WAS JFK BAD FOR AMERICA?
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
Was President John F. Kennedy a bleeding-heart liberal who was soft on communism? Was he leading the free world to ruin? Was he bankrupting our economy with socialistic economic policies? Did he lose his nerve during the Bay of Pigs invasion and abandon hundreds of brave freedom fighters to be captured or killed? Until 1992, I would have answered all of these questions in the affirmative. However, after having studied the Kennedy presidency for a decade, I no longer hold to this position. As a centrist independent who holds conservative views on several issues, I think it is important for conservatives in both parties to realize that JFK was not the left-winger that many of his liberal admirers would have us believe he was. Obviously, I cannot provide a detailed analysis of all the pros and cons of Kennedy's policies and actions in a single article. However, I will present evidence that JFK did not cause the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, that he was strong on national defense, and that he was pro-business and fiscally conservative.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion
President Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion has drawn sharp criticism from conservatives over the years. In their view, JFK lost his nerve and caused the death of over 100 freedom fighters and the capture of hundreds more. This is how I used to view the Bay of Pigs debacle. I thought it was all Kennedy's fault, end of discussion. As I saw it, he had chickened out and had done great harm to the cause of freedom. Of course, those who have studied the Bay of Pigs invasion know there was much more to it than Kennedy's supposed failure to follow through. Before going further, let us first examine the basic history of the event.
Shortly after taking office, President Kennedy approved a CIA plan to invade Cuba. The plan, which had been formulated toward the end of the Eisenhower administration, called for an invasion of Cuba by a force of Cuban refugees, Brigade 2506, covertly trained and backed by the CIA. The idea was to make it look like the Cuban exiles had carried out the invasion on their own with no outside assistance.
The invasion began on the morning of April 15, 1961, when eight American-supplied B-26 bombers flown by exile pilots departed from an airfield in Nicaragua and attacked Cuban air bases. Sixteen bombers were originally to have been used, but Kennedy scaled the number down to eight. The bombing raid was only partially unsuccessful, and it left Castro's air force with enough planes to dominate the skies when the freedom fighters landed. The air raid not only tipped off Castro that an invasion was imminent, but it caused a firestorm at the United Nations, and Castro and other leaders charged the United States was going to invade Cuba, in violation of international law. As planned, the Kennedy administration denied any involvement in the attack and said the fight was solely between Cuban freedom fighters and Castro's Marxist forces. A second air strike by exile-flown aircraft had been scheduled for the day the exiles hit the beach, during daylight hours, but Kennedy cancelled it. A second air raid probably would have destroyed Castro's remaining air force, and this would have given the invasion a better chance of success.
Two days later, on April 17, Brigade 2506, consisting of about 1,500 Cuban exiles, landed on the beach at the Bay of Pigs. The effort went badly from the start. As the situation grew worse, CIA and military officials urged the president to authorize direct American air support for the invasion. Kennedy agreed to a compromise. He authorized a one-hour flight of six unmarked American jets over the Bay of Pigs to cover an attack by more B-26s flown by exile pilots. Sadly, the B-26s were ineffective, and by the afternoon of April 19 the exile forces had been soundly defeated. The invaders lost 114 men, and 1,189 were captured.
Kennedy felt terrible about the failure of the invasion. At the White House he privately expressed his grief and regret to leaders of the Cuban exiles. On the evening of April 19, Jackie Kennedy told a close relative that her husband had practically been in tears all day over the failure of the operation. Bobby Kennedy reported he had never seen his older brother as upset as he was when it became obvious the brigade was going to be defeated. One Kennedy aide wrote that the vision of the freedom fighters gunned down on the beaches or hauled off to Castro's prisons "haunted him that week and many weeks to come" (8:285).
Answering Some Common Questions
* Why did Kennedy scale back the number of planes for the first air raid from sixteen to eight?
JFK did so in the interest of plausible deniability. After all, this was supposed to be a covert operation. No one was supposed to know the U.S. was behind the invasion.
* Why was the invasion handled as a covert operation? Why didn't Kennedy just openly invade Cuba?
