Preserving Their Legacy
In the Name of Duty
The breed of men who occupied Kennedy's Cabinet promoted a brand of duty-bound policy which harboured disdain for democratic principles. Men like McGeorge Bundy, for example, were "the finest example of a special elite, a certain breed of man whose continuity is among themselves. They are linked to one another rather than to the country; in their minds they are responsible for the country but not responsive to it."1 The so-called "Establishment men" were ultimately loyal to a specific policy, not to the president of the United States. Like Bundy, Dean Rusk, the man who became Kennedy's Secretary of State was an "Establishment man par excellence." When Kennedy was elected president, he expressed concern over the need to appoint the right person for the right job, and if he was sceptical about who to appoint, the Establishment had a ready list of professionals to run the government: "the Establishment had long lists and it would be delighted to co-operate with the young president, help him along."2 Dean Rusk, a quiet, disciplined, hardworking "patriot" was appointed Secretary of State after he cautiously and consciously, through Establishment channels, "slowly sidled into the prime position."3The quiet, well organized campaign which focused upon Rusk was extremely deliberate and thorough. In the spring of 1960, Rusk, who rarely ever published, wrote an article which dealt with the role of the Secretary of State. On November 22, 1960, Rusk wrote a letter to Kennedy himself, which amongst other things, promoted liberal ideas, like Rusk's claim that "the supreme court decision on integration was long overdue..."4 Rusk even got Chester Bowles, a liberal who was philosophically on the same plane as Kennedy, to put a good word in for him. When Kennedy finally selected Rusk, nobody was more surprised than the new Secretary of State himself. Rusk's first meeting with Kennedy left him with the impression that he could not communicate with the new President and he therefore did not expect to be selected. Perhaps, if Kennedy had more carefully examined the genuine temperament of Dean Rusk, he would have selected a Secretary of State who was not as ideologically motivated as Rusk was. The "establishment campaign" to have him nominated Secretary of State, was certainly disingenuous in its single minded portrayal of "liberal Rusk". In 1950, when Rusk was Assistant Secretary of State for Eastern Affairs, his speeches were so violently anti Communist that "the blood" was "virtually dripping off the teeth of the Chinese-Russian aggressor."5 In 1962, as the groundwork which lead to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty developed, Rusk exposed his disdain for the agreement when he said: "I wouldn't make the smallest concession for moral leadership. It's much overrated."6 Rusk didn't say very much, but he certainly was consistent. He was apparently of the view that "misguided liberals" played into the hands of the Communists, and anyone who opposed his commitment to wage war against Communism was dead wrong. Rusk fervently believed in the traditional military point of view that anti-Communist force was not only always right, but always necessary. Above all, he was a very predictable man. His traditional, inflexible views were the "Establishment's" views, his pre-defined sense of duty charted a predictable course of action that "played by the rules of the game and the rules were very strict..."7
Rusk's discipline, hard work and pre-defined commitments complemented the philosophy of Lyndon Johnson, who felt extremely comfortable in the company of Kennedy's Secretary of State. By contrast, the communication gap between Kennedy and Dean Rusk became wider and wider as the passage of time exposed the fundamental conflict between an ideologue and a non-ideologue. At any rate, Kennedy, who ultimately viewed himself to be his own Secretary of State, particularly when it came to a deadlocked foreign policy issue, was not too concerned about Dean Rusk because he could always "pull rank". It is Rusk who was deeply troubled by the so-called liberal meddlers he perceived to be too incompetent to direct American foreign policy. Like Lyndon Johnson, who passionately detested the time he served as Kennedy's Vice President, being the Secretary of State under a "misguided liberal" like Kennedy was equally unbearable for Rusk. Perhaps nothing reflects the irreconcilable conflict between Rusk and Kennedy more than the single-minded, etched-in-stone commentary that Rusk made whenever anybody expressed a point of view which challenged his sense of a responsible foreign policy course of action. When, for example, Ambassador Chester Bowles, after having returned from a trip to Southeast Asia, suggested that the neutralization of Vietnam was a viable political option to pursue, Dean Rusk turned to him in surprise and said: "You realize, of course, you're sprouting the Communist line."8 Rusk evidently believed that military victory was the only acceptable solution to the conflict in Vietnam and anyone who suggested otherwise "sprouted the Communist line". The enlightening comment, which is consistent with all of Rusk's thinking, reflects the unyielding attitude and the inflexible American foreign policy course of action that led directly to war in Vietnam. Moreover, it is the course of action which placed Kennedy, who dared to contemplate and plan non-military options, in direct confrontation with his own Secretary of State. Chester Bowles is quite explicit about the State Department's inflexible determination to shape the course of American foreign policy when he said that any idea which violated Rusk's "shaping Asia policy" commitments, faced the extreme contempt of Dean Rusk's State Department.9 Bowles encountered contempt merely because he dared to think about Asia in terms which were not single-mindedly geared towards the determination to militarily contain Communism.
