Category Archives: JFK Assassination
The more familiar one grows with the material evidence available to the Warren Commission, the harder it is to see the Warren Commission’s failure to find the truth as a result of mere blundering or philosophical prejudice against “conspiracy theories.” That prejudice was do doubt present and operating; it seems a standard attachment to that vintage (as well as current) liberal sensibility. But there is too much here for Warren to have ignored it all by mistake or prejudice alone: the Zapruder film, the problems of the single-bullet theory, the implications of Oswald’s intelligence background, Ruby’s promise to tell some whole new story if he could be got out of Dallas. And as we now know, thanks to Judge Griffin, the scent of police and FBI obstructionism had reached the commissioners and their staff even at the time.
Is it thinkable that Warren himself was complicit in a cover-up of the truth? May we think such a thing of this paragon? Was it not mainly his reputation that made the lone-Oswald theory go down (as in the case of Connally)?
I think we are compelled to look at Warren’s reactions from the beginning all the way through the investigation in terms of what we can now divine of the cover-up, because nothing is clear if not that Warren played a key role. The cover-up could in no way have succeeded had Warren wanted to find and publish the truth.
But what could motivate a man of such unimpeachable reputation to support a cover story, an obstruction of justice, a lie beyond any lie yet told in American political life, all for the sake of the conspirator’s skin?
I too agree that Warren’s integrity is not to be doubted. It was evidently in some respects quite strong. But what if your strong integrity, for example, is confronted with a choice it is not familiar with, a problem mere integrity might not know how to solve? What if the choice is not between truth and falsehood but between falsehood and oblivion? What does “a patriot of unimpeachable integrity” do if the choice is between covering up a murder and sending a whole world to the brink of war?
Recall that Warren resisted the commission appointment to begin with and had to have his arm twisted by Johnson in a lengthy private session before agreeing to take the job, a session from which he emerged in tears everyone presumed were motivated by his love of the dead chief, but which might as easily have been motivated by something else. Warren himself suggested thereafter a different interpretation when he spoke so ominously of “national security” considerations bound up with the assassination, and then sealed up certain documents and evidence for seventy-five years (until 2039).
The cover story of Dallas appears to be many-layered. It has the internal structure of boxes within boxes within boxes. We struggle to get past the lone-Oswald theory and to assert (against all kind of psychological and pseudophilsophical as well as political defenses) the strict technical need for a conspiracy theory of some kind, that is, for a reconstruction of the crime on the premise that there was a minimum of two gunmen. The simple-minded inclination of faithful citizens is to think that this need, once established in public debate, must necessarily lead to the truth. On the contrary, the disintegration of the lone-assassin cover story only introduces us to the really difficult part of the controversy, the question of who did it if Oswald did not, or who was with him if he was not alone. And in this second phase of the controversy, the need will be to pierce the second layer of the Dallas cover, namely, the story that Oswald was a Castroite agent whose purpose was to avenge the Cuban revolution against Kennedy for the Bay of Pigs and the CIA’s attempts on Castro’s life.
This was the apparent theory of Lyndon Johnson and other right-wingers who from time to time have hinted they were never altogether convinced by the Warren conclusion. For example, Jesse Curry, Dallas police chief at the time of the assassination, said in 1969 (celebrating the coming of Nixon?) that he himself had doubts about the lone-Oswald idea, leaving out the fact that he and his department ran a big part of the investigation themselves and were responsible for much of the deception that crippled the investigation at its base. “We don’t have any proof that Oswald fired the rifle,” he said. “No one has been able to put him in that building with the gun in his hand.”
Another Texan, Lyndon Johnson in retirement, let fall a few side thoughts on the assassination to Walter Cronkite in the famous September 1969 interview and then to Time writer Leo Janos somewhat later. Janos published his report on Johnson’s last days in the Atlantic Monthly for July 1973. The relevant passage runs as follows:
During coffee, the talk turned to President Kennedy, and Johnson expressed his belief that the assassination in Dallas had been part of a conspiracy. “I never believed Oswald acted alone although I can accept that he pulled the trigger.” Johnson said that when he had taken office he found that “we had been operating a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.” A year or so before Kennedy’s death a CIA-backed assassination team had been picked up in Havana. Johnson speculated that Dallas had been a retaliation for this thwarted attempt, although he couldn’t prove it. “After the Warren Commission reported in, I asked Ramsey Clark [then Attorney General] to quietly look into the whole thing. Only two weeks later he reported back that he couldn’t find anything new.” Disgust tinged Johnson’s voice as the conversation came to an end. “I thought I had appointed Tom Clark’s son – I was wrong.”
Then on April 25, 1975, CBS released a formerly unreleased segment of Cronkite’s September 1969 interview with Johnson containing the same views quoted by Janos, but a little less explicitly put. Cronkite asks Johnson if he through there was an “international connection” in the Kennedy murder, and Johnson puckers his eyes, stares at Cronkite, waits a moment, then says he cannot “completely discount” it. “However,” he goes on, “I don’t think we ought to discuss suspicions because there’s not any hard evidence that Oswald was directed by a foreign government. Or that his sympathies for other governments could have spurred him on in the effort. But he was quite a mysterious fellow and he did have connections that bore examination on the extent of the influence of those connections on him, and I think history will deal with much more than we are able to now.” The Warren people, “did the best they could. …But I don’t think that they, or me or anyone else is always absolutely sure of everything that might have motivated Oswald or others that could have been involved.
The Oswald connections that Johnson wants us to think about (remember both he and Police Chief Curry are expressing these doubts about warren at the springtide of Nixon power, 1969) are the connections implied by his defection to Soviet Russia and his membership in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. We have seen that these are peculiar connections – whether Johnson knew it or not, by the way, and whether Warren knew it or not. Oswald is much more substantially linked into the U.S. than into the USSR or Cuban intelligence systems from the days of his training in the Russian language at the CIA U-2 base at Atsugi, clear through the Russian adventure, and back to the New Orleans – Dallas shuttle in the bosom of the Great White Russian Czarist exile community and the veterans of Fiasco.
The public record does not tell us what to make of Oswald and his game, but it does suggest that he was no more a left-winger than a loner, and that his apparent attachments included both the CIA and the FBI. He may have been simply an FBI informer bullied into the assassination job by an FBI agent threatening his wife’s awkward status, as O’Toole speculates. He may have been a CIA operative covering as an FBI informer, for such is the way of the clandestine sphere, and one cannot often be sure where the spiral of deception finally closes and the spy’s absolute political identity becomes manifest. Howard Hunt, in the motto to his post-Watergate autobiography, would muse that the spy can have no loyalty more final than his loyalty to himself because to do his work he must be able to accommodate all masters. Perhaps Oswald too would be the last to know for what or for whom he was working on the bottom line.
But what did we all believe in 1964 about the integrity of our upper government? What did we believe about spies, clandestinism, real politik, about intrigue as a method of decision making and murder as an instrument of policy? In 1964 we could not yet even see through the fraud we call “the Gulf of Tonkin incident.” We may look back in some chagrin to recall that the “event” that aroused the Senate to give Johnson the legal wherewithal to make big war in Vietnam was conceived, planned, and staged exactly to do just that – by forces we still cannot name. We see the whole story of the Vietnam war as one unbroken cover-up designed to deceive not “the enemy” but us, the people of the land, the ones who pay the costs of war.
But what could Warren have been able to believe in 1964? Hearing of a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy and reviewing the most prominent features of Oswald’s vita under the pressure of Johnson’s Red-conspiracy interpretation, Warren might easily have been persuaded that there had indeed been a conspiracy of Castroite Reds behind Oswald. There could even be a Russian presence in the affair (Oswald’s defection, the secrets given over, Marina, the niece of a highly placed Soviet intelligence official, the possibility of brainwashing, etc.) If such a thing ever got out, the United States would find itself publicly confronting, ready or not, the most classic of all causes of war, the murder of a head of state by a hostile foreign power.
Moreover, since Castro’s Cuba had enjoyed the protection of the Soviet Union ever since the Missile Crisis, how could an armed clash with Cuba be confined to the Caribbean? Given that Russian and American A-bombs had been pressed so hotly up against each other the preceding October, how could Warren countenance pursuing an investigation that might bring them up against each other more hotly still?
Perhaps the question of Warren’s motivation can never be settled. Presuming it will be established that he and his commission’s verdicts were wrong, and that Oswald really was a patsy, one can form answers to the question, “How could Warren have done it?” less awesome than the theory I have just sketched out. Maybe it was that he didn’t know, that the evidence seemed less clear then than it does a decade later, that he was misled by the police, CIA and FBI, that he was in a hurry to get the onerous task out of the way, or that his liberal ideology blinded him to indications of conspiracy. I have no desire to rule out such alternatives. What I do claim, however, is that close study of the evidence available to Warren through his commission’s own investigation will raise to any open mind the question of whether or not Warren turned aside from the Zapruder film, the absurdities of the single-bullet theory, and the mysteries of Oswald’s identity and Ruby’s motive on purpose, with an intention to hide the truth, not to protect the guilty, but because he had been persuaded that the truth, let out, could lead to a nuclear war.
Alternative Models of 11/22/63
One cannot discuss Dealey Plaza conspiracy theories without taking up an early and persisting specimen, the John Birch Society theory that the assassination cabal originates within the orbits of the Council of Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, the secret Round Tables, the inner power sphere of the Rockefeller-Morgan-Rothschild world system. The JBS would say it was Yankee power that killed JFK, as I would say it was Cowboy power. Yankees are as capable as other types of turning against their own, and it seems self-evident from the problem remaining before us that they were quite capable of abandoning the pursuit of his killers as soon as it was convenient to do so and going along with the Johnson program of progress through war. Kennedy was far to the left within the coalition through which he sought to govern, even in his own base and constituency. By fall of 1963, he had probably “lost the support of his peers,” in Indira Gandhi’s phrase. But it is naïve of the JBS to think Yankee power could have succeeded in covering up such a thing in an important Cowboy capital like Dallas.
Then did the CIA do it?
This is likely to be the most appealing cover-up of all, now that the CIA has lost so much of its former charm. “The CIA did it.” But as I argue here and there in this book, and especially in the essay on McCord (chapter 8), this could easily be a meaningless shibboleth. The interior of the CIA appears strongly polycentric; there are ideological nooks and crannies within it. What the Intelligence side sees is not always what the Operations side reacts to. Indeed, it is former CIA agents like George O’Toole, Phillip Agee, Victor Marchetti, Jon Marks, and others who are currently contributing so much impulse to the campaign for a new JFK investigation and uniformly they are of Intelligence, not Operations.
We can easily get lost below this level. The names of the organizations that enter the expert discussions at this point are no longer so familiar. Now we come upon stranger beasts the likes of Permindex, Six Star, Intertel, Interpol, the Great Southwest Corporation… the Illuminati. But on the evidence as we have it, the plot of Dealey Plaza could not have succeeded without the specific collusion of elements of the Dallas Police Department, the FBI, the CIA, and various branches of military intelligence.
But this does not teach us to conclude that the FBI did it, or the CIA did it, and so on. The very multitude and magnitude of public institutions apparently implicated in the crime and/or its cover-up actually suggest a different and not so overwhelming picture of “the cabal,” namely, that these institutions were drawn in by pieces from the bottom rather than as entities form the top; drawn in by an ideologically, politically, and morally corrupt renegade agentry rather than ordered in by commands flowing routinely downward through the bureaucratic hierarchy. We can still risk assuming, that is, without flying in the face of all reason, that the cabal is not inclusive, its domination not universal throughout our political system, that there is a residual, basic loyalty to the Constitution and our traditional democratic and republican values flowing through the national defense and security institutions. This is not to say that such loyalty is not put to the night in every storm, only that it is not totally stupid to assume that it may still in some little party survive – in DOD, CIA, FBI, etc. We might assume that these institutions have merely been penetrated, not commandeered, in much the same way that our typical big-city constabulary has been penetrated by organized crime but (possibly) not totally conquered by it.
Yet there is nothing so very reassuring, is there, about the analogy to mobster penetration by the police. The crisis of “law and order” is directly rooted in the larger cities of the infestation of metropolitan police by organized crime, and around that penetration, a vast surrounding bruise of a bureaucratic corruption and demoralization spreading to the population through every institutional pore. The general criminalization of the police is obviously horrifying enough, but in theory that disease is at least confined to “local” structures and checked (if never thrown back) by action at a higher power level. We do not feel quite so powerless before a corrupt municipal police force as before a corrupt federal government (and military), simply because the scale of the former is not so overwhelming. How could we possibly confront the corruption and criminality of the state itself?
If one holds out a theoretical hope that the American state might still be an instrument of its own salvation, and is not irreversibly a tool of big crime, big business, big militarism and right-wing treason, that is not to say that the following picture of Dallas is so very much more hopeful. Only that there is a little more time in it.
In our review of Frontier Camelot, we have observed an intensely inflamed line of conflict running between the Kennedy side and the Johnson side of the 1960 electoral coalition. We have traced out the line of this conflict chiefly with respect to the main foreign policy issues Kennedy had to face – Cuba and Vietnam. But we have also noted that this conflict is apparent in every phase of Frontier Camelot’s life, in domestic policy as in foreign policy, in substance as in style.
I have proposed the Yankee-Cowboy model as a simple structure to situate the events in which this conflict unfolded. From this perspective, we identify Kennedy as a left-wing Yankee, adopted child and hero of the Eastern Establishment, and Nixon as a right-wing Cowboy. The game began in earnest in 1960 when Kennedy beat Nixon by the narrowest of margins through the expedient of allying himself with the most right-wing elements of the Democratic party around Johnson. (Cowboy Nixon’s strategy was the mirror image of Kennedy’s: his running mate was Massachusetts Yankee Henry Cabot Lodge.) Then Kennedy scuttled a basic project of the Nixon-Johnson group, the Bay of Pigs invasion, pet project of the very Cowboys whose fierce-warrior rhetoric he had so cynically co-opted for campaign purposes.
From the furies generated by that immediate internal conflict about Cuba and what we came to call “Third World Revolution,” the line led only to one escalation after another, each new battle compounding prior differences, Kennedy all the while pressing the military budget down and finally trying to turn the FBI against the rebellious Bay of Pigs clique of the CIA.
The magnitude of this battle we can appreciate better from afar, after the fall of Saigon and the liberation of Ho City. The stakes in the fight over Cuba in 1961 were the underlying if not explicit stakes in every American fight that transpired thereafter to May Day 1975. Cowboy militarism, fired by the need to press outward against America’s closing world frontiers and force an Open Door to the Third World, versus Yankee imperialism, fired by the need to expand the Atlantic system, to reform and consolidate the Western base and foundation of the empire. Those are always the contending inner forces.
The first great contemporary subplot of this conflict was laid in that complex American experience leading from the twenties and Prohibition forward to the thirties, the Depression, Repeal, and the slide toward World War II. The Prohibition-Repeal mechanism in particular was like a slingshot in terms of the economic and political impetus it imparted to organized crime. Repeal, to put it simply, legalized organized crime, and it did that by legalizing its main product, liquor, and then more diffusely, by opening up the general kingdom of vice as a sector of the larger national economy.
Then came Operation Underworld, another big step forward in the wedding of crime and the state. The Lansky Syndicate’s interests in Cuba became absolute during the early forties. Kennedy’s decision not to commit the United States to countering the Cuban revolution was thus in practice, from the standpoint of the Syndicate, a reneging on the basic relationship instituted by Operation Underworld, just as from the standpoint of the hard right it was a violation of the unifying principle of the domestic Cold War coalition, the only real basis of internal American unity since the end of World War II.
Then came another thickening. The Gehlen apparatus was incorporated within the womb and bowels of the American foreign intelligence system; this was probably the ballgame by itself. Everything after this, on top of Operation Underworld, was probably just a consequence of this merger. How can a naïve, trusting, democratic republic give its secrets to crime and its innermost ear to the spirit of central European fascism and expect not to see its Constitution polluted, its traditions abused, and its consciousness of the surrounding world manipulated ultimately out of all realistic shape? It now seems only natural and logical that thing would go toward Dallas from Misery Meadow, and toward Watergate from the burning of the Normandie.
In Frontier Camelot the Cowboy/Yankee contradictions are all present, all agitated, all at full spin and drive. First the Bay of Pigs showdown, then the disarmament showdown, then the oil-depletion showdown, then the civil-rights showdown, then the astounding showdown between the FBI and the CIA in the swamps of Lake Ponchartrain, the Everglades and No Name Key.
Then on top of that, in September 1963, came Kennedy’s first clear restraint of further escalation of the Vietnam war. He began to move toward disengagement and a negotiated agreement with yet another new Communist regime. From the standpoint of the Cowboy and indeed of the mainstream American political imagination of the early sixties, what was not imperiled by such reckless and sudden departures from the standard anticommunism of the fifties? If there was ever to be a time when old-minded patriotism must kill the king, was 1963 not the time?
So the motive of the Syndicate couples with the motive of the Nazi-Czarist intelligence clique, of American anticommunism, of the military elite, of the independent oilmen, of reaction, of racism: Everything in America that wants and likes and believes in guns and the supremacy of force over value was at hair-trigger against Kennedy when he resolved that he would no more lead the country into a big land war in Vietnam than into a full-scale over-the-beach operation in Cuba.
That was September, that indubitable and final clarification of Kennedy’s intentions. In October, the Texas Democratic party sent Connally up to see Kennedy about coming down to mend fences as soon as possible. The patsy was in place at the Depository. The “Wanted For Treason” posters were printed. The Vietnam war was about to take place.
So who was Oswald? Now even Ford admits he doesn’t know. The campaign to re-open the investigation of Dealey Plaza succeeded to at least that extent. The likes of Time, Inc., and CBS and Ford will cling to the theory that Oswald killed Kennedy, but by the time of the CBS specials of Thanksgiving 1975, even they had been compelled to admit that the loner theory of Oswald had not withstood a decade of criticism. But now they want to say Oswald must have been a Castro agent.
This move was anticipated by The Assassination Information Bureau in its January 1975 conference at Boston University, “The Politics of Conspiracy,” when it called for a larger effort to understand Oswald from the standpoint of his bureaucratic and personal associations. The no-conspiracy position is going to collapse, we predicted, and when that happens, and suddenly everyone is an assassination buff of a conspiracy freak, then the great claim of the cover-up artists will be that Oswald was part of a leftwing conspiracy answering to Cuban or Russian discipline.
This repeats completely the bias of the Warren Commission in its original work. Always for them the word “conspiracy” actually meant “international Communist conspiracy,” such that the alternative to the lone-assassin concept was axiomatically the next thing to war. The idea that a conspiracy to murder Kennedy might as well be domestic or foreign and as well rightwing or leftwing certainly occurred, but if it was given any serious thought, we have yet to see the record of it. Now again, still in the time of Ford, the same bias is imposed: Probably there was no conspiracy, and if there was a conspiracy, probably it was the work of the Castroites or the KGB.
After the Thanksgiving 1975 CBS specials on JFK and Ford’s positive reaction to them, the AIB at once raised its tiny voice to say that the questions of the assassination itself had by no means been resolved by CBS’s self-commissioned board of inquiry (as if CBS had a mandate to resolve this dispute!), and that nobody was going to get anywhere at all with the question, “Who was Oswald?” by starting out convinced that Oswald killed Kennedy. That was where Warren had started. Any new investigation starting from the same assumption will come to the same or worse confusion. As it always was, and as it will remain until an open investigation is carried out by some group (such as a federal grand jury?) capable of commanding the public trust, the key question is still, “Who killed JFK?” Oswald is not yet proved guilty.
But at the same time, the question of Oswald’s identity obviously remains one of the outstanding submysteries of the larger drama and contains within it many of the decisive threads. If it is explored without a presuppostion of Oswald’s guilt, it can prove a rewarding –a startling, and astonishing –area of study. For my part, I would have no desire to try to anticipate the outsome of such a study were it not for the insistence with which Warren defenders press the unfounded picture of Oswald as the lone assassin upon the public consciousness. Be reminded it is a theory that Oswald did it, not a fact – a minority theory to boot. However speculative it must be, then, the presentation of a different theory of Oswald seems justified if only to counter the impression that Oswald, whatever else, must have been a leftwinger.
