Unexpected drama part and parcel to presidency

November 25, 2008

(Copyright 2008)

The WALTHER REPORT

By Tony Walther

Most or all of my knowledge of President John F. Kennedy’s administration is like a video tape rolling in my head. I watched so much of it on TV as an adolescent. But that doesn’t mean that everything in there is accurate. I just got through madly searching Wikipedia and anything else I could find on the web concerning Kennedy’s immediate public reaction to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and didn’t have much luck.

Even though several sources indicated that he took “full responsibility” for the failure, I did not find what in my head I always assumed to be fact. I always have pictured him making one of those solitary oval office television addresses, such as the one on the Cuban Missile Crisis, acknowledging his mistake concerning the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. But nowhere could I immediately find that.

So, maybe I’ll get back to that point later after more research.

History tells us, though, that the fiasco was not only covertly supported by the U.S., but that it was what you might call an open secret at the time. It had been set in motion by the Eisenhower administration, who informed the incoming president Kennedy of the plan. Kennedy went along with it, but apparently decided that he would not get our armed forces involved in it should things go wrong. Unfortunately, that was not what the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency-backed Cuban expatriates who invaded were told and the end result is that they were left stranded on the beach with not so much as air cover (that they expected), eventually being killed or captured by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s forces. The U.S. was at odds with Castro, who had become a follower of the Soviets.

It was an embarrassment for the new administration, but it moved on. Later the Cuban Missile Crisis came along and Kennedy redeemed himself by standing up to the Soviets.

Some conspiracy theorists think that the CIA was so mad at Kennedy over the Bay of Pigs and for the purported notion that Kennedy was ready to pull out of Vietnam (the U.S. still being in an advisory role in that fight against the communist insurgency) that they were behind his assassination. Kennedy of course was assassinated on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, 45 years ago.

Faulty memory or not, I can tell you this, the assassination was one of the most bizarre things I have ever witnessed (via TV and newspapers). The president was shot while riding in an open limousine on the streets of Dallas, and then the apparent shooter was assassinated by a gunman as he was being taken on what we might call today a “perp walk”, one of those contrived occurrences where a criminal suspect is marched in front of the cameras, usually in shackles. In this case they were moving Lee Harvey Oswald from one jail to another though a crowd of newsmen and others (how much sense did that make?).

Over the weekend I saw a clip from an interview with the cop that was escorting Oswald. He said that just before they started on the walk he remarked to Oswald: “If anyone shoots, I hope they’re accurate,” meaning he hoped they hit Oswald, not him (and how weird is that? that he would think to say such a thing). Shooting point blank, Jack Ruby couldn’t hardly miss. And he had no trouble getting into position, both because of the mob scene and the fact he was a well-known fixture around the police headquarters, being kind of a groupie. The hand gun Ruby used had been purchased for him by a policeman friend, although reportedly not for killing Oswald but for Ruby’s protection as a nightclub owner who carried large amounts of cash to the bank.

(And come to think of it, I think the live-on-TV shooting of assassination suspect Oswald by Ruby was the first time I ever remember of a news clip being played constantly over and over again for a day or more. In fact, I understand the now archaic technology used to replay that video (or film?) led to the modern instant replay used so much in sports. The next news clip that got possibly even more play was the space ship Challenger blowup on Jan. 28, 1986. Nowadays all kinds of clips are on YouTube and elsewhere for constant replay.)

I think a lot of people wondered if we really had gotten out of control as a nation when after just enduring the assassination of our president we witnessed live on TV the murder of the suspected assassin.

And while the evidence is clear that Oswald shot from the upper story window of the Texas School Book Depository, just who were those mysterious characters on the grassy knoll? I am sure I recall hearing something about them in the original news reports. I have a book written by a woman who claims to have been Castro’s girlfriend at one time and also a CIA agent. She claims she went on a mission to Dallas just before the assassination (of which she apparently did not know what the real reason was for), but went back home to the east coast after she got sick. But she claims or implies that her CIA cohorts were in on the Kennedy assassination. Now obviously I think it is just as likely she has a good imagination and had a need for a story to put into book form to hopefully make some money.

But the point of this is that the whole episode was bizarre – oh and my memory still seems to be hazy about Kennedy’s mea culpa on the Bay of Pigs. I’ll have to do more research. Can anyone offer suggestions on that?

P.s. If Kennedy had supported the Bay of Pigs invaders we might have been able to wipe out Castro. I’m not sure why that would have been a good thing, though. I think Kennedy was afraid the Soviets might use our action as a pretext to cause troubles elsewhere. But my observation is that every time we stood up to the Soviets they backed down (is my memory faulty again?).

P.s.  P.s. Kennedy came into office and was almost immediately faced with the Bay of Pigs. George W. Bush was faced with 9/11. I have a feeling Barack Obama’s first big crisis, besides the already-known one, the economy, will come early and will be something off everyone’s radar screen.