Judge David Tatel Honored by Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights 

At its 50th Anniversary Gala on October 24, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights granted its Legal Champion Award to Judge David S. Tatel. Here we will review the Gala Co-Chair’s introduction of the Judge, the latter’s response and the Judge’s recent opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upholding a House of Representatives committee’s subpoena to an accounting firm for certain financial records of Donald Trump and some of his companies. This post will conclude with some personal remarks by this blogger.

Co-Chair’s Introduction of Judge Tatel

 Nate Eimer, a Chicago attorney and Co-Chair of the Gala, introduced the Judge with these remarks, “Fifty years ago, [David Tatel,] a brilliant, dedicated, courageous University of Chicago of Law graduate working as an associate at Sidley & Austin decided to leave the firm and join the newly formed Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law as its founding Executive Director.”

“[Before then, David Tatel already had begun] his life of dedicated service to the cause of civil rights immediately upon his arrival at Sidley doing pro bono work for the Chicago Urban League. [And in] his first year as Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee [Mr.] Tatel initiated almost 50 projects to advance civil rights in the areas of education, housing, community economic development, employment, and police accountability.”

“In that first year the Committee’s efforts led to the federal investigation and indictment of those responsible for the murder of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.  Another effort, reminiscent of the recent school closings in Chicago, was the Committee’s member firms’ successful representation of a group of parents on the South Side whose cooperative school was abruptly closed by the City of Chicago.”

“On leaving the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee, . . . [Mr. Tatel] moved to Washington DC where he joined Sidley’s DC office and then served as the  Executive Director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and later as the Director of the Office for Civil Rights of HEW.”

“In 1994, . . .[David] Tatel was nominated by President Bill Clinton to assume the seat held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the United States Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit.  This is Judge Tatel’s 25th year on the bench.  His recent opinion in Trump v. Mazar – which upheld the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena for records relating to President, candidate, and private citizen Trump’s financial records – was widely recognized as ‘meticulous and scholarly.’”

The printed Gala program added these words about the Judge’s background: “Judge Tatel earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and his J.D. degree from the University of Chicago. [After HEW, he returned to private practice in 1979 to join]. . .  Hogan & Hartson, where he founded and headed the firm’s education practice until his appointment by President Clinton to the D.C. Circuit. Judge Tatel currently co-chairs the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Science, Technology and Law, and serves on the boards of Associated Universities , Inc. and the Federal Judicial Center. Judge Tatel is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Judge Tatel and his wife, Edith, have four children and eight grandchildren.”

 Judge Tatel’s Acceptance Speech

For me, serving as the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s first executive director was one of the most formative experiences of my career. I was only twenty-seven years old, yet through the Lawyers’ Committee, I met and worked with some of the most dedicated and gifted members of the Chicago bar. Two of those lawyers, Dick Babcock, of Ross, Hardies, O’Keefe, Babcock, McDugald & Parsons, now part of McGuire Woods, and Bill Haddad, of Bell, Boyd, Lloyd, Haddad & Burns, now part of K&L Gates, were the true founders of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee. It was they who took the baton from the National Committee and laid the foundation for the success you celebrate today.”

“Like the founders of the National Lawyers’ Committee six years earlier, Babcock and Haddad were not civil rights lawyers—far from it. Bill was a tax lawyer and Dick specialized in municipal zoning, but they were community leaders, ‘lawyer-statesmen,’ as it were, committed to the Constitution and the rule of law.”

“Joined by twelve other lawyers, all senior partners in the city’s major law firms, Babcock and Haddad formed the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee to bring the skills, energy, and prestige of the legal profession to bear on the serious civil rights problems facing this city—problems dramatically highlighted just one year earlier during the devastating riots that swept through the south and west sides in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

“The Committee began its work in a small office on the 19th floor of the old Monadnock Building at 53 West Jackson—just me, a secretary, and a used Xerox machine. Member firms quickly took on representations involving education, employment, housing, and community development.”

“And then, on a dark, cold December morning just a few months after the Committee opened its doors, fourteen heavily-armed police officers assigned to a special unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney raided an apartment at 2337 West Monroe. When the raid was over, two leaders of the Black Panther Party lay dead, cut down in a hail of bullets. The State’s Attorney called the raid ‘a fierce gun battle’ and congratulated his officers on their ‘bravery and restraint in the face of the vicious Black Panther attack,’ yet a subsequent investigation found that the apartment’s occupants had fired but two shots. In response, Dick Babcock, Bill Haddad, and ten other members of the Lawyers’ Committee sent a telegram to the Attorney General of the United States calling for the appointment of a special grand jury. They warned that the incident had ‘exacerbated to a critically dangerous level the already tense relations between the black community and the police.’ The telegram concluded with these simple but powerful words that Dick added in his own handwriting just before calling Western Union: ‘None of us is accustomed to petitioning government. That we now do is a measure of the depth of our concern.’”