The principal reason JFK simply didn't "send in the Marines" was that he had no legal basis for doing so under international law. A U.S. invasion of Cuba, at that point anyway, would also have been a violation of the charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) and some hemisphere treaties, not to mention our own federal laws. "We cannot expect the benefits of treaties," said a State Department official to Kennedy shortly before the invasion, "if we are unwilling to accept the limitations they impose on our freedom to act." During the 1960 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon himself conceded that assisting an invasion of Cuba "would violate our treaty commitments" (2:140).
* Why didn't Kennedy authorize the second air strike as planned?
According to most historians, Secretary of State Rusk persuaded Kennedy to cancel the second air strike until it could be made to look like the planes came from captured Cuban airfields. This was consistent with the invasion plan itself, which called for the second air raid to appear to be coming from Cuban defectors who were flying from the beach airstrip. There were undoubtedly other factors that influenced Kennedy and Rusk. As mentioned, the first air attack caused an international uproar, and the U.S. vehemently denied any involvement in the operation. Rusk was concerned that another air raid would reveal American participation.
Rusk undoubtedly played a major part in the cancellation of the second air strike, but Adlai Stevenson's role in the cancellation also warrants consideration. At the time of the invasion, Stevenson, already a senior Democratic figure and the party's previous presidential nominee, was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. When the invasion began, he presented to the U.N. the administration's assurances of non-intervention on behalf of the United States. But within a matter of hours, well before the second air strike was scheduled to occur, news reports revealed apparent American involvement in the invasion. Stevenson was embarrassed and infuriated; he had been made to look like either an uninformed lackey or a deceiver in front of the Cuban ambassador and the UN General Assembly. He phoned Kennedy and threatened to reveal the full extent of U.S. involvement if JFK increased the American role in the operation (12:138; 13:136-137). The young president could not be certain how his rebellious ambassador would react if the second air raid were carried out. By virtually all accounts, Stevenson's threat was an important factor in the decision to cancel the second air strike.
In any case, most observers now agree that a second air strike definitely would not have guaranteed the operation's success, in part because the CIA's planning of the invasion was incompetent and unrealistic. The invasion force consisted of 1,500 men, a small amount of armor, and some artillery, whereas Castro's army had over 200,000 men, dozens of heavy tanks, and plenty of artillery. Unless the CIA planners were counting on American air support, which even Eisenhower had opposed, how could they have believed the exile brigade had a realistic chance of winning? The Agency's execution of the invasion was equally incompetent. Indeed, many of the exiles themselves were furious at the CIA for what they viewed as its bungling of the attack (4:271). So even if there had been a second air strike, the operation's success still would not have been guaranteed.
It should also be noted that the initial reports on the first air strike said it had been mostly successful, that it had destroyed almost all of Castro's air force (5:94). Thus, perhaps with these reports in mind, and concerned about plausible deniability and the uproar that the first raid had caused, President Kennedy probably felt it was both safe and prudent to cancel the second air attack. Nevertheless, when subsequent events proved that the first raid had not destroyed enough of Castro's air power, Kennedy reauthorized a second air strike. It was scheduled for Sunday night, April 17. Unfortunately, there was a thick cloud cover that night, which made it impossible to carry out the raid (6:301; 5:127-128). Moreover, after it became apparent that too many of Castro's planes had survived, JFK authorized the B-26s to bomb at will, and on the afternoon of the invasion one bombing raid destroyed an entire battalion of Castro's forces (5:120-128).
Before moving on, I should point out that some researchers do not believe Kennedy was the one who cancelled the second air strike. According to these writers, the second air raid was cancelled by one of three people: Secretary of State Rusk, special presidential assistant McGeorge Bundy, or General Charles Cabell, the deputy director of the CIA, with Bundy being the most likely candidate. Support for this view comes from the report on the Bay of Pigs prepared by General Maxwell Taylor shortly after the incident.
* Why didn't Kennedy authorize American air support as the situation on the beach grew worse?
This would have been an act of war tantamount to sending in U.S. combat troops. Therefore, it would have been in violation of international law, the OAS charter, and some hemisphere treaties. It also would have completely blown the lid off the operation's cover story. When President Eisenhower approved the preparations for the invasion, even he stipulated there was to be no direct American intervention. Again, this was to be a covert operation.
