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The Spectator on the assassination of JFK

Paul Rigby

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The Times obituary:


“In the Conservative view,” he said, “economic liberalism, à la Professor Hayek, because of its starkness and its failure to create a sense of community, is not a safeguard of political freedom but a threat to it.”

The Guardian obituary:


“Gilmour opposed and/or voted against most Thatcher mistakes and diktats - the paving bill to abolish the Greater London council, denial to local authorities of council house sales revenue, the freeze on child benefit, the poll tax, the three-line whip against Conservative MP Richard Shepherd's reform of the Official Secrets Act, identity cards at football matches and the then chancellor Nigel Lawson's "extremely slack financial policy". There was a peculiar poignancy about his call to meet the massive unemployment of the day with investment in reshaping a battered infrastructure. He was president of Medical Aid for the Palestinians (1993-96) and chairman of the Byron Society from 2003.”

The Spectator, 6 March 1964, pp.305-306

The Riddle of Dallas

By Mordecai Brienberg

The author of this article, a former Rhodes Scholar from Canada, is a lecturer in sociology at Berkeley, California.

There are two widely held interpretations of President Kennedy’s assassination and the events in Dallas. The ‘liberal’ position contends that Lee Harvey Oswald was a product of the hatred and the violence preached by the ‘extremists of all kinds.’ In this view, radicals of the right and the left are responsible for the assassination. The ‘conservative’ interpretation traces responsibility for the assassination to ‘leftists and Communists’ alone; for, they contend, ‘was not Oswald a professed Marxist?’ But more crucial than the differences in these to postures are their similarities. Both presume that Lee Harvey Oswald was, in fact, guilty of the murder of the President; both by-pass an examination of whether or not this assertion is demonstrable.

Some very few Americans have taken seriously the tradition that a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty. These individuals have attempted to assess the evidence in the case. My purpose in this article is to summarise their minority enquiries, in order to make more widely known some pertinent information.

The complete case against Lee Harvey Oswald is contained in the F.B.I. and Secret Service report submitted to the Warren Commission, which is unavailable to the public. However, the essence of the ‘water-tight case’ against Oswald was presented in a nation-wide radio and television statement made by the District Attorney of Dallas, Henry Wade. This statement was made after Oswald was murdered, while still in police custody. The F.B.I. and the Secret Service have themselves ‘leaked’ to the news media information from their own subsequent investigation. What follows is a brief resume of the official reconstruction of the assassination.

Lee Harvey Oswald, positioned at the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository building (TSBD), fired three rifle shots at the President’s car as it was moving away from the building. The President was struck twice, once in the neck and once in the head; Governor Connally of Texas was struck once. This occurred between 12.30 and 12.31. Oswald then walked down four flights of stairs to the second floor of the building, where he took a coke from the coke-machine. A policeman who rushed into the building immediately after the shooting approached Oswald, selecting him from among several persons gathered around the coke-machine. But the owner of the TSBD, who was accompanying the policeman, intervened and stated that Oswald ‘works in the building.’ Presumably satisfied by this comment, the policeman discontinued his interrogation and ran to the sixth floor. It is only after this brief encounter with the law that Oswald is alleged to have fled the building itself. He supposedly walked several blocks to catch a bus, which he rode for several more blocks; he then hailed a taxi and rode four miles to his apartment. After taking a jacket from his room, he left; and some time later he shot a policeman, officer Tippit. Finally, it is alleged, Oswald entered a movie theatre where his ‘suspicious movements’ caused the cashier to call for the police. It was in the theatre that Oswald was arrested.

The official account of the Kennedy assassination consists of assertions about (a) the murder weapon; (B) the place from which the shots were fired, and the number of shots fired; © the escape of the alleged assassin; and (d) the murder of officer Tippit. I will critically examine each aspect in turn, questioning the plausibility of the official account and pointing out the significant discrepancies that appear when earlier explanations are matched against the final account that I have just outlined.

(a) Weapon

There is on file in Dallas an affidavit by the police officer who found a rifle on the sixth floor of the TSBD. That affidavit states that the weapon was a 7.65 mm Mauser. Wade, on November 22, stated that this was the murder weapon, and that Oswald’s palm-print was found on the weapon. The next day the F.B.I. released a report that Oswald had purchased a rifle in March under the alias Hiddel. But this rifle was a 6.5 mm Italian carbine. After this report, Wade reversed his position; the rifle he had in his possession was now an Italian carbine; it was no longer a Mauser. It was after this F.B.I. report that Wade announced that he knew Oswald used the alias Hiddel – because he had found an identification card in this name on Oswald’s person at the time of his arrest. But Wade did not explain why this alias was not released the previous day when he had asserted that Oswald used the alias Lee. The omission is most puzzling when one considers that the alias Lee was not immediately accessible to the Dallas authorities (as was the alias Hiddel), but had to be uncovered by a separate investigation.

