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.
It’s a wonderful summer in the UK and school holidays have started so a lot of people will be wanting to fly away for their summer break. Wherever people are going though, they must be eager to avoid the Ukraine. I’ve not seen the news much lately and like many people I’m struggling to understand what happened. Why shoot down a commercial airliner? Was it a mistake? Did somebody think it was a military flight? Who did shoot the plane down and what will be done about it?
Things like this, needless death and destruction, are deeply upsetting. I remember years ago watching the New York Twin Towers terrorist attacks, 9/11 as it is now known, unfold before me on television and I’d forgotten really just how shocking it was until I picked up a DVD of Oliver Stone’s film World Trade Centre recently. I bought it at a car boot sale and watched it one night after a late shift and the scenes of people glued to their TV sets reminded me of myself, back in 2001, unable to move away from the TV screen.
One sad aspect of these atrocities, particularly the 9/11 attack in New York was that they are based on religious hatred, More than that, they are based on mistaken religious hatred because as far as I know neither the Koran nor the Bible incite murder or hatred. The Bible asks us to love our enemies, not so easy in the case of Osama Bin Ladin I admit but hopefully, in the next world the Almighty will grant his soul the compassion and understanding for others which he did not possess in this world.
A long time ago I used to have a small shop in the Corn Exchange in Manchester. It was called Armchair Motorsports and I used to sell all sorts of Motorsport memorabilia. When things weren’t doing too well I accepted an offer from a guy I knew in a similar business and sold up. He didn’t use my unit at the Corn Exchange, as it was only rented and anyway, he had his own premises. Just as well because some time later the IRA planted a bomb outside and blew the building up. The thing is, what I thought to be something of a blow was in fact a good thing. If I hadn’t sold the business I could have been going to work that day and been injured or even killed. Tragedy, world tragedy, sometimes makes you look at your own life and think just how lucky you are compared to some.
For you regular readers, you will know how I like to tie up my blogs with something faintly amusing at the end but this subject is a tough one in which to inject some humour so I thought rather than go down that route and fail dismally I’d finish with a few thoughtful and sober words from President Kennedy. Words spoken by him in a speech he gave shortly before his death and words which I think are important to this day.
Kennedy was looking for something with which to bring the Americans and the Soviet peoples together, to find some common ground, not an easy task in the cold war period. This is what he said and I think there is something here for everyone, whether you are a Muslim, a Christian, a Ukrainian Separatist or just an ordinary guy like me.
“So, let us not be blind to our differences–but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
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.
Image courtesy wikipedia
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?
image courtesy wikipedia
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 mmMauser, 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?
JFK movie poster
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.
What to do next: Here are a few options.
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