Furthermore, shortly after the exile force landed at the Bay of Pigs, Soviet Premier Khrushchev sent a strongly worded message to Kennedy blaming the U.S. for the entire operation and threatening to "render to the Cuban people and their government all necessary assistance" to repel the invaders (emphasis added). If JFK had intervened with air strikes against Cuba, would Khrushchev have introduced Soviet air forces into the battle? Would the Soviets have used open American intervention in Cuba as an excuse to attack Berlin? If either of these things had occurred, what would have happened next? Would the confrontation have escalated out of control? Such questions as these surely weighed heavily on Kennedy's mind as he considered the option of employing U.S. military power in the invasion. Yet, for all this, JFK did authorize six U.S. jets to provide an air umbrella for what turned out to be an unsuccessful bombing raid by four B-26s (more will be said about this raid in a moment).
Even if Kennedy had authorized American air strikes, these alone would not have been enough to defeat Castro's army, unless they were massive and prolonged in scope. Naval bombardments also might have been needed. On the other hand, while limited American air and naval support probably would have stopped the counterattack of Castro's forces, eventually we would have had to land a sizable contingent of U.S. Marines or Army combat troops to finish the job. Whether Kennedy had approved large-scale air and naval attacks or opted for limited air and sea support followed by the landing of U.S. ground forces, either of these actions could have triggered a Soviet response and possibly touched off World War III.
Now that we have addressed the most commonly asked questions concerning Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion, let us discuss some important facts about the operation that are often overlooked by his critics.
CIA Deception: A Major Factor
The CIA brazenly misled President Kennedy about the nature of the operation and about its chances for success. For example, the CIA told Kennedy the invasion could not really fail because there was a contingency plan for the freedom fighters to escape into the Escambray Mountains. But these mountains were 80 miles from the Bay of Pigs and the route leading to them was long and swampy. The CIA did not even tell the exile soldiers about the contingency plan (5:224).
The CIA never told JFK that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were worried about the landing sight. The Joint Chiefs did not think the Bay of Pigs was a good location for an invasion. However, the CIA did not see fit to inform the president of their concern, and the chiefs themselves remained silent. Most of the ranking military officers who were brought into the plan "thought the whole thing sounded impractical" (2:140). This information did not manage to find its way to Kennedy, either. CIA director Allen Dulles knew the Agency was counting on American military intervention to make the invasion a success, but he said nothing about this to JFK. Moreover, the CIA assured Kennedy that most of the Cuban exiles had been given guerilla training, when in fact only a few of them had received such instruction.
President Kennedy was by no means the only one who was misled by the CIA. The freedom fighters themselves were given all sorts of wishful assurances and false information by their CIA handlers. The CIA officers at the brigade's training bases in Nicaragua and Guatemala promised the exiles that Castro's tanks would not be able to reach the beachhead because they would be destroyed from the air. The officers also assured the brigade members that Castro's troops would not be able to get through to the beach because the roads leading to the area would be bombed. In addition, the CIA told the freedom fighters that the brigade would not be the only unit involved in the invasion. The leader of the brigade, Pepe San Roman, said he was informed by his American "advisor" that the brigade would constitute only one-tenth of the total invasion force (5:56). Most troubling of all, the CIA led the exile soldiers to believe they would have American air cover and, if necessary, reinforcements consisting of U.S. combat troops.
Planning and Execution
Because of the CIA's poor logistical planning, the exile troops ran out of ammunition. The CIA put all the ammunition and most of the communications equipment, gasoline, and medical supplies on a single ship, which was destroyed by one of Castro's T-33 jet trainers shortly after the invasion began. Then, without consulting the president, CIA officials cancelled a convoy that was to bring more ammunition (1:313).
The CIA failed to adequately scout the beaches at the Bay of Pigs. As a result, the landing force encountered unexpected coral reefs. Vital boats were sunk, while others were delayed. Incredibly, the CIA also overlooked a radio station located on the beach. Soon after the invasion started, the station quickly alerted Cuban officials that an invasion was underway.
