This article is by Nominay, a veteran commentator at Beyond Highbrow. He has his own site where he posts mainly about the JFK assassination but also on current events and in defense of liberalism generally. His blog is called The Endangered Left. This piece originally appeared there.
Did the tentacles of the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy reach into the State Department? Unfortunately, I harbor suspicions that Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. was involved. As JFK’s 11th hour Ambassador to South Vietnam, Lodge joined the Kennedy administration just in time to make matters worse for that country. Kennedy is often blamed, and rightly so, for the lukewarm consent he gave for President Diem to be overthrown in a coup, but the manner in which his consent was brought about, and what was done with that consent once it was given, was used against Kennedy by his own representatives at State. Chief among them was Henry Cabot Lodge, who worked in concert with the CIA division in Saigon.
What Kennedy knew to some extent in the lead up up to Diem’s assassination was that Lodge and the CIA had flattened the flexibility he sought for his options to remain open. As Kennedy had seen it, there was still a slight chance that diplomatic relations between his administration and Diem’s could be restored, and there was no apparent leader to succeed Diem who offered any hope for an improvement. Kennedy resorted to threatening Diem with a pull out of US troops in South Vietnam in order to bring him back in line with the US effort there, but also to save Diem from his own government.
He wanted a coup to be avoided if a way to reverse Diem’s declining popularity and support was possible. Still, Kennedy had not opposed a coup however, which, per assurances given to him, would see Diem upon resignation being provided safe passage out of the Presidential palace and into exile.
As hopelessly divided as the Kennedy administration was over how to “govern” South Vietnam, Kennedy liked Diem personally and had known him since 1951. As a Congressman, JFK visited Vietnam to learn more about the fight there against the communists, when the struggle belonged to France. Now, in 1963, with the US having replaced France, Kennedy was trying to use his insight from that failed, foreign intervention to determine the best action to take in what was precipitously becoming a confusing quagmire.
These problems with South Vietnam had always discouraged Kennedy from widening a US presence there the way nearly his entire administration wanted, which was a full scale war upwards of 210,000 troops. Kennedy refused to entertain the idea of an engagement anywhere close to this magnitude no matter what the conditions on the ground were. Even as he gave the order to increase more military advisers there, Kennedy was demanding from his top brass that they provide him with a withdrawal plan that included a tight timetable.
Once he became US Ambassador to South Vietnam, it didn’t take long for Henry Cabot Lodge to decide that he just wanted Diem gone and for the US to engage more militarily. Convinced that a more robust front against the communists and better treatment of the South Vietnamese people by its leaders was the solutions to their problems, Lodge saw Diem as the obstacle to his vision of some kind of victory.
But Lodge made his biggest difference for the Kennedy administration before he even joined it. At the end of 1962, just when National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy was fleshing out his ideas for a diplomatic approach to Cuba with President Kennedy, Lodge – who learned about this from an official who worked closely with Bundy – told a lawyer affiliated with an anti-Castro Cuban committee that JFK was seeking to normalize relations with Cuba. In other words – peace with Castro – not overthrow Castro.
This of course was a total reversal from the intent in 1961 with the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the subsequent sabotage campaign of Cuba’s military resources, along with hair-brained attempts to assassinate Castro. This lawyer friend of Lodge’s in turn told a leading Cuban exile militant sponsored by the CIA named Felipe Vidal Santiago. Naturally, Santiago was beside himself with rage as were his fellow, rebel soldiers. This info undoubtedly upset their CIA handlers as well.
Lodge’s credibility to Castro’s enemies as a reliable informant rested on his esteemed career and pedigree. The grandson and namesake of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and the descendant of three, other US Senators, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. was elected first as a Massachusetts Congressman, then as a Senator himself in 1944. A leader of his party, Lodge, in 1952, drafted 5 star General and World War II hero Dwight Eisenhower to run for President, and served as his campaign manager. Although Lodge lost his Senate seat that year to John F. Kennedy, his stint as a recruiter and campaign manager succeeded in electing the general President. Lodge then served as Ambassador to the United Nations in Eisenhower’s cabinet for 7 years.
Lodge’s temperament in the arena of international politics during this time, is telling. As noted in Wikipedia:
…Lodge supported the Cold War policies of the Eisenhower Administration, and often engaged in debates with the UN representatives of the Soviet Union. During the CIA sponsored overthrowing of the legitimate Guatemalan Government, when Britain and France became concerned about the US being involved in the aggression, Lodge threatened to withdraw US support to Great Britain on Egypt and Cyprus, and France on Tunisia and Morocco, unless they backed the US in their action.
When the Government was overthrown, the United Fruit Company [a CIA front] re-established itself in Guatemala. These episodes tainted an otherwise distinguished career [up to that point] and painted Lodge as a face of US Imperialism.”
Lodge returned to electoral politics in 1960 as Richard Nixon’s running mate, losing again to Kennedy in a close election. Lodge somehow ingratiated himself to his opponent, the victor, however, and by 1963 was a fox lying in wait to guard a hen house in the Kennedy administration.
