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An updated edition discusses some startling recent work which seems to lead to an answer to the ultimate conspiracy theory
After nearly 1000 books, half a dozen journals, two official inquiries, several million pages of declassified documents, dozens of TV documentaries, and hundreds of websites, is there anything left to say about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? Hell, yes. The Kennedy assassination remains both the greatest whodunit of the post-World War II era and the best route into recent U.S. history. In this short book, taking it as proved that Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed the patsy he claimed to be before he was murdered, Robin Ramsay looks at the assassination through the work of the researchers who refused to buy the official cover-up story that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin. He explores the major alternative theories produced by the critics of the official version, the major landmarks in the Kennedy assassination research, and the disinformation produced on the subject since the event.
About the Author
Robin Ramsay is the author of Pocket Essentials on Conspiracy Theories and The Rise of New Labour.
Read an Excerpt
Who Shot JFK?
By Robin Ramsay
Oldcastle BooksCopyright © 2013 Robin Ramsay
All rights reserved.
Most books about the Kennedy assassination do not offer a solution. Well, this one does. This book eventually argues that JFK wasn't murdered by the CIA, the Mafia, the anti-Castro Cubans, the Pentagon, Mossad, the British royal family, or the KGB — all of whom have been touted as candidates, some more seriously than others — or permutation of those, but by the most obvious candidate of all, JFK's vice president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. But in assassinology, as elsewhere, it is more interesting to travel than it is to arrive; and this book is also an account of the journey by the assassination researchers, who decided to investigate what Richard Nixon called 'the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated'.
The Kennedy assassination literature is now so vast and so ramified that writing a straightforward linear narrative is not only difficult, it tends to exclude some of the complexity and fascinating digressions. I have channelled brief accounts of some of these into the notes at the end of chapters. I know some people do not like notes but many of mine are a supplement to the main text.
Why bother with this old stuff?
More than 20 years ago I was invited to talk to a group of Kennedy assassination enthusiasts in Liverpool, who called themselves Dallas 63. I had come to their attention because I had published articles on the assassination in the little magazine I then edited and published, Lobster (it is now a website: www.lobster-magazine.co.uk), and was just about the only person doing so in the UK at a point when major media interest in the assassination was at a very low ebb. I only knew one of the Dallas 63 group very slightly befoore I went and I discovered I was talking to people — about 30 of them, as I remember; 30 in one provincial city! — many of whom knew more about the assassination than I did; or certainly knew more about particular areas than I did. For serious Kennedy assassination students frequently move into a specialism: the autopsy, the Dallas Police, the motorcade, Officer Tippit, Cuba, CIA, ballistics, etc.
I'm a generalist and my talk was a generalist's view of the event, surveying the various answers to 'Who did it?' My audience listened politely but as soon as I finished and comments were invited, my talk was forgotten as they moved into their own areas and disappeared into relatively minor details, leaving me behind.
Which is to say that the first thing a writer has to get past about this subject is the scale of it. The Kennedy assassination literature is now too vast to easily encompass: hundreds of books over the last 50 years; a dozen or so journals, now defunct; two full-scale government reports on the general event, five on the autopsy alone, and a mountain of supporting material; dozens of videos and DVDs, hundreds of websites. Starting from scratch, working full-time, I guess it would take a year to get to grips with the basic material; and, if we include in the picture the millions of declassified pages released by the government in the last two decades, it is now an impossible task to 'cover the field'. Some of the material is now extraordinarily complex. The medical/forensic evidence, to take the best example, is a nightmare for a generalist like me. Which is to say: to write even a small book about this subject means writing while knowing you don't know enough.
The second major difficulty with writing (or reading) about the Kennedy assassination lies in these questions: why spend the time on something that happened long ago and which has no bearing on the modern world? How important is a dead American president half a century ago compared to, say, climate change or the current financial crisis? Surely JFK's death should come a long way down the list of things worth pursuing? In some moods I feel this to be true; but mostly I think that such a view underestimates both the actual historical significance of the Kennedy assassination and its potential political significance.
JFK's Historical Significance
Not only is there something intrinsically important about the murder of the president of the most powerful nation on earth, but the murder of that president, at that moment, makes it that much more significant; and the fact that his murder remains unsolved, that there has been a cover-up lasting this long, tenaciously sustained by both major political parties, the American state and most of the mainstream media, makes it more so.
The consensus view of Kennedy is that beneath the thin veneer of glamour — all that Camelot guff — he was just another politician, who did little of significance that would not have been done by Richard Nixon, had he and not Kennedy succeeded in stealing the 1960 election. The consensus view might continue that this is not only specifically true in JFK's case but also necessarily true because individuals cannot much affect the workings of the system. Wider economic and political forces will prevail. (Obama's first term as president shows this, does it not?). Individuals are actors, their roles limited by the script written by the money; and in American politics the cost of running presidential campaigns makes this brutally clear. This determinist view is obviously true in general but individuals — Lenin, Trotsky, Mandela, Hitler, Mao, Churchill, Roosevelt, Thatcher, for example — can have a big impact. There are also individuals who might have made a big impact, had they lived. In America the dead Kennedys, John and Robert, and Martin Luther King were such individuals; and many of the Kennedy assassination researchers believe that it was precisely because they were going to make an impact — the wrong impact for parts of the system — that they were killed.