From his involvement in top-secret CIA intelligence work (the U-2 flights) at a big CIA base (Atsugi), we surmise that Oswald became a CIA workman while he was still a Marine. From the peculiarities of his defection in 1959 and his turnaround and return in 1962- how precipitous the going, how smooth the coming back – we surmise that he was in the Soviet Union on CIA business for which the role of Marxist defector was only cover. When he came back to the United States, he was met by one CIA operative (Raikin), taken under the wing of another CIA operative (de Mohrenschildt), and accepted in the two most militantly reactionary communities in the United States at the time (the White Russians and the exile Cubans).
Assuming Oswald might have been a CIA man, what possible mission could have brought him to this scene?
Think back to the Bay of Pigs Fiasco and recall the anger of Cuban exile reaction to Kennedy’s last-minute shortening of the invasion effort and his refusal at the crisis of the beachhead to stand by implied promises of support. We know now that a group around Howard Hunt and Richard Nixon was sentimentally and politically at one with the anti-Castro Cubans in their sense of outrage with Kennedy and their desire to force the issue.
A militant faction of this group broke regular discipline in the period after the Fiasco, the period in which Kenned fired Warren commissioner-to-be Allen Dulles, instead installed John McCone in his place, and threatened “to smash the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” This breakaway component operated independently of official control and carried out, with the exile Cubans, its own program of “pin-prick” raids along the Cuban coast. These attacks were staged from bases inside the United States.
This group existed. It was organized. It was being funded. It was getting large supplies of weapons. It was mounting illegal operations from within the continental interior. Yet Kennedy could not find it. And particularly after the October 1962 Missile Crisis, he had to find it, because he had to shut it down; for now he had promised the Russians that the United States would respect the integrity of the Castro government. How do you look for such a group?
You get a trusted agent with the right background and capabilities. You dress up your agent to look like one of the other side’s agents. You get your agent circulating in the flight patterns of the suspect communities.
Obviously we are still far from being able to say for sure what Oswald’s identity and role really were. But to my mind, the hypothesis that best fits the available facts about him is that he was a loyal CIA man sent out to help locate the renegade Bay of Pigs group, contact it, penetrate it, and determine its organization, backing and plans. The now-famous Oswald letter to the Dallas FBI of November 19, 1963, which the FBI first destroyed and then lied about, and which it now says contained a threat to blow up its Dallas office, was just as likely a warning from Oswald that he had discovered a plot against the President’s life set to be sprung that Friday in Dallas. Oswald and his control could not guess that FBI communications were not secure, or that Oswald himself was all the while being groomed for the role of patsy.
Rose Cherami at forty was employed as a stripper at Jack Ruby’s Dallas nightclub, the Carousel, at the time of Kennedy’s murder. She was a narcotics addict with an arrest record two-and-a-half pages long from jails in San Antonio, Amarillo, Dallas, Shreveport, Angola, Houston, New Orleans, Austin, Galveston, Los Angeles, Tucson, Deming, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, Montgomery, Jackson, and South Gretna, mostly on vagrancy and narcotics charges, though the charge filed in Jackson was “criminally insane.”
On November 20, 1963, she and two unidentified men were driving through Louisiana on a dope run – so she later said – for Jack Ruby. An argument turned violent. The men threw her out of the moving car and abandoned her on a state highway outside Eunice.
She was found hurt and dazed by Lt. Francis Fruge of the Louisiana State Patrol. Fruge took her for treatment to a hospital, then brought her back to the jail and held her on a suspected narcotics connection. Her withdrawal symptoms grew violent. She stripped off her clothing and slashed her ankles. Fruge committed her to the Jackson Mental Hospital, where she was confined until November 26.
During her confinement, after the Kennedy assassination but before Ruby killed Oswald, she told the house psychiatrist at Jackson, Dr. Victor J. Weiss, Jr. (in the words of Frank Meloche), “that she knew both Ruby and Oswald and had seen them sitting together on occasions at Ruby’s club.”
“Information was also received,” says Meloche, “that several nurses employed at Jackson Mental Hospital who were watching television along with Rose Cherami the day Kennedy was assassinated stated that during the telecast moments before Kennedy was shot Rose Cherami stated to them, ‘This is when it is going to happen,’ and at that moment Kennedy was assassinated. Information states that these nurses had told several people of this incident.
On November 26 Rose Cherami was returned to prison in Eunice for questioning. She gave Lt. Fruge information about a narcotics ring operating between Louisiana and Houston. Lt. Fruge told Meloche this turned out to be “true and good information.”
She was then flown to Houston for further questioning on the narcotics angle. “While in flight,” said Meloche,
Rose Cherami picked up a newspaper with headlines of Ruby killing Oswald and further on down in the newspaper it stated where Ruby denied ever knowing or seeing Oswald in his life. Rose Cherami laughed ans stated to Lt. Fruge that Ruby and Oswald were very good friends. They had been in the Club (Ruby’s) together and also stated that Ruby and Oswald had been bed partners. Upon arrival at Houston she again repeated this story to Captain Morgan. When asked to talk to the federal authorities about this, she refused and stated that she did not want to get involved in this mess.
Meloche and Fruge tried to track Rose Cherami down in 1967 in connection with Garrison’s case but found that in September of 1965 she had been killed in a peculiar auto accident outside Big Sandy, Texas. Reads Fruge’s report:
The accident was reported to Officer Andrews by the operator of the car after he had taken the subject to the hospital. Andrews stated that the operator related that the victim was apparently lying on the roadway with her head and upper part of her body resting on the traffic lane, and although he had attempted to avoid running over her, he ran over the top part of her skull, causing fatal injuries. An investigation of the physical evidence at the scene of the accident was unable to contradict this statement. Officer Andrews stated that due to the unusual circumstances, namely time, location, injuries received and lack of prominent physical evidence, he attempted to establish a relationship between the operator of the vehicle and the victim to determine if any foul play was involved. This resulted negative. It should be noted that Hwy #155 is a farm to market road, running parallel to US Hwys #271 and #80. It is our opinion, from experience, that if a subject was hitch-hiking, as this report wants to indicate, that this does not run true to form. It is our opinion that the subject would have been on one of the U.S. Highways. Andrews stated that although he had some doubt as to the authenticity of the information received, due to the fact that the relatives of the victim did not pursue the investigation, he closed it as accidental death.
We wish to further state that fingerprint identification shows that deceased subject, Melba Christine Marcades, is the same person as subject Rose Cherami, who was in custody, by us, from November 21, 1963, through November 28, 1963, at which time she stated that she once worked for Jack Ruby as a stripper, which was verified, and that Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald were definitely associated and known to be, as she stated, “bed partners.” She further referred to Ruby as alias “Pinky.”
The fate of Julia Ann Mercer, another Ruby witness, was much better but still bad. As she deposed in New Orleans in January 1968 to Garrison:
On the morning of the President’s assassination, in the vicinity of 11:00 o’clock, I was driving west on Elm Street toward the Triple Underpass. There was a green pickup truck parked on the right-hand side of the road, with its two right wheels up on the curb. I was delayed by traffic congestion long enough to observe a man remove from the back of the truck a rifle wrapped in paper.
Because the delay caused by traffic I happened to see the face of the driver of the truck quite clearly. While I was stopped there he looked at me twice. This man was, as I later recognized from the papers, Jack Ruby.
The next morning FBI agents showed me photographs. This was on Saturday – the day after the assassination and the day before Ruby shot Oswald. The FBI then showed me some photographs to choose from. One of the men I picked out was Jack Ruby. When one of the FBI agents turned the picture over I saw Ruby’s name on the back….
The next morning I was looking at television with my family and when I saw Ruby shoot Oswald, I said, “That was the man I saw in the truck.” Form the view the television screen gave of Ruby – especially when they showed it again slowly – I recognized him as the man who was at the wheel of the truck on Friday and as the man whose picture the FBI showed me on Saturday.
But what happened to her information in the hands of the FBI is just another of the countless reasons serious investigators of the JFK death are driven to the conclusion that the FBI was in some way creatively involved in whatever foul play happened in Dallas. Her testimony was turned completely upside down in the FBI report filed by Special Agent Louis Kelley. Kelley reported that she was “shown a group of photographs which included a photograph of Jack Ruby. Mercer could not identify any of the photographs as being identical with he person she had observed….She was then shown a photograph of Ruby, and she advised the person in the truck had a rather large round face similar to Ruby’s, but she could not identify him as the person.”
Four years later, Garrison showed Julia Mercer a copy of this FBI report. “This is not an accurate statement,” she deposed, “because I did pick out Ruby’s picture. Also, this report does not mention the fact that the FBI showed me Ruby’s picture on November 23rd, the day before he shot Lee Oswald.”
I have also been shown a separate FBI report….[which states] that I only felt able to identify the man with the gun and not the driver. Contrary to this identification, I had no doubts about what the driver’s face looked like. This was on the same day they showed me Ruby’s picture, among others, and the day when I picked him and three similar pictures as looking like the driver of the truck. I do not know whether the other three pictures shown me were other men who looked like Ruby or whether they were three other pictures of Jack Ruby. But they definitely showed me Jack Ruby and I definitely picked him out as looking like the driver.
Another funny thing. The FBI report of November 23 says that Mercer described a sign on the door of the green truck made up of the words “air conditioning” in a crescent design. Half the force was sent looking for a green Ford pickup with a sign like that on its door. “This is not true,” deposed Mercer to Garrison. Every time I was interviewed-and at least two of the interviews were by the FBI- I stated that there was no sign of any kind on the side of the truck. The words ‘air conditioning’ were not painted on the truck, nor were any other words. It was a plain green truck without any printing on it and I made this clear from the outset.”
She goes on to depose that her signature as it appears on a document put out as her affidavit by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department is a forgery; that a notary public has signed this document, whereas there was no notary present at her interviews; that like the FBI statement, the sheriff’s affidavit also has her describing the nonexistent sign. “That is not the way it was at all,” she deposed to Garrison: “The truck was plain and had no letters whatsoever painted on it.”
And her coda: “That ‘affidavit’ also has me stating, with regard to the driver, that I could not see him too clearly.’ That is not true. I saw the driver very clearly. I looked right in his face and he looked at me twice. It was Jack Ruby.
“I was not asked to testify before the Warren Commission.”
The Warren Report tells us that “Ruby was unquestionably familiar, if not friendly, with some Chicago criminals” (p. 790). A partial list of Ruby’s organized-crime connections as they were known to the Warren Commission, would include:
Lewis McWillie, a “gambler and murderer” who had managed the Lansky Syndicate’s Tropicana in Havana before 1959 and by 1963 was an executive at the Thunderbird in Las Vegas, another prime Lansky holding. Ruby traveled to Cuba with McWillie, received two phone calls from him from Cuba, and shipped him a pistol, all in 1959.
Dave Yaras, an intimate of Ruby’s from Chicago childhood days, a Syndicate mobster operating out of Chicago and Miami. Yaras told the Warren Commission that Ruby was also close to:
Lenny Patrick, another Chicago-based hood also known to Ruby’s sister Eva as a friend of her brother’s. Yaras and Patrick are both prominently identified in congressional crime hearings as important figures in the Chicago Syndicate.
Paul Roland Jones, Paul “Needlenose” Labriola, Marcus Lipsky, Jimmy Wienberg, Danny Lardino, and Jack Knappi, the Chicago Syndicate group that moved into Dallas in 1947 (the year Ruby moved to Dallas). Jones, an opium smuggler in the forties, told the Warren Commission that “if Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald on orders, the man to talk to would be Joe Savella [properly Civello], then head of Syndicate operations in Dallas. Chicago Daily News crime reporter Jack Wilner also told the commission that Ruby was involved in 1947 in the Chicago Syndicate takeover of Dallas gambling. “The Commission finds it difficult to accept this report,” said Warren.
Robert “Barney” Baker, a Teamster hood convicted by RFK. His phone number was in Ruby’s address book.
Milt Jaffe, also in Ruby’s address book, a point holder in the Stardust of Las Vegas with Cleveland Syndicate heavy Moe Dalitz.
Ruby told the commission that he had once dined with the “Fox brothers” who “ran the Tropicana” in Havana and were “the greatest that have been expelled from Cuba” by Castro. The “Fox brothers,” as the Commission might easily have established, were Meyer and Jake Lansky.
At the age of fifteen Ruby already belonged to a gang of Chicago youths who ran messages for Al Capone. This gang produced such other notables as Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, Capone’s successor as head of the Chicago Syndicate, and his associate, Charles “Cherry Nose” Gior, busted in 1943 with John Roselli who is later associated with the CIA-Syndicate scheme to assassinate Castro.
Peter Dale Scott (whose citations I gratefully borrow here) has identified three independent reports to the Warren Commission strongly suggesting that Ruby was “in fact a pay-off or liaison man between organized crime and the Dallas police department (over half of whose policemen Ruby knew personally).”
1: In 1956, the Los Angeles FBI advised the Dallas FBI that Mr. And Mrs. James Breen, “acting…as informants for the Federal Narcotics Bureau,” had become involved with “a large narcotics setup operating between Mexico, Texas and the East….In some fashion, James [Breen] got the okay to operate through Jack Ruby of Dallas.” In 1964, reinterviewed by the Chicago FBI, Mrs. Breen confirmed her 1956 story.
2: After the assassination, a prisoner in an Alabama jail told the FBI that a year previous to the assassination, when he had tried to set up a numbers game in Dallas, he was advised “that in order to operate in Dallas it was necessary to have the clearance of Jack Ruby…who had the fix with the county authorities.”
3: Again after the assassination, another prisoner in Los Angeles, Harry Hall, contacted the Secret Service (who vouched for his reliability) with the information that in his days as a Dallas gambler he had turned over 40 percent of his profits to Ruby, who “was supposed to have influence with the police.”
The Warren Commission’s conclusion was that “the evidence does not establish a significant link between Ruby and organized crime.”
The commission also failed to investigate a communication received on June 9, 1964, only two days after Ruby’s testimony, from J. Edgar Hoover, in which Hoover disclosed that Ruby may have been and FBI informant for several months in 1959. Nor did it seek to reconcile its picture of Ruby as a small time psychotic with evidence that Ruby was on good terms with such powerful Texas millionaires as H.L. Hunt, his son Lamar (whose office Ruby visited the day before the assassination), Billy Byars, and Clint Murchison, a power behind Johnson and involved heavily in the Bobby Baker scandal.
All the testimonies in the twenty-six volumes of the Warren Commission Hearings begin with conventional courtroom punctilio, except for that of the second lone assassin of Dallas. In Ruby’s act, the hero himself if the first to break the silence.
“Without a lie detector on my testimony,” he blurts out of nowhere, “my verbal statements to you, how do you know if I am tell[ing] the truth?”
His lawyer Joe Tonahill jumps: “Don’t worry about that, Jack.”
Ruby persists: “Just a minute, gentlemen.”
Warren turns: “You wanted to ask something, Mr. Ruby?”
Ruby: “I would like to be able to get a lie detector test or truth serum of what motivated me to do what I did at that particular time, and it seems as you get further into something, even though you know what you did, it operates against you somehow, brainwashes you, that you are weak in what you want to tell the truth about, and what you want to say which is the truth.”
I offer her that Ruby’s tortured phrase, “you are weak in what you want to tell the truth about,” is monumentally expressive of the situation in which he found himself. He was too weak to tell the truth that he wanted to tell. But we must come the long way around to this in order to see it.
We pick Ruby’s testimony up a few sentences later as he continues struggling to explain why he wants a lie-detector test.
As it started to trial – I don’t know if you realize my reasoning, how I happened to be involved – I was carried away tremendously emotionally, and all the time I tried to ask Mr. [Melvin] Belli [his first lawyer], I wanted to get up and say the truth regarding the steps that led me to do what I have got involved in, but since I have a spotty background in the nightclub business, I should have been the last person to ever want to do something that I had been involved in. In other words, I was carried away tremendously. You want to ask me questions?
Yes, Mr. Ruby, I would have said. Take this last sentence, “since I have a spotty background in the nightclub business, I should have been the last person to ever want to do something that I had been involved in.” Can you straighten that out? Are you trying to say that since you have a Syndicate-linked background, it doesn’t make sense for you to have killed Kennedy’s assassin in order to protect the beloved widow from the mortifications of a trial? Is that what you are trying to say through your clenched teeth?
But Warren said no such thing. Instead he said, “You tell us what you want, and then we will ask you some questions.”
And Ruby says, “Am I boring you?”
The more closely one reads the some hundred pages of Ruby’s testimony to Warren (the second two-thirds of which are spoken from a polygraph harness to the FBI’s top interrogator), the harder it is to avoid seeing something very brave in Ruby. The exasperated pugnacity of that “Am I boring you?” for example, couldn’t be better: Warren, he is saying, if you want to understand me, you are going to have to pay close attention to what I say. It would seem a fair enough proposition from a key witness to the chief commissioner of a big public probe. But of the seven august commissioners only two were present, Warren and the ubiquitous Gerald Ford, and they were not overly inclined to probe. And Warren had not even wanted to talk to Ruby. Ruby had to fight his lawyers and send the messages to Warren through his family. The hearing took place with a handful of lawyers hostile to Ruby present, plus the court recorder, and a Dallas policeman at the door. They were all I the interrogation room of the Dallas County Jail at Houston and Main looking out on Dealey Plaza. It was 11:45 A.M., June 7, 1964. The Warren Commission Report was at this point virtually complete. For that reason in itself, perhaps, the commission members were disinclined to pursue distant echoes in Ruby’s difficult but suggestive language.
Against the commission’s passivity, what Ruby most wants to tell them is that he wants a lie detector test. The reason for this, he says, is that the story he is telling about why he shot Oswald is inherently implausible. How can the commission believe he is telling the truth if he is not put in a polygraph harness? But why is his story inherently implausible? We will come across that, too, in his own words.
We skip through a half-dozen pages of meandering but tense discussion of Ruby’s activities on November 22, 1963, mainly bearing on an anti-JFK ad placed in one of the Dallas papers. Then at last Ruby comes to the events of that night. He tells Warren how he remembered that it had been a hard day for his friends, the police (he was on personal terms with virtually the entire force), and how he decided to take them a snack:
RUBY: ….I had the sandwiches with me and some soda pop and various things, and Russ Knight opened the door and we went upstairs.
(Mr. Arlen Specter, a staff counsel, entered the room.)
WARREN: This is another man on my staff, Mr. Specter. Would you mind if he came in?
(Chief Justice Warren introduced the men around the room.)
RUBY: Is there any way to get me to Washington?
WARREN: I beg your pardon?
RUBY: Is there any way of you getting me to Washington?
WARREN: I don’t know of any. I will be glad to talk to your counsel about what the situation is, Mr. Ruby, when we get an opportunity to talk. [Ruby has been intermittently begging a chance to talk to Warren alone.]
RUBY: I don’t think I will get a fair representation with my counsel, Joe Tonahill. I don’t think so. I would like to request that I go to Washington and take all the tests I have to take. It is very important.
TONAHILL: Jack, will you tell him why you don’t think you will get a fair representation?
RUBY: Because I have been over this for the longest time to get the lie detector test. Somebody has been holding it back from me.
WARREN: Mr. Ruby, I might say to you that the lateness of this thing is not due to your counsel….It was our own delay due to the pressures we had on us at the time.
Ruby carefully summarizes his story up to this point, starts into a skirmish with Tonahill, then abruptly, “throwing pad on table,” as the commission stenographer notes (a stage direction preserved) he turns abruptly to his main idea and desire, to get out of Dallas somehow.
RUBY: ….Gentlemen, unless you get me to Washington, you can’t get a fair shake out of me. If you understand my way of talking, you have got to bring me to Washington to get the tests. Do I sound dramatic? Off the beam?
WARREN: No; you are speaking very, very rationally, and I am really surprised that you can remember as much as you have remembered up to the present time. You have given it to us in great detail.
RUBY: Unless you can get me to Washington, and I am not a crackpot, I have all my senses – I don’t want to evade any crime I am guilty of. But Mr. Moore, have I spoken this way when we have talked?
MOORE: Yes. [Elmer W. Moore is a Secret Service agent.]
