Tuesday, 2 July 2013

GENERAL LYMAN LEMNITZER – A Troubling Legacy


The American nation has from the time of its formation during its Revolutionary War of Independence right through to the modern era consistently found a place in its soul to venerate those of its senior military figures who have given service in the cause of defending its territories and extending its realm of influence.

Even to the unschooled foreigner, the names engraved into this pantheon of martial gods bear an unerring ring of familiarity. There is of course George Washington, the venerable father-figure of the nation.

And from its civil war, Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee; one the figurehead for the preservation of the Union and the other that of the confederacy of the secessionist southern states serve as studied contrasts in the fortunes of war, but as virtual equals in their perceived competence and gallantness.

Then there are the stand outs from World War Two: the outrageously egotistical and gifted Generals George Patton and Douglas MacArthur are heralded as geniuses at the art and science of war.

But this penchant for national idol worshipping or predisposition to perpetuating what has been referred to as the ‘cult of the general’ is not at all restricted to the larger-than-life, eccentric and outlandish types suggested by the personas of Patton and MacArthur. The non-temperamental, uncle-like figure of Dwight D. Eisenhower is revered almost as a flawless saint.

It is Eisenhower who proved to be the benefactor of a much less well known general who rose to hold the highest command posts available to an American army officer; namely those of Army Chief of Staff, the Supreme Commander of NATO Forces and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who in contrast to Eisenhower’s almost benign image may arguably have been one of the most dangerous men to have inhabited these offices.

Lyman Lemnitzer, a soldier of great physical courage, a superb administrator and a proven expert tactician in the conduct of overt warfare as well as the military usages of intelligence, was also perhaps the key figure who may have influenced the evolution of a particularly malignant form of covert operations conducted under the aegis of the United States during the epoch of the Cold War.

He is, some claim, one of the most politically minded ever of America’s highest ranking military officers who plotted to take the life of at least one foreign head of state and who may have been the architect of the murder of the president of his own country.

Although Lemnitzer would have doubtlessly considered himself an American patriot, the historical evidence categorically demonstrates that he actively conspired to commit what were treasonous acts against the nation whose values he was purportedly seeking to uphold.

Lyman Louis Lemnitzer was born into a German-American community of Lutherans in Honsdale, Pennsylvania in 1899. He graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1921, ranked 86th out of 271 cadets.

An artillery specialist who briefly returned to his alma mater to teach philosophy, he had only achieved the rank of major at the time America was on the verge of entering the Second World War.

This was, it should be mentioned, not an uncommon state of affairs in peace time when the slow pace of promotion reduced officers to constantly review the obituaries section of the Army-Navy Journal to effect some sort of calculation which would predict their progress.

However, by September 1942, he was a brigadier general working in General Eisenhower’s staff as the assistant chief of staff tasked with the planning of the invasion of North Africa, codenamed ‘Operation Torch’.

This was the beginning of what would now be frequent involvements with diplomatic missions and covert operations. He was part of a team which journeyed in a British naval submarine to French North Africa with the objective of soliciting the cooperation of Vichy military commanders who would support the impending allied invasion.

It was a risky venture in which Lemnitzer escaped capture and death. His submarine only marginally avoided the attentions of axis forces on its way to Algeria and on the return journey to Gibraltar, his B-17 plane was attacked by three German fighters; an episode from which he emerged unscathed, although his co-pilot was injured. While in Algeria, he had had to seek temporary safety in a wine cellar in order to evade a search party of Vichy police.

He served as the commanding general of the 34th Anti-aircraft Brigade through the campaign in Tunisia and part of General Patton’s campaign in Sicily. After this, and for the war’s duration, he was the United States Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief of Staff for Britain’s General Alexander who commanded the 15th Army Group and who was later promoted to Supreme Allied Commander for the Mediterranean theatre of war.

Lemnitzer would become involved in the surrenders of both Italian and German armies. And it is in the course of such negotiations that Lemnitzer became more practiced in the dark arts of deception.

There was a fear that the estimated one million German soldiers who were retreating from the Italian peninsula would link up with others falling back from the Soviets advancing from the east in order to put up one last desperate stand. Although bound to end in futility, such a development would have inevitably cost the lives of a great many Americans.

It was in order to prevent such a course of events that Eisenhower dispatched Lemnitzer on a top secret mission to Switzerland in which Lemnitzer was to persuade the Germans to surrender on the promise that standing down would merely amount to a pause before the war would be resumed against the Soviet Union.