I don't have room here for a detailed account of the debate about who Kennedy really was and we don't need it. On any view, by the standards of 1950s America, JFK was an unusual president. In his 1961 book The Presidential Papers, the late Norman Mailer tried to portray JFK as the first existential president (whatever that meant), a hipster. As it turned out Mailer didn't even get close. For JFK was a sexual compulsive who used his status to try to have sex with anything (female) that moved; and reliable reports have him smoking dope and (less reliably) doing cocaine. Funky times at the White House! Funkier times than Norman Mailer dared to imagine in 1961!
But Kennedy was also the president who knew he owed his 1960 election victory to the Mafia and was willing to share a woman — Judith Campbell — with one of the Mob's leaders. The Frank Sinatra — Sammy Davis Jnr — Dean Martin — Peter Lawford 'rat pack', in which there has been a revival of interest, contained a junior member, Lawford, who had married into the Kennedy family; and Sinatra, its leader, socialised with Mob figures. Which is perhaps saying nothing more than this: things were afoot in the early 1960s. Smoking dope, doing cocaine and banging starlets in the White House pool is a big jump from the Doris Day version of America served up to the world in American popular culture of the 1950s, and symbolised in its political culture by outgoing Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. There is a big shift going on in that transition period between Eisenhower and what is now thought of as 'the sixties'. Kennedy was part of that, as well as a symbol of it. But he was also a symbol of the power of the Mob in those days; and the Mob thought they'd helped get him there and he owed them.
Even Eisenhower could feel the winds rising. War-hero, war-leader, soldier and Republican, Dwight Eisenhower had used a televised farewell address to the American people not to say, 'I'm off to play golf and God bless America', but to warn them of the dangers presented by the American 'military-industrial complex' — the Pentagon and its vast hinterland of arms manufacturers.
Into this context arrived Kennedy, who talked the conventional Cold War, Soviet menace talk when he had to before the 1960 election, but who, after the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and the subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis, went off the rails as far as the military-industrial complex was concerned.
He did a deal with Khrushchev and promised to leave Cuba alone.
He began trying to wind down the CIA's secret army of anti-Castro Cubans.
He signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
He was preparing to allow the Italian Communist Party into a coalition government in Italy, something the CIA had worked to prevent since 1947, spending hundreds of millions of dollars and utterly corrupting Italian society in the process.
He was planning to cut US defence spending abroad to reduce the US balance of payments deficit.
He proposed joint Soviet-American space exploration.
And he was planning to begin pulling US forces out of Vietnam. It was going to be done in baby steps but it was going to be done.
These are not the actions of a Cold Warrior. It wasn't just that the Cuban Missile Crisis had scared the politicians involved in it — though it had; Kennedy and Krushchev were trying to wind down the Cold War and this threatened many interests on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
In a sense, the debate about who Kennedy was can be easily resolved: there were two 'Kennedys'. The cold warrior Kennedy who got elected changed — or dropped his conservative cover — after the Cuban Missile Crisis and became the liberal Democrat who emerged.
Perhaps most significant of all, Kennedy wanted out of the then expanding war in Vietnam. The military-industrial complex and the political right saw Kennedy's deal with Khrushchev over Cuba as retreat in the Caribbean and his plans for Vietnam as retreat in the Far East. The military-industrial complex wanted war in Vietnam as part of what they saw as the ongoing Cold War struggle with Communism; it was just a bonus that, in pursuing the war, they stood to make a lot of money and/or have good careers. Whether or not we try to locate the assassination conspiracy in this milieu, and many of the researchers do, we can agree that Kennedy was going up against the military-industrial complex on almost all fronts — the forces his predecessor had warned against. When the scale of what Kennedy was thinking of doing is understood, it is very tempting to see the assassination as Kennedy stepping too far out of line and the system getting rid of him.
Enter Oliver Stone
The idea that Kennedy was too radical for the military-industrial complex is the thesis behind the two movies about the case: the 1973 version, Executive Action, which starred Burt Lancaster, and Oliver Stone's JFK. Stone emphasised Vietnam: Kennedy was shot to stop withdrawal from Vietnam. This is the thesis most closely associated with the late L. Fletcher Prouty, a US Air Force Colonel, who had a remarkable book, The Secret Team, published in America in 1973. Prouty was a really important insider, not only the US Air Force's liaison officer with the CIA's covert operations in the 1950s, but someone who had also been in charge of presidential security. As former liaison with the CIA, Prouty had watched the growth of the Agency's covert operations corrupting the US military. As a former presidential security officer, Prouty looked at the events that day in Dallas and saw the absence of presidential security. As Prouty pointed out, the absence of security is all you need to arrange. Prouty implied, but never quite stated, that the US Secret Service had to be part of the plot. (This never seemed likely to me but some recent research, which I discuss below, makes it less implausible than before.) Unfortunately for Prouty, his book got buried under the Watergate scandal and was barely noticed at the time.
