I have a lot of memories of childhood, like everyone I suppose but a lot of those memories, certainly my earlier ones, I would be hard pushed to link them to a certain date or time. The first memories in which I can actually do that are those from 1968. Surprisingly for someone who has never even visited the USA, a lot of my 1968 memories concern, yes, the USA. Lyndon Johnson was the President of the USA in 1968. He had inherited the presidency from John F Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas in 1963 when Kennedy was cut down by an assassin’s bullet. He won the election in his own right in 1964 easily beating Republican opponent Barry Goldwater.
1968 was different though. Johnson’s domestic policies and reforms known as the Great Society had been overwhelmed by the Vietnam War. People were looking at the casualties and asking what is going on? Why are we even in Vietnam?
In 1963 President Kennedy stated in a TV interview with respected TV anchor Walter Cronkite ‘in the final analysis, it’s their war; they are the ones that have to win it or lose it.’ He was talking about the Vietnamese not the USA. Kennedy later issued NSAM (National Security Action memorandum) 263, in which he approved the implementation of plans to withdraw 1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.
On November 26, 1963, only four days after taking office in the most tragic of circumstances, President Johnson approved NSAM order 273 reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Vietnam. Johnson unlike Kennedy, was not withdrawing troops, he was sending more.
Perhaps Kennedy was backing away from Vietnam, perhaps not. Historians differ on their assessment of what Kennedy would or wouldn’t have done. Either way, the Johnson Administration became more and more involved in the war, sending more and more troops into South East Asia. The country became split over the issue. Students were protesting, university campuses became battle grounds between Police and students. Vietnam was a big issue at school over in the UK as I remember. Many of our morning services talked about the issue and I vividly remember one morning when our headmaster played a pop tune over which were read the names of soldiers killed in Vietnam.
Johnson had won by a huge majority in 1964 and appeared confident of winning again in 1968. However a shock awaited him in the first primary in New Hampshire on March 12th when anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy won 42 percent of the vote to Johnson’s 49 percent, a shockingly strong showing against an incumbent President.
McCarthy’s campaign was boosted by thousands of young college students who shaved their beards and cut their hair to be ‘Clean for Gene’. Those students organised voting drives, rang doorbells, distributed McCarthy buttons and leaflets, and worked hard in New Hampshire to bring the vote home for McCarthy.
Robert Kennedy was a notable critic of Johnson’s policies and he had initially declined to run against the President but seeing the success of McCarthy he announced his candidacy for the Presidency on March 16th.
Over on the Republican side, Richard Nixon, the big loser in the election of 1960, had staged a major comeback and was the front-runner in the Republican Primaries ahead of his closest rival Governor Ronald Reagan.
On March 31st President Johnson made a televised speech to announce he had cancelled all bombing of North Vietnam in order to help ongoing peace talks. At the end of his speech he dropped a political bombshell by announcing he would not run for President in 1968. Some have said he was scared of losing to Kennedy, some have said he was just tired and was worried about his health. In fact he died only some five years later on January 22nd, 1973.
On April 4th Martin Luther King was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee. He had made a speech earlier that day in which he spoke of his happiness at reaching the promised land.
“Like anybody,” he had said, “I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight.”
Robert Kennedy heard the news of the murder when he arrived in Indianapolis that night. He was scheduled to give a speech in a predominantly black neighbourhood and the Police tried to dissuade him from speaking saying that they could not protect him in the event of a riot.
Kennedy announced the death of King and those assembled for the speech were understandably shocked and grief-stricken but Kennedy went on, speaking only from a few notes he had jotted down during the ride from the airport.
‘For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.’
His speech was credited with preventing rioting in Indianapolis on a night when riots broke out in many other parts of the country.
Many in the Democratic Party felt that Kennedy had only entered the election when McCarthy’s performance showed there was support for an anti-war campaign; nevertheless, he won a number of the primaries although he was defeated by McCarthy in Oregon.
In the UK it was a hot summer as I remember and I went with one of my friends to see the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was a stunning visual feast although I later had to buy the book by Arthur C Clarke to understand a lot of it. My Mother was amazed. I can still hear her now: ‘A beautiful hot day and you have spent it in the picture house?’
On June 4th Kennedy beat McCarthy in a close contest in California. After a brief victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel he was shot by an assassin shortly after midnight on the 5th. I was 11 years old at the time, an English schoolboy a thousand miles away in England and I was shocked by the news. I remember hearing about the shooting on television sometime in the afternoon or early evening. It was a Wednesday, not that I remember that, I had to look it up, and I slipped out into the garden to say a silent prayer for Kennedy hoping he would live. He died in hospital some hours later.
Robert Kennedy’s funeral mass took place on June 8th and then his body was taken by train to Washington. Thousands of mourners lined the tracks to pay homage as the funeral train passed by.
On August 20th Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia and Premier Alexander Dubcek was deposed. Dubcek had initiated a series of reforms that became known as the Prague Spring. The Soviet Union was nervous of his reforms and the invasion was designed to return the country to its previous oppressive regime. Dubcek was eventually replaced by Gustáv Husák. He returned firm party rule to the country and ‘normalised’ relations with the Soviet Union.
On the 28th August the Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago and television viewers were shocked to see Chicago Police brutally beating anti-war protestors with clubs and tear gas. The crowd chanted ‘the whole world is watching’ as the violence went on.
Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic Party nomination but on the election day of November 5th it was Richard Nixon who emerged triumphant. He would be forced to resign in 1973 because of the Watergate Scandal.
On December 24th, Christmas Eve, the Apollo 8 spacecraft made a TV broadcast from lunar orbit. The crew of Borman, Lovell and Anders were the first in history to leave the planet Earth for another celestial body and the first to see the phenomenon of earthrise. In 1968 a number of things were the focus of my life. One of them was science fiction but here was something not so different but factual, not fictional. I was glued to the BBC broadcasts by Cliff Michelmore and James Burke. On the TV transmission Commander Borman introduced his crew before they took turns to read from the book of Genesis. He finished by saying ‘And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.’
Even today, years later, if I ever hear those words on some documentary programme or a YouTube video, I am transported back to 1968, listening with wonder that men could reach the moon, that space travel was possible and that the things I had seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey could one day come true.
Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.
The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.
The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.
The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.
If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.
Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.
When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?
We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.
As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.
One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We are all brothers after all.
* * * *
The speech of Chief Seattle above follows on from last week’s post where I reviewed Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.
The speech is controversial in many ways. It clearly was not recorded but jotted down at the time so, as many people have said, the speech can hardly be verbatim. It has been added to and tidied up over the years. Whatever has happened to the text, the result is a highly eloquent plea from across the years for us to consider this planet on which we all live. Even if Chief Seattle’s speech was only half as good as the one above, it shows the Chief to have been a particularly wise and thoughtful man.
Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.
I was watching television today, one of my usual pastimes and I settled down to watch the old 60’s TV show the Saint starring Roger Moore as adventurer Simon Templar. In this week’s episode Templar is sent by British Intelligence to intercept Colonel Smolenko, a top ranking KGB officer who is in danger of being murdered. The murder will be blamed on the British so Templar has to stop it happening and find out who is behind it all.
The colonel it turns out is a beautiful cool blonde of the female variety. She takes some convincing that Simon Templar is out to save her but finally goes along with everything despite Simon being a bourgeois capitalist adventurer. As the action takes place in Paris, Simon decides to show the Soviet era colonel some pretty bourgeois restaurants, bars and western style night life. All of this has an effect on the colonel because at the end of the episode, despite a liquidation order coming her way for Simon, she declines to obey and Simon lives on to fight another day. Ahh, that old rogue Roger Moore, he did have some charm!
One reason why I’ve mentioned the Saint is because that tongue in cheek 60’s TV version of Russian spies contrasts sharply with recent TV news about the Russian father and daughter involved in the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. The March 4th attack on Sergei Skripal, once an informant for the UK’s foreign intelligence service, and his daughter, Yulia, exposed local people to risk around public places in Salisbury. Traces of the poison have been found at a pub and a pizza parlour visited by the Skripals. Prime Minister Theresa May said in the House of Commons that “It is now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.” The Russians, naturally deny any such attack. How the whole episode will end is anybody’s guess but as I write this, claims and counter claims are still going back and forth across the media. It seems clear to me though that the Russians, despite giving Communism the boot, are still not fully converted to the ways of the western democracies. Indeed, Mr Putin’s suppression of opposition in the Russian Federation must surely have brought forth complimentary murmurs from Stalin and Brezhnev in the Soviet afterlife.
Mikhail Gorbachev was the man who brought Russia kicking and screaming into the democratic world. He did not end the Soviet era though, in fact what he wanted, I think, was a democratic communist union. That idea though was ruined by Boris Yeltsin who must have smiled inwardly when events brought him to power. Here was the man exiled from the Communist party by Gorbachev who then managed to return to power because of democratic initiatives instituted by the same man. Mikhail Gorbachev made himself President then found the Soviet Union disappearing underneath him. Yeltsin took over the fledgling Russian Federation and Putin, the Russian leader today became Acting President when Yeltsin later resigned. Putin appears to be happy to duck and dive in his attempts to stay in power just like his predecessors of a hundred years ago.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by his revolutionary alias of Lenin was another man determined to grab power out of the ashes of the Russian Revolution.Winston Churchill described his return to Russia from exile, facilitated by Germany in a sealed railway train, as “like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia.” Lenin presided over the October Revolution and took power from the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky. After doing a deal with Germany, Lenin extracted Russia from the First World War and later consolidated his Bolshevik empire by emerging victorious from the Russian civil war. In his later years poor health prevented him from removing his would be successor, a man Lenin felt unsuitable as Soviet leader, and so Joseph Dzhugashvili came to power beginning a reign more terrible than any of the deposed Romanov Czars. Dzhugashvili of course prefered the alias of Stalin.
Stalin ruled over the Soviet empire until his death in 1953. Even as he lay crippled by a stroke his aides were too scared to move him in case they incurred his displeasure. It was Khrushchev who finally emerged as Stalin’s successor, consigning potential successor security chief Beria to imprisonment and death. Khrushchev initiated a number of reforms in the Soviet Union, opening up the gulags and freeing prisoners but he became increasingly unpopular with his colleagues in the Politburo until he was finally removed in favour of Brezhnev in 1964.
