Lyndon B. Johnson and Spiro Agnew at the launch of Apollo 11. NASA
If John Kennedy had not been assassinated, there would have been no Vietnam War for Americans. I think that question has been settled by recent investigators like James Douglass. Robert Kennedy Jr. summarizes the evidence in his book American Values:
Between 1965 and 1968 alone, 643,000 tons of bombs were dropped—three times more than during the Second World War—on a mostly rural country. The Vietnam War considerably enlarged the already monstrous “military-industrial complex,” whose “potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power” Eisenhower had warned about in his Farewell Address. Interestingly, Eisenhower had actually written “the military-industrial-congressional complex,” but scraped “congressional” for fear of political backlash. No one better epitomized the congressional component than Johnson: he was implicated in three corruption scandals dating from his years as Senate Majority leader, including a fraud involving the Texan company General Dynamics in a $7 billion contract for the construction of TFX military aircrafts. In the weeks preceding Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson had also invested in the Dallas aircraft manufacturer Ling-Temco-Vought, which was to become one of the Pentagon’s biggest arms suppliers for the Vietnam War.2 Johnson also owned stocks in Bell Helicopter, to which he transferred illegally a contract for 220 helicopters that had been signed in 1963 with its rival Kaman Aircraft.3
Johnson’s Vietnam War led directly to the flood of drugs that drowned a large part of the American and European youth (as shown by Lukasz Kamienski in Shooting Up and Alfred McCoy in The Politics of Heroin). The drug explosion of the '70s and '80s produced the epidemic syndrome of immunodeficiency known as AIDS (as shown by Peter Duesberg in Inventing the AIDS Virus). AIDS became the pretext for expanding the web of financial entanglements between Pharma and the government health agencies. And, as RFK, Jr. has shown in The Real Anthony Fauci, this global “regulatory capture” made possible the pharmaceutical coup of 2020 by pandemic profiteers who are now plunging humankind into a iatrogenic nightmare.
If we look at it this way, the Johnson presidency may have been the greatest curse on the U.S. and the world. And that is not even considering what John Kennedy’s presidency, perhaps followed by Robert’s, could have offered the world. Instead of the Peace Corps, we got Vietnam and all the horrors that followed.
Yet there is one thing that the Kennedys would probably not have given us, and that is a walk on “the Moon”.
It is during Nixon’s tenure that men walked on Moon, collected moon rocks, and planted US flags (the last time was in December 1972, almost 50 years ago), but Apollo had really been Johnson’s project from the start. “Few people today realize or remember,” said Alan Wasser, “but a single man, Lyndon Baines Johnson, ‘LBJ’, is primarily responsible for both starting and ending ‘The Space Race’.” “Apollo 11 wouldn’t have happened without Lyndon Johnson,” concurs Michael Marks, quoting John Logsdon, professor at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University and author of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon (Macmillan, 2010).4 There seems to be a broad consensus on that point among historians of NASA. It was Kennedy who very publicly launched the Moon race in 1961, but, unbeknown to the public, “In the weeks before he was assassinated, John F. Kennedy was getting cold feet about the race to the Moon,” according to Charles Fishman, author of a 2019 article titled “If President Kennedy hadn’t been killed, would we have landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969? It seems unlikely.”5 David Baker writes in his commendable book The Apollo Missions: The Incredible Story of the Race to the Moon (2018):
This is a little known story, and an interesting one, considering the enormous impression made by the U.S. moon walks—and moon buggy rides—on the world, and the imperial prestige drawn from it. As one skeptic wrote: travelling to the moon and back was “a feat of mythical proportions” that made “the NASA astronauts the equals of ancient supernatural heroes, immortal demi-gods,” a quality that still reflects on the USA as a whole.
Apollo 15 James Irwin starring on the Moon. NASA
In an article titled “Lyndon Johnson’s Unsung Role in Sending Americans to the Moon”, Jeff Shesol recalls how Johnson became instrumental in the founding of NASA in 1958:
After winning the presidential election in November 1960, John Kennedy set up high-level “transition teams” to advise him on key issues. His team on space was chaired by MIT Professor Jerome Wiesner, who was already a member of Eisenhower’s Science Advisory Committee. On January 10, 1961, Wiesner submitted to Kennedy a “Report to the President-Elect of the Ad Hoc Committee on Space,” that reflected the widespread skepticism within the scientific community over the feasibility of human spaceflight.8 It mentioned, among a “wealth of new scientific results of great significance” recently gained with satellites and deep space probes, that “American scientists have discovered the great belt of radiation, trapped within the earth’s magnetic field.” Consequently, he wrote, “For the time being … space exploration must rely on unmanned vehicles.”
