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Historians and the JFK Assassination


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  • 1 year later...
I agree that the Left's history on the Kennedy case is pretty abysmal. Ray Marcus noted this a long time ago, after he tried to engage the interest of such left-wing icons -- back in the '60s -- as Chomsky and Howard Zinn. Cockburn is a disaster of muddled thinking on this. And of course the Nation has been a repository for some of the most wrong-headed journalism on the subject for years.

I ascribe this to the Left's insistence that JFK was a Cold War hawk (a strange misperception they share with the Right, who yearn to embrace Kennedy as one of their own). If Kennedy was a hawk, these leftists reason, how could he have been the victim of a right-wing plot? I suspect it also has something to do with the limitations of Marxist theory -- which doesn't allow for complex analyses of the "ruling class" and how violent splits can occur within it.

Considering this, I guess I should not have been surprised that the most snide and dismissive review of my book so far appeared in the liberal Boston Globe and was penned by an editor of the American Prospect, the lefty political journal. He sang Bugliosi's praises, while brushing my book off as the gossipy rantings of a lunatic.

Of course, there have been some notable exceptions in the Left's coverage of Dallas -- Ramparts magazine in the 60s (as well as the more obscure but important Minority of One journal) and hey, Salon today (I take the blame for that). But by and large it has not been a pretty picture.

I agree “that the Left's history on the Kennedy case is pretty abysmal”. However, I do not believe this has anything to do with the “Left's insistence that JFK was a Cold War hawk” or that it has anything to do with “the limitations of Marxist theory.”

It is interesting that the left initially favoured the idea that JFK was killed as part of a right-wing conspiracy. This is reflected in the early books in the case by Thomas Buchanan (Who Killed Kennedy – 1964) and Joachim Joesten (Oswald, Assassin or Fall Guy? - 1964).

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKbuchananT.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKjoesten.htm

The same was true of the left in the UK. For example, see the Bertrand Russell led campaign against the Warren Commission:

http://karws.gso.uri.edu/JFK/the_critics/r...ns_Russell.html

Mark Lane was also very much a left-wing figure when he published a Rush to Judgment in 1966. In fact, it was the left-wing views of people like Buchanan, Joesten, Russell and Lane, which were used against them at the time. Their critics often pointed out that they were part of a “communist” inspired campaign to undermine United States democracy.

Since becoming interested in the assassination of JFK I have tried to persuade left-wing friends to take an interest in the case. This has been largely unsuccessful. What is more, they have tried to persuade me to leave the case alone. Their claim that this involvement in the case will undermine my credibility as an historian - is very revealing. I believe this goes to the heart of the problem.

I have argued via my investigation of Operation Mockingbird that the CIA has successfully used the media to cover-up the truth about the assassination of JFK.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKmockingbird.htm

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=5142

However, the cover-up is only part of the story. More importantly, this campaign has been about shaping our understanding of language. For example, the meaning of the word “conspiracy”.

Here is how one dictionary defines the word:

1. An agreement to perform together an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act.

2. A group of conspirators.

3. Law. An agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime or accomplish a legal purpose through illegal action.

4. A joining or acting together, as if by sinister design.

I have no problem with this definition. In fact, the term “conspiracy” could rightfully be applied to many political events. However, anyone who questions the official story of the JFK assassination are always described as a “conspiracy theorist”. This gives it a whole new meaning.

This is how Wikipedia defines “conspiracy theorists”:

A conspiracy theory attempts to attribute the ultimate cause of an event or chain of events (usually political, social, or historical events), or the concealment of such causes from public knowledge, to a secret, and often deceptive, plot by a covert alliance of powerful or influential people or organizations. Many conspiracy theories claim that major events in history have been dominated by conspirators who manipulate political happenings from behind the scenes.

The first recorded use of the phrase "conspiracy theory" dates back to an economics article in the 1920s, but it was only in the 1960s that it entered popular usage. It entered the supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary as late as 1997.

The term "conspiracy theory" is used by mainstream scholars and in popular culture to identify a type of folklore similar to an urban legend, especially an explanatory narrative which is constructed with particular methodological flaws. The term is also used pejoratively to dismiss claims that are alleged by critics to be misconceived, paranoid, unfounded, outlandish, irrational, or otherwise unworthy of serious consideration. For example "Conspiracy nut" and "conspiracy theorist" are used as pejorative terms. Some whose theories or speculations are labeled a "conspiracy theory" reject the term as prejudicial.

The term "conspiracy theory" may be a neutral descriptor for any conspiracy claim. To conspire means "to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end." However, conspiracy theory is also used to indicate a narrative genre that includes a broad selection of (not necessarily related) arguments for the existence of grand conspiracies, any of which might have far-reaching social and political implications if true.