Bowles did not have the authority to move the State Department and the fact that a relatively insignificant public servant could arouse State Department anger reflects the ire that John F. Kennedy's views invariably provoked. Kennedy was certainly not the "shape Asia policy" ideologue that the State Department welcomed. Indeed, in the tradition of Chester Bowles, John F. Kennedy also "sprouted the Communist line." John F. Kennedy did not, by even the most outrageous stretch of the imagination, confine himself to the ideological commitments that motivated Dean Rusk and that invariably produced an unbearable level of discord between Kennedy and his own Secretary of State. As far as Rusk was concerned, Kennedy was nothing- beyond a foreign policy amateur and Rusk detested "the amateur, the meddlers, the intellectuals around him, playing with power, testing their theories on the world."10
The great divide between Rusk and Kennedy was stark and irreconcilable. Rusk believed that traditional Establishment views were unchallengeable, Kennedy despised the rigid, self-propelled foreign policy course of action that dominated post-World War II politics. Rusk despised what he viewed to be Kennedy's tendency to appease Communists, Kennedy was disturbed by anti-Communist hysterics who subverted the effort to infuse a sense of morality into the exercise of leadership. Rusk was committed to ideology, Kennedy was committed to rational, independent judgment, and to the reversal of the dangerous, pre-defined path of the Cold War. Rusk's primary commitment was to militarily contain Communism, Kennedy was dedicated to what he viewed to be the need to break down the barriers between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The assassination of John F. Kennedy resolved the high-level, deadlocked dispute between Rusk-style ideologues and Kennedy-style rationality. In particular, Kennedy absolutely despised the Cold War tendency to lull America to war.
Although Kennedy was the President of the United States, officials like Rusk and McNamara assumed office to lead and to shape the course of foreign affairs, they were not prepared to allow anyone to stand in the way of what they saw as saw as their responsibilities -not even the President of the United States. The ideological divide clearly indicated that resignation was the only legal recourse to breaking the political deadlock between Kennedy and the political adversaries within his own government. Only President Kennedy did not have to resign, to uphold the principles that motivated him -he was officially the commander-in-chief. According to Dean Rusk, the thought of resigning never crossed his mind while he was Kennedy's Secretary of State. In the words of Rusk himself: "I didn't consider resigning on points on which the President took a different view than I did on a matter of policy".11 In retrospect, Rusk betrayed a poignant admission, because if he did not contemplate his own resignation, he obviously contemplated the "resignation" of John F. Kennedy. Dean Rusk may ignore the obvious divide between Kennedy and his Cabinet, but the claim that serious differences did exist is not even remotely credible. Perhaps Rusk feels comfortable about promoting outrageous claims because sophisticated politicians like Kennedy and Rusk did not air their differences in public and the so-called official record is consequently rather sterile. In the words of Dean Rusk:
I tried to talk out those differences with the President in private so that no one, particularly the press and members of my own Department, would ever see any gap between me and the President because I felt that a President had a right to have a Secretary of State who supported the President's policy.12
True enough, but what about differences which were so fundamentally opposed that they were not subject to resolution? According to Rusk, there weren't any. As a matter of fact, he goes a step beyond that. If one listens to Dean Rusk talk about White House policy while Kennedy was President, one gets the impression that Dean Rusk and Kennedy were in fact a single person -not the slightest policy disagreement between them. Indeed, if either of them dropped dead at any moment in time, nobody would notice the difference because one would pick up exactly where the other left off. In retrospect, the motivation behind the relentless obsession to promote the belief that Kennedy and Rusk were always on the same wavelength is at least understandable, in terms of the zealous campaign to cover up the motivation which claimed the life of John F. Kennedy. Rusk's oral history interviews bounce back and forth, to and from the obsession to promote the disingenuous claim that Kennedy and Rusk were ideologically aligned and to and from the obsession to aggressively denounce any "ignoramus" who suggested otherwise. In the words of Dean Rusk:
