Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #883 The Times They Have A’ Changed: JFK and the Steel Crisis of 1962

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This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment

Intro­duc­tion: In past dis­cus­sion of Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s assas­si­na­tion, we’ve exam­ined JFK’s ulti­mate­ly lethal con­flicts with the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, the mil­i­tary and the over­lap­ping enti­ty we’ve termed “the Under­ground Reich.” As we pass from 2015 into 2016, anoth­er of the dra­mat­ic clash­es which ulti­mate­ly sealed Kennedy’s fate serves to illus­trate just how dif­fer­ent con­tem­po­rary polit­i­cal real­i­ty is from JFK’s admin­is­tra­tion.

In par­tic­u­lar, the “steel cri­sis” of 1962 dra­ma­tizes the extent to which our polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment has embraced reflex­ive cor­po­ratism, in con­trast to Kennedy’s sin­gu­lar rejec­tion of the pre-emi­nence of busi­ness as the ulti­mate arbiter of polit­i­cal real­i­ty.

In the spring of 1962, JFK struck what he thought was a bind­ing agree­ment between the large steel man­u­fac­tur­ers and the steel­work­ers union. Kennedy pre­vailed on the union rank and file to accept a mod­est new con­tract, sac­ri­fic­ing many of their demands. In turn, the large steel com­pa­nies would for­go infla­tion­ary price increas­es.

To his sur­prise and shock, JFK was pre­sent­ed with a press release by Roger Blough, the chair­man of U.S. Steel, the coun­try’s largest man­u­fac­tur­er of that strate­gic met­al. Beth­le­hem and oth­er large steel com­pa­nies fol­lowed suit.

In response to the impend­ing 3.5 per­cent across the board price increase, Kennedy man­i­fest­ed his out­rage by:

  • Switch­ing defense con­tracts to small­er firms that had not increased prices.
  • Hav­ing the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and the FBI con­duct thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tions and rig­or­ous scruti­ny of the pro­fes­sion­al deal­ings of Big Steel and its executives–expense accounts, trav­els and per­son­al records.
  • Giv­ing a pub­lic address exco­ri­at­ing the actions of Big Steel.
  • Threat­en­ing an all-out war on Big Steel, includ­ing anti-trust and IRS inves­ti­ga­tions.
  • Recount­ing his father’s admo­ni­tion that “all busi­ness­men are sons-of-bitch­es.” The New York Times report­ed his remark.
  • Relat­ing to steel­work­ers union chief David McDon­ald  that “you’ve been screwed and I’ve been screwed.”
  • Send­ing his lawyer Clark Clif­ford to nego­ti­ate with Big Steel.

Ulti­mate­ly, Kennedy pre­vailed and Big Steel rolled back their pro­posed price increase. The vic­to­ry was cost­ly, how­ev­er, and Kennedy was viewed as a de-fac­to com­mu­nist and both he and his broth­er were the focal point of lethal enmi­ty by big busi­ness.

Pro­gram High­lights Include: 

  • An omi­nous, unsigned edi­to­r­i­al in Hen­ry Luce’s For­tune mag­a­zine that fore­shad­owed Kennedy’s mur­der with a direct ref­er­ence to Shake­speare’s recount­ing of Julius Cae­sar’s assas­si­na­tion.
  • The par­tic­i­pa­tion by oth­er pow­er­ful busi­ness inter­ests in Unit­ed States Steel’s board of direc­tors, the group that decid­ed upon the price increase.
  • Attacks by oth­er media out­lets on JFK’s admin­is­tra­tion as being “qua­si Sovi­et” in its out­look.
  • Char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of Robert Kennedy as “ruth­less” because of his dogged pur­suit of Big Steel.
  • The role of Kennedy’s father Joseph Kennedy (Senior) as Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt’s head of the Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion.
  • Joseph Kennedy’s crack­down on the finan­cial indus­try, which earned him the enmi­ty of the titans of Wall Street.
  • A recount­ing of Eisen­how­er’s famous address warn­ing about the influ­ence of “the mil­i­tary indus­tri­al com­plex” in Amer­i­can life. (The steel indus­try was a major part of that com­plex.)
  • Dis­cus­sion of some of the cre­ation of the dis­in­for­ma­tion con­cern­ing “Oswald the com­mu­nist.”
  • The role of Dulles law firm Sul­li­van & Cromwell in the for­ma­tion of U.S. Steel.