Although a barefaced untruth, given the context of the political realities of the day, there is nothing to suggest that Lemnitzer himself would not have been in favour of the United States taking such a course of action.

His deeply held aversion to communism which would be displayed both by word and by deed later on while serving at the height of his career, together with what appeared to be a healthy respect for and even admiration for the National Socialist endeavour against the godless creed of Bolshevism point to some justification for this line of thinking.

He would not have been the only one in this regard, although his erstwhile superior, George Patton was the sole publically stated proponent of this course of action among America’s senior military officers.

It was in the maelstrom of the Cold War and fever-pitched atmosphere of anti-Communist sentiment that Lemnitzer’s capacity for malevolent daring was realised.

During the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, his career blossomed. In 1957, after having served as the commander of the US Army in the Far East, Eisenhower would appoint him as Army Chief of Staff and finally, just a few months before leaving the presidency, he would elevate him to the pinnacle of his profession by naming him as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Lemnitzer was an enthusiastic and even forceful advocate on behalf of his particular branch of the armed services. During the period of conquest and then occupation of Germany and German-held territories, Lemnitzer as was the case with US and other allied agencies such as the Office for Strategic Services (OSS); the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), conducted missions aimed at strategically acquiring the talent and material resources which were left over from the fallen Nazi regime.

Scientists, intelligence officers and soldiers would be useful assets in the post-war world who would help run various areas within the apparatus of state in the reconstructed nations of Western Europe, and also would help bolster the allied nations into whose services they were co-opted.

Lemnitzer’s prize catch on behalf of the United States Army was Werner Von Braun, the rocket scientist. Von Braun’s services would be lost to the space program run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), but Lemnitzer’s efforts demonstrate that he was shrewd and prescient enough to understand the importance of the use of long range rockets in the conduct of future warfare.

His ambitions regarding the space research programs of the army led to a bitter confrontation with the air force over which service would control the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program. It resulted in a victory for the air force.

Lemnitzer’s infamy, much of which is posthumous, owes a great deal to the dilemma posed to the United States by the coming to power in 1959 of Fidel Castro in Cuba.

It is important to bear in mind the backdrop to this. The onset of the Cold War created a sense of palpable paranoia in the mindset of many Americans and this was reflected in the attitudes of politicians and military officials.

One by one, the Sovietisation of Eastern Europe via coups in Czechoslovakia and Hungary and the reneging by Stalin on the promise of free elections in Poland led to a calcification of the division between the erstwhile anti-Nazi allies.

The blockade mounted by the Soviets on the Western part of Berlin provided further evidence of the ominous drift of the development of two armed camps consisting of the democratic free world and the totalitarian Soviet bloc.

Early notice that the ‘communist threat’ was not merely confined to Europe but was a global phenomenon which would actively threaten the United States was served by the victory of Mao-Tse Tung’s Peoples Liberation Army in China.

The precise theatre of war in which the United States would be involved turned out not to be in China, but within the Korean Peninsula, where Lemnitzer himself would be involved as commander of the Eleventh Airborne Division.

The challenge to the United States in Asia did not end with the stalemated denouement of the Korean War, as it was renewed six months later with the defeat of the French military at Dien Bien Phu. America would then assume responsibility for the fight against communism in Vietnam which would turn out to be a bloody and protracted war.

Guided by the ‘Domino Theory’, which held that allowing one nation to fall into the hands of communist leadership would potentially lead to its export to neighbouring nations, America was embarked on a Grand Strategy of Containment.

Although evidence of the success of this policy could be pointed to in regard to the battles fought in Korea and in Greece, the presumed threat of communism from both external and internal sources, festered in the public imagination and became a focus for much of the discourse in the political arena.

The McCarthyite-era, which describes the period when an opportunist senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy spearheaded a campaign to expose communist infiltration and influence in the highest echelons of the government institutions of the United States, was actually more of a symptom than the cause of the ‘Red Scare’.   

Lemnitzer reflected the position of many key senior military officers in the United States army during this period. This was solidly conservative in attitude and fiercely anti-communist in its stance.

Materials designed for the purposes of indoctrinating soldiers were disseminated by senior military figures most prominent among who was Major-General Edwin A. Walker. Walker’s armoury of literature included leaflets and pamphlets created by the Right-wing John Birch Society as well as the ultra-conservative Americans for Constitutional Action.

