Nights of comedies, years of fantasies

Munstrous for WordPress JPEG

Hey, whose Grandpa didn’t tell some tales?” asked the headline on a New York Times obituary in February 2006 for television actor Al Lewis, best known for playing the vampire-ish Grandpa on “The Munsters,” the 1960s CBS comedy.

It was a lighthearted and deservedly cheery send off for a brilliant character actor, political activist and restauranteur whose contributions to our lives ranged from a million escapist TV laughs to bold radical street activism.

The headline was also a colossal understatement. Al Lewis told more than just “some” tales like the embellished fish stories everybody’s grandfather leaves us with. In fact, the same obit story listed him as age uncertain. That’s because Lewis at different times had listed two birth years as his own.

He was born in either 1910 or 1923 as Alexander Meister. Or Albert Meister. In New York City. Or 287 miles from there in Wolcott, a small town in far upstate Wayne County, N.Y.

That town near Lake Ontario entered the Al Lewis narrative late in his life when a reporter trying to clear up the matter of the actual year in which he was born asked Lewis why no birth certificate bearing his identity could be located in NYC, his hometown. Lewis responded that he was not born in the Big Apple, but entered the world while his mother had briefly lived in Wolcott to work in a factory.

Sealing Al Lewis’ stature as the greatest man of mystery is that no birth record for any A. Meister can be found in Wayne County, said imdb.com, a public figure biography site.

Al Lewis panorama

Click here for a clip of Grandpa with Marilyn Munster (played here by Beverly Owen, then Pat Priest in season 2).

Imdb said that days after Al Lewis’ death, one of his three sons announced that Lewis had in fact been born on April 30, 1923, not 1910 as the actor had claimed.

“Why the deception?” asked the web site Everything2.com. “It could’ve been part of his tryouts for ‘The Munsters.’ If he was born in ’23, he was actually a year younger than Yvonne DeCarlo, who was supposed to be his daughter. But by claiming to be 13 years older, perhaps he felt he’d seem more grandfatherly to the show’s producers.
“At any rate,” Eveyrthing2 continued, “it seems likely that Lewis told a bunch of stories about his youth, either to support his claims about his birthdate or just for the joy of telling stories.”

Al Lewis’ lifelong penchant for fudging brought anything but joy to historians and journalists, who often had to retract or revamp information they had confidently published about one of the television era’s most beloved and eclectic entertainers.

In fact, that New York Times obituary was the second one within days the nation’s newspaper of record published on Al Lewis, the latter correcting the first’s careless inclusion of already discredited information. The Times obituarist Dan Barry wrote that almost every claim Lewis made about his early life – his birth date and place of birth, his wartime adventures in the merchant marine, his education – was unverifiable and possibly false.

Among others were that Lewis had faced danger touring the maliciously anti-union Southeast to help John L. Lewis organize workers, rallied outside the White House in support of condemned immigrant anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, performed as a clown in a traveling circus, sold hot dogs at Brooklyn Dodgers games at Ebbets Field, and in the mid-1960s hired Charles Manson to babysit his three children (he recalled Manson as trustworthy and caring).

Regarding Al Lewis’ educational resume, the imdb.com site added: “Although he claimed to have a Ph.D. in child psychology from Columbia University, the university has no record of it, under his stage name or his real name.”

Lewis’ reliability began being questioned in the early 2000s after his wife of two decades, Karen Lewis, found documents while preparing for her ostensibly 93-year-old husband’s hospitalization for an angioplasty which showed he was in fact just 80. That was the first she knew of any age discrepancy, but the Times quoted her as saying the finding didn’t affect her feelings about him.

A reporter soon examined the actor’s commonly reported story that he had served as a paralegal in the trial of the Scottsboro Boys, a landmark civil rights case involving nine black Alabama teenagers falsely accused in 1931 of raping two white women.

A 1923 birth would have made Lewis eight during the trial (or college age if he were born in 1910). At whatever stage of life, Lewis said he learned of the Scottsboro Boys’ plight after his mother attended a rally for their freedom.