1. As a pre­lude to dis­cus­sion of JFK and the steel cri­sis, we recount Pres­i­dent Eisen­how­er’s famous address warn­ing about what he termed “the mil­i­tary indus­tri­al complex”–a term that has become famous in the years since Ike mint­ed it. Note that the steel indus­try is a major part of that “com­plex.”

JFK and the Unspeak­able: Why He Died and Why It Mat­ters by James W. Dou­glass; Touch­stone Books [SC]; Copy­right 2008 by James W. Dou­glas; ISBN 978–1‑4391–9388‑4; pp. 136–137.

. . . . The polit­i­cal con­text of Kennedy’s assas­si­na­tion was described best by the pres­i­dent who pre­ced­ed him.

On Jan­u­ary 17, 1961, three days before JFK was inau­gu­rat­ed as Pres­i­dent, Dwight D. Eisen­how­er in his farewell address warned of a new threat to free­dom from with­in the Unit­ed States. In response to a threat from with­out, Eisen­how­er said, “We have been com­pelled to cre­ate a per­ma­nent arma­ments indus­try of vast pro­por­tions. Added to this, three and a half mil­lion men are direct­ly engaged in the defense estab­lish­ment. We annu­al­ly spend on mil­i­tary secu­ri­ty more than the net income of all Unit­ed States cor­po­ra­tions.

“This con­junc­tion of an immense mil­i­tary estab­lish­ment and large arms indus­try is new in the Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence. The total influence–economic, polit­i­cal, even spiritual–is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. We rec­og­nize the imper­a­tive need for this devel­op­ment. Yet we must not fail to com­pre­hend its grave impli­ca­tions. Our toil, resources and liveli­hood are all involved; so is the very struc­ture of our soci­ety.

“In the coun­cils of gov­ern­ment, we must guard against the acqui­si­tion of unwar­rant­ed influ­ence, whether sought or unsought, by the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al com­plex. The poten­tial for the dis­as­trous rise of mis­placed pow­er exists and will per­sist.

“We must nev­er let the weight of this com­bi­na­tion endan­ger our lib­er­ties or demo­c­ra­t­ic process­es. We should take noth­ing for grant­ed.”

Eisen­how­er him­self nev­er used the pow­er of his pres­i­den­cy to chal­lenge this new threat to democ­ra­cy. He sim­ply iden­ti­fied it in a mem­o­rable way when he felt he was about to leave office. He there­by passed on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of resist­ing it to his suc­ces­sor.

In Kennedy’s short pres­i­den­cy, the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al com­plex actu­al­ly increased its prof­its and pow­er. JFK’s ini­tial call to devel­op a mil­i­tary response to the Sovi­et Union and its allies that would be “more flex­i­ble” than the Eisen­how­er pol­i­cy of mutu­al assured destruc­tion expand­ed the Pentagon’s con­tracts with U.S. cor­po­ra­tions. Yet in the sum­mer of 1963, the lead­ers of the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al com­plex could see storm clouds on their hori­zon. After JFK’s Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty address and his quick sign­ing of the Test Ban Treaty with Khr­uschev, cor­po­rate pow­er hold­ers saw the dis­tinct prospect in the not dis­tant future of a set­tle­ment in the Cold War between the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union. Both Kennedy and Khr­uschev were pre­pared to shift their war of con­flict­ing ide­olo­gies to more peace­ful fronts. Kennedy want­ed a com­plete ban on the test­ing of nuclear weapons, then mutu­al steps in nuclear dis­ar­ma­ment. He saw a will­ing part­ner in Khrushcev, who want­ed to ease the huge bur­den of arms expen­di­tures on the Sovi­et econ­o­my. In that direc­tion of U.S.–Soviet dis­ar­ma­ment lay the dimin­ished pow­er of a cor­po­rate mil­i­tary sys­tem that for years had con­trolled the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment. In his turn toward peace, Kennedy was begin­ning to under­mine the dom­i­nant pow­er struc­ture that Eisen­how­er had final­ly iden­ti­fied and warned against so strong­ly as he left the White House.

