Memo To: Seymour M. Hersh
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your Book
Just finished your book, The Dark Side of Camelot, which is unusual, in that I start dozens of books every year and only finish a few of them. The last was Dinesh D'Souza's biographical perspective of Ronald Reagan. In both cases, I began the books almost certain I would not get very far, but instead found a very high return of investment of my time. In your case, the pre-publicity put me off, as it prepared me for dubious reporting and a low level account of the sex life of JFK, which I did not really need. Over the years, I'd already developed a sense of the dark side of Camelot on that score. In the reading, I appreciated the broader scope of your treatment, especially on foreign policy.
I was a political reporter/columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal when JFK was President. I'd voted for him in 1960, my first vote for the presidency when I was 24. I'd gotten to know some of the executives of the resort hotels, including several whom I assumed had ties to the "mob." After the assassination, I learned from them that when he was still in the Senate, Jack Kennedy would go to the shows at the Desert Inn and Sands and routinely pick out the chorus girl that appealed to him, occasionally asking for two at the same time. He was highly regarded by the Las Vegas movers and shakers, men who at the same time despised his brother Bobby. The complaint against RFK was that he walked out of town in 1960 with satchels of cash they had filled for him, returning after the election with federal agents and wiretaps, trying to put them in prison. That's not the way it was supposed to work.
I'd also heard enough on the grapevine to conclude fairly early that Kennedy had attempted the assassination of Castro after the Bay of Pigs. In my book The Way the World Works, which was written in 1977, I noted on p. 47: "Kennedy's determination to box in Cuba, which included plans to assassinate Fidel Castro, left Castro no avenue but the assassination of Kennedy, which followed by a month (November 1963) the assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem. Diem's removal had the implicit support of the Kennedy administration." Your reporting on Kennedy's involvement with the world of organized crime in the Castro business makes complete sense to me and I appreciate the fine detail and attributed interviews. Your extensive reporting makes your conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone a credible one. Still, I would not be surprised if there are further revelations in the years ahead that deepen the Oswald connection with Cuba and we find that he was in some way inspired by the Castro regime to go after Kennedy — who Castro knew was trying to kill him.
Your legwork on the assassination of South Vietnam's Diem in early November 1963 is also an important contribution to history of the period. I don't recall 1963 is also an important contribution to history of the period. I don't recall previous reports that so clearly put fhe President "in the know," not only about the masterminding of the coup, but of the fact that his generals informed Kennedy's people that they would kill Diem. When I joined the National Observer in May 1965, coming from the sticks in Nevada, I spent months reading everything I could find on Vietnam, trying to figure it out so I could be professional in covering the continuing story. I was persuaded even then that the Kennedy team was directly responsible for the coup, whether or not they knew Diem would be killed in the process. This was a critical finding. It led me to argue that once we did this, the United States could no longer simply assist the government of South Vietnam. It then became the moral responsibility of the people of the United States to see the Vietnam War to its conclusion. Until that point, Republicans could argue that the conflict in Vietnam was a local conflict. Once the Kennedy administration decided that the Diem government was getting in the -way of its interests, the regimes that followed were puppet regimes of the United States. What INTERESTS was the Diem government getting in the way of. As you indicate, Mr. Hersh, it was Kennedy's re-election in 1964. His plan seemed to be to use the coup as a PR move, hoping the military government would be able to hold things together for another year, after which we could blame failure on them and pull out. As you put it:
[P]erhaps Bobby did not talk of future peace in South Vietnam because he himself could not deal with the truth about Diem's downfall, and he wanted no journalist or future historian to be able to tell the full story ~ that John F. Kennedy had put his re-election ahead of the well-being of the soldiers and civilians in Vietnam, and the life of a former ally... Bobby Kennedy was justifying his brother's continued prosecution of the war by falling back on the domino theory, which drove so much of America's foreign policy in the Vietnam War. History has shown that the only dominos that fell were the eight successive military governments in South Vietnam that collapsed, corrupt regime after corrupt regime, after Ngo Dinh Diem's murder in November 1963. Whatever Jack Kennedy's intentions were, Vietnam was his war, even after his death.
One bit of history that you did not take into account, which I discussed for the first time in my book twenty years ago, was an even earlier act of imperialism by the Kennedy government. In December 1961, we told Diem that unless he did what our team of ECONOMISTS was urging upon him, we would withdraw military assistance. In other words, we dictated the insane Keynesian economic program that instantly imploded the South Vietnam economy — including a 71% ad valorem tax on "luxury" goods, that included practically everything but rice. You can find the pertinent story on page one of the NYTimes of January 5, 1962. \t the time, fewer than 20 Americans had lost their lives in Vietnam. In the past 10 years, my account of the economic poison we forced down Diem's gullet has lot been mentioned in any other account, in a newspaper, periodical, or book, this is because I indict not only an entire profession for the economic descriptions that led us into a war that cost the lives of 58,000 Americans and several times as many Vietnamese; I indict the entire political establishment, which did give its blessing to our imperial policy diktat. Of course, President Kennedy had no idea what his economists were doing to Diem. He was no doubt otherwise occupied, in the White House swimming pool with Elly Romesch and other naked ladies being supplied him.
History will not be kind to JFK. The dark side of Camelot was the dominant side. Presidents who put their pleasures or their re-elections ahead of the American people come to unhappy ends.