Based at the time in Augsburg in West Germany, Walker’s sermons and written materials were designed to get the common soldiery to vote for the political Right during elections.

Camouflaged throughout much of the 1950s by the conservative presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, the true political disposition of many in the military and the coming to light of the machinations of Right-wing generals as well as their actions away from the public eye as demonstrated by officers such as Lemnitzer, was in large measure based on the election of a political liberal to the office of the presidency in 1960.

Although the electoral campaign conducted by President John F. Kennedy emphasised a hard-line, hawkish tone so far as foreign policy was concerned, the pragmatic course which he followed once he assumed the helm of the highest office of state left Lemnitzer greatly exercised.

He would come to see Kennedy as being ‘soft’ on communism which in the atmosphere of the times was a dangerous light in which to be held. It has been argued that the typical mindset of those who were fervently anti-communist was not merely to view accommodation with communists as naive but as tantamount to collaboration and outright sympathy for communism. In other words, such acts were considered to be positively traitorous.

Lemnitzer’s position on Cuba was straightforward: the government of Fidel Castro, which overthrew the American-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, had to be removed by any and all means necessary. This Kennedy was not prepared to do and the subsequent battles between the Pentagon which he as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff controlled and the White House were of such intensity and increasing bitterness that the subversion of the rule of law as well as the democratic process became distinct possibilities.

The idea of effecting an extreme solution to the matter of Cuba may in fact have been implanted into Lemnitzer by President Eisenhower. Eisenhower, famous for his swansong warning of the dangers posed by what he termed the ‘military industrial complex’, also left with a piece of sober advice for his successor: “In the long run,” he asserted, “the United States cannot allow the Castro government to continue to exist in Cuba.”

Ironically, the rather lengthy shadow of his protégé Lemnitzer would cast itself over both issues.

Ever the competitor, Lemnitzer the amoral schemer was at work on the matter of Cuba. The planning of Operation Zapata, the ill-fated scheme masterminded by the CIA, to invade Cuba and engineer the overthrow of the Castro government by an invasion by ill-equipped exiles from the Bay of Pigs was coolly and quietly observed by  Lemnitzer at a distance.

The CIA had of course been on a roll during the Cold War. Its first major operation undertaken soon after its formation was in securing victory for the Right-wing Christian Democratic Party at Italy’s post-war elections at the expense of the powerful Italian Communist Party.

It had also planned the successful overthrow of the government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and in the succeeding year had done the same in regard to that of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in Guatemala.

The CIA’s wings needed clipping, Lemnitzer believed. He knew that the enterprise was doomed to failure but said nothing because he begrudged the role covertly being played by the CIA. Cuba, he believed, should be dealt with by an overt and direct action of the American military.   

The subsequent disaster meant that the Pentagon would then be in a position to take the lead in settling the Cuban ‘problem’ once and for all. However, the course of action which Lemnitzer and each other service chief chose to pursue was of such extremity and depravity that it ought to have resulted in Lemnitzer and his underlings at the Pentagon being cashiered out of the armed services in disgrace and facing charges for treason and conspiracy to commit mass murder.

The Northwoods Project, a plan to stage a series of terrorist incidents involving the cutting down of innocent American citizens on the streets of Miami and Washington D.C., the sinking of boats carrying Cuban refugees, the hijacking of commercial airlines and the blowing up of an American ship and military installations at the American naval base in Guantanamo Bay –any or all of which would be subsequently blamed on the secret service of Cuba, formed the content of a March 1962 memorandum to the US Secretary of Defence entitled ‘TOP SECRET: Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba’.

Robert MacNamara, who at the time served in that capacity under the Kennedy administration, forwarded the document to the president and it was returned to the Pentagon marked “REJECTED”.

The response of Lemitzer removed all pretence of an excuse for invasion. Cuba, an island situated a mere 90 miles from the US coastline was after all part of America’s ‘backyard’ and the existence of a Marxist-orientated regime constituted a gross affront to the hemispherical cum global super-power.

The converging of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine with the Cold War-era doctrine espoused by President Harry Truman must surely have made it clear to anyone according to the reckoning of Lemnitzer and those who thought like him, that America could not countenance the living and breathing reality of Castro’s regime and that it had the inherent, even god-given right to invade and remove him from power.

This is precisely what would have been on Lemnitzer’s mind when he handed a fresh set of plans calling for an invasion of Cuba to be undertaken by amphibious forces and accompanied by overwhelming air strikes.

