Last week was the 40th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. There were several television programs devoted to this event, especially on PBS.
In this report, I’m going to present a missing piece of the puzzle, one that you have never heard about. It was not mentioned in the Warren Commission report. Oliver Stone did not include it in his movie, “JFK.” It’s not that this missing piece has been actively suppressed. It’s that it was published in a little-known book that seemingly had nothing to do with the assassination. No one paid any attention. The book then sank without a trace. I bought a copy in a book remainder bin years ago, where books that don’t sell well at retail are sold at dirt-cheap prices, and then forgotten.
The Kennedy assassination has been studied in detail and written about by thousands of people. The amount of published information on the event is staggering. The basic outline has been known for years. But the devil is in the details.
A majority of Americans say that they don’t trust the Warren Commission’s theory of the lone gunman. Some surveys indicate that as few as ten percent of the American public believe that Oswald acted alone. Yet nobody has offered anything like a plausible alternative that has gained the support of a significant minority of the general public or historians. That Lee Harvey Oswald doesn’t seem capable of having fired all those shots is clear. The problem is in finding evidence for the necessary split-second coordination with a second assassin.
An author trying to defend any assassination thesis must ignore or downplay implausible facts, either lone gunman facts or coordinated conspiracy facts. The resulting theories have all been implausible. That’s the way facts are when you take a close look, from subatomic physics to the Big Bang.
In this report, I am going to make three simple points: (1) history is very complex; (2) the writing of history is an inexact and highly biased art; (3) our lives and even our world turn on events that cannot be predicted or defended against.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD
Consider Lee Harvey Oswald in November, 1963. He was a former Marine. He was a former defector to the Soviet Union — the first discharged Marine ever to defect to the USSR. He had renounced in writing his U.S. citizenship. At the time of this renunciation, he had written to one American official that he intended to turn over to the Soviets the Navy’s radar codes, which he did. The Navy had to change its codes. He was not merely a defector; he was a traitor. Yet in 1962, he returned to the U.S. with his Russian wife, and nobody in Washington blinked an eye. They knew he was back. He was de-briefed by the CIA, which the CIA continues to deny, but for which there is written evidence: a “smoking document.” The FBI, the CIA, military intelligence, and the Navy ignored him.
In 1962, he tried to assassinate an anti-Communist retired general, Edwin Walker. He then moved to New Orleans, where he got involved with pro-Cuba activism as a one-man member of a local Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He was visible enough to have been filmed on the streets, handing out leaflets, and be recorded in a radio debate. The films and audio tapes still exist.
Oswald had been a Marxist since his teenage years. He had been openly a Marxist in the Marines, yet he was given access to radar codes. In a letter to his brother, sent from Moscow, he had said, “I want you to understand what I say now, I do not say lightly, or unknowingly, since I’ve been in the military. . . . In the event of war I would kill any American who put a uniform on in defense of the American Government — Any American.” Edward Jay Epstein, a specialist in the JFK assassination, noted two decades ago, ” Although his letter was routinely intercepted by the CIA and microfilmed, no discernable attention was paid to the threat contained in it.” Epstein continues:
After the failed assassination, Oswald went to New Orleans, where he became the organizer for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Aside from printing leaflets, staging demonstrations, getting arrested and appearing on local radio talk shows in support of Castro that summer, Oswald attempted to personally infiltrate an anti-Castro group that was organizing sabotage raids against Cuba. He explained to friends that he could figure out his “anti-imperialist” policy by “reading between the lines” of the Militant and other such publications. In August, he wrote the central committee of the Communist Party USA asking “Whether in your opinion, I can compete with anti-progressive forces above ground, or whether I should always remain in the background, i.e. underground”. During this hot summer, while Oswald spent evenings practicing sighting his rifle in his backyard, the Militant raged on about the Kennedy Administration’s “terrorist bandit” attacks on Cuba. And as the semi-secret war against Castro escalated, Oswald expressed increasing interest in reaching Cuba.
It gets even more interesting.
Telling his wife that they might never meet again, he left New Orleans two weeks later headed for the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City. To convince the Cubans of his bona fides — and seriousness — he had prepared a dossier on himself, which included a 10 page résumé, outlining his revolutionary activities, newspaper clippings about his defection to the Soviet Union, propaganda material he had printed, documents he had stolen from a printing company engaged in classified map reproduction for the U.S Army, his correspondence with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee executives and photographs linking him to the Walker shooting.