The coup was a quiet and bloodless one, Khrushchev later commenting “I’m old and tired. Let them cope by themselves. I’ve done the main thing. Could anyone have dreamed of telling Stalin that he didn’t suit us anymore and suggesting he retire? Not even a wet spot would have remained where we had been standing. Now everything is different. The fear is gone, and we can talk as equals. That’s my contribution. I won’t put up a fight.”
Ian Smith, the Prime Minister of that long vanished country Rhodesia once said this about democracy: “Democracy is a very delicate thing, perfected by the British, but that does not mean you can transplant it elsewhere.” In some ways, especially when you look at the Middle East, perhaps Smith was right, after all the fundamental thing about democracy means that those who are defeated at election time are obliged to hand over power to the newly elected winner. Some people, President Mugabe for example, were not inclined to do so or to even allow anyone to challenge them. Still, everyone votes for a dictator, or so they say.
As it happens, I have met a few Russian people. Back in my coach driving days, I drove a coachload of Russian shop stewards to various meetings with UK union representatives of British gas. I’m not sure what they were discussing but they all seemed pretty nice. In fact later on, they complained to their hosts that I was sitting on my coach, reading a book and eating sandwiches, when they were being wined and dined in a swanky hotel. This inequality so disappointed them that they insisted I come inside and be served the same lovely meal that they were served. Very nice it was too!
Surely then, wasn’t Ian Smith being just a little snooty? Don’t those same Russians deserve the same democratic rights that we tend to take so much for granted in the west?
What is the situation in the Kremlin today I wonder? Will anyone dare to tell Mr Putin that he doesn’t suit them anymore?
Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!
A week or so ago, August the 8th was the anniversary of the resignation of President Richard Nixon. He resigned the US presidency in 1974 after realising his battle to remain in office was finally lost. His battle for his tapes, which he believed were his personal property went on and on and was continued by his estate even after his death.
I have always understood that John F Kennedy was the first President to install a taping system in the white house though Wikipedia seems to think the practice began with Roosevelt. Many of the recordings made during Kennedy’s presidency have been released including those of cabinet meetings during the missile crisis of 1962.
Johnson carried on the tradition of taping and recording phone calls and numerous calls have been declassified and released by the authorities. Some with a special poignancy were even recorded on Air Force One on the 22nd November, 1963, the day Kennedy was shot and Johnson elevated to the presidency.
Anyway, despite his two predecessors, the President most famous for taping in the white house was Richard Nixon and it was the ‘Watergate tapes’ that were at the heart of the Watergate scandal and after reading many books on the subject I feel the Watergate scandal as it came to be known really had its roots in the turbulent year of 1968.
1968 was a landmark year for Nixon and for the USA itself. The public feeling for Vietnam had turned more and more sour as more GIs returned home in body bags. Demonstrations began; university campuses were alight with protests.
In the first primaries of the year incumbent president Johnson, who previously had a high approval rating with the public was surprised by a good showing from rival Senator Eugene McCarthy, running on a anti-war stance. His success urged Robert Kennedy to throw his hat into the ring and on the 3rd June, 1968 Johnson announced in a televised broadcast that he would not accept the nomination for president. Vietnam had overshadowed his presidency and all his other efforts, his so called ‘great society’ and his civil rights programme; all were overshadowed by the conflict in Vietnam.
Martin Luther King was shot dead in 1968 as was Senator Kennedy. Kennedy’s body was taken to Washington from California by rail and as millions waited by the tracks to watch his funeral train pass by, it must have seemed for many Americans like the end of the world.
For one man though, sitting alone in a Nevada hotel suite, sealed off from the world by his Mormon minders, the death of Bobby Kennedy was an opportunity. The elderly Hughes, lying naked on a bed watching TV, his hair, long and unkempt and his finger and toenails uncut, was a far cry from the young film maker, aviator, and entrepreneur he had once been. Immediately he wrote a memo to his chief executive and public alter ego, Robert Maheu. He said basically that now Kennedy was lying dead or dying on the pantry floor of a California hotel this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to put on the payroll the entire Kennedy election team, in particular electoral strategist Larry O’Brien. O’Brien had served under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and would later become chairman of the Democratic National Convention. Not a thought for the dying Kennedy, just the opportunity to get hold of a ready-made election team and put his own man in the white house. At the time Hughes had the idea of promoting Governor Laxalt of Nevada for the job. Fantastic as it may seem the genesis of what would become Watergate lay in Hughes actions on that night.
Hughes was worried about the nuclear testing in Nevada and he had sent Maheau on a mission to get Johnson to move the tests elsewhere. Johnson met with Maheau, listened, tried to get the promise of a donation towards his presidential library, but would not move the nuclear tests. Hughes felt he would need to speak with whoever won the election. Becoming increasingly more paranoid, and more and more worried about the nuclear testing, he tasked Maheau with offering a million dollar bribe to the man who would move the tests elsewhere:The man who would emerge victorious in the presidential election was Richard Nixon.
It was a pretty close run battle for the presidency in 1968 but Hubert Humphrey, the democratic candidate had little election funding although Hughes cannily hedged his bets. He made donations to both opposing candidates. Humphrey was elected as the democratic candidate in a shambolic convention marred by tear gas and protests and Eugene McCarthy, running on an anti-war ticket was ignored despite his earlier success in the primarys. Humphrey won the nomination even though he had not won or even contested any of the primarys. Richard Nixon however, won the eventual presidential election with his campaign pledges of ‘bring us together’ and ‘peace with honour’, which did not mean retreating from Vietnam as perhaps some people may have thought.
