LEX FRIDMAN INTERVIEWS RFK jr
Table of ContentsHere are the loose “chapters” in the conversation.
Click link to jump approximately to that part in the transcript:
- 0:00 – Introduction
- 3:18 – US history
- 7:34 – Freedom
- 9:28 – Camus
- 12:51 – Hitler and WW2
- 22:03 – War in Ukraine
- 45:24 – JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis
- 1:10:31 – JFK assassination conspiracy
- 1:20:06 – CIA influence
- 1:29:04 – 2024 elections
- 1:40:49 – Jordan Peterson
- 1:42:30 – Anthony Fauci
- 1:45:57 – Big Pharma
- 2:05:37 – Peter Hotez
- 2:11:17 – Exercise and diet
- 2:13:42 – God
By the way, I have very strong memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis and of those 13 days when we came closer to nuclear war. And particularly, I think it was when the U-2 got shot down over Cuba. And nobody in this country… There’s a lot of people in Washington, D.C., who, at that point, thought that they very well may wake up dead, that the world may end at night.
(00:45:55) 30 million Americans killed 130 million Russians. This is what our military brass wanted. They saw a war with Russia, a nuclear exchange with Russia as not only inevitable but also desirable because they wanted to do it now while we still had superiority.
Lex Fridman(00:46:14) Can you actually go through the feelings you’ve had about the Cuban Missile Crisis? What are your memories of it? What are some interesting-
Robert F. Kennedy Jr(00:46:21) I was going to school in Washington, D.C. to Our Lady of Victory, which is in Washington, D.C. I lived in Virginia across the Potomac, and we would cross the bridge every day into D.C.
(00:46:38) And during the crisis, U.S. Marshals came to my house to take us, I think around day eight. My father was spending the night at the White House. He wasn’t coming home. He was staying with the EXCOM committee and sleeping there. And they were up 24 hours a day. They were debating and trying to figure out what was happening.
(00:47:00) But we had U.S. Marshals come to our house to take us down… They were going to take us down to White Sulphur Springs in Southern Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where there was an underground city, essentially, a bunker that was like a city. And apparently, it had McDonald’s in it and a lot of other… It was a full city for the U.S. Government and their families.
(00:47:29) U.S. Marshals came to our house to take us down there. And I was very excited about doing that. And this was at a time when we were doing the drills. We were doing the duck-and-cover drills once a week at our school, where they would tell you when the alarms go off, then you put your head under the table, you remove the sharps from your desk, put them inside your desk, you put your head under the table, and you wait.
(00:47:56) And the initial blast will take the windows out of the school. And then we all stand up and file in an orderly fashion into the basement where we’re going to be for the next six or eight months or whatever.
(00:48:08) But in the basement where we went occasionally, those corridors were lined with freeze-dried food canisters from floor to ceiling. We were all preparing for this. And it was Bob McNamara, who was a friend of mine, and was one of my father’s close friends, the Secretary of Defense, he later called it mass psychosis.
(00:48:34) And my father deeply regretted participating in the bomb shelter program because he said it was part of a psychological psyop trick to teach Americans that nuclear war was acceptable, that it was survivable. My father, anyway, when the Marshals came to our house to take me and my brother Joe away, we were the ones who were home at that time, my father called, and he talked to us on the phone.
(00:49:05) And he said, “I don’t want you going down there because if you disappear from school, people are going to panic. And I need you to be a good soldier and go to school.” And he said something to me during that period, which was that if a nuclear war happened, it would be better to be among the dead than the living, which I did not believe. Okay?
(00:49:31) I had already prepared myself for the dystopian future. And I knew… I spent every day in the woods. I knew that I could survive by catching crawfish and cooking mudpuppies and would do whatever I had to do. But I felt like, okay, I can handle this. And I really wanted to see this underground city. But anyway, that was part of it for me.
(00:50:01) My father was away the last days of it. My father got this idea because Khrushchev had sent two letters. He sent one letter that was conciliatory. And then he sent a letter that after his joint chiefs and the warmongers around him saw that letter and they disapproved of it, they sent another letter that was extremely belligerent.
(00:50:25) And my father had the idea, “Let’s just pretend we didn’t get the second letter and reply to the first one.” And then he went down to Dobrynin. He met Dobrynin in the Justice Department. And Dobrynin was the Soviet ambassador. And they proposed this settlement, which was a secret settlement, where Khrushchev would withdraw the missiles from Cuba.