“In calling for a federal investigation, these prominent attorneys were fulfilling the vision President John F. Kennedy articulated in June 1963 when he called on the nation’s lawyers to play a more active role in the fight for racial equality. Deeply troubled about the South’s violent response to the civil rights movement, especially the assassination of Medgar Evers and the firehosing of demonstrators in Birmingham, and having just federalized the Alabama National Guard to enforce court-ordered desegregation at the University of Alabama, the president told 250 leaders of the bar assembled in the East Room that lawyers have a special responsibility to ensure that civil rights issues are resolved ‘in the courts, not the streets.’ Thus was born the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.”

“Like the lawyers who heeded Kennedy’s call, Babcock, Haddad, and the others who signed the telegram to the Attorney General were acting in the very best tradition of the legal profession. Even though they were committing their names and reputations to defending an organization whose tactics they and most Chicagoans deplored, they demanded, as lawyers and officers of the court, that the city confront the Black Panther Party through the legal system, and that it hold accountable those officials who had taken the law into their own hands. The lawyers who signed the telegram to the Attorney General, like the 250 lawyers listening to President Kennedy in the East Room, were Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. But they had no disagreement about the fundamental proposition that in a nation based on the rule of law, civil rights conflicts must be resolved through the legal process.”

“This bipartisan commitment to the rule of law is the key to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. It is what makes the Lawyers’ Committee unique, and now more than ever, it is this precious bipartisan commitment to civil rights that the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee must seek to preserve.”

Judge Tatel’s Opinion in Trump v. Mazars USA LLP [1]

On October 11, just two weeks before this award, Judge Tatel wrote the 2-1 opinion for a panel of the D.C. Circuit upholding the subpoena by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to the accounting firm Mazars, USA LLP for “records related to work performed for President Trump and several of his business entities both before and after he took office.” The opinion started with its conclusion that was explicated in the balance of the opinion: “the Committee possesses authority both under the House Rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply.” The opinion then cited many Supreme Court cases and other authorities in the following five sections:

1. The current Congress on January 3, 2019, debated and adopted “a set of rules to govern its proceedings.” It established the previously mentioned Committee, which was charged with “review[ing] and study[ing] on a continuing basis the operation of Government activities at all levels” and which was authorized to “conduct investigations” “at any time . . . of any matter,” “without regard to” other standing committees’ jurisdictions. To “carry[] out . . . [these] functions and duties” the . . . Committee may “require by subpoena or otherwise . . . the production of such . . . documents as it considers necessary.”

The opinion then reviewed the background for this subpoena, including the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and the district court’s opinion in this case that had upheld this subpoena.

2. Next Judge Tatel’s opinion reviewed the history of legislative subpoenas, starting with the English Parliament and U.S. congressional subpoenas before discussing U.S. Supreme Court cases regarding the latter (as well as the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in a case over a Senate subpoena to President Nixon). These authorities established the following governing principles: (a) the committee must have been delegated the power to conduct investigations; (b) the congressional power to investigate is broad; Congress, however, may not “usurp the other branches’ constitutionally designated functions nor violate individuals’ constitutionally protected rights” or “conduct itself as a law enforcement agency;” (c) “Congress may investigate only those topics on which it could legislate;” and (d) “congressional committees may subpoena only information ’calculated to’ ‘materially aid[]’ their investigations.”                                                      3. The opinion then reviewed the “public record,” including “several pieces of legislation related to the Committee’s inquiry,” regarding this subpoena and concluded that it “reveals legitimate legislative pursuits, not an impermissible law-enforcement purpose.” Moreover, “this subpoena is a valid exercise of the legislative oversight authority because it seeks information important to determining the fitness of legislation to address potential problems within the Executive Branch and the electoral system; it does not seek to determine the President’s fitness for office.” In short, “the categories of information sought are ‘reasonably relevant’ to the Committee’s legitimate legislative inquiry.”                 4. Next the opinion rejected Mazars’ contention that the full House had not authorized the Committee to issue this subpoena. After all, Mazars had not challenged “the most natural reading of the House Rules [that] the full chamber has authorized the Committee to issue the challenged subpoena” and “the House Rules have no effect whatsoever on the balance between Congress and the President.”                                                                                                                            5.Finally, “the constitutional questions raised here are neither “’[g]rave’” nor “’serious and difficult.’” “We therefore have no cause to invoke the canon of constitutional avoidance.” “It is Mazars, a third-party, that will retrieve and organize the relevant information; the subpoena seeks non-confidential records in which the President has asserted no proprietary or evidentiary protections; and it is Mazars, not the President, [that] risks contempt through non-compliance.”

Conclusion

 This blogger is a University of Chicago Law School classmate and friend of Judge Tatel and at our 50th reunion in May 2016, presented our classmates with a booklet containing his biography and a selected list of 10 of his most significant cases as of that date.[2]

In 1957 David was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder causing loss of vision, which happened for him around 1973. I continue to be amazed at his ability to overcome this disorder and do this difficult and important legal work with such intelligence, diligence and grace. Thank you, Judge Tatel!

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[1] Trump v. Mazars and Committee on Oversight & Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, No. 19-5142 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 11, 2019).   The dissenting opinion of Circuit Judge Neomi Rao is not discussed in this post.

