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Piers Morgan Live
JFK: 50 Years Later
Aired November 13, 2013 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is JFK: 50 Years Later, a Piers Morgan Live special.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: November the 22nd, 1963, 12:30 p.m. Central Time, a moment that shocks the world and changes America forever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The assassin's aim is deadly. The area is aswarm with police, Rangers, and Secret Service men.
MORGAN: John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States and the leader of the free world assassinated at the age of 46. What if he had lived? Fifty years later, would JFK recognize what America has become? Tonight, we'll talk to members of the Kennedy family, the doctor who treated both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald, and the only living eye witness who was there in Dealey Plaza the day when Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and the day when Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby.
The truth about JFK, his life, his death, his presidency, and what might have been. This is JFK 50 years later at Piers Morgan Live special.
Good evening. No American who was alive on that dark day will ever forget. They can still tell you precisely where they were when they heard the almost incomprehensible news that the 35th president of United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, have been assassinated.
For many, that news came from an emotional Walter Cronkite on CBS news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas, they flash apparently official President Kennedy died at 1 PM Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Tonight, in this extraordinary hour live witness accounts, conspiracy theories, and the stories you've never heard before. We begin with CNN's John King. Let's take look back at that awful day.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: November 22nd, 1963 was day two of a five-city Texas campaign swing. It was 11:37 am local time, Air Force One, wheels down at Love Field.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Several thousand enthusiastic Texans are on hand to give the President and Mrs. Kennedy a warm welcome.
KING: President's motorcade rolled from the airport in 11:52, Destination, the Dallas trademark for luncheon and a speech. Dallas police reported 150,000 people maybe more along the 10-mile route at 12:30 pm local time, the fateful turn onto Dealey Plaza, pass the Texas School book depository. Suddenly, the sound of gun fire screams an urgent live reports.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not known for sure but it is believe that President Kennedy has been shot. President Kennedy was in a motorcade en route to the trademark where he was to address a luncheon gathering shortly afternoon today.
As I say it has not been fully confirmed but police radios are telling that the President has been hit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six minutes later, 12:36 pm, the Kennedy motorcade arrives at Parkland hospital.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And just now, we've received report here at Parkland that Governor Connally was shot in the upper left hip and the first unconfirmed report say the President was hit in the head. President (inaudible) Kennedy was not hurt. He walked in to the hospital and her husband (inaudible) died.
KING: 1 pm local time. Now, you see the crowd outside the hospital waiting for word inside at that hour. The President of the United States is administered last rights and pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital.
The official word, though, would not come for another 30 minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So they did (ph) it's official now, the President is dead. Women here in shock, some of men, secret service men standing by the emergency room clears (inaudible).
There's only one word to describe the picture here and that's grief and much of it. It's official as a few minutes ago, the President of the United States is dead.
KING: At 1:50 pm, less than an hour and a half after the shooting, Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested, brought into custody by Dallas police at a movie theater where the film "War is Hell" about the Korean War was playing.
2:15 PM, this somber footage here, the casket carrying President Kennedy's body carried on to Air Force One. And then at 2:38 pm, local time, three hours and one minute after Air Force One brought the 35th President of the United States to Dallas, Texas, Lyndon Johnson takes the Oath of Office that officially makes him the 36th.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I solemnly swear.
LYNDON JOHNSON: I do solemnly swear
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That I will faithfully execute.
JOHNSON: That I will faithfully execute.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The office of president of the United States
JOHNSON: The office of president of the United States.
MORGAN: Thanks very much John King. Well, joining me now is a man who is in the extraordinary position of being an eye witness to all the key moments of the JFK assassination and it's aftermath, 48 hours that change the course of history.
Hugh Aynesworth is a journalist who is there when shots rang out in Dealey Plaza. He was there when Oswald was arrested and he was there when Oswald was shot dead by Jack Ruby.
He's the author of November 22nd, 1963, "Witness to History" and he joins me now exclusively.
Welcome to you.
HUGH AYNESWORTH, AUTHOR, NOVEMBER 22, 1963, WITNESS TO HISTORY: Nice to be with you.