I think the historian will want to think pretty carefully about the difference between John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States, and what latter came to be called the Kennedy group, because after John F. Kennedy's death the Kennedy group took points of view on policy which were not those of John F. Kennedy. The historian will want to make a judgment on John F. Kennedy on the basis of what he said and did while he was President of the United States and not on the basis of what Robert Kennedy or [Edward M.] Ted Kennedy or various so-called Kennedy people said about these things after John F. Kennedy was killed. John F. Kennedy rejected the advice of Arthur Schlesinger and Jerome Wiesner and Kenneth Galbraith and others while he was President of the United States, and I personally don't like to see John F. Kennedy captured by a post-mortem Kennedy cabal which took a very different point of view on the main issues which Kennedy had to face when he was President of the United States. My own personal belief is that Lyndon Johnson carried out the authentic John F. Kennedy policy, and in doing so, he encountered the opposition of some of those who claim to be Kennedy men. And this is one of the things which the historian will have to dig into with some care because it has created a good deal of confusion among the American people.13
Wow! Talk about confusing the American people or about the obsession to deny the obvious communication gap between Rusk and Kennedy. This Warren Report-like version of the Kennedy record is too contrived and too transparently fraudulent to credibly promote. The historian has very clearly thought about the authentic John F. Kennedy policy and Lyndon Johnson clearly reversed it on the very day that Kennedy was killed. Case closed. At the same time, let us continue to give Dean Rusk the opportunity to air longwinded denials like:
I think I said this in our last interview, but I think it's very important for the historian to look very carefully at what President Kennedy said and did while he was President about Southeast Asia because some of the so-called Kennedy people in later years said things about Southeast Asia that were not compatible with what President Kennedy himself said and did. I am not myself going to call upon a man who is no longer alive as a witness in later policy. And I would urge the historian to make his judgment on President Kennedy in terms of what President Kennedy said and did while he was President and not on what was later said about President Kennedy by some of those who call themselves Kennedy people.14
Advise taken. What President Kennedy did while he was President was to repeatedly deny military requests to commit ground troops to war in Southeast Asia and what he said is that every American in Vietnam, including the very last helicopter pilot, would be out by 1965 and he drew up formal plans to make his commitment to withdrawal absolutely clear to everyone, including Dean Rusk. There is no need to second guess the will of John F. Kennedy -he made his intentions absolutely clear while he was alive. If Dean Rusk takes advantage of the fact that Kennedy is no longer alive to contest fraud, it is he and not the so-called "Kennedy people" who deserve rebuke. In the final analysis, history will record that Dean Rusk, the great American "patriot", was in fact a cowardly liar, and the so-called "Kennedy people" who merely recorded the truth, were in fact worthy patriots.
Rusk's determination to prove that John F. Kennedy shared the obsession to prosecute the Vietnam war is ultimately scandalous. In his own, extremely fraudulent terms:
Well, I think that I would come back to the point that I made earlier that President Kennedy's attitude on Vietnam ought to be derived from what he said and did while he was President, that he felt very strongly that we had a commitment there, that the security of Southeast Asia was important to the security of the United States, that we could not let a course of aggression develop momentum in Southeast Asia that could well set us on a course toward World War III, and that in any event the commitment of the United States under security treaties is the principal pillar of peace in the world and what happens to those security treaties is the most important thing there is to the safety of the American people.15
Rusk's obsession to distort the Kennedy record was so comprehensive that he even borrowed Kennedy's inaugural address to "prove" that he and Kennedy had parallel views about the Vietnam war. According to the often quoted passage that Rusk cites in his Second Oral History Review:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
This "bear any [reasonable] burden" rhetoric, which is subject to individual interpretation, was fully exploited by Lyndon Johnson, who shared the same interest in distorting the Kennedy record. As a matter of fact, Johnson may have just as well quoted Kennedy himself, when he said:
We love peace. We shall do all we can in order to preserve it for ourselves and all mankind. But we love liberty the more and we shall take up any challenge, we shall answer any threat. We shall pay any price to make certain that freedom shall not perish from this earth.16
Nice try! But despite all the rhetoric, the record of those who struggled to maintain the peace and those who dropped all the bombs is very clear. Dozens of authors, commentators, broadcasters and undiscriminating historians, bolstered by historical distortions of the sort that Rusk and Johnson aggressively promoted, echo the tendency to use Kennedy's inaugural address to brand him a Cold War zealot. It is a pure distortion that cannot, by any reasonable analysis, be credibly defended. There is clearly a fundamental contrast between the propaganda of an ideologue and the rhetoric of a non-ideologue, and all the cover up in the world cannot change that.