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com mentioning Judge Tatel: My Years at the University of Chicago Law School (Dec. 27, 2011); The D.C. Circuit’s Decision Upholding the Validity of the Voting Rights Act of 2006 (March 11, 2013); Judging on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (April 11, 2013); Federal Appellate Court Allows Lawsuit by Guantanamo Detainees (March 1, 2014).

 

Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum

On November 13, only one week after the U.S. mid-term election, Michael Beschloss appeared before an overflow crowd at Minneapolis’ Westminster Town Hall Forum to discuss his  recent book, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times.[1] Below are photographs of Beschloss and the Westminster Sanctuary before the arrival of the crowd.

 

 

 

 

The Presidents of War

He made the following brief comments about the eight presidents of war who are covered in his book.

President James Madison and the War of 1812. This was the first and the most unpopular war in U.S. history, climaxed by the British burning of the White House and Madison’s  escaping to Virginia in August 1814. (The book covers this in the Prologue and Chapters Two and Three.)

President James Polk and the Mexican-American War (1846 1848). This war was started by the U.S. on the U.S.false assertion that Mexico had ambushed and killed an American soldier in the new state of Texas. The U.S. won the war and acquired more than 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory extending  west of the Rio Grande River to the Pacific Ocean.(This is covered in Chapters Four and Five.)

President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (1860-1865). Lincoln was the best president of war. Initially he was not a crusader and instead an enforcer of the  constitutional ban on secession, which was not a popular message. Later with the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address he made it a moral crusade against slavery and the people began to follow Lincoln. (This is covered in Chapters Six and Seven.)

President William McKinley and the Spanish-American War, 1898.  This was another war started on a false assertion: Spain had blown up the USS Maine in the Havana Harbor, when in fact it was caused by an exploding boiler in the ship. This war resulted in the U.S.’ acquiring the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam from Spain and de facto control of Cuba. (This is covered in Chapters Eight and Nine of the book.)[2]

President Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1918. In his re-election campaign of 1916, Wilson’s slogan was “He kept us out of war,” but in April 2017 he had Congress declare war after German attacks on U.S. ships. In his well-meaning campaign for the League of Nations, Wilson made a lot of mistakes. (This is covered in Chapters Ten and Eleven.)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and World War II, 1941-1945. Before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, FDR gave very few speeches about the war in Europe, and there was strong U.S. public opinion against entering the war on the belief that World War I had been a mistake. Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, the Congress declared war against Japan, the last time the U.S. declared war under the Constitution. FDR learned from the war with the exception of treatment of Japanese-Americans.  (this is covered in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen.)

President Truman and  the Korean War (Conflict), 1950-1953.  According to Beschloss, Truman had read and written some history and had said one “could not be president without knowing history” and “every leader must be a reader.”(This is covered in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen.)

President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, 1963-1969. This is another war started on a false U.S. assertion: the Vietnamese had attacked a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which lead to a congressional resolution supporting military action. The White House audio tapes of LBJ’s conversations revealed important information: (a) Senator Richard Russell urged LBJ to get out of the war; (b) Secretary of Defense McNamara urged LBJ to get involved, thereby disproving McNamara’s later denials of same; (c) LBJ came to believe that this was a war the U.S. could not win and could not lose; and (d) LBJ rejected the advice of General Westmoreland to use nuclear weapons in the war.  (This was discussed in Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen of the book.)

Commonalities of the Presidents of War

Beschloss identified two common characterizes of these presidents.

First, they all became more religious during their wars. Lincoln before the Civil War was a sceptic or agnostic, but during the war regularly read the Bible and talked about wars being “oceans of blood” that prompted his  seeking biblical guidance for sending young men to their death. Lyndon Johnson before the war was not a regular church-goer, but during the war, his daughter Lucy Baines Johnson Turpin, who had become a Roman Catholic, regularly and confidentially took LBJ to mass , and Lady Bird Johnson was heard to say he might convert to Catholicism.

Second, they all were married to strong women who gave good advice. In 1942 FDR  was considering internment of Japanese-Americans, and Eleanor warned him strongly not to do so. The subsequent internment caused a major rupture in their marriage.

In response to a question about whether any of the war presidents had military experience, he did not state the obvious: they had not except for Truman in World War I. Instead, he said that President Eisenhower, who is not covered in the book even though he presided over the end of the Korean War, had the “perfect” military experience resulting from his military education and training and command responsibility during World War Ii that provided him with the knowledge of the ends and means, the costs and the unpredictability of war.[3]

 The President of Peace

In response to a question, Beschloss identified only one president of peace:. President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 resisted public pressure to go to war with Great Britain over an attack by its ship (The Leopard) against a U.S. frigate (The Chesapeake) in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia that killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight others. (This is discussed in Chapter One of the book.)

 Advice to U.S. Citizens

All presidents need wisdom, courage and judgment. They need to be moral leaders.

Citizens, Senators and representatives need to evaluate and criticize presidents on important issues, especially those of war and peace.

