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Autumn 1963

Friday, November 22, was going to be my last day of civilian employment in Manhattan, barring a miracle. I was supposed to start basic training at Fort Polk, Louisi­ana, on Sunday the 24th.

I had been an editor at Scientific American since the day after I graduated from college in early June. The job involved working with cutting-edge researchers on arti­cles that would explain their work to “the educated lay­man.” Not only was it a great job, but when he hired me, the publisher, Gerard Piel, said I needn’t worry about the draft because during the Korean War a Scientific Ameri­can editor had gotten an exemption on the grounds that the magazine was “vital to the national preparedness.” I notified my draft board that they should change my clas­sification from 1A and they notified me back that I was and would remain 1A. I told Piel I was planning to join the six-month program to get the Army out of the way. He said he was confident his contacts in the Kennedy Administration could intervene on behalf of the maga­zine (me). I don’t know if he followed up.

Getting drafted into the Army meant a two-year hitch; volunteering meant three years; but joining the reserves meant only six months of active duty (plus five-and-a-half years of weeknight and/or weekend drills, and two weeks every summer to maintain “readiness”). Most of us six-monthers joined to get the Army over with — the looming disruption to our lives — because we had middle-class careers to pursue. Working-class guys knew that employers required you to have an honorable dis­charge, because they wouldn’t risk the expense of train­ing you and then losing you to the draft. In 1963, the only US troops in Vietnam were Special Forces. In due course draftees would be sent to Vietnam, and joining the six-month program became a way of avoiding that fate (although the brass never ruled out the option of calling up the reserves).

On the morning of Friday, November 22, I went to Piel’s office to remind him that it was my last day on the job. He buzzed his secretary in the adjoining room and said, “Winnie, get Jerry Wiesner on the phone. And if he’s not available, try Bob McNamara.” Jerome Wiesner was President Kennedy’s scientific advisor, Robert McNamara was the Secretary of Defense.

Piel knew everybody. His family owned a major brew­ery. He had been on the wrestling team at Harvard and now he was on the board of overseers. His wife was a prominent civil liberties lawyer. He was 50ish, 5′ 7″, wiry, with thinning hair cut short. He had a very brisk, upright walk. Piel and the managing editor, Dennis Flanagan, had been trained by Henry Luce at Life maga­zine, and when they struck out on their own and acquired Scientific American in 1948, they used Life’s secret formula: tell the story twice, once in text and once in graphics and captions

The office was at 415 Madison Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets in Manhattan. There were many great, affordable restaurants in walking distance, and the art director, Jerome Snyder, was moonlighting as a res­taurant critic for a new magazine called New York, and had made it his mission to evaluate them all. Jerome and his partner, Milton Glaser, called their column “The Underground Gourmet.” The original idea was to write about restaurants that were literally subterranean — at least three steps down from the sidewalk. Then they changed it so that “underground” meant not well known, not too expensive, and really, really good. Their column was widely read and brought deserved success to many a small restaurant owner.

Our consensus favorite was a Pakistani place on 45th Street off 6th Ave., if memory serves, called the Kash­mir, and that’s where we went for my last lunch on Fri­day the 22nd. I strolled back to the office with my friend Joe Wisnovsky, still harboring hope that one of Piel’s connections had been able to keep me in civilian life. A flatbed truck loaded with cement bags blocked our way on 48th street as we were approaching Madison. Where once a pseudo-colonial red brick building had housed a Hanover bank, there was now a construction site — a deep hole in the granite with a grade cut in so that sup­plies could be delivered and the foundation prepared for another high riser. The truck was paused at the entrance to the site.

A black hod-carrier hollered to the driver, “Hey, man, you hear they shot the President?” The driver, who was also black, leaned out the window and said “Yeah, man, right in the hade!” It was a totally matter-of-fact exchange and I knew it was true, and that Jerry Wiesner and Bob McNamara were going to be otherwise occu­pied that afternoon.

People I didn’t expect to be upset by Kennedy’s death — leftists who could not forgive the U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba — turned out to be deeply moved. Back at the office Dennis Flanagan slammed his fist into a file cabinet with all his might. That night my dad said, “He was so young. He had a beautiful family. And he read books.”