2. In past dis­cus­sion of Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s assas­si­na­tion, we’ve exam­ined JFK’s ulti­mate­ly lethal con­flicts with the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, the mil­i­tary and the over­lap­ping enti­ty we’ve termed “the Under­ground Reich.” As we pass from 2015 into 2016, anoth­er of the dra­mat­ic clash­es which ulti­mate­ly sealed Kennedy’s fate serves to illus­trate just how dif­fer­ent con­tem­po­rary polit­i­cal real­i­ty is from JFK’s admin­is­tra­tion.

In par­tic­u­lar, the “steel cri­sis” of 1962 dra­ma­tizes the  extent to which our polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment has embraced reflex­ive cor­po­ratism, in con­trast to Kennedy’s sin­gu­lar rejec­tion of the pre-emi­nence of busi­ness as the ulti­mate arbiter of polit­i­cal real­i­ty.

JFK and the Unspeak­able: Why He Died and Why It Mat­ters by James W. Dou­glas; Touch­stone Books [SC]; Copy­right 2008 by James W. Dou­glas; ISBN 978–1‑4391–9388‑4; pp. 137–142.

. . . . In 1962, Kennedy had already pro­found­ly key ele­ments of the mil­i­tary indus­tri­al com­plex in the steel cri­sis. The coflict arose from JFK’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with steel prices, whose rise he believed “quick­ly drove up the price of every­thing else.” The pres­i­dent there­fore bro­kered a con­tract, signed on April 6, 1962, in which the Unit­ed Steel­work­ers union accept­ed a mod­est set­tle­ment from the Unit­ed States Steel Com­pa­ny, with the under­stand­ing that the com­pa­ny would help keep infla­tion down by not rais­ing steel prices. Kennedy phoned iden­ti­cal state­ments of appre­ci­a­tion to union head­quar­ters and the com­pa­ny man­agers, con­grat­u­lat­ing each for hav­ing reached an agree­ment that was “obvi­ous­ly non-infla­tion­ary.” When he fin­ished the calls, he told advis­er Ted Sorensen that the union mem­bers “cheered and applaud­ed their own sac­ri­fice,” where­as the com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tives were “ice-cold” to him. It was a fore­taste of the future.

On April 19, 1962, Roger Blough, chair­man of U.S. Steel, asked to meet with Kennedy. At 5:45 p.m., seat­ed next to JFK, Blough said, “Per­haps the eas­i­est way I can explain the pur­pose of my vis­it . . .,” and hand­ed Kennedy four mimeo­graphed pages. Blough knew the press release in the pres­i­den­t’s hands was being passed out simul­ta­ne­ous­ly to the media by oth­er U.S. Steel rep­re­sen­ta­tives. It stat­ed that U.S. Steel, “effec­tive at 12:01 A.M. tomor­row, will raise the price fo the com­pa­ny’s steel prod­ucts by an aver­age of about 3.5 per­cent . . . ”

Kennedy read the state­ment, rec­og­niz­ing imme­di­ate­ly that he and the steel­work­ers had been dou­ble-crossed by U.S. Steel. He looked up at Blough and said, “You’ve made a ter­ri­ble mis­take.”

After Blough depart­ed, Kennedy shared the bad news with a group of his advis­ers. They had nev­er seen him so angry. he said, “My father always told me that all busi­ness­men were sons-of-bitch­es, but I nev­er believed it until now.” The cor­po­rate world nev­er for­got it.
He phoned steel­work­ers union pres­i­dent David McDon­ald and said, “Dave, you’ve been screwed and I’ve been screwed.”