Aside from questions about the rifle itself and the alias under which it was purchased, what evidence is there that Oswald fired the rifle? The results of paraffin tests, administered to Oswald to determine whether or not he had recently fired a weapon, are on record in Dallas. While positive results in such tests can be produced by contact with substances other than gunpowder, negative results definitely indicate that a person has not recently fired a weapon. The firing of a rifle leaves gunpowder traces on the hands and face, if it is fired from the shoulder. And it would seem rather ridiculous for a person to have fired a rifle with telescopic sights from the hip. The results of the paraffin tests were positive for Oswald’s right and left hands. The paraffin tests on Oswald’s face proved negative. Moreover, contrary to Wade’s assertion on November 22 about palm-prints, the F.B.I. now states that ‘no palm-prints were found on the rifle.’

(B) Scene of the Shooting

The crucial question here is to reconcile the nature of the wounds inflicted on the President with the unwavering contention that the shots were fired from the Texas School Book Depository building. Let us follow the changing official reports as they attempt such a reconciliation.

The three doctors who attended the President at Parkland Memorial Hospital immediately after the shooting stated to reporters at the hospital that one of the bullets had entered the President’s throat ‘just below the Adam’s apple.’ There is a great deal of difference between an entrance and an exit wound, and all three doctors claimed to have dealt daily with gun wounds. The bullet, these doctors further stated, ranged downward without exiting. If the President had been shot as his car approached the TSBD along Houston Street, then the nature of the throat wound would be consistent with the allegation that the shots were fired from the sixth floor of that building. This was the first F.B.I. interpretation. But all the witnesses as well as the photographs of the shooting made clear that the car had already made the turn and was heading towards the overpass when the first shot was fired in the President’s throat. Photographs indicate his car was seventy-five to one hundred yards past the building. The F.B.I. next argued that the President had turned his head around (almost 180 degrees) and was looking back when the first shot was fired. Mrs. Connally contradicted this by stating that she was speaking to the President immediately before he was shot – and she was sitting directly in front of Mrs. Kennedy. The films also show the President facing forward as the first shot struck him. How, then, can a bullet shot from behind enter Kennedy’s throat from the front?

If the place of the shooting is fixed, if the posture of the President is fixed, then the consistency of the final account can only be achieved by altering the initial interpretation about the nature of the President’s wound. After the three physicians were questioned by the F.B.I. they issued a statement reversing their earlier view – on which they had been unanimous and definite. The throat wound, they now say, is an exit wound. These doctors state that they are, however, unable to talk to reporters or to discuss the matter further.

But there remain other pieces of information which officials have not reconciled with the latest statement of the doctors. The first police bulletin, overheard by a reporter waiting for the President’s motorcade at a point farther along the route, was that ‘all firing appears to have come from the overpass’ – in front of the car. The first radio accounts of the assassination stated that a policeman rushed to the overpass and was seen chasing two persons on the overpass. Ominously, nothing further is ever mentioned about this report. The front windshield of the President’s car had a bullet hole in it. The Secret Service prevented reporters at the hospital from coming close enough to determine the direction of the bullet. The car was then flown back to Washington and remained in the custody of the Secret Service. Eight days later, the windshield of the car was replaced. (It is not known whether the shattered windshield was destroyed.) Finally, four reporters of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses to the assassination, who were standing between the overpass and the TSBD, all claim that the shots were fired from in front of the President’s car.

How many shots were there altogether? According to the official report three shots were fired. But there appears to be five bullets. A fragmented bullet was found in the car (this is most likely the bullet which struck the President in the head and then exited); there was the bullet that ‘struck’ the President in the throat; there was the bullet that struck Governor Connally; there was a bullet found by the Secret Service on a stretcher, presumably the President’s (although its origin is by no means definite); and there was a bullet found by a Dallas policeman in the grass at the point where the other shots struck the President and the Governor. Did Oswald now fire five shots in five and a half seconds, when rifle experts are highly sceptical that an excellent marksman could have accurately fired three shots in that time?

c) The Escape

Is it possible for Oswald to have done everything the official account attributes to him between the time of the shooting and his arrival at his apartment? The shooting took place between 12.30 and 12.31. Oswald arrived at his apartment, according to his landlady, at 12.45. Another account states he arrived at 1.0 p.m. This report also mentions ‘choked downtown traffic.’

