Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Review: JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy by L. Fletcher Prouty

The hidden history of the Vietnam War

“We do not have precise answers as to why we gave U.S arms to Ho Chi Minh in 1945 and then a few years later provided Ho’s enemy, the French, with $3 billion of our arms. The situation is not supposed to be clear.”
L. Fletcher Prouty

The tile to L. Fletcher Prouty’s second and last book is a bit misleading. While Prouty does cover the JFK assassination and provides a good rationale for his murder by a gang of plotters, he spends a great deal of time in an area he knows very intimately–Vietnam. During his stellar career in the Air Force he was involved with clandestine operations there, going back to the early 1950’s when the French were still there and involved in a ground war with Ho Chi Minh’s army. Prouty provides the proper historical context the launched the war and why the Untied States got involved in the first place. And in Prouty’s view it started with the CIA’s involvement there. John Kennedy early on saw what the CIA was capable of doing behind his back with the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He saw the ramping up for war in Indochina and his attempts to thwart it by his signing of National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) #263 which would have gotten our forces out of Vietnam by 1965.

But Kennedy died, his successor Lyndon Johnson signed a NSAM of his own countermanding the order, and the rest is sad and tragic history.

The CIA and Vietnam
The final role towards the end of Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty’s military career was as liaison officer between the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon and the CIA. He covers this in great detail in his book, The Secret Team, an excellent look into how the military-industrial-intelligence establishment works within the confines of the National Security State. In that book, Prouty shows the barrier between intelligence and the military becomes so blurred it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. While The Secret Team may appear to be a dull read for some, but if you can pay attention long enough, the reader will be awarded with some amazing anecdotes and a glimpse of the behind the scenes maneuvering of intelligence operations.

The CIA under Allen Dulles went from being a “quiet arm of intelligence” for the president and expands instead into a covert action agency capable of overthrowing democratically elected governments and installing puppets that will be more friendly towards United States interests, mainly business. The Cold War against communism is the stated outward goal but there is a lot more going on out of sight which amounts to a high stake, deadly poker game.

One thing I found surprising was to learn is that the CIA was in control of all United State’s military operations in Vietnam from 1954 to 1965, when the Marines officially took over. You will not read that in most history books. You will not see that on any documentaries about the Vietnam War on TV. It’s part of the hidden history that every so often gets out. And our meddling there actually goes as far back to 1945 when the Japanese withdrew and the French, who had long been there using it as a colony moved back in to a people that thought their time for independence had come. Not exactly a view shared by the French and their business interests. From then to 1975, Indochina existed in a state of war in one form or another.

Of course, this all raises other questions. For example, when and how did the CIA get the authority, obviously not Constitutional, to conduct military operations using military personnel around the world as they saw fit? Col. Proudy tells us. The other secretive agency, the National Security Council didn’t want the military to have the responsibility of doing covert operations. So it was handed to the CIA in the NCS 10/2 Directive. However, they didn't have the men for combat operations so that gave birth to Special Forces, such as the Green Berets and the other outfits that followed.

Prouty tells us that Eisenhower was leery of this arrangement and he wrote the following note on the 10/2 Directive:

“At no time will the CIA be provided with more equipment, etc., than is absolutely necessary for the support of the operation directed and such support will always be limited to the requirements of that single operation.”

Well, that sounds reasonable even though Eisenhower might as well jotted down his desires to Santa Claus. Things went to hell by the time the Bay of Pigs invasion crashed and burned. And it’s gotten no better over time. It’s mirrored in the early combat operations conducted after the 9-11 attacks in Afghanistan which were operated by the CIA. The ongoing drone missile attacks are a further extension of that. It is now known they are running their own prisons in foreign countries. What is the legal and Constitutional basis for this? Because they can? Yes, of course–because they can. And Lord knows who are in this prisons and what treatment they are getting, or how many have died there, or what their faces look like.

Going back to Vietnam, Prouty views it as two-sided civil war. One side is the communists waging war against the non-communists. The second side is the forced relocation (from a Geneva peace accord) of the northern people, the Tonkinese Vietnamese, 1.1 million strong to south Vietnam. A different people with a different culture and religion (Catholic as opposed to the southerns that were Buddhist), they over whelmed the infrastructure of the south. Prouty sees this as one of the major causes for the war in Vietnam. From this, the Viet Kong guerrilla army emerges. And not because they start out being communists, but because they fear being pushed out by the Northerners and took up arms against them in order to survive. Into this cauldron is sent the young blood of this nation to be shredded. First with special forces and later the Marines.

L. Fletcher Prouty wants us to know it’s a war the CIA got us into. And John
Kennedy saw it coming by issuing NSAM #263 which Proudy says he helped coauthor.

The End Result
Despite being such a good chronicler of the entanglement of the Vietnam war
and John Kennedy’s behind the scenes struggles with power brokers, L. Fletcher Prouty stumbles a bit here and there. For example, he lists one of the ships involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion listed as the Zapata, but none where. Look at the declassified CIA memo HERE to see the ships involved. In another section I found odd was the account of Richard Nixon and where he was on the day of the assassination. It’s quite well documented that he was in Dallas the night before, for a Pepsi bottler’s convention, Nixon being the lead council, and flew out the day of, at 9:00 A.M. Yet Prouty insists that Nixon was in Dallas at the moment of the assassination which would put him there at past noon. It simply can’t be from everything that has been published on the case. True, Nixon does change his story many times in regarding to his actions on that day. So I was mystified as to why Prouty would get this wrong since he is generally spot-on with the other issues he deals with. Basically, I get the feeling he is more versed with the issues he dealt with personally in his military career, both as a participant and an observer. Never the less, it is odd he makes these sort of mistakes in his accounting as he seems spot on with everything else.

Though the book has “JFK” in the title and his picture on the cover, there is not much here in regards to his death or a conspiracy. You’ll read more about that in Oliver Stone’s forward (the director of JFK would model the Mr. X character after Prouty).

L. Fletcher Proudy comes off as the honest insider. Everything he says that he has experience with and first hand knowledge of, has a ring of truth to it. And you can be sure it’ll be something you never read anywhere else or thought of before.

Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (November 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602397317
ISBN-13: 978-1602397316
Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 1.3 inches

The latest version of JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy has a new and additional forward by Jesse Ventura.

The Secret Team