations of Joe McCarthy" (Wall Street Journal, 1/10/92). The assassination and the policy reversal, in other words, were coincidences.
I suspect Chomsky knows he would appear foolishly naive if he presented his position this way, so he has constructed a tortured and sophistic argument that "there was no policy reversal" in the first place, which, if true, would obviate the question of its relation to the assassination. A neat trick if you can pull it off, and Chomsky gives it a good try, but in the end he fails. In fact, he undermines his own position by making it even clearer than it has been that the reversal of the assessment of the military situation in Vietnam, which caused the reversal of the withdrawal policy, occurred very shortly after the assassination, and that the source of this new appraisal was the intelligence agencies:
The first report prepared for LBJ (November 23) opened with this "Summary Assessment": "The outlook is hopeful. There is better assurance than under Diem that the war can be won. We are pulling out 1,000 American troops by the end of 1963." ... The next day, however, CIA director John McCone informed the President that the CIA now regarded the situation as "somewhat more serious" than had been thought, with "a continuing increase in Viet Cong activity since the first of November" (the coup). Subsequent reports only deepened the gloom (p. 91).
By late December, McNamara was reporting a "sharply changed assessment" to the President (p. 92).
The only difference between this and Schlesinger's view is that Chomsky says the assessment of the military situation changed first, and then the policy changed. So what? The point is that both things changed after the assassination. The President is murdered, and immediately afterward the military assessment changes radically and the withdrawal policy changes accordingly. It matters not a whit if the policy reversal occurred with NSAM 273, as Schlesinger says, or began in early December and ended de jure in March 1964, as the Gravel Pentagon Papers clearly say (Vol. 2, pp. 191, 196).
Nor does it matter what JFK's secret intentions may have been. It is more important to note that according to Chomsky's own account, whose accuracy I do not doubt, the source of the radically changed assessment that began two days after the assassination was the CIA and the other intelligence agencies. Furthermore, this change in assessment was retrospective, dating the deterioration of the military situation from Nov. 1 or earlier. Why did it take the intelligence agencies a month or more to suddenly realize, two days after the assassination, that they had been losing the war instead of winning it?
This question may be insignificant to coincidence theorists like Schlesinger and Chomsky, but not to me. Rethinking Camelot has shown me -- sadly, because I have been an admirer -- that Chomsky needs to do some serious rethinking of his position, and that I need to do some rethinking of Mr. Chomsky.
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