RUBY: Unless you get me to Washington immediately, I am afraid after what Mr. Tonahill has written there…
An argument ensues with Tonahill, Tonahill trying to stop him from saying things a prosecutor could use to show he had prior intention of killing Oswald. Unmindful of Ruby’s apparent belief that his best interest lay in getting the truth out, Tonahill as defense attorney wants at least to be able to argue that the killing was an unpremeditated act, motivated by an errant burst of emotion. Ruby had the same complaint against Belli, his first lawyer. Belli could only think in lawyerly terms, that is, in terms of conviction and acquittal. Ruby, on the other hand, wanted to tell his story to a lie detector. Why?
Exasperated with Tonahill, he turns back to Warren: “Well, it is too bad, Chief Warren, that you didn’t get me to your headquarters six months ago.”
We skip a few pages of intense but repetitive discussion on the question of premeditation and the lie-detector and truth-serum tests Ruby wants to take, with Ruby hurling obscure shafts to Tonahill, such as “it is a greater premeditation than you know is true,” which sends Tonahill up the wall. “I don’t say it is premeditation,” says the lawyer, “I never have. I don’t think it is.” And Ruby, discounting a certain story helpful to the spontaneous-act-of-passion theory: “You would like to have built it up for my defense, but that is not it. I am here to tell the truth.”
The question turns to why Ruby was not dealt with earlier and Warren promises a no-delay lie-detector test. Ruby pushes for speed and discovers that Warren is leaving in the morning. And at that point, Dallas County Sheriff J.E. (Bill) Decker, unbidden, enters the dialogue.
RUBY: Are you staying overnight here, Chief Warren?
WARREN: No; I have to be back, because we have an early session of Court tomorrow morning.
RUBY: Is there any way of getting the polygraph here?
DECKER: May I make a suggestion? Jack, listen, you and I have had a lot of dealings. Do you want my officers removed from the room while you talk to this Commission?
RUBY: That wouldn’t prove any truth.
DECKER: These people came several thousand miles to interview you. You have wanted to tell me your story and I have refused to let you tell me. Now be a man with a bunch of men that have come a long way to give you an opportunity to –
RUBY: I wish the President were right her now. It is a terrible ordeal, I tell you that…. [he subsides for a moment to his pat narrative, then turns back to Decker.] Bill, will you do that for me that you asked a minute ago? You said you wanted to leave the room.
DECKER: I will have everyone leave the room including myself, if you want to talk about it . You name it, and we will go.
RUBY: All right.
DECKER: You want all of us outside?
DECKER: I will leave Tonahill and Moore. I am not going to have Joe leave.
RUBY: If you not going to have Joe leave –
DECKER: Moore, his body is responsible to you. His body is responsible to you.
RUBY: Bill, I am not accomplishing anything if they are here, and Joe Tonahill is here. You asked me anybody I wanted out.
DECKER: Jack, this is your attorney. That is your lawyer.
RUBY: He is not my lawyer. (Sheriff Decker and law enforcement officers left room.) Gentlemen, if you want to hear any further testimony, you will have to get me to Washington soon, because it has something to do with you, Chief Warren. Do I sound sober enough to tell you this?
WARREN: Yes; go right ahead.
RUBY: I want to tell the truth, and I can’t tell it here. I can’t tell it here. Does that make sense to you?
WARREN: Well, let’s not talk about sense. But I really can’t see why you can’t tell this Commission.
RUBY: But this isn’t the place for me to tell what I want to tell.
MOORE: The Commission is looking into the entire matter, and you are part of it, should be.
RUBY: Chief Warren, your life is in danger in this city, do you know that?
WARREN: No; I don’t know that. If that is the thing that you don’t want to talk about, you can tell me, if you wish, when this is all over, just between you and me.
RUBY: No; I would like to talk to you in private.
WARREN: You may do that when you finish your story. You may tell me that phase of it.
RUBY: I bet you haven’t had a witness like me in your whole investigation, is that correct?
WARREN: There are many witnesses whose memory has not been as good as yours. I tell you that, honestly.
RUBY: My reluctance to talk – you haven’t had any witness in telling the story, in finding so many problems.
WARREN: You have a greater problem than any witness we have had.
RUBY: I have a lot of reasons for having those problems.
WARREN: I know that, and we want to respect your rights, whatever they may be. And I only want to hear what you are willing to tell us, because I realize that you still have a great problem before you, and I am not trying to press you….
RUBY: When are you going back to Washington?
WARREN: I am going back very shortly after we finish this hearing – I am going to have some lunch.
RUBY: Can I make a statement?
RUBY: If you request me to go back to Washington with you right now now, that couldn’t be done, could it?
WARREN: No; it could not be done. It could not be done. There are a good many things involved in that, Mr. Ruby.
RUBY: What are they?
WARREN: Well, the public attention that it would attract, and the people who would be around. We have no place for you to be safe when we take you out, and we are not law enforcement officers, and it isn’t our responsibility to go into anything of that kind. And certainly it couldn’t be done on a moment’s notice this way.
RUBY: Gentlemen, my life is in danger here. Not with my guilty plea of execution [i.e., not because of killing Oswald]. Do I sound sober enough to you as I say this?
WARREN: You do. You sound entirely sober.
RUBY: From the moment I started my testimony, have I sounded as though, with the exception of becoming emotional, haven’t I sounded as though I made sense, what I was speaking about?
WARREN: You have indeed. I understand everything you have said. If I haven’t, it is my fault.
RUBY: Then I follow this up. I may not live tomorrow to give any further testimony. The reason why I add this to this, since you assure me that I have been speaking sense by then, I might be speaking sense by following what I have said, and the only thing I want to get out to the public, and I can’t say it here, is with authenticity, with sincerity of the truth of everything and why my act was committed, but it can’t be said here.
It can be said, it’s got to be said amongst people of the highest authority that would give me the benefit of doubt. And following that, immediately give me the lie-detector teast after I do make the statement.
Chairman Warren, if you felt that your life was in danger at the moment, how would you feel? Wouldn’t you be reluctant to go on speaking, even though you request me to do so?
WARREN: I think I might have some reluctance if I was in your position, yes; I think I would. I think I would figure it out very carefully as to whether it would endanger me or not. If you think that anything that I am doing or anything that I am asking you is endangering you in any way, shape, or form, I want you to feel absolutely free to say that the interview is over. [A prize specimen of Warren integrity: If telling us the trugh in Dallas would hurt you, cost you your life, we’d rather you just left it unsaid than go to the trouble of getting you to a place where you could feel safe to say it.]
RUBY: What happens then? I didn’t accomplish anything.
WARREN: No, nothing has been accomplished.
RUBY: Well, then you won’t follow up with anything further?
WARREN: There wouldn’t be anything to follow up if you hadn’t completed your statement.
RUBY: You said you have the power to do what you want to do, is that correct?
RUBY: Without any limitations?
WARREN: Within the purview of the Executive Order which established the Commission….
RUBY: But you don’t have a right to take a prisoner back with you when you want to?
WARREN: No; we have the power to subpoena witnesses to Washington if we want to do it, but we have taken the testimony of 200 or 300 people, I would imagine, here in Dallas without going to Washington.
RUBY: Yes; but those people aren’t Jack Ruby.
WARREN: No; they weren’t.
RUBY: They weren’t.
WARREN: Now I want you to feel that we are not her to take any advantage of you, because I know that you are in a delicate position, and unless you had indicated not only through your lawyers but also through your sister, who wrote a letter addressed either to me or Mr. Rankin saying that you wanted to testify before the Commission, unless she had told us that, I wouldn’t have bothered you….
RUBY: The thing is, that with your power that you you have, Chief Justice Warren, and all these gentlemen, too much time has gone by for me to give you any benefit of what I may say now.
Warren protests that it is not so. Ruby names his family, says they are all threatened; and for a moment he seems to give up and revert to the basic story of his motive, the unpremeditated-murder story, namely, that he saw in that Sunday morning’s newspaper “the most heartbreaking letter to Caroline Kennedy…and alongside that letter a small comment in the newspaper that…that Mrs. Kennedy might have to come back for the trial of Lee Harvey Oswald. That caused me to do what I did; that caused me to go like I did.” Then continuing in this new tone, Ruby goes almost singsong: “…I never spoke to anyone about attempting to do anything. No subversive organization gave me any idea. No underworld person made any effort to contact me. It all happened that Sunday morning.”
So Sunday morning he drives downtown on an errand taking him to the Western Union office near the ramp of the county jail, where Oswald was being removed that morning. The errand had to do with a call he received that morning from “a little girl – she wanted some money – that worked for me” at the Carousel. The next day was payday, but he had closed the club.
It was ten o’clock when he got downtown. He tells us he noticed the crowd at the jail but assumed Oswald had already been moved. He carried out his errand at the Western Union office, “sent the money order, whatever it was,” and walked the short distance to the ramp. “I didn’t sneak in,” he says, “I didn’t linger in there. I didn’t crouch or hide behind anyone, unless the television camera can make it seem that way. There was an officer talking – I don’t know what rank he had – talking to a Sam Pease in a car parked up on the curb.” Thus he underscores the fact that the police saw him and let him pass freely into the closed-off ramp area. Then to the killing: “I think I used the words, You killed my President, you rat.’. The next thing I knew I was down on the floor.”
In the murkiest passages of his testimony, Ruby then proceeds to tell (as he calls it) “a slipshod story” in which he insinuates at least a part of the background information he feels he cannot directly give out. We will not try unraveling it here because it would take a lot of unraveling and we are interested in the coming climax of the Warren-Ruby confrontation. But in his slipshod story, Ruby develops a quite detailed and potentially verifiable picture of his underworld past, but as though to deny that it existed. For example, he names as a “very close” friend one Lewis J. McWillie as typical of “Catholics” Ruby knew who would be especially “heartbroken” over Kennedy’s murder. Which is a joke. “Catholic” McWillie was even then a prominent Syndicate gambler with big interests in pre-revolutionary Cuba. “He was a key man over the Tropicana down there,” says Ruby. “That was during our good times. Was in harmony with our enemy of the present time.” In August 1959, Ruby tells Warren, McWillie paid his plane fare down to Havana. “I was with him constantly,” Ruby says, strongly suggesting a professional relationship if only because McWillie was such an important Syndicate executive, and as of August 1959, had concern for the future of its Havana games.
Ruby also mentions another important racketeer with whom he had an association, but in a strangely concealing way, as though he were preparing for subsequent denials, “As a matter of fact,” he says, “I even called a Mr. – hold it before I say it – headed the American Federation of Labor – I can’t think – in the state of Texas – Miller.” Warren says, “I don’t know.” Then Ruby gets it: “Is there a Deutsch I. Maylor? I called a Mr. Maylor here in Texas to see if he could help me out” in an obscure situation involving nightclub competition, i.e., Syndicate vice arrangements, some years before. This person, whom Ruby first calls Miller and then, ever so deliberately, changes into Deutsch I. Maylor, is actually Dusty Miller, head of the Teamsters Southern Conference. Peter Dale Scott made this identification first, but blamed the Warren stenographer for the distortion of Dusty Miller into Deutsch I. Maylor, even though Ruby had just shown that he could pronounce Miller perfectly well and the stenographer had shown he could spell it. I think it is a precious detail in the reconstruction of Ruby, and I submit to common sense whether Deutsch I. Maylor could have been anything other than an intentional and purposeful distortion on Ruby’s part. He is hiding something in order to reveal it. Chief Council Rankin forces the testimony back to other questions, but Ruby tirelessly weaves in his stories of Cuban gambling and bigtime crime, his relationship to McWillie and other Syndicate people like Dave Yaras and Mike McLaney, and his general awareness of Syndicate networks.
When Rankin asks him point bland, “Did you know Officer Tippit?” he responds with another intriguingly indirect and suggestive answer, thus: “I knew there was three Tippits on the force. The only one I knew used to work for special services.” This last refers to the Dallas Police Department’s Special Services Bureau. The SSB was working closely with the FBI and was responsible, as Scott indicates, for both the world of subversives and the world of organized crime, the worlds of the cover-story Oswald and the underlying Ruby. (Scott adds that another responsibility for the SSB was taking care of intelligence preparations for visiting VIPs like the president.) Ruby says he is “certain” his Tippit and the dead Tippit are not the same, but then perhaps the “wrong” Tippit was the dead one after all, and the “right” Tippit was this other one that Ruby did indeed know, the Tippit of the SSB whom Vice-Chief Gilmore elsewhere testified was “a close friend” of Ruby’s and visited his club “every night they are open.”
The above came out when Warren confronted Ruby with the story with which Mark Lane had already confronted the commission some time earlier, that shortly before the assassination Ruby had seen at a booth in his nightclub with Officer Tippit and a “rich oil man” otherwise not identified. Above is Ruby’s denial of any such Tippit relationship, that is to say, his nondenial of it (“I knew there was three Tippits,” etc). On the score of the “rich oil man”, he only volunteers it migh thave been the man who then owned the Stork Club, William Howard. Warren observes that Lane’s informant had not given Lane permission to reveal this story. It was before them after all as groundless hearsay. They had decided nevertheless to put it to Ruby in the bigness of their intellectual curiosity. They had now put it to him. He had now answered it. “So we will leave that matter as it is,” which elicited from Ruby another of his remarkable improvisations: “No, I am as innocent regarding any conspiracy as any of you gentlemen in the room….”
Warren grows restless and turns to Ford and the lawyers. “Congressmen, do you have anything further?”
Ruby, one imagines quickly, says: “You can get more out of me. Let’s not break up too soon.”
And Ford, perhaps startled, comes up with a good question: “When you got to Havana, who met you in Havana?” This gives Ruby an opportunity he obviously relishes to spin a little thicker his web of insinuations that his Havana relationship to Syndicate executive McWillie was a serious one. But Warren again tires: “Would you mind telling us anything you have on your mind?” Ruby falters, then starts a line that suddenly swerves to the heart of the matter: “If I cannot get these tests you give [the truth tests], it is pretty haphazard to tell you the things I should tell you.”
Rankin decides he must test the slack:
RANKIN: It isn’t entirely clear how you feel about your family and you yourself are threatened by your telling what you have to the Commission. How do you come to the conclusion that they might be killed? Will you tell us a little bit more about that, if you can?
RUBY: Well, assuming that, as I stated before, some persons are accusing me falsely of being part of the plot – naturally, in all the time from over six months ago, my family has been so interested in helping me.
RANKIN: By that, you mean a party to the plot of Oswald?
RUBY: That I was party to a plot to silence Oswald.
In other words, this is the inference which he has all along been begging them to make. The commission does not respond. The stenographer then moves Ruby to a new paragraph. He stumbles through several hundred murky words on the impact of the affair on his family and notes that he has the sympathy of a good many people for killing the President’s assassin. But he says, “That sympathy isn’t going to help me, because the people that have the power here, they have a different verdict. [Get this:] They already have me as the accused assassin of our beloved president.” The commission must have given him a blank look as this new idea tried to register: Ruby shot Kennedy? Ruby says, “Now if I sound screwy telling you this, then I must be screwy.”
Warren rallies his senses and moves into the breech:
WARREN: Mr. Ruby, I think you are entitled to a statement to this effect, because you have been frank with us and have told us your story.
I think I can say to you that there has been no witness before this commission out of the hundreds we have questioned who has claimed to have any personal knowledge that you were a party to any conspiracy to kill our President.
RUBY: Yes, but you don’t know this area here. [They squabble about the point. Warren really wants to evade this.]
WARREN: Well, I will make this additional statement to you, that if any witness should testify before the Commission that you were, to their knowledge, a party to any conspiracy to assassinate the President, I assure you that we will give you the opportunity to deny it and to take any tests that you may desire to so disprove it.
But how does he know this is what Ruby is talking about, or that Ruby would necessarily want to “deny and disprove” it? And above all, why should Warren be so blazingly uninterested in this man? Ruby maybe said it all back in the first minute: “Am I boring you?”
It is the beginning of summer, the report is in, the presses are about to cook, the awful part of this thing in Dallas is about to be wrapped up, and now this hangnail, Ruby, with his weird way of talking, his ominous and portentous airs, his impenetrable, melodramatic double-meanings:
RUBY: ….And I wish that our beloved President, Lyndon Johnson, would have delved deeper into the situation, hear me, not to accept just circumstantial facts about my guilt or innocence, and would have questioned to find out the truth about me before he relinquished certain powers to these certain people….consequently, a whole new form of government is going to take over our country, and I know I won’t live to see you another time. Do I would screwy in telling you these things?
WARREN: No; I think that is what you believe or you wouldn’t tell it under your oath.
RUBY: But it is a very serious situation. I guess it is too late to stop it, isn’t it?…
Ruby seems to struggle against this insight later, but I think that at just this point in the text he is about to see into the heart of darkness. He is coming to think that, indeed, it is too late, because not only are the Dallas police and the Dallas sheriff in on it, but so is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And unknown to everyone but Ruby the ones actually in on it, as a consequence of this, “a whole new form of government is going to take over the country.”
FORD: Are there any questions that ought to be asked to help clarify the situation that you described?
RUBY: There is only one thing. If you don’t take me back to Washington tonight to give me a chance to prove to the President that I am not guilty, then you will see the most tragic, then you will see the most tragic thing that will ever happen….
RUBY: ….Now maybe something can be saved. It may not be too late, whatever happens, if our President, Lyndon Johnson, knew the truth from me.
But if I am eliminated, there won’t be any way of knowing.
Right now, when I leave your presence now, I am the only one that can bring out the truth to our President, who believes in righteousness and justice.
But he has been told, I am certain, that I was part of a plot to assassinate the President. [!]
I know your hands are tied; you are helpless.
WARREN: Mr. Ruby, I think I can say this to you, that if he has been told any such thing, there is no indication of any kind that he believes it.
RUBY: I am sorry, Chief Justice Warren, I thought I would be very effective in telling you what I have said here. But in all fairness to everyone, maybe all I want to do is beg that if they found out I was telling the truth, maybe they can succeed in what their motives are, but maybe my people won’t be tortured and mutilated. [That is, Ruby begs forgiveness from the assassination conspiracy, having failed in his effort to rat on it through double meanings tossed into Warren’s ear.]
WARREN: Well, you may be sure that my President and his whole Commission will do anything that is necessary to see that your people are not tortured.
WARREN: You may be sure of that.
RUBY: No. The only way you can do it is if he knows the truth, that I am telling the truth, and why I was down in that basement Sunday morning, and maybe some sense of decency will come out and they can still fulfill their plan, as I stated before, without my people going through torture and mutilation.
WARREN: The President will know everything that you have said, everything that you have said.
RUBY: But I won’t be around, Chief Justice. I won’t be around to verify [!] those things you are going to tell the President.
TONAHILL: [Who never left the room] Who do you think is going to eliminate you, Jack?
RUBY: I have been used for a purpose, and there will be a certain tragic occurrence happening if you don’t take my testimony and somehow vindicate me so my people don’t suffer because of what I have done.
WARREN: But we have taken your testimony. We have it here. It will be in permanent form for the President of the United States and for the Congress of the United States, and for the courts of the United States, and for the people of the entire world.
It is there, it will be recorded for all to see. That is the purpose of our coming here today. We feel that you are entitled to have your story told.
RUBY: You have lost me though. You have lost me, Chief Justice Warren.
WARREN: Lost you in what sense?
RUBY: I won’t be around for you to come and question again.
WARREN: Well, it is very hard for me to believe that. I am sure that everybody would want to protect you to the very limit.
RUBY: All that I want is a lie-detector test, and you refuse to give it to me.
Because as it stands now – and the truth serum, and any other – Pentothal – how do you pronounce it, whatever it is. And they will not give it to me, because I want to tell the truth.
And then I want to leave this world.
Warren again promises the test, and soon, and then again starts trying to wrap things up. But then again Ruby asks for more:
“Hold on another minute,” Warren says, “All right.” Ruby says, “How do you know if the facts I stated about everything I said, statements with reference to, are the truth or not?” Ruby’s overburdened syntax is finally crumbling. Ford and Warren repeat their promise of protection and speedy tests and again seem half out of their chairs.
RUBY: How are we going to communicate and so on?
WARREN: We will communicate directly with you.
RUBY: You have a lost cause, Earl Warren. You don’t stand a chance. They feel about you like the do about me, Chief Justice Warren.
I shouldn’t hurt your feelings in telling you that.
Remarking that he knows he has his enemies, Warren adjourns the session. It has consumed three hours and five minutes.
