Martin Schotz, a respected Massachusetts-based author on the assassination of President Kennedy, explores the systematic basis for Cold War logic.
The Cold War is back with a vengeance. The current impasse between the United States and Russia over the Ukraine crisis is running the risk of an all-out war in Europe, a war that could escalate into nuclear Armageddon. The crisis is wholly manufactured by Washington’s geopolitical power calculations – claims made against Russia about planning to invade Ukraine are baseless if not absurd. The impasse reflects an impoverishment of diplomacy and respect for international law, and a reckless tendency to militarize bilateral relations. This is the manifestation of Cold War thinking, primarily on the U.S. side.
In the following interview, Martin Schotz, a respected Massachusetts-based author on the assassination of President John F Kennedy, explores the systematic basis for Cold War logic. He contends that the United States’ political class is locked in an entrenched Cold War mentality that serves its hyper-militarized economy. Cold War politics necessitates conflict and war in international relations, which is all too clearly demonstrated by the present crisis over Ukraine between the U.S. and Russia.
The depth of this Cold War logic of the accompanying national security state is illustrated by the shocking murder of President John F Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963. His murderers and the institutional coverup that followed were motivated by Kennedy’s growing opposition to the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The fact of JFK’s murder and the systematic denial by media is an indication of how deeply engrained Cold War thinking is in the American political establishment. That embedded logic explains why U.S. relations with Russia continue to be dominated by seemingly irrational hostility. Why do peaceful relations seem so elusive, so relentlessly thwarted? Is it really because of malign Russians?
The inability of the Biden administration, or any U.S. administration for that matter, to conduct normal, peaceful, diplomatic relations with Russia within the bounds of the UN Charter and international law is down to the intransigent Cold War logic of the American imperial state. More than 58 years after the brutal murder of Kennedy, the imperial state persists more than ever as can be seen in the reckless hostility by Washington towards Moscow, as well as towards Beijing, Tehran, Havana, Bogota and others designated as “enemies” of presumed U.S. hegemony.
Martin Schotz co-authored the seminal book History Will Not Absolve Us: Orwellian Control, Public Denial, and the Murder of President Kennedy (1996). It is widely acclaimed as a definitive record of how and why the state murdered Kennedy.
Schotz, MD, retired, previously practiced psychiatry in Boston. He has a BA in Mathematics from Carleton College, and an MD from the University of Pennsylvania. Following training in Adult and Child Psychiatry at Boston University Medical Center, he was a graduate student in the University Professors Program at Boston University. In addition to practicing psychiatry, he is a playwright, essayist, short story writer, and amateur jazz drummer.
An important theme for Schotz is the political and societal effects on the United States from the mass denial that continues in relation to Kennedy’s murder. From his 1996 book cited above is this profound insight which is as relevant today as it ever was:
“As citizens who have turned away for thirty years [now nearly sixty years] from the truth of the murder of our elected head of state, we should not be surprised that today we find our nation in intellectual, political, and moral chaos. Confronting the truth of President Kennedy’s assassination and its coverup is but one small step on a long path out of that chaos and toward healing, a path along which we must confront the true nature of our democracy and the reality of what our nation has become for its own citizens and for people throughout the world. Such a process of healing is not pleasant. It is a difficult and painful path, but it is a necessary one. History will not absolve us.”
Question: You are a long-time observer of Cold War politics between the United States and the former Soviet Union. How would you compare the current deterioration and tensions in relations between the U.S.-led Western states and Russia?
Martin Schotz: I’m afraid, if anything, I would say matters are worse because of the deterioration of conditions in the United States. On the one hand, we have the ever-growing control of the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Think Tank Complex. Both major parties are wedded to the military establishment and espouse Cold War propaganda with little dissent. When you combine this with the weakening influence of the liberal establishment and the growing openly fascist movement that combines the Republican Party and white supremacy there seems to be tremendous potential for instability in this country. The peace movement, such as it is, needs to reach out for support and allies wherever it can. And we need to keep in mind Martin Luther King Junior’s concept of “agape”, that is, faith in the capacity of your enemy to be transformed.
Question: The Cold War was supposed to have ended nearly 30 years ago with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Why do you think it persists three decades on in the form of fraught and hostile relations between Washington and Moscow?