As mentioned, on April 19, President Kennedy approved a one-hour flight of American jets to cover an attack by four B-26s from the brigade's base in Nicaragua, but the attack failed. It failed because the CIA officers who dispatched the bombers forgot to take into account the difference between the Nicaraguan and Cuban time zones (4:271; 6:299). Thus, when the B-26s arrived at the Bay of Pigs, they were an hour early and the American jets that were supposed to assist them were still on the aircraft carrier ESSEX. Bravely but hopelessly, the bombers attacked anyway; they did little damage, and were quickly destroyed by Castro's air force.
The CIA did not attempt to activate the underground resistance in Cuba until the afternoon of April 17 (5:120-121). This was over 48 hours after the first bombing raid! Needless to say, by then it was too late for the underground to act. Shortly after the first air strike, roads were closed, many neighborhoods were surrounded, and Castro's security forces started rounding up thousands of "suspects," apprehending numerous members of the underground in the process.
CIA director Allen Dulles later claimed the CIA had never counted on a "spontaneous revolt" to assist the invasion, and many Agency defenders subsequently adopted this view. For example, Mario Lazo said, "The CIA never viewed the operation as one in which the landings would at once touch off a widespread insurrection in a police-state" (7:277). Of course, this does not explain the CIA's failure to alert the underground in time. Moreover, exile leaders Manuel Artime and Pepe San Roman, along with other prominent members of the brigade, disputed the claim that the CIA had not expected a large-scale uprising. Indeed, according to the exiles, they were told by the American intelligence officer at the brigade's base in Guatemala that a CIA intelligence estimate predicted that in the first two days of fighting five thousand men would join them in a voluntary uprising (5:84-85). Kennedy aides Ted Sorenson and Arthur Schlesinger did not agree with Dulles's recollection either. Both men said the CIA presented the anticipated uprising as an integral part of the invasion plan (6:303; 8:247-248). There is no longer credible doubt that senior CIA officials were counting on an uprising as a key part of the invasion.
New Disclosures About the CIA and the Bay of Pigs
A few years ago, the CIA finally released the formerly sealed CIA report on the reasons for the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The report was written by Lyman Kirkpatrick, who was the CIA's Inspector General (IG) at the time, and it is known as the Kirkpatrick Report. This highly revealing report is the subject of Peter Kornbluh's recent book Bay Of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report On The Invasion Of Cuba (New York: The New Press, 1998). It is not hard to see why the CIA didn't want to release the report, for it is strongly critical of the CIA's handling of the invasion and it outright accuses CIA officials of misleading Kennedy on important aspects of the invasion plans. Here are some key points made in the report and in Kornbluh's accompanying research:
* Even after the CIA knew the invasion had little chance of success, CIA officials misled the White House into believing that success was "still likely." At "some point in this degenerative cycle," according to the report, "they [CIA officials] should have gone to the president and said frankly" that the invasion should be halted. (15:12)
* JFK's cancellation of the second airstrike was not the chief cause of the invasion's failure (15:12). Furthermore, the proposal for a second air strike was presented to Kennedy under "ill-prepared, inadequately briefed circumstances," which "better CIA planning, organization, staffing and management would have avoided" (15:12).
* The invasion operation plans were predicated on the belief of senior CIA officials that the invasion would "trigger an uprising" against Castro (15:12). Following the invasion debacle, Dulles and others denied telling Kennedy the invasion would be quickly followed by an uprising of the Cuban people; they also denied that the invasion plans were based on the assumption that such an uprising would occur. The Kirkpatrick Report refutes these claims.
* When Kirkpatrick completed the report, CIA director John McCone ordered Kirkpatrick to turn over the distribution list for all 20 copies of the report. "Most of them," notes Kornbluh, "were retrieved and burned; the copies that remained were locked away in the director's office" (15:15).
* The two principal managers of the invasion plans, CIA operative Jacob Esterline and Marine Col. Jack Hawkins, believed that Richard Bissell, the CIA's Deputy Director of Plans, had misled Kennedy as well as themselves (15:8). They "determined that he [Bissell] had misled them--and the president" (15:8). Bissell was the principal architect of the invasion plan.