His mother, if one trusts the following Al Lewis recollection on the web site Everything2.com, “worked in the garment trades. My mother was an indomitable spirit. My grandfather had no sons. He had six daughters. They lived in Poland or Russia, every five years it would change. My mother being the oldest daughter, they saved their money, and when she was about 16 they sent her to the United States, not knowing a word of English. She went to work in the garment center, worked her back and rear-end off and brought over to the United States her five sisters and two parents. I remember going on picket lines with my mother. My mother wouldn’t back down to anyone.”

Nothing suspicious about that classic early 1900s immigrant working class bio.

Also perfectly plausible is the 6-foot-1 Lewis’ description of his playing basketball in his youth in New York City and later serving as a non-hired scout for NBA teams – but was he the very best scout in the game?

When Lewis boasted to independent radio station WFMU’s blog that, “you can call Marty Blake, the chief scout for the NBA, he lives outside Atlanta, and ask him who is the most knowledgeable man of roundball you have ever met. Without hesitation, he will tell you, Al Lewis.”

So Kliph Nesteroff, the author of WFMU blog entry “The Myths and Politics of Grandpa Munster,” ran that claim past Blake, who concurred: “He (Lewis) knew everything there was to know about basketball from the tips of your toes to the top of your head.”

However, Nesteroff also wrote: “Lewis liked to say he worked on the defense committee of Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. If there were any semblance of truth to this, it would have occurred when he was no more than five years old…. Neither was he in Washington, as he claimed, the night the American communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, sentenced to death for treason, were executed.”

It IS known that Al Lewis, living out his left-wing values, donated his time and most of his earnings from the two-year run of The Munsters to charities, particularly a program helping teenage runaways, who were proliferating in Los Angeles during the late 1960s. But the admiration one feels upon hearing of this altruism quickly turns to skepticism, when Lewis identifies one of those kids he brought under his wing:

“That’s how I met Charlie Manson. He babysat my three kids…. He sat for four or five hours, he amused the kids, he brought the guitar and he played, no big deal, no sweat.”

Back in the real world of documented facts, Lewis ran for governor of New York as the Green Party candidate in 1998, opposing Republican incumbent George Pataki. Like a precursor of Bernie Sanders and with an accent to match, Lewis toured the Empire State fervently condemning health insurance companies, polluting industries, U.S. wars, and corporate tax breaks which made the poor overtaxed.  At age 88 (or 75?), he won 52,533 votes, above the 50,000-vote threshold for receiving automatic ballot placement in the subsequent election. Lewis decided not to make another run, however, citing long odds of being elected as a Green.

He sought to be listed on the 1998 ballot as “Grandpa Al Lewis” to gain momentum from his TV recognition. A state judge turned down the request.Grandpa Al Lewis on the issues

Before The Munsters premiered in 1964, Lewis played New York City police officer Leo Schnauser in the comedy “Car 54, Where Are You?” from 1961 to ’63. Real police in his hometown loved the character and Lewis did public appearances on their behalf. Relations 40 years later between police and radical candidate Al Lewis were cooler when the Green gubernatorial hopeful criticized police use of force practices as racist.

Everyone, however, was warm toward “Grandpa,” and Lewis’ most memorable TV character was how he was often addressed by political supporters, TV fans and customers at Grampa’s Bella Gente Italian, a Greenwich Village restaurant he founded and where his regular presence was a draw. Lewis would greet customers entering, chatting with them, posing for pictures and signing autographs.

One unlikely sounding distinction by Al Lewis that was in fact documented before millions is that he was once censored by Howard Stern. You read right, censored by Howard Stern, America’s chief poddy mouth of the air.

Lewis, who discussed political issues with iron fervor, but free of obscenities on his own Saturday radio show in the early 2000s on New York City’s WBAI, once joined Stern in an outdoor rally against the FCC’s frequent fining of Stern and others for regular use of words banned on airwaves. Not realizing that his microphone was tied into a live broadcast of Stern’s show as well as the rally’s public address system, Grandpa told the crowd: “We’re here because we all have a purpose… And that purpose is to say ‘Fuck the FCC! Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em!’ ”

An uncharacteristically mortified Stern frantically slapped his hand on the mic to try to keep his fines from piling even higher.

“I really thought [he’d] lost his mind,” Stern said on the WFMU blog. “As far as I was concerned, my career was over because we’re on the radio live.”

For once, there was no doubting Al Lewis meant what he said.

Brian Arbenz loved Grandpa on The Munsters — and the radical left positions he took while running for office.

