Regarding Fletcher Prouty, JFK, et. al.
This is regarding a conversation I had with my friend, Matthew [09-08-22], during which we were discussing Prouty’s book The Secret Team, about the CIA and its invasive penetration and even control of American politics.
In discussing JFK and his attempts to keep the United States from committing massive military forces to Vietnam, which put Kennedy at odds with most of his advisers, who were working tirelessly to manipulate events that would make it impossible for Kennedy to succeed, Prouty has this to say about clandestine operations: “Clandestine operations are the desperate efforts of a closed society….”
Except for the word “desperate,” Prouty is correct. But clandestine operations aren’t the desperate efforts of closed societies or political orders; rather, they are the normal efforts of such orders. And that this is the case is illustrated by the fact that Kennedy was running a clandestine operation to keep the US out of Vietnam, just as LBJ ran a clandestine operation, after Kennedy’s assassination, to get the US into Vietnam with massive military forces. Moreover, we know that Kennedy was not at all opposed to clandestine operations, as he was a big fan of Ian Fleming’s novels and he helped reanimate the Army’s Special Forces.
So, while Prouty argues that Kennedy was seeking to put “the genie of clandestine operations…back into the bottle,” he was doing no such thing. Kennedy was running clandestine operations in Vietnam and he was running such an operation to get the US out of Vietnam, just as he was willing to run such operations in Laos in order to try to stabilize or neutralize that nation.
This means that Kennedy had no principled objections to such operations. He just thought they shouldn’t be used to make war – massively – in Vietnam or Laos. And a question arises, viz., how likely is it that, once embraced, clandestine operations will be limited? That is, while it is often claimed that JFK was going to withdraw from Vietnam once he had won the 1964 presidential election, what were the odds that he would be able to accomplish that, having already embraced such operations in order “to save” Vietnam?
Practicing a politics of duplicity – as it might be called – Kennedy sought to keep us out of Vietnam, while LBJ, also practicing duplicity, sought to take the US into Nam. But neither JFK or LBJ was appealing to principle(s) of any kind, although JFK seems to have been because for many of us his goal, allegedly peace, is more attractive than LBJ’s goal, a triumphant nationalism. But Kennedy had no principled basis for preferring peace to war, which is where people like Oliver Stone go wrong, thinking that Kennedy was committed to peace as a matter of principle. He wasn’t, unlike Gandhi or MLK, Jr., for example. And because he wasn’t committed to peace for principled reasons, he was willing to practice a duplicitous politics to try to keep the US out of Vietnam, which made him no different that LBJ who acted duplicitously to make war in Vietnam. It is difficult not to think that, as Prouty put it, “events marched relentlessly on toward Vietnam [and] the only ones who stood in the way were the President and his closest intimates – and they had been neatly outmaneuvered.”
They had been outmaneuvered in large part because they were willing to practice deception when their only real chance required that they confront, on the basis of principle(s), the war itself and its implications for an American republic. Kennedy would have been better off, even before he was assassinated in 1963, to make the war and his opposition to it, the issue of the 1964 presidential election. If he had done that, then his death couldn’t have been easily used to promote a massive US war in Vietnam. Besides, there are some political battles worth fighting even if you will lose them or even if you die fighting them.