The language was direct and betrayed a barely disguised contempt for the alternative measures being undertaken by the administration. Indeed, Lemnitzer was condescending about Kennedy’s war time experience in the South Pacific where his gallantry had earned him a naval medal.

To Lemnitzer, his commander-in-chief, of whom he is said to have referred to as ‘Mister’ Kennedy as opposed to his title of president, had merely been a “boat skipper” of sorts. Kennedy on his part held no higher estimation for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; once referring to him as "a dope."

Kennedy was left distinctly unimpressed when at a meeting of the National Security Council in July 1961, Lemnitzer presented an official plan for a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Disgusted by what he was hearing, the president raised himself from his chair and stormed out of the conference room in the middle of the presentation.

Just as was the case with the pugnacious air force chief, General Curtis LeMay who believed that the threat posed by the Soviet Union could be neutralised by pre-emptive nuclear strikes, Lemnitzer subscribed to the views of Herman Kahn -the inspiration for 'Doctor Strangelove'- that waging a nuclear war was winnable; even allowing for the inevitable fate that would befall major American cities such as Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.

The feeling among key members of the Kennedy administration was that the military high command headed by Lemnitzer was refusing to subordinate itself to the rule of the civilians who were elected and charged with running the government.

And if Kennedy did not at some point believe that he could wake up to the sound of marching boots and the squeal of tank tracks heading down Pennsylvania Avenue, he certainly had good grounds to fear that his military commanders could take matters into their own hands by starting a war with Cuba.

While Kennedy was lauded for his statesmanship in diffusing the Cuban Missile Crisis, General LeMay bellowed at him that the settlement reached with the Soviet Union had been "the greatest defeat in our history" and that we should "invade today."

A palpable atmosphere of treasonous intrigue seemed to emanate from the hallways of the Pentagon. One retired general of the Marine Corps even went so far as to suggest that a coup would be a welcome development "if the 'traitors' could not be voted out."

The rejection of his second plan of action could only have brought Lemnitzer’s rage to a fever pitch; such anger been fuelled by the ideological and cultural divide between both men, and also a belief on Lemnitzer’s part that the soldiers were more fitted to run the country than civilian politicians.

The idea that he was part of a plot to overthrow the government of John Kennedy cannot be dismissed. His predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it should be reminded had been targeted for removal soon after his assumption of office in 1933 by a plot hatched by a group of Right-wing Wall Street figures who had enlisted General Smedley Butler to serve as the figurehead of a fascist-style military government.

Talk about the possibility of a military coup was more than idle gossip and it permeated a segment of the political and cultural discourse at the time. A series of hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee led by Albert Gore, the father of the future Vice President, investigated the activities of extreme Right-wing officers within the American military.

General Walker who subsequently resigned his commission after been relieved of his position naturally served as a focus of attention. However, Gore believed that Lemnitzer was at the heart of such plots and the committee specifically called for an examination of the relationship between Lemnitzer and his colleagues on the Joint Chiefs of Staff with officers with extreme Right-wing views. The extent of such relationships however could not be precisely ascertained and the committee failed to pin any evidence on him

A book by Donald Janson and Bernard Eismann entitled The Far Right appearing in 1963, alluded to an atmosphere which had built up in the American military which was conducive to creating the circumstances for the emergence of fascism or a military junta.

The previous year, a novel, Seven Days in May had appeared on bookshelves which posited a storyline involving the planning of a military putsch orchestrated by a hard-line American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff against a president whom he considered as soft on communism. It was an unlikely coincidence that in a play of words and real life roles, the name of the target for overthrow was one President ‘Lyman.’

There is no paper trail and there are no specific confessions that a coup was being prepared at the time. But that in itself is not surprising. Who would willingly confess to have having plotted treason?

And Lemnitzer himself was not averse to destroying incriminating documents. He ordered all copies of the diabolical Northwoods Project to be destroyed, and he also feloniously instructed an aide of his to destroy all his personal diaries related to the discussions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the build up to the Bay of Pigs debacle.

Nonetheless what makes the idea being a feasible one is the attitude of Lemnitzer which is clearly discernible from his policies and his actions. Lemnitzer appears to have been guided by his own interpretation of Clausewitz’s dictate on the inseparability of war and politics.