MORGAN: What makes extraordinary place in modern American history you hold? Does it weigh heavily on your shoulders that you were a personal witness to these three extraordinary things?
AYNESWORTH: Well I don't considered it dead because I've been doing this for 67 years and I covered a lot of big stories and it's just what I do.
MORGAN: You were a science and aerospace reporter on the Dallas Morning News. You were 32 years old and you were covering the President's visit. You decided to go anyway to Dealey Plaza just to see a president who was in your city. When you head the shots go out what was your first reaction?
AYNESWORTH: You know, I don't know how fast I reacted because it was such an instantaneous bedlam (ph) there. People were crying already, they were screaming, they were bumping into each other and I don't know how I reacted or how fast but I knew somewhere in that first minutes my journalistic background kicked in. But it was just, wow, because we didn't know who was shooting, we didn't know how many were shooting, we didn't know where they were shooting from.
MORGAN: Now there were three shots that you heard, you began to speak to witnesses, you grabbed to sort of make shift pencil and paper from a little boy I think that you saw right?
MORGAN: And began making notes, then you heard on a police radio that a police officer had been shot, you know, if that was J.D. Tippit and that Lee Harvey Oswald was obviously on the run, you didn't know who he was at the time but the suspect was on the run. You then made your way to where this was all happening.
AYNESWORTH: I just thought, if somebody shoots the President's motorcade and then three or four miles away somebody shoots a cop, it is a very good chance it might be connected and I have made that lucky determination. But I interviewed six or eight people who had seen Oswald shoot him. As you know, I'll go run from the scene or seeing who eject shells into the bushes.
Of course we didn't know it was Oswald then yet.
MORGAN: But you saw him actually apprehended?
AYNESWORTH: Yes I did. We looked around for him in a couple of places and I heard another radio in an FBI man's car, said, there's a suspect in the Texas Theater. So, I was seven or eight block away but I knew I had to get there, so, ran like mad so I ran in and -- but I was there two minutes. So, they came up, they stopped a couple other people and then they grabbed him. And I didn't hear him say this is the, Officer McDonald who found him who grabbed him first said, he said, "Well it's all over now."
Of course it wasn't all over now because he pulled a pistol and tried to kill Officer McDonald, but fortunately one of the cops got his hand in the firing mechanism, saved...
MORGAN: That jammed it and saved his life.
AYNESWORTH: ... saved his life yes.
MORGAN: So, you witnessed the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald and then you say Jack Ruby shoot him dead?
AYNESWORTH: Well that was a couple days later and I had known that there had been all kinds of threats to the police department that they were going to take this communist SOB they said, and I just thought they'd move him during the night. But when I got up the next morning and found out they hadn't I said to my wife, "Come on we're going." I didn't shave I didn't eat I just threw on some clothes, ran down in the City Hall basement and I got in there about 10 minutes beforehand and saw what happened there.
I could not see Ruby because I was, you know, milling in a crowd and some of the cameraman, you know, they wear this big 80 pound cameras at that time. It was a little tough to get in there but pretty soon we know it was Jack Ruby and they pounced on him several of them. It was fast.
MORGAN: I mean quite astonishing trilogy of events that you personally witnessed it all, uniquely believe. There's nobody else alive who witnessed all three of this. You're the perfect person to ask really, I've interviewed Oliver Stone, Jessie Ventura, endless people who subscribed to conspiracy theories about it. They do not believe it was Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone. What is your view? AYNESWORTH: Well you know, I understand them, I don't agree with them at all. I don't think there's one scintilla of evidence that says that. I don't care how much you believe it or wondered or need it. At some point you have to be honest and say, there is no evidence, but I do understand because it's hard for anybody to understand and accept that two loners, two losers like this could change the course of world history but they did.
MORGAN: Your wife said a very interesting thing which is that, had you subscribed personally to a conspiracy theory involving this you would have been a very rich man as a result because that's where the money is in the Kennedy story but you've been true to yourself.
AYNESWORTH: Well I think respect is more important than money in our world and I'm glad that I have taken the path I know.