Oswald applied for a visa at the Cuban Embassy on the morning of September 27th, 1963. He said that he wanted to stop in Havana en route to the Soviet Union. On the application, the consular office who interviewed him, noted: “The applicant states that he is a member of the American Communist Party and Secretary in New Orleans of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.” Despite such recommendations, Oswald was told that he needed a Soviet visa before the Cuban visa could be issued. He argued over this requisite with the Cuban counsel, Eusebio Azque, in front of witnesses, and reportedly made wild claims about services he might perform for the Cuban cause. During the next five days, he traveled back and forth between the Soviet and Cuban embassies attempting to straighten out the difficulty.
I generally trust Epstein as a researcher. His biography on Armand Hammer, Dossier, is a masterpiece. His investigation of Oswald was detailed, and his first book on the assassination became a best-seller, Inquest (1966). He later earned a Ph.D. from Harvard. He is no crackpot. He is a conventional historian of the assassination. He thinks the lone gunman thesis is correct. But what he wrote a generation ago about that lone gunman’s activities before the assassination has yet to get into the textbooks. Epstein’s findings about Oswald point either to the utter bureaucratic incompetence of military intelligence, the CIA, the FBI, and the State Department, or else to a conspiracy. Textbook writers do not want to consider either possibility.
There is another factor: the media never did want to play up the fact that Oswald was a long-time traitor and a Marxist. From the day of the assassination, the media tried to blame the equivalent of “a vast right wing conspiracy” in Dallas. It was “the climate of right-wing opinion in Dallas” that pundits said had killed Kennedy. On the contrary, what killed Kennedy was a Marxist revolutionary, committed to violence philosophically, who had been allowed to return to the United States. But this truth has never been palatable to the media or the textbook writers.
You think this has changed? Not a chance. On Thursday evening, November 20, PBS broadcast a recently produced one-hour show, “JFK: Breaking the News.” It dealt with the power of television to cover live news, which was first demonstrated on that weekend in 1963. The show spends at least five minutes to the right wing climate of opinion in Dallas. It shows that there were conservative Democrats who — gasp! — opposed Kennedy’s liberal politics. The shame of it! The audacity! To oppose this great man! The fact that the liberal media actively covered up his daily adulteries, which were security risks, given the Mob connection of some of them — a fact presented earlier in the week on the PBS documentary, “The Kennedys” — is rarely mentioned, and was never mentioned until several best-selling books revealed all this in the early 1990’s.
The only reference to the truth about the political perspective of Oswald in that documentary was a brief sentence in retrospect by CBS’s Bob Shieffer (“Face the Nation”), who had been a reporter in Fort Worth at the time. He admitted that Oswald was a leftist, but added, “a nut.” Oswald became a nut only after the media found out about his Marxist politics. Prior to this embarrassing revelation, which was deliberately concealed by the media at the time, there was no mention of a “nut assassin” theory. For hours, the national TV commentators had been blaming the “climate of fear” in Dallas. The documentary shows Walter Cronkite’s announcement of Kennedy’s death. Crokite had just been talking on-screen about Adlai Stevenson’s recent confrontation with conservatives in Dallas. As soon as it was known that Oswald was a leftist, he was transformed into a lone nut. The politics of lone nuts is irrelevant, having nothing to do with their actions, you see. There is never a “climate of fear” among leftists, producing a Sirhan Sirhan or an Arthur Bremer. Such assassins are instantly forgotten, as are their political views. Shieffer’s segment was shown long after Jane Pauly’s voice-over and film clips had pilloried the anti-Kennedy Democrats in Dallas as pig-headed, insensitive no-nothings.
The media have never forgiven conservatives in 1963 for not buying into Camelot, despite the fact that the myth of Camelot was entirely Jackie Kennedy’s, who convinced Theodore White to promote it after her husband died (another fact discussed on “The Kennedys”). Most of all, they have never forgiven Oswald for not being a right-winger, and therefore representative of an entire political outlook.
The irony of this neglect of Oswald’s Marxist roots was made greater by what followed the airing of “JFK: Breaking the News.” PBS ran an updated version of Frontline’s 1993 3-hour documentary, “Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?” This superb documentary shows exactly who he was and what he was: a dedicated lifelong Marxist who wanted to do something big for the cause and big for his reputation. But it received little attention in 1993, and I doubt that it received much last week.
The show also reveals that Lyndon Johnson was briefed on Oswald within hours, and he deliberately told the press, meaning the publishers and wire service owners, not to mention Oswald’s time in Russia and his subsequent Marxist agitation in New Orleans. The implication — never mentioned — is that Johnson controlled the press.
