Water Man Spouts

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

1000 Days

{1} "….This is a time for courage and a time of challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the fainthearted are needed. … Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause…."
--From a speech JFK was to deliver on 11-22-1963

November 22, 1963 was one of the most important dates in American history. When we read the above quote, from a speech President Kennedy was prepared to deliver in Austin, Texas, it is easy to think about "what might have been" if he had lived to serve a second term as president. More, people will discuss what the Thousand Days meant to them, and debate what Kennedy’s legacy should be.

There have been hundreds of books published about JFK in the 44 years since Dallas. Some of them are outstanding, most are by definition "average," and many are trash. I’ve tried to read as many of the good-to-average books as time allows. In the past few months, that has included the updated edition of "Ultimate Sacrifice," by Lamar Waldron with Thom Hartman; "Reclaiming History," by Vince Bugliosi; and "Brothers," by David Talbot.
Each of these books covers the events relating to Dallas. Each also documents the respect that the authors share for what President Kennedy stood for. JFK influenced the way that people from the generations who remember where they were on 11-22 view the world.

My primary interest in President Kennedy has always been the meaning of his life, rather than his death, though the two are obviously closely connected. Thus, I am particularly interested in the way that Kennedy was viewed while he was still living, and to trace the connections between that, and some of the trash that can be found today – not only in books, but by those who pretend to be objective thinkers.

{2} "In its early years, the CIA was composed mostly of men who, though not necessarily born to the manor, were tweedy, often intellectual, Ivy League alumni (authors Warren Hinckle and William Turner observed that Yale’s secretive Skull and Bones Society had ‘more CIA men than the Vatican has cardinals’) who shared a deeply patriotic love for this country and its always rim-full plates and cocktail glasses, and a pulsating fear that global Communism might end the party. Though they were ‘gentlemen’ warriors, they procured ring-around-the-collar men much more coarse than they to implement their plans. And they were committed and passionate enough not to be above whatever it took – including assassination of foreign leaders, even breaking bread with organized crime – to carry out their mission ‘in the national interest’."
--Vince Bugliosi; Reclaiming History; page 1191

One of those tweedy and patriotic gentlemen that Mr. Bugliosi did not refer to in his lengthy examination of the murder of President Kennedy was Victor Lasky. Lasky was the author of the 1963 book "JFK: The Man and the Myth." Though the book received mixed reviews, it did well enough to be at the top of the New York Times’ best Sellers’ List in the fall of 1963.

JFK, asked about the book at a press conference, responded, "I haven’t read all of Mr. Lasky, except that I’ve just gotten the flavor of it. I’ve seen it highly praised by Mr. Drummond and Mr. Krock and others, so I’m looking forward to reading it, because the part I’ve read was not so brilliant as I gather the rest of it is, from what they say about it." He also told Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirkson, who expressed concerns that he would face "some castigation" for supporting Kennedy’s limited nuclear test ban treaty, that until he read Lasky’s book, he wouldn’t "know what castigation is."

Though he is largely forgotten today, Lasky was influential in his time. He was a journalist when he joined the Army in 1942. He spent his time as a war correspondent with the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. When he "officially" left the service, he became one of the nation’s leading anti-communism journalists.

Lasky was one of the central figures in the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird, which attempted to influence both the domestic and foreign media. Operation Mockingbird engaged in "dis-information campaigns" that were coordinated with what Mr. Bugliosi describes as the "whatever it took" to promote their agenda.

Lasky’s book resorted to some tactics that readers might find strangely familiar. He presents an unbalanced view of Kennedy by quoting almost every negative thing every said or written about JFK, including the original "swiftboating": "By now the story of how Jack Kennedy became a hero in the South Pacific is an old one. …The significance, frequently overlooked, however, is that Kennedy was only one of many who – without dramatics or posturing – rose to greatness in World War II, one of a great band of heroes. …But it must also be stated there were those Navy skeptics who wondered how it was possible for Jack, as the skipper of PT 109, to have gotten such a small maneuverable craft into position to be slashed in two by the bow of a Japanese destroyer – and this in Allied-controlled waters. No other motor torpedo boat was reported to have suffered such singular misfortune in any of the oceans in World War II." (pages 112-113)

{3}"Men who are unwilling to face up to the danger from without are convinced that the real danger is from within. … They equate the Democratic Party with the welfare state, the welfare state with socialism, and socialism with communism. They object, quite rightly, to politics intruding on the military, but they are very anxious for the military to engage in politics."
--President Kennedy; 11-18-1961

In "Brothers," author David Talbot documents the attempts by high-ranking Pentagon officials to indoctrinate the military in ultra-right wing political ideology. He also notes the friction between Kennedy and military leaders who believed that the President had betrayed our national security, starting with his actions during the infamous Bay of Pigs episode.

Lasky’s book was an attempt to not only portray Kennedy as a fraud in terms of his military service and his experience in Congress, but to make the case that Kennedy was a socialist who posed a threat to the American Way. That position, which has been resurrected in more recent years, is particularly interesting when we consider that Lasky was promoting it while in the service of a US intelligence organization.