Ruby got his lie-detector test six weeks later, not exactly right away in the Warren scheme of all deliberate speed. Against all standard procedures, the test was a marathon, some eight hours long with only short breaks. Other people were in the room, some of whom Ruby insisted were his enemies (for example, his lawyer, Joe Tonahill). Little wonder that the chief FBI expert in lie-detection polygraphy, Bell P. Herndon, who gave the test, testified later that its results were too ambiguous to support any conclusive interpretation.
Yet Ruby’s session with the lie-detector is as rich with suggestive details as the session before Warren and Ford. We are anxious to press on to a statement of our conception of Dallas, but the person of Ruby has been ignored too long, and the special volatility of the JFK issue as a whole just now begs for special awareness of the importance of Ruby’s role. Ruby’s gangland situation makes him a direct link between the Bay of Pigs and Dallas.
The text of this interview must be read in its entirety to be appreciated, something we cannot begin to do here. We must be satisfied with the key points from the interview itself. Then we go to the sequel, the psychiatrist’s on-the-spot analysis of what Ruby was up to in his “psychotic delusional” state, and the examiners explanation of the ambiguity of the test.
The basic problem of the lie-detector test surfaces as soon as Ruby comes into the Dallas City Jail interrogation room at 2:23 p.m., July 18, 1964. His lawyers and family have taken the position that he must not give the prosecuting attorney (William Alexander, present in the room) a way to prove his murder of Oswald was a premeditated act. His lawyers want to argue that it was total coincidence he drifted into the basement of the jail just as Oswald was being moved, and that it was only when he happened to see Oswald before him that he was overwhelmed by the idea of taking out the pistol, which he was packing by another coincidence, and shooting him down on the spot, without stopping to think about it.
But the story Ruby seems careless in telling is that his motive began to form early that morning when he saw a press item about Caroline Kennedy in the Sunday paper and realized that the widow would have to return to Dallas for the trial of Oswald. Ostensibly to show that Jews like himself (so runs his story) could act in a patriotic and brave way, he seized the time.
It is true that Ruby never says he started planning to kill Oswald that morning before he went downtown. He says clearly he went downtown to send money to a stripper who complained that morning by phone from Fort Worth that she needed money since Ruby had closed the Carousel for three days including the regular payday. He went down to the Western Union office to send her a money order, then went in a very straight line over to the jail, eased down the ramp, was confronted at once with Oswald, and stepped into the experience that killed both of them.
The polygraph testimony opens with Ruby offstage, his lawyers laying what ground they can to keep the results of the lie-detector test closed up. The Warren people are sympathetic to that. Assistant Counsel Specter loses no opportunity to make it clear tha the test is not happening because of any desire of the commission’s: it’s members have never entertained the least doubt of Ruby’s basic story.
Ruby is not long on stage before this comes up. He at once moves to make his position plain, lawyers or no lawyers. “I want to supersede the attorney…in stating that I want everything to come out immediately, as soon as possible, and whoever wants to know the results – what the results are – I want it to be known, regardless of which way it turns.”
A little later he tries unsuccessfully to get one of his lawyers out of the room:
RUBY: Did you get your pants sewed up, Joe?
TONAHIL: It went through to my leg.
RUBY: That was a pretty rough brawl we had, wasn’t it, Joe?
RUBY: Joe, I’d appreciate it if you weren’t in the room. Can I ask you to leave, Joe?
TONAHILL: I’ll be glad to leave, if you want me to, Jack.
RUBY: As a matter of fact, I prefer Bill Alexander to you, you’re supposed to be my friend.
TONAHILL: Let the record show that Mr. Ruby says he prefers Bill Alexander being herd during this investigation, who is the assistant district attorney who asked that a jury give him the death sentence, to myself, who asked the jury to acquit him, his attorney.
HERNDON: May we proceed?
And they do, and no one leaves the room. From this point on, no doubt, it is absurd to think the polygraph could prove anything whatsoever. The atmosphere is demonstrably too unsettling; conditions are too controlled from the standpoint of forensic polygraphy to support any meaningful interpretation of Ruby’s responses. The test is being run purely to satisfy Ruby, and no one shows any intention of treating at as a serious probe for a difficult truth.
Finally comes the test proper, the long, emotionally grueling examination covering exactly those aspects of the event that Ruby specified, touching on such issues as the Cuban connection, the Syndicate connection, the Communist angle, and his intentions toward Oswald. Herndon first walks Ruby through each test series, adjusts the questions to make sure they are exactly the questions Ruby wants to answer and that ht understands them completely, then goes through them again with the polygraph switched on. The sixty-six pages of testimony are shot through with haunting and suggestive exchanges, such as the following, as Herndon reads through the question that comes closest to the heart of the premeditation issue:
HERNDON: Did you tell anyone you were thinking of shooting Oswald before you did it?
HERNDON: Is that question all right, do you understand it?
RUBY: Yes – I take that back. Sunday morning – I want to elaborate on that – before I left my apartment – it evidently didn’t register with the person [he may mean his roommate, George Senator] because of the way I said it. In other words, the whole basis of this whole thing was that Mrs. Kennedy would have to come back for trial.
Whereupon Tonahill’s partner, Fowler, stages a demonstration to stop Ruby from saying such a thing with his prosecutor present.
For the purposes of our summary, Ruby’s key statement in this lie-detector testimony is the following. It comes toward the end, when he is tired and seems to feel the situation slipping away.
RUBY: Let me put it this way: Here I run a nightclub. I run a nightclub and on Friday this tragic event happens, and I get carried away more so than anyone else. Why? Why was I so sick mentally or so carried away?
I immediately replace my newspaper ads so that I would be closed for those 3 days. This is the ironic part of it, that wouldn’t it be a tremendous hoax, or certain people would probably believe it that way, a that here’s a fellow that didn’t vote for the president, closes his clubs for 3 days, made a trip to Cuba, relayed a message from a person – from Ray Brantley – look at circumstantially how guilty I am. If you want to put these things together. Then I happen to be down there [the ramp], which is a million to one shot, that I should happen to be down there at that particular second when this man comes out of whatever it was, an elevator or whatever it was. All these things. Plus the fact of the post office box and some other rumors that they saw us together at the club. How can we give me the clearance that the ads I put in where authentic, my sincerity, my feeling of emotionalism were sincere; that that Sunday morning I got carried away after reading the article, a letter addressed to Caroline and then this little article that stated Mrs. Kenned might be requested to come back and face the ordeal of the trial.
Also, if there was a conspiracy, then this little girl that called me on the phone in Fort Worth then is part of the conspiracy. Do you follow me?
If I follow Ruby, he is giving us here a perfectly serious lead – who was “this little Fort Worth girl?” – as well as a powerful list of reasons why he should not be taken at his work about killing Oswald out of love for Kennedy and sympathy for the widow. (a) He was not a Kennedy man. (b) It was verifiable that he was in Cuba on Syndicate business just before the Revolution took power, and that he relayed an important Syndicate business message in 1959, i.e., Ruby was on the exact opposite side of the fence from the anti-Syndicate Kennedys. (c) It was a million-to-one shot that he should have been on the ramp just as Oswald appeared. (d) There are traces of a prior Ruby-Oswald-Tippit relationship, or of some such thickening of the story underneath. But this excited no great interest in the commission or Assistant Counsel Specter, who believed already that these were innocuous coincidences and acceptable doubts.
Three minutes after Ruby left the room, at 9:10, the commission reconvened to question Dr. William Robert Beavers, a psychiatrist who had been examining Ruby, on his reaction to Ruby’s behavior under the long questioning.
Specter was trying to get Beavers to say that Ruby was out of his mind, and technically at least Beavers does that. He says that when he first examined Ruby late in April, “he had briefly what I call a psychotic depression, that is, he had evidence of auditory hallucinations and a poorly defined but definite delusional system which waxed and waned during the time of the interview, and he had evidence of a severe degree of depression….”
Asked if he has now a different view in light of the interrogation just concluded, Beavers answers, “Yes, I do. I think that as I have seen him, the depressive element has diminished, and that the delusional system has become less open and obvious….”
What struck him as indicative of Ruby’s unsoundness of mind was “the relationship he has with his attorneys [Tonahill and Fowler]. There are certain kinds of actions and behavior in these two relationships which fit better in my opinion with the continuation of a covert delusional system concerning threats to his race, his family, based on his presumed activity in a conspiracy, than it would with rational realistic appreciation of the factors in his environment.”
A few lines later, Beavers backs a little closer to it:”….It seemed to me, because he was fairly certain in his answers during the trial run, and then following this during the actual run of the polygraph, there was so much hesitation and uncertainty which resulted in no answers, that we were seeing a good deal of internal struggle as to just was reality.
Then speculating on the possible reason for this “hesitation and uncertainty,” Beavers almost puts his finger on it: “It possibly could have been his trying to protect in some way an answer from the polygraph.”
Protect? Meaning to conceal? This Ruby who has given us a hundred tips that he is concealing something which he does not wish to conceal? An who could have concealed everything by simply not demanding this test at the top of his voice against the wishes of all the other parties?
Maybe on the contrary, Ruby was trying to say something. As he said when Herndon asked him why he closed his eyes in answering the questions, “I’m trying to be more emphatic with the truth when I close my eyes – more than the truth.”
The more Beavers goes on, the more he dissolves his own original picture of Ruby as a depressive- delusional psychotic. “In the greater proportion of the time that he answered the question,” he says, “I felt that he was aware of the question and that he understood them, and that he was giving answers based on an apprehension of reality.” And again: “In short, he seemed to behave like a man with a well-fixed delusional system in which whole areas of his thinking and his behavior are not strongly interfered with by the delusion.”
That is, Beavers thought Ruby was sane in all respects except his belief that there had been a conspiracy in Dallas.
But now Ruby’s hated attorney Joe Tonahill comes on and poses a preposterous but fascinating question. First he sums up what they have all seen about Ruby’s attitude towards himself and Alexander, the prosecuting attorney in his murder trial. Tonahill notes that Ruby has been consistently antagonistic to himself and yet has shown “tremendous faith and confidence in Mr. Alexander.” Now comes the question: “Have you an opinion as to what goes on with reference to Ruby’s mental illness that causes him to put faith in Mr. Alexander and no faith in me?”
Beavers first accepts the premise of that question, i.e., that Tonahill’s view of Ruby’s best interests is correct, and that if Ruby’s view does not coincide with this view, then Ruby must be crazy. But then Beavers starts to go beyond that assumption and comes as close as anyone I know of to the conception of Ruby I am working out here. Like Icarus he soars and then falls:
….in fact there is a considerable body of people, the district attorney’s office and district attorneys included, who do feel that he is party of a conspiracy, and that in fact either past, present and/or future actions toward loved ones and toward members of his race are going to be taken against these people because of this presumed conspiracy. If this were the case, then it would make extremely good sense that he would want Mr. Alexander here, and he would want him here very definitely, because…he is much more concerned with getting the truth out so that a whole host of terrible things won’t happen.
Ten days later, Specter interviewed Herndon on the interpretation of Ruby’s polygraph. Herndon took note of the others who had been present in the room, acknowledged the irregularity of that and the length of the test, and said outright that during the latter prat of the test Ruby’s fatigue had probably “desensitized” his reactions. Within that limit, Herndon’s general conclusion was, “if in fact Ruby was mentally competent and sane, that there was no indication of deception with regard to the specific relevant pertinent questions of this investigation.”
But then even under the incurious questioning of Specter, Herndon seemed to cast doubt on his own judgment, or more exactly, on the polygraph’s ability to support a solid interpretation of any kind.
For example, he says that Ruby’s negative answer to the question, “Did you assist Oswald in the assassination?” could be interpreted [as suggesting] that there was no physiological response to the stimulus of the question,” and yet when Specter asks him what he means by “could be interpreted,” it develops that the polygraph showed “a slight impact of the GSR” (galvanic skin response) to that question. Or again, to the question, “Between the assassination and the shooting, did anybody you know tell you they knew Oswald?” Herndon says Ruby answered with “a noticeable change in the pneumograph pattern,” but waves it off as owing to the relatively long length of this particular question.” Then consider Herndon’s explanation of Ruby’s response pattern to one of the most significant sequences of questions:
HERNDON: This particular series, 3a [Exhobit 4], was what would be called a modified peak of tension series [i.e., all questions are “significant” and not interspersed with insignificant ones]. Ruby was carefully instructed prior to the series that four relevant questions were going to be asked in a consecutive order.
Question No. 3: “Did you first decide to shoot Oswald on Friday night?” He responded “No.”
Question No. 4: “Did you first decide to shoot Oswald Saturday morning?” He responded “No.”
Question No. 5: “Did you first decide to shoot Oswald Saturday night?”. He responded “No.”
Question No. 6: “Did you first decide to shoot Oswald Sunday morning?” He responded “Yes.”
These are the only relevant questions in this series. A review of the chart with regard to his responses in this series reveals that the Ruby’s blood pressure continually rose from the question No. 3 until it reached a peak just as question No. 6 was asked. In addition it was noted that there was a rather noticeable change in his breathing pattern as question No. 6 was approached. There is a slight impact in the GSR tracing as question No. 6 was approached. This would mean to me in interpreting the chart that Ruby reached a peak of tension as the question No. 6 was about to be asked in which he responded “Yes” to “Did you first decide to shoot Oswald Sunday morning?” This particular type of series cannot be interpreted with regard to whether or not there was any deception, but it does indicate that Ruby built up a physiological peak of tension to the time of Sunday morning with regard to his shooting Oswald.
SPECTER: Is there any correlation between the building up of a peak of tension and the accurate answer to the series?
HERNDON: In normal usage of polygraph technique where a peak of tension is used, if the series is effective, the party will usually respond to a particular item which happens to be the most pertinent with regard to the offense. In this case it appears that Ruby projected his entire thoughts and built up a physiological peak of tension at the point of Sunday morning.
SPECTER: Are there any other significant readings on Exhibit No. 4?
HERNDON: There is no other significant reading on series 4.
Decoded and straightened out, what Ruby was trying to say to Warren comes down to the following main points:
Because of threats against his family emanating from the Dallas Police Department primarily, he could not tell his story in Dallas or indeed to anyone not powerful enough to secure his family once he did talk.
Failing in his plan to escape to Washington with Warren, Ruby opts for the shrewd but naïve strategy of telling his lie to a lie detector. But thanks to Herndon, that didn’t work either.
His story is a long way yet from reconstruction, but he gives us leads and fragments, the most spectacular of which is a whole rich set of suggestions tying him variously into high-level Syndicate figures operating in pre-revolutionary Cuba, and as we know today, involved later in attempts against the Castro government in covert operations connected with elements of the CIA and stemming from the Bay of Pigs, operations which Kennedy used force to extirpate two months before his death. This makes the Ruby case totally of a piece with the over-all affair of the Bay of Pigs/Dallas reactions. The world of Ruby, of the Carousel, and of the Dallas cops was also the world of the Bay of Pigs and of the secret staging bases outside Miami and New Orleans.
Ruby asks us as directly as he can to entertain the hypothesis that he was a member of the JFK assassination cabal, that his purpose in liquidating Oswald was to satisfy the cabal’s need to keep the patsy from standing trial, and that something happened to him in the Dallas jail between the time he killed Oswald and the time he began demanding to come before Warren, something to change his mind. Of course I don not press this speculation, but I do say that it better fits the few facts we have than the Warren theory that Ruby too was just another lone nut of Dallas. Thanks to the providential bust at Watergate, we are now too ferociously educated about our government to dismiss as inherently crazy Ruby’s fear of covert reprisals from the police or his warnings that “a whole new form of government” was being installed as a result of Dallas.
For this is indeed the direction in which our current discoveries and insights about the assassination and its cover-up are propelling us, namely, that what happened in Dealey Plaza was a coup d’etat. The motive of this coup no one could have foreseen at the time without access to the innermost closets of the group that engineered it. As Johnson began shouldering Yankee advisers aside (see the Pentagon Papers), meanwhile mystifying his relationship to Kennedy to make himself seem merely the continuation of Kennedy by other means, it was hard for many to see the coming of a radically new war policy in Vietnam, though the big war was very soon upon us (two-hundred thousand troops by the time of the first national March on Washington against the war in April 1965). As we have noted, Johnson also set in motion plans to carry out a for-good invasion of Cuba, the so-called Second Naval Guerrilla, abandoned only because of the outbreak of the Dominican revolt in early 1965 and Johnson’s decision to suppress it with the invasion forces assembled originally for Cuba. Now we see these under-the-table moves quite clearly and see them as radical departures from Frontier Camelot policy lines, not as the continuations which Johnson and Nixon and all the other chauvinists found it convenient to pretend they were. The Johnson administration was not the fulfillment of Kennedy policy; it was its defeat and reversal.
Among the witnesses who testified to Warren, few more than Ruby make us feel the presence of these momentous themes. He is garbled, murky, incomplete, and as his friend and roommate George Senator says, apolitical in any conventional sense. Yet something about what happened to him after killing Oswald makes him more fully in touch with the situation’s underlying realities than anyone else who testified – or who listened from the bench.
In late 1965, Washington post columnist Dorothy Killgallen interviewed Ruby at length in the Dallas jail. She came out to tell a few friends that on the basis of this interview she was “about to blow the JFK case sky high.” Within a few days, however, before she had a chance to do that, she died of a massive overdose of barbiturates, ruled a suicide. Her New York apartment was found in a shambles. Her notes from the Ruby interview never turned up.
Sick with cancer (he claimed he was being poisoned), Ruby died in his cell of a stroke early in 1967.
The Yankee and Cowboy War
The conclusion of chapter four will be forthcoming.
In my ongoing project to make available online the entire text of Carl Oglesby’s book on the JFK assassination, Watergate and the various elements that influenced the events –The Yankee and Cowboy War – I am not going to present the first part of Chapter Four. This chapter is a very long one and full of important details on what happened that dark day in Dealey Plaza and the characters and subplots involved in both the highly-coordinated takedown of President Kennedy as well as the cover-up that exists to this day. Like 9/11 the true story of what happened has yet to be told and the same rogue secretive infrastructure that blew off JFK’s head for crossing them has morphed and adapted over the years into a similar one that aided and abetted the ‘terrorist’ attacks on September 11, 2001 as the implementation of a militarized police state domestically as well as a relentless and illegal war machine abroad has been swapped out with what used to be a constitutionally protected republic.
The Yankee and Cowboy War
By Carl Oglesby
Chapter Four (part one)
According to the Warren Commission, Lee Harvey Oswald was a chronic malcontent and loner who in 1959 broke off his career in the U.S. Marines with an irregular discharge in order to defect to the Soviet Union, to which he may have supplied valuable military secrets. He married in Russia, tried to settle down to a Communist domesticity with a job in an electronics factory in Minsk, but reconsidered after two years and decided to come home. He returned in mid-1962 with his wife Marina and their two children, stayed briefly in New Orleans then settled in Dallas-Fort Worth.
He clung to his Marxist beliefs in spite of his evidently unhappy experience in Russia and became an activist, setting up the New Orleans chapter of a pro-Castro group called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee – a chapter of which he remained, however, the only member. Early in 1963, he may have fired a shot at retired General Edwin Walker, a hard-line rightwinger. Strangely for one of his apparent views, he tried later to join up with Prio’s Cuban Revolutionary Council, the major anti-Castro grouping among the militant Cuban exiles camped those days in Miami and New Orleans and still seething over the Bay of Pigs. But then Earl Warren finds him back in character a few days later passing out pro-Castro leaflets (a courageous act in the New Orleans of that period), then going to Mexico City in September in an (unsuccessful) effort to get a visa to visit Cuba. On November 22, in Dallas, at 12:31 p.m. at Dealey Plaza, according to Warren, he shot and killed the president and shot and severely wounded Texas Governor John Connolly in the presidential limousine; then less than an hour later, in another part of town, desperate to escape, he shot and killed Dallas patrolman J.D. Tippit.
He was captured soon after by a police squadron alerted to a gate-crasher at the Texas Theater. He was interrogated for six hours off the record by Dallas officers, who charged him early with the murder of Tippit, then later with the Dealey Plaza shootings. Unlike the standard political assassin qua lone nut, who characteristically boasts of his deed and claims it before history, Oswald took an unashamedly frightened stance, begged someone to come forward to help him, and said from the beginning that he was being made a patsy and could prove it.