In his book’s Epilogue, Beschloss says “the framers of the Constitution had dreamt that war would be a last resort under the political system they had invented. Unlike in Great Britain and other monarchies and dictatorships of old, it would be declared by Congress, not the chief of State.” Yet “the notion of presidential war took hold step by step.” We as citizens need to insist on obeying the Constitution and requiring congressional declarations of war.

Beschloss Biography

Beschloss is an award-winning author of nine books on presidential history. He is the presidential historian for NBC News and a contributor to PBS NewsHour. A graduate of Williams College and Harvard Business School, he has served as a historian for the Smithsonian Institution, as a Senior Associate Member at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and as a Senior Fellow of the Annenberg Foundation. His books on the presidency include, among others, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963; The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany; and Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989. His latest book, Presidents of War, was published in October. He is the recipient of the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, the New York State Archives Award, and the Rutgers University Living History Award. He is a trustee of the White House Historical Association and the National Archives Foundation and a former trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

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[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, Michael Beschloss, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times (Nov. 13, 2018) (the website also includes a livestream of the lecture and Q & A); Black, ‘Presidents of War’: Historian Michael Beschloss on leaders who’ve taken U.S. into battle, MinnPost (Nov. 14, 2018); Barnes & Noble, Presidents of War (2018).

[2] Before 1898, the U.S. had a desire to own or control Cuba that was promoted by by U.S. slaveholders desiring support of Cuban slaveholders, and after U.S. entry in 1898 into the Second Cuban War of Independence (what we call the Spanish-American War) and the U.S. defeat of the Spanish, the U.S. made Cuba a de facto protectorate that lasted until 1934. Since the 1959 overthrow of Batista by the Cuban Revolution, of course, the two countries have had a contentious relationship, including the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion of  1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that nearly erupted into war. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Another U.S. president with wartime experience, including injuries, was John F. Kennedy, who during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 helped to steer the U.S. out of a possible nuclear war with the USSR over its missiles in Cuba. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Robert Kennedy’s Moving Eulogy for Martin Luther King, Jr.

A prior post discussed the eloquent eulogy by Robert f. Kennedy for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the night King was assassinated, April 4, 1968.

David Margolick, a former New York Times journalist who is writing a book about King and Kennedy, reminds us that before that night, the two men had a “testy” relationship[. King was horrified to learn of RFK’s appointment as Attorney General because of “his early ties to Senator Joseph McCarthy, [Kennedy’s] attacks on organized labor, his cozy relationship with Southern racist politicians and his reputation for being his big brother’s consigliere.” Their subsequent contacts were infrequent and private. Moreover, Kennedy felt more at home with black militants than many mainstream black leaders like Dr. King. Thus, Kennedy came to Indianapolis that night because of promises he had made to black Indianapolis and despite aides’ worries that Kennedy would be putting his life at risk.[1]

The Eulogy[2]

That night Kennedy arrived late and climbed into the back of a pickup truck as his platform and delivered the following six-minute eulogy:

“I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.”

“Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort.”

“In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black–considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible–you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization–black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.”

“Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.”

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.”

“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’”

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

“So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love–a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.”

“We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.”

“But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.”

“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

“Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

Conclusion

Margolick observes that although no one in the audience probably had never heard of Aeschylus, the poem’s words “pain,” “despair,” “awful,” “grace” and “God” resonated with them.[3]

Andrew Young, the black leader who that night was with other black leaders in the Memphis motel where King had been assassinated, later recalled, says Margolick, that Kennedy “was in the middle of a totally black community, and he stood there without fear and with great confidence and empathy, and he literally poured his soul out talking about his brother. The amazing thing to us was that the crowd listened. He reached them.” Young also said the feeling in that motel room that night was “He’s probably going to go next.”

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[1] Margolick, The Power of Bobby Kennedy’s Eulogy for Martin Luther King, N.Y. Times (April 4, 2018). An account of Kennedy’s actions regarding King in the days after the assassination is set forth in an excerpt of the new book by Margolick, The Promise and the Dream.

[2] Robert F. Kennedy, Statement on Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Indianapolis, Indiana, April 4, 1968, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.

[3] Perhaps unartful comments about this poem by Aeschylus were provided in Aeschylus on Suffering and Wisdom, dwkcommentaries.com    (Feb. 10, 2014).

 

Senator Jeff Flake Condemns President Trump’s “Fake News” Tirades

On January 17, Senator Jeff Flake delivered another speech on the Senate floor that lambasted President Donald Trump, this time for his “fake news” tweets and comments.[1] This speech was a sequel to the Senator’s October 24, 2017, speech and Washington Post article rejecting the President’s character and actions.[2] Here is a photograph of the Senator giving the speech.

Senator Flake’s Speech

Near “the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America.”

“As the distinguished former member of this body, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, famously said: ]Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan’s proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history.”

“It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, . . . our democracy will not last.”

“2017 was a year which saw the truth – objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine ‘alternative facts’ into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. ‘The enemy of the people,’ was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.”

It “is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.”

“This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward – despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.”

“I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of ‘fake news’ are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth.  To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.”

According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on ‘false news” ‘charges.”

So “powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office.  Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful – in fact, we question the powerful most ardently – to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship — and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.”

“No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.”

“Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t.”

“No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. . . .  An “American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame — is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.”

“Now, we are told via twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the ‘most corrupt and dishonest’ media awards. It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.”

“And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.”

“Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth — and not partners in its destruction.”

“It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial – such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year’s inaugural.”

?But many untruths are not at all trivial – such as the seminal untruth of the president’s political career – the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama. Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate – to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all – the supposed “hoax” at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.”

“To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a ‘hoax’ – as the president has many times – is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security.  It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.”

“Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to further attacks. We are told by our intelligence agencies that those attacks are ongoing, yet it has recently been reported that there has not been a single cabinet-level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one. What might seem like a casual and routine untruth – so casual and routine that it has by now become the white noise of Washington – is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.”

The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.”

Every “word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports. . . . “

“This feedback loop [from foreign leaders] is disgraceful. . . . Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.”

“We are not in a ‘fake news’ era, , , , We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.”

“In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action. Add to that the by-now predictable habit of calling true things false, and false things true, and we have a recipe for disaster.  As George Orwell warned, ‘The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.’”

“Any of us who have spent time in public life have endured news coverage we felt was jaded or unfair. But in our positions, to employ even idle threats to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions. Simply put: it is the press’s obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people’s right to criticize their government. And it is our job to take it.”

“What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? President John F. Kennedy, in a stirring speech on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, was eloquent in answer to that question:

  • ‘We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.’”

The “question of why the truth is now under such assault may well be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world — made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democratic institutions.”

“We are a mature democracy – it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring – or worse, endorsing — these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.” 

“I will close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith that I find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques, and as a young missionary in England he contemplated the question: “’What is truth’” His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that I grew up with, titled ‘Oh Say, What is Truth. It ends as follows:

  • ‘Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,

For the limits of time it steps o’er.

Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst.

Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,

Eternal… unchanged… evermore.’”

Conclusion

The same day as Senator Flake’s speech, Arizona’s other Republican Senator, John McCain, published an op-ed article in the Washington Post with similar criticisms of President Trump.[3] This commentary reminded us of McCain’s criticism of Congress’ ignoring regular procedures over the so-called “repeal and replace” Obama Care bill when McCain killed the bill with his negative vote.[4]

President Trump’s response to these criticisms first came from his Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, who said, Senator Flake was “not criticizing the president because he’s against oppression. He’s criticizing the president because he has terrible poll numbers and he is, I think, looking for some attention.” Note the ad hominem response and refusal to grapple with the merits.

Later that night the President on Twitter also ignored the substance of these criticisms when he  announced his “fake news” awards to CNN (four times); The New York Times (two times); and ABC, The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek (one time each).[5]

All of these comments reminded me of the struggle between the Washington Post and the Nixon White House over the publication of the Pentagon Papers and the work that is involved in publishing real news, all of which is skillfully portrayed in the current movie, “The Post.”

I commend Senators Flake and McCain for standing up for true American values in their criticisms of the President.

===================================================

[1] Press Release, Flake: Reflexive “Fake News” Claims Not Good For Democracy (Jan. 16, 2018)

[2] Senator Jeff Flake’s Courageous Defense of American Values and Democracy, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 6, 2017),

[3]  McCain, Mr. President, stop attacking the press, Wash. Post (Jan. 17, 2018); Sullivan, Arizona’s GOP Senators Assail Trump for His Attacks on the Press, N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2018); Reuters, U.S. Senators Rip Trump Over His Attacks on the Media, N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2018).

[4] McCain Floor Statement on Need for Bipartisanship (July 25, 2017)

[5] Flegenheimer & Grynbaum, Trump Hands Out ‘Fake News Awards,’ Sans the Red Carpet, N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2018).

 

Bobby Kennedy’s Obsession with Combatting Communist Cuba  

A new biography of Bobby Kennedy documents his obsession with Communist Cuba while he served as U.S. Attorney General in the administration of his brother, President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963).[1]

Background

Bobby’s obsession was fueled by the anti-communism of his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a successful Boston businessman, Ambassador to Great Britain for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and later financial contributor to the campaign war chests of U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy., the noted anti-communist. This in turn led to Bobby’s working for seven and a half months in 1953 as an aide to McCarthy and to a personal connection between the two men that lasted until McCarthy’s funeral in 1957. According to the biographer, “the early Bobby Kennedy embraced the overheated anticommunism of the 1950s and openly disdained liberals.” (Ch. 1.) [2]

The Bay of Pigs Invasion

Although Bobby “had played little part in planning or executing the [unsuccessful] Bay of Pigs raid” in April 1961, immediately thereafter he sought to do “whatever was needed to protect his brother’s [political] flank.” The President put him second-in-charge of the Cuba Study Group to determine what had gone wrong, and over six weeks Bobby and the three others on the committee focused on flawed tactics and slack bureaucracy, not the goals and ethics, of the invasion. Afterwards the President redoubled his engagement in the Cold War while not fully trusting his generals and spies. (Pp. 240-46.)