Whether or not a particular conspiracy allegation may be impartially or neutrally labeled a conspiracy theory is subject to some controversy. Conspiracy theory has become a highly charged political term, and the broad critique of 'conspiracy theorists' by academics, politicians, psychologists, and the media cuts across traditional left-right political lines.

Understandably, journalists, historians and politicians are reluctant to be accused of being a “conspiracy theorist”. Historians are particularly concerned about being described as “conspiracy theorists”. It would be highly damaging to their career to be seen in this way.

It is not so much that historians have gone along with the idea that JFK was killed by a lone gunman. These books are usually written by journalists or lawyers willing to sell their services to the highest bidder. The historians have kept out of this debate by refusing to look into JFK’s death.

There is also another factor in the reason why historians have left this subject alone. For example, I interviewed David Kaiser about this issue on the forum. David is professor in the Strategy and Policy Department of the Naval War College and the author of Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler (1990) and American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War (2000). He is currently working on a book on Lee Harvey Oswald:

JS: Is there any real difference between the role of an investigative journalist and a historian?

DK: Yes - a lot. The investigative journalist relies mainly on interviews. The historian relies mainly on documents. There is overlap, but that's the main difference.

JS: 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?

DK: Political history in general is very unfashionable, and before me, only one professional historian, John Newman, has written about the JFK case. It frightens people because so many crazy folk are involved with it, I think. It also requies a huge time commitment.

JS: 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?

DK: The basic rule is that before-the-fact (in this case, pre-November 1963) documents are more important than after-the-fact ones. There's a hierarchy of evidence. People who come forward years later with stories are suspect, and if they said something different at the time, one has to discount them heavily. Meanwhile, one has to read as many documents as possible to understand the context of a particular event. Almost everything Oswald did looks, actually, like part of something bigger that was happening at the time.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=6853

This exchange explains the problem for historians. It also explains why some historians who have reviewed David Talbot’s book have described it as “gossipy”. Historians are uneasy about the use of interviews as evidence. They are also aware that writing about “secret history” is very time consuming. They are also aware that the government can keep documents from public view by claiming that they pose a threat to national security.

Although not a professional historian, Larry Hancock (Someone Would Have Talked – 2007), has produced an account of the JFK assassination that has been based on released government documents. It is no coincidence that his book was completely ignored when it was published earlier this year.

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John, I'm told that I also have the honor of having totally escaped the notice of Mr. Bugliosi.

Not that I'm complaining since I don't generally enjoy being called names and having my ethics and paternity questioned...but it might also reflect that Vince's research is lagging just a bit behind the times in regard to the documents and oral histories that I present.

Then again, considering how he savaged Doug Horne - someone who is ethically and logically extremely accurate, objective and responsible and one of my personal heros... perhaps I should just keep a low profile....nah....

Would be nice to at least have his readers know about what's in SWHT though, especially since he goes to such great lengths to claim nobody ever did.

-- Larry

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John, I'm told that I also have the honor of having totally escaped the notice of Mr. Bugliosi.

Not that I'm complaining since I don't generally enjoy being called names and having my ethics and paternity questioned...but it might also reflect that Vince's research is lagging just a bit behind the times in regard to the documents and oral histories that I present.

Then again, considering how he savaged Doug Horne - someone who is ethically and logically extremely accurate, objective and responsible and one of my personal heros... perhaps I should just keep a low profile....nah....

Would be nice to at least have his readers know about what's in SWHT though, especially since he goes to such great lengths to claim nobody ever did.

-- Larry

Larry, were copies of Someone Would Have Talked sent to all the newspapers for review? Was there any attempt to get the book talked about in the media? Do you think the reaction to your book would have been any different if it had been published by a major company?

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John, we did several press releases and sent out a host of press notices to individuals. Lancer even used a commercial press service. Review copies were sent out to selected individuals although not in great numbers.

There were a few newspaper stories including one in Dallas, a few reviews - one Blog review got substantial distribution on the internet.

However, without being a known media name like David or a known name period like Bugliosi...

Actually I'm not sure a big name publisher would have made that much difference, might have helped in book store stocking but as far as the media is concerned I'm afraid my book is i) way too hard a read, ii) way too detailed and iii) not from an estblished author with a string of successful books.

My hope is more that it will serve as back up for what Talbot is doing and as a resource for real historians...some of whom I am in contact with. It is also being used in a few college history courses; I spoke at one for about half a day last week.

-- Larry

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John, we did several press releases and sent out a host of press notices to individuals. Lancer even used a commercial press service. Review copies were sent out to selected individuals although not in great numbers.

There were a few newspaper stories including one in Dallas, a few reviews - one Blog review got substantial distribution on the internet.

However, without being a known media name like David or a known name period like Bugliosi...

Actually I'm not sure a big name publisher would have made that much difference, might have helped in book store stocking but as far as the media is concerned I'm afraid my book is i) way too hard a read, ii) way too detailed and iii) not from an estblished author with a string of successful books.