The danger of an American military coup materialising on the basis of being linked specifically to dissatisfaction over the handling of the Cuban situation has the ring of plausibility when compared to the passionate feelings which arose among French military officers who staged a military rebellion in 1961 over the issue of President de Gaulle’s granting of independence to Algeria.

Certainly, Arthur Schlesinger’s comment in 1978 that the Kennedy administration was not “in control of the joint chiefs”, speaks volumes about a situation that was pregnant with all sorts of possibilities and one which did not bode well for the strict adherence to constitutional principles and the safe working of the democratic process.

Lemnitzer’s pressing for an invasion of Cuba and his barely concealed contempt for the young president amounted to gross insubordination.

As a punishment and as an attempt to neutralise Lemnitzer as a threat, Kennedy refused to follow the convention of automatically renewing the position of an incumbent head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and instead settled for a sort of ‘constructive dismissal’ which saw Lemnitzer technically demoted by having him appointed as Supreme Commander of NATO.

But the question some historians may now have to ponder is whether Kennedy’s seemingly deft move in sending Lemnitzer into ‘exile’ was a gross miscalculation which had serious ramifications for the duration of his presidency as well as for the people of Western Europe.

Lemnitzer had substantive connections to the organisation which he now headed. He had participated in the drafting the NATO treaty and presented it to the United States Senate for ratification.

The official histories portray his European sojourn as been a highly successful one in which his administrative skills were, as the case of his previous commands, adroitly executed. He is said to have successfully applied himself to developing the concept of the ‘Flexible Response’ of NATO forces to a possible attack by the armies of the Warsaw Pact.

Descriptions attributed to Lemnitzer as having been a “thorough and imaginative planner” do not only emanate from observers, they are appellations utilised by Lemnitzer’s own publicity machine as his eight-page biography submitted for the benefit of congressional representatives testify.

Just how far did his capacity for thoroughness and imagination go so far as combating the perceived continuing threat of communism in Europe? And despite the distance in geography between himself and the president by whom he had consistently been incommoded, did the still greatly influential general continue to scheme against John Kennedy?

Lemnitzer’s tenure as the supreme commander of NATO was not without episodes of tumult with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 undoubtedly having been one. Perhaps the biggest sore point was the attitude of President Charles de Gaulle to the Atlantic alliance. The French leader’s relationship with the political leaders of the leading Anglo-Saxon nations starting with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had been consistently strained.

Events as they developed made it clear to all that de Gaulle considered the presence of NATO on French soil as a threat to French national sovereignty and this led eventually to his decision in 1966 to have the organisation, headquartered in Paris, evicted.

Lemnitzer is frequently characterised as having been a fervent believer in the Atlantic military alliance and it should go without saying that de Gaulle’s policy, gradual at first, of loosening French ties to NATO was considered a threat to the ‘Yalta System’ and ultimately detrimental to the interests of the United States.

This has led some to conclude that the United States through its intelligence services supported the efforts made by members of the renegade l’Organisation de l’Armee Secret (OAS), the Secret Army Organisation, to have de Gaulle eliminated.

The OAS itself was formed after the failure of the so-called ‘Generals Coup’ of 1961 in which a rebellion on French-Algerian soil led by Generals Salan, Challe, Jouhaud and Zeller was intended to spread to mainland France with the use of invading paratroopers.

News reports at the time specifically mention the rumour that the coup had received the blessing of the CIA which led to a much publicised telephone call from President Kennedy to his French counterpart in which Kennedy assured de Gaulle of the continued support of the United States; even offering the services of the US Sixth Fleet.

The OAS then went on to mount many assassination attempts on de Gaulle; all of which failed. Many of these attempts, it has been argued, were backed by Lemnitzer even before he had assumed his posting in Europe. They were supposedly supervised on Lemnitzer’s behalf by General Lauris Norstad, the US commander-in-chief of the Atlantic bloc.

Evidence of this was provided contemporarily in a front page editorial of the French newspaper Le Monde in May of 1961 which explicitly linked agents of the Pentagon who were circulating in Paris and Algiers with rebellious French generals including General Challe, one of the four who led the Algiers Putsch.

The Elysee Palace, apparently with knowledge of documents which had found their way into the possession of the French Army, also briefed journalists that the plot to engineer the revolt against President de Gaulle was being backed by what were described as “strongly anti-communist elements in the United States government and military services.”