The narrator says that Johnson feared a world war, the assassination having come only a year after the Cuban missile crisis. I suggest an additional reason: Johnson did not want to let the American public know that this was a gigantic failure of the American intelligence community, meaning the same kind of Keystone Cops failure that has marked everything associated with 9-11, from before 9-11 until today.
Neither documentary mentioned the following story. This is the one that has grabbed my attention ever since I bought and read that remaindered book.
THE BUBBLE TOP
For those who explain history in terms of impersonal forces, the unique event is irrelevant. For those who favor a conspiracy view of history, the unique event has meaning only in terms of the conspiracy. As for me, I am a believer in the overwhelming significance of the unique event. Remove it, and everything would have turned out differently. Here is my favorite example of the unique event, itself the product of a series of unique events, that changed everything.
Unique event: Late November can be cold in Dallas. But on that crucial day, it was warm. Forecasters had predicted cool weather. That was why Jackie Kennedy was wearing a wool suit.
Unique event: Kennedy had spoken that morning in Fort Worth, 30 miles west of Dallas. Instead of driving to Dallas, the President and his entourage flew from Ft. Worth to Dallas, landing at Love Field. (There was no DFW airport in 1963. DFW was Lyndon Johnson’s gift to air travel.)
Unique event: At Love Field were stationed the cars that would carry the President and the others through the 11-mile motorcade trip to downtown Dallas. Both cars were convertibles. The President’s car had a removable plastic bubble, just in case bad weather made it too cold or too wet for comfort.
Unique event: Love Field that day had an outdoor phone line connected to the desk of The Dallas Times Herald. A local reporter used it to phone in stories about the scheduled motorcade.
Then came a truly unique series of events. Here is the published account by the on-site reporter.
Just before the plane was scheduled to leave Fort Worth for the short flight to Dallas, the rewrite man, Stan Weinberg, asked me if the bubble top was going to be on the presidential limousine. It would help to know now, he said, before he wrote the story later under pressure. It had been raining early that morning, and there was some uncertainty about it.
I told Stan that I would find it. I put the phone down and walked over to a small ramp where the motorcade limousines were being held in waiting. I spotted Forrest Sorels, the agent in charge of the Dallas Secret Service office. I knew Mr. Sorrels fairly well, because I was then the regular federal beat reporter. . . .
I looked down the ramp. The bubble top was on the president’s car.
Rewrite wants to know if the bubble top’s going to stay on, I said to Mr. Sorrels, a man of fifty or so who wore dignified glasses and resembled a preacher or bank president.
He looked at the sky and then hollered over at one of his agents holding a two-way radio in his hand. What about the weather downtown? he asked the agent.
The agent talked into his radio for a few seconds, then listened. Clear, he hollered back.
Mr. Sorrels yelled back at the agents standing by the car: “Take off the bubble top!”
Just over twelve hours later, I was part of the bedlam at the Dallas police station along with hundreds of other reporters. I went into the police chief’s outer office to await the breakup of a meeting in Chief Jesse Curry’s main office. I had no idea who was in there.
The door opened and out walked several men. One of them was Forrest Sorrels. He looked tired and sad. And bewildered. He saw me and I moved toward him. His eyes were wet. He paused briefly, shook his head slightly and whispered, “Take off the bubble top.”
The history of mankind is filled with “what if” and “if only” events that surround every major event. In American history, this is one of the big what-ifs, yet it is still unknown to the public.
A plastic bubble might not have stopped the bullets that hit the passengers in that limousine, but it would have given any sharpshooter concern. A bullet can be deflected. There is no guarantee that an undeflected bullet will hit its target, and a plastic bubble would have added greatly to the uncertainty. Would the assassin or assassins have pulled the trigger(s)?
There is also no way to know if someone other than Forrest Sorrels might have decided after the plane landed to take off the bubble top. What we do know, and what Mr. Sorrels knew that day, is this: a seemingly peripheral question by a rewrite man, relayed through a reporter, led to a call downtown by a two-way radio. Assessment: “Clear.” Events in Dallas on that fateful day were never clear again.
This story would be known by almost no one, had it not been for the reporter’s subsequent career, which justified a book publishing company’s taking a risk by publishing his autobiography. The Dallas reporter subsequently became America’s most prominent playwright-novelist-newscaster, Jim Lehrer, of the “Lehrer News Hour.” His book is titled, A Bus of My Own. It was published in 1992. It did not sell well.
I suspect that more people have learned about this unique “what-if” event today than have learned about it over the last eleven years.