MORGAN: Hugh Aynesworth it's a fascinating book, you're a fascinating man, I mean what an extraordinary thing for any journalist to go through. It's been a real pleasure talking to you.
AYNESWORTH: Thank you so much.
MORGAN: When we come back, the doctor who desperately tried to save the president's life. Plus the aide to Governor Connally who witnessed the attack as he rode in the motorcade. Also look inside the plane that carried the murdered president's body back to Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Kennedy has been given a blood transfusion at Parkland Hospital here in Dallas in an effort to save his life. After he and Governor John Connally of Texas were shot in an assassination attempt in downtown Dallas. A (inaudible) has been ordered, emergency supplies have brought also being raced through the hospital.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: A radio report from the John F. Kennedy live. The President's car sped to Dallas' Parkland Memorial Hospital. And doctors were racing to trauma room one.
Dr. Ronald Jones is one of the first to see the wounded President. Julian Read an aide to Texas Governor John Connally was riding the motorcade when the shots rang out. They both join me know. I thought you would -- you were actually in the White House (inaudible) behind the limousine itself.
I suppose the question from both of you right off the top, how does it feel to being involved so directly in an event of such magnitude? Let me ask you first, Julian.
JULIAN READ, AUTHOR: Well, of course it's an event that none of us planned be involved in. So, the shock was enormous. You didn't have time really to have emotions at that time. I think those of us who are involved and I think you went on sort of automatic (ph) college, you know, to do what you just distinctly know to do.
MORGAN: Dr. Jones, you were 31 years old. You've been operating that day in part of the surgical team. You're in the cafeteria relaxing and you got -- somebody runs in, they tell you. How does that happen? They say the President has been shot.
RONALD JONES, MD: Well, operator paged overhead. We didn't have beepers and so there was a loud speaker. And she began to page people STAT respond immediately repeatedly with the department chairman and I went to the phone in the wall of the cafeteria and I called her and I said, "Why are you paging everyone STAT?" And she said, "Dr. Jones the president has been shot. And they bringing him to the emergency room and they need physicians right away." And with that you have a tremendous flash, an adrenaline rush come over you and ...
MORGAN: I mean it cannot be a more important moment in a surgeon's life in America that your president has been shot and he's coming to your theater.
JONES: That's correct. And I immediately turned around and saw the chief of anesthesia and the OR supervisor. And he said I'll get an anesthesia machine to the emergency room right away. And Miss Bell said I'll get the OR ready because we thought he'd probably been shot chest or the abdomen. And we could revive him and take care of him surgically. But when we reach the emergency room that was a different story.
MORGAN: We're you very quickly aware that he was unlikely to survive?
READ: As soon as I walked in to trauma room one and saw him -- Mrs. Kennedy was on the left inside of the room. He was on a stretcher, arms were out on arm boards. And I saw small wound in his neck but I knew he had a large wound in the back of his head. And I saw no evidence of life but Dr. Perrico (ph) who was a secondary resident thought he saw some respiration just as he came in the room and we were probably a minute later. And that's what trigger the resuscitation.
MORGAN: I believe Julian read that you arrived at the hospital then you saw both Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Connally sitting in the hall outside the trauma room. I mean, again, a remarkable moment to a witness person. What is it was like in real time.
READ: Well, I run into the end of the -- I found the open door at the end of the hospital remarkable, you know, no one there, no security. And I found a nurse very quickly and I asked her if she take to Mrs. Connally. And she did and I found Mrs. Connally in the dark hallway, (inaudible) outside trauma room two, the President was in trauma room one. She was sitting outside there and right across to Jackie Kennedy, two women not a sound spoken, thinking about their husbands and whether they could survive.
MORGAN: Did you say anything to them? READ: Well, I talked to her. I talked to her. I certainly didn't say anything to Mrs. Kennedy. I talked to her because I knew the press would be there any minute. And I had to kind of know what happened. I want to be able to report what had occurred.
So she was calm. Nellie Connally was very calm even under stress. And she knew he was already inside, you know, and hands to save him hopefully.
MORGAN: And he did thankfully.
READ: And he did.
MORGAN: He did survive.
READ: Thank God that was a good thing that came out of that.