On Sunday morning I reported to the armory at 33d and Park Avenue and got on a bus for Idlewilde airport with my cohort — about 50 young men who were going to be cops, firemen, sanitation workers, salesmen, and ad men after this six-month detour from real life. We flew on the previously unknown Saturn Airlines to an airport in Louisiana, and then were bussed to Ft. Polk. On the trip down, a dominant personality emerged: a big, over­weight loudmouth from Brooklyn named Marty Gilfand, who was a fan of Lenny Bruce. He regaled us with reconstructions of Bruce’s acts, which he had caught at various small nightclubs.

By Sunday night we were standing in formation with draftees and volunteers from Alabama, Louisiana, and Houston, Texas, under the dim stars. We were lined up outside a warehouse from which we would be issued uniforms. The temperature wasn’t below freezing but the air is very moist in swampy areas and the cold was penetrating. There was a portable radio on the loading dock providing news and music. All of a sudden Gilfand stepped forward and bellowed at the young, blond ser­geant who stood in front of us: “You killed our Presi­dent! We are New Yorkers. You southerners killed our President! You’re not in mourning but we’re in mourn­ing because we’re New Yorkers. We demand that we be dismissed immediately for a three-day period of mourn­ing.”

I remember the amazed look on the sergeant’s face as Gilfand stomped back to his place in formation, but I can’t remember what he said or did, if anything. His mind was blown and so was mine. This Gilfand might be dangerous, might draw the heat on the rest of us. The radio was playing Connie Francis singing “America the Beautiful.” For the first time since I was a kid I allowed myself to cry (just a little).

In due course we were issued our gear and marched back to the reception center barracks and clambered onto our racks. We slept in the scratchy woolen long johns we’d been issued. In the morning a kid named Steinbach woke up with a grotesque case of hives, his skin dark pink, his face oozing and swollen by a factor of about 1.8. He was ecstatic: “They’re gonna have to let me out of the Army! I’m allergic to their clothes! They’re gonna have to give me a discharge!” But of course they just issued him long johns made of a different fabric.

JFK, THM & the Truth About History

Tod Mikuriya, MD, used to say, “It wasn’t just mari­juana that got prohibited, it was the truth about history.” The great mystery associated with John F. Kennedy by the media is: who killed him? But there’s an equally heavy mystery — or was — concerning how he would have proceeded in Vietnam, had he lived.

The Catholic church was strongly behind the Diem/Madame Nhu regime in South Vietnam that the Viet Minh were trying to overthrow when Kennedy took office in January, 1961. (Diem had ignored the Geneva Accords by refusing to take part in an election that would unify the country). The CIA did its best to prop up the Diem regime and the U.S. Army sent Special Forces troops to “advise” Diem’s military. When Kennedy was assassinated, there were indications that he was re-thinking U.S. support for Diem; but many leftists blamed him for prosecuting a “limited” war that Lyndon Johnson would vastly escalate.

The following letter to the New York Times Book Review by James K. Galbraith was published Nov. 10. The author is a professor of government at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin. His father, a renowned economist, had been the Ambassador to India under Kennedy. Jill Abramson, whose piece about JFK Galbraith was questioning, is the managing editor of the New York Times. She wrote a best-seller about her dog.

In her essay on John F. Kennedy, Jill Abramson states: “The belief that he would have limited the American presence in Vietnam is rooted as much in the romance of ‘what might have been’ as in the documented record.”

The record shows that on Oct. 2 and 5, 1963, Presi­dent Kennedy issued a formal decision to with­draw American forces from Vietnam. I documented this 10 years ago in Boston Review and Salon, and in 2007 in The New York Review of Books.

The relevant documents include records of the Sec­retary of Defense conference in Honolulu in May 1963; tapes and transcripts of the decision meetings in the White House; and a memorandum from Gen. Maxwell Taylor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Oct. 4, 1963, which states: “All planning will be directed towards preparing RVN forces for the withdrawal of all U.S. special assistance units and personnel by the end of calendar year 1965.”