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The easy smile that belied 14 bullet wounds – and visits by the little girl he had to kill

49 years later, Mr. Manring froze, fell to his knees on a rock and said he knew this was the spot….”I hope I’m at peace now.”

Newsreel manring 2
Roy Manring, at 18, recovering in 1950 in this picture from a British newsreel. 

Mr. Manring was a family man, a veteran and a machinist in a factory back in the era when blue collar jobs brought the wages and benefits to support a family and veteran status was naturally associated with being an upstanding person.

I still refer to him as “Mr. Manring,” rather than Roy Manring, because he was one of the adult volunteers for our Boy Scout Troop 54 in New Albany in the early 1970s. The form of address I used then for our adult leaders still seems proper to me.
Yet I was a rebel — then, as now. And when I beheld the green uniforms, the trademark salute and the combat medal-like layout of our merit badges, I would be aware of a contradiction between my like of scouting and my passionate opposition to the war in Vietnam.
Among our troop’s adult leaders, two — including my easygoing uncle Joe — were Spiro Agnew-admiring conservatives and World War II veterans.
Mr. Manring, however, didn’t show his ideological cards. He always maintained an easy smile and although his dark eyes were piercing and handsome, they were wide and innocent. He seemed perpetually to be an uncomplicated, contented, locally immersed average person, untouched by the controversies of the wider world.
But before I make him sound like the kind of person who might not follow the national news, let me recall one day when I was 11 when my mother astonished me by telling me that my very own scout troop’s adult volunteer had in the early 1950s been a national news story.
Mr. Manring was interviewed on the Today Show. That’s the NBC Today Show, with the whole country watching.
And no, this wasn’t one of those chance interviews with tourists hanging out by Rockefeller Center. Mr. Manring was a guest in the studio, telling the nation of a medical miracle, as Mom passed the story on to me. She said that while he was in combat in the Korean War, he was hit with a barrage of gunfire and survived having nine bullets in his body at once.
I don’t recall her giving any more details, except that Mr. Manring seemed homespun during the interview, and I got the impression that he was almost casual talking to the nation about such a hellish experience.
I don’t know which Today Show icon conducted the interview, but I figure a polished and professional Hugh Downs or Dave Garroway sitting with a warm and folksy laborer made for as unlikely an encounter as when the unknown Korean villager and the teenager from Southern Indiana faced each other down for a horrifying moment in a war waged by superpowers so beyond the reach of either.

Flash forward to the era of the internet. I now find out that Mr. Manring’s voluminous wounds weren’t from one-to-one combat.
He had been taken prisoner by the North Koreans and was one of 42 U.S. captives shot on a hillside while their hands were tied behind their backs. It was a massacre.
Records were vague and for decades Mr. Manring had understood that he was the sole survivor. Hence, the solo Today Show appearance.
A historian researching the atrocity in the mid-1990s found that in fact five people had survived — three of whom were still living — and persuaded the Army to give the trio medals to note the suffering of all 42 of the POWs. The Pentagon also offered them a trip back to South Korea in 1999 to let them try to identify the exact spot of the massacre so a plaque could be placed there on the 50th anniversary the following year.