(00:50:52) Khrushchev had put the missiles in Cuba because we had put missiles, nuclear missiles, in Turkey and Italy. And my uncle’s secret deal was that if Khrushchev removed the missiles from Cuba within six months, he would get rid of the Jupiter missiles in Turkey.
(00:51:10) But if Khrushchev told anybody about the deal, it was off. So if news got out about that secret deal, it was off. But that was the actual deal. And Khrushchev complied with it, and then my uncle complied with it.
Lex Fridman(00:51:25) How much of that part of human history turned on the decisions of one person?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr(00:51:31) I think that’s one of the… Because that, of course, is the perennial question. Right? Is history on automatic pilot? And human decisions and the decisions of leaders really only have a marginal or incremental bearing on what is going to happen anyway. And historians argue about that all the time.
(00:51:57) I think that that is a really good example of a place in human history that, literally, the world could have ended if we had a different leader in the White House. And the reason for that is that there were, as I recall, 64 gun emplacements, missile emplacements. Each one of those missile emplacements had a crew of about 100 men, and they were Soviets.
(00:52:29) We didn’t know whether… We had a couple of questions that my uncle asked the CIA. And he asked… Dulles was already gone. But he asked the CIA. And he asked his military brass. Because they all wanted to go in. Everybody wanted to go in. And my uncle asked to see the aerial photos, and he examined those personally.
(00:52:53) And this is why it’s important to have a leader in the White House who can push back on their bureaucracies. And then he asked them, “Who’s manning those missile sites? And are they Russians? And if they’re Russians and we bomb them, isn’t it going to force Khrushchev to then go into Berlin?”
(00:53:20) And that would be the beginning of a cascade effect that would highly likely end in a nuclear confrontation. And the military brass said to my uncle, “Oh, we don’t think he’ll have the guts to do that.” My uncle was like, “That’s what you’re betting on?”
(00:53:42) And they all wanted him to go in. They wanted him to bomb the sites and then invade Cuba. And he said, “If we bomb those sites, we’re going to be killing Russians. And it’s going to force… it’s going to provoke Russia into some response. And the obvious response is for them to go into Berlin.”
(00:54:02) But the thing that we didn’t know then, that we didn’t find out until, I think it was a 30-year anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis in Havana, what we learned then from the Russians who came to that event… It was like a symposium where everybody on both sides talked about it. And we learned a lot of stuff that nobody knew before.
(00:54:30) One of the insane things, the most insane thing that we learned was that the weapons were already… the nuclear warheads were already in place, they were ready to fire, and that the authorization to fire was delegated to each of the gun crew commanders. So there were 60 people who all had authorization to fire if they felt themselves under attack.
(00:54:59) So you have to believe that at least one of them would’ve launched, and that would’ve been the beginning of the end. And if anybody had launched, we knew what would happen. My uncle knew what would happen. Because he asked again and again, “What’s going to happen?” And they said, “30 million Americans will be killed, but we will kill 130 million Russians, so we will win.” And that was a victory for them.
(00:55:28) And my uncle later said, he told Arthur Schlesinger and Kenny O’Donnell, he said, “Those guys…” He called them the salad brass, the guys with all of this stuff on their chest. And he said, “Those guys, they don’t care. Because they know that if it happens, they’re going to be in charge of everything. They’re the ones who are going to be running the world after that.”
(00:55:51) So for them, there was an incentive to kill 130 million Russians and 30 million Americans. But my uncle, he had this correspondence with Khrushchev. They were secretly corresponding with each other. And that is what saved the world, is that both of them had been men of war.
(00:56:10) Eisenhower famously said, “It will not be a man of war, it will not be a soldier who starts World War III. Because a guy who’s actually seen it knows how bad it is.” And my uncle had been in the heat of the South Pacific. His boat had been cut in two by a Japanese destroyer.
(00:56:30) Three of his crewmen had been killed, one of them badly burned. He pulled that guy with a lanyard and his teeth, six miles to an island in the middle of the night. And then they hid out there for 10 days. And he came back. Like I said, he was the only President of the United States that earned the Purple Heart.
(00:56:50) Meanwhile, Khrushchev had been at Stalingrad, which was the worst place to be on the planet, probably in the 20th century, other than in Auschwitz or one of the death camps. It was the most ferocious, horrific war with people starving, people committed cannibalism, eating the dogs, the cats, eating their shoe leather, easing to death by the thousands, etc.