“Operation Mongoose”

As a result of that review, Bobby concluded that “that son of a bitch [Fidel] has to go” and became the de facto man in charge of the CIA’s “Operation Mongoose” to conduct a clandestine war against Fidel and Cuba. This Operation had 600 CIA agents and nearly 5,000 contract workers and a Miami station with its own polygraph teams, gas station and warehouse stocked with machine guns, caskets and other things plus a secret flotilla of yachts, fishing craft, speedboats and other vessels. It conducted paramilitary missions on the island, including the demolition of a Cuban railroad bridge. This Operation was based, says the biographer, on the flawed premises that the “Cuban problem [was] the top priority of the [U.S.] Government—all else is secondary—no time, money, effort or manpower is to be spared,” that “the Cuban population would rally to the anti-Castro cause” and that the U.S. secret army of Cuban exiles could “vanquish anybody.” (Pp. 247-52.)

The Operation planned and tried to execute plans to kill Fidel. Afterwards Richard Helms, then the CIA’s director of clandestine operations, observed that Bobby had stated, “Castro’s removal from office and a change in government in Cuba were then the primary foreign policy objectives” of the administration. (Id.)

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Fidel and the Soviet Union were aware of this supposed secret U.S. operation and convinced “Khrushchev he was doing the right thing by installing [Soviet] missiles” in Cuba in the summer of 1962. (P. 251.)

During the start of the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, Bobby doubted whether an air strike on the missiles on the island would be enough and pondered whether it should be followed by an all-out invasion. He also suggested staging an incident at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay by sinking a U.S. ship akin to the sinking of the Maine that was the excuse for the U.S. entry into the Cuban war of independence in the late 19th century. (Pp. 263-66.)

After the President had decided on a blockade of the island, Bobby rallied support for that effort, but 10 days later he wondered whether it would be better to knock out the missiles with a U.S. air attack. (Pp. 264-66.)

Later the President and Bobby decided to accept Khrushchev’s demand for the U.S. to remove its missiles in Turkey in exchange for the Soviets’ removal of its missiles in Cuba while the U.S. part of this deal was kept secret. (Pp. 267-69.)

Aftermath

After the crisis was over, the U.S. eventually discovered that the threat from Cuba was greater than perceived at the time. The Soviets had more missiles with greater capability to take out short-range targets like Guantanamo Bay plus long-range ones like New York City. The Soviets also had 43,000 troops on the island, not the 10,000 the U.S. had thought. The Soviets also had on the island lightweight rocket launchers to repel any attacks with nuclear weapons. And the Soviet submarines in the region had nuclear-tipped torpedoes with authorizations to be used if war broke out. Moreover, Fidel at the time had encouraged Khrushchev to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on the U.S. in the event of an U.S. invasion of the island. (Pp. 272-73.)[3]

In any event, in April 1963 Bobby commissioned three studies: (1) possible U.S. responses to the death of Fidel or the shooting down of a U-2 spy plane; (2) a program to overthrow Fidel in 18 months; and (3) ways to “cause as much trouble as we can for Communist Cuba.” (Pp. 275-76.)[4]

Bobby subsequently wrote a memoir of the crisis that was intended for publication in 1968 as part of his campaign for the presidential nomination, but that did not happen because of his assassination that year. Instead it was posthumously published in 1969.[5] The biographer, Larry Tye, concludes that this memoir was untruthful in many details and was intended, for political purposes, as “a fundamentally self-serving account that casts him as the champion dove . . . rather than the unrelenting hawk he actually was through much of [the crisis].” The “biggest deceit’ of the book, again according to Nye, was “the failure to admit that the Soviet buildup [in Cuba] was a predictable response to [the] American aggression [of the previously mentioned Bay of Pigs invasion and Operation Mongoose].” (P. 239.)

Nevertheless, the biographer concludes that during the missile crisis Bobby “drew on his skills as an interrogator and listener to recognize the best ideas” offered by others and “ensured that the president heard the full spectrum of views” of those officials. In addition, Bobby was effective as an intermediary with the Soviet Ambassador. (P. 270.) Finally, the crisis helped to mature Bobby. He slowly saw “that a leader could be tough without being bellicose, [found] . . . his [own] voice on foreign affairs . . . and [stepped] out of his brother’s long shadow.” (P. 282.)

Conclusion

In the summer of 1960, through an internship from Grinnell College, I was an assistant to the Chair of the Democratic Party of Iowa and, therefore, was thrilled with John F. Kennedy’s election as president.[6]

Cuba, however, at that time was not high on my list of priorities and I was not knowledgeable about U.S.-Cuba issues. Thus, in April 1961 I have no memory of the Bay of Pigs debacle in the last semester of my senior year at Grinnell.

In October 1962 my ignorance of U.S.-Cuba issues continued during the start of my second year at Oxford University as the Cuban missile crisis unfolded. But I do recall listening to radio reports of these events and wondering whether they would lead to my being drafted and forced to return to the U.S. for military service. That, however, never happened.[7]

My interest in Cuba only began in 2001 when I was on the Cuba Task Force at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church to explore whether and how our church could be involved with Cuba. The result was our establishment in 2002 of partnerships with a Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba in the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island and with its national denomination. Thereafter I went on three mission trips to Cuba and started to learn about the history of U.S.-Cuba relations, to follow the current news on that subject and to become an advocate for normalization and reconciliation of our two peoples.[8]

========================================

[1] Larry Tye, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, Ch. 6 (Random House, New York, 2016).