Kennedy named Wiesner chairman of his Science Advisory Committee. Wiesner remained a staunch opponent of the Apollo Moon program, as can be read on his Wikipedia page: “He was an outspoken critic of manned exploration of outer space, believing instead in automated space probes.” Wiesner was also a strong advocate of international cooperation rather than competition in space exploration, as he indicated in his January 1961 report:
This was also Kennedy’s deep-seated conviction, as we shall see. But when Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space in April 12, 1961, Kennedy suddenly found himself under intense pressure. Johnson volunteered to conduct an urgent review to identify a “space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win.” He brought senior NASA officials to the White House, and on April 28 handed Kennedy a memorandum titled “Evaluation of Space Program”. The memo assured the president of the feasibility, “by 1966 or 1967,” of “a safe landing and return by a man to the moon,” if “a strong effort” is made. As the benefit of such a feat, Johnson underlined:
Kennedy went along and, on May 25, 1961, delivered before the Congress a special message on “urgent national needs”, asking for an additional $7 billion to $9 billion over the next five years for the space program. “With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council,” President Kennedy declared, he had reached the following conclusion:
As chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, Johnson got a free hand to enroll his own men into the moon project. He had James E. Webb nominated as administrator of NASA. He also found an efficient lobbyist for the program in the person of Senator Robert S. Kerr of Oklahoma, a close business accomplice of his. In his memoir Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator, Johnson’s personal aide Bobby Baker “recounts his efforts in collecting the half-million dollars in cash demanded by Kerr from the Savings and Loan industry in return for a favorable legislative adjustment” (Andrew Cockburn, “How the Bankers Bought Washington: Our Cheap Politicians,” CounterPunch).
Nearly a year and a half later, in September 1962, Kennedy visited a number of the space facilities around the country. He met with NASA chief engineer Wernher von Braun, who recalled later that, when looking at the Saturn V rocket under construction at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Kennedy turned to him and said: “Do you think we have bitten off more than we can chew?”9 Nevertheless, Kennedy gave the next day (September 12), his “We choose to go to the moon” speech at Rice University, Houston, Texas, near the site of what would become the Manned Spacecraft Center (renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1973).
President John F. Kennedy is briefed on NASA’s plans in Cape Canaveral. NASA
A month later came the Cuban Missile Crisis. It had a profound impact on Kennedy’s vision of the Cold War, and intensified his misgivings about the moon race. On November 21, 1962, he met with nine senior NASA and administration officials in the White House, including James Webb and Jerome Wiesner (audio here, full transcript here, useful commentaries on this moonrise podcast). It transpires from this recorded conversation that Webb was less than confident that NASA could send men to the Moon: “There are real unknowns as to whether man can live under the weightless condition and you’d ever even make the lunar landing.” Wiesner added: “We don’t know a damn thing about the surface of the moon and we’re making the wildest guesses about how we’re going to land on the moon.” Kennedy concluded:
As Lillian Cunningham comments on the moonrise podcast, “The tension between Kennedy and Webb kept bubbling up over the course of the following year. … Congress was starting to lose interest in spending all this money; the program schedule was falling behind; and Kennedy was now going into an election year with this albatross around his neck.” On top of that, former president Eisenhower was publicly criticizing the moon project. Kennedy continued to support it publicly, but with increasing misgivings.
On September 18, 1963, Kennedy summoned again James Webb in the Oval Office. In the recorded conversation, Kennedy complained: “I’m going into the campaign defending this program and we haven’t had anything for a year and a half.” He also anticipated that Congress would cut the budget. Kennedy asked Webb bluntly: “If I get reelected, we’re not going to go to the moon in my… in our, period, are we?” Webb answered: “No, no we’re not going. It’s just going to take longer than that. This is a tough job. A real tough job.”
A moment later Kennedy asked Webb, “Do you think the manned landing on the Moon’s a good idea?” He expressed his concerns that sending men to the moon would cost “a hell of a lot of money,” and suggested that enough scientific knowledge could be gained by simply sending probes. “Putting a man on the moon isn’t worth that many billions,” he said during that recorded conversation. Webb insisted that it was too late to change plans. But Kennedy drew his own conclusions.