Martin Schotz: In my opinion, it is a myth that the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cold War from the beginning was always about U.S./Western hegemony. No other system can be permitted to exist that might be an alternative to the capitalist system. When the Soviet Union collapsed, somehow Cuba didn’t. And because Cuba represents another way – another economic and political system, true national sovereignty, etc., – the U.S. continued to demonize Cuba and kept its embargo intact. To me, this is evidence that the Cold War didn’t end. At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it wasn’t so clear what direction China would be moving in. And the Cold Warriors probably thought they might be able to bring China into the U.S.-dominated capitalist system. Of course, they assumed that Russia would be part of the system with Yeltsin and his successors. But when China decided to pursue its own course and Russia re-emerged under Vladimir Putin, the Cold War, which had been up to then somewhat quiet, suddenly flared up again. There is a quote from prominent Cold War diplomat and historian George Kennan from the 1980s in which he deplored the establishment’s negative view of the USSR that could be written today. All you have to do is take the passage and substitute “Russia” for “Soviet Union”. Here is a long quote from Kennan’s book The Nuclear Delusion: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age (1982):
“I find the view of the Soviet Union that prevails today in large portions of our governmental and journalistic establishments so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal, that it is not only ineffective but dangerous as a guide to political action.
“This endless series of distortions and oversimplifications; this systematic dehumanization of the leadership of another great country; this routine exaggeration of Moscow’s military capabilities and of the supposed iniquity of Soviet intentions: this monotonous misrepresentation of the nature and the attitudes of another great people – and a long-suffering people at that, sorely tried by the vicissitudes of this past century; this ignoring of their pride, their hopes – yes, even of their illusions (for they have their illusions, just as we have ours, and illusions too, deserve respect); this reckless application of the double standard to the judgment of Soviet conduct and our own, this failure to recognize, finally, the communality of many of their problems and ours as we both move inexorably into the modern technological age: and the corresponding tendency to view all aspects of the relationship in terms of a supposed total and irreconcilable conflict of concerns and of aims; these, I believe, are not the marks of the maturity and discrimination one expects of the diplomacy of a great power; they are the marks of an intellectual primitivism and naivety unpardonable in a great government. I use the word naivety, because there is the naivety of cynicism and suspicion, just as there is the naivety of innocence.
“And we shall not be able to turn these things around as they should be turned, on the plane of military and nuclear rivalry, until we learn to correct these childish distortions – until we correct our tendency to see in the Soviet Union only a mirror in which we look for the reflection of our own virtue – until we consent to see there another great people, one of the world’s greatest, in all its complexity and variety, embracing the good with the bad, a people whose life, whose views, whose habits, whose fears and aspirations, whose successes and failures, are the products, just as ours are the products, not of any inherent iniquity but of the relentless discipline of history, tradition, and national experience. If we insist on demonizing these Soviet leaders – on viewing them as total and incorrigible enemies, consumed only with their fear and hatred of us and dedicated to nothing other than our destruction – that, in the end, is the way we shall assuredly have them, if for no other reason than that our view of them allows for nothing else, either for them or for us.”
Question: As the author yourself of a ground-breaking book on the assassination of President John F Kennedy, you argue that he was murdered by powerful U.S. state elements precisely because Kennedy was beginning to seriously challenge Cold War policies. Can you elaborate on some of the peace initiatives that he was embarking on with his Soviet counterparts?
Martin Schotz: Kennedy went through a gradual and ultimately radical transformation over the three years of his presidency. He initially as a senator had made a speech against colonialism that had raised some eyebrows, but during the campaign for the presidency, he seemed to be attacking Nixon from the right. Eisenhower as he was leaving office had warned of the growing influence of the military-industrial complex, and once Kennedy was in office it didn’t take long before he began to tangle with the CIA and the military. His refusal to allow U.S. forces to rescue the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961 was the first example. He tried to fire Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA, over Dulles’ deceit in the incident. But as David Talbot’s book on Dulles, The Devil’s Chessboard, demonstrates in great detail Dulles in fact continued to meet with his associates even though Kennedy had officially removed him as director of the agency. Then you had a little-known agreement signed between a representative of Kennedy and a representative of then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev known as the McCloy-Zorin Agreement. This outlined a plan for complete worldwide disarmament in stages. It was brought to the UN and unanimously endorsed by the UN General Assembly. At the time, I am not sure how seriously Kennedy took this agreement. But you also have at this time the private correspondence that Kennedy and Khrushchev were conducting, which allowed them to get a better understanding of each other out of public view. Then you have the Cuban Missile Crisis during October 1962. The pressure on Kennedy to launch a war against Cuba and possibly a first strike on the Soviet Union was enormous. But he resisted, showing great independence, and was able to resolve the crisis by negotiating with Khrushchev. That crisis was a real turning point. Kennedy saw how callous his military advisors were to the possibility of millions of deaths in a war. The turning point was quite radical. At this stage, I think the McCloy-Zorin Agreement really started to mean something. Kennedy was reportedly pressing his aides for plans for general disarmament in stages. Then in June 1963, you have the American University speech. This speech was a profound attempt on the part of the president to start educating the American people on the subject of world peace. To me it is perhaps the greatest speech by an American president and the principles articulated in that speech are universal and eternal. Those principles of mutual peace and coexistence, disarmament and an end to militarism, are as relevant today as ever.