From the British newsreel on the Waegwan massacre   Newsreel Manring
One of the three was not physically up to the trip — so my former scout leader and a fellow survivor, a private first class who had been Mr. Manring’s friend during the war, traveled to a hillside near Waegwan, South Korea. (The friend, who of course had been presumed dead by Mr. Manring for more than 40 years, lived in Cincinnati, just 110 miles away, all that time. When Mr. Manring learned that his buddy in fact had not been killed in the massacre, he jumped in his car and drove straight up I-71 to reunite with him).
In 1999, the return trip to Korea commenced, and a Boston Globe reporter accompanied Mr. Manring and his Cincinnati friend all the way to Waegwan. She reported that Mr. Manring had taken not the nine bullets I recall in my mother’s telling, but 14 — including five from what we call “friendly fire.”
The Globe, detailing the horrible events on the hillside in 1950, said that after the North Koreans left the 42 Americans for dead, the bullet-ridden Mr. Manring began to hobble away from the killing site, only to be shot at by a U.S. unit which was unable to identify his tattered uniform.
Ravaged seemingly beyond hope of survival by both sides in a war euphemistically called a “police action,” he spent 18 months in hospitals in Korea, Japan and the United States. Amazingly, as a boy scout, I never recall detecting a limp or a stammer or any other indication that this happy and laid back man could ever have been victimized by violence on such an historic scale.
For a long time, even some of those closest to Mr. Manring didn’t fully know either.
He told the Globe reporter: “My kids knew I was an ex-POW, but they didn’t know what I had been through…. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, except my wife.”
The reporter watched Mr. Manring and his buddy examine the terrain around Waegwan for hours, patiently trying to match what they were seeing with 49-year-old memories. Then, in one instant that brought back an anguish the opposite of the mood familiar to his New Albany piers, Mr. Manring froze, fell to his knees on a rock and said he knew this was the spot.
Shuddering, he described to the Globe how on that day in 1950 his grandfather appeared to him in image just after the North Koreans pulled out, put his arm on the shoulder of the bloodied 18-year old and warned him: “They’re coming back, get out of here.”
The reporter and others in the entourage then allowed Mr. Manring and his friend a few minutes each alone on the hillside.
Mr. Manring returned, the Globe reported, then whispered:
“I talked to the boys. I hope I’m at peace now. I begged their forgiveness. I have dreams about them all the time. I feel guilty that I survived.”
There was one more profound memory the visit brought out, one which the reporter said caused Mr. Manring to be overcome with emotion.
Speaking softly, he said to her: “I’m going to tell you something I’ve hardly told anyone…. I shot a little Korean girl — she was maybe 8 or 10 years old.”
Mr. Manring then recounted a kill-or-be-killed moment in the early days of the war. His platoon was approached by a group of refugees, but when he took out his binoculars, he saw a girl among them holding a grenade — with the pin removed — forcing him, with no time to think, to become a killer in order to be a lifesaver.
He shot the child, resulting in the grenade exploding at her feet, killing many of the refugees, rather than her intended targets. Even though some of the refugees were found to be wearing North Korean uniforms under their civilian clothes, Mr. Manring, almost a half century later, thought of the person who nearly lobbed a live grenade at him and his colleagues first as a little girl, not a guerilla.
“I put a bullet in between her eyes,” he told the Globe, sobbing. “She bothers me to this day.”
Also around the 50th anniversary of the war, Mr. Manring discussed the incident with a student historian from Indiana University Southeast, who quoted him recalling the little girl on a website: “She comes and sees me every now and then. She asks me, ‘Why, why did you do this to me?’ I told her, ‘I’m sorry honey, but I had to.’ ”
After describing to the student the wartime policy of a ruthless North Korean government of using civilians of all ages as homicidal infiltrators, Mr. Manring added that he would again respond the same way to seeing the child pull the pin.
Reading the full story of the anguish in our cheerful scout volunteer’s past opened my eyes to the dual role of soldiers as victims and offenders in war.
This has always complicated peace activism by rendering expressions of appropriate sympathy for them vulnerable to being twisted into pro-war spin.
Hesitating to kill in a combat situation because of awareness of the enemy’s humanity is precisely what combat training is designed to prevent, as though such a moment is a fatal weakness. It is in fact our greatest strength.
Regarding the two directions from which the gunfire came that ravaged the teenage Mr. Manring, I was socialized during my childhood to see being shot by the other side, or one’s own, as polar opposite phenomena.
One is heroic and noble, the other an absurd boondoggle.
Yet if we accept the overriding principle of our religiosity that we are put in this world to love one another, are not all war wounds from friendly fire?
“Accidental” describes not just the five American-made bullets that hit Mr. Manring, but the whole scenario of a young man from New Albany and counterparts from equally insular villages on the Korean peninsula being whisked from lives of community involvement and small scale economics not to meet and interact, but to kill or be killed.
Roy Manring donated many hours to help our scout troop’s leaders help me and my young colleagues learn to work together pitching tents, preparing food, hiking, telling folk tales – fitting his volunteering in around the customary 40 hours a week of conscientious factory work when American industrial jobs were in their prime. Precisely the day-to-day mundanity which boys of my youth turned to war comics to escape in pursuit of a glamorous warrior narrative we believed was at the heart of our gender’s identity.
We did not see that the time spent quietly adding to lives by one’s own initiative – rather than imperiling lives, one’s own included, by robotically adapting to an arbitrary and unnatural state of enmity – constituted Mr. Manring’s true moments of valor.