Two days after that conversation, September 20, 1963, Kennedy took Webb, NASA and the world by surprise by proposing, in a speech at the United Nations’ General Assembly, that instead of racing the Soviet Union to the Moon, the United States would gladly collaborate with the Soviet Union in space exploration:
As Charles Fishman comments, “The president who had spent more than two years explaining why the race to the Moon had to be a matter of national skill and pre-eminence, a contest between democracy and totalitarianism, was now proposing exactly the opposite.” It was an understatement when the New York Times wrote on its front page the next day: “Washington Is Surprised by President’s Proposal.” Webb correctly interpreted Kennedy’s United Nations speech as reflecting a “feeling that this was just the beginning of a group around him [Kennedy] who wanted to withdraw support,” as he shared in an oral history interview in 1969.10
In fact, Kennedy’s attitude was far from new, and only those who weren’t paying attention could be surprised. In his State of the Union address on January 30, 1961, Kennedy had declared:
Just ten days after his speech to Congress of May 25, 1961, during his only face-to-face meeting with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, Kennedy made the suggestion that the U.S. and the USSR should go to the Moon together. Khrushchev initially responded favorably, but said “no” the next day, on the grounds that an agreement on disarmament must come first.11
However, one year later, on February 20, 1962, when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth (three times), Khrushchev sent the White House a telegram of congratulations, suggesting:
Kennedy immediately informed Khrushchev that he was “instructing appropriate officers of this Government to prepare concrete proposals for immediate projects of common action in the exploration of space,” and less than a month later, he submitted a first proposal in the area of “an early operational weather satellite system.” In the following months and until Kennedy’s death, there were ongoing discussions between NASA and the Soviet Academy of Sciences.12
We see that on the public national scene, President Kennedy was talking about beating the Soviets to the Moon, while behind the national scene and on the international scene, he was trying to shift from competition to cooperation. Khrushchev was in the same situation as Kennedy, having to maintain at home a cold-warrior’s attitude in order to stay in control of his own government.
But there was also one difference: Khrushchev was not interested in the Moon. He knew better than to pull his country into such hazardous venture. And so he didn’t respond to Kennedy’s invitation for “a joint expedition to the moon” on September 20, 1963 at the UN, and later commented in the government newspaper Izvestia, tongue-in-cheek:
Far from being a setback for Kennedy, the Soviets’ official indifference for the Moon may have been exactly what Kennedy needed to declare that, since the Russians weren’t even trying to go to the Moon, there was no “moon race” after all. There is one very clear indication that, from then on, Kennedy was preparing to shift to other more reasonable and useful projects. On his fatal trip to Texas, he stopped in San Antonio to dedicate a center devoted to space medicine research. He said how pleased he was to see that the U.S. was catching up with the Soviets in space and would soon surpass them in some important areas. In the speech that he was on his way to deliver when he was killed, Kennedy had planned to say that because of his administration’s energetic space program, “There is no longer any doubt about the strength and skill of American science, American industry, American education, and the American free enterprise system.”14 That would have sounded like saying: we don’t need to prove anything by going to the Moon.
In order to understand Kennedy’s dilemma, the pressure he was under, and his elaborate choreography with Khrushchev, it is essential to understand that the moon race was not about the Moon. Kennedy said it himself in an October 31, 1963 press conference: “In my opinion the space program we have is essential to the security of the United States, because as I have said many times before it is not a question of going to the moon. It is a question of having the competence to master this environment.”15 That was a euphemistic way of saying that the race to the Moon was a civilian cover for the research, development and deployment of satellite surveillance systems, as well as of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The fact that NASA was employing German expatriate Wernher von Braun—Hitler’s foremost V-2 rockets engineer—to build their space rockets, made it almost transparent.
The NASA Act of 1958 made explicit provisions for close collaboration with the Department of Defense, and the Pentagon was involved in all decisions regarding the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Erlend Kennan and Edmund Harvey documented this point as early as 1969 in Mission to the Moon: a critical examination of NASA and the space program, and concluded: “It remains imperative to have NASA keep its status as the decorous front parlor of the space age in order to reap public support for all space projects and give Defense Department space efforts an effective ‘cover’.”16 This cover was not aimed at deceiving the Soviets, but the Americans. The Soviet leaders knew what the rockets were for.
The Saturn V rocket supposedly carrying three men to the Moon. NASA
That is why Kennedy was under pressure to keep the U.S. reaching for the Moon. Wiesner comes close to explaining Kennedy’s dilemma in a 1990 interview:
As early as 1967, Wiesner shared with John Logsdon that Kennedy had desperately searched for another great project “that would be more useful—say desalting the ocean—or something that is just as dramatic and convincing as space,” but “there were so many military overtones as well as other things to the space program that you couldn’t make another choice.”17
Wiesner shared Kennedy’s predicament. His MIT obituary describes him as “a key figure in the Kennedy administration in the establishment of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, in achieving the October 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and in the successful effort to restrict the deployment of antiballistic missile systems.”18
In JFK and the Unspeakable, James Douglass has told with incomparable talent Kennedy’s determined effort to end the arms race and abolish nuclear weapons. In a historic speech at the United Nations’ General Assembly on September 25, 1961, Kennedy declared “his intention to challenge the Soviet Union, not to an arms race, but to a peace race—to advance together step by step, stage by stage, until general and complete disarmament has been achieved.” Khrushchev responded favorably to this speech. He also applauded Kennedy’s famous “Peace Speech” of June 10, 1963 at the American University of Washington, and had it translated and published in full in Pravda, as well as read on radio, calling it “the greatest speech by any American President since Roosevelt.”19
By September 1963, Khrushchev and Kennedy had exchanged some 20 letters as part of a back-channel correspondence aimed at easing tensions and defeating the pressure of their respective military establishments. In his September 20, 1963 UN speech, Kennedy actually tied his proposal of a joint venture to the Moon with the goal of ending the arm race: “The Soviet Union and the United States, together with their allies, can achieve further agreements—agreements which spring from our mutual interest in avoiding mutual destruction.”
