Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Few New Books on the JFK Assassination

There are three new books on the JFK Assassination that promise to keep the conspiracy controversy alive: 1) Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB and the Kennedy Assassination by Ion Mihai Pacepa. Reminiscent of the film The Manchurian Candidate, this book by the highest ranking Soviet defector who served in a communist intelligence organization theorizes -- no, make that: insists -- that assassin Lee Havey Oswald was brainwashed by the Soviet government to assassinate President Kennedy. 2) James Douglass' JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters is written from the perspective of an anarchist Christian pacifist who argues that the JFK assassination was part of a conspiracy devised by the Central Intelligence Agency. 3) And David Kaiser's The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy fans the flames of conspiracy theory by insisting that Lee Harvey Oswald "shot and killed President Kennedy at the behest of organized crime, and specifically of Santo Trafficante, Carlos Marcello, John Martino, and possibly Sam Giancana."

Of the three books, Kaiser's Road to Dallas -- published by Harvard University Press -- will likely have the biggest impact, chiefly because the author is a respected professional historian who has written several other well-reviewed books and teaches history at the Naval War College. Kaiser, in other words, has the credentials to find a larger audience.

And Kaiser doesn't stop at highlighting the role of organized crime in the assassination conspiracy. He weaves a larger web that "involves presidential intimates, down-and-out mercenaries dreaming of glory, mobsters and their show-business paramours, hot-headed Cuban exiles, duplicitous CIA agents, FBI bugs in Chicago restaurants, a mysterious white Russian whose vast circle of friends included Jacqueline Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and George H. W. Bush, American surveillance of embassies in a foreign capital, extreme right-wing businessmen and activists, the moribund and persecuted Communist Party of the United States, and a dogged FBI agent who never quite caught up to Lee Harvey Oswald in the weeks before the assassination."

The JFK assassination conspiracies won't go away, despite the efforts of debunkers such as Gerald Posner (Case Closed) and Vincent Bugliosi (whose 1,632-page tome Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, published in 2007, turned out to be nothing more than a mammoth defense of the Warren Commission Report). Today, on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the assassination, widespread suspicions of a massive cover-up persist. There are entire networks of researchers studying the events of November 22, 1963, and poll after poll shows that the assassination conspiracy theories are widely believed by a large segment of the American public. Obviously, the assassination scholarship varies in quality. Some of the scholars who favor the conspiracy explanations, like David Kaiser and Jefferson Morley, are highly reputable. Others rely on shoddy research, rumors and speculation, and arrive at outrageous conclusions. But whatever the case may be, as we approach the half century anniversary of the JFK assassination, it is clear that a large segment of the American public still believes that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone on that tragic November day in Dallas back in 1963. Worse yet, many suspect their own government played a significant role in the tragedy.

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