According to the official version, Oswald’s taxi ride was about four miles. In uncongested traffic, the taxi could average twenty miles per hour, and the journey would then take twelve minutes. Thus if Oswald arrived at 12.45, he would have had two minutes to (a) hide the weapon; (B) walk from the sixth floor to the second floor; © find coins and get a coke from the machine; (d) converse with a policeman; (e) leave the building and walk four blocks to a bus; (f) ride the bus several blocks; and (g) get off the bus and hail a taxi. But if the traffic were congested, a taxi could only average about ten miles per hour. Even if we allow that Oswald did not arrive in this case until 1.0 p.m., he would still have not more than five minutes to accomplish these same acts.

It does not seem too plausible that the alleged sequence of events could have taken place within the allotted time. But official reversals cast even further doubt on the validity of their interpretations. According to Wade’s first account, the taxi-driver who picked up Oswald was named Darryl Click. But when private investigation indicated that Mr. Click had never driven a taxi in Dallas, District Attorney Wade reversed his statement. The name of the taxi-driver was now given as one William Waley.

If Oswald were the assassin, what motive would he have for returning to his apartment? Was it only to pick up his jacket, which is the police account? Mrs. Kennedy complained that afternoon of the ‘sweltering heat.’ If Oswald was returning to facilitate his escape, why, then, did he leave 150 dollars in the dresser of his room? He had only thirteen dollars in his pocket when he was arrested. For a man who had supposedly planned the assassination and carried it out so successfully, he was remarkably ‘unplanned’ and chaotic in making his escape.

(d) Murder of Tippit

Oswald, it should be remembered, was first arrested for the murder of officer Tippit. This, too, was a ‘water-tight case.’ District Attorney Wade claimed that he had sent twenty-three men to the electric chair on less evidence than that which he had against Oswald. After making several conflicting statements about where Tippit was shot, Wade ultimately acknowledged he didn’t know the scene of the crime. The one witness of the Tippit murder has sworn an affidavit describing the murderer as ‘short, stocky, and with bushy hair.’ I would describe Oswald, from the pictures I have seen, as slight, balding, and perhaps short. And what of the pistol with which Tippit was murdered? No statement was made by the police as to whether the pistol found on Oswald at the time of his arrest was the pistol which fired the shots killing Tippit. A strange omission in a ‘water-tight case.’ Wade did claim, however, that the police had a marked bullet which ‘mis-fired’ when Oswald supposedly tried to kill the arresting officer. The policeman himself gave a different account of the arrest, stating that he prevented Oswald from firing the pistol at all by placing his finger behind the trigger before Oswald could pull it. Confronted by this contradiction, Wade yet again changed his version to accord with that of the policeman. Thus at one moment Wade claims to have a marked bullet in his possession; the next moment he denies he has such physical evidence. In the Tippit case, as in the Kennedy case, there is distortion, a reversal of interpretations and a mishandling of crucial physical evidence.

It might be argued in defence of the investigating agencies that in the atmosphere of excitement that followed Kennedy’s assassination contradictions and imprecisions were due to ‘honest’ confusion. Granted that confusion existed, why then should the officials be continuously certain of one thing, Oswald’s guilt? Why is Oswald’s presumed guilt the constant in this sea of incomplete and conflicting evidence? Now, supposedly, the confusions have been clarified into a single consistent and convincing account. But if the case is consistent and convincing, why should witnesses refuse to comment to the press after they have been questioned by the F.B.I.? Why has Marina Oswald been held in the custody of the Secret Service since the murder of her husband, more than two months ago? She has had no direct and personal contact with any of her friends, with her mother-in-law, or with any reporter. Every communication to her, and every statement by her, first passes through the hands of a public-relations officer and a lawyer appointed ‘in her interest’ by the Secret Service. Why, if the case is so convincing, has physical evidence, such as the windshield of the President’s car, been unavailable for public examination? An alternative hypothesis to that of ‘honest’ confusion is the hypothesis that the initial confusion and the present secrecy are attributable to incongruities between the presumption of Oswald’s guilt and the inadequacy and intransigence of the evidence which would validate such a presumption.

And if the evidence is ‘intransigent,’ as a critical examination of the official account seems to demonstrate, why have the Dallas police, the F.B.I. and the Secret Service been so unrelenting in their efforts to prove Oswald’s guilt? In the pressure for an arrest, did the Dallas police consider Oswald an appropriate scapegoat because he was first on their list of ‘subversives’?

The Federal agencies may have different motives. One hypothesis, which certainly cannot be conclusively demonstrated, suggests that Oswald worked for Federal investigatory agencies such as the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. This hypothesis seeks to account for otherwise unexplained incidents in Oswald’s life. While Oswald was employed he worked at minimum wages; but more frequently he was unemployed. Yet somehow he had the financial resources to travel to Mexico, to print political literature privately, and to pay a stenographer to transcribe a book critical of the Soviet Union which he was writing. The F.B.I. early acknowledged that Oswald regularly received money through the mail; but it has not yet stated the source. If the money came from a ‘left-wing’ organisation, what reason could the F.B.I. have for keeping this secret? Oswald had in his possession the private phone number and the automobile license number of the F.B.I. official in charge of ‘subversives’ in Dallas. This information is not obtainable from the telephone directory. Moreover, the agent had contacted Oswald several times before the assassination.