This story also was published in Brian Arbenz’ book “Lost And Found in Louisville,” available by contacting the author at http://www.brianlostandfound@gmail.com. 

Enough about the Grassy Knoll! The weak JFK conspiracy case distracts from proven CIA crimes

  For opponents of U.S. foreign policy misdeeds, limiting our horizons to “JFK” is to wallow in sentimental US-centric lore, not genuine radicalism.

John Kennedy with Nguyyan Dinh Thuan
Just who in this picture will be assassinated in November 1963 in a conspiracy? Popular theories say John F. Kennedy, but in fact, weeks after this cordial appearing meeting with South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, JFK ordered the CIA to overthrow him, resulting in Diem’s killing by soldiers of South Vietnam the following day, Nov. 2, 1963.

by Brian Arbenz

Oliver Stone made the wrong movie.

Instead of blending some facts and much supposition into a story of how a peace-loving visionary President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in what might have been a conspiracy, Stone’s 1991 “JFK” could have been a movie about the assassinations involving Kennedy’s White House which were conspiracies – beyond a doubt. Were it titled “JFK,” however, this movie would be named for the antagonist. Yes, Stone could have used his 3 hours and 26 minutes of holding a nation spellbound to unmask conspiracies by John F. Kennedy’s administration to assassinate or overthrow multiple heads of state.

Of course, telling people what is already agreed to be fact would be artistically and commercially riskier because that story likely would fail to dazzle them like the “what if” spectacularism of the movie Stone made. People my age and older feel separation anxiety from the sudden and unforeseeable loss of our charismatic president; Stone’s “JFK” treads heavily on that shared experience. Yet regarding John F. Kennedy’s role in carrying out conspiracies against Ngo Dinh Diem, Patrice Lumumba and Fidel Castro, a three-hour tutorial explaining those would become mired in the arcane in the minds of the moviegoing public.

It isn’t government censorship any more that keeps Americans from intimately knowing the facts about our nation’s real conspiracies. It is the ho-hum factor.

So, we are inured to the truth that JFK’s administration tried to kill Fidel Castro, overthrew South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem in a CIA-launched coup that resulted in Diem’s death, and fully cooperated with attempts by the Eisenhower White House to kill Congolese elected president Patrice Lumumba, and helped establish the corrupt dictatorship that replaced the social reformer Lumumba, who was murdered three days before JFK took the oath of office.

Of course, my suggested alternate movie should not really be called “JFK,” because it certainly wasn’t just John F. Kennedy who plotted illegal and intrusive interventions. His presidency was merely a brief shining moment in more than a century of covert actions carried out by corrupt U.S. foreign policy makers for vested interests.

Whereas the real-life JFK was not the conspirator, he also was not the valiant insurgent against the cold war as he is championed by the didactic movie’s central character, maverick prosecutor Jim Garrison. Played by Kevin Costner, Garrison argues the case before a jury of millions that the military industrial complex removed the president in a coup on Nov. 22, 1963 to propel the nation into the Vietnam War, with a misfit ex-marine being only a patsy.

Let me first, nonetheless, acknowledge that not all appreciation of John F. Kennedy is merely sentimental. He absolutely did stand apart from the cold warrior orthodoxy in the world’s most nervous moment. In October 1962 JFK was there for us (the 4-year-old me included) preventing – barely – a nuclear war, and he signed the treaty banning above ground nuclear tests the following year.

Much is overlooked, however, by Oliver Stone and other advocates of the theory that JFK was going to pull us out of Vietnam, but the CIA and the military and its contractors wouldn’t stand for that. In fact, as noted above, the Kennedy Administration ordered the CIA’s overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, a secret act which made the U.S. a regime builder, therefore more heavily involved in the then nine-year-long war between North and South Vietnam.

History.com said of the Kennedy-backed overthrow of Diem:

“…the United States was more heavily involved in the South Vietnamese quagmire than ever. Its participation in the overthrow of the Diem regime signaled a growing impatience with South Vietnamese management of the war. From this point on, the United States moved step by step to become more directly and heavily involved in the fight against the communist rebels.”