(00:57:19) Khrushchev did not want… The last thing he wanted was a war. And the last thing my uncle wanted was a war. But the CIA did not know anything about Khrushchev. And the reason for that is there was a mole at Langley so that every time the CIA got a spy in the Kremlin, he would immediately be killed.
(00:57:43) So they had no eyes in the Kremlin. There were literally hundreds of Russian spies who had defected to the United States and were in the Kremlin who were killed during that period. They had no idea anything about Khrushchev, about how he saw the world. And they saw the Kremlin itself as a monolith.
(00:58:06) The same way that we look at Putin today, they have this ambition of world conquest and it’s driving them. And there’s nothing else they think about. They’re absolutely single-minded about it.
(00:58:18) But actually, there was a big division between Khrushchev and his joint chiefs and his intelligence apparatus. And they both, at one point, discovered they were both in the same situation. They were surrounded by spies and military personnel who were intent on going to war, and they were the two guys resisting it.
(00:58:39) My uncle had this idea of being the peace president from the beginning. He told Ben Bradlee, one of his best friends who was the publisher of The Washington Post or the editor-in-chief at that time. He said Ben Bradlee asked him, “What do you want on your gravestone?” And my uncle said, “He kept the peace.” He said, “The principal job of the President of the United States is to keep the country out of war.”
(00:59:11) So when he first became president, he actually agreed to meet Khrushchev in Geneva to do a summit. And by the way, Eisenhower had wanted to do the same thing. Eisenhower wanted peace, and he was going to meet in Vienna. But that peace summit was blown up. He was going to try to end the Cold War.
(00:59:37) Eisenhower was in the last year of his… in May of 1960. But that was torpedoed by the CIA during the U-2 crash. They sent a U-2 over the Soviet Union, it got shot down. And then Allen Dulles told Eisenhower to deny that we had a program. They didn’t know that the Russians had captured Gary Francis powers.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr(01:00:00) …France’s powers. And that blew up the peace talks between Eisenhower and Khrushchev and there was a lot of tension. My uncle wanted to break that tension. He agreed to meet with Khrushchev in Vienna early on in his term. He went over there and Khrushchev snubbed him. Khrushchev lectured him imperiously about the terror of American imperialism, and rebuffed any… They did agree not to go into Laos. They made an agreement that kept the United States, kept my uncle, from sending troops to Laos, but it had been a disaster in Vienna.
(01:00:48) So then, we had a spy that used to come to our house all the time, a guy called Georgi Bolshakov, and he was this Russian spy my parents had met at the embassy. They had gone to a party or a reception at the Russian Embassy, and he had approached them and they knew he was a GRU agent and KGB, he was both, oh, he used to come to our house. They really liked him. He was very attractive. He was always laughing and joking. He would do rope climbing contests with my father. He would do pushup contests with my father. He could do the Russian dancing, the Cossack dancing, and he would do that for us and teach us that. And we knew he was a spy too, and this was at the time of the James Bond films were first coming out, so it was really exciting for us to have an actual Russian spy in our house. The State Department was horrified by it.
(01:01:44) But anyway, when Khrushchev, after Vienna, and after the Bay of Pigs, Khrushchev had second thoughts and he sent this long letter to my uncle, and he didn’t want to go through his state department or his embassy, he wanted to end run them. And he was friends with Bolshakov, so he gave Georgi the letter, and Georgi brought it and handed it to Pierre Salinger, folded in the New York Times. And he gave it to my uncle.
(01:02:21) And it was this beautiful letter, which he said, my uncle had talked to him about the children who had played, we played, 29 grandchildren who were playing in his yard. And he’s saying, what is our moral basis for making a decision that could kill these children? So they’ll never write a poem, they’ll never participate in election, they’ll never run for office. How can we morally, make a decision that is going to eliminate life for these beautiful kids?
(01:02:52) And he had said that to Khrushchev, and Khrushchev wrote them this letter back saying that he was now sitting as this dacha on the Black Sea, and that he was thinking about what my uncle Jack had said to him at Vienna. And he regretted very deeply not having taken the olive leaf that Jack had offered him. And then he said, it occurs to me now that we’re all on an arc and that there is not another one, and that the entire fate of the planet, and all of its creatures and all of the children are dependent on the decisions we make. And you and I have a moral obligation to go forward with each other as friends.