Passports are not quickly granted; and Cuban sympathisers have found them particularly difficult to obtain. But despite Oswald’s ‘defection’ to the Soviet Union, despite his activity in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, he was able to obtain a passport ‘within a single day.’ With this passport he travelled to Mexico City to try to obtain visas to travel to Cuba and the Soviet Union. Both countries refused him entrance.

Most striking is the fact that Oswald was not under surveillance during the President’s visit. Supposedly, the greatest security precautions ever taken to protect a President were instituted in Dallas. (The night before Kennedy’s arrival, posters were pasted which showed front and side views of the President under the caption: ‘Wanted – Dead or Alive.’) People who advocated integration of Texas schools were under surveillance, but this ‘Marxist,’ ‘defector,’ ‘pro-Castroite’ was unwatched. One is led to ask: is the F.B.I. trying to close the case in order to hide the fact that Oswald was in their employ, or in the employ of another investigatory agency?

The Warren Commission – which includes Allen Dulles, former head of the C.I.A.; John McCloy; Senator Russell of Georgia; Congressman Boggs of Louisiana; Senator Cooper of Kentucky; Congressman Ford of Michigan – might be a source of some consolation if it were probing for an answer to these worrisome questions. Ironically, the Commission provokes more questions about its own operation than it allays about the operation of other agencies. Its hearings are conducted in secret; and it appears to be restricting itself to a re-examination of the F.B.I. and Secret Service evidence. The accused’s constitutional rights to due process of the law, to public trial, to a defence attorney, to the cross-examination of prosecution evidence and witnesses – all these safeguards institutionalised in court procedure have been ignored in the hearing of this Commission. Why, one must ask, does the Warren Commission judge in camera, and by such arbitrary procedures?

*For those readers who wish to pursue these arguments further, I refer them to the following articles: ‘Defense Brief for Oswald,’ by Mark Lane (National Guardian, December 19, 1963); ‘Seeds of Doubt,’ by Jack Minnis and Staughton Lynd (New Republic, December 21, 1963); ‘Oswald and the F.B.I.,’ by Harold Feldman (Nation, January 27, 1964).

The Spectator, 3 April 1964, p.435

Editorial: Open Justice

By Iain Macleod

That justice should be seen to be done is, for democratic countries, obvious enough. Equally there are ill-defined areas concerning the operation of the security services and (more doubtfully) the ‘interests of the State’ where it may be undesirable to hold an inquiry under the spotlight of press and especially television scrutiny. For both Britain and the United States1963 brought difficult decisions in this difficult field. The cases range from Vassall to Bobby Baker, from the Ward-Profumo-Keeler circus to the stunning tragedy of the assassination of President Kennedy.

So far in Britain we have failed to find an acceptable approach. The interests of the State can only too easily become the interests of the Government or of particular Ministers: the instinctive feeling of an Opposition is always that where there is a wisp of smoke there is likely to be a forest fire. All too often the heavy artillery of the 1921 Tribunal system is in the end hauled into action. When the hearing is concluded everyone agrees that the method is hopelessly unsatisfactory and should not be used. Yet when the next case breaks, the ancient weapon is trundled out again. It is true that the worst defects of procedure, so apparent, for example, in the Belcher case, have been removed. Yet Tribunals held in public suffer from the twin disadvantages that innocent people always seem to be caught in the web, and charges made against those who are not on trial often go too long unanswered, and the refutation when at last it comes never attracts the publicity of the privileged accusation. Tribunal-type inquiries held in private, however excellent the reasons may be, always incur the charge of being a ‘cover-up’ operation by the Government.

There are, of course, cases where a Select Committee of the House of Commons could avoid some of the dangers inherent in the Tribunal procedure, but the memory of the Marconi case warns against the use of this method when political passions run high. At least 1963 saw the first real recognition by the leaders of the political parties there was a serious unresolved problem here, and saw also the first steps towards a solution.

The dilemma has been well put by Mr. Macmillan to the House of Commons. He has described with what mixed feelings he heard of the discovery of a spy in the public service. The Security Services were naturally elated: Mr. Macmillan, who knew that he must endure ordeal by Parliament, was less enthusiastic. We all know that spies exist, and the first reaction to their detection should be one of appreciation rather than scorn. The new procedures for preliminary investigation may perhaps encourage this more adult appraisal.