[2] There are seven blog posts about Joseph Welch, the attorney for the U.S. Army in the McCarthy-Army hearings of 1954, that are listed in Posts to dwkcommentarires—Topical: UNITED STATES (HISTORY).

[3] The Cuban missile crisis has been the subject of the following posts to dwkcommetaries.com: Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev’s Messages During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (Sept. 5, 2016); Conflicting Opinions Regarding the Relative Strength of U.S. and Soviet Missiles, 1960-1962 (Nov. 2, 2016); Fidel Castro’s Disingenuous Criticism of President Obama Over Nuclear Weapons (Aug. 15, 2016).

[4] After Bobby’s 1964 resignation as Attorney General, there apparently also was a 1966 CIA operation to assassinate Fidel. (See Covert CIA 1966 Operation To Assassinate Fidel Castro?, dwkcommentaries.com (May 30, 2016).)

[5] Robert Kennedy, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (W.F. Norton & Co., New York, 1969).

[6] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: My Grinnell College Years (Aug. Aug. 27, 2011); Encounters with Candidates JFK and LBJ (Apr. 16, 2011).

[7] Another post to dwkcommentaries.com: My Oxford University Years (Aug. 30, 2011).

[8] My many posts about Cuba are collected in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

The Tragic Extinguishment of the Eloquence of Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

Most Americans remember or know about Robert F. Kennedy or “RFK” (1925-1968): brother to U.S. President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Attorney General in his brother’s administration, U.S. Senator from New York, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, and assassinated by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan  on June 6, 1968, at a Los Angeles hotel campaign event.

Less generally remembered or known was RFK’s eloquence, undoubtedly aided by his speechwriters: Adam Walinsky Richard Goodwin and Allard Lowenstein.[1]

One prominent example of Kennedy’s eloquence occurred on April 4, 1968, immediately after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Speaking to a campaign crowd in Indianapolis, Indiana, Kennedy shocked everyone by announcing the news of the assassination and then went on to refer to his own grief at the 1963 assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. Robert added, “My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: ‘Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’”[2]

Kennedy that night went on to say, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black. . . . Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: ‘to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.’”

The next day in Cleveland, Ohio, Kennedy spoke against the “mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.” He added, “Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve justice among our fellow citizens. . . . We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for advancement of others. . . . We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.”[3]

Two other examples of his eloquence were inscribed on Kennedy’s memorial  in Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery:

  • “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.” (University of Cape Town, South Africa, June 6, 1966)
  • “Some men see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?'” (1968)

Yet others were included in the previously mentioned June 6, 1966, speech at the University of Cape Town. They all seem, to this observer, to be indirect references to Jesus’ injunction “to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself” and to the Christian notion of vocation.[4] They are the following:

  • First is the danger of futility; the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills — against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and 32-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal. “Give me a place to stand,” said Archimedes, “and I will move the world.” These men moved the world, and so can we all.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.” (Emphasis added.)
  • “Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their peers, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.” (Emphasis added.)

Conclusion

I weep again at our loss of this inspiring, eloquent and passionate man. How I wish he were still here and our president so that we did not have to listen to the constant falsehoods and drivel from the man who now ineptly occupies that office.

==============================================

[1] Larry Tye, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon at 373 (Random House; New York, 2016).

[2] Edwin O. Guthman & C. Richard Allen (eds.), RFK: Collected Speeches at 355-58 (Viking; New York, 1993). See Aeschylus on Suffering and Wisdom, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 10, 2014).

[3] Guthman & Allen at 358-62.

[4] Tye at 410-12; Guthman & Allen at 231-46. See Another Perspective on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, dwkcommentaries.com (July 27, 2017).

Conflicting Opinions Regarding the Relative Strength of U.S. and Soviet Missiles, 1960-1962

A prior post reviewed the October 1962 messages between Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev regarding a possible nuclear war that might have been triggered by the Cuban missile crisis of that month. Now we look at their possibly conflicting opinions on the relative strength of the Soviet and U.S. nuclear missile fleets at the time.[1}

 U.S. Opinions on Relative Missile Strength

In the 1960 campaign presidential candidate John F. Kennedy declared that there was a “missile gap” with the U.S. having significantly fewer missiles than the USSR, which often boasted about its missiles. For example, in a campaign speech on August 26, 1960, before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Kennedy said, “the missile lag looms larger and larger ahead.” On September 12, 1960, Kennedy charged that the danger of a Soviet missile attack would grow as the Russians increased their missile lead. Two days later he asserted that “crash [U.S.] programs . . . will eventually close the missile gap.”[2]

On January 12, 1961 President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his final State of the Union Address stated, “The ‘bomber gap’ of several years ago was always a fiction, and the ‘missile gap’ shows every sign of being the same.” He backed this up with the assertion, “Tremendous advances in strategic weapons systems have been made in the past eight years. Today many types [of guided ballistic missiles] give our armed forces unprecedented effectiveness. [This includes ICBM missiles (ATLAS, POLARIS, and soon TITAN and MINUTEMAN) and IRBMs (THOR and JUPITER).] The explosive power of our weapons systems for all purposes is almost inconceivable.”[3]

Eight days later (January 20, 1961) in his Inaugural Address President John F. Kennedy did not specifically mention missiles, but did say to “those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction. We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.”