Nixon though, despite his victory, was worried. The defeat by John F Kennedy in 1960 still rankled. Many thought that the Kennedy victory had been a given a helping hand by voting fraud, especially in the New York area controlled by Democrat Governor Daley. Nixon though, felt his defeat was due to leaks about loans to his campaign and to his brother Donald from Howard Hughes. Larry O’Brien, despite his retainer from Hughes was running the democratic campaign and Nixon felt that O’Brien must know about Nixon’s own Hughes connection. What information did he have? What was in his safe in the Democratic Campaign headquarters in the Watergate building in Washington?
The FBI and CIA had already spurned Nixon’s requests for covert surveillance and they were dragging their feet over the leaks of highly classified information from government offices. The answer, it seemed to Nixon, was the creation of a white house covert intelligence unit that became known as the ‘Plumbers’ made up of of ex CIA and FBI members. Their job was to stop the leaks, and get Nixon the information he wanted.
Nixon wanted to know what was in Larry O’Brien’s safe in the Watergate building, what information did O’Brien have about a Nixon-Hughes connection? The plumbers would have to find out. On May 11th, 1972 the plumbers secretly entered the Democratic National Convention offices and left behind a number of bugs and listening devices. Problems arose soon afterwards when it was found the wiretapping devices were malfunctioning. There was no choice but to enter the building again. The five man team did so on the night of June 16th/17th 1972. Sometime after midnight on the 17th a security guard noticed that various doors into the building had been taped, preventing them from locking. He called the Police and the five men were arrested.
- James W. McCord – a security co-ordinator for the Republican National Committee and the Committee for the Re-election of the President. McCord was also a former FBI and CIA agent.
- Virgilio R. Gonzales – a locksmith from Miami, Florida. Gonzalez was a refugee from Cuba, following Castro’s takeover.
- Frank A. Sturgis – another associate of Barker from Miami, he also had CIA connections and involvement in anti-Castro activities.
- Eugenio R. Martinez – worked for Barker’s Miami real estate firm. He had CIA connections and was an anti-Castro Cuban exile.
- Bernard L. Barker – a realtor from Miami, Florida. Former Central Intelligence Agency operative. Barker was said to have been involved in the Bay of Pigs incident in 1962.
The five men were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. The burglary was reported in the media and it seemed at first that the incident was an unremarkable ‘third class burglary’ just as the white house press secretary Ron Zeigler described it. Zeigler announced that white house aide John Dean had made a full investigation into the matter when in fact Dean had done no such thing. Two others, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy who were involved in planning and arranging the break in, were also later arrested. They were the link from the burglars to the white house.
Gradually, various revelations appeared in the press, particularly those by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and this escalation of the issue, especially when reports of other abuses of power by the Nixon White House were revealed, forced the announcement of a Senate Investigation.
On February 7th 1973 the Senate voted to establish a select committee to investigate Watergate and during the hearings a surprising revelation emerged. On the 16th July 1973, testimony revealed that President Nixon had a recording system in the White House. Archibald Cox, the special counsel for investigating Watergate immediately issued a subpoena for the tapes. Nixon refused to hand them over citing executive privilege.
As you know, Nixon had to eventually hand over the tapes including one that had a mysterious eighteen minute gap. An impeachment process began and when Nixon was advised that the recommendation was likely to pass through the senate, he resigned. On August 8th, 1974, Nixon broadcast his resignation speech from the White House and stepped down at noon on the next day in favour of Gerald Ford.
One of the most interesting conversations on the Watergate tapes was, I have always thought, a conversation that took place on March 21st, 1973. John Dean felt that Watergate was fast becoming ‘a cancer within-close to the presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily’
John Dean: Where are the soft spots on this? Well, first of all, there’s the problem of the continued blackmail—
President Nixon: Right.
Dean: –which will not only go on now, it’ll go on when these people are in prison, and it will compound the obstruction-of-justice situation. It’ll cost money. It’s dangerous. Nobody, nothing–people around here are not pros at this sort of thing. This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do: washing money, getting clean money, and things like that. We just don’t know about those things, because we’re not used to, you know, we’re not criminals. We’re not used to dealing in that business. It’s a–
President Nixon: That’s right.
Dean: It’s a tough thing to know how to do.
President Nixon: Maybe we can’t even do that.
Dean: That’s right. It’s a real problem as to whether we could even do it. Plus, there’s a real problem in raising money. [John] Mitchell has been working on raising some money, feeling he’s got, you know, he’s got—he’s one of the ones with the most to lose. But there’s no denying the fact that the White House and [John] Ehrlichman, [Bob] Haldeman, and Dean are involved in some of the early money decisions.
President Nixon: How much money do you need?
Dean: I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.
President Nixon: We could get that.
President Nixon: If you—on the money, if you need the money, I mean, you could get the money fairly easily.
Dean: Well, I think that we’re–
President Nixon: What I meant is, you could get a million dollars. And you could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten.
President Nixon: I mean, it’s not easy, but it could be done.
Could it really have been that the million dollars that Nixon was talking about was the same million dollars Hughes was offering to get the nuclear testing moved elsewhere? A paranoid old billionaire living in squalor, obsessed by germs who everything handed to him had to be wrapped in tissue paper. Could it be that Howard Hughes’ obsessions had eventually brought down the Nixon white house?