* According to Col. Hawkins, Bissell "ignored the emphatic advice given him by the Chief WH/4 and the Paramilitary Chief that a landing at the Bay of Pigs would be disastrous and should be cancelled" (15:8).
* Bissell was "responsible for agreeing to the changes in landing sites, and the reduction of air strikes ordered by the new president" (15:8).
* The report reveals for the first time that a CIA-Mafia assassination plot against Castro was "an explicit component of the Bay of Pigs operation, paid for through the WH/4 Task Force budget. . . ." (15:9). This fact was unknown to the public until the release of the Kirkpatrick Report. Researchers had long been aware of the CIA-Mafia plot to kill Castro, but not that this plot was a key part of the Bay of Pigs invasion plans. So much for the claim that governments can't keep big secrets for very long.
* During the post-invasion investigation, Bissell revealed to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy in May 1961 that the CIA's "associated planning" for the Bay of Pigs included "the use of the underworld against Castro" (15:10). It was Bissell who approved the CIA-Mafia plot to kill Castro (15:8).
* When CIA officials attempted to shift some of the blame onto the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chiefs replied that the final invasion plan was presented to them only orally, which prevented normal staffing; that they had considered the operation as being solely the CIA's; that it had been their understanding that full air support would be furnished; and that CIA officials had assured them that a great number of Cuban insurgents would immediately join up with the invasion force as soon as the invasion began (15:53).
* CIA officials, including Bissell and his deputy Tracy Barnes, were furious with Kirkpatrick's findings. Gen. Cabell, the deputy director, said that in "unfriendly hands" the report could be used to discredit the CIA and threaten its future.
The Berlin Crisis
In June 1961 Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev held a two-day conference in Vienna, Austria. Soon after the conference, the whole world learned that Khrushchev had threatened Kennedy with war over Berlin. During the Vienna meetings, he told Kennedy he would sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany in six months. This, said Khrushchev, would make all of Berlin East German territory. He warned that if the Allies did not withdraw their troops from the city by that time, the Soviets would resort to force to expel them. To make his point clear, the Russian leader told Kennedy, "You can tell that to Macmillan, de Gaulle, and Adenauer, and that if that means war, the Soviets will accept the challenge." Making things worse, on June 15 Khrushchev went on Soviet television and warned that if the West used force to maintain its access to West Berlin, "It would mean war, and a thermonuclear war at that." Later that day the East German leader, Walter Ulbricht, threatened to interfere with Western air traffic to and from Berlin once his country signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union.
The crisis continued to grow. In the early part of July, Khrushchev said he was increasing the Soviet defense budget by a whopping one third, and he repeated his threat to seal off West Berlin. In response, Kennedy went before the American people on radio and television on July 25. He defended the Allies' rights to their presence in West Berlin and said the Soviet threat to the city was part of Khrushchev's effort to drive the U.S. out of Europe and Asia. He warned the Soviets not to underestimate the West's will to fight and to resist aggression.
President Kennedy went on to say that he intended to match the drastic increase in the Soviet defense budget. He called for an additional 3.2 billion dollars in defense spending and upped the Army's strength from 875,000 to nearly a million soldiers. He also asked for a huge increase in non-nuclear weapons and civil defense preparations. In addition, the president announced he would double or even triple draft calls, and that he would put some reserve and National Guard units on active duty status.
The July 25 speech was a masterpiece. In it Kennedy showed firmness and courage, and the American people responded favorably to it. Opinion polls indicated the public strongly backed Kennedy's tough stance. Mail to the White House was overwhelmingly supportive (4:304).
The next phase of the crisis came at 12:30 A.M. on August 13 when East German troops set up roadblocks around East Berlin. A few hours later, they began building the infamous Berlin Wall, exclusively on East German soil, to halt the massive flow of refugees into the Allied sector of the city. The wall was completed in four days, turning East Berlin into a virtual prison.
Three days later, on August 16, Kennedy sent Vice President Johnson and retired General Lucius Clay to Bonn, Germany. More importantly, he ordered 1,500 fully armed U.S. troops to drive through East Germany to West Berlin as a show of force. The troops drove on the Autobahn in armored trucks. Though this move constituted an open challenge to Khrushchev's threats and to East German pride, neither the Soviets nor the East Germans attempted to stop the convoy. Crowds of cheering West Germans met the convoy when it arrived.