JOHNSON REPLACES KENNEDY
Our lives are influenced by events far beyond our capacity to perceive at the time or understand after the fact, let alone predict in advance. On that bright, sunny day in Dallas, Lyndon Johnson became President. He subsequently escalated a war in Vietnam that Kennedy had begun. America changed dramatically because the sun was shining in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
The can-do optimism of New Deal political liberalism did not survive the Kennedy assassination and the war in Vietnam. Two months after the assassination, the Beatles arrived in America, setting off what was to become the counter-culture of the 1960’s. But what we think of as “the sixties” actually began in February, 1964. November 22, 1963, remains the great divide.
Johnson’s “guns and butter” spending policies expanded the federal deficit. The war in Vietnam and the war on poverty had to be paid for. Johnson preferred to borrow and inflate rather than raise taxes, except for a minor and temporary 10% income tax surcharge in 1968. To hide the reality of the deficit, Johnson persuaded Congress in 1968 to allow him to put the Social Security Administration surplus into the general fund’s accounting system. Prior to 1968, the trust funds were outside of the general fund’s accounting system. Ever since 1968, the government has counted undispersed trust fund income as present income receipts rather than as long-term obligations, i.e., debts. That decision made it easier for subsequent administrations to hide what is happening to the retirement schemes of Americans. It will have enormous effects for decades, beginning no later than 2011, when the baby boomers begin to retire.
If the bubble top had been installed, it is doubtful that any of this would have happened. None of this was inevitable, humanly speaking. If there was a pattern here — and I believe there was — no conspiracy established it. (Read Psalm 2.)
CONTROL OF AND BY THE PRESS
We forget what America has become since that day in 1963. Presidential motorcades are no longer organized for public viewing. A convertible for a President is as old hat as a top hat at the President’s inauguration — last seen at Kennedy’s inauguration. Presidents no longer make themselves visible to the public on the streets at scheduled events. Jimmy Carter walked up Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day in 1977. After “cousin John” Hinckley shot Reagan in 1981, things changed.
In 1981, the press played the same game of “pretend it’s not there.” George Bush was in line to succeed President Reagan. Had Hinckley used a .38 or a .357, Bush probably would have succeeded to the Presidency. In the ancient game of “Who Wins?” he would have been the obvious winner.
The day after the failed attempt, the following story was released on the news wires by the Associated Press. It was run in the Houston Post. It was run almost nowhere else. On the day of the assassination, Scott Hinckley, the brother of John, was scheduled to have dinner with Neil Bush, brother of George W. Bush and son of then-Vice President Bush. The Hinckleys were initially reported as having made large donations to George Bush Sr.’s presidential campaign, but the family denied this, and there was no follow-up by the press. The story of the hastily cancelled dinner engagement received virtually no attention by the media. Only the Web has kept it alive.
Had the press investigated the story, some reporter might have come across the curious fact that the Bushes and the Hinckleys are related. The genealogical link goes back to the same founding father, Samuel Hinckley (1652—1698).
On this, see this genealogical site.
No one in the media noticed this until my wife’s brother-in-law began working on the family tree of my wife and her sister. He came across the web site, with its link to Samuel Hinckley, whose name did not register with him, and he sent me the information on the Bush connection. I saw “Hinckley,” and the alarm bell went off. I looked more closely. The genealogist had not missed the connection.
I this information to subscribers on October 5, 2001: “News Stories That Are Somehow Not Worth Pursuing.” This story remains not worth pursuing in the eyes of the media. No one picked it up. I did not think anyone would.
If you think that the media have learned their collective lesson, you are naïve. The same suppression goes on. Consider 9-11. Consider United Airlines Flight 93 over western Pennsylvania. The media ignore the obvious: debris was scattered up to eight miles away from the crash site. Are we to believe that this debris bounced? No, we are to believe the story of the brave victims who crashed the plane. We are not to inquire about that scattered debris. We are to forget about it. No establishment reporter asks the obvious: Was the plane shot down high above the landscape? Were it not for the Web, these facts would be lost.
It is a grand illusion to believe that what we do today can immunize ourselves from the fallout from the seemingly random events of life. We can buy gold, we can live in gated communities, but the hard realities of life penetrate the high walls of our long-term plans.
Uncertainty is a fact of life. This is why we should rejoice that there are entrepreneurs out there who put their capital on the line to assist future consumers in their quest to reduce uncertainty. Someone must deal with uncertainty. Capitalism’s great gift to mankind is that it allows specialists to do this merely for the opportunity to reap a profit by opening their wallets to the possibility of losses. This is a cheap price for services rendered.
November 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 LewRockwell.com