The Ends of Power. H.R. Haldeman
All The President’s Men. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
Blind Ambition. John W. Dean
Will. G. Gordon Liddy
Citizen Hughes. Michael Drosnin
Steve Higgins is the author of Floating In Space available from Amazon.
Robert F Kennedy died from gunshot wounds on this day in 1968.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of shocking events on television over the years. I remember hearing about the death of Princess Diana one Sunday morning while I waited for the kettle to boil for a mornin…
The 22nd November is the anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy; one of the most shocking events of the twentieth century. It’s something I’ve been interested in ever since I was a boy and I’ve collected many books about the subject.
I’m still fascinated by the mystery: Did Lee Oswald shoot the President? Did he act alone? Why did Jack Ruby shoot Oswald? Was the CIA involved? Very few of those questions will ever be answered but it’s clear that the findings of the Warren Commission, the investigative body set up by President Lyndon Johnson are not definitive. Indeed the senate investigation in the 1970’s concluded that the President was assassinated ‘probably’ by a conspiracy. Even so, no attempts to investigate further or take action have been made. If you want to find out more, what should you read? Well, there are numerous books on the subject you might try but here below are three key and classic books you need to read:
Rush To Judgement by Mark Lane
This was one of the first books to take a critical look at the Warren Commission report and say, ‘hang on, some things don’t add up here!’ Lane deals with a lot of the minutiae of the assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald’s activities.
One interesting element to me was the murder weapon; the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle bought through mail order and sent to a post office box that Oswald rented under a false name. The gun was oily. The scope on the gun was not aligned properly, in fact the FBI found that it could not be aligned at all and had to add metal shims in order to align the scope, meaning that it was test fired by the FBI in a condition that was not available to Oswald!
The first officer to find the rifle even signed an affidavit that the rifle was a Mauser and not a Mannlicher-Carcano! Quite a mistake for an American police officer who would surely be familiar with firearms.
Six seconds in Dallas by Josiah Thompson
Thompson argued in favour of a conspiracy by analysing the Zapruder film of the assassination. In the film shot by local businessman Abraham Zapruder the last two shots come close together, meaning that one of them could not have come from Oswald’s rifle because it took 1.7 seconds to eject the used cartridge and make ready to fire again. This clearly occurred to the people in the Warren Commission as one of its members (Arlen Specter, a lawyer not a forensic expert) put forward the so called ‘single bullet theory’ which argued that a single bullet hit President Kennedy in the back, exited his throat and then struck Governor Connelly who was sitting ahead of Kennedy in the Presidential limousine.
This bullet was found on a stretcher in almost pristine condition which many commentators have asserted means it could not have passed through two bodies and inflicted so much damage.
In 1979 the Select Committee on Assassinations heard evidence of tests that showed the firing could have taken place in only 1.66 seconds per shot. Oswald’s original rifle however, was in too poor a condition to be used for the tests and another was substituted. Even so, none of the test shooters were able to replicate Oswald’s marksmanship despite Oswald being at best only a reasonable shot. An interesting, readable and thoughtful book but rather rare.
Best Evidence by David Lifton.
This is an excellent book in many ways. It’s not just about the assassination itself, the author spends a lot of time describing his personal fascination in the Kennedy case and how his interest has evolved and developed. He has followed the growth of theories and new revelations over the years and made efforts to meet and interview many of the witnesses involved.
Lifton puts forward an argument that is a little unbelievable, certainly to me, that Kennedy’s body was spirited away and the injuries changed to fit in with the theory that Oswald shot Kennedy from the rear. The doctors at Parkland Hospital all clearly state that Kennedy had a massive exit wound in the back of his head indicating a shot from the front but the autopsy report concluded Kennedy was shot from the rear.
I can understand where Lifton was coming from, the autopsy result and recollections of medical staff at Parkland clearly don’t match, but altering the President’s body? I don’t think so. The President’s body would have had to have been pried from the Secret Service who were with it from Dealey Plaza, to Parkland, and Air Force One to Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Some of those whom Lifton interviewed claimed a helicopter landed and the President’s body arrived, implying it came by helicopter when in fact it came by motorcade in an ambulance with the First Lady aboard. One interviewee stated that at Parkland Hospital the body was wrapped in sheets and placed in a coffin. Another spoke of taking the President’s body out of a body bag at Bethesda so clearly these accounts do not match up.
This book also did a lot to help me reconcile the workings of the Warren Commission. It is often dismissed by many people as a cover up but in fact the Warren Commission reacted to the evidence presented to it by the FBI as any other court or legal body would do: It processed the assassination according to the evidence.
Did anyone see someone shooting from the grassy knoll? No. Did anyone see a shooter in the Texas schoolbook depository? Yes. Was a rifle found in the sniper’s nest at the Texas School Book Depository? Yes. Was it delivered to a PO box belonging to Lee Oswald? Yes.
As you can imagine, the Warren Commission found Lee Oswald guilty of the assassination. What else could they do? However, many people not heard or dismissed by the commission heard gunfire and shots from the grassy knoll.
One Police Officer dropped his motorcycle and ran up there only to encounter a scruffy man looking like an auto mechanic. The man had Secret Service credentials and the officer let him go. There were no Secret Service there that day. They were all in the motorcade or waiting at the Trade Mart where the President’s next stop should have been, so who was the man? What was he doing there on the grassy knoll?