Inviting Khrushchev into the moon project was pulling the rug out from under the Pentagon hawks’ feet, because it could only mean the end of the competition for ballistic rockets. It was a brilliant move: whether Khrushchev responded favorably or whether he proposed another area of cooperation instead—as he did—that was the end of the moon race as a cover for the arms race. Considering Kennedy’s persistence from 1961 to 1963, and Khrushchev’s increasingly positive response, there is even a chance that, had Kennedy lived a second term, space research would have served as a template for disarmament.
That possibility was shattered when Johnson took over the White House. Jerome Wiesner was replaced with Donald Horning (he returned to MIT, of which he became president in 1971). A mere eight days after Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson asked Congress for more money for NASA’s moon race—which meant, incidentally, more money for his Texan business partners.20 Under Johnson, Texas became the economic heart of NASA, which still contributes today more than $4.7 billion to the state’s economy, and 90 percent of the Gulf Coast Region’s economy, according to official sources. We will never know how much kickback Johnson got in the process.
James E. Webb and Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office, July 1967. Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Library
Americans went to the Moon under Nixon, just five months after Johnson left the White House. Curiously, James Webb didn’t feel like staying on board until the achievement of this giant leap for mankind; he resigned when Johnson announced he wouldn’t run for reelection in 1968.
So Wiesner must have been wrong after all about the “radiation belts” that, according to him, precluded a manned trip to the Moon. Or was he? On June 24, 2005, NASA made this remarkable statement:
There are dozens of documents by NASA engineers explaining why travelling beyond low-Earth orbit remains an obstacle for manned missions, for example this one:
NASA engineer Kelly Smith has explained in a short documentary on the ongoing Orion program (Orion Trial by Fire) that the Van Allen belts pose such serious challenges that “We must solve these challenges before we send people through this region of space.”
How then did they do it in 1969? The crew suffered no injury. Hours after landing back on Earth, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin looked “rested, shaved and fresh faced, as though they had just returned from a day at the spa,” noted Dave McGowan in Wagging the Moondoggie.
Perhaps what looks like cardboard and tinfoil around the pressurized lunar module was in fact made of high-tech concrete. We will never know because, as Veteran NASA astronaut Donald Roy Pettit explained, “The problem is we don’t have the technology to do that anymore. We used to but we destroyed that technology and it’s a painful process to build it back again.” Listen to Pettit with your own ears, as well as to Kelly Smith and other NASA engineers, in this 10-minute film.
You heard it: NASA can’t figure how they sent men to the Moon. To make things worse, they lost the 700 reels of magnetic video tapes of the original transmissions. After years of requests under the Freedom of Information Acts, NASA spokesman Grey Hautaluoma explained: “We haven’t seen them for quite a while. We’ve been looking for over a year, and they haven’t turned up.”
Now, sending a robot to the Moon is easy, so perhaps something could be learned about the lost Apollo technology if robots could be sent to inspect the materials left by the astronauts on the moon landing sites. But in 2011, when some private organizations were planning to do just that, NASA issued an unprecedented legislation forbidding any robot to approach any of the Apollo landing sites within a radius of 2 kilometers. NASA’s 93-page document justifies the decision by the need to (try not to laugh): “protect and preserve the historic and scientific value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts.”
Now, there are some skeptics who don’t buy NASA’s cheap excuses for not having sent any man to the Moon for fifty years. Sending men to the Moon, they claim, should be no more difficult for NASA than sending Mary Poppins to the cartoon park. All you need is a movie studio and green screen technology. Italian photographer and filmmaker Massimo Mazzucco shows how to do it in his 2018 film American Moon.
This is, I believe, how Johnson mooned America, and in the process turned the U.S. into his own image: the master of deception.
Laurent Guyénot, PhD
Aulis Online, January 2022
Republished from The Unz Review by permission of the author
About the Author
Laurent Guyénot graduated from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées, Paris, in 1982. Laurent Guyénot is a medievalist with a PhD in Medieval Studies at Paris IV-Sorbonne, 2009. He worked in the Thompson CSF for the US defense industry specialising in pattern recognition.
Guyénot has dedicated the past ten years to studying the behind-the-scenes history of the United States where he lived for five years. Laurent Guyénot has authored a variety of articles as well as many books including The Unspoken Kennedy Truth, 2021.
He lives in France.