On the Sunday morning after that Friday, Oswald was to be transferred to the city jail to the county jail, where it was said he would be more secure. The millions absorbed in television scenes of the funeral procession were rudely switched to Dallas for the on-camera murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby in the very basement of the Dallas jail. Ruby was a Dallas nightclub operator who said he was motivated by sorrow for the plight of the widow, who would have to come to Dallas for the trial of Oswald, a further ordeal he wished to spare her. As a result of his act, the case against Oswald was effectively closed. Ruby’s extensive ties to the Dallas police, organized crime, and the Dallas oligarchy were briefly noted by Warren, but not explored. Like Oswald, Ruby was painted as another lone nut.
Ruby died in prison in 1967, protesting in a voice constantly breaking into hysteria that the real truth about Dallas was still not known.
As will emerge from point to point in the following critique of the Warren theory of Dealey Plaza, the early objections to this theory have only been fortified over the years of debate by new discoveries and insights. More than a dozen years later, the classic critique of Warren retains its original form and power. The first-generation critics, notably Sylvia Meagher, Harold Weisberg, Josia Thompson, Mark Lane, Edward Epstein and Penn Jones, have not been surpassed.
This attests to their good sense, but it also points to the magnitude of the Warren theory’s main faults. There they stand for all who look to see – the problems of the bullet and the rifle, the medical indications, the sloppy, not to say prejudiced character of the deliberation over the evidence, the concealment of doubts, etc.
The newcomer to the detailed evidence is often surprised to find the Warren Report’s flaws so apparent. For example, Connally never gave up his conviction that he was hit by a different bullet from the one that went through Kennedy’s neck. If that is true, then (as we see in detail below) any lone-gunman theory tied to Oswald is ruled out absolutely, no subtlety to it. Yet Connally is today, as he always has been, a supporter of the Warren theory. Asked to reconcile the two beliefs, he answers that he knows he was not hit by the first Kennedy shot, but that the Warren commissioners were “good patriots” whose would could not be doubted. The main support for the Warren no-conspiracy theory was Warren’s reputation.
Contemporary critique is not so dazzled by Warren’s moral genius. We do not for a moment doubt his passionate desire to do the right thing. We insist, however, that in the complex moral predicament into which the assassination of Kennedy plunged Warren (and Warren liberalism), it was entirely possible that Warren lost his way and did not know what the right thing was. Then he could not resist taking the path others were expecting him to take, the path of the lone-assassin pretense.
We criticize the Warren theory of Dallas in any case on purely factual terms, concentrating on (1) the physical details of the shootings of Kennedy and Connally, (2) the identity of Oswald, and (3) the testimony of Ruby. Then we take up (4) the politics of the evident Warren cover-up. Finally we attempt (5) an alternative reconstruction of the crime.
Oswald had been a stock handler at the depository since October. At lunchtime on Friday, November 22 – according to Warren – he was alone in the southeast corner window of the sixth floor with a 6.5 mm bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcanno rifle in his hands, an early World War II weapon, which, according to Warren, he had purchased only a few months before from Klein’s Mail-Order Sporting Goods for $12.79, and which he had brought to work that morning wrapped as curtain rods.
At 12:30 the lead cars in the motorcade from Love Field appeared below him at the corner of Main and Houston, turned up Houston directly toward him, then turned again to pass in front of him down Elm toward the triple underpass. Then the presidential limousine followed. J. Edgar Hoover once observed that Oswald’s easiest shot came as his target was approaching him up Houston. He waited until the car had made the turn and was several hundred feet down Elm. According to Warren, he then fired three shots at the president’s back within a period not longer than 5.6 seconds.
Of the first two shots, according to Warren, one of the other struck Kennedy high up on the back, deviated the first of several times from its original flight path, ranged upwards and leftwards through his body, exited at his neck, nicked the left side of the knot in the necktie, deviated again downwards and to the right, struck Connally in the back over the right armpit, tore through the governor’s body, and came out just inside the right nipple, leaving a gaping exit wound. It then deviated again to strike his right hand at the wrist, smashing the wrist bone into seven fragments. It exited the wrist and plunged into the left thigh just above the knee. Then it worked its way out Connally’s thigh on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital, where it was found by a hospital attendant and turned over to the Dallas police. This bullet found on the stretcher, Commission Exhibit 399, is the totality of the hard evidence tying Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to the crime, just as the rifle itself is the only hard evidence tying the crime to Oswald. Everything else is circumstantial. But we are getting ahead.
The other of the first two shots missed altogether and hit the curb far ahead of the car. A fragment of curbstone chipped off by the bullet superficially wounded the cheek of a bystander, James Tague.
Oswalds third shot, said Warren, hit Kennedy above the front right temple and blew off that portion of his head. The limousine had been slowing until then. At that point it sped off for Parkland Hostpital.
The physical and logical inadequacies of this reconstruction may grouped into three areas:
(1) the magic bullet
(2) the magic rifle, and
(3) indications of a front shot.
Its pristine condition is the simplest of these reasons and in any other situation would be easily conclusive all by itself. One can simply see from the Warren photos that the bullet is all but undamaged. It never hit anything harder than a bale of cotton; it had nothing to do with these wounds.
As if indeed to force us to see this, Warren prints the photograph of CE399 alongside an identical bullet fired by the FBI through the wrist of a cadaver. As all can see, the test bullet came through severely distorted; the whole upper body of the bullet was flattened by impact with the wristbone, one of the denser bones in the body. The only real explanation offered by Warren for CE399’s pristine condition was that it must have tumbled upon smashing through Connally’s ribs and hit his wrist flying backwards, that is, with the blunt-end, that is with the blunt end to the fore –as though a blunt-end impact would not lead to a still more radical shape deformation and still greater weight loss.
Second, as we have noted, Connally was convinced that the bullet that hit him and the bullet that hit Kennedy in the neck were two separate bullets, not the same CE399. Warren Commission Attorney Arlen Specter, the author of the single bullet theory, examined Connally before the commission on April 21, 1964. The exchange on this point went as follows:
MR. SPECTER: In your view, which bullet caused the injury to you chest, Governor Connelly?
GOVERNOR CONNALLY: The second one.
MR. SPECTER: And what is you reason for that conclusion, sir?
GOVERNOR CONNALLY: Well, in my judgment, it just couldn’t conceivably have been the first one because I heard the sound of the shot. In the first place, I don’t know anything about the velocity of this particular bullet [2000 fps], but any rifle has a velocity that exceeds the speed of sound [6-700 fps], and when I heard the sound of that first shot, that bullet had already reached where I was, or it had reached that far, and after I heard that shot, I had time to turn to my right, and start to turn to my left before I felt anything.
It is not conceivable to me that I could have been hit by the first bullet, and then I felt the blow from something which was obviously a bullet, which I assumed was a bullet, and I never heard the second shot, didn’t hear it. I didn’t hear but two shots, I think I heard the first shot and the third shot.
MR. SPECTER: Do you have any idea as to why you did not hear the second shot?
GOVERNOR CONNALLY: Well, first, again I assume the bullet was traveling faster than sound. I was hit by the bullet prior to the time the sound reached me, and I was in either a state of shock or the impact was such that the sound didn’t even register on me, but I was never conscious of hearing the second shot at all.
Obviously, at least the major wound that I took in the shoulder through the chest couldn’t have been anything but the second shot. Obviously, it couldn’t have been the third, because when the third shot was fired I was in a reclining position, and heard it, saw it and the effects of it, rather – I didn’t see it, I saw the effects of it –so it obviously could not have been the third, and couldn’t have been the first, in my judgment.
Third, the famous Zapruder film shows that as much as a full second after Kennedy was shot in the neck, Connally remained apparently unwounded. When he did react, there was nothing ambiguous about it. His hair shot up. His mouth dropped. Then he seemed to be hit a second time. He slumped immediately to his left into his wife’s lap.
The Warren lawyers explain away the time lapse as a “delayed reaction,” even though the specific pathology of Connally’s wounds, notably the breaking of the ribs and the wrist, make such a theory implausible on its face, and even though the commission had heard expert medical testimony against the delayed-reaction explanation. (Connally is visibly holding his Stetson in the hand with the shattered wrist many Z-frames after Kennedy has first been hit.)
Fourth, the commission produced out of it’s own inquiries the most technically conclusive evidence against the magic bullet theory, although the significance of this evidence may have been concealed from the commission by the FBI, which arranged for the test to be conducted for the commission by the Atomic Energy Commission. This test, neutron-activation analysis, or NAA, involves the same technique that two Swedish scientists used to prove in 1961 that Napolean had actually been murdered by gradual arsenic poising. The method is to bombard the specimen material with neutrons and then measure the emissions thus produced. The operating premise is that any difference in atomic structure of two materials, however slight, will be observable in these emissions. This is why Allegheny County coroner Cyril Wecht describes NAA as “one of the most powerful and sophisticated science methods ever developed.”
In the current case, NAA was used to compare fragments of a bullet taken from Connally’s wrist (and elsewhere) with material taken from the nose of CE399. If the fragments and the slivers are from the same bullet, they will give off precisely the same emissions under neutron activation.
Until the success of Harold Weisberg’s Freedom-of-Information Act suit in 1974, it was not known for a fact that NAA had been performed. Hoover reported that it had been, but knowingly or not, he concealed the significance of it in a letter to Warren’s chief counsel Rankin dated July 8, 1964. By that time, Specter’s draft of chapter 3 of the Report, setting forth the single-bullet theory, had already been submitted to Rankin. As Wecht observes, Hoover’s language “hast to be read in its entirety to be appreciated,” so I follow him in repeating the letter in full:
As previously reported to the Commission, certain small lead metal fragments uncovered in connection with this matter were analyzed spectrographically to determine whether they could be associated with one or more of the lead bullet fragments and no significant differences were found within the sensitivity of the spectrographic method.
Because the higher sensitivity of the neutron activation analysis, certain of the small lead fragments were then subjected to neutron activation analysis and comparisons with larger bullet fragments. The items analyzed included the following: C1 – bullet from stretcher; C2 – fragment from front seat cushion; C4 and C5 – metal fragments from President Kennedy’s head; C9 – metal fragment from the arm of Governor Connally; C16 – metal fragments from the rear floor board carpet of the car.
While minor variations in composition were found by this method, these were not considered sufficient to permit positively differentiating among the larger bullet fragments and thus positively determining from which of the larger bullet fragments any given small lead fragment may have come.
[s] J. Edgar Hoover.
The boiling obfuscations of that last paragraph show us Hoover at his best. There is no way for the technically uninformed to know that in the NAA test any difference is “sufficient.” If one could strip down Hoover’s subordinate clause to its grammatical essentials, one would have the heart of the matter right enough: “Variations…were found.” Therefore the fragments from Connally’s wrist and CE399 were not of the same bullet. Which should have been obvious to grown men to start with from looking at bullet CE399 with their own two eyes open.
2. The magic rifle is Oswald’s 6.5 – mm Mannlicher-Carcano. Like its companion bullet CE399, it rates the status of magic because it shows so little sign of having been able to do what, for Warren theory purposes, it must have done.
The weapon Oswald is supposed to have selected for his great moment was a bolt-action Italian army rifle mass-produced in the early 1940s. It was not a serious sharpshooting weapon when it was made and two decades of aging could not have improved it.
The telescopic sight was fitted for a left-handed marksman. Oswald was right-handed.
The scope was misaligned so badly that the FBI had to adjust the mounting apparatus before it could test-fire the rifle.
But the deeper problem would still exist even if the rifle had been straight-shooting and fitted with a properly mounted and adjusted scope, because the deeper problem is that the maximum number of shots Oswald could have taken with that rifle in five-and-half seconds was three, and three shots are too few to explain all the damage that was done at that moment to people and things in Dealey plaza.
Add to this the fact that Oswald was rated only a poor marksman in the Marines and that, in one expert’s words, “The feat attributed to Oswald at Dallas was impossible for any one but a world champion marksman using a high-precision semiautomatic rifle mounted on a carriage and equipped with an aim corrector, and who had practiced at moving targets in similar set-ups.”
The most impressive defense of the Mannlicher and Oswald’s ability to use it in the way claimed by Warren that anyone has seen so far was produced by CBS News in the first of its four-part special called The American Assassins, aired in most cities around Thanksgiving 1975. The first part was devoted to the physical analysis of the JFK case. Setting out to settle the dispute about the rifle’s capabilities once and for all, CBS erected in the countryside a target-sled and platform arrangement simulating the geometry and distances of the shot from the southeast corner of the sixth floor of the Book Depository, then brought 11 expert riflemen- from the military, from the police, from the firearms industry – to give it a crack: Here toes the sled at the speed and along the path of the limousine. You have 5.6 seconds to squeeze off three shots and score with two of them. After practice, two of the eleven experts were able to do what Oswald is said to have done, two hits out of three shots in 5.6 seconds. CBS does not pause to say how many total series were fired by these eleven, or how many times the two who did it once could do it again. They are impatient to state their interpretation of this result. The reasoning now goes: Since a small percentage of expert riflemen could do it, it was possible. Since it was possible, it was possible for Oswald. Therefore he must have done it. CBS knew that Oswald had never practiced from that position or elevation, that he had not even been on a target range for at least two months, and that all his ex-Marine comrades regarded him as a poor shot. CBS is forced to make the argument, read from the teleprompter by an unblinking Dan Rather, that Oswald had scored, “after all, in the second highest category of marksmen in an outfit, the United States Marines, that prides itself on its marksmanship.” Whoever wrote that had to know that when Oswald was in the Marines, there were only three categories, that you were already in the third of these if you could heft the rifle to your shoulder, and that the minimum score required to enter “the second highest category” was 190, and that Oswald’s score was 191. CBS knew this. It is all in the Warren hearings. It is all nicely accessible in Sylvia Meagher’s work which CBS says it consulted. Misunderstanding or difference of interpretation can always be understood, but does this treatment of the rifle’s capabilities, the demands of the shot, and Oswald’s skill with the weapon fall within that dispensation? Do these look like honest mistakes?
But the worst problem is that for all its testing and proving, CBS is not even addressing the real issue with the rifle. The problem that leads people to doubt that Oswald did what Warren said he did with that rifle is that shot that first hit Kennedy and the shot that first hit Connolly came only 1.8 seconds apart, as is easily determined by analysis of the Zapruder film, and not even the fastest of CBS team of experts was able to reload and fire the Mannlicher anywhere near that fast.
3. Among several indications of a front shot, the backward snap of Kennedy’s head and body visible in the Zapruder film at frame 313 is without doubt the most gruesome and most convincing piece of evidence against the lone-Oswald theory. Indeed, not taking Zapruder into advance account may ultimately prove the big mistake the assassination cabal made.
With his brand-new 8-mm Bell and Howell camera, Abraham Zapruder was standing part way up the grassy knoll that borders Elm on the north and runs up to the railroad tracks. He looked to his left (east) to pick up the motorcade at it turned from Houston left onto Elm, and panned with the Kennedy limousine as it passed in front of him. Kennedy disappeared momentarily behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. He was shot first at precisely that one moment offstage to Zapruder’s camera. When he reappeared a fraction of a second later, his hands were already going to his throat. Then in about a second and a half Connally was going over too.
Just when the episode seems finished comes that endless-seeming moment before the fatal headshot. Zapruder had steadied his camera again. The limousine is actually slowing down. Four-one-thousand, five-one-thousand. Kennedy is straight in front of us. Then his head explodes in a plume of pink mist and he is driven violently into the back of the carseat.
Members of the Assassination Information Bureau, including myself, presented the Zapruder film and other photographic evidence to the editorial board of the Boston Globe and at a meeting at the Globe offices on April 23, 1975. Two days later Globe Executive Editor Robert Healey published a long editorial in which he summed up the board’s general reaction to the Zapruder film as follows:
It is this particular piece of film, with stop action and with individual still frames, that is being shown around the nation and which has convinced some, at least, that Oswald could not have fired all the shots that killed President Kennedy….The visual presentation is far more convincing than all the books and all the magazine articles that have ever been advanced. They make a simple and convincing case that President Kennedy had to be killed by bullets fired from two directions and thus by more than one person. And no words can make the case better than the Zapruder film. It is as simple as that.
It was not as simple as that to CBS, of course, or its carfully selected array of medical and ballistics experts.
Warren defenders, among them CBS prominently, have searched over the years for a plausible explanation of the backward movement of Kennedy’s head. How could a shot fired from behind the President have driven him backward?
An early theory was that the car lurched forward at just that moment, but that was abandoned when it was pointed out (from Zapruder) that the limousine continued to slow down until Secret Service agent Clint Hill got to the back of the car and climbed on. It did not speed up until Jackie Kennedy had crawled out on the rear deck to pick up a piece of her husband’s skull.
Then it was explained that “a neuromuscular spasm” was to blame, but that lost favor when resort to Zapruder’s film showed Kennedy’s body had not stiffened but rather hitting the back seat (in Robert Groden’s phrase) “like a rag doll.” Then came the theory that the bullet hit the back of the head with such force that it caused the brain to explode, that in exploding, the brain blew out the front of the head, and that, as a “jet effect” of this explosion, the head was driven backwards. This novel explanation suffers unfairly from the painfulness of explaining it, but its main problem is that the technical premise has never been demonstrated outside its creator’s backyard.
CBS was satisfied with none of these explanations and preferred, again through an unblinking Rather, to offer an altogether new explanation for the backward motion. “Jackie pushed him!” (??) Yes, in her shock, she pushed him away. Again we turn to the film. Can we see it? Does she push? Is there the least sign of a pushing motion on her part? We go frame by frame again and again through the horrible sequence of images from Z-300 or so through 313 and on to 330. What could be clearer? He is knocked backwards out of her hands by a violent force. She is like a statue as he moves. CBS people can see that as readily as you and I. Then why do they say Jackie pushed him?
There are other indications that shots were fired from the front. Here are a few of these.
Another film of the assassination moment, this one taken by Orville Nix from the south side of Elm. He was on the inner mall of the plaza panning with the limousine from right to left. In much poorer quality exposures and with eye-level crowd interference, we nevertheless see everything in the Nix film we see in the Zapruder film, except from the other side – the president thrown backwards. We see Zapruder filming this. We also see the whole crowd on that side of the street reacting spontaneously as though they hear gunfire from the area of the grassy knoll and the railroad bridge.
Two thirds of the ninety witnesses whom Warren asked said the firing came from the grassy knoll area.
Two Parkland Hospital doctors, the first to reach and examine Kennedy upon his arrival at emergency, thought the hole in Kennedy’s neck was a would of entrance, not exit. A complete autopsy might have determined this one way or another, but the throat wound was never explored by the autopsy surgeons.
A Dallas policeman named Joe Smith, one of several policemen who hurried to the grassy knoll area and the shoulder of the railroad bridge in the belief that the gunfire had come from there, said he was summoned by a woman crying: “They are shooting the President from the bushes.” When he got to the knoll he found a man. He told the FBI, “I pulled my gun from my holster and I thought, ‘This is silly, I don’t know who I am looking for,’ and I put it back. Just as I did, he showed me he was a Secret Service agent.” Secret Service records, which I this respect are careful, show that no Secret Serviceman was assigned that area. No Secret Service agent afterward identified himself as the person confronted by Smith.
The Case Against Oswald
Here is the chain of evidence that convicts Oswald: The wounds to Kennedy and Connally are caused by CE399. The bullet CE399 was fired from the Mannlicher-Carcano found in the depository at the sixth-floor window. The Mannlicher-Carcano had been purchased from a mail-order gun supplier a few weeks before in the name of one A. Hidell. Oswald was carrying papers identifying him as Hidell at the time of his arrest.
The astonishing thing is that this is the entirety of the case against Oswald. Besides that chain of associations, the rest of the evidence comes down to an eyewitness who could not repeat his identification of Oswald at a police line-up and a photograph of the alleged assassin published to the whole world on the cover of Life which contained as plain as the nose on Oswald’s face the ocular proof of its totally bogus character.
First take up the links of this chain one by one.
1. The bullet’s link to the wounds: We have already seen how conjectural this link is . It simply does not appear that CE399 was fired into anything harder than a bale of cotton. No test, whether old technology or new, has ever established that any of the fragments found in Kennedy, in Connally, or on the floor of the car came from CE399.
2. The bullet’s link to the rifle: This is the Warren theory’s strong point. There is no doubt that CE399 was fired from a 6.5-mm Mannlicher-Carcano.