In October, after the East Germans had harassed the access route to West Berlin on several occasions, Soviet and American tanks lined up face to face, two rows deep, across the East-West border in Berlin. American, British, and French troops in West Berlin were placed on alert. After sixteen hours, however, the tense confrontation ended peacefully when the Soviet troops backed down.
Some conservative commentators have suggested Kennedy should have authorized U.S. Army forces in West Berlin to knock down the wall when the East Germans started building it. But the wall was on East German soil. Crossing the border and knocking it down would have been an open act of war. Furthermore, what would we have done if the East Germans had begun to rebuild it after we knocked it down? What if Soviet troops had come to assist in the rebuilding? Moreover, neither the State Department nor the Department of Defense recommended knocking down the wall, and our NATO allies almost certainly would have opposed such an action.
President Kennedy's handling of the Berlin crisis showed the right blend of toughness and flexibility. In the end, Khrushchev decided against signing a treaty with East Germany, no attempts were made to block the access route to West Berlin, and the Allies did not relinquish control of their sector of the city. Kennedy also displayed a ready willingness to drastically increase defense spending when needed. In fact, he was responsible for the biggest and most rapid defense buildup in U.S. peacetime history, a fact which his conservative critics usually ignore. Even Thomas Reeves, a strong JFK critic, admits that Kennedy's response to the Berlin crisis was praiseworthy:
There were several lessons to be learned from the Berlin crisis. The [Kennedy] administration made the point that it would go all out to protect West Berlin. It maintained its legal right to enter the city. Kennedy showed Khrushchev, moreover, that he, like Harry Truman, could be daring and firm when directly challenged. Jack's handling of the crisis won the Russian's respect, and this led to constructive efforts by both sides to work together to ease tensions. There were times, and the Berlin crisis was one of them, when the aggressive side of the Kennedy character proved to be both politically advantageous and in the best interests of the nation and world. (4:308-309)
The Cuban Missile Crisis
On October 16, 1962, President Kennedy learned there was photographic evidence the Russians had offensive missiles in Cuba. Six days later, on Kennedy's orders, the Navy had deployed 180 ships in the Caribbean. America's B-52 bombers were airborne and fully loaded with atomic weapons. Five Army divisions were placed on alert, and a sixth was headed for embarkation points in Georgia. At 7:00 P.M. Kennedy went on national television to tell the American people about the missiles and the threat they posed to the nation. He explained he had just ordered a quarantine to prevent any more Soviet ships from reaching Cuba. If the Soviets violated the quarantine, he warned, there would be war. Kennedy said the blockade would remain in place until the Soviet missiles were removed from Cuba.
The quarantine went into effect at 10:00 A.M., Wednesday, October 24. The whole world held its breath to see what would happen next. Kennedy administration officials, including Robert Kennedy, felt the world was on the verge of nuclear war. There were reports that twenty-five Soviet ships and some submarines were en route to Cuba. However, at 10:25 the White House received a message saying that some Soviet ships had come to a halt on the edge of the quarantine line. Other Russian ships turned back toward the Soviet Union. Two days later Khrushchev sent an emotional letter to Kennedy agreeing to all American terms. On Sunday, October 28, Radio Moscow broadcast an official declaration which said, "the Soviet government . . . has given a new order to dismantle the arms which you described as offensive, and to crate and return them to Soviet Russia."
Once again, Kennedy had stood eyeball to eyeball with Khrushchev, and once again the Soviet leader had backed down. There were compromises made behind the scenes by both sides. Publicly, however, Khrushchev was humiliated. Yet, Kennedy was careful not to rub Khrushchev's nose in the dirt over the matter. He ordered his advisors to exercise restraint. He reminded them that it must have been very hard for Khrushchev to back down, and he cautioned against any public claims of an American victory.
JFK and National Defense
No one familiar with the facts could accuse President Kennedy of having been soft on defense. His defense proposal in 1963 actually only called for a cut in the growth of the defense budget in 1963 (10:33). Since U.S.-Soviet relations had begun to improve, Kennedy saw no need to continue his huge military buildup at the furious pace of the preceding two years. Furthermore, a large share of the reduction was to come from closing down unnecessary military bases. The president's proposed slowdown in the growth of defense spending would not have endangered national security.