MORGAN: Right. The President obviously did not survive. He was read the last rights I think by two Catholic priest that came into the room. The moment when he was pronounced dead, I mean that's a chilling moment, isn't it for you?
JONES: Well yes. I -- We knew he was dead after we had performed the tracheotomy and I did the cut down and he's got an IV going, inserted test tubes and we had like a cardiogram EKG heart machine brought in.
MORGAN: What do you thinking? I mean, you know, there you are. You got your President. They're fighting for his life. What is going through your mind at age 31?
JONES: Well, you're thinking, you know, how did I get here? The odds of me taking care of the President must be one in infinitesimal.
MORGAN: Did you managed to stay calm? Were you -- how would you describe your state?
JONES: I think we kicked in to a routine management of a coma patient. And knowing that it was the President but still you got an airway, you got an IV going and you assess the injuries and that's what we did initially.
And then we knew that -- I though probably he was not going to make it anyway. But we decided we would try to do something rather than do nothing.
MORGAN: Then unbelievably you happened to be in the hospital again. You got another call, Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin has himself been shot. And again, you're operating him.
JONES: When I was in the operating room lounge when the call came and I went up to call to get Dr. Perry and Dr. Jenkins. We went down to trauma room two which is the same room that Governor Connally had been in. And when they brought Oswald in, he was unconscious. Didn't have any blood pressure but he did have a heart beat I listened. And obviously he lived for an hour and 20 minutes in the operating room. But I did the same thing with him that I did with President Kennedy. I put an IV in the left arm with a cut down. And put a chest tube in because he had been shot in the left chest. And we had him to the operating room. We got about 10 minutes when the time he came to the emergency room. Dr. Tom Shires was the chief surgeon and I was one of four (ph).
MORGAN: Is there a single day that goes by in your life when you don't think of this?
JONES: There are aren't many that go by because something reminds you one way or the other.
MORGAN: And you're seeing actually now the build up...
JONES: Sure. Now it just an hour to hour basis that you're involved with this. Because so many people are interested in and then so many people want to asked you about it.
MORGAN: Final question for you Julian, I've asked a few guests with this, do you subscribe to any conspiracy theory or do you think that Oswald acted alone.
READ: I don't believe there's anything that we haven't heard already. There's always another craft of conspiracies that comes around every time and there'll be more I think between even now and the 22nd.
MORGAN: It never stop, right?
READ: But I don't it will ever stop.
MORGAN: Julian Read and Dr. Jones thank you both very much indeed, fascinating to talk to you. President John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead art Parkland Hospital at 1 pm Central Standard Time at 2:38 the moment Walter Cronkite was telling a stunned nation the President was dead. Lyndon Johnson was taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One the same plane that was carrying Kennedy's body back to Washington.
That plane is now at the National Museum of US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The story of Jeff Underwood takes us onboard.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF UNDERWOOD: We were standing here on board President Kennedy's Air Force One, at the National Museum United States Air Force.
This is the very room where Vice-President Johnson took the oath of office and this is the very place where he stood. And as we move back towards where the aircraft you can see that the seats were kind of tight and that's because this was a working aircraft. It flew for the Air Force in carrying presidents and VIPs for 36 years, a long career and now has a new career here at the National Museum.
As we go a little bit further back this content area which is the galley where the president meals were prepared. But then we also see the series of seats at the very back. These very four sits are the ones that the air crew hold out to move out of the way and they took a saw and cut the bulk head just along here to make sure there's a room and they brought the president's casket in and brought it in and laid it along here.
And this is where Mr. Kennedy sat on that fateful day on a terrible flight back from Dallas to Washington DC.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Jeff Underwood, thank you very much. President Kennedy's death was of course more than a national tragedy. It was a very personal tragedy for his family.
When we come back I'll talk to his nephew Robert Kennedy Jr. and his niece Kerry Kennedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EARL WARREN, (FRM) CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: Now that he is relieved of the almost superhuman burden we imposed on him may he rest in peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Chief Justice Earl Warren's moving eulogy for President John F. Kennedy. My next guest were still children when JFK died, but who better to talk about his legacy, joining me now President Kennedy's nephew and niece, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kerry Kennedy. Welcome to both of you.