The next morn­ing U.S. Steel was joined in its price increase by Beth­le­hem Steel, the sec­ond largest com­pa­ny, and soon after by four oth­ers. In response, Kennedy mus­tered every resource he could to force the steel com­pa­nies to roll back their prices. He began at the Defense Depart­ment.
Defense con­tracts were crit­i­cal to “Big Steel,” an indus­try that embod­ied the inter­twined influ­ence with the Pen­ta­gon that Eisen­how­er had warned against. Defense Sec­re­tary McNa­ma­ra told the Pres­i­dent that the com­bined impact in defense costs from the raise in steel prices would be a bil­lion dol­lars. Kennedy ordered him to start shift­ing steel pur­chas­es at once to the small­er com­pa­nies that had not yet joined in the raise. McNa­ma­ra announced that a steel-plate order pre­vi­ous­ly divid­ed between U.S. Steel and Lukens Steel, a tiny steel com­pa­ny that had not raised prices, would now go entire­ly to Lukens. Wal­ter Heller, who chaired the Pres­i­den­t’s Coun­cil of Eco­nom­ic Advis­ers, “cal­c­cu­lat­ed that the gov­ern­ment used so much steel that it could shift as much as 9 per­cent of the indus­try’s total busi­ness away from the six com­pa­nies that had announced price ris­es to six that were still hold­ing back.” The pres­i­dent even ordered the Defense Depart­ment to take its steel busi­ness over­seas, if that were nec­es­sary to keep defense con­tracts away from U.S. Steel and its cohorts. Big Steel exec­u­tives saw that Kennedy meant busi­ness, their business–and that sub­stan­tial Cold War prof­its were already being drained away from them.

Attor­ney Gen­er­al Robert Kennedy moved quick­ly to con­vene a fed­er­al grand jury to inves­ti­gate price fix­ing in Big Steel’s cor­po­rate net­work. He looked into the steel com­pa­nies’ pos­si­ble vio­la­tion of anti-trust laws, and inves­ti­ga­tion his Anti-Trust Divi­sion had actu­al­ly begun before the steel cri­sis. He now ordered the FBI to move on the steel exec­u­tives with speed and thor­ough­ness. As RFK said lat­er in an inter­view, “We were going to go for broke: their expense accounts and where they’d been and what they were doing. I picked up all their records and I told the FBI to inter­view them all–march into their offices the next day. We weren’t going to go slow­ly. I said to have them done all over the coun­try. All of them were hit with meet­ings the next morn­ing by agents. All of them were sub­poe­naed for their com­pa­ny records.”

Steel exec­u­tives sud­den­ly found them­selves being treat­ed as if they were ene­mies of the peo­ple. The Pres­i­dent then stat­ed that they were pre­cise­ly that. He opened his April 11 press con­fer­ence by say­ing:

“Simul­ta­ne­ous and iden­ti­cal actions of Unit­ed States Steel and oth­er lead­ing steel cor­po­ra­tions increas­ing steel prices by some $6 a ton con­sti­tute a whol­ly unjus­ti­fi­able and irre­spon­si­ble defi­ance of the pub­lic inter­est . . . . the Amer­i­can peo­ple will find it hard, as I do, to accept a sit­u­a­tion in which a tiny hand­ful of steel exec­u­tives whose pur­suit of pri­vagte pow­er and prof­it exceeds their sense of pub­lic respon­si­bil­i­ty can show such utter con­tempt for the inter­ests of 18.5 mil­lion Amer­i­cans.”

Reporters gasped at the inten­si­ty of Kennedy’s attack on Big Steel. After describ­ing trhe ways in which steel exec­u­tives had defied the pub­lic inter­est, JFK con­clud­ed with an iron­ic ref­er­ence to his inau­gur­al address:

“Some time ago I asked each Amer­i­can to con­sid­er what he could do for his coun­try and I asked the steel com­pa­nies. In the last 24 hours, we had their answer.

On April 12, Kennedy sent his lawyer, Clark Clif­ford to serve as a medi­a­tor with U.S. Steel The steel exec­u­tives, feel­ing the heat from the White House, pro­posed a com­pro­mise. Clif­ford phoned the pres­i­dent to say, “Blough and his peo­ple want to know what you would say if they announce a par­tial roll­back of the price increas­es, say 50 per­cent?”

“I would­n’t say a damn thing,” Kennedy replied. “It’s the whole way.”

Clif­ford was instruct­ed to say that “if U.S. Steel per­sist­ed, the Pres­i­dent would use every tool avail­able to turn the deci­sion around.” That includ­ed espe­cial­ly switch­ing more defense con­tracts away from them to more afford­able com­pa­nies. There was no com­pro­mise.