Practically everything that Dean Rusk says about the Kennedy administration is tainted by the need to dance around the truth. First and foremost, Vietnam was one of those issues that had "no comfortable answer" to anyone except the Cold War ideologues who had convinced themselves that they were saving the U.S. from Communism and the world from a nuclear nightmare. Moreover, Kennedy did not, as Rusk indicates, want the "Department of State to take the clear leadership inside the government on the formulation of policy."17 Kennedy wanted to be his own Secretary of State, he did not want to hand control of the formulation of foreign policy to Dean Rusk. Rusk's interpretations are all conveniently slanted in a manner which produces extreme distortions. Regarding the Bay of Pigs, Rusk says: "If I had to make a guess, I would guess that the principal effect of the Bay of Pigs was on the thinking of President Kennedy and that he was more resolved after the Bay of Pigs than he was before about stemming the movement of Communism in Southeast Asia".18 About the neutralization of Laos, Rusk said: "At the time we made the decision not to put troops in Laos, President Kennedy made the decision that if we had to make a fight for Southeast Asia, we should do it in Vietnam where air and sea power could be brought to bear and where lines of communication were much more favourable to us than they might have been in Laos".19 About any doubt whatsoever: "There was never any question in President Kennedy's mind that Southeast Asia was vital to the security of the United States. The only question in his mind was where we would make the fight if we had to make a fight, and his decision was we should make it in Vietnam". About confirmation: "He spent a lot of time on it, had a lot of investigations made, and really made a substantial and sober decision as President of the United States to resist in Vietnam". One can go on and on belabouring the point because Rusk never stops fraudulently ascribing his own obsessive zeal to Kennedy, but one final, independent point of view will suffice. Kennedy told Lester Pearson, the Prime Minister of Canada that his only concern regarding Vietnam was not how to "make the fight", but how to withdraw, the presumption being that ideologues like Dean Rusk were prepared to challenge his determination to avoid a land war in Southeast Asia.20
In short, Rusk's obsession about the need to prosecute the Vietnam war collided with Kennedy's determination to find a way out of Vietnam, and that conflict was finally resolved when an extremely secretive "Special Group" plotted the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
If you would like to read the rest of the book you can purchase Preserving Their Legacy on Amazon -the name of the author/historian is Mat Wilson.
1David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, p.76.
9Chester Bowles Interview, recorded by Denis J. 0'Brien, Second Oral History Interview, July 1, 1970, p.59, John F. Kennedy Library.
10David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, p.377.
11Dean Rusk Interview, recorded by Dennis J. 0'Brien, Eighth Oral History Interview, July, 21 1970, p.393, John F. Kennedy Library.
13Dean Rusk Interview, recorded by Dennis J. 0'Brien, Sixth Oral History Interview, April 27, 1970, p.306, John F. Kennedy Library.
14Dean Rusk Interview, recorded by Dennis J. 0'Brien, Second Oral History Interview, December 9, 1969, p.57, John F. Kennedy Library.
16David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, p. 634-35.
17Dean Rusk Interview, recorded by Dennis J. 0'Brien, Sixth Oral History IntervIew, April 27, 1970, p.242, John F. Kennedy Library.
18Dean Rusk interview, recorded by Dennis O'Brien, First Oral History Interview, December 2, 1969, p.18, John F. Kennedy Library.
19Dean Rusk Interview, recorded by Dennis J. 0'Brien, Sixth Oral History IntervIew, April 27, 1970, p.314, John F. Kennedy Library.
20Lawrence Martin, The Presidents & The Prime Ministers, p.222.
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