In the United States the approach is very different. The contract between what is debated in public and what is decided in private puzzles her friends. Perhaps the best of all advertisements for democracy was the American decision to show her space programme on television, and allow the watching world to share her triumph or her failure. Yet in the hideous tragedy of the late President’s murder the United States has seemed determined to throw open the scenes that should be veiled, and to veil the investigations that might with advantage be exposed. It was natural that the motorcade should be shown to the nation, for no one could foresee the grim curtain line that was still to be spoken. But it still seems incredible that the transfer of Lee Harvey Oswald, and so his murder, should have been shown to millions of people on television. It seems incredible that the nation and the world should have been allowed to eavesdrop on the verdict and sentence of the jury. And in the light of her tradition of open inquiry openly conducted it is bound to give rise to questions if the Warren Commission does not sit in public.

Some of these questions have been asked in the columns of the Spectator. In such a terrible moment when the whole world (except for its bigots) mourns for one man the United States should not feel offended if her many friends, and the Spectator ranks herself proudly with them, long to know the truth. In petty crimes as in great tragedies, the simplest, most obvious, answer is probably the true one. So with the Riddle of Dallas.

Only America’s enemies can gain from the unanswered questions that a discreet and private inquiry must throw up. Perhaps it is not yet too late to urge upon that the United States has herself most to gain from the full clamour of modern publicity into every corner of this tragedy.

The Spectator, 10 April 1964, pp.172-173

Waiting for the verdict on Oswald

By Murray Kempton

We are likely to wait until June before we have a report from Chief Justice Earl Warren and the seven other representative Americans whom President Johnson appointed to find for us an official and, we prayerfully hope, a definitive judgment on the circumstances of Mr. Kennedy’s assassination.

The Warren Commission has heard fifty witnesses and studied summaries of the recollections of a hundred more. It expects to spend another month listening to more testimony and a number of weeks thereafter to assemble its findings. It is our pride, of course, to think of ours as a government of laws rather than of men. But moments like these remind us how much more we are a government of laws terribly dependent upon men. Our dependence on Mr. Justice Warren amounts to a surrender of our faculties almost total. What we ask of him is a verdict we are able to accept as the truth and a truth no worse than the dreadful one we already know. We need to believe that Lee Oswald acted by himself and that what happened in Dallas was lonely and absurd and without the smallest explanation in reason. Any explanation in reason would leave us to face the condition that a number of our own citizens joined together to kill a man whom all Americans should have cherished as a person and as a symbol, and anyone who asks that asks too much of us. We seek a judgment that would both comfort and convince us.

Mr. Allen Dulles, a commission member and former director of the CIA, said last week that the mail-order rifle, assumed to be the murder weapon, ‘bore, among others, the fingerprints of Lee Oswald.’ This is a statement harder to take than anything the FBI has said about fingerprint evidence so far. Still, there is something about this case which never lays to one question to rest without raising another. Whose are the other fingerprints of whose existence Mr. Dulles incidentally informs us? Some of them at least have an obvious origin which, however innocent, is certainly unfortunate. After the rifle was found, one Dallas policeman was photographed holding it in the air with his bare hands; the next day another policeman appeared in the prints holding it carelessly by the sling. Each of these displays, offered for no reason but journalistic convenience, must have left fingerprints behind; and each was a breach of elementary police practice. The most critical piece of evidence in the most important murder in the lifetime of every American was handled like a stage prop; we depend on Mr. Justice Warren and he depends in turn for the truth on pieces of evidence picked over and mishandled by policemen.

I do not contend that Lee Oswald was innocent. Yet it is hard not to notice how glad every law enforcement was to believe that, having found Oswald, there was nowhere further to look. It seems to have become the law’s business in those early hours to keep us from asking why it could not protect Mr. Kennedy from a murder which was unthinkable by showing us how efficiently it could prevent Lee Oswald from an escape which would have been merely embarrassing. Ever since, there have remained discrepancies in the official version of Oswald’s capture which, if they are not indicative of a frame-up, can only be explained as exaggerations of the speed and efficiency with which the Dallas police reacted.

They could not have moved into the Texas Book Depository at once and in force, as their chief says they did, and still given Lee Oswald time to leave what they say was his hiding-place, dispose of what they say was his rifle, and be four flights down drinking a Coca-Cola in time to greet the first policeman to arrive. The police could not then have given Oswald time to leave and called the rest of the book depository’s employees to a formation and discovered Oswald missing and put out a perfect description as a wanted call on their radio, all in the space of one minute. And yet , when Justice Warren puzzles over these prodigies of logistics, there is no place for him to seek the answers except from the Dallas Police Department. In the same way, if he wants a full report on Lee Oswald’s relations with the FBI – both as informer and person informed upon – he can only ask Mr. J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s director, and trust him to accept the consequent risks of institutional embarrassment.