Question: You have pointed to the bold declaration of peace by Kennedy in the American University speech in Washington DC on June 10, 1963, as a watershed moment. In that 27-minute address, President Kennedy talked about the pursuit of peace and an end to futile Cold War animosity. Do you think that was the moment he signed his own death warrant in the eyes of U.S. political enemies?
Martin Schotz: After the speech was delivered, Khrushchev was so impressed by it that he had it reprinted throughout the Soviet Union, so virtually every Soviet citizen knew about it. That is something that needs to happen in the United States today. Amongst other things, Kennedy announced in the speech a moratorium on nuclear testing in the atmosphere and followed it by negotiating a test ban treaty. Though the U.S. public opinion was initially solidly against the treaty, Kennedy’s organizing and speeches won people over and the treaty was approved by the Senate. So you have here a leader, the president of the United States who is really part of the establishment and has someone like John McCloy working on the one hand and he has Norman Cousins working with him on the other hand. McCloy was as establishment as you can get, and Cousins was one of the founders of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. Cousins was Kennedy’s personal emissary between himself, Pope John XXIII and Khrushchev. Cousins’ book, The Improbable Triumvirate, is an important record of what was going on in 1963. Cousins was a co-author of the American University speech. Well, you can see what a radical turn was being taken against the Cold War. And the CIA and the Military establishment were not about to have it. You know if Kennedy had been given more time and the American people had really gotten more of a taste for peace, a certain momentum might have developed.
Question: The JFK assassination is a profoundly shocking revelation of U.S. state power; that an elected American president was murdered by agents of the state on the grounds that he wanted to normalize bilateral relations with the Soviet Union and genuinely end the Cold War. Does that shocking, brutal elimination of a U.S. president by his own state explain why bilateral relations have remained dominated and distorted ever since by Cold War dogma?
Martin Schotz: Well, we not only have the president murdered by his own national security state, but we have the government issue an obviously fraudulent report, the Warren Report. We also have the established institutions of society, the media, the universities, and so on, they all turn away and ignore the fact that this has happened. The President is murdered and the government issues an obviously fraudulent report that is accepted. What does that say about our society? John McCloy one of the Warren Commission members was quoted as saying: “The primary purpose of the Warren Commission was to prove that the United States was not a banana republic, where a government could be changed by conspiracy.”
Question: Was there something of an echo of this systematic hostility when former President Donald Trump vowed to pursue more normal relations with Russia? His official encounters with President Putin elicited howls of condemnation across the U.S. media. On the surface, this disapproval of Trump’s outreach was said to be due to “Russiagate” and alleged Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election, but would you agree that it was more due to a deeper American state intransigence simply towards any kind of normalization of relations between Washington and Moscow?
Martin Schotz: Nothing that Trump says means anything as far as I am concerned. From my point of view, he can hardly keep an idea in his head for more than a few minutes. So I don’t want to give him any attention. “Russiagate” was a Democratic Party concoction that was aimed at distracting from serious attention to how Hillary Clinton had managed to lose to an imbecile. The real reason for her loss was the abandonment over decades by the Democratic Party of its working-class base. “Russiagate”, as Putin himself said, was really a matter of U.S. domestic politics in which Russia was being used as a scapegoat.
Question: It seems the United States’ modern political formation is inherently and relentlessly driven by Cold War thinking. Russia, China and other foreign states are designated enemies by Washington often without credible justification. There seems to be a permanent ideology of hostility and war in the U.S. as a nation-state. What are the underlying causal reasons for this systematic mindset?
Martin Schotz: Over the years, the U.S. economy has been increasingly militarized. So there needs to be a narrative that justifies this war economy and that’s what we have. Military spending is everywhere. It is in Hollywood. It is “defense contractors”, aka “merchants of death”, buying congressional representatives. Then the service that the military performs is to make the world safe for unbridled corporate activity. It is a very daunting problem.
Question: Do you ever see the U.S. transcending its fixation on Cold War politics? What needs to change to make that happen?
Martin Schotz: What needs to happen is the political leadership coming to the conclusion that we cannot dominate the world, that we need the United Nations and we need international law. Can they come to understand that none of the problems that are facing humanity can be solved with military weapons? It is not beyond the realm of possibility that sanity could reign. And it is the task of the peace movement to reach as many people at all levels with this message.