3. The rifle’s link to Oswald: As we have noted, Oswald did not own this rifle in his own name. He used the name A. Hiddell to buy it through the mail, said the Dallas police, who claimed the found papers on him identifying him as that person. The Alek Hidell whom Oswald supposedly pretended to be is reckoned by Warren to be the same A. Hidell who left off the Mannlicher-Carcano at a Dallas gunshop several weeks before the shooting to have the sight mounted.
The problems with this link are several. Fist, the gunshop tag showing that the weapon had been scopesighted was discounted by the commission itself as unverifiable and suspect because at the time “Hidell” brought it into the gunshop, Oswald was supposed to be in Mexico City. Second and most important, Warren’s only source for this Hidell information was the Dallas police, and the Dallas police cannot be relied on in this matter. Even one of the Commission’s members, Assistant Council (now Judge) Burt W. Griffin, has discredited the role of the Dallas police in the investigation, telling reporter Robert Kaiser in 1975, “I don’t think some agencies were candid with us. I never thought the Dallas police were telling us the entire truth. Neither was the FBI.
This is not to say that the rifle could not be Oswald’s. The Dallas police are not reliable in this case, but one may still not claim that they always lied in it, or presume that since it was the police who found the Hidell papers on Oswald, then the Hidell papers must be attributed to them as part of the frame-up; or that since it was the police who discovered the rifle at the depository window with its three spent shells neatly in a row against the wall and the cartridge jammed in the firing chamber, it must be the police who set the scene. It would be playing games to deny that there is a certain temptation toward saying the cops did it because who else could get away with it.
But there may be other answers to our questions going beyond current anticipations and fantasies. It would be better to wait for a real investigation, if only because of the likelihood that there are several cover stories hiding the truth of Dallas, of which the lone-Oswald cover story is only the most thinly transparent. Once the necessity for some conspiracy hypothesis is clearly and widely acknowledged, only then will the real arguments erupt. What kind of conspiracy? Left or right? Foreign or domestic? Private or public?
We are already seeing the Castro-plot theory recirculated.
ON the CBS News for April 24, 1975, Walter Cronkite screened for the first time some footage from his September 1969 interview with Lyndon Johnson which had formerly been suppressed to comply with a government request based on the usual standard of national security. CBS now revealed this footage, said Cronkite, because a columnist had lately given the secret away. Actually, it had been out of the bag since Leo Janos’s reminiscence of Johnson’s final days published in the Atlantic Monthly of July 1973, in which Janos quotes Johnson as saying that while he could “accept that Oswald pulled the trigger” he could not be sure the Commission had got to the bottom of it, and his hunch was that Oswald might have been linked to pro-Castro Cubans out for revenge for the Bay of Pigs.
So we have the first-degree cover story that Oswald was alone; now we have the second-degree cover story that Oswald was Castro’s agent. There are likely to be other stories increasingly difficult to challenge and explore from afar: The CIA did it. The FBI did it. The Secret Service did it. The Pentagon did it. The Dallas cops did it. The White Citizens Council did it. The Syndicate did it. The Texas oligarchy did it.
We have every citizenly need and right to voice our intuitions in this matter; we also have a citizenly right to force the questions politically on the basis of the flimsiness of the official case against Oswald, not on the basis of a necessarily speculative interpretation. No new interpretation could possibly be elaborated and defended in the absence of subpoena powers and a strong national commitment to find the truth. The issue is not whether I or someone else can tell you who killed JFK. The issue at the moment is whether or not the government has been telling or concealing the truth.
Next take the Life magazine cover photo of Oswald which appeared on February 21, 1964. People will find it easy to locate. They will see for themselves what might have been obvious at once to the whole world, and certainly to the photo lovers who put Life and the Warren Report together, namely, that this is a doctored photo, and more than that, it is a crudely doctored photo, and doctored more than once, by different hands, at different times.
At first glance, we see simply Oswald in his battle gear, more encumbered-seeming than menacing. In his left hand with the butt against his thigh is (possibly) the weapon of the sixth floor. In his right hand he shows us some literature of the Socialist Workers Party (the FBI’s favorite radical whipping boy; see Hoover’s antileft “conintelpros”). On his right hip is the pistol with which he is supposed to have slain patrolman Tippit.
But if we notice the shadows on Oswald’s face and the shadows his body casts, at once we see that they fall at obviously different angles. The shadow under his nose falls straight down, as though the sun were in front of him. All the other shadows in the photo, including the shadow of his body, fall off sharply to his right behind him, as though the sun were to his left. Then we notice how the entire body is standing seemingly at a gravity-defying angle.
A still closer look at Oswald’s face shows another give-away: the chin is not Oswald’s sharp cleft chin but a broad, round, blunt chin bearing no resemblance to Oswald’s at all. The horizontal line separating the face of Oswald from the rest of the body is also perfectly apparent once one looks.
Where did this bogus photo come from? It was said to have been found among Oswald’s effects by the Dallas police, who also produced another photo of Oswald armed, similarly doctored, taken with the same camera as the first. No other pictures in the collection had been taken by the camera, nor was the camera found among Oswald’s things.
But we said it was doctored more than once. The second time was in the photolab of the Time-Life building, where someone unknown, but with the authority to do so, told and illustrator to paint a telescopic sight on the rifle shown in the photo, something the rifle had when the police presented it to the world after the killing but not when this picture was taken. What could have possessed Time’s editors, that they would tamper in the least respect with this critical piece of evidence?
But there was to come yet a third and much worse tampering, again by the specialists of Time, Inc. In its issue of November 24, 1975, once more sallying forth to lay all doubts of the lone-Oswald theory to rest, Time reprinted this photo – rather, an artfully selected portion of it. For as though to solve the problem of the contradictory shadows, Time cut off the picture at Oswald’s knees, so there was simply no shadow on the ground to see. And as though to solve the problem of the tilting figure, Time rotated the whole photo a few degrees to straighten the sides and lightly airbrushing the background of fence and houses to obscure the fact that the background was now tilting crazily to the right.
What kind of journalism is this? The only possible innocuous explanation is ignorance, and how could ignorance un-aided have hit all these hidden bases so squarely? The layout man at Time is not an expert on Dealey Plaza, but surely the writers and editor of that story cannot claim such an excuse. How do we avoid drawing an inference of intentional deception.
To top it off, with the same article, Time printed a diagram of Dealey Plaza which totally mislocated the famous grassy knoll. As every schoolchild to the debate about JFK’s death learns on the first day in class, “grassy knoll” is a term used exclusively to refer to the area north of Elm up an incline towards the triple overpass, that is, the area to Zapruder’s right. But in the Time drawing the grassy knoll is shown at Zapruder’s left, just next to the depository.
Could this be another accidental slip? Certainly it is not trivial. The whole debate about JFK’s assassination hinges on the shots which Warren’s critics say came from this area, the grassy knoll. What gives so much concrete power to this claim is the massive congruity between the president’s reaction to the headshot and the response of the crowd: he is thrown backwards, and they, after a moment of shock, surge up the knoll in the direction they thought the shots were coming from. This area, of course, is totally separated from Oswald’s supposed perch in the depository at Zapruder’s left.
But on the other hand – as evidently occurred to someone – if the grassy knoll were next to the depository instead of at the other end of the Plaza from it, then the immensity of this problem for the Warren reconstruction of the crime would be lost on the newcomer to the dispute. The newcomer will look at Time’s diagram and justly conclude that, since the grassy knoll and the depository are next to each other, the conflict among the witnesses about the origin of the shots must not be so important.
The Case for Oswald as Patsy
Over and above the weakness of the case against him, Oswald has a handful of interesting positive arguments in his defense. One of these is that he may be visible (in the ubiquitous Altgens photo) in the crowd inside the depository entranceway at the very instant of the shooting. Another is that he was seen by a Dallas policeman and his boss at the depository, standing calmly in the lunch room on the second floor, a maximum of a minute and a half after shooting the president of the United States and the governor of Texas – supposedly – and supposedly having run down four flights of stairs in the meantime, Oswald showed not the least discomposure, Said another depository employee, “I had no thoughts…of him having any connection with it all because he was very calm.”
A different kind of evidence was introduced in 1975 with the so-called Psychological Stress Evaluator, PSE, an instrumental technique that came into being through the CIA efforts to improve the standard lie-detector test. Its technical premise is that the frequency patterns of normal, relaxed speech disappear under stress. A person can show stress and be telling the truth at the same time, say ex-CIA officer George O’Toole and other advocates of the PSE, but if there is no sign of stress, that is a positive indication of truthfulness. “Stress is a necessary but not sufficient condition of lying,” says O’Toole, “but the absence of stress is a sufficient condition of truthfulness.” The device has the added interest of being usable with any voice record, even on low-quality telephone tapes. Its inventors, says O’Toole, originally intended it as an additional channel in their conventional polygraph setup, but found in use that “the new variable was so reliable and accurate a measure of psychological stress that there was really no need to measure the other polygraph variables.”
Two acoustic tape recordings of Oswald’s voice denying his guilt are preserved, recorded during his stay in the Dallas jail between Friday and Sunday. O’Toole found one in the CBS archive. It contains the following exchange between Oswald and the press at midnight Friday in the basement of the jail, Oswald shackled between two policemen.
OSWALD: I positively know nothing about this situation here. I would like to have legal representation.
OSWALD: Well, I was questioned by a judge. However, I protested at that time that I was not allowed legal representation during that very short and sweet hearing. I really don’t know what this situation is about. Nobody has told me anything, except that I’m accused of murdering a policeman. I know nothing more than that. I do request someone to come forward to give me legal assistance.
REPORTER: Did you kill the President?
OSWALD: No, I have not been charged with that. In fact, nobody has said that to me yet. The first thing I heard about it was when the newspaper reporters in the hall asked me that question.
O’Toole tracked down the second specimen in the private collection of a conspiratorialist of Dallas, Al Chapman, in a Columbia Records audio documentary attack on Warren’s critics put out in 1966. Oswald speaks once on this record. O’Toole conjectures the recording was made while Oswald was being led along the crowded third-floor corridor of the police station that Friday night.
OSWALD: These people have given me a hearing without legal representation or anything.
REPORTER: Did you shoot the President?
OSWALD: I didn’t shoot anybody, no sir.
In both specimens, says O’Toole, Oswald shows low stress. The second, categorical denial “contains almost no stress at all.” O’Toole finds in this a proof “that Oswald was telling the truth, that he was not the assassin.” He has support in this judgment so far from several leading technical specialists and practitioners in the PSE field, although at the time of the publication of his book The Assassination Tapes in spring 1975, he says he had not sought expert endorsement. The only criticism of his findings so far is the criticism of the PSE method itself. Presumably this means that if the method is ound, then we have an acoustical companion piece to the Zapruder film. As the film shows us that others had to be shooting at Kennedy, the tape shows us that Oswald was not.
Oswald joined the Marines in 1957 and after basic training was sent to Atsugi, Japan, where one of the CIA’s larger out-front bases was located, a staging area at the time for covert operations into the Chinese mainland and for U-2 overflights.
In September 1959, tow months before normal mustering out, Oswald suddenly applied for a hardship discharge to take care of his mother, who had been slightly injured at work ten months before. Mother Oswald was supported by her regular doctor and an Industrial Accident Board when she denied that this or any other accident cost her any wage-earning capacity or that it was the real motive of her son’s hasty discharge. According to researcher Peter Dale Scott, “…the swift handling of Oswald’s release suggests that it was a cover: Oswald was being ‘sheep dipped’ [prior to] assignment to a covert intelligence role.” Scott points out that his immediate application for a passport for travel to Europe suggests that that role concerned his “defection” to the Soviet Union.
The commission was of course not interested in such speculation and decided to take the word of two CIA and five FBI officials that, in the Report’s words, “there was no, absolutely no type of informant or undercover relationship between an agency of the U.S. Government and Lee Harvey Oswald,” even though in its secret session of January, 27, 1964, the commission heard its own member say that the CIA and the FBI both would deny a connection with Oswald even if one existed.
From the moment of Oswald’s arrest, the story circulated to the effect that he indeed did enjoy such an FBI relationship. This story was finally passed on to the Warren Commission as a formal charge by Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr. Carr said he had learned from reliable informants (who turned out to be on the Dallas district attorneys’ staff) that Oswald got two hundred dollars every month from the FBI as an informer and that his FBI number was 179. On January 27, 1964, the commission went into a secret session to deliberate on this. The record of that meeting would not be released for ten years. The transcript shows Chief Counsel J. Lee Rankin defnining the problem and the task: “We do have a dirty rumor that is very bad for the Commission… and it is very damaging for the agencies that are involved in it and it must be wiped out insofar as it is possible to do so by the Commission.”
But as spy-wise Commissioner Allen Dulles was quick to point out, even if Oswald was an agent for Hoover, it would never be possible to prove it because Hoover would deny it and there would be no way to prove him wrong. “I think under any circumstances,” said Dulles, “…Mr. Hoover would certainly say he didn’t have anything to do with this fellow….If he says no, I didn’t have anything to do with it, you can’t prove what the facts are.” Would Dulles lie in the same situation, asked the commissioners. Yes, said Dulles, and so would any other officer of the CIA. Whereupon the commission goes on to ask two CIA and five FBI officers if Oswald was secretly connected with their outfits, and records their answer that he was not as the basis of their official conclusion on the matter.
Discharged in record time from a CIA-related detachment of the Marines on a seemingly fabricated need to take care of a mother who was not infirm, Oswald stayed home a total of three days, then set off for the Soviet Union by way of France, England and Finland with a $1500 ticked purchased out of a $203 bank balance (never explained).
By 1960 he was in Moscow to stage a scene at the U.S. Embassy. First he renounced his American citizenship, then declared that he was about to give the Russians valuable military secrets. He was then shipped off by the Russians to a factory job in Minsk. There he met and married Marina Pruskova, the niece of a top Soviet intelligence official in the Ministry of the Interior.
He decided in 1962 that he now wanted to come back to the States. In spite of his former scene at the Embassy and the radar secrets and failure to recant, the State Department speedily gave him a new passport and an allotment of several hundred dollars of the return trip with Marina.
The Oswalds were met in the United Sttes by Spas T. Raikin, whome Warren identifies as an official of Travelers Aid. Warren knew, of course, but decided not to add that Raikin was also the former secretary general of the American Friends of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, a group with extensive ties to intelligence agencies in the Far East and Europe, including the Gehlen-Vlassov operation (chapter 2) and the CIA.
In April 1963, the Oswalds moved to New Orleans. According to former CIA official Victor Marchetti, Oswald at that time came into contact with Clay Shaw, now identified positively (by Marchetti) as a CIA officer. Shaw was also close to David Ferrie, an instructor at the guerilla training camps at which, at this point, militant anti-Castro exiles and possibly breakaway elements of the CIA were preparing raids if not new invasions of Cuba. This was the month in which Kennedy for the first time publicly acknowledged the existence of these bases and ordered them closed. The world does not now know what Oswald’s relationship to the CIA’s Shaw was, only that it existed (this by the testimony of nine witnesses). It was while this immediate association with the CIA was alight, however, that Oswald became the one-man New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, supposedly a pro-Castro organization.
The pro-Castro leaflets Oswald once distributed for this committee were stamped with the address, “544 Camp Street.” The commission found no evidence that Oswald kept an office there, but it did find the office of an anti-Castro group, the Cuban Revolutionary Council. We now know the Cuban Revolutionary Council was a CIA creation put together by Howard Hunt, and that the 544 Camp Street was a major headquarters of anti-Castro activity throughout that period.
In August 1963, while passing out his pro-Castro leaflets (something he did twice), Oswald got into a scuffle with some anti-Castro Cubans and was arrested by the New Orleans police. The first and only thing he said at the police department was that he wanted to speak to the FBI, a novel request for a leftwinger of that place, period and predicament. The agent appeared and Oswald got off quickly with a ten-dollar fine.
In September 1963 Oswald supposedly took a bus from New Orleans to Mexico City. His purpose is said to have been to obtain a Cuban travel visa. On October 1, the CIA cabled the State Department and the Office of Naval Intelligence to tell of information from a “reliable and sensitive source” that one Lee Henry Oswald had entered the Soviet Embassy. When the National Archives released a previously classified memo from Helms to the commission dated March 24, 1964, another piece fell into the puzzle: “On 22 and 23 November,” said Helms, “immediately following the assassination of President Kennedy, three cabled reports were received from [deleted] in Mexico City relative to photographs of an unidentified man who visited the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in that city during October and November 1963” (Commission Document 674, National Archives).
The original description of this Oswald in the CIA report ran like this: “The American was described as approximately 35 years old, with an athletic build, about six feet tall, with a receding hairline.” Oswald was 24, about 5’8” and 160 pounds. Who was pretending to be Oswald at the Russian and Cuban embassies in Mexico City a month before this same Oswald allegedly was to shoot the president?
There is evidence actually of several Oswalds in circulation at this time. There is in the first place the presumptive original himself installed since late October in the depository. There is the thirty-five-year old Oswald in Mexico City freshening up the Red spoor at the Cuban and Soviet missions. There is the Oswald or Oswalds who move around Dallas just before the hit planting unforgettable memories of a man about to become an assassin: the Oswald of the firing range who fires cross-range into other people’s targets and then belligerently starts a long argument in which he carefully and loudly repeats his name; the Oswald of the used-car lot who sneers at Texas and the American flag and drives recklessly, though Oswald had no driver’s license and did not know how to drive; the Oswald who visited exile Sylvia Odio a few weeks before the assassination in the company of two anti-Castro militants at a time when the real Oswald (or is it the other way around?) is supposed to be in Mexico City. Who are all these Oswalds?
In another crucial Freedom of Information suit, Harold Weisberg forced the government to make and release the transcript of a theretofore untranscribed stenographer’s tape of another secret meeting of the Warren Commission on January 22, 1964. The transcript indicates that Congressman Gerald Ford suspected Oswald of being an informant for the FBI. Ford participated in a discussion concerning Oswald’s repeated use of post office boxes, an operating method characteristic of undercover FBI informants, and remarked on Oswald’s informer-like behavior in playing both sides of the wrangle between the Communists who identify with Stalin and the Communists who identify with Trotsky. “He was playing ball,” said for of Oswald, “writing letters, to both elements of the Communist Party. I mean, he’s playing ball with the Trotskyites and the others. This was a strange circumstance to me.”
In the meeting, Chief Counsel Rankin told the commissioners the FBI was behaving in an unusual way in the Oswald investigation and seemed to be attempting to close the case without checking out numerous leads into Oswald’s activities. On the final page of the thirteen-page transcript, Allen Dulles summed up his reaction to an Oswald connection to the FBI by saying, “I think this record out to be destroyed.”
During this long period of delay and potential litigation, ugly passions would again be aroused. And our people would again be polarized in their opinions. And the credibility of our free institutions of government would again be challenged at home and abroad…. My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed. My conscience tells me that only I, as President, have the Constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book. My conscience tells me that it is my duty, not merely to proclaim domestic tranquility, but to use every means I have to ensure it.
-President Ford pardons Nixon
September 8, 1974
“The Whole Bay of Pigs Thing”
At the 10:00 A.M. Oval Office meeting of June 23, 1972, the fifth day of Watergate, alone with Haldeman, Nixon said, “Of course, this Hunt, that will uncover a lot of things. You open that scab, there’s a hell of a lot of things, and we just feel that it would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves….”
Moments later Nixon returned to this problem: “when you get in – when you get in (unintelligible) people, say, ‘Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the President just feels that ah, without going into the details – don’t, don’t lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is a comedy of errors, without getting into it, the President believes that it is going to open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And ah, because these people are plugging for (unintelligible) and they should call the FBI in and (unintelligible) don’t go any further into this case period!…”
Then at the 1:00 P.M. meeting that same day, again alone with Haldeman, Nixon said “O.K., just postpone (scratching noises) (unintelligible) Just say (unintelligible) very bad to hae this fellow Hunt, ah, he knows too damned much, if he was involved – you happen to know that? If it gets out that this is all involved, the Cuba thing would be a fiasco. It would make the CIA look bad, it’s going to make Hunt look bad, and it is likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing, which we think would be very unfortunate – both for the CIA, and for the country, at this time, and for American foreign policy. Just tell him to lay off…”
At the meeting of 2:20 P.M., the same day, Haldeman said to Nixon: “Gray called Helms and said I think we’ve run right into the middle of a covert CIA operation.”