A veteran journalist named Jeff Greenfield has just published a novel called “If Kennedy Lived.” I never read these historic what-ifs — what happened is about all my brain can handle. But a friend read it and reports, “He takes the Galbraith line, which the record does indeed support. No Vietnam would have changed everything. E.g., Jeff has Tom Hayden running Ameri­Corps in '68, when ultraliberal peacenik Hubert Hum­phrey is running against Ronald Reagan.”

I empathize with Galbraith. My friend Tod Mikuriya, the doctor who was an indispensable leader of the medi­cal marijuana movement, wrote a paper for O'Shaugh­nessy's “Cannabis as a Substitute for Alcohol,” based on 92 case reports of people who had used it to that effect (mainly to achieve disinhibition in social situations). It was a really great paper, and O'S actually is peer-reviewed, in that some of the docs read their colleagues' drafts and weigh in.

Tod's paper also appeared in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, which is no longer being brought out. The JoCT was published by the Haworth Press, and formally peer-reviewed. Perhaps if it had been published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine it would be recognized by the “drug policy reform” experts like Mark Kleiman experts as The Truth. (There's something Talmudic about The Truth residing in certain texts sanctified by a self-appointed elite.)

Kleiman, who the state of Washington hired to pro­pose regulations for a legal marijuana market (and who is the hero of a recent New Yorker piece called “Buzzkill,” used to correspond with Mikuriya, I assume Kleiman was aware of Tod’s paper and its import. And yet here he is musing pompously about whether cannabis will turn out to be a substitute for alcohol! Just give him another 10 years of taxpayer support. (Kleiman is a pro­fessor at UCLA and pads his income as a consultant. He defined himself to the NYer as a “policy entrepreneur.”)

Kleiman weighed in Oct. 27 when the New York Times ran a front-page piece headlined “Few Problems With Cannabis for California.” Reporters Adam Nagour­ney and Rick Lyman took a common-sense, macro-level look at what 17 years of medical use hath wrought in the Golden State. Among the documented benefits: mari­juana use reduces alcohol use and drunk driving.

A key piece of evidence cited by Nagourney and Lyman was a forthcoming study:

In a broad study on the ramifications of legalizing recreational marijuana about to be published in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, two economics professors said a survey of evidence showed a correlation between increased marijuana use and less alcohol use for people ages 18 to 29.

The researchers, D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University and Daniel I. Rees of the University of Colorado, said that based on their study, they expected younger people in Colorado and Washing­ton to use marijuana more and alcohol less.

Was Tod Mikuriya’s prophetic paper cited by The Newspaper of Record? Nope.

But the great Mark Kleiman was:

Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an expert on mari­juana policy who was the chief adviser to Washington on its marijuana law, said the connection between alcohol and marijuana use, if borne out, would be a powerful argument in favor of decriminalization.

“If it turns out that cannabis and alcohol are substitutes, then by my scoring system, legalizing cannabis is obviously a good idea,” Mr. Kleiman said. “Alcohol is so much more of a problem than cannabis ever has been.”

Still, he said, it will take time before long-term judgments can be made.

“Does it cause problems?” he said. “Certainly. Is it on balance a good or bad thing? Ask me 10 years from now.”

Tod and Kleiman corresponded, their contact was not infrequent. Kleiman undoubtedly knew about — and should have borne in mind — Tod’s findings. Tod was the real expert when it came to marijuana. But to Kleiman and his ilk, findings not published in the Jour­nal of Addiction Medicine can conveniently be overlooked, and researchers not university-connected can easily be marginalized. One of Tod’s reasons for willing O’Shaughnessy’s into existence in 2003 was to have an outlet where he could publish “Cannabis as a Substitute for Alcohol” and get it to patients and colleagues

When Hollywood writers who held anti-establish­ment views couldn't get their movies produced, every­body recognized it as "blacklisting." When pro-cannabis doctors can't get their findings publicized, nobody calls it blacklisting. They call it "you really ought to do a dou­ble-blind placebo-controlled study."

Mark Kleiman calls his blog “The Reality-Based Community.” What he means is “The Status-quo Loving Community.” The man expects to be dispensing exper­tise at taxpayer expense ten years from now. Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you give The Man the blither he needs to sustain his system.

Fred Gardner edits O’Shaughnessy’s the journal of cannabis in clinical practice. He can be reached at edi­

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