June 10, 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s famous commencement address at Washington, D.C.’s American University. This speech—among JFK’s finest—laid out a vision of how to save America and humanity from the mutually-assured destruction that would come from nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. It also tackled the questions of how to exit the Cold War and accompanying arms race on honorable terms and how to create a new peace with the USSR based not on ignoring our ideological and political differences—which were substantive and fundamental—but instead recognizing our shared humanity, which had been lost in the propaganda, saber-rattling, and undermining actions from both sides amounting to “war by other means.”
The president’s message was delivered in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which, in the absence of JFK’s careful diplomatic maneuvering against the wishes of his military and security advisors, likely would have resulted in nuclear confrontation and the total annihilation of both nations.
JFK’s vision of peace was specific:
Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women—not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
The message, of course, was trampled underfoot less than six months later in the blood and mire of JFK’s assassination—under circumstances that to this day are shadowed by lies and dissimulation. Sixty years later, it is worth reflecting on why JFK was marked for death and why we should still care.
For most of us, especially those too young to have lived through it, the assassination of one of America’s most beloved presidents is a fact of history, but not something that touches us personally. Most Americans living today, having no memory of it, spend little time reflecting on it. For many of us, it is like the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide. We are aware it happened, but are typically emotionally and morally detached from it. Only when we choose to stare at it, for example by visiting a site, hearing recollections from those who can recall it, or viewing the images, the reality and horror don’t really strike home. This year’s anniversary allows us a time for a deeper reflection.
As author James W. Douglass describes in JFK and the Unspeakable, Kennedy by 1963 had made himself irredeemably odious to the dark powers of the intelligence community and the military-industrial complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had warned the nation about just two years before.
Shortly following his inauguration in 1961, Kennedy ended U.S. support of the CIA’s puppet government in Laos, irritating both Langley and the Pentagon. JFK later reached an agreement with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to support a neutral and independent Laos, undermining the CIA’s efforts.
Later that year, following the Bay of Pigs disaster, JFK realized he had been led into a trap laid by the CIA intended to force his hand to order the invasion of Cuba. JFK semi-privately declared he wanted “to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the wind.” He proposed a budget that cut the spy agency’s expenditures by 20 percent. He ordered the termination of CIA-led, U.S.-based paramilitary teams and sabotage programs used to undermine Cuban shipping, commerce, and infrastructure.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK steadfastly resisted insistent demands by the Joint Chiefs and others in the military and intelligence communities to preemptively attack Russian missile sites in Cuba. Instead, he opened a secret, back channel dialogue with Khrushchev. He made both public and private statements that led Khrushchev to back down, which saved the world from nuclear war and the annihilation of the human race. The military and intelligence communities were enraged that JFK refused to invade the Communist island nation while he had the chance, which had been the objective of the events leading up to the crisis.
A few months later, again against the will of the U.S. military and intelligence communities, JFK removed nuclear-armed Jupiter missiles based in Turkey near the Soviet border. This was done as a quid pro quo for Khrushchev having removed nuclear warheads from Cuba.
In the American University commencement address, JFK proposed a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty with the USSR, and, as a signal of good faith, announced the unilateral suspension of atmospheric nuclear tests—both with the objective of eventual nuclear disarmament. The military-industrial complex was aghast. The president had turned on them and become a peace-lover. Despite the resistance from military leadership on both sides, the two empires entered into a limited nuclear test ban treaty. In the background, JFK continued to work on a plan for complete bilateral nuclear disarmament up until his death.
JFK resisted or shut down multiple CIA programs and clandestine projects, including those with the objective of the assassination of Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro. JFK began back-channel dialogue with Castro intended to reduce the tension and risk of armed conflict. In the view of the intelligence communities, both then and now, dialogue with one’s adversary is tantamount to treason.
JFK took on the steel industry, forcing price rollbacks and initiating cancellation of defense contracts that acted as a kick in the shins of the military-industrial complex. He sought to restore a democratic elected government to the Congo, then being run by a proxy government overseen by the CIA for the benefit of Belgian and other mining interests.