Lodge of course was a very intelligent and savvy man. He had to know the implications of declassifying such a sensitive, working policy of Kennedy’s to a close associate of Cuban radicals who were working in concert with the CIA to assassinate Castro. Lodge’s disclosure of a possible diplomatic restoration with Cuba was an irresponsible breach of the highest order, and it probably led to his back channel on the plan to kill JFK. In this context it is easier to understand Lodge’s hubris defying JFK’s instructions on relations with Diem and other Vietnam-related directives. JFK thought that Lodge would not survive his position as Ambassador, but instead, it was Kennedy who would not survive to replace Lodge.
Strategist Roger Stone has been involved in national political campaigns since the late 1960’s. At age 16 he was tapped by Connecticut Governor John Davis Lodge (Henry Cabot Lodge’s brother) to run the state’s “Youth For Nixon” organization. A prodigy campaign worker with a talent for dirty tricks, Stone was ingratiating himself to major players in the Republican party when he was barely out of his teens. By his mid-20’s he was a trusted confidant to President Nixon … and of his longtime mentor, John Davis Lodge.
In Stone’s best selling book The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ, he recalls part of a conversation he had with Davis Lodge that is at once outrageous and chilling:
In 1979, we sat in his Westport, Connecticut home enjoying a cocktail. I knew that JFK had planned to fire ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge upon his return from Texas on November 24, 1963. I also know that Lodge knew why he had been summoned to see the President. I couldn’t resist asking John Lodge about his brother.
“Did you ever ask your brother who really killed Kennedy?” I said.
His lips spread into a tight grin. “Cabot said it was the Agency boys, some Mafiosi.” He looked me in the eye. “And Lyndon.”
“Did your brother know in advance?” I asked.
Lodge took a sip of his Manhattan. “He knew Kennedy wouldn’t be around to fire him. LBJ kept him at his post so he could serve his country.”
In his renowned book JFK and the Unspeakable, author James Douglass adds content confirming what Kennedy’s intentions were on this issue from another vantage point. In it, Douglass writes:
JFK’s death in Dallas preempted several decisions he was ready to make in Washington the following week. The first was the question of how to deal with his rebellious ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, who wanted to escalate and “win” the war the president had decided to withdraw from.
Robert Kennedy has commented on his brother’s loss of patience with an ambassador who would not carry out his instructions, or even give him the courtesy of a response to those instructions:
“The individual who forced our position at the time of Vietnam was Henry Cabot Lodge. In fact, Henry Cabot Lodge was being brought back – and the President discussed with me in detail how he could be fired – because he wouldn’t communicate in any way with us … The President would send out messages, and he would never really answer them … [Lodge] wouldn’t communicate. It was an impossible situation during that period of time.”
According to RFK, the President in consultation with the Attorney General had already made the decision to fire Lodge: “We were trying to figure out how to get rid of Henry Cabot Lodge.” It was only a matter of “trying to work out how he could be fired, how we could get rid of him.”
President Kennedy was scheduled to meet with Lodge on Sunday afternoon, November 24, as soon as JFK returned from his trip to Texas, and Lodge from his post in Vietnam. Kennedy had prepared for his encounter with Lodge by inviting to it a strong dissenter to the Vietnam War, Under Secretary of State George Ball. He talked to Ball by phone on Wednesday night, November 20, right after the White House reception for the judiciary, making sure that the most anti-war member of his administration would attend the Sunday meeting with Lodge.
It was his successor as president, Lyndon B. Johnson, who instead presided over the Sunday, November 24, meeting with Henry Cabot Lodge.
Before this meeting occurred however (and before John F. Kennedy would be assassinated), Lodge had another meeting to attend – in Honolulu while en route to DC – on November 20-21. It was just after this Honolulu conference to discuss Vietnam with other administration officials that Cabot Lodge was observed in a peculiar scene:
“In Hawaii on Nov. 21/63…shortly after lunch Honolulu time, U.S.Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge made a long distance call from the lobby of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel…This distinguished diplomat had access to phones in privacy from his room or the military circuits at no cost…yet he was seen, according to the Honolulu Star Bulletin, with a stack of quarters in his hand putting coin after coin into a pay phone…
Lodge was the only person of the seven member policy-making body to stay at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel…the others stayed in the military quarters.” *
Henry Cabot Lodge deserves further scrutiny as a character in this saga of assassination and conspiracy. He was detrimental to JFK’s safety by putting him on disastrous terms with the Central Intelligence Agency, over Cuba. Lodge’s role was unique in providing the CIA with the impetus to kill the President. Kennedy’s adversaries within the government, chiefly at the CIA and Pentagon, had a commitment to win the cold war at all costs. This is not just the view of conspiracy theorists, but also of multiple, government insiders, including JFK’s very own pick to represent him at brokering a peace deal with Castro – William Atwood. In Anthony Summer’s book Not In Your Lifetime, he quotes former UN Ambassador Atwood, as saying:
“If the CIA did find out what we were doing [talks toward normalizing relations with Cuba]…they might have been impelled to take violent action. Such as assassinating the President.”
What we’ve since learned from Summer’s interview with Atwood however is that the CIA did find out what they were doing…and we know how the agency found out, and from whom.
Et tu, Henry? Fox in the henhouse: Henry Cabot Lodge, A saboteur in the Kennedy State Department.