And regarding Congo, Kennedy, as president-elect, was in on a CIA assassination plot (devised under Eisenhower’s presidency) against the democratically elected president Patrice Lumumba, whose pro-labor stances threatened the western mining interests wanting Congo’s rich mineral resources at lower costs. Just after Kennedy took office, (his inauguration was three days after Lumumba was murdered by Congolese opponents strongly supported by, and likely directed by the Belgian and U.S. governments), his administration finished off Lumumba’s democratic anti-colonialist revolution by propping up corrupt dictator Joseph Mobutu, a lackey for corporate interests.

JFK google sites

Moreover, the Kennedy Administration, possibly without the president’s okay, tried to assassinate Fidel Castro to end his Cuban revolution for the same reasons – its widely popular economic and social models threatened corporate profits. Attorney General Robert Kennedy knew about the plot against Castro and very likely would have told his brother of it. Moreover, JFK backed U.S. sabotage against Cuba’s economy, falsified a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union to raise spending on the nuclear arms race and deceived the world in a speech in Seattle in November 1961, saying the U.S. is at a disadvantage against the Soviets because assassination, disinformation and counterfeit mobs were tactics we simply could not use. We certainly had used them under his presidency and/or Eisenhower’s to destroy democracy and human rights in Guatemala and Iran, as well as Congo, all to boost the profits of well-connected fruit, oil and mining corporations.

In Oliver Stone’s movie, there actually is a reference to our 1954 overthrow of Guatemala’s government, but President Kennedy himself is heroized throughout the film. The cinematic JFK is shown as firmly intending to pull our limited military contingent out of Vietnam by the end of 1965, and some agreeing with Stone’s narrative even maintain he intended to end the nuclear arms race. Then came six seconds of (however many) gunshots in Dallas, and Kennedy’s successor – described by the sermonizing Jim Garrison as “Lyndon Johnson waiting in the wings” – scuttled all our hopes with a secret order sending 600,000 young Americans into the war.

A SECOND OPINION on President Kennedy’s wounds JFK targetHEAD

“I will always know he was shot from the front.” — Dr. Charles Crenshaw.

…but it’s not that simple, said Dr. Malcolm Perry.

Other Parkland doctors recall the wounds.

The notion of John F. Kennedy the peacenik counterpoised to a war machine preparing to cut him down in Texas on the thousandth day of his presidency can be dispelled with some sobering words from the president himself, delivered right there and then. Hours before he was assassinated, JFK spoke in Ft. Worth not of disarmament and peace, but of his massive military buildup. Granted, he was wanting to assuage the rabid disdain for him in a state controlled by rich war hawks, but the numbers in this Nov. 22, 1963 speech, the last he would deliver, stand as empirical evidence that JFK had been no threat to the military industrial complex, that force which the conspiracy theorists insist had decided the president was such a roadblock to their agenda he should be removed in a coup.

JFK missle.jpg-large
JFK and a model of an ICBM

”In the past 3 years,” Kennedy said in Fort Worth, “we have increased the defense budget of the United States by over 20 percent; increased the program of acquisition for Polaris submarines from 24 to 41; increased our Minuteman missile purchase program by more than 75 percent; doubled the number of strategic bombers and missiles on alert; doubled the number of nuclear weapons available in the strategic alert forces; increased the tactical nuclear forces deployed in Western Europe by over 60 percent; added five combat ready divisions to the Army of the United States, and five tactical fighter wings to the Air Force of the United States; increased our strategic airlift capability by 75 percent; and increased our special counterinsurgency forces which are engaged now in South Vietnam by 600 percent.”

These numbers are not found in the “JKF” screenplay; neither is any mention of JFK removing Diem or undermining Lumumba. The movie, however, includes a brief portrayal of new President LBJ on Nov. 26, 1963 eagerly signing NSAM 273, a National Security Action Memorandum on Vietnam, which had substantial differences from NSAM 263, a Vietnam plan signed by JFK Oct. 2, 1963. The timing of Johnson’s signature four days after Kennedy fell dead by the grassy knoll is used as evidence of the movie’s central thesis – that President Kennedy was killed in a coup to keep the U.S. military from pulling out of Vietnam.