The fact is that President Kennedy was strong on national defense. I again quote JFK critic Reeves:
. . . Kennedy presided over the largest and most rapid military expansion in America's peacetime history. At the heart of the buildup, which cost $17 billion in additional appropriations, was a nuclear "deterrent" that featured the production and development of nuclear-armed bombers, Polaris submarines, and underground Minuteman missiles. Kennedy increased America's arsenal of nuclear weapons by 150 percent in Western Europe alone. The [Kennedy] administration was committed to being number one in arms. (4:397)
There are many other facts that prove President Kennedy was strong on national defense. For example, Kennedy:
* More than doubled the acquisition rate of Polaris submarines.
* Doubled the production capacity for Minuteman missiles.
* Increased by fifty percent the number of manned bombers standing ready on fifteen-minute alert.
* Doubled the number of ready combat divisions in the Army's strategic reserve.
* Expanded U.S. tactical air power by nearly a dozen wings.
* Increased the active naval fleet by more than seventy vessels.
* Approved a 14.4 percent pay increase for members of the armed forces in 1963.
JFK's Economic Policy
Since most current Democrats who hold government positions believe in higher taxes and seem to be hostile to American business, many people assume President Kennedy was the same way. He most assuredly was not. John F. Kennedy was arguably one of the most pro-business, pro-growth, fiscally conservative presidents we have ever had.
None other than conservative stalwart and Heritage Foundation president Edwin J. Feulner has said, "John F. Kennedy pushed through Congress legislation dramatically lowering marginal tax rates, and produced the growth spurt that would later fuel Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty" (9:5). Feulner adds that Kennedy understood that a "growing economy" must precede the expansion or creation of government assistance programs (9:5).
Jack Kemp, one of the leaders of the modern conservative movement, has said that Kennedy's economic program was a major, successful "experiment with growth oriented tax reduction" (11:59). JFK's tax cuts, says Kemp, "not only forestalled a widely anticipated recession, but launched the economy on a prolonged period of prosperity. . . ." (11:59).
Donald Lambro, a widely read conservative author and an expert on federal taxation and the economy, has praised Kennedy's economic policies:
Kennedy believed that cutting taxes would spur higher economic growth, business expansion and new jobs, and thus would produce more revenue for the government, not less, as some of his advisors had warned him and the Congress. The Kennedy tax cuts resulted in a sharp jump in economic growth, up by 5.8 percent in 1964, and by 6.4 percent in 1965 and 1966, without fueling inflation and/or higher interest rates. Not only did the tax cuts lead to higher real growth, but also the increased tax revenues that flowed from a surging economy led to a balanced budget by 1969--the last time that we have been able to balance the government's books. (14:20)
JFK critic Reeves acknowledges Kennedy's pro-business policies:
The Kennedy administration's policies on taxes, trade, and antitrust were in harmony with corporate tastes. From his conservative State of the Union message through the steel crisis, the president largely resisted the Keynesian appeals of Walter Heller and other liberal advisors. (4:333)
Not only did President Kennedy cut taxes and strengthen our national defense, he also took steps to improve Soviet-American relations, to help the poor and disadvantaged in our society, and to improve America's image overseas. For example, Kennedy:
* Signed Executive Orders increasing quantity and quality of surplus food distributed to jobless Americans and expanding Food for Peace Program to aid overseas needy.
* Started the Peace Corps to send American doctors and social workers to developing countries.
* Signed the Area Redevelopment Bill to aid communities with chronic unemployment.
* Proposed an American space effort greater than all previous efforts combined, and called for putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
* Signed a bill that extended Social Security benefits to five million people and that permitted people to retire with benefits at age 62.
* Signed the most comprehensive Housing Bill in history, initiating aid to middle income families and mass transportation users, and increasing urban renewal and elderly housing.
* Signed legislation to double the federal effort to fight water pollution.
* Signed the most comprehensive wheat and feed grain bill since 1938, which resulted in higher farm income and lower food surpluses.