As you read more and more about the assassination, more stories like that come to light and the accumulated weight of these revelations is what fuels the enduring mystery. I do love a mystery and my interest in the JFK assassination, like Lifton’s has endured for a long time.
I’m not sure just how to describe to you just how fascinated I am in this story but if you’ve seen that part in the Woody Allen film Annie Hall, where Woody is trying to seduce someone but finds himself consumed by thoughts about the assassination then you’ve got the idea.
To find out more about the assassination try the JFK Lancer website at http://www.jfklancer.com
On a less serious note, here’s the Woody Allen clip:
If you enjoyed this post why not try my book Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of shocking events on television over the years. I remember hearing about the death of Princess Diana one Sunday morning while I waited for the kettle to boil for a morning cup of tea. I was watching TV when 9/11 happened and watched with horror as the second tower was hit by an aircraft. The very first tragedy I learned about from the television though was the shooting of Bobby Kennedy. I was only eleven years old then in 1968 but I knew exactly who Bobby Kennedy was and that his brother, the President, had been assassinated five years before.
Bobby Kennedy was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on the 5th of June, 1968. He was celebrating his victory in the California primary the previous day. He made a speech to his campaign supporters then turned away from the rostrum. He was due to meet the press in another part of the hotel and was led away through the pantry area at the back of the hotel. As he passed through the corridors numerous people approached to shake hands with the senator and pass on their best wishes. One man stepped forward though with a gun in his hand. His name was Sirhan Sirhan. He was ahead of Bobby and he pushed forward and began firing his Iver-Johnson eight shot revolver. He was quickly grabbed and pushed down onto a nearby table. The gun stayed firmly in his grasp and he continued to fire as more people assisted in trying to subdue him. Only when all eight shots were fired was the revolver finally wrestled from his grasp. Bobby Kennedy had been injured in the head and a busboy, Juan Romero, dropped to his knees to help. He pushed rosary beads into Bobby’s hands and the injured Senator was heard to ask ’is everyone safe?’
Bobby Kennedy died the next day. It’s fairly probable that had he lived he would have succeeded Lyndon Johnson as the next President of the United States. He was a man clearly concerned about the war in Vietnam, not only the war itself but the effect it was having within the United States so one of his priorities would surely have been ending the war. J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI had been given a special dispensation by Johnson to stay at the head of the bureau despite having reached the mandatory retirement age. Would Kennedy have retired Hoover and put his own man in charge? Would he have reopened investigations into the death of his brother John, the assassinated President? Either way, these are only speculations. Bobby died the next day.
1. The autopsy showed that Bobby was hit in the back of the head at point-blank range. The fatal shot was fired in an upward direction. How could this be if Sirhan Sirhan was ahead of Kennedy and not close enough to inflict a point blank wound?
2. Scott Enyart, an amateur photographer was in the pantry and photographed the shooting. His film and photographs could answer many questions but they were confiscated by the LAPD. Later he sued the Police department for the return of his pictures but the Police claimed they had been routinely destroyed. What happened to them? Why was photographic evidence relating to the death of a major figure in the US destroyed?
3. Sirhan Sirhan had a number of notebooks. They were filled with page after page of notations like ’RFK must die.’ ‘Robert Kennedy must be assassinated.’ Why did he write these things? Were they part of hypnotic techniques that compelled Sirhan to shoot Bobby Kennedy?
4. Who was the girl in the polka dot dress seen leaving the hotel with a companion after the shooting and boasting that they had killed Kennedy?
5. Why was witness Sandra Sorrano forced to change her story about the polka dot dress girl during an aggressive interview with the FBI?
6. Sirhan Sirhan fired an Iver-Johnson eight shot revolver at Kennedy and discharged all eight bullets. In 1988 examination of an audio recording made of the assassination by reporter Stanislaw Pruszynski revealed thirteen gunshots rather the eight fired by Sirhan. Who fired the other five shots?
7. On August 21, 1968, less than two months after the assassination, 2400 photographs from the original investigation were burned, in the medical-waste incinerator at LA County General Hospital. Other records were also destroyed. Why?
When I heard about the shooting of Bobby Kennedy in 1968 I went out into the back yard of our home in the suburbs of Manchester and said a prayer for him. When he died the next day I was stunned, feeling a personal loss despite being an eleven year old English boy living a thousand miles away from the United States. In the USA itself, thousands of mourners lined the path of Kennedy’s funeral train as it wound its way towards Washington where Bobby was buried beside his slain brother, the President, in Arlington National Cemetary.
Recently Robert Kennedy Jr met with Sirhan Sirhan in a California State Prison and declared he now supports calls for a reinvestigation of the murder. Read more about this in an interesting article in the Washington Post by clicking here.
If you liked this blog, why not try my book? Click the links at the top of the page for more information!
The 22nd of November 2013 was the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most shocking events of the twentieth century, the assassination of President John F Kennedy. I personally expected a deluge of TV documentaries about the assassination but in fact on UK TV there really weren’t that many. A re-showing of the Oliver Stone movie, JFK. A documentary about media response to the assassination which was really the media looking at themselves. But that was really it, there were no probing or investigative programmes, perhaps in 2013 it was far too late for that.