That the publisher of the Pocket Essentials series thought the first edition of this book worth commissioning we owe to Oliver Stone's movie JFK which, though barking loudly up the wrong tree in the view of most Kennedy researchers, rekindled interest in the assassination when major factual TV documentaries and hundreds of books had not. I enjoyed JFK a lot but, like many people interested in the assassination, was irritated that Stone chose to portray the 1968 attempt by New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison, to prosecute Clay Shaw. Few of the Kennedy researchers think Clay Shaw had anything to do with the assassination, fascinating figure though he turned out to be when Garrison dragged him into the light. But in retrospect it is obvious that a mainstream, narrative filmmaker like Stone would choose this way into the assassination: it is the one aspect of the events since 1963 which is dramatic. Its 'story line' was a little guy fighting against the system. It even featured a Hollywood cliché, the crusading district attorney. Looked at like that, the story wrote itself and however misconceived it was, Garrison's prosecution of Clay Shaw was the sole crack taken at the assassination by the American judicial system.
The potential political significance of Kennedy's death
Before parts of JFK's skull bounced onto the boot of the presidential limousine that day in Dallas, the broad mass of Americans — make that white Americans — still believed what their government told them. Now they don't. No doubt many factors have contributed to this, most obviously the war in Vietnam, whose consequences ripped through American society in the 1960s and 1970s. But there, at the beginnings of America's belief that the government tells lies, was Kennedy's death — and the collapse of the government's version of it. That the government was manifestly lying about the biggest domestic political story of the time was hard to ignore. Sometimes the old adage that the truth is always subversive looks plausible.
But the Kennedy assassination is also the greatest and most complex whodunnit of the last century, the biggest source of official paper on the activities of the American state, and the best route into the post-JFK era, from Vietnam, through Watergate and subsequent revelations. It is also the most striking example of a research effort in a Western democracy by private citizens, opposed by the main political parties, the state and major media. And this book is inevitably and properly partly an account of that research.
This shows one of the many paradoxes of the United States. On the one hand, the land of the brave and the home of the free, in which we have this activity by its citizens. On the other, a nation ruled by a political elite, which either permits the assassination of its leaders, or is in some way constrained from investigating their deaths. For all three of the major assassinations of the 1960s — JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King — were 'solved' without serious investigation, by attributing the deaths to patsies. This is the subversive potential of the subject: here is the most powerful nation on earth, in which the three most important figures of a generation on the mainstream liberal-left were assassinated in a five-year period and there has not been a serious official investigation of any of the deaths. If we are to pick at a scab on the hide of the elephant, we might as well pick at the biggest one. This is where the most official effort has gone into holding the line.CHAPTER 2
The Greatest Hoax
'And it was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated.'
Richard Nixon's view of the Warren Commission, carried by Reuters, 28 February 2002, reporting some of the latest transcriptions of recordings of Richard Nixon made in the White House during his presidency.
The official, government and federal state version of the assassination was that a lone shooter, oddball, ex-Marine, self-proclaimed Marxist and defector to the Soviet Union – and how weird was that in 1963? – Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy from his place of employment, the Texas Book Depository, which overlooked the route of the parade Kennedy took through Dallas that day. He did it for reasons unknown, but which probably owed much to his personal inadequacies and jealousy of the charismatic young president. Another wannabe getting his 15 minutes of fame, perhaps. According to the official version, having shot Kennedy (and Governor of Texas John Connally), he left his dirt cheap, clapped-out, WW1 surplus rifle with inaccurate sights, ran down to the canteen in the warehouse in which he worked and got a Coke from the machine there, in time to be confronted by a Dallas policeman investigating the shooting. Identified as an employee of the building, Oswald was ignored by the police and wandered out, caught a bus, went home, shot a Dallas policeman and sneaked into a cinema without paying. Oswald was then arrested by the Dallas police and was shot the next day, in the police station, by Jack Ruby, the owner of a strip club in the town. Incoming President Johnson set up a commission of inquiry, chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren and stuffed with the great and the good – including Allen Dulles, erstwhile Director of the CIA, whom the dead president had fired. The Warren Commission, as it became known, published a report stating that Oswald had done it alone.
Excerpted from Who Shot JFK? by Robin Ramsay. Copyright © 2013 Robin Ramsay. Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
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Table of Contents
1 Introduction 9
Why bother with this old stuff?
JFK's historical significance
Enter Oliver Stone
the potential political significance of Kennedy's death.
2 The Greatest Hoax 25
Thinking about the assassination
advance knowledge: the murder conspiracy was leaky
the Warren Commission.
3 Way Down Yonder in NewOrleans 51
A digression about disinformation; more 'lone assassins'
from Dallas to Watergate and its aftermath
the House Select Committee on Assassinations, or the same river twice.
4 The House Select Committee on Assassinations and Beyond 77
From cover-up to conspiracy?
HSCA and the Mob-did-it verdict
5 True Confessions 93
'Mac' Wallace and LBJ.
6 Beyond Whodunnit 123
Oswald? Which Oswald?
into the CIA's anti-Castro underground
LBJ and Hoover
the role of the Secret Service
two 'Oswalds' and two 'JFKs'?
where are the historians? conclusion.
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