* Increased the minimum wage for the first time since its inception.
* Signed an Executive Order to end racial discrimination in federal housing.
* Urged final action on Constitutional Amendment outlawing poll tax as a bar to voting--it became the 24th Amendment.
* Signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the first disarmament agreement of the nuclear age.
All of this is not to say that I agree with everything President Kennedy did. Nor is it to say that he was a perfect president. His personal morals certainly left much to be desired. My point is that though he had his faults, he was not a bleeding-heart, anti-business liberal. He was strong on national defense and pursued a pro-growth, pro-business economic policy. On balance, I would say his presidency was good for America.
1. Some researchers say six planes were used for the first air strike, but such authors as strongly pro-Kennedy Arthur Schlesinger to anti-Kennedy Mario Lazo put the number at eight.
2. Says Haynes Johnson, "Why such a vast majority of all the supplies needed for any success whatsoever was committed to one ship is a question still unanswered by the CIA" (5:113). I agree wholeheartedly with Harrison Livingstone's comments on this matter:
No president is in a position to review an entire plan for each of many operations. He is the Commander in Chief and cannot micromanage every detail. He could not have known that the . . . CIA would be so stupid as to put all the ammunition on one ship which was easily blown up with a few bullets from one small trainer jet plane. (3:43)
1. Robert Groden and Harrison Edward Livingstone, HIGH TREASON: THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY AND THE NEW EVIDENCE OF CONSPIRACY, Berkley Edition, New York: Berkley Books, 1990.
2. Jim Marrs, CROSSFIRE: THE PLOT THAT KILLED KENNEDY, New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1989.
3. Harrison Edward Livingstone, HIGH TREASON 2, New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1992.
4. Thomas C. Reeves, A QUESTION OF CHARACTER: A LIFE OF JOHN F. KENNEDY, New York: The Free Press, 1991.
5. Haynes Johnson, THE BAY OF PIGS: THE LEADERS' STORY OF BRIGADE 2506, New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1964.
6. Ted C. Sorenson, KENNEDY, New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1965.
7. Mario Lazo, DAGGER IN THE HEART: AMERICAN POLICY FAILURES IN CUBA, New York: Funk and Wagnells, 1968.
8. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., A THOUSAND DAYS: JOHN F. KENNEDY IN THE WHITE HOUSE, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965.
9. Edward J. Feulner, "Reading His Lips: How to Tell if Clinton Really Is a New Democrat," POLICY REVIEW, Winter 1993, pp. 4-8.
10. John F. Kennedy, THE BURDEN AND THE GLORY: THE HOPES AND PURPOSES OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S SECOND AND THIRD YEARS IN OFFICE AS REVEALED IN HIS PUBLIC STATEMENTS AND ADDRESSES, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1964.
11. Jack Kemp, AN AMERICAN RENAISSANCE: A STRATEGY FOR THE 1980'S, Falls Church, Virginia: Conservative Press, Inc., 1979.
12. Barry Goldwater, WITH NO APOLOGIES, New York: William Morrow and Company, 1979.
13. Barry Goldwater, with Jack Casserly, GOLDWATER, New York: Doubleday, 1988.
14. Donald Lambro, "Americans Can Keep Their Money Without Busting Budget: JFK Correct That Lower Tax Rates Would Produce Higher Revenues," HUMAN EVENTS, August 30 and September 6, 1996, p. 20.
15. Peter Kornbluh, BAY OF PIGS DECLASSIFIED: THE SECRET CIA REPORT ON THE INVASION OF CUBA, New York: The New Press, 1998.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Excelsior College in Albany, New York, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force. He is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in Arabic and Hebrew. He is also a two-time graduate of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas, and holds an Occupational Instructor Certificate from the Community College of the Air Force. He is the author of the book Compelling Evidence: A New Look at the Assassination of President Kennedy (Grand Prairie, TX: JFK-Lancer Productions and Publications, 1996). His articles on the assassination have appeared in several journals that deal with the case. In addition, he is the author of four books on Mormonism and ancient texts.
JFK Assassination Web Page
JFK Assassination Web Page 2
JFK Assassination Web Page 3
JFK Assassination Web Page (Old)