In Part 6 of Untold History of the United States, filmmaker Oliver Stone reveals that Kennedy vacillated between supporting and opposing the anti-communist Pentagon hawks who tried to control his foreign policy.
- In 1960, JFK made the “missile gap” (ie the so-called Soviet advantage in strategic weapons) a major plank of his campaign – only to discover (on taking office) that the US was far ahead in every category.
- Under pressure from the CIA and Joint Chiefs, he initially approved the Bay of Pigs invasion, only to refuse to authorize air support when he discovered they had lied to him about domestic Cuban support for the invasion.
- After the bungled Bay of Pigs operation, he fired Allen Dulles and other top CIA officials and placed all overseas CIA operations under State Department control. At the same time, he also put his brother Bobby in charge of Operation Mongoose, a secret program in Louisiana to train Cuban exiles to overthrow and/or poison Castro (Joan Mellen discusses Bobby’s role at length in her 2013 book on the JFK assassination – see New Evidence in the JFK Assassination).
- He resisted pressure from the Joint Chiefs to invade Laos.
- Despite resisting pressure from the Pentagon to increase arms expenditures, in 1961 he warned the American people against dangerous Soviet aggression and encouraged them to build fallout shelters.
- He approved the deployment of 16,000 advisors (in addition to CIA personnel) to engage in guerilla warfare in Vietnam. He also approved Operation Phoenix, which involved massive defoliation of the Vietnamese with cancer and birth defect-causing Agent Orange, the assassination of labor leaders and human rights advocates and the mass displacement of Vietnamese civilians into concentration camps.
- He resisted pressure from the Joint Chiefs to launch a nuclear strike on Cuba when a U2 spy plane discovered the Soviets had supplied Castro with nuclear-tipped ICBMs.
Most of the episode focuses on the naval blockade JFK imposed on Cuba during the Cuban Missile crisis and the delicate negotiations between him and Khrushchev to prevent this event from escalating into full blown nuclear war.
It’s Stone’s view that both Kennedy and Khrushchev lost control of their militaries during this period. According to Stone, it was down to a single brave Soviet submarine commander that global nuclear annihilation was averted in 1962. He believes the near-miss in Cuba caused Kennedy to rethink US involvement in Vietnam – and issue National Security Memorandum 263 in summer 1963. The latter ordered the gradual withdrawal of all US forces from Vietnam to commence in December 1963.
Johnson would reverse this directive within weeks of the JFK assassination.
Part 6 – JFK to the Brink