March 11, 2011
Ted Kennedy's Vietnam PlotBy Paul Kengor
Last week at American Thinker (click here), I wrote on the latest declassified FBI files on Ted Kennedy. I looked at several intriguing claims, mainly based on Kennedy's July-August 1961 "familiarization tour" of Latin America. According to the file, Kennedy familiarized himself not only with the political/social life of the region -- reportedly attempting to "rent" an entire brothel -- but also with one of the most suspicious, notorious Cold War figures, Lauchlin Currie, FDR adviser and alleged Soviet agent.
One item I didn't note, but want to deal with here, is an eye-opening March 2, 1967 memo. Written by an FBI officer whose name is redacted, the memo considered whether Kennedy, then a young senator, was "plotting" with his brother, Robert, to bring to America 100 Vietnamese children burned and maimed by napalm. These children would be paraded around America. Not only would this gruesome spectacle undermine our troops and their mission, but would have the added effect of humiliating President Lyndon Johnson.
"These children are horribly burned as a result of our napalm bombing in Viet Nam," reads the document. The children might be "toured through the United States so the American people can see the horrible results of our bombing."
The claim came from a credible source, a woman who appears to have been a staff member on the Senate Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees, which was chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy. The woman said that discussion on this within the subcommittee was being kept "very quiet."
The source, said the memo, "suspected but could not prove that the Kennedy brothers were plotting to use these children by touring them through the country for political purposes to embarrass President Johnson." She added that such a display could only be political, given that the children were so seriously injured that the only discussion by the committee should be "the question of special hospital care." These kids needed hospital rooms, not display cages.
The memo named a George L. Abrams, chief counsel and staff director of the subcommittee, as being present in Birmingham, Alabama to talk to "a group of medical doctors" to see whether they could help organize a group to bring the children to America.
Imagine that. The propaganda effect would have been devastating. Some readers will recall the tremendous impact of the 1972 photo of the young girl "Kim," a victim of a South Vietnamese napalm attack. These 100 Vietnamese children would have an effect far more traumatic than that one photo.
So, what happened next? Unfortunately, the FBI file provides no additional information.
Of course, this begs the question: Did Teddy and Bobby actually consider something this obscene? I'd like to say no, that the Kennedy boys would never do something so low. Yet, when you consider the question deeper, it seems plausible. Consider:
One of the more sordid aspects of Ted Kennedy's checkered life, lost between Chappaquiddick and other assorted moral-political outrages, was his public maligning of our troops in Vietnam.
In January 1968, Kennedy did a fact-finding trip to refugee camps in South Vietnam. According to one account, the senator discerned that "half of the 30 million dollars a year the United States has given South Vietnam for refugee relief was finding its way into the pockets of government officials and province chiefs." Kennedy complained of rampant corruption; the kind that was apparently absent -- or at least not mentioned -- among North Vietnamese officials.
Of the South Vietnamese who were refugees, reported Senator Kennedy, "the vast majority -- I would say over 80 percent -- claimed that they were either deposited in camps by the Americans or fled to camps in fear of American airplanes and artillery. Only a handful claimed they were driven from their homes by the Viet Cong."
Yes, at best, according to Kennedy, "only a handful" of South Vietnamese -- maybe a half-dozen or so -- were refugees because of anything done by North Vietnam's communists. Everything was Uncle Sam's fault.
Sadly, this was a Ted Kennedy practice throughout a nearly 50-year Senate career, as he was repeatedly re-elected by the people of Massachusetts.
Fast forward to the war in Iraq. In May 2004, Senator Kennedy said, "we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management -- U.S. management." Kennedy dubbed Iraq a "quagmire," just like Vietnam. "Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam," he said, accusing President Bush of "lie after lie after lie."
The 1967 memo fits not only Kennedy's pattern against our troops, but also against our sitting presidents -- especially presidents who stood in the way of Ted and his kin advancing to the White House. Previously, in columns here and in books (click here and here), I've written about the May 1983 KGB memo where Kennedy's target was Ronald Reagan. When Kennedy reached out to Yuri Andropov to undermine President Reagan's "belligerent" defense policies, it was just as Reagan's re-election campaign was getting underway, with Kennedy a Democratic frontrunner. I've also reported (click here) that Kennedy tried the same against his own political flesh and blood, Jimmy Carter, when Carter was the Democratic incumbent in 1980 -- being challenged by, yes, Ted Kennedy.
Well, in 1967, the date of this memo, the Democrats again had an incumbent president eligible for re-election. The Democratic frontrunner to replace LBJ was again a Kennedy -- Bobby Kennedy.
In each case, the president in power, Democrat or Republican, standing between a Kennedy and the Oval Office, was seen as the aggressor.
Thus, when you consider all of this, that March 1967 memo about parading around burnt Vietnamese children doesn't seem out of character for Ted Kennedy.
Finally, Ted aside, consider Bobby Kennedy:
By 1967, Bobby was not only strenuously anti-war but despised Lyndon Johnson, whom he hated for multiple reasons. Among them was LBJ's escalation of a conflict that Bobby's older brother, JFK, began. Some were blaming JFK for a destructive war that was really LBJ's doing.
I would like to say that Bobby Kennedy had more character than Teddy Kennedy. Of course, that wouldn't be saying much.
So, did the Kennedy brothers consider hatching this plot? Can anyone out there confirm or reject the story? Are there any witnesses still living? Surely, there's someone, somewhere, perhaps in Birmingham, Alabama, who could shed some light?
And are there any Kennedy biographers or "journalists" willing to dare come forward with information or do some actual digging? If the story can be disproven, I'm sure they won't hesitate. If the story is accurate, I expect their usual response: dead silence.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the newly released Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.