Ten days later, on January 30, 1961, President Kennedy delivered his first State of the Union Address, in which he stated, “I have directed prompt action to accelerate our entire missile program. Until the Secretary of Defense’s reappraisal is completed, the emphasis here will be largely on improved organization and decision making–on cutting down the wasteful duplications and the time-lag that have handicapped our whole family of missiles. If we are to keep the peace, we need an invulnerable missile force powerful enough to deter any aggressor from even threatening an attack that he would know could not destroy enough of our force to prevent his own destruction. For as I said upon taking the oath of office: ‘Only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.’”

In the third week of the Kennedy presidency a kerfuffle on the issue of a missile gap was created. On February 6, 1961, his new Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, told journalists in what he thought was an off-the-record session that there was a positive missile gap in favor of the U.S. This remark was widely reported in the press. [4]

Two days later (February 8), President Kennedy denied the accuracy of any such remark with this statement: “Yesterday McNamara told me that the Defense Department has not concluded any study that would lead to “any conclusion at this time as to whether there is a missile gap or not.” This had been confirmed to the President by the controller of the Department, Charles Hitch, who was conducting “a review of our tactical weapons” that had not been completed.[5]

Finally on February 16, McNamara denied that he had told newsmen the [U.S.] was either behind or ahead of the Soviet Union in the missile race in a letter to Senator Everett Dirksen, who had just called for President Kennedy’s resignation on the ground that he had won the election on false pretenses. McNamara stated, “I have not said with respect to missile power that the [U.S.] is either in a superior or inferior position vis-á-vis the Soviet Union. . . . I have emphasized that, acting on the President’s instructions, we have already begun to move so there will be no such gaps in the months and years ahead.” McNamara’s letter also included three newspaper articles that he claimed corroborated his statements. The Senator then put McNamara’s letter and the articles into the Congressional Record.[6]

 Soviet Opinions on Relative Missile Strength

According to Khrushchev’s son at the 1992 conference, the Soviets during this period threatened the U.S. with missiles the former did not have in order to prevent a U.S. attack. (Blight at 130.) In other words, Khrushchev at the time apparently knew or believed that the USSR was at a disadvantage with the U.S. on missiles and that such an opinion perhaps influenced his negative reaction to Fidel’s suggestion of a USSR missile strike on the U.S.

 Cuban Opinions on Relative Missile Strength

At the previously mentioned 1992 conference, McNamara mentioned his January 1961 [actually February 1961] statement that there was a missile gap in favor of the U.S. Castro, however, at the same conference, said that at the time of the crisis he did not know about McNamara’s statement. (Blight at 126-27, 131-32.) Moreover, Castro, at the 1992 conference, said that at the time he believed the Soviets had more missiles based upon what they said about their missile capability and upon their demonstrated technical prowess in space. (Id. at 257-58.)

Thus, perhaps Castro suggested a Soviet missile strike on the U.S. in the event of an U.S. invasion of the island because he thought the Soviets had a significant advantage over the U.S. on missiles.

Conclusion

I invite comments of agreement or disagreement by those who have done more research on this issue.

============================================

[1] See generally Alexandr Fursenko & Timothy Naftali, “One Hell of a Gamble;” Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964, at 257-315 (W.W. Norton & Co, New York: 1997); Desmond Ball, Politics and Force Levels: the Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration (pp. 88-94) (Univ. Cal. Press; Berkeley CA; 1980); James G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn and David A. Welch, Cuba on the Brink: Castro, The Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse (Pantheon Books; New York; 1993) [ hereafter “Blight”].

[2] Wikipedia, United States presidential election, 1960; Chronology of Two-Year Dispute on ‘Missile Gap,’ N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 1961).

[3] A journalist at the time reported that when Eisenhower left office in January 1961 he believed that the U.S. was the strongest military in world and “the much advertised missile gap will prove to be . . . fictitious. . . . Many Democrats and a Kennedy task force violently disagree.” Yet, this journalist concluded that “statistical comparisons and available intelligence indicate that President Eisenhower’s opinion [was] based as firmly as possible on factual information.”(Baldwin, A New Military Era? N.Y. Times (Jan. 19, 1961).)

[4] Chronology of Two-Year Dispute on ‘Missile Gap,’ N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 1961); Blight at 135-36.

[5] Transcript of the Kennedy News Conference, N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 1961); Raymond, President Awaits ‘Missile Gap’ Data, N.Y. Times (Feb. 8, 1961).

[6] 107 Cong. Rec. 2177-79 (Feb. 16, 1961); Missile Gap Report Denied by M’Namara, N.Y. Times (Feb. 17, 1961).