Would JFK Have Pulled Us Out Of Vietnam?

A tantalizing archival discovery suggests the perils of historical evidence

As director of the American History Project for High School Students at the John F. Kennedy Library, I spend a great deal of time in classrooms exploring the critical connection between reliable evidence and the conclusions reached by historians. Most students, of course, have limited experience with historical evidence. They are eager to express opinions about history but, asked to back them up, often cite “facts” from television, films, or the Internet.

 
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Farthest Forward

Tough, nimble, and pound for pound the most heavily
armed ships in the U.S. Navy, PT boats fought in the very
front line of the greatest sea war in history. But even
today hardly anyone understands what they did.

One night in August 1943 PT-105 was drifting on station in the Solomon Islands—specifically, two miles southeast of Vella Lavella, three miles north of Gizo, and fifteen miles west of Kolombangara, all of which were enemy-occupied. As a matter of fact, other than the PT boat lying close on my port quarter and a couple of coastwatchers hiding out in the hills, there was not a friendly of any sort within fifty miles. My legs ached from hours of standing on a hard, constantly moving, sometimes bouncing deck.

 
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The Four Days That Made Tv News

What you don’t remember about the day JFK was shot

It was a series of sounds and images that had monumental impact and will always remain in the minds of those who watched: the bloodstained suit, the child saluting the coffin, the funeral procession to the muffled drums, the riderless horse. More than thirty years later American culture is still obsessed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and by its greater meaning. Yet, viewed purely in television terms, the impact of the four-day coverage of the Kennedy killing and funeral looms almost as large.Read more »

The Key To The Warren Report

Seen in its proper historical context—amid the height of the Cold War—the investigation into Kennedy’s assassination looks much more impressive and its shortcomings much more understandable

In September 1994, after doggedly repeating a white lie for forty-seven years, the Air Force finally admitted the truth about a mysterious 1947 crash in the New Mexico desert. The debris was not a weather balloon after all but wreckage from Project Mogul, a top-secret high-altitude balloon system for detecting the first Soviet nuclear blasts halfway across the globe. Read more »

Love Jackie

The Johnsons and the Kennedys are popularly thought to have shared a strong mutual dislike, but stacks of letters and a remarkable tape of Jacqueline Kennedy reminiscing show something very different —and more interesting

When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died four months ago, magazine and newspaper articles published around the world celebrated the facts of her life. And the fables too, as it turns out. Consider the stark certainty of Newsweek’s claim that as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had detested Vice President Johnson and his wife, calling them “Uncle Cornpone and his little Porkchop,” and that as a widow she became “increasingly upset” about LBJ’s Presidency.Read more »

First Step To The Moon

The first American to leave the Earth's atmosphere recalls the momentous flight that put us on a course for the moon.

THE SHRILL RINGING WOKE ME from deep sleep early in the morning of April 12, 1961. I was confused for a moment, but only a moment. I was in my room in the Holiday Inn at Cocoa Beach, Florida.

I reached for the clamoring telephone.

“What?”

The voice at the other end was soft, polite. Considerate. “Commander Shepard?” Read more »

“The Lines Of Control Have Been Cut”

Jack Kennedy came into the White House determined to dismantle his Republican predecessor’s rigid, formal staff organization in favor of a spontaneous, flexible, hands-on management style. Thirty years Bill Clinton seems determined to do the same thing. He would do well to remember that what it got JFK was the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam War.

In early October of 1963, Rep. Clement Zablocki, a Wisconsin Democrat, led a House Foreign Affairs Committee fact-finding delegation to South Vietnam. Invited to the White House when he returned, Zablocki told President John F. Kennedy he thought that removing President Ngo Dinh Diem would be a big mistake, unless the United States had a successor in the wings. Remember Cuba, Zablocki said. “Batista was bad, but Castro is worse.” Read more »

Lost In Space What Went Wrong With Nasa?

When a rocket lifts off, it lights up the launch area with a brilliant burst of flame and then trails a fiery streak across the sky as it soars toward orbit. But without careful guidance all the pyrotechnics will have been for naught. That is, in short, what happened to the National Aeronautics and Space Agency. Read more »

Doorway To Space

It’s hard to believe that an entire generation has reached adulthood since that day twenty-one years ago when the world watched those grainy television images of two American astronauts cavorting on the moon.Read more »

The Wimp Factor

A year ago we were in the midst of a presidential campaign most memorable for charges by both sides that the opponent was not hard enough, tough enough, masculine enough. That he was, in fact, a sissy. Both sides also admitted this sort of rhetoric was deplorable. But it’s been going on since the beginning of the Republic.

Just before George Bush announced his running mate in 1988, a one-liner going the rounds was that he should choose Jeane Kirkpatrick to add some machismo to the ticket. Until midway through the campaign the embarrassing “fact” about Bush, as revealed in a spate of jokes, cartoons, and anecdotes gleefully reported or generated by the press, was the candidate’s “wimpiness.” A wimp, of course, is effete, ineffectual, somehow unmanly. Real men, the diametrical opposite of wimps, are war heroes and government leaders, especially combat pilots and spy masters. But wait!Read more »