My hope is more that it will serve as back up for what Talbot is doing and as a resource for real historians...some of whom I am in contact with. It is also being used in a few college history courses; I spoke at one for about half a day last week.

-- Larry

I suspect that if the book had been published by one of the major companies these problems could have been overcome. That is definitely the case if it was published in the UK. If you know the right people, books like yours can receive a lot of exposure. I will email you about this.

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Gore Vidal once wrote in the New Yorker. [when reviewing Seymour Hersh's tome The Dark Side of Camelot]

......the great disinformation apparatus put in place forty years ago, [this was in 1997]].......a monster that even now continues

to metastasize within academe and the media to such a degree that myth threatens to overthrow history.

Spin is all. Spin of past as well as present."

One can recognize a truth, without endorsing the political leanings of the person writing, [or stating, as the case may be]

that truth, a fact that seems lost on the Republicanized/corporate mass-media seven-headed hydra........

When [real] historians write about this epoch 25 years from now, they might refer to the current "right-wing media dominance" as "The Era of Political Agenda's" ........So in 2007 the political reality in the Home of the Free is that, every large city outside of the Red Zone, lol has City Council resolutions "calling for the impeachment of President Bush," the war on Iraq has been going badly, [generally speaking, countries that have been 'liberated,' get tired of their liberator's pretty quick].....add to that political intrigues regarding political cronies to run Iraq, until a constitution and a government was formed, that slowly revealed they were not qualified for the job,

See Time Magazine "CRONYISM in the Bush Administration

http://www.time.com/time/press_releases/ar...1109304,00.html

But according to the American right wing political/media nexus, that perception is......a liberal myth, liberal spin........

But in reality, the current mass-media shibboleth is something like the end of the movie The Wizard of Oz. You remember, all through the movie the Wizard is regaled as as larger than life, magical wondrous personage, but Dorothy and the Crew have their illusions shattered, when they discover, gasp....that El Wizard, is a little old man behind a panel....In this case, the Media is the ersazt Wizard...In many way's, Just a lot of smoke and mirror's.......

My point? Think about it......I am not a liberal, or a conservative but Vidal was right....We live in a country where "we" have been told.....Assassination's don't change the course of history...........The Democratic Party is more or less, responsible for practically every bad thing that has happened in America, since 1945, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton were awful President's..... As far as Iraq, last November the Democrats were making a lot of noise about bringing the troops back, then there was the ostensible Commission on What do we do about Iraq.....and then, surprise, surprise the Bill providing the funds to push on to victory, in effect, refinancing the Iraq War, passes without a problem.....Democrat's perhaps knew if they didn't go along on that, the media would blame the whole decision to get out, not on the will of the people, but on THEM......

MORAL: Re The Iraq War....."you don't get a second chance to do what should have been done right the first time...... except in countries whose leadership is not held accountable for their decisions."

There is no truth to the rumor that in a recent session of the House of Representatives, congressional leaders conferred on the American people, Most Gullible Nation status.......

Edited by Robert Howard
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  • 1 month later...

Has anyone read Michael Kurtz's book "The JFK Assassination Debates: Lone Gunman Versus Conspiracy"?

I'm just now reading his older book "Crime of the Century" and I'm very disappointed in it.

There are a number of reasons, chief among them the lack of historical context in spite of the author trumpeting the fact that he's a historian. It treats the murder of President Kennedy as an isolated event, not bothering to mention decades worth of events that lead up to it and resulted from it.

Other flaws:

-Kurtz frequently quotes Claire Booth Luce like she's the oracle. I think Fonzi et al found out the hard way that she was a CIA disinfo agent. The reliance on her undermines the credibility of the book.

-In his summary chapter about the gunshot sequence he completely ignores the neck wound. He's aware of the wound because he mentions it earlier in the book, but for some reason he leaves it out of the speculative summary chapter.

Anyway, just a few observations. I suppose I just had overly high expectations of the book.

I'm not sure if I'd even bother to read his newer one.

And of course in DiEugenio's review of "Breach of Trust" he said this:

"I was rather predisposed against reading Gerald McKnight's Breach of Trust. Most of the recent books on the JFK case had been disappointing. Not just the horrible and ridiculous Ultimate Sacrifice, but others like the efforts of Jaime Escalante and Michael Kurtz."

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Has anyone read Michael Kurtz's book "The JFK Assassination Debates: Lone Gunman Versus Conspiracy"?

I'm just now reading his older book "Crime of the Century" and I'm very disappointed in it.

I think it is a very good book. In "Crime of the Century" Kurtz's suggests that Castro might have been behind the assassination of JFK. He drops this nonsense in the "JFK Assassination Debates". There is nothing new in the book but it is a fair and balanced account of the evidence for and against a conspiracy. For example, it includes evidence of the role that Gerard Ford played in the cover-up.

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