Kerry let me start with you, you were just four years old and I know you don't really have any memory of that awful day but in terms of the legacy of JFK, what would you think it should be as a member of the family?
KERRY KENNEDY, NIECE: Well you know I think that he was a man who really loved our country and tried to make our policy both domestically and internationally reflective of our greatest values of Democracy of caring about people who live in poverty of making sure that everyone in our country actually had a vote and was able to go to the polls and vote.
So, I think that's why we remember him as a great leader and as somebody who is fun and full of youth and vigor.
MORGAN: Robert you've written this fascinating piece for the new issue of Rolling Stone Magazine, which paints him very much as a man of peace, a man who despite all the conflict that was raging both domestically and on the foreign stage really was seeking all the time to avoid conflict.
ROBERT KENNEDY JR, NEPHEW: He told his friends that he was basically at peace with any previous president. Despite the kind of cold war palaver that he used during his campaign, privately he was a war hero, he was a war veteran, he had seen the capricious -- the savagery of war. There was a consensus among the Joint Chief of Staff at that time that were all World War II veterans and heroes and icons that the Soviet Union had -- we were way ahead of the Soviets with nuclear armaments but that they were going to catch up to us in 1965.
And that we needed that -- that nuclear war was not only inevitable but it was desirable and it was desirable in the short term before they had the capacity to catch up. So, they kept trying to trip President Kennedy into a nuclear war. And one of the things that I talk about in that article is his Vietnam record and it's becoming fashionable today to look at Vietnam as kind of a continuum that started with Eisenhower then proceeded with Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, et cetera but in fact Jack went beyond anything that I think any President has done to keep us out of Vietnam and he intended.
In fact a month before he died, he issued a national security order making that the official policy of the United States to get us out of Vietnam, the first thousand troops home by the end of November and all U.S. personnel out of Vietnam by the end of 1965 and that was his extension. He repeatedly stated it to his advisors, he went against all of his advisors doing it but it was, he refused what ground troops said.
MORGAN: Amazing, Kerry we got this, this fabulous pictures an iconic image is you playing hide and seek inside the Oval Office with President Kennedy there, with Caroline I think it was wasn't it?
K. KENNEDY: Yeah, that's the two of us.
MORGAN: There you are. When you see that picture what do you think?
K. KENNEDY: Well it just brings back so much joy of my youngest years. You know, when Jack was President, daddy was the Attorney General at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. You know, mostly I remember also being at the Cape and waiting for those helicopters to come down every Friday and they would bring my uncle, Jack and my father and uncle Sarge and others who were so close to our family and we'd sort of go rushing down the hill and see them and that Jack would always pick himself and put us into a golf cart that my grandfather had and sort of go whipping around the compound, so, it's a lot of fun, but, you know, what I think that the reason people really think about Jack and remember him is, I think it's true of Jack and also of my father is that they really brought out the best in all of us and they didn't appeal to our anger or our rage or our fear about the world.
But they appealed to the best of us. The side of us that says we can be a country of peace, we can have compassion towards those who have nothing.
MORGAN: How will the Kennedy family as a unit remember JFK on the anniversary itself? Is there a plan for the family to get together?
K. KENNEDY: Well you know, our family really tries to celebrate his birthday and not his day of death. So, my father was actually born November 20th and every year on his birthday we present the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Before we present it we always go to Arlington Cemetery, so we're doing that actually on the next Thursday on the 21st. But, you know, I think again what we should be looking at is not how these men died but how they lived.
And really questioning what can we learn from that and how can we take that value and vision and apply it to the challenges we face as a nation or as a family today.
MORGAN: Let's take a short break, when we come back I want to ask both of you. Is there another chance of another Kennedy ever coming to the White House? You're all such talented people. Where are the next prospects, let's talk about that.
MORGAN: Back now with John F. Kennedy's nephew and niece, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kerry Kennedy. Let me ask you Robert, obviously you're an incredibly large family, iconic family in America. Just yesterday we saw your cousin Caroline sworn as Ambassador to Japan.