Clif­ford report­ed back to the steel heads that “the Pres­i­dent was already set­ting in motion to use the full pow­er of the Pres­i­den­cy to divert con­tracts from U.S. Steel and the oth­er com­pa­nies,” adding that “he still had sev­er­al actions in reserve, includ­ing tax audits, antitrust inves­ti­ga­tions, and a thor­ough probe of mar­ket prac­tices.” The pres­i­dent was pre­pared to wage a domes­tic war against Big Steel’s price increase.

On April 13, 1962, Big Steel’s exec­u­tives sur­ren­dered. The first com­pa­ny to yield was Beth­le­hem Steel, anoth­er major defense con­trac­tor. The rea­son, report­ed back to the White House, was that “Beth­le­hem had got­ten wind that it was to exclud­ed from bid­ding on the con­struc­tion of three naval ves­sels the fol­low­ing week and decid­ed to take quick action.” Beth­le­hem was fol­lowed soon by the giant, U.S. Steel. The president’s offen­sive backed by over­whelm­ing pub­lic sup­port, had been too much for them. All six steel com­pa­nies rescind­ed the entire price raise that their point man, Roger Blough, had con­veyed to JFK as an accom­plished fact three days before.

As would be his atti­tude after the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, Kennedy, as  Sorensen said, “per­mit­ted no gloat­ing by any admin­is­tra­tion spokesman and no talk of ret­ri­bu­tion.” He was espe­cial­ly gra­cious toward Roger Blough, whom he sub­se­quent­ly invit­ed often to the White House for con­sul­ta­tions. When asked by a reporter at a press con­fer­ence about his “rather harsh state­ment about busi­ness­men,” JFK revised his infa­mous s.o.b. remark. He said that his father, a busi­ness­man him­self, had meant only “the steel men” with whom he had been “involved when he was a mem­ber of the Roo­sevelt admin­is­tra­tion in the 1937 strike.”

This expla­na­tion would not win the hearts of busi­ness lead­ers. As they knew, JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., while a busi­ness­man him­self, had also been Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first chair­man of the Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion (SEC). As a for­mer Wall Street insid­er who knew the sys­tem, the senior Kennedy had cracked down on Wall Street prof­i­teers. Some of the finan­cial titans of the thir­ties regard­ed JFK’s father as a class trai­tor, “the Judas of Wall Street,” for his work on behalf of FDR. It was in the light of Joseph Kennedy’s fight to ini­ti­ate gov­ern­ment con­trols over Wall Street, and the oppo­si­tion  he encoun­tered, that he made his all-businessmen-are‑s.o.b.’s remark to JFK.

That opin­ion of his father, Pres­i­dent Kennedy told the press, “I found appro­pri­ate that evening [when] we had not been treat­ed alto­geth­er with frank­ness . . . But that’s past, that’s past. Now we’re work­ing togeth­er, I hope.”

It was a vain hope. John and Robert Kennedy had become noto­ri­ous in the ranks of big busi­ness. JFK’s strat­e­gy of with­draw­ing defense con­tracts and RFK’s aggres­sive inves­ti­gat­ing tac­tics toward men of pow­er were seen as unfor­giv­able sins by the cor­po­rate world. As a result of the president’s uncom­pro­mis­ing stand against the steel industry–and implic­it­ly any cor­po­ra­tion that chose to defy his authority–a bit­ter gap opened up between Kennedy and big busi­ness, whose most pow­er­ful ele­ments coin­cid­ed with the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al com­plex.

The depth of cor­po­rate hos­til­i­ty toward Kennedy after the steel cri­sis can be seen by an unsigned edi­to­r­i­al in For­tune, media czar Hen­ry Luce’s mag­a­zine for the most for­tu­nate. The edi­tors of For­tune knew the deci­sion to raise steel prices had been made by the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee of U.S. Steel’s board of direc­tors. It includ­ed top-lev­el offi­cers from oth­er huge finan­cial insti­tu­tions, such as the Mor­gan Guar­an­ty Trust Com­pa­ny, the First Nation­al City Bank of New York, the Pru­den­tial Insur­ance Com­pa­ny, the Ford Foun­da­tion, and AT & T. When Roger Blough hand­ed U.S. Steel’s provoca­tive press release to the Pres­i­dent, he did so on behalf of not only U.S. Steel but also these oth­er finan­cial giants in the Unit­ed States. The For­tune edi­to­r­i­al there­fore posed an intrigu­ing ques­tion: Why did the finan­cial inter­ests behind U.S. Steel announce the price increase in such a way as to delib­er­ate­ly “pro­voke the Pres­i­dent of the U.S. into a vit­ri­olic and dem­a­gog­ic assault?”