In 1988, twenty-five years after John Kennedy’s death, a veritable wave of documentaries were broadcast on British television, including a rare showing on channel four of the 1966 film of Mark Lane’s ‘Rush to Judgement’. On ITV a documentary by producer Nigel Turner called ‘The Men who Killed Kennedy’ was aired, claiming fantastically that assassins from the French underworld killed the President. That particular film, which had its merits despite its incredible conclusions, was similar to many other films, books, and articles, in that they all challenged the establishment view, framed in the report of the Warren Commission, that the lone killer was a man called Lee Harvey Oswald.
In 1995, BBC TV’s ‘Timewatch’ gave us a view of Oswald that brought us full circle. Heavily influenced by the book ‘Case Closed’ by Gerald Posner, the film said look, Oswald really did it after all. So, have you had your fill of conspiracy theories? Have you heard enough of CIA plots and Watergate and Iran-Contra? Enough of the ‘grassy knoll’, the Book Depository, and Dealey Plaza? Has perhaps our interest in the fate of President Kennedy been diminished by revelations of the apparently numerous indiscretions in his private life?
Whatever the truth of John Kennedy’s private life, his graphic death was the cataclysm of our age, imprinted on the minds of a generation by the flickering incarnation of amateur cine film. For many the case is not closed and has never been even remotely resolved despite two official investigations, the last of which -by the House Select Committee on Assassinations- concluded, ambiguously, that the President was killed “probably” by the result of a conspiracy.
So what are the facts of the assassination? Perhaps the only undisputed fact to emerge from the tragedy was that John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the United States, was shot in the head and killed. President Kennedy was hit by rifle fire in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, while riding in an open topped limousine, part of a motorcade that had just turned onto Elm Street by the Texas School Book Depository. Almost every other fact, every statement, every report, every document, every exhibit, every disclosure, is open to question.
Were there three shots or four? Were there more? Was the President shot from behind or from the front? Was he shot from the sixth floor of the book depository or from the so called ‘grassy knoll’? Did twenty-four year old ex-marine Lee Harvey Oswald fire the shots? Was he alone or were there other assassins? Why did Jack Ruby, a local night club owner subsequently shoot Oswald? Was it to silence him, to stop him from telling what he knew? Did Ruby act out of rage or was he part of a conspiracy? Was he in the pay of the Mafia? Was the CIA involved? The questions are endless, the answers are few.
Lee Oswald was a young man with an extraordinary background. He was not the ‘lone nut’ as described by the Warren Commission, the investigative body set up by President Johnson to examine the assassination. An ex radar operator at a top-secret US base in Japan, Oswald had spent years in Soviet Russia as a supposed defector. He was known to the FBI and had connections with military intelligence and the CIA. He appeared to be involved in left-wing Cuban politics and supported Fidel Castro. The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald shot the President but failed to answer the important question -why? Why should a left-wing activist shoot a liberal minded president who in the words of his critics had gone ‘soft’ on communism and Cuba?
But as we examine the accepted elements of the murder more and more inconsistencies occur. The President was shot at 12.30 pm, but Oswald, who worked at the book depository, was seen by witnesses in the second floor lunch room as late as 12.15, which left him only fifteen minutes to ascend to the sixth floor, produce his rifle and take up position. Of course fifteen minutes might have been enough time for a cool and organised killer, but the President was actually due to arrive at a reception at the Dallas Trade Mart at 12.30, which meant he would pass through Dealey Plaza at about 12.25, giving Oswald only ten minutes to be in place, and he had no way of knowing the President would be late. Immediately after the shooting patrolman Marrion Baker entered the Book Depository, drew his gun and with building superintendent Roy Truly hot on his heels confronted a young man in the lunchroom calmly drinking a coke. Truly explained that this was Lee Oswald, an employee. Had Oswald rushed down from his ‘snipers lair’ on the sixth floor or had he been in the lunch room all the while?
Perhaps the strongest evidence linking Oswald to the murder was the supposed murder weapon, a 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano bolt-action rifle, a World War II vintage carbine found on the sixth floor of the book depository at 1.22 pm, almost an hour after the assassination. The rifle had been purchased mail order by an ‘Alek Hidell’ and sent to Dallas post office box number 2915, rented by Oswald. When arrested, Oswald was carrying an identity card in the name of ‘Hidell’. To this day there is dispute over whether Oswald’s palm print was found on the rifle. All pretty damning you might think, but the officer who first found the rifle, Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman, identified it as a 7.65 mm Mauser, and was confident enough to make a sworn affidavit to that effect.
The day after the shooting, November 23rd, District Attorney Henry Wade also described the weapon as a Mauser at a televised press conference. How then does a 7.65mm Mauser become a 6.5mm Mannlicher-Carcano? I personally know nothing about guns at all but I have seen enough war films to know that a Mauser is German, and stamped clearly on the side of the Mannlicher-Carcano are the words ‘MADE ITALY’ and ‘CAL 6.5’. And surely a police officer, particularly an American policeman, would know what he was talking about concerning guns?