Her son, JFK's grandson, Jack was there looking very handsome like all the Kennedy boys, immediately exciting all the media. Is there anybody in the family as you look at it do you think could genuinely have the political drive and aspiration to perhaps one day run for President?
R.KENNEDY: Well I don't know what the future is. I can tell you this, my nephew Joe Kennedy is in Congress today and there -- he has I think 85 cousins, they get together on the Cape during July and August. They talk almost continuously about politics, I think virtually all of them will end up in some way doing public service because that's just part of the institutional culture and DNA of our family.
So, I think, I think you're going to see a lot of Kennedy's, people will be tired of Kennedy's very soon. I think one of the greatest legacies of President Kennedy was that it sort of altered the view of the United States. That, you know, we were a force for good, that we understood that corporate domination at a home was the partner of imperialism and truculence abroad that the National Security State was incompatible with our constitutional freedoms and we had to win over the world by our example.
By living up to our ideals, by perfecting the union and not by force of arms and that we were going to be remembered which was what President Kennedy used to say, not, you know, by the wealth of our citizens, the size of our army or the power of our weapons or our industry but rather how we care for the least fortunate members of our society. How strongly we resisted the seduction of the notion that we can advance ourselves, the people by living our poor brothers and sisters behind.
And how we made ourselves as an example, a template for Democracy for the rest of the world, not by beating people up, not by fighting their wars for them but by making, by practicing social justice at home. And by making ourselves a model for justice and for Democracy and I think that, that, people around the world saw then, Kerry and I almost every week we meet. Kids, people from Africa, adults who's name is Kennedy we still go into huts in Latin America and Africa which had pictures of my uncle or my father and people still remembered.
And that made an impression what his pursuit for peace, his pursuit of civil rights and justice at home was something that, you know, that even if the press tries to deny it or, you know, historians or whatever is something that at that time and for a generation afterwards, virtually everybody in the world recognized that this was America at its best.
MORGAN: Yeah I completely agree with that. Kerry finally for you, obviously both JFK and then your father were shot dead with guns. On a regular day more Americans have been killed by gun since then than has died in all wars that America has been involved with for centuries. And also, I think its 1.5 million Americans have died from guns since your father and your uncle. How will it ever change? I mean if even their deaths coming so soon off each other didn't really enforce much change.
How do you see a breakthrough?
K. KENNEDY: I think that, you know, first of all let me just say that you have been so fantastic on this issue and really no one has been a greater advocate for than you have so I want to thank you.
MORGAN: Well I mean I appreciate it but I mean, I don't feel like I'm getting anywhere. I don't feel the debate goes anywhere here.
K. KENNEDY: Well it's hard, it's hard but I think that the only way we're going to make this happen is that Americans who don't agree with a Wayne Law (ph) appear who, you know, who has been called in this as in are going to have to stand up and band together and start saying, we demand change. We demand change of our politicians and we demand change of our leadership and we're not going to accept that guns run rampant anymore.
You know, there's -- there are more gun dealers in the United States than McDonalds, hamburger places. There's, you know, we have got to put an end to this craziness. Our children are dying in the streets, our children are dying in our homes, we've got to stop it.
MORGAN: Kerry and Robert it's been great talking to you. Thank you both very much indeed I really do appreciate it.
R.KENNEDY: Thank you Piers.
MORGAN: Coming up, how does history view JFK today, cold warrior or man of peace? This country's top story as we evaluate his presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, (FRM) U.S. PRESIDENT: Shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba or against any nation in the western hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: President Kennedy taking a stand during the Cuba missile crisis. But how is our view of his presidency changed from the past 50 years? Well joining me now is James Swanson, the author of "End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. Top Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley and his book "Cronkite" covers the reporting on the Assassination and Robert Dallek the author of "Camelot's Court, inside the Kennedy White House.
Welcome to all three of you. Three extremely eminent historians clearly in this area. Let me start with you Doug Brinkley. In terms of what Robert Kennedy said there, that actually the real legacy of John F. Kennedy may well be that he was a man of peace during a time of great conflict, is that a fair analysis?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, TOP PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: He was a man of peace but he was a cold war hawk. I think his legacy is something like the space program. Here at my university, Rice University, Kennedy came at '62 and said, "We're going to put a man in the moon at the end of the decade," and we did it and you framed it you know in a sense of exploration in science and moving people to do things.