JFK was determined to exit Vietnam, which he considered unwinnable. In early 1962, he and Defense Secretary Bob McNamara ordered military leadership to develop a plan to reduce U.S. military command, and to return responsibility for the war to the South Vietnamese. These orders were ignored. In August 1963, JFK immediately regretted approving a CIA led coup that resulted in the assassination of the weak but U.S.-allied South Vietnamese leader, Ngo Dinh Diem. JFK once again believed he was set up by the CIA.
Six weeks before his assassination on November 22, 1963, JFK issued a secret National Security Action Memorandum ordering the withdrawal from Vietnam of 1,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year, and of the vast majority by 1965. Military brass and the defense industry were outraged. Following his death, these plans were rescinded, and U.S. military buildup in Vietnam began in earnest under President Johnson.
The list of JFK’s violations against the powers of the deep state goes on and on. Whether as the result of one or the sum of all the above, by mid-1963 John F. Kennedy had become “Enemy of the State Number One.”
Immediately following the assassination, false flag operations were initiated to turn attention away from what actually happened and by whom. Witnesses were disappeared or bought off, evidence was destroyed or altered, information was buried away in files that would see the light of day only decades later. This is all chronicled by Douglass in excruciating detail based on newly declassified information only made publicly available in this century.
We can trace some of the consequences of JFK’s death to the downward spiral of the nation over the following years. The bodies of assassinated political and moral leaders such as Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy continued to pile up. Vietnam escalated, endured for 10 more years, and was pursued at the cost of the lives of over 58,000 U.S. military personnel, an estimated 400,000 Vietnamese civilians, and about $1 trillion (in present-day dollars). This all despite the foreknowledge by each U.S. presidential administration from Eisenhower to Nixon of the impossibility of U.S. victory. The Cold War would continue for three more decades, with trillions of dollars spent on a futile arms race. Culturally, the American people were divided in two, and the image of America around the world sullied as a result of these and other actions.
As I write in Why America Matters, Americans of all walks of life stopped trusting their leaders. Today, “less than a quarter of Americans say they ‘can trust the government in Washington to do what is right, compared with about three-quarters before the Vietnam War.’ This general distrust, and the long-term decline since the 1960s, spans across lines of party, ideology, age, and ethnicity.”
It is no coincidence that three of the leading contenders for the Oval Office in 2024—running not just against Joe Biden but these dark forces themselves—are each focused on the issue of confronting and reining in the abusive powers of the deep state. Former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as well as attorney and torch-bearer of the Kennedy legacy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., while not agreeing that they agree, are all running on the proposition that they will aggressively challenge the entrenched bureaucracy.
While—unlike JFK—Trump lived to tell the tale, he has been through his own version of deep state targeting, malfeasance, and corruption through the multiple frauds of Russiagate, sham impeachments and arrests, and the complicity of all involved in covering up and slow-walking the Hunter Biden investigation. Surely this experience has taught Trump valuable lessons he will not soon forget.
Meanwhile, DeSantis and Kennedy each also has experience in taking on the administrative state—one as a state governor and the other as regulatory lawyer. Each of them has made clear that dismantling the corrupt and blood-sotted Leviathan would be a top priority of his administration.
While as of today neither Kennedy nor DeSantis appears likely to win his party’s nomination in the primaries, the fact that each is polling as strongly as they are speaks to Americans’ growing frustration with the weaponization of their government.
The deep state may be alive and well, but we can hope it is on its last legs. It will likely not need to be forcibly dismantled from the outside before it implodes on itself from the decrepitude inside, crumbling under the weight of its own history of lies, corruption, deception, assassination, crimes against its real or presumed foreign enemies, its own citizens, and humanity at large. The burden of these sins may have grown too heavy to bear for the institutions and people guilty of committing them and on those who continue to hide them.
To the tens of thousands of patriotic men and women who serve faithfully and honorably in these institutions, may the legacy of JFK encourage you to stand up for truth and resist the corruption and politicization that has captured many in senior leadership over these decades. To those compromised government leaders who continue to pursue wickedness and undermine the will of the American people, know that the hour of justice and recompense is coming, as surely as the rising of the sun.