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John Simkin

An interview with Peter Dale Scott

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Peter Dale Scott was educated at McGill University and University College, Oxford. He taught at McGill University before joining the Canadian Department of External Affairs, (1957-1961) and the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland (1959-1961). Returning to academic life he has taught at the University of California for over thirty years. Books by Peter Dale Scott include The War Conspiracy: The Secret Road to the Second Indochina War (1972), Crime and Cover-Up: The CIA, the Mafia, and the Dallas-Watergate Connection (1977), Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (1993) and Deep Politics II: Essays on Oswald, Mexico, and Cuba (1996), Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America (1998) and Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina (2003).

(1) Could you explain the reasons why you decided to become an historian?

(2) Is there any real difference between the role of an investigative journalist and a historian?

(3) How do you decide about what to write about?

(4) Do you ever consider the possibility that your historical research will get you into trouble with those who have power and influence?

(5) You tend to write about controversial subjects. Do you think this has harmed your career in any way? Have you ever come under pressure to leave these subjects alone?

(6) The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

(7) What is your basic approach to writing about what I would call “secret history”? How do you decide what sources to believe? How do you manage to get hold of documents that prove that illegal behaviour has taken place?

(8) If you were publishing an updated edition of Deep Politics, what new material would you include?

(9) Why is it that most books written about political conspiracies; assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. are written by journalists rather than historians? Is it because of fear or is it something to do with the nature of being a historian?

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(1) Could you explain the reasons why you decided to become an historian?

It was not a conscious decision. I just acted the part more and more in my efforts to educate Americans to the folly of fighting in Vietnam, which led into an investigation of NSAM 263, NSAM 273, and the murder of JFK.

(2) Is there any real difference between the role of an investigative journalist and a historian?

There shouldn't be. In my area journalists should think historically, and historians investigatively.

(3) How do you decide about what to write about?

Whatever is most in need of public criticism and exposure.

(4) Do you ever consider the possibility that your historical research will get you into trouble with those who have power and influence?

As one of my close colleagues (Malcolm Caldwell) was murdered, and some of my sources also, yes, I try to be mindful of how much risk I should take.

(5) You tend to write about controversial subjects. Do you think this has harmed your career in any way? Have you ever come under pressure to leave these subjects alone?

I was advised by friendly senior academic colleagues not to write about Vietnam, in one case almost threateningly (it ended a friendship). And for several years I could not get a merit increase. But all in all I have no complaints about my university.

(6) The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

Both historians and especially journalists often depend on government cooperation in the advancement of their careers.

(7) What is your basic approach to writing about what I would call “secret history”? How do you decide what sources to believe? How do you manage to get hold of documents that prove that illegal behaviour has taken place?

This is a complex matter not reducible to a paragraph. I once taught a semester-long course in how to evaluate and compare sources, which is the key. Documents are very important too, but rarely "prove" something by thmselves.

(8) If you were publishing an updated edition of Deep Politics, what new material would you include?

For starters more about Mexico and the culpable role of the CIA before and after the assassination, along with the rest of the material I cover in Deep Politics Two and Three.

(9) Why is it that most books written about political conspiracies; assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. are written by journalists rather than historians? Is it because of fear or is it something to do with the nature of being a historian?

Academic historians are housed in a bureaucratic hierarchy that is unfortunately less open than it advertises itself to be. So are most journalists. But journalists are more experienced than most historians in the possibilities of doing self-financing research.

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