He's a progenitor of the U.S. Naval Seals and the Green Beret, the Peace Corps and so a lot of the things he did with government are very positive and it's really in the '60s when Vietnam comes that people start disliking their government but Kennedy was I think one of the most inspirational presidents of the 20th Century.
MORGAN: Robert Dallek, do you go along with that, particularly in relation to Vietnam where Kennedy really started the American troop involvement there. Again Robert Kennedy suggesting he wanted to pull the troops out but obviously that didn't happen, it gotten dramatically worse. Was he a villain or potentially trying to be the hero of this particular war by stopping it before it really happened?
DOUGLAS DALLEK, AUTHOR OF CAMELOT'S COURT: Well Piers we'll never know exactly what he would have done, he didn't know himself but it's clear to me from having read a mass of document that he had no desire to put massive numbers of ground troops into Vietnam. He never would have done I think what Lyndon Johnson did.
He had a conversation with his Under Secretary of State George Ball who said to me, "When you put 2-300,000 men on the ground in those jungles of Vietnam you'll never see them or hear from them again." And he said, "George you're crazy as hell," meaning that he wasn't going to do that but, you know, your point about a man of peace. His greatest accomplishment which I played out in this current book was resisting the temptation, the pressure to think about using nuclear weapons.
He said at one point to someone privately, "I'd rather my kids be red than dead," never could have said that publicly but he was determined not to get into a nuclear conflict and I think that was in many ways his greatest achievement. MORGAN: James Swanson let's talk about conspiracy because everybody else will be in the next 10 days or so and have been for 50 years. Do you subscribe to any of the conspiracy theories?
JAMES SWANSON, AUTHOR OF END OF DAYS: ASSASSINATION OF JOHN F. KENNEDY: No I don't Piers. My book on the assassination mentions them but of course you can't not consider them. I read them all, I own all those books, to this day 50 years later the evidence points to Lee Harvey Oswald. No one has disproved the central conclusion on the War on Commission. It was Oswald, he fired those three shots in Dealey Plaza and he killed John Kennedy. That's what we know. We know a lot more than the Warren Commission did.
They made many mistakes but they are right about that central conclusion, it really was Lee Harvey Oswald and he did it because he wanted us to remember him and we do, we're fascinated about him through this day. Oswald would be thrilled to know that we're obsessed with him and all the multiple conspiracy theories.
MORGAN: Yeah Doug Brinkley, do you concur?
BRINKLEY: Yeah I largely concur, I think the Warren Commission got an awful lot right. We always point out the short comings but it came out on 1964, one vying for the public but 27 buy ins of them and you go through all of that, you realized they pretty much got it right. About 90 percent of historians say, they really look into it agree with what James said, that it looks like it was Lee Harvey Oswald.
The grassy knolls' myth, what's making it complex is Oswald's biography, the fact that he had spent time in the Soviet Union, the fact that he was grappling with Cuba but many people don't want to face the fact that maybe a misfit, a really bad evil guy committed a crime. You've been covering all these shootings Piers and you know all these crazy people with guns, well Lee Harvey Oswald was one of them.
MORGAN: Yeah, let's take a short break. When we come back gentlemen I want to talk about Kennedy's legacy as a President, whether he was a great President or somebody cut off in his prime on the potential to becoming a great President.
MORGAN: Looking back to President Kennedy's legacy, back with me now is James Swanson, Douglas Brinkley and Robert Dallek. Robert Dallek, where does he rank in the pantheon of American Presidents? Obviously some people think he was an untouchable genius and brilliant President. Others think that there was a sinister dark side it was all going to unravel and he wouldn't have been remembered as a great President. Where do you lie?
DALLEK: Well I think he was, he was not a great President, he was there for only a thousand days, six briefest presidency on the country's history, well I think he's certainly a significant president. He broke the hold of white promised (ph) males on the office, first catholic to win the office. I think one could see a direct line for him to Barrack Obama and when we get a woman as president I think you can see a direct line to that as well. He put across that nuclear test ban treaty which was a major, major advance. He also put that civil rights bill before the Congress and he was taking a big political chance.