To think about Justice Warren’s problem is to come to a peripheral but none the less curious mystery. That is, the role of the American reporter, who at his very good best is the most active and persistent of his breed on earth. The Kennedy murder is full of puzzles; yet our journalists look at them with a languor and an anxiety not to ask questions which has never fallen on us before. We have left the questions to amateurs and strangers; books on the plot to kill Mr. Kennedy are reported best-sellers in France and Brazil. It is possible to dismiss these things as fantasy. But there remain areas of doubt perfectly realistic and subject to workmanlike inquiry which American reporters simply refuse to engage. Mr. Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post Dispatch raised a few questions in the wake of Mr. Kennedy’s murder, but seems to fallen back discouraged since; I have seen no evidence that any American reporter is stirring with the curiosity which he would normally bring to any police case so untidy.

I do not think this neglect comes from complacency; most of what the world knows about the deficiencies of the United States was set forth for it by American journalists. I am afraid we have been rendered immobile by shock. I myself am readier than most to believe the worst about our institutions. Still, when I was in Dallas, I went to the Book Depository to look out of the window which Oswald is supposed to have used. I felt like a tourist and an intruder, and I was automatically comforted at how close the range seemed and how plausible for the powers of an ordinary marksman; I should, I am afraid, have been upset if it had seemed too far away.

We have failed in our duty, then; our excuse – and a poor one – is that we are wounded. The nature of that wound is best described in the experience of Thomas Buchanan, an expatriate American, who has composed for L’Express the most elaborate and ingenious of all the conspiracy theories – one which embraces Jack Ruby for the Mafia; some six Dallas policemen, one of whom was the real assassin; the John Birch Society for tactical planning; and an H. L. Hunt-model Texas millionaire for finance. The editor of L’Express found it all so persuasive that the sent Buchanan here to tell our Department of Justice, and Buchanan went home terribly saddened by how coldly he was treated bearing this gift of so many public pests.

But the Justice Department is captained by Mr. Kennedy’s brother and staffed with his old friends. I can imagine how terrible it would be for them to accept the idea that this could be a conspiracy. For I, a mere acquaintance, know how much I want to believe that whoever killed Mr. Kennedy acted alone; I just do not want any other American to have a piece of this thing. We blame the Continent for inventing conspiracies; yet we ourselves cling to one man almost to the point where we would need to have invented him. We are in shock and in forfeit and have lain the whole duty of our critical judgment on Mr. Justice Warren.

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Thank you for posting these fascinating articles. I was not aware that the Spectator took this position in 1964. Do you know if they published any other articles on the JFK assassination after April 1964?

Ian Gilmour was a principled politician whose political career was destroyed by his opposition to Thatcher's policies in the 1980s. He was right on every account and it was sickening to see Brown praising this woman last week.

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The Spectator, 6 March 1964, pp.305-306

The Riddle of Dallas

By Mordecai Brienberg

The author of this article, a former Rhodes Scholar from Canada, is a lecturer in sociology at Berkeley, California.

There are two widely held interpretations of President Kennedy’s assassination and the events in Dallas. The ‘liberal’ position contends that Lee Harvey Oswald was a product of the hatred and the violence preached by the ‘extremists of all kinds.’ In this view, radicals of the right and the left are responsible for the assassination. The ‘conservative’ interpretation traces responsibility for the assassination to ‘leftists and Communists’ alone; for, they contend, ‘was not Oswald a professed Marxist?’ But more crucial than the differences in these to postures are their similarities. Both presume that Lee Harvey Oswald was, in fact, guilty of the murder of the President; both by-pass an examination of whether or not this assertion is demonstrable.

In its next edition, 13 March 1964 (p.343),The Spectator’s letters pages carried an attack on Brienberg’s article from, to this reader at least, a surprising joint source – Richard Gombrich, soon-to-be Oxford lecturer in Indology; and Martin Gilbert, the historian (of all things Churchill, in particular.) Brienberg replied three weeks later:

Mordecai Brienberg, “Letters: The Riddle of Dallas,” The Spectator, 3 April 1964, pp.448-9

Sir – Messrs. Gombrich and Gilbert are ungrateful when they attack District Attorney Wade, for he is the “father” of the very method they employ in their letter. Beginning with the presumption of guilt, they by-pass intransigent evidence and proceed on the basis of a cursory examination to the conclusion that Oswald alone was guilty.

Messrs. Gombrich and Gilbert do not reject most of the factual evidence I present. They ignore, for example, my discussion of (a) the murder weapon; (B) Oswald’s alleged movements after the assassination; © the murder of Tippit. They mention other evidence which I presented, but remain unaware of its implication for the official account of the assassination. Thus they are off-hand both in their discussion of the number of bullets fired, and, in their discussion of the bullet-hole in the front windshield of the President’s car. No matter how many bullets were fired, or what an examination of the windshield would reveal, their conclusion – as it is their initial and unalterable presumption – would remain unshaken. Nowhere do they allow for the possibility that more than one person might have been involved, or that shots might have been fired from several directions.