It would be inconceivable that the fervently anti-communist Lemnitzer, chieftain of the domain known as the Pentagon, would not have been aware of these machinations. In fact, given his capacity for intrigue, he would likely have been the prime motivating force in this saga.

As a staunch anti-communist, Lemnitzer would have readily acknowledged the concern strenuously put forward by anti-de Gaulle dissidents that granting independence to Algeria would lead to the enthronement of ‘communists’ who would emerge from the ranks of the National Liberation Front (FLN).

The case for the provision of American funding as well as of materiel and manpower for these operations has some measure of documentation. Two companies which were fronts utilised by American intelligence agencies including those operating under the auspices of the Pentagon; one being Permanent Industrial Expositions (Permindex) and the other Centro Mondial Commerciale (World Trading Centre), were brought to the attention of de Gaulle and identified as agencies which had sponsored numerous attempts on his life.

He reacted furiously by threatening the Swiss government with dire consequences if it failed to have Permindex ejected from that country. De Gaulle’s wishes were adhered to. Permindex had previously been expelled from Italy which had claimed that it was funding plots to destabilise the country.

Part of the deal offered by the Pentagon in funding the attempt to stir the French generals into revolt was that if they succeeded, the United States would expect the succeeding government to reverse de Gaulle’s policy to NATO which Lemnitzer and others believed was “paralyzing NATO and rendering the defence of Europe impossible.”

The connection between NATO, a vast supra-national entity at the helm of which Lemnitzer now stood, and the plots against de Gaulle was the use of certain secret army personnel who came under NATO’s command structure in the operations of the OAS.

While contemporary reports identified OAS military personnel as consisting of renegade members of the French army including paratroops and members of the Foreign Legion, the origins of others were not clearly defined.

The existence of NATO’s secret soldiers was at the time unknown to all but a select few government officials and the role of this body and is links with criminals and neo-fascist organisations in the struggle with the European Left has only come to light in recent decades.

During the Second World War, various countries in Western Europe established stay-behind networks which were designed to fight the occupying forces of Nazi Germany. At the war’s end, the mechanics of this strategy was maintained in the form of ‘sleeping army’ cells which would be activated in response to another invasion from the east, this time from the Soviet Union.

Sometime in the 1950s, NATO assumed responsibility for these networks of resistance-fighters-in-waiting. These secret soldiers were designated as a stay-behind force of guerrillas who would do battle against an invasion of Western Europe by the armies of the Warsaw Pact by committing acts of sabotage, carrying out assassinations and otherwise harassing the enemy.

They were funded and trained by the United States and Britain, and had at their disposal caches of arms and ammunition which were stored in dumps located all over the relevant country.

Each nation, including those who were not members of the alliance, had a particular name, but the name of the one in Italy was ‘Gladio’. The noble venture for which the secret armies were created, of course, never came to pass, but it appears that they morphed into something rather sinister.

Members were utilised to effect the overthrow of democratically elected governments of Greece and Turkey to be succeeded by Right-wing military juntas.

Evidence has since come to light that members of the stay-behind cells were utilised by the military secret services of certain member states who in turn were directed by American intelligence to stage terrorist incidents which were then blamed on Left-wing groups.

The rationale for this was two-fold. To discredit the political Left -particularly in those countries where they had sizeable membership, polled healthily and otherwise had a measure of influence. The second was to create a climate of fear in which people would seek protection in authoritarian or otherwise law and order advocating parties of the political Right. This was the ‘Strategy of Tension’.

There are those such as author Richard Cottrell who feel it not coincidental that Lemnitzer’s arrival to Europe in fact paved the way for the inauguration of what the Italian’s refer to as the anni di piombo or ‘Years of Lead’.

From a period commencing in the late 1960s and lasting into the 1980s when innocent citizens were caught up in a synthetic cycle of urban terror orchestrated by the state in order to achieve certain political ends.

The pitiless slaughter of innocents in Italian cities such as Milan and Bologna as well as in the Belgian region of Brabant and the German city of Munich all bear the hallmarks of a strategy which he asserts is based on the template of the Northwoods Operation which Lemnitzer had so passionately advocated.

Cottrell even advocates the case that Lemnitzer was the architect of the assassination of President Kennedy. Over the years many have refused to believe that the young president was the victim of a lone assassin.

One narrative has the American Mafia carrying out the murder in response to the betrayal by the Kennedys who through attorney-general Robert Kennedy was coming down hard on their operations when in fact the Mob had handed his brother victory in an extremely close presidential election by manipulating ballot boxes in certain polling districts in Illinois.