There is no question that a headstrong President Lyndon Johnson pushed us deeper into Vietnam faster than Kennedy would have. Being an oil state icon, Johnson was almost certainly moved to prop up the Saigon government quickly by talk that huge oil reserves were under the South China Sea.

While parts of the LBJ-signed NSAM 273 do talk more directly of U.S. intervention – saying our objective is to “win” the struggle rather than to help the South Vietnamese win it, there is more in the memo which should douse the fervor of those linking the assassination so directly to the buildup in Vietnam. Section 2 of NSAM 273 states:

The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U. S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963.”

That was Kennedy’s plan in NSAM 263 to withdraw 1,000 U.S. troops by the end of 1963, then withdraw all our troops by the end of 1965.

Critics of the LBJ conspiracy theory also note that in that Kennedy-signed 263 memo, the plan to withdraw them in those two phases seems to be contingent on the South Vietnamese military and government becoming stronger and more able to hold their own on the battlefield without us.

Specifically, those critics note that section 3 of NSAM 263 says of the rationale for a U.S. withdraw:

“Major U.S. assistance in support of this military effort is needed only until the insurgency has been suppressed or until the national security forces of the Government of South Viet Nam are capable of suppressing it.

“Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their judgment that the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 1965, although there may be a continuing requirement for a limited number of U.S. training personnel. They reported that by the end of this year, the U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point where 1,000 U.S. military personnel assigned to South Vietnam can be withdrawn.”

This timetable seems unrealistically optimistic, given the corruption within the Saigon government and arrogant attitudes in its military ranks. Critics of the assassination conspiracy theory site NSAM 263 not as JFK’s plan for peace, but as the first example of “light at the end of the tunnel” syndrome – that pathology of always seeing us being nearly able to pull out of Vietnam — that worsened under LBJ, keeping us mired in a war that increasingly was seen as purposeless.

VIDEO: So many conditions on withdrawal. Oct. 31, 1963  JFK press conf 10 31 1963

There is no doubt that Lyndon Johnson’s hubris and penchant for back room deals sent us down a faster track into the war than Jack Kennedy would have, but the differing attitudes of each man were not the only factor in weighing how JFK, had he lived, would have dealt with Vietnam compared to Johnson’s handling of the issue. Circumstances on the ground in Vietnam being certain to turn worse than projected in memo 263, combined with a re-election battle against an anti-communist GOP candidate likely would have pressed JFK into a deeper war. Polls in 1963 showed Kennedy was vulnerable against either Barry Goldwater or Nelson Rockefeller.

Conspiracy theorists, whose work has become an industry and whose gatherings sometimes resemble religious revivals, have weakened actual activism against the United States’ illegal and imperialist foreign policy aggressions by making the proof hinge on the JFK assassination conspiracy theory. The U.S. CIA and secretive corporate interests cozy with it do assassinate leaders, destroy democracy, start wars, use torture and kill innocents — all to protect the profits of corporations such as United Fruit and ITT and to keep Persian Gulf dictatorships buying up U.S. currency to finance our deficits.

This is not a matter of debate. Yet, Oliver Stone, authors such as Harrison Livingstone and Robert Groden and innumerable bloggers and video documentarians devote the commanding heights of popular media to championing a faulty theory that safely absorbs the passions of activists into a flood plain of drama, selective facts and outright fallacies.

Oswald mug shotLee Harvey Oswald: Part of a right wing anti-Castro conspiracy? The Odio sisters recall him as such.

Brother Robert Oswald and others say Lee was just desperate to be important.

The Odios’ account is scrutinized by researcher John McAdams.

The pro-conspiracy people have cherry picked evidence from much more than the two National Security memos.

In an oft-cited 1963 interview with Walter Cronkite, JFK declares of Vietnam: “In the final analysis it is the people and the Government [of South Vietnam] itself who have to win or lose this struggle. All we can do is help, and we are making it very clear.” But his next words, left out of most conspiracy theorist accounts, are: “But I don’t agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake. I know people don’t like Americans to be engaged in this kind of an effort. Forty-seven Americans have been killed in combat with the enemy, but this is a very important struggle even though it is far away.”

Of course, some defenders of the Oliver Stone view note that memo 263 says the plan to withdraw from Vietnam should be kept secret for the time being, which could explain the above statement.