Where I have been concerned to critically examine the case against Oswald, Messrs. Gombrich and Gilbert are concerned to reaffirm that Oswald was the sole assassin. They erroneously accuse me of pretending to a complete and watertight explanation, whereas my explicit concern in the article, and in this letter, is to show the incompleteness, and contradictory nature of official claims to a total explanation.

What of the evidence which Messrs. Gombrich and Gilbert do confront directly? Initially it must be recognised that one explains nothing by attributing behaviour to excitement. All this does is to make any behaviour appear plausible, and, hence predisposes the reader to accept the arbitrarily selected evidence. Thus when Messrs. Gombrich and Gilbert argue that the doctors’ original statement about an entrance wound in the President’s throat was an error attributable to ‘an unprecedented emergency,’ they are not offering an explanation. For these same doctors, in the same ‘unprecedented emergency,’ performed an operation based on a diagnosis of the nature of the President’s wound with a competence and control that neither Messrs. Gombrich and Gilbert, nor anyone else, has challenged. And do Messrs. Gombrich and Gilbert really believe that the lengthy FBI interrogation of the doctors was simply to calm their excited nerves?

Disrespect for facts is a hallmark of their letter. They are anxious to explain away Marina Oswald’s seclusion on the grounds of ‘safety,’ ignoring the fact that Oswald’s mother had explicitly requested police protection and was refused on the ground that her safety was not endangered. Yet it was the mother, and not the wife, who was the subject of public antipathy and vilification.

The authors seek to impale me on the horns of a dilemma. Here they display an ignorance of police organisation. It was the Secret Service and not the Dallas police who were responsible for the President’s safety; and thus there is nothing contradictory about Oswald not being watched (by the Secret Service) and his being arrested (by the Dallas police). Their attempt to contest the possibility that Oswald worked for a Federal agency is pathetically humorous. While they may juxtapose the information I present, they still conclude with the contention that the FBI gave a private (not an office) phone number to a ‘subversive,’ requesting him to inform them of his whereabouts. However ‘civilised,’ calling card espionage is a figment of their imagination. I suppose Oswald was also given the licence number of an agent’s unmarked car so the he might hail the occasional ride without public embarrassment.

Messrs. Gombrich and Gilbert question that the Warren Commission is proceeding arbitrarily. What else is one to close closed hearings, the failure to provide for any public examination of the testimony and the evidence as it is presented? But the authors’ faith in this Commission is unbounded. With a final rhetorical flourish they say: ‘Certainly we want the evidence to be made public, but who says it will not be?’ Obviously Messrs. Gombrich and Gilbert have not read Mr. Warren’s own statement when he was questioned about the release of the testimony. The New York Times, February 4, quotes him as saying: ‘Yes, there will come a time. But it might not be in your lifetime.’

Not having the excuse of the Dallas environment or the immediate confusion of the assassination, Mssrs. Gombrich and Gilbert’s letter still stands on a par with the ratiocination of District Attorney Wade. The general point is that it is not sufficient to scapegoat the Dallas police when other individuals and institutions, which flatter themselves on being more responsible, are merely seeking to legitimate the initial distortions.

For reasons which escape me, I’ve not been able to take Martin Gilbert seriously since learning of this exchange.

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Thank you for posting these fascinating articles. I was not aware that the Spectator took this position in 1964. Do you know if they published any other articles on the JFK assassination after April 1964?

It did, John, but to the best of my recollection, none were as good as Brienberg's. I have a list somewhere and will attempt to find it.

By the way, Iain Macleod, Tory MP and future Chancellor of the Exchequer, was number 18 on Bertrand Russell's list of prospective members for the "Who Killed Kennedy?" Committee. Macleod declined membership, but, as demonstrated, that didn't stop him from publishing Brienberg.

Ian Gilmour was a principled politician whose political career was destroyed by his opposition to Thatcher's policies in the 1980s. He was right on every account and it was sickening to see Brown praising this woman last week.


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John Simkin said:
Thank you for posting these fascinating articles. I was not aware that the Spectator took this position in 1964. Do you know if they published any other articles on the JFK assassination after April 1964?

The Spectator on the assassination of JFK

The following list is taken from DeLloyd J. Guth & David R. Wrone. The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: A Comprehensive Historical and Legal Bibliography, 1963-1979 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980). The Guth and Wrone citations are in parentheses at each entry’s end, first page, then item number.