With the author­i­ty of an insider’s knowl­edge that it denied hav­ing, For­tune answered its own ques­tion: “There is a theory–unsupported by any direct evidence–that Blough was act­ing as a ‘busi­ness states­man’ rather than as a busi­ness­man judg­ing his mar­ket.” Accord­ing to “this the­o­ry,” Kennedy’s pri­or appeal to steel exec­u­tives not to raise prices, lead­ing to the con­tract set­tle­ment between the com­pa­ny and the union, had “poised over the indus­try a threat of ‘jaw­bone con­trol’ of prices. For the sake of his com­pa­ny, the indus­try, and the nation, Blough sought a way to break through the bland ‘har­mo­ny’ that has recent­ly pre­vailed between gov­ern­ment and busi­ness.”

In plain­er lan­guage, the pres­i­dent was act­ing too much like a Pres­i­dent, rather than just anoth­er office­hold­er behold­en to the pow­ers that be. U.S. Steel on behalf of still high­er finan­cial inter­ests there­fore taunt­ed Kennedy so as to present him with a dilem­ma: he either had to accept the price hike and lose cred­i­bil­i­ty, or react as he did with pow­er to roll back the increase and there­by unite the busi­ness world against him. His unswerv­ing activist response then served to con­firm the worst fears of cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca:

“That the threat of ‘jaw­bone con­trol’ was no mere buga­boo was borne out by the tone of Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s reac­tion and the threats of gen­er­al busi­ness harass­ment by gov­ern­ment that fol­lowed the ‘affront.’”

Thus the steel cri­sis, in Fortune’s view, threat­ened to pro­pel an activist, anti-busi­ness pres­i­dent toward a fate like that of Julius Cae­sar. As Shake­speare had it, Cae­sar was warned of his com­ing assas­si­na­tion by a sooth­say­er: “Beware the ides of March.” For­tune gave Kennedy a dead­ly warn­ing of its own by the title of its edi­to­r­i­al “Steel: The Ides of April.”

Robert Kennedy’s Jus­tice Depart­ment con­tin­ued its anti-trust inves­ti­ga­tion into the steel com­pa­nies. U.S. Steel and sev­en oth­er com­pa­nies were even­tu­al­ly forced to pay max­i­mum fines in 1965 for their price-fix­ing activ­i­ties between 1955 and 1961. The steel cri­sis defined John and Robert Kennedy as Wall Street ene­mies. The pres­i­dent was seen as a state dic­ta­tor. As the Wall Street Jour­nal put it in the week after Big Steel sur­ren­dered to the Kennedys, “The Gov­ern­ment set the price. And it did this by the pres­sure of fear–by naked pow­er, by threats, by agents of the state secu­ri­ty police.” U.S. News and World Report gave promi­nence in its April 30, 1962 issue an anti-Kennedy arti­cle on “Planned Econ­o­my” that sug­gest­ed the pres­i­dent was act­ing like a Sovi­et com­mis­sar.

Attor­ney Gen­er­al Robert Kennedy became a sym­bol of “ruth­less pow­er” to the busi­ness titans he treat­ed so brusque­ly, whose cor­po­ra­tions he then found in vio­la­tion of the law. Media con­trolled by the same inter­ests adopt­ed the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of RFK as ruth­less until his mur­der six years lat­er.

As John Kennedy became per­sona non gra­ta to the eco­nom­ic elite of the Unit­ed States, his pop­u­lar­i­ty increased else­where. He said on May 8, 1962, to a warm­ly wel­com­ing con­ven­tion of the Unit­ed Auto Work­ers:

“Last week, after speak­ing to the Cham­ber of Com­merce and the res­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion, I began to won­der how I got elect­ed. And now I remem­ber.

“I said to the Cham­ber that I thought I was the sec­ond choice for Pres­i­dent of a major­i­ty of the Cham­ber; any­one else was first choice.”