(01:03:34) And immediately after that, he sent that right after the Berlin crisis in 1962, General Curtis LeMay had tried to provoke a war with an incident at Checkpoint Charlie, which was the entrance and exit, through the Berlin Wall in Berlin. And the Russian tanks had come to the wall. The US tanks had come to the wall and there was a standoff. And my uncle had sent a message to Khrushchev then through Do Brennan saying, my back is at the wall. I have no place to back to, please back off, and then we will back off. And Khrushchev took his word, backed his tanks off first, and then my uncle ordered LeMay back. He had, LeMay had mounted bulldozer plows on the front of the tanks to plow down the Berlin wall, and the Russians had come, so it was these generals trying to provoke a war.
(01:04:44) But they started talking to each other then. And then after he wrote that letter, they agreed that they would install a hotline, so they could talk to each other and they wouldn’t have to go through intermediaries. And so at Jack’s house on the Cape, there was a red phone that we knew if we picked it up, Khrushchev would answer. And there was another one in the White House. But they knew it was important to talk to each other. And you just wish that we had that kind of leadership today, that just understands our job.
(01:05:21) Look, I know you know a lot about AI, and you know how dangerous it is, potentially to humanity, and what opportunities is it also offers, but it could kill us all. I mean, Elon said, first it’s going to steal our job, then it’s going to kill us. Right? And it’s probably not a hyperbole. Actually, if it follows the laws of biological evolution, which are just the laws of mathematics, that’s probably a good endpoint for it, a potential endpoint. It’s going to happen, but we need to make sure it’s regulated, and it’s regulated properly for safety, in every country. And that includes Russia and China and Iran. Right now, we should be putting all the weapons of war aside and sitting down with those guys and say, how are we going to do this? There’s much more important things to do. This stuff is going to kill us, if we don’t figure out how to regulate it. And leadership needs to look down the road at what is the real risk here. And the real risk is that AI will enslave us, for one thing, and then destroy us, and do all this other stuff.
(01:06:42) And how about biological weapons? We’re now all working on these biological weapons, and we’re doing biological weapons for Ebola, and Dengue Fever, and all of these other bad things. And we’re making ethnic bio-weapons, bio-weapons that can only kill Russians, bio-weapons that the Chinese are making that can kill people who don’t have Chinese genes. So all of this is now within reach. We’re actively doing it, and we need to stop it. And a biological weapons treaty is the easiest thing in the world to do. We can verify it, we can enforce it, and everybody wants to agree to it. Only insane people do not want to continue this kind of research, there’s no reason to do it.
(01:07:33) So there are these existential threats to all of humanity now out there, like AI and biological weapons. We need to stop fighting each other, start competing on economic game fields, playing fields, instead of military playing fields, which will be good for all of humanity. And we need to sit down with each other, and negotiate reasonable treaties on how we regulate AI and biological weapons. And nobody’s talking about this in this political race right now. Nobody’s talking about it in a government. They get fixated on these little wars, and these comic book depictions of good versus evil, and we all go, hoorah and go off to and give them the weapons and enrich the military industrial complex, but we’re on the road to perdition if we don’t end this.
Lex Fridman(01:08:29) And some of this requires to have this kind of phone that connects Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy that cuts through all the bureaucracy, to have this communication between heads of State, and in the case of AI, perhaps heads of tech companies where you can just pick up the phone and have a conversation.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr(01:08:46) Yes.
Lex Fridman(01:08:46) Because a lot of it, a lot of the existential threats of artificial intelligence, perhaps even bio-weapons, is unintentional. It’s not even strategic-
Robert F. Kennedy Jr(01:08:56) Exactly.
Lex Fridman(01:08:56) -intentional effects, so you have to be transparent and honest about, especially with AI, that people might not know what’s the worst that’s going to happen once you release it out into the wild? And you have to have an honest communication about how to do it, so that companies are not terrified of regulation, overreach regulation. And then government is not terrified of tech companies, of manipulating them in some direct or indirect ways, so there’s a trust that builds versus a distrust. Basically, that old phone, where Khrushchev can call John F. Kennedy, is needed.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr(01:09:35) And I don’t think there’s… Listen, I don’t understand AI. I do know, I can see from all this technology, how it’s this turnkey totalitarianism, that once you put these systems in place, they can be misused to enslave people, and they can be misused in wars, and to subjugate, to kill, to do all of these bad things. And I don’t think there’s anybody on Capitol Hill, who understands this. We need to bring in the tech community and say, tell us what these regulations need to look like, so that there can be freedom to innovate, so that we can milk AI for all of the good things, but not fall into these traps that pose existential threats to humanity.