Editorial, “Death of a Modern,” 29 November 1963, (7066), p.681 (G&W: 151, 1332)

Murray Kempton, “The Roman Way,” 29 November 1963, (706), p.683 (G&W: 146, 1240)

Robert Conquest, “A Spectator's Notebook: What killed Kennedy? The Mythsmiths [The haste among some newsmen to blame everyone],” 29 November 1963, (7066), p.684: (G&W: 166, 1544)*

Nicholas Davenport, “A Johnson Boom,” 6 December 1963, (7067), p.766: (G&W: 141, 1165)

Mary Holland, “Failures and Heroes [Reactions in the Irish Republic],” 3 January 1964, p.25: (G&W: 145, 1234)

Emma Booker, “Frost at Midnight [international tribute through the arts],” 31 January 1964, (7075), p.146: (G&W: 157, 1423)

Murray Kempton, “Jack Ruby – Surviving Victim,” 28 February 1964, (7079), p.270: (G&W: 227, 2503)

Mordecai Brienberg, “The Riddle of Dallas,” 6 March 1964, (7080), pp.305-6: (G&W: 99, 550)

Richard Gombrich & Martin Gilbert, “Letters: The Riddle of Dallas,” 13 March 1964, (7081), p.343: (G&W: 100, 563)

Mordecai Brienberg, “Letters: The Riddle of Dallas,” 3 April 1964, (7084), pp.448-9: (G&W: 99, 550)

Editorial (Iain Macleod), “Open Justice,” 3 April 1964, (7084), pp.435: (G&W: 105, 651)

Murray Kempton, “Waiting for the verdict on Oswald,” 10 April 1964, (7085), pp.472-3: (G&W: 91, 419)

Murray Kempton, “The Warren Report – Reasonable Doubt,” 2 October 1964, (7110), pp.428-9: (G&W: 117, 815)

Murray Kempton, “Looking back on the anniversary,” 4 December 1964, (7119), pp.778-9: (G&W: 159, 1443)

Quoodle (Iain Macleod), “Spectator's Notebook: J.F.K. [Reviews USIA's film],” 26 February 1965, (7131), p.255: (136, 1095)

Iain Macleod's first edition in charge was that of 29 November 1963; his first editorial on 6 December: He resigned the editorship on 11 October 1965, though he did not vacate his office until 30 December. See Robert Shepherd’s Iain Macleod: A Biography (London: Random House, 1994), pp.412-5, in particular.

R.A. Cline, “Warren in the dock: Who killed Kennedy? [Reviews Lane & Epstein],” 23 September 1966, (7213), pp.371-2: (G&W: 114, 763)

Murray Kempton, “Ruby, Oswald and the State,” 21 October 1966, (7217), pp.505-506: (G&W: 228, 2507)

Murray Kempton, “A Queen and her servant [Manchester's Death of a President],” 23 December 1966, (7226), pp.806-7: (G&W: 199, 2055)

Murray Kempton, “America [Kennedys vs. Look magazine and William Manchester],” 6 January 1967, (7228), pp.5-6: (G&W: 199, 2056)

Murray Kempton, “The Disposable Jack Ruby,” 13 January 1967, (7229), p.35: (G&W: 228, 2508)

R.A. Cline, “Post-script to Warren [by A.L. Goodhart],” 27 January 1967, (7231), p.99: (G&W: 114, 764)

Alan W.B. Simpson, “Letters: Post-script to Warren [Critique of R.A. Cline],” 3 February 1967, p.133: (G&W: 121, 868)

Stuart Hood, “Television: The Marathon [Lane's Rush to Judgment on BBC2], 3 February 1967, (7232), pp.131-2: (G&W: 167, 1561)

Randolph Churchill, “Shivs, Kazzazza and Code 4,” 21 April 1967, (7243), pp.447-449: (G&W: 198, 2034?5)

* Conquest had worked for British intelligence’s notorious far-right propaganda arm, the Information Research Department. Was this piece the consequence of an official briefing from his “former employer,” in effect, the IRD “party” line? The section in his weekly column entitled, “What killed Kennedy?,” concludes with a prime piece of establishment pseudo-wisdom: “In fact, those who, either way, would blame political orientation for any of the crimes of our epoch are acquitting the true offender – political fanaticism, swinish idealism.” His second section in response to Kennedy’s murder, “The Mythsmiths,” finished with a hymn to that old favourite of establishment conspirators, “lone fanatics.”

As Pasternak once wrote: "This age will pass; the scorching beam will cool/ Turn charcoal-black, and curiosity/ One day will pore by candlelight in archives/ For works which thrill and dazzle men today./ What now passes for clarity and wisdom/ Our grandsons will regard as raving…,” (Encounter, July 1970, p.17).

Curiosity did, with the result we can now see Conquest for what he was: a servant of power every bit as unscrupulous and unprincipled as the Soviet ideologues he invited us – not without reason, for sure - to hold in contempt.

Edited by Paul Rigby
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