Who's rewriting history?

Oliver Stone

January 10, 1992|By Oliver Stone

THE MEDIA establishment gets upset when art gets political, especially when it disagrees with the politics and fears the viewpoint.

When these high priests are challenged as the sole or privileged interpreters of our history, they bludgeon newcomers, wielding heavy clubs such as "objectivity" and charging high crimes such as "rewriting history."

The leading detractors of my film, "JFK," have not been film critics but political journalists such as Tom Wicker of the New York Times, George Lardner of the Washington Post, Dan Rather of CBS News and Kenneth Auchincloss at Newsweek, all of whom covered events of that period.

I think what is clear from their efforts to destroy my film's credibility is that history may be too important to leave to journalists. And artists certainly have the right -- and possibly the obligation -- to step in and reinterpret the history of our times.

Was it not Dan Rather who, upon viewing Abraham Zapruder's film of the assassination, reported that the fatal shot to the head drove President Kennedy "violently forward."

Years later, when the film was finally shown to the American people, it was clear that Kennedy's head was going backward.

My critics are outraged that I pose the view that Kennedy's desire to wind down the Cold War and the Vietnam War is a possible motive for the murder.

When a leader of any country is assassinated, the media normally ask: "What political forces were opposed to this leader and would benefit from his assassination?"

It seems a little strange to me, 28 years later, that such a question was rarely asked once it was established that Lee Harvey Oswald was not simply mentally ill.

In its stead, the dramatic cover story, with Oswald as sole assassin and Jack Ruby as earnest vigilante, was immediately substituted and accepted by almost the entire American media (in sharp contrast to the foreign media).

A great John Wayne movie, but why? Why was the possibility of a political motive rarely discussed (or only vaguely attributed to diversionary theories like a pro-Castro or Mafia plot) after it was clear that the evidence undercut the Warren Commission report?

Whether or not there was a fundamental difference between Kennedy's and Johnson's Vietnam policies deserves more debate.

For years most historians assumed there was no basic difference. But people such as John Newman, an Army major in intelligence who has written a book on the subject, Fletcher Prouty, a former Air Force colonel who served as director of special operations at the Pentagon in the early '60s, and Peter Dale Scott, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, should have their day in court.

A basic chronology underlies their view. In June 1963 in a speech at American University, Kennedy envisions a world without the Cold War and arms race. He sets the stage for detente, defying the "military-industrial complex," a phrase coined by Eisenhower.

Kennedy and Khrushchev have already negotiated the first step: a modus vivendi on the Cuban problem (no Soviet missiles, no U.S. invasion).

In July 1963 they install the nuclear hotline and in August sign the first-ever nuclear test-ban treaty. Later in August, Gen. Charles de Gaulle of France proposes a reunited, neutral Vietnam and plans to visit Kennedy in February to talk about it.

In September, Kennedy states the war is Vietnam's, not ours, to decide and then he approves secret negotiations with Fidel Castro outside State Department-CIA channels.

In October, the White House forecasts that 1,000 men would be withdrawn from Vietnam by the end of 1963 and that the U.S. military mission would be over by the end of 1965.

That same month Kennedy authorizes the pullout in a national security action memo -- NSAM 263. The government projects major Pentagon cuts.

Kennedy is killed on Nov. 22.

Two days later Lyndon Johnson meets with Henry Cabot Lodge and the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the Vietnam "crisis."

Four days after the assassination Johnson overrides NSAM 263 with NSAM 273 -- step one in reversing Kennedy's direction.

A "withdrawal" occurs on paper -- 1,000 men are rotated home -- but more are sent back to Vietnam by February.

Johnson's NSAM 273 opens the way for air attacks on North Vietnam and increased covert warfare.

Finally, in August 1964, Johnson uses the bogus Tonkin Gulf incident to start the air war and win a congressional mandate to do as he sees fit in Vietnam.

By March 1965, less than 15 months after Kennedy's death, the first combat troops are sent, something Kennedy refused to do.

Was there no difference between Kennedy and Johnson on Vietnam? With the nexus of interest -- military, business, political -- standing to profit from the hundred-billion-dollar war, there's ample reason to believe that therein lies the motive.

Jim Garrison, though some have tried to discredit him, sought that motive and in suggesting the possibility of a nightmare unacceptable to our official historians, he has been vilified through time.

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