Still, an Oval Office interview with JFK on Sept. 9, 1963 by NBC duo Chet Huntley and David Brinkley displayed more unwavering JFK interventionism concerning Vietnam:

Mr. HUNTLEY: “Are we likely to reduce our aid to South Vietnam now?”

The PRESIDENT: “I don’t think we think that would be helpful at this time. If you reduce your aid, it is possible you could have some effect upon the government structure there. On the other hand, you might have a situation which could bring about a collapse. Strongly in our mind is what happened in the case of China at the end of World War II, where China was lost, a weak government became increasingly unable to control events. We don’t want that.”

Mr. BRINKLEY: “Mr. President, have you had any reason to doubt this so-called ‘domino theory,’ that if South Viet-Nam falls, the rest of Southeast Asia will go behind it?”

The PRESIDENT: “No, I believe it. I believe it. I think that the struggle is close enough. China is so large, looms so high just beyond the frontiers, that if South Viet-Nam went, it would not only give them an improved geographic position for a guerrilla assault on Malaya but would also give the impression that the wave of the future in Southeast Asia was China and the Communists….

“What I am concerned about is that Americans will get impatient and say, because they don’t like events in Southeast Asia or they don’t like the Government in Saigon, that we should withdraw. That only makes it easy for the Communists. I think we should stay.

“We should use our influence in as effective a way as we can, but we should not withdraw.”

Brian Arbenz has been opposing CIA crimes for more than 30 years as a writer, researcher and street protester, including below on April 25, 1987, a national day of protest.

tighter april 25 1987

The Truth Is Out There — Eight Times Presidents Leveled With Us

prez J“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” — George W. Bush, Aug. 5, 2004. The president, flanked by Vice-President Chaney and other staff members, was reading from a prepared text, so rather than this being a classic W flub, perhaps he was preparing us for more Homeland Security.

“We could make no more tragic mistake than merely to concentrate on military strength. For if we did only this, the future would hold nothing for the world but an Age of Terror.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, State of the Union Address, Jan. 9, 1958. Yes, Ike saw it coming. Tragically, W, Obama and the present regime have not figured out that militarizing the Mideast leads to Al-Quaida leads to 911 leads to invasion of Iraq leads to ISIS leads to drone bombing civilians leads to more ISIS recruits.

“We have a tendency to condemn people who are different from us, to define their sins as paramount and our own sinfulness as being insignificant.” – Jimmy Carter. Not sure when he said this, but it defines the narcissistic, starved for circumspection arguing style in today’s echo chambers.

“We must never remain silent in the face of bigotry. We must condemn those who seek to divide us. In all quarters and at all times, we must teach tolerance and denounce racism, anti-Semitism and all ethnic or religious bigotry wherever they exist as unacceptable evils. We have no place for haters in America — none, whatsoever.” – Ronald Reagan, 1984. Well, look who was one of those politically correct, liberal defenders of the multiculture!

“I think that people want peace so much that one of these days, government had better get out of their way and let them have it.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many sources verify this, but none includes a date or context. The statement displays Eisenhower’s long view that the military-industrial complexes of all the nuclear nations were perpetuating the arms race, rather than it being based on nations’ genuine security needs. It has inspired many grassroots efforts at striving for real peace by direct citizen diplomacy.

“A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” –Ronald Reagan, March 4, 1987, televised address. So, the Democrat majority in the House and Senate impeached him, right? No. House Speaker Jim Wright (far less of a criminal than Dennis Hastert, the speaker whose House impeached Clinton), said impeaching Reagan would be “divisive,” and Democrat leaders were described as bending over backward to find excuses not to pursue impeachment.

“Life is unfair.” – John F. Kennedy, May 21, 1962, press conference, responding to complaints from some military reservists who felt they had done their duty but now were being deployed overseas. The whole quote explained that while some soldiers never leave the country, others randomly end up in danger; some survive, others die. Within this context, it appears “life is unfair,” is not brusque, but still a card the president is selectively pulling to deflect criticism. Overall, however, in a universe where random chance is the ultimate power, JFK’s three-word summation applies.

“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” – George W. Bush, May 24, 2005 in Greece, N.Y., explaining his strategy to sell his ultimately failed proposal for Social Security reform.

Brian Arbenz has lived under 12 presidents. Eight truths in 12 presidencies. That’s not such a good total!