John Kennedy, the son of a rich man who had fought Wall Street in the Roo­sevelt admin­is­tra­tion, was begin­ning to sound like a class heretic him­self. He told the U.A.W.: “Har­ry Tru­man once said there are 14 or 15 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who have the resources to have rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Wash­ing­ton to pro­tect their inter­ests, and that the inter­ests of the great mass of oth­er peo­ple, the hun­dred and fifty or six­ty mil­lion is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States. And I pro­pose to ful­fill it.”

After the steel cri­sis, Pres­i­dent Kennedy felt so much hos­til­i­ty from the lead­ers of big busi­ness that he final­ly gave up try­ing to cur­ry their sup­port. He told advis­ers Sorensen, O’Donnell, and Schlesinger, “I under­stand bet­ter every day why Roo­sevelt, ho start­ed out such a mild fel­low, end­ed u so fero­cious­ly anti-busi­ness. It is hard as hell to be friend­ly with peo­ple who keep try­ing to cut your legs off.” If Fortune’s edi­tors were right in see­ing a delib­er­ate provo­ca­tion of Kennedy, the insti­ga­tors had suc­ceed­ed in alien­at­ing the busi­ness elite from the Pres­i­dent and vice ver­sa.

JFK joked about what his cor­po­rate ene­mies would do to him, if they only had the chance. A year after the steel cri­sis, he learned before giv­ing a speech in New York that else­where in the same hotel “the steel indus­try was pre­sent­ing Dwight D. Eisen­how­er with its annu­al pub­lic ser­vice award.”

“I was their man of the year last year,” said the Pres­i­dent to his audi­ence. “They want­ed to come down to the White House to give me their award, but the Secret Ser­vice wouldn’t let them do it.”

For the dark humor to work, Kennedy and his audi­ence had to assume a Secret Ser­vice com­mit­ted to shield­ing the Pres­i­dent. How­ev­er as Secret Ser­vice Abra­ham Bold­en had learned before he left the White House detail, the S.S. agents around Kennedy were jok­ing in a more sin­is­ter direction–that they would step out of the way if an assas­sin aimed a shot at the Pres­i­dent. In Dal­las the Secret Ser­vice would step out of the way not just indi­vid­u­al­ly, but col­lec­tive­ly. . . .

3. Sup­ple­ment­ing dis­cus­sion of the steel cri­sis, the pro­gram con­cludes with par­tial delin­eation of the “paint­ing of Oswald ‘red’–the cre­ation of a pho­ny com­mu­nist cov­er for the pat­sy-to-be.

JFK and the Unspeak­able: Why He Died and Why It Mat­ters by James W. Dou­glas; Touch­stone Books [SC]; Copy­right 2008 by James W. Dou­glas; ISBN 978–1‑4391–9388‑4; pp. 142–146.

In his deep­en­ing alien­ation from the CIA, the Pen­ta­gon, and big busi­ness, John Kennedy was mov­ing con­scious­ly beyond the point of no return. Kennedy knew well the com­plic­i­ty that exist­ed among the Cold War’s cor­po­rate elite, Pen­ta­gon plan­ners, and the heads of “intel­li­gence agen­cies.” He was no stranger to the way sys­temic pow­er worked in and behind his nation­al secu­ri­ty state. But he still kept act­ing for “the inter­ests of the great mass of oth­er people”–and as his broth­er Robert put it, to pre­vent “the specter of the death of the chil­dren of this coun­try and around the world.” That put him more and more deeply in con­flict with those who con­trolled the sys­tem. . . .

4. Sup­ple­ment­ing the on-air dis­cus­sion, we present an account of the role of Dulles law firm Sul­li­van & Cromwell in the for­ma­tion of U.S. Steel.

The Broth­ers: John Fos­ter Dulls, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinz­er; St. Mar­tin Grif­fin [SC]; Copy­right 2013 by Stephen Kinz­er; ISBN 978–1‑250–05312‑1; p. 18.

 . . . . Sev­en years lat­er, with the financier J.P. Mor­gan as its client, it wove twen­ty-one steel­mak­ers into the Nation­al Tube Com­pa­ny and then, in 1891, merged Nation­al Tube with sev­en oth­er com­pa­nies to cre­ate U.S. Steel, cap­i­tal­ized at more than one bil­lion dol­lars, an astound­ing sum at that time. . . .


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