Nixon: “Gray said that?”
Haldeman: “Yeah. And (unintelligible) said nothing we’ve done at this point and ah (unintelligible) says well it sure looks to me like it is (unintelligible) and ah, that was the end of that conversation (unintelligible) the problem is it tracks back to the Bay of Pigs and it tracks back to some other, the leads run out to people who had no involvement in this, except by contracts and connection, but it gets into areas that are liable to be realized. The whole problem (unintelligible) Hunt…”
What could all this be about? What does Hunt know about some still-secret “thing” associating Nixon in some new, dreadful way with the invasion of Cuba of April 1961? Was the Bay of Pigs Fiasco not Kennedy’s fiasco? By the time of the invasion, Nixon had already been out of office for three months. What did Nixon have to do with it? And whom exactly does Haldeman protect with this haunting phrase, “except by contracts and connection”?
True, as vice president, Nixon had been chief political officer on the National Security Council’s Special Group (5412/2) in which the Cuban invasion was conceived, decided upon, planned and directed. He has written of flying from California to Washington on the day of the invasion and that evening receiving CIA Director Allen Dulles, who brought the news that all was lost.
But there was nothing secret about any of this. What could Hunt now add to the story of the Bay of Pigs that would put Nixon in such steep new peril?
So far in the national analysis of Watergate, this question has been largely overlooked. What was fastened upon in the June 23 tapes was rather the brief passage in which, unmistakably, Nixon tells Haldeman to cover up White House complicity in the Watergate cover up. That bit of evidence convicted Nixon in the public mind of an impeachable offense and the remaining salvos were left unfired.
So what could “the whole Bay of Pigs thing” be? The book of standard American impressions badly overstates the respect in which the Bay of Pigs Fiasco was a Cold War confrontation between the Free World and communism and understates the respect in which it was also a confrontation between rival American power elites, each with its strengths and weaknesses, Kennedy on one side and Nixon on the other and as I would say, Yankee and Cowboy in makeup. That is why the operation turned out the “Fiasco” which all parties promptly agreed to call it.
To unravel this, start with the conventional picture of the Bay of Pigs as a Cold War confrontation. In the 1960 campaign, Kennedy promised to get tough with Castro, trying to get to the right of Nixon on the Cuban issue at the very moment that Nixon was secretly operating as the chief political officer in the invasion planning group. Within scant months of taking office, Kennedy seemed to keep his promise; within hours more, he had failed to make it good. As a result of the Fiasco ending, the Russians got more deeply involved in Cuban affairs and brought Kennedy to the test of wills over the October Missile Crisis a year and a half later, in which Kennedy is supposed to have stood his ground and regained his manhood.
To this general picture, the activists of the anti-Castro invasion, such as Nixon and Hunt, add a critical detail, namely, that the fault for the failure of the Cuban invasion lies with Kennedy. Kennedy, they, cut back on critical U.S. support to the invasion forces at the last moment and thereby doomed to failure a project they believe could otherwise have succeeded easily.
This theory suffers from the crude partisanship which keeps it from looking beyond such notions as cowardice and treachery to explain Kennedy’s apparent about-face at the beach. But it does recognize that the Kennedy administration was in sharp internal conflict over what to do about Cuba, and that the formulation and implementation of Frontier Camelot Cuban policy were affected by this conflict, or as might be said, disfigured by it.
That is the key point which the Cold War conception of the Bay of Pigs Fiasco cannot bring into focus: that the Cuban question and the question of hemispheric revolution so divided the Kennedy administration that the United States could neither accept Castro nor act with a will to destroy what Castro stood for. The cause of Nixon’s panic a decade thereafter about what his comrade Hunt know of “the whole Bay of Pigs thing” may thus lie within the terms of this conflict, which we now explore.
Nixon testified offhandedly to the division in his November 1964 Reader’s Digest piece, “Cuba, Castro, and John F. Kennedy.” He wrote:
But, as had happened in the Eisenhower administration, a sharp difference of opinion about Castro developed among President Kennedy’s advisors. One group of activists urged him to go forward with the invasion plan. His liberal advisors…advised that the United States should either try to get along with Castro or find some other method of dealing with him….Kennedy finally over-ruled his soft-line advisors and decided to go forward with the plan….But in the end the soft-liners won their point and, by last-minute compromises, doomed the invasion to failure.
Thus, in the eyes of the invasion’s self-styled “strongest advocate,” Kennedy did not go forward with the agreed-to plans, he went forward with a new and different set of plans, plans that no one had actually proposed or defended or thought would work, plans (a) minus the use of the B-26s ready and waiting in Central America and (b) minus a CIA subplot to assassinate Castro.
What was the actual significance of these two last-minute changes? For an insight into this, we first have to sketch out the CIA’s most probable invasion scenario. From the sophistication, if not the overwhelming competence, it has shown in other such operations, the CIA should not be thought vain enough to think its Free Cuba exile army could actually endure against the arms of the Cuban revolution, much less march to the capital. The CIA strategy was more roundabout: “to maintain an invasion force on Cuban territory for at least 72 hours and then to proclaim the Free Government of Cuba there on that bit of territory.” From threw they would unveil a world-wide network of Free Cuba exile government offices, already assembled, in an effort to pull the U.S. military into demonstration-state alert and exert U.S. diplomatic influence with the OAS, the UN, the Soviet Union, and other countries to move “the Cuban situation” to an international-negotiations setting. They would thust hrow open again the whole political question of Cuba’s internal direction, with many opportunities for counterrevolutionary maneuver.
The fate of such a strategy would hinge on the missions of the B-26s and the assassination squad.
The B-26s were important because in order for the invading forces to hold a position on the beach without direct U.S. aerial support, it was necessary for Castro’s air force to be suppressed. This amounted only to two trainer jets left behind by Batista on which Cuban mechanics had mounted rudimentary armament systems. But if the invaders were to have a chance at their basic positional objectives, these two little jets would have to be kept out of the air. Crude as they were, unopposed against ground forces on a beach, they could be decisive in the battle. Had the B-26s flown in from the Atlantic out of the sunrise, as first planned, and caught the Cuban jets on the ground, the landing forces would have encountered no Cuban air resistance. That might have made it possible to hold the beachhead a little longer.
From a technical standpoint, the assassination of Castro was equally important to the success of the invasion. The revolutionary government was at that time a little more than two years old. It still consisted in some part of antagonistic groupings held together mainly by Castro’s great prestige. Wouldn’t the elimination of the Castro brothers encourage fragmentation? Look at the CIA’s broad daylight murder of Allende in 1973 for the component of the Bay of Pigs invasion plan that Kennedy vetoed in 1961: the assassination of the leader.
The particular importance of the Castro hit to the overall success of the invasion may be inferred from the intensity of the struggle about it. Journalist Cuba-watcher Ted Szulc reported thirteen years later that in a private Oval Office interview with Kennedy in November 1961, with Richard Goodwin present, seven months after the invasion had been repulsed and/or betrayed, Kennedy said to him, “What would you think if I ordered Castro to be assassinated?” Szulc says he objected to this idea and that Kennedy “leaned back in the chair, smiled, and said that he had been testing me because he was under great pressure from his advisors in the intelligence community (whom he did not name) to have Castro killed, but that he himself violently opposed it on the grounds that for moral reasons, the United States should never be party to political assassinations.
Another anecdote has Florida’s Senator Smathers pressing Kennedy for Castro’s head at a formal White House dinner. Kennedy is finally infuriated and breaks plates and scatters flowers to convince Smathers he must stop asking.
The intensity of feeling no doubt flowed both ways. Early in 1975 an item long familiar to conspiracy researchers became big-time news: It was that around the time of the Bay of Pigs the CIA used Howard Hughes’s special agent Robert Maheu to contract the services of Syndicate Capo John Roselli to get rid of Castro. The immediate question posted by this now authenticated story is whether it was Kennedy to actually authorized the CIA to use a Syndicate hitman to liquidate Castro, or somebody else. Why should the CIA have to rent assassination capabilities from the Syndicate?
The timing of these events is uncertain. We do not know at what moment Kennedy vetoed the Castro assassination plot or at what moment the CIA used its Hughes-Maheu connection to retain a Syndicate assassination squad. It appears that Kennedy first told the CIA not to carry out the assassination, and that the “activist” elements of “the intelligence community” then took it upon themselves to mobilize Syndicate resources to the task.
“By the advent of the Kennedy administration,” writes R. Harris Smith, “the CIA had indeed become a schizophrenic organization, torn between political left and right. Yet few outside the government understood these divisions. The CIA conservatives and swashbucklers found warm support for their position in Congress; the Agency liberals were forced to fend for themselves.” The basis of the CIA’s need for the Syndicate may ultimately lie in the politics of that split. In any case, there was no internal Camelot consensus on Cuba or on the Bay of Pigs invasion project. Kennedy’s veto of the B-26 raids and the assassination plot embodied a basic change from the original invasion plan. The judgment of Nixon and Hunt is surely borne out in this respect if in no other, that is Kennedy’s veto of these two moves did indeed “doom the invasion to failure.” The quarrel between Nixon and Kennedy was thus a quarrel of basic political and operational substance, not merely a technical falling-out among comrade militarists. And if an epitaph makes it clearer, there is Nixon’s memorable remark to Dean and Haldeman in the Oval Office on February 28, 1973: “…I was reading a book last night. A fascinating book, although fun book, by Malcolm Smith Jr. on Kennedy’s Thirteen Mistakes, the great mistakes. And one of them was the Bay of Pigs. And what happened there was Chester Bowles had learned about it, and he deliberately leaked it. Deliberately, because he wanted the operation to fail. And he admitted it! Admitted it!”
That is the whole point. From the standpoint of the Nixon side, the Kennedy side wanted the Cuban invasion to fail. There is no other explanation for the quickness and venom with which the pro invasion side fastened on Kennedy’s “betrayal” of their project.
Nixon tells us the conflict about Castro began in the State Department before Kennedy came on. Obviously it sharpened with his arrival. We know Kennedy was furious in the Bay of Pigs aftermath and he felt betrayed – betrayed by the CIA and the larger clandestine state in fact – and that he tried to reorganize the overall clandestine apparatus, and especially the CIA, precisely to make it responsive and accountable to the White House.
Yet the left denounces Kennedy for invading Cuba as casually as the right denounces him for invading it too timidly. One side sees Kennedy’s “betrayal” and the other sees his “failure to understand the situation.” The idea that the actual policy as carried out was the free synthesis of a totally absorbing internal conflict over which neither side had complete control does not seem to be widely entertained.
David Halberstam, to take an important liberal example, writes that “the crux of [the Bay of Pigs] was how the U.S. government could have so misread the Cuban people.” Was Kennedy not the founder of the Peace Corps and the Alianza? “How a President so contemporary could agree to a plan so obviously doomed to failure, a plan based on so little understanding of the situation, was astounding.”
Rather more astounding looking back post-Watergate is the insensitivity of liberal commentary to the importance of the internal conflict that wracked Frontier Camelot from the first. It is general knowledge that Kennedy was at odds with powerful hawks from the outset of his administration on the question not only of Cuba but of Laos, Vietnam, and the Congo, on the questions of the Third World as a whole, disarmament, Berlin, nuclear weapons, etc., that he came to mistrust the whole security-intelligence apparatus, and that he finally should to reduce the influence of Johnson and his circles. Halberstam’s book is actually a treasure chest of examples of that mistrust and shows clearly the Yankee/Cowboy outlines of the Kennedy Administration. Why then do Halberstam and other liberals now weigh this division in with the other forces acting on policy?
We see Kennedy’s Cuban policy better if we simply recognize that it was formed under conditions of internal conflict, within the executive policy apparatus itself. Frontier Camelot was the Kennedy’s attempt to transform an exaggeratedly wide electoral coalition – the Kennedy/Johnson, Yankee/Cowboy coalition – into an effective governing coalition, an attempt which failed at the Bay of Pigs, its first test, as it ultimately failed in Vietnam, its most tragic test. Thus, we simply put what we know about the “irrationality” of Kennedy’s policy together with what we know about the conflict within the “irrational” policy was formed, and we answer Halberstam’s question about how Kennedy “could have so misread the Cuban people” with another question: How could the liberals have so misread Kennedy’s situation? And still misread it a decade and more later? How could they have read the Bay of Pigs invasion as a Camelot project while at the same time claiming to be baffled at the inconsistency of that invasion with Camelot values and consciousness? Yes, Kennedy would have been foolish some other way. The Bay of Pigs seemed Nixon’s way of being foolish.
The trick of how the invasion could come about nevertheless, how there could be a Bay of Pigs against the will of the president, is that the president is not an absolute monarch ruling a submissive bureaucracy. Rather, a “corporate” presidency is nested within the federal power grid along with a variety of institutional strongholds, such as the Pentagon, the CIA, the Department of Transportation, the Texas Railroad Commission, etc. The president in proper person is only one among many others on the larger board of national directors – a special stronghold clearly but by no means the only power source on the scene. The presidency of the corporate state is the presidency of factional and bureaucratic coalitions that can weaken, grow old and brittle, fail in crises. The tragedy of Frontier Camelot, whose prince is said to have sought the presidency “because it’s where the action’s at,” unfolds in the princes gradual discovery of the corporate and limited nature of his office, then more particularly of its relative weakness against the will of the clandestine establishments of defense and security.
The Bay of Pigs invasion project began on April 19, 1960, in the vice-president’s offica at the Capitol at some point in Nixon’s celebrated interview with Castro. At Nixon’s insistence, only interpreters were present, so there is no record of the meeting other than his recollection of it. “After 3 ½ hours of discussion,” wrote Nixon four years later, “I summed up my impressions in this way-he looked like a revolutionary, talked like an idealistic college professor and reacted like a communist…At the conclusion of our conference I wrote a four-page secret memorandum, and sent copies to President Eisenhower, Secretary [of State] Herter and Allen Dulles…. My conclusion was, ‘Castro is either incredibly naïve about communism or is under communist discipline.’”
Nixon proceeds to describe the “spirited policy discussions on Cuba” that then took place within the Eisenhower foreign policy establishment and tells how his position hardened around the conviction that Castro was not naïve, while (as he says) “the majority view in the State Department was in sharp disagreement with my appraisal of Castro.” He says the foreign-policy elite harbored the view that Castro was “liberal” (Nixon uses the word with quotes).
Nixon says Eisenhower realized the majority view was wrong: “By early 1960 President Eisenhower reached the conclusion that Castro was an agent of international communism and a menace to peace in this hemisphere. In a top-secret meeting in his office, at which I was present, the authorized the CIA to organize and train Cuban exiles for the eventual purpose of freeing their homeland from Castro’s communist rule.”
Then came the agony of the TV debate in which Kennedy (says Nixon) “emerged as the man who was advocating a ‘get-tough’ policy toward Castro. I was the man who was ‘soft’ on Castro – the exact opposite of the truth.” Nixon says he had to pretend to be “soft” in order to protect the security of the invasion project going forward. “The irony was,” writes Nixon, “that I had been the strongest and most persistent advocate for setting up and supporting such a program.”
Nixon does not record the evidence for this self-estimate, but we have no reason to challenge it, and we know that someone in a position to do something about it was doubtful enough of JFK’s commitment to a winning invasion to take steps toward implementing the plans for it before the election, thus obviating the question of Kennedy’s will. That was the discovery of Washington Post reporter Haynes Johnson who wrote in his book Bay of Pigs, that “on November 4, 1960, four days before the Presidential election, the CIA sent a long cable to Guatemala informing it’s men there of the decision to carry out the Cuban invasion plans.” Johnson quotes Cuban exile commanders as saying their “CIA advisers ordered them to continue with the invasion even if Kennedy called it off altogether, that if this happened the Cubans were to rebel against their CIA instructors and present Kennedy with a situation in which he would have no political alternative to supporting them.”
We do not know that Nixon was the author of this decision, but we do know that Nixon was the chief political officer of the decision-making body, the Special Group of the National Security Council. Further, Johnson writes that “in reconstruct [ing] the process by which the ‘Special Group’ made its decision, one impression comes through very strongly: Dwight D. Eisenhower was not a major participant. Eisenhower himself has said publicly that there was no plan for an invasion while he was in office; that the only plan was to train guerrillas. His contention varies so sharply with the facts that an explanation for the discrepancy must be sought, for Eisenhower’s integrity cannot be questioned.
Such an explanation is mentioned by Air Force Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, a retired officer of the Defense Intelligence Agency, now an executive at Amtrak. Prouty is one of several intelligence-community insiders who have come forward over the past several years with expose-memoirs variously supporting the theme that there is, in Prouty’s phrase, “a Secret Team” operating clandestinely within governmental structures toward ends it unilaterally defines as “vital to the national interest.” Prouty worked as the DIA’s “Focal Point Officer” for all interaction between the CIA and the Pentagon. If the CIA needed something from the Navy for project x, or something from the Army for project y, Prouty knew. He did this kind of work for some eight years, operating as a staff-briefing officer to the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense on vital policy memoranda. His claims therefore have a certain interest. (At one point in his book, The Secret Team, he uses the phrase, “my membership in the Secret Team.” He never goes into this or tells us why, when, how or indeed if he left it, why he is telling on it now, etc.)
Prouty’s main purpose in this book is to counter Daniel Ellsberg’s thesis that the CIA was largely right about Vietnam and the Department of Defense largely wrong. Prouty says it was the other way around. It was in reality such “hardnosed liberals” as the CIA’s Tracy Barns and Edward Lansdale (for whom Ellsberg worked in Vietnam) and Kennedy’s chief military adviser Maxwell Taylor who advocated clandestine war, or Special Forces warfare, as an alternative to conventional military and diplomatic options and thus got the U.S. involved untenably in Cuba and Vietnam. This is an intriguing and subtle dispute: the spies proving we should trust them and not the soldiers, the soldiers proving the spies lie and it is they who saw the truth.
Prouty supports Haynes Johnson’s view that Eisenhower did not support the decision to invade Cuba. He writes, “In fact, all of the Eisenhower-era schemes were extremely modest when it came to action against Cuban soil and property.” In an interview I had with Prouty in Washington in May 1973, he added an interesting detail. What Eisenhower had approved in the way of an anti-Castro action program, said Prouty, was a thirty-three man project looking toward the feasibility of forming a guerilla base in the countryside. But within days of the election of Kennedy, says Prouty, “orders came down” (he does not say from where) to change the 33s on the program’s personnel records into 3300s.
One might find it an incredible spectacle were it not before us as a model, so to speak, that Howard Hunt himself, a black propagandist par excellence, sat down with a gluepot, a typewriter, a Xerox copier, a light-table, an X-acto knife, and sameple and related communiqués from the inner-sanctum files of the State Department to prove in 1972 that the Kennedys in 1963 had ordered the assassination of Diem and his brother-in law Nhu as well as the coup that toppled them from power. This make it easier to picture someone like Prouty – big, distinguished, honorable – sneaking around in the office at night with a flashlight carefully typing in two zeros after every 33 in all the records of the anti-Catro guerilla project, records which may for that matter at that moment been few.
Thus it was, in any case, according to Prouty, that the myriad approvals of the 33-man job were fobbed off on Kennedy by the pro-invasion group as approvals of a much bigger project, the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Another kind of evidence that the Bay of Pigs invasion was engineered by conspiracy was developed by Robert Scheer and Murray Zeitlin in their 1963 book, Cuba: Tragedy in Our Hemisphere. By the method of comparing translations of Castro speeches used in White House papers with translations appearing elsewhere in the world press as well as with official Cuban transcripts, Zeitlin and Scheer established that the CIA translator either was naïve about the Spanish language or intentionally changed Castro’s meaning. Uniformly, the CIA translations being presented to Schlesinger and the Kennedys for analysis made Castro sound harsher and more belligerent than he was, encouraging the picture of a tyrant governing against popular will. This played into a wider concert of Hunt style disinformation being orchestrated from somewhere outside the Oval Office with the purpose of making the Oval Office, the Kennedy brothers, think Castro had an unstable popular base and would be overthrown by Cuban people if the United States would show support.
