Stanley Karnow considers himself a historian. Yet in his essay in Past Imperfect , which is cited in the cover story of your September issue, he attacks my film JFK while ignoring the more recent revelations on President Kennedy’s Vietnam policy, and he distorts the truth in the process.
If Karnow had bothered to read the book JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power by Professor John Newman of the University of Maryland—based on recently declassified documents from the Kennedy administration—he would acknowledge there was definite evidence of Kennedy’s plan to withdraw from Vietnam. Whether or not he would’ve gone through with it is conjecture, but National Security Action Memorandum 263, issued on October 11, 1963, directed implementation of a withdrawal of a thousand U.S. troops by the end of that year. NSAM 273, which was substantially revised after Kennedy’s death and signed by President Johnson on November 26, reversed this policy and led to the U.S. escalation in Vietnam.
It is grotesque for Karnow to assert that Kennedy “would have behaved just as Johnson did” with regard to Vietnam, had he lived. Karnow fails to mention that there were only fifteen thousand U.S. troops in Vietnam when JFK died, a number he was already planning to reduce. Johnson increased that figure by more than thirtyfold. Karnow also fails to mention Robert McNamara’s recent memoir, In Retrospect , which supports the view that Kennedy planned to get out of Vietnam. McNamara confirmed this to me personally in a meeting earlier this year.
Karnow admits that he is not “competent” to discuss the Kennedy assassination. Nevertheless, he derides Jim Garrison’s investigation, which has been vindicated by the release of previously classified government documents that point to the existence of relationships between Oswald, David Ferrie, Clay Shaw, et cetera. He cites only the Warren Commission and Gerald Posner’s biased and discredited book, and fails to mention the Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which found that a conspiracy was likely, let alone the works of serious researchers like Dr. Cyril Wecht, Professor Peter Dale Scott, Professor Philip Melanson, William Turner and Warren Hinckle, and Gaeton Fonzi.
Needless to say, Karnow has not looked at the hundreds of thousands of new documents released under the JFK Records Act of 1992, which was passed by Congress in response to the controversy over our film. I suggest that Karnow go back and study his history a little more thoroughly. And I suggest that next time, you find a reviewer who has done his homework before he starts trashing others.