He and Bobby Kennedy were convinced that it risked hi re-election in 1964 and the peace speech at American University in June of '63. It was a great state paper, I think if he had lived and had a second term we would have seen, they talk with the Soviet Union sooner than it occurred under Richard Nixon.
MORGAN: Right, James Swanson, I mean, I think the impact of him globally in his death. Now I spoke to my mother about this, she was 18 when he died and she remembers spontaneously bursting into tears because he radiated such excitement and hope and inspiration with these great speeches and great rhetoric and he was handsome and young and vibrant. I mean do we miss that part of his legacy when we discuss Kennedy? Is that not in itself a mark of a great president? He can affect people so much around the world?
SWANSON: Yes, yes exactly Piers. Kennedy's greatness which exist, almost doesn't depend on this deed or that act or that particular speech. Here is why he was great. John Kennedy was an American patriot who believed in American exceptionalism and greatness, he believed that America had a special role in the world.
He loved American history, he studied it since he was a little boy, that's the core of his greatness that he could inspire people to do great things. The space program was a classic example, when he said, "We'll send a man to the moon before the decade is up, we'll do with rockets made of materials not yet even invented, he'll come back, the temperature is hotter than the sun and we'll do it first and we'll do it right." That's the core of his greatness, his ability to inspire people.
When he died, Jackie Kennedy was asked, "What did his life mean?" And on the one year anniversary of JFK's death, she said, "Think of him as this little boy, sick most of the time in bed reading stories of American heroes in American History, and maybe that will inspire other children to be like him." And then she said, "This is what my husband really stood for, John Kennedy believed that the purpose of life was not to enjoy luxury and have an easy life, he believed the purpose of life was to serve others and serve your country."
And she said, "At the core this is what my husband stood for, that one man can make a difference and that every man should try." That's the true source of JFK's greatness, his ability to inspire the nation to do great things and undertake great projects.
MORGAN: Doug Brinkley, he would have been 96 years old Doug Brinkley, if he'd lived to today. Would he had survived being the kind of president a man that he was in the modern media environment?
BRINKLEY: It would have been quite difficult but Kennedy has the advantage in history, we're all getting older, all of your viewers but John F. Kennedy is always the handsome statesman, president gunned down in his prime. So, the cult of Kennedy is going to be with us forever. The whole world is watching this 50th Anniversary right now because he's somebody they cared about that only a few presidents that people get that emotive about in America.
In the 20th Century Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. Maybe Harry Truman was a better President but he didn't have that public appeal the way that Kennedy did and the fact that the Berlin Wall goes up and a lot of people told Kennedy to go to war and bulldoze it down but instead he went at the wall and gave that extraordinary speech there. And pointed out that totalitarianism what's wrong in America's about Democracy and chance and opportunity. His language, the speeches that he worked on with Ted Sorensen lived forever in the annals of public oratory.
MORGAN: Robert Dallek we just got a few seconds left here Robert Dallek. Just in summary, what do we say about John F. Kennedy? We've got 10 days or so to the Anniversary itself but how should he be remembered?
DALLEK: Well, he should be remembered as a significant, important president. But you see, what gives him so much of a powerful hold among the current generation is the fact that people don't like his successors. Lyndon Johnson, the failure in Vietnam. Nixon, Watergate, Ford, Carter, the two Bush's and Kennedy along side of them has a halo over his head and so...
MORGAN: And certainly but I've got to leave it there, I'm sorry to interrupt we've got to leave it there but it's been a fascinating debate, a fascinating show in any ways to meet these people, it's been quite surreal the surgeons and the people who witnessed it all, I want to talk to you guys about the historical perspective, it's been a real fascinating insight. Thank you all very much indeed. Tomorrow a CNN special, the Assassination of JFK, how the shocking events of that tragic day in November changed America?
That's tomorrow night at 9 and that's all for us tonight. Anderson Cooper reports now live from the Philippines.