Or as Fred J. Cook said in his review of Haynes Johnson’s Book:
When Kennedy took office, he was confronted with what amounted to a fait accompli. The invasion plans were perfected; he was given to understand that they had been drafted under the direction of his predecessor, a man of awesome military reputation. During the election campaign, he had called for aggressive action to topple Castro. Now he was presented with the opportunity. If he turned back, he would have to pit his untested judgment against, presumably, that of Eisenhower and all the military experts. He was on the spot.
Against the Nixon-Hunt impression of Castro, Kennedy himself projected an impression formed of quite different assumptions. In his 1960 work, Strategy of Peace, Kennedy wrote of Castro as follows:
Just as we recall our own revolutionary past in order to understand the spirit and the significance of the anti-colonialist uprising in Asia and Africa, we should now reread the life of Simon Bolivar, the great “Liberator” of south America…in order to comprehend the new contagion for liberty and reform now spreading south of our borders…Fidel Castro is part of the legacy of Bolivar, who led his men over the Andes Mountains, vowing “war to the death” against Spanish rule, saying, “Where a goat can pass, so can an army.” Castro is also part of the frustration of that earlier revolution which won its war against Spain but left largely untouched the indigenous feudal order.
There is obviously a collision of two worldviews in these disparate impressions of Castro. The cornerstone assumption of the liberalism that underlay Kennedy’s Alianza reformism is that the people rebel when conditions are bad, and that the wise prince therefore sees to the improvement of the people’s condition. The explicit message of the Alianza was that the modern empire’s only way to fight revolution was through reform.
This is not to sentimentalize our picture of Kennedy. His reformist strategy was after all a strategy of imperialism. But we have at the same time no need to condemn him for the crimes of his political adversaries. He did not accept the assumption that America could ever take as its enemy a foreign population as a whole. The JFK theory of “special war” presupposed that the native population would mostly support the regime for whose protection the U.S. Special Forces had been deployed, and that the insurgent forces could be isolated from the general population. When experience proved these criteria could not be met, Kennedy’s response was to disengage, Johnson’s to escalate.
Besides the B-26s and the assassination question, friction within the CIA between the Nixon “activists” of the invasion, such as Hunt, and the Kennedy group expressed itself also in a dispute over the form the post-Castro Cuban government should take should the invasion actually succeed. Tad Szule reports that as the date of the invasion approached, in March, Hunt was summoned to the Washington CIA office from Guatemala to be told that Manuel Rey, a liberal anti-Castroite, was going to be placed on the Cuban Revolutionary Council, the exile group’s political leadership committee. Hunt also objected strongly to being instructed to put land reform in the new Cuban constitution he was drafting. “With a touch of desperation,” writes Szulc, “Hunt insisted that Rey was proposing ‘Castroism without Fidel,’…Rey was ‘a revisionist and an opportunist,’…But his objections were met with stunning silence from the senior CIA officers assembled in Bissell’s office. They had their instructions from the White House. Hunt finally blurted out that he would rather withdraw from the operation than compromise on the issue. To his astonishment, no attempt was made to dissuade him from resigning. …This marked the end of Hunt’s direct involvement with the Bay of Pigs invasion”
On April 19, 1961, precisely the second anniversary of Nixon’s meeting with Castro, the Free-Cuba invasion forces hit the beach at the Bay of Pigs – without B-26s and without assassination squads.
Nixon writes, “I flew to Washington from my home state of California….I was scheduled to make a foreign-policy speech in Chicago the following week, and I had written Allen Dulles to ask that he brief me on some of the latest developments. President Kennedy readily gave his approval; I had an appointment to meet with Dulles at six o’clock on the afternoon of the 19th.” Dulles arrived an hour and a half late, demanded a drink and pronounced the final judgment: “Everything is lost. The Cuban invasion is a total failure.”
The Fiasco was on.
The outcome seemed to vindicate the argument made by such liberals as Bowles (at the time) and Halberstam (ten years later) to the effect that the invasion attempt would be “counterproductive,” that it would increase Castro’s prestige. Halberstam reports that Undersecretary of State Bowles, a blood Yankee liberal, stumbled onto the invasion plans as they were hatching and hurried to the office of Secretary of State Rusk to protest. His argument was that “the chances of success are not greater than one out of three. This makes it a highly risky operation. If it fails, Castro’s prestige and strength will be greatly enhanced.
In some ways, this is what happened. Yet the argument seems cynical. Halberstam and Bowles are not actually anti-Castro; neither one actually wants to see Castro’s “prestige” destroyed. Their argument about counterproductivity seems an easy way to get a desired result – hands off Cuba, in effect – without having to be explicit in the Cuban people’s right to revolution and without having to attack the assumption that the United States has the right to invade country x if only practical standards can be satisfied.
But what about the CIA’s job on Mossadegh in 1953, Arbenz in 1954, the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, the subversion of the Allende government in 1973? Equally ruthless acts, but effective, successful. On the Halberstam-Bowles argument, how do we state our objection now? How do we meet the anti-Castroites’ rejoinder that the original invasion plan would have succeeded, and would not have increased Castro’s prestige, if the new president had not interfered with the prearranged plan of operations and introduced enormous changes at the last minute. From the standpoint of practical results alone, we cannot tell why Bowles and Halberstam could not just as easily object, “Then why were the colors not shown? Where were the Marines?” A logical Bay of Pigs invasion, existed in other words; if it existed in the minds of its advocates. In this logical Bay of Pigs invasion, the president of the United States was to have been a friend, not an enemy. Nixon would have made everything different – with Nixon in command the bombers would have flown, the assassins would have struck, the fleed would have steamed again into Havana harbor if necessary.
But the bad fortune of the Cuban invasion project was to overlap an executive changeover installing a Yankee reformist, a Yankee who talked tough on communism only to upstage Nixon on his best side and who played at coalition with Johnson mainly to help get control of the Senate out of the South. What came forth as the Fiasco, so-called by all parties, each with its own private irony, was not the product of a unified venture. It was rather the product of palace conflict. One side began by wanting a logical Bay of Pigs and the other side began by wanting no Bay of Pigs at all. The result was the Fiasco.
Vietnam is the same story writ larger. Once again the left blames Kennedy for invading with enough strength to win. Once again the right blames him for not invading with enough strength to win. Our counterthesis is also the same: that the Quagmire was made of the same inner stuff as the Fiasco. Or in the words of Colonel Prouty, “Very few would ever be party to striking first in any event. So the first strike takes place in deep secrecy. No one knows this hidden key fact.”
The elements of the growth of the Vietnam war are schematically the same as those of the Bay of Pig: (1) Clandestine beginnings with limited objectives; (2) the small force gets pinned down and a regiment must be sent to extricate it; (3) the regiment gets pinned down, etc.
From a domestic political standpoint, the Special War period under Kennedy was the link between the commando-style espionage and political action taken under Eisenhower and the full-dress air, ground, and sea war waged under Johnson. But Special War was supposed to lead away from Strategic War, not toward it, much as the commando politics of the late Eisenhower period was supposed to avert the necessity of engagement in the higher strategic scale of nuclear big-power confrontation. Indeed, each phase of escalation is begun with a definition of aims and limits that looks every bit like a built-in guarantee against the frantic rescue missions that inflame the original problem, but the limit is always defined in terms of a strong initial expectation of positive success. The spy will achieve the objective. The commandos will achieve the objective. The Special Forces will achieve the objective. The infantry will achieve the objective. The air forces will achieve the objective. But at last the objective is lost altogether in what becomes the supervening need to rescue the very rescue capability itself.
What was the theory of Kennedy’s Special Forces phase? Its chief theoretician, Walt Whitman Rostow, defined communism as “a disease of transition,” a social breakdown to which a society is peculiarly susceptible as it experiences the process of modernization. Once, across the line, Rostow philosophized, a society again becomes stable, as though industrial life is stable in its natural state, as though there is or has been stability in American or European life. But just at the crossing, there is the temptation to go Red, to break faith with the universals of natural rights and free enterprise of the monopolies and turn the problem of development over to international communism.
That is where the Special Forces come in. They are there to hold the future for U.S.-world capitalism across the line of Third World social transition. Protected thus from its own transient delirium, country x can lock into the world system of American technical (i.e. military) development assistance and corporate activity defined as the Free World by those who most prosper in its games. That is the basis of the Alliance for Progress, the Peace Corps, the Special Forces, and the Special War expedition to Vietnam.
Kennedy carried the Rostowian assumptions to their own combined conclusion. With an Alliance for Progress reform program depicted as working away at the larger social-economic base of the problem, he positions a Special Forces capability to nip the bud of transitional diseases in the social margin. Nipped, these diseases do not grow into revolutions, revolutions do not seize the small states one by one and carry them off into the camp of the adversary, and the United States continues to dominate a generally happy and prosperous world sphere, meanwhile easing toward détente in Europe, which really counts. Country x will have been protected from transitional diseases by the American exertions and can float up into the modern world system on a bubble of American aid, mainly in the form of military assistance designed, above all, to secure the local ruling group and thus keep that kind of peace, ultimately to conglomerate with all the other country x’s in the happy molecule whose master atom is the multinational corporation.
That was the system of Special Forces/Alianza world-making for which Kennedy died: the vision of the Round Table, the CFR, the liberals in the Rockefeller-Morgan-Mellon-Carnegie group. What cost Kennedy his life was his attempt to impose the limits of Camelot Atlanticism on a Frontier-minded defense and security elite. His sense of the Cuban and Vietnamese situations seems to have been much the same. In each case, from a practical political standpoint, his immediate adversary was not Cuban of Vietnamese communism so much as it was the American prowar power elite to which he was so beholden and exposed. Recall that Kennedy could assume the loyalty of none of the clandestine and/or armed services – not the FBI, certainly not the CIA, a thousand times not the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This is why it is so important to see that the Kennedy Administration’s record not in terms of its outward rationality, for it has none, and not as the expression of Kennedy’s will alone, for his will did not prevail, but in terms of the impassioned political in-fighting that in reality constituted its actual life. It is the relations of power in America that speak in Kennedy’s apparent formula: If the Cuban exiles can make the invasion alone, let it be done, but only if. Or again: If the Vietnamese threat can be contained with a Special Forces-level commitment, and without disrupting North Atlantic relations, let it be done, but only if.
How strong is the evidence that Kennedy intended a Vietnam pullback? We have a few fragments, a chronology.
1. In the summer of 1961, as an outgrowth of the bitter experience of the Bay of Pigs (says Prouty), the Kennedy circle promulgated two key National Security Agency memos, NSAM 55 and 57. The first, a “red-striped” memo on which Prouty was the JSC briefing officer, directed the chiefs to take the command of the Vietnam operation away from the CIA and commence a policy of disengagement. The second, not yet released, emerges in Prouty’s description as a vast philosophical document of comprehensive scope propounding a doctrine of nonintervention in Third World revolutions and a concept of severe limitation in future clandestine operations.
2. (Ret) General James M. Gavin in 1968: “There has been much speculation about what President Kennedy would or would not have done in Vietnam had he lived. Having discussed military affairs with him often and in detail for 15 years, I know he was totally opposed to the introduction of combat troops in Southeast Asia. His public statements just before his murder support this view. Let us not lay on the dead the blame for our own failures.
3. Paul B. Fay, Jr., Navy Undersecretary under JFK “If John F. Kennedy had lived, our military involvement in Vietnam would have been over by the end of 1964.”
4. Kennedy remarked to his aide Kenneth O’Donnell in 1963: “In 1965 I’ll become one of the most unpopular presidents in history. I’ll be damned everywhere as a Communist appeaser. But now I don’t care. If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m reelected. So had better make damned sure I’m reelected.
5. Wayne Morse, however, maintained that Kennedy was changing his Vietnam policy at the very hour of Dallas: “There’s a weak defense for John Kennedy,” he told the Boston Globe in mid-1973. “He’d seen the error of his ways. I’m satisfied if he’d lived another year we’d have been out of Vietnam. Ten days before his assassination, I went down to the White House and handed him his education bills, which I was handling on the Senate floor. I’d been making to to five speeches a week against Kennedy on Vietnam….I’d gone into President Kennedy’s office to discuss education bills, but he said, ‘Wayne, I want you to know you’re absolutely right in your criticism of my Vietnam policy. Keep this in mind. I’m in the midst of an intensive study which substantiates your position on Vietnam.
6. We come to know this study through the Ellsberg Papers and the McNamara study (see especially volume 8, detailing in Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s phrase “Kennedy’s plans to extricate the United States from the Vietnam War”). In an interview in late 1973, Ellsberg said, “A very surprising discovery to me in the fall of ’67, as I began to study the documents of ’61 in connection with the McNamara study project, was that the major decision Kennedy has made was to reject the recommendation made to him by virtually everyone that he send combat units to Vietnam. Kennedy realized that most of the people in the country, whatever their politics, would have said, ‘If it takes combat troops, or if it takes heave bombing or nuclear weapons, it’s obviously not worth it for us. We won’t succeed’. Prouty supports this view also from personal Pentagon and intelligence community experience and believes that Kennedy “gave a hint of his plans for disengagement when he said [in September 1963], speaking of the Vietnamese, ‘In the final analysis it is their war. They have to win it or lose it.’”
7. September 1963: The Kennedy administration launches a general program for disengagement while trying to make it appear we have won the war without having actually fought it. Taylor and McNamara go to Saigon and come back saying they have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. It is announced that the American mission is beginning to draw to a successful end. It is a foreshadowing of the Senator Aiken Plan of 1967: Announce a victory at a press conference and march home as in triumph. General Paul Harkins, commander of the Military Assistance Command in Saigon, tells the troops: “Victory in the sense it would apply to this kind of war is just months away and the reduction of American advisers can begin any time now.” At that point U.S. “advisers” stood at 16,732.
8. October 2, 1963: McNamara takes to the steps of the White House to tell the press of plans to withdraw one thousand U.S. troops from Vietnam before the year is out.
9. November 1-2: the Diem regime, hopelessly tied to a policy of no negotiations with the Viet Cong, is overthrown, then Diem and his brother Nhu are mysteriously assassinated. General “Big” Minh’s regime, incubated in Bangkok exile for exactly this purpose, takes over shortly and proclaims its intention of negotiating a settlement and a coalition government with the Viet Cong. It is no secret that Kennedy was behind the coup and the coming of Big Minh, although there is a question as to whether he was also behind the assassinations of Diem and Nhu. Kennedy had professed public disfavor with their rule and had declared Diem “out of touch with the people.” He sanctioned the Minh takeover and approved of its pronegotiations policy. But what do we make out of Howard Hunt’s furtive work in the files of the State Department, busy with scissors and paste to create his own little “Pentagon Papers” convicting Kennedy of the murders of Diem and Nhu? Was he helping the truth or plying his disinformation trade?
10. November 15: In spite of confusion in Saigon resulting from the coup, “a U.S. military spokesman carried on the McNamara-Taylor-Harkins line,” as recorded in the GOP’s 1967 Vietnam study, “and promised 1,000 American military men would be withdrawn from Vietnam beginning on December 3”
11. November 22: Dallas. Within days of taking over Johnson issues National Security Agency Memorandum 273, reversing the Kennedy policy of withdrawal and inaugurating the period of build-up leading toward conventional war.
12. Early December: The first of one thousand U.S. troops ordered home begin withdrawal from Vietnam. Johnson’s new orders have not reached the field.
13. March-April 1964: Joint Chiefs draw up and submit to Johnson a list of ninety-four potential targets for bombing in Vietnam.
14. May: The new government in Saigon calls on the United States to bomb the North. Johnson declines to rule it out.
15. June: There is a big war powwow of LBJ and the JCS in Honolulu. Johnson resists pressure for a congressional resolution and decides to step up the war effort. General William Westmoreland takes command of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Ambassador Lodge resigns and is replaced by Taylor.
16. July: South Vietnamese commandos, i.e. CIA/Special Forces units, raid two North Vietnamese islands in the Gulf of Tonkin.
17. August: On intelligence patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin, U.S. destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy report being attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Circumstances of the attack remain unclear. Doubt remains as to whether the incidents were real or staged. In the posturing at which he was so adept, in his imitations of passion, Johnson terrified all but Morse and Gruening of the Pacific Northwest and got the Senate to give him the Tonkin Gulf resolution, opening the way for major escalation.
18. November: The Viet Cong hit Bien Hoa air base in the South and the Joint Chiefs grow heated in their demand for heavy U.S. retaliation. Johnson wins the 1964 election on a “peace” platform vs. Goldwater’s (and later Nixon’s) air-war line; Johnson’s was the biggest “peace mandate” ever until Nixon’s of ’72.
19. December: Johnson approves a plan for air attacks on North Vietnam, “reprisal air strikes for 30 days, then graduated air warfare against North backed by possible deployment of ground combat troops.
20. February 1965: The Viet Cong attack U.S. military adviser’s compound at Pleiku. In “retaliation” Johnson orders the first air strikes against the North. The air war is on.
21. April 1965: The First March on Washington to Protest the War in Vietnam is held by Students for a Democratic Society; twenty to twenty-five thousand hear SDS and SNCC speakers call for a mass antiwar movement.
Double-faulting on the invasions of Cuba and Vietnam was not Kennedy’s only failure in the eyes of chauvinism but that was without doubt the major problem. Cuba and Vietnam bracket Frontier Camelot as the ends of a coffin. But in between, there is much more for the Cowboy conscience to find deplorable in Kennedy’s administration. Making no attempt to be inclusive, and leaving aside the much-observed differences of style and manners between the Kennedy group and the Johnson group. I cite the following examples of making the case that from the Cowboy standpoint Kennedy was as bad as he could be.
1. Kennedy’s 1962 Geneva Accords on Laos made concessions to the Communists and led to the pullout of eight hundred U.S. military advisers.
2. Kennedy intervened through the UN and, with direct U. S. assistance, supported Congolese nationalism against Belgian-backed secessionists.
3. Kennedy cut off foreign and military aid to seven Latin American countries, most sensationally Haiti, on the grounds that repressive strongman government was incompatible with the aims of hemispheric reform.
4. He struggled with Big Steel and Detroit Iron to hold down prices. Faced with an inflation rate of 4 percent, minuscule by the standards of the seventies, Kennedy actually wanted to impose a provisional price freeze and won labor’s agreement to the most limited settlements since World War II on the promise the industry would hold the line on prices. When Big Steel took it all back, Kennedy fought (unsuccessfully) for a court-ordered price rollback. It brings to mind the observation of Indira Gandhi that Kennedy “died because he lost the support of his peers” – i.e., the support of the Yankee financial powers animating the vast reaches of the iron and steel industry. For contrast, when steel raised its prices five dollars a ton in 1967, Johnson merely said that steel executives “knew his feelings” and that price controls “could not be ruled out” in the future. Johnson allowed another steel price raise to pass without comment in 1968.
5. JFK proposed elimination of the oil-depletion allowance in January 1963. This by itself could easily have screwed to the sticking point the courage of the American oil cartel as a whole, and most particularly its mainly Southwestern components, the so-called Independents (distinct from the mainly Yankee “Majors”). The oil depletion allowance was and remains the whole basis of Southwestern oil’s special power and glory. Kennedy had already aroused Texan ire in 1961 by attempting to collect a federal tax on state business transactions, a tax no Texan could remember having ever seen collected. Now came the attack on the depletion allowance. Oil industry spokesmen angrily predicted a 30 percent drop in earnings if Kennedy’s proposed tax reforms won out.
6. JFK encouraged the civil-rights movement openly. He introduced his civil rights bill in June 1963 in concert with Martin Luther King’s giant march on Washington. The temperature of Congress rose ten degrees and the whole Camelot legislative program was blocked by the civil-rights debate.
7. The New Frontiersman attack on Johnson as a personality began in 1961 and intensified toward Dallas, focusing in the Kennedy brothers’ pressure on Johnson’s Bobby Baker softspot. The feud between Johnson and Robert Kennedy was unrivaled. What was at stake was not simply Johnson’s political relationship to Eastern power. When Johnson’s man Connally was dispatched in October 1963 to convince Kennedy that he must come politicking soon in Texas, Connolly’s argument was that the Texas Democratic party was in a growing state of disaffection with the national party under the reign of the Kennedys and that fences had to be mended or Texas might bolt the party in ’64.
8. Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department campaign against Jimmy Hoffa, within a wider Frontier Camelot campaign to bust the larger Teamster-Syndicate connection, threatened to expose and destroy a major and basic sphere