Lasky had been employed by Radio Liberty, one of the CIA’s largest media front organizations, from 1956 to 1960. He was one of the founders of the Council Against Communist Aggression, as well as CACA’s first vice president. He first came to national attention for his coverage of the Alger Hiss case. His career as a "journalist" would continue to be closely tied to Richard Nixon.

In later books and articles, Lasky would say that Watergate was an insignificant scandal, and that the political "crime of the century" was Kennedy’s "theft" of the 1960 election. His attempts at dis-information included "It Didn’t Start With Watergate," as well as "man & myth"- style attacks on RFK and Jimmy Carter. However, our tweedy gentleman would be exposed as a fraud, and his fall from grace would be completed in a compelling courtroom drama.

{4} "Money to Be Made: Surprisingly, Lasky, 50, turns out to be an amiable, ex-Scripps-Howard correspondent, who describes himself as a ‘political centrist. I’m a hatchet man with a sense of humor,’ he laughs, though humor is nowhere apparent in his book. In the foreword to RFK, Lasky claims to describe his subject ‘as he actually was,’ but privately he nowadmits: ‘I never really knew him. This was a tentative appraisal from one side. I don’t tell the whole story. I’m trying to tell "the opposite side." That’s why I sided with Hoffa, even though I don’t like him’."
--The Lasky Lash; TIME ; 12-20-1968

Victor Lasky’s dis-information filled "biography" of Robert Kennedy was "influenced by the fear that he through into my life," according to the TIME book review. Lasky would be among those who would claim the Kennedy’s abused the power of office to investigate and intimidate political opponents. He is also representative of those who followed who would claim that they are being "viciously attacked" by Kennedy supporters who attempt to correct the lies they tell about JFK and RFK. We still find such agents of dis-information in the media today, as well as on progressive and democratic discussion forums on the internet.

The Nixon White House tapes showed that Lasky, a close associate of William Casey, spoke with Nixon about how to make the best use of the "silent majority" talking point that the president had first used in November, 1969. (4-12-1971; 477-13) Also, an "Eyes Only" White House memorandum from 4-12-1973 focuses on making use of "information" on the democrats provided to the administration by Victor Lasky. The Watergate investigations would disclose the fact that Lasky was on the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) payroll, pocketing $20,000 for his efforts.

In his 2005 book "Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment," Floyd Abrams describes a1988 case Lasky filed against ABC for slander. The network had reported in a documentary "American Inquisition" that Lasky had accused a college teacher of being a communist at a public meeting in 1951. Though there were witnesses to the event, by the time of the trial, as Geoffrey Stone notes in his Chicago Law School review, memories had faded to an extent that Lasky’s attorneys were able to discredit them. Thus, after Lasky testified that he had never called the teacher a communist, and called the ABC producers "arrogant lying bastards," Abrams had his work cut out for him.

Abrams asked Lasky about his involvement with actor Edward G. Robinson, and Lasky "boasted that he had played a generous role in guiding Robinson through his crisis. Having set his trap, the lawyer then read to Lasky and the jury Robinson’s own account of the incident. In his memoirs, Robinson wrote that Lasky had pressured him to publish a 26-page confession (written for him by Lasky) admitting that he had been a ‘dupe’ of the Communists. Robinson refused, informing Lasky that he ‘wished no part’ of his effort to portray him as ‘a fool who out of brainlessness’ had been ‘blindly led into organizations that wished to destroy America.’ After hearing this evidence, the jurors turned their heads away from Lasky, Mr. Abrams recalls, and shortly thereafter unanimously found the ABC program accurate." (Jeffrey Stone; University of Chicago Law School; 4-16-05)

In a December, 2005 column about Jack Anderson, journalist Murray Waas wrote about his former boss’s "Peace, War, and Politics: An Eyewitness Account." Anderson had told of how years ago, Waas called Lasky and impersonated Nixon. Anderson, who had put Waas up to the call, listened in on an extension line.

There are still a lot of arrogant, lying bastards like Victor Lasky who are manipulating the media, and attempting to discredit those who, like JFK, RFK, and Jimmy Carter, work to make the world a better place. I’ll end this with a quote from page 940 of historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s book "A Thousand Days":

"Yet he had accomplished so much: the new hope for peace on earth, the elimination of nuclear testing in the atmosphere and the abolition of nuclear diplomacy, the new policies toward Latin America and the third world, the reordering of American defense, the emancipation of the American Negro, the revolution of national economic policy, the concerns for poverty, the stimulus to the arts, the fight for reason against extremism and mythology. Lifting us beyond our capacities, he gave his country back to its best self, wiping away the world’s impression of an old nation of old men, weary, played out, fearful of ideas, change, and the future; he taught mankind that the process of rediscovering America was not over….Above all he gave the world for an imperishable moment the vision of a leader who greatly understood the terror and the hope, the diversity and the possibility, of life on this planet and who made people look beyond nation and race to the future of humanity. So the people of the world grieved as if they had terribly lost their own leader, friend, brother."


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