Abraham Zapruder, a local businessman took his cine camera to work that day to film the Presidential parade but what he recorded instead was a Presidential murder. In doing so he contributed arguably the most important piece of evidence in the whole case. His film gave investigators a filmed record and a timetable for the shooting. Examination of the film by FBI experts revealed the time between the first shot to hit the President and the shot that struck his head was 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. It was first thought that there were four shots, one shot hitting Kennedy in the throat, a second completely missing and hitting the kerb, a third hitting Governor Connally also seated in the Presidential car, and a fourth shattering Kennedy’s skull. Given that it takes 2.3 seconds to operate the bolt action rifle, four shots will not fit the time frame for one assassin and one rifle so the Warren Commission came up with the so called ‘magic bullet’ theory, that the second of three shots hit both Kennedy and Connally. This view has been blasted from a number of angles, firstly the bullet itself emerged as almost completely pristine, while one which had passed through the flesh and bone of two human bodies would have been severely deformed. Secondly, in the Zapruder film Governor Connally is seen to turn around as Kennedy is hit then appears to be hit himself as he turns to face front again.
Expert riflemen were called in to test the murder weapon. They were unable to duplicate Oswald’s supposed feat of marksmanship and complained of difficulty operating the rifle’s bolt mechanism and even the trigger. The telescopic sight could not be properly aligned and had to be rebuilt with metal shims added to make it accurate, which means of course that the rifle was tested in a configuration not available to Oswald. Also, test firing was done at still, rather than moving targets. The assassin would also have had to track the President as he passed behind an oak tree, resight his target and then shoot. So did Lee Oswald really do the shooting? What about the shot to the Presidents head which knocked him back and to the left indicating a shot from the right front -the grassy knoll area? And what about the bystanders who rushed up the grassy knoll including a motorcycle patrolman who tried to ride his bike up there? They felt the final shot came from the knoll as did railroad workers on the triple underpass, as did Abraham Zapruder the amateur cine cameraman, as did Mary Woodward of the Dallas Morning News, as did Lee Bowers positioned behind the grassy knoll atop a 14-foot railroad tower, as did many others. So, if other gunmen were involved, who were they? Who paid them? Who organised them? Who stood silently in the wings and watched while the President was killed?
Oliver Stone’s blockbuster movie from 1991, JFK. was a recreation of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into the murder of the president and before filming had even been completed the US media had begun -if you’ll excuse the pun- to throw stones at Stone. In conclusion the movie offers us the theory that the American ‘military-industrial complex’ was responsible for the crime, the theory running like this; Lyndon Johnson took over the reins of the presidency following JFK’s death. He continued with Kennedy’s cabinet and Kennedy’s policies, all except one -Vietnam.
Not wishing to become embroiled in a guerrilla war in south-east Asia Kennedy had already ordered home from Vietnam one thousand troops. Johnson reversed that decision and thus began the disastrous American adventure that was the Vietnam War. Extreme right-wing elements opposed to John Kennedy’s policies of peace ‘removed’ Kennedy in favour of Johnson. Sound fantastic? To be fair to JFK, everything presented as fact was factual, and everything that was conjecture was presented as such, but the real life investigation by Jim Garrison concluded that the CIA were the real culprits.
After the disaster of the Bay of Pigs, the CIA-backed invasion of Cuba by Cuban exile brigades during which the CIA had attempted to force Kennedy into committing American troops into the assault, Kennedy had vowed to splinter the CIA into “a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds”. The CIA had become almost autonomous from the elected government, pursuing its own policies around the globe. It had developed a capability -revealed during the 1970’s in senate hearings- known as ‘executive action’, a capability of political assassination. The ‘company’ as the CIA calls itself, was involved with mafia hoodlums to murder Fidel Castro. Castro is alive and well today, but did the CIA collude with the mafia to murder its own commander-in-chief, the President of the United States?
Jim Garrison’s investigation came to nothing but in 1991 lawyer, writer, and JFK investigator Mark Lane was involved as defence attorney in a libel case instigated by CIA man and ex Watergate burglar Howard Hunt. The hub of the case was a newspaper article claiming Hunt was in Dallas on the day of the President’s murder. Hunt denied this, claiming to be in Washington at the time. In court Lane introduced testimony that indeed placed Hunt as part of a CIA team in Dallas on the day in question. Leslie Armstrong, forewoman of the jury said afterwards “Mr Lane was asking us to do something very difficult -he was asking us to believe that John Kennedy had been killed by our own government. Yet, when we examined the evidence, we were compelled to conclude that the CIA had indeed killed President Kennedy!”
A shocking and significant breakthrough in the JFK murder you might think? Leslie Armstrong went on to call for action to be taken by the proper authorities in the government. Nothing was done. The US Justice Department did not stir, nor has any other organ of the forces of law and order in the United States. The US media continues to ignore the countless revelations that have appeared in the years since John F Kennedy was killed, yet conspiracy theories are abundant in Europe and the UK. Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandals have shown us the dark underbelly of the American establishment, could it be that some secret influence is at work, hidden from public perception, preventing serious examination of the crime of the century?
President Obama has recently been elected to another four years in office, and in accordance with US law they will constitute his last term. Obama’s presidency has been largely unremarkable but he still has a chance to offer something significant to his fellow Americans and to the world. He can appoint a special prosecutor and special investigators and direct the CIA and FBI to answer pertinent questions. Not about how many shots, or from what direction, or any of the other thousand and one questions regarding the minutiae of the assassination but who was responsible? Who gave the orders? Who really killed President Kennedy? Still, perhaps even that would be fifty years too late.