This week’s edition of the New Yorker is on newsstands today – with a shortened version of my comments about Adam Gopnik’s piece of last week in the Letters column. I thought readers of this blog might be interested in seeing the full text before it was edited.
The New Yorker’s piece on John F. Kennedy was brilliant and sweeping in scope – and managed to be both open and closed-minded about the assassination at the same time. As a former British Broadcasting Corporation journalist and the author of a book on the assassination, Not in Your Lifetime, I have for my sins worked on and off on the case for over four decades.
What struck me first in Critic-at-Large Adam Gopnik’s article was what he referred to as the “passionate chaos” and the poetry set loose by the events in Dallas. It reminded me of the irony that the fallen President himself had quoted from Alan Seeger’s poem:
“It may be that he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath…
But I’ve a rendez-vous with Death
Famously, hours before his actual death, in his hotel suite, Kennedy said: “Last night would have been a hell of a night to assassinate a president…Anyone perched above the crowd with a rifle could do it.”
On just how and why the fatal moment came for him, of course, we – and the Gopnik piece – still waver. Respectable polls early this anniversary year indicated that more almost 60% of Americans believed there had been a conspiracy, a cover-up, and that the truth will never be known. The sillier stories aside, how could it be otherwise? The first investigation, the Warren Commission, gave us lone assassin Oswald. The second, the House Assassinations Committee, gave us a “probable conspiracy” finding.
I am not a “conspiracy buff,” to use Gopnik’s term. Nevertheless, having known a number of sensible men and women who doubt the lone assassin version, I think he is less than fair to the doubters he lumps together as “buffs.” No one I respect ever took seriously the notion that LBJ was behind the conspiracy or that Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, and Nixon were somehow guiltily entwined.
Gopnik dismisses the notion that the Zapruder film was altered to deceive the world. So do I. That is not to say that the argument the Warren Commission made to sustain its lone assassin theory should not be questioned. As recently as 2006, a study by the Livermore National Laboratory under the auspices of the Department of Energy found that calculations “considerably weaken support for the single-bullet theory.” Those doubters are scientists, not buffs. They could be wrong, and they could be right.
Gopnik writes of the belief by veteran journalist Jefferson Morley, that the C.I.A. was “keeping a much sharper eye on Oswald that it ever wanted known”. I think that very possibly is the way to decode major aspects of the case. Aspects of the evidence suggest Oswald was used by the CIA – and possibly others – before the assassination, wittingly or unwittingly, as a low-level pawn in the black propaganda war against Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
This is of course not to suggest that the C.I.A. as an agency had any part in the assassination. There is, however, and has long been, persuasive information leading sane students of the case to suspect that anti-Castro elements and organized crime bosses may have had a hand in it. Both had expressed venomous animosity towards the President. Both, unlike Oswald, had motives to kill him.
In 2007, the former chief counsel of the House Assassinations Committee, latterly Professor of Law Emeritus at Notre Dame Robert Blakey, and I interviewed a witness who gave us what we found – on its face – to be potentially credible identification of a man other than Oswald who admitted before his death that he participated in the assassination. Will the media take notice?
There is something people should be exercised about, meanwhile, that has nothing to with the evidence. Finally, thousands of relevant records, including 1,171 C.I.A. documents classified on the ground of national security, remain withheld. The law requires that all Kennedy-assassination-related records be released by 2017, unless the President rules otherwise. If Oswald was a Leftist loner who upped and killed the president – if that was all there was to it – why?