Another theory posits Cuban exiles as bearing responsibility as a revenge for the lack of support given by the Kennedy administration to Operation Zapata, while another holds Fidel Castro as being responsible as a retaliation for the numerous attempts which the American government had made on his own life.

A much later developed theory by one Michael Collins Piper attributes blame to the Mossad acting as an instrument of vengeance on behalf of David Ben Gurion who was furious at the manner in which President Kennedy had aggressively sought to prevent Israel going nuclear through its Dimona project in the Negev Desert.

Many who subscribe to the theory of a conspiracy to murder the president believe the assassination to have been the work of a rogue element operating from within the inner sanctum of American intelligence in combination with what Eisenhower had described as the ‘Military Industrial Complex’.  

It is within this construct that Cottrell fits in his thesis. Lemnitzer, furious at his humiliation by a president who was demonstrably and dangerously ‘soft’ on communism by his refusal to invade Cuba and whom he may have believed was on the verge of reducing rather than extending America’s military commitment in Indochina, had patched up his differences with the CIA and together with trusted cohorts at the Pentagon such as Air Force Colonel (later General) Edward Lansdale, had hatched an elaborate plan in which criminals –in this scenario represented by the so-called ‘Three Tramps’- would be hired to kill the president while the blame would be fixed on a ‘patsy’; namely Lee Harvey Oswald.

It is an intriguing thesis given what is now known of Lemnitzer. As part of the allied team who planned the invasion of Sicily in 1943, Lemnitzer would have negotiated with and reached agreement with the criminal fraternity known as the Cosa Nostra.

He was prepared to hire criminals to cut down innocent citizens in furtherance of his design for creating the necessary conditions to justify an invasion of Cuba. Further, the logic is that if he was behind at least two attempts aimed at taking the life of the President of France, he would have no compunction to murder a President by whom he had been grievously offended.

This nonetheless remains in the realm of conjecture.

But even if Lemnitzer, the “thorough and imaginative planner”, cannot as yet be proved to be the architect of what happed at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, or the overseer of some of the attempts on the life of General de Gaulle or as the inaugurator of the Cold war era of synthetic violence directed at innocent citizens in certain Western European countries, his legacy, surely, still remains a deeply troubling one.

An extremely capable military officer, his ideological persuasion verged dangerously towards what could accurately be described as fascist.

And some of his decisions on record such as allowing the plans for Operation Zapata to go ahead in the full knowledge that it was doomed thus ensuring the certain and needless deaths of many all because of inter-governmental rivalry along with his acceptance that the slaughter of innocent citizens of his own country was a price worth paying in order to achieve the conquest of Cuba, speak of a man imbued with an utmost form of callousness; of a disposition equating that possessed by a psychopath.

He lied before Congress when asked if he knew of plans to invade Cuba. He routinely destroyed documents which would have implicated him in perjury and treason.

It should be reminded that there were others whose line of thinking were broadly congruent to his. Plots to instigate a war with Cuba continued after he had been forced to relinquish his seat at the Pentagon. One involved luring Castro into a war with a neighbouring country on whose side the United States would come. Another involved making provocative flights in and around Cuban air space in order to draw fire from the Cuban military.

There would be the incident which occurred at the Gulf of Tonkin which escalated the involvement of America in the war in Vietnam. There is widespread belief that this was a manufactured event; a so-called ‘false flag’ operation which created the circumstances for intervention.

It is a concept which was not invented by Lyman Lemnitzer. The problem of American militarism has been revived in the era of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ and the spectre of servants of state operating deep in the bowels of the secret state devising cynical plans which are geared towards manipulating the public mood in order to justify increases in military spending or military intervention is something which cannot be discounted.

The deeply ironic lesson which can be taken from the career of Lyman Lemnitzer may well be to remind us that it is possible for patriotic sentiment to work hand in glove with treasonable conduct.

It is also a sobering account of the dangers of the enduring ‘cult of the general’ and the myth of the ‘great heroic general’ which continues ever stubbornly to inhabit the American psyche.

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2013)

Adeyinka Makinde is an author who is based in London, England where he lectures in law.

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  1. You should also mention the links between Lyman Lemnitzer and free-masonry, e.g. the "GLNF" in France. When he arrived in Belgium, he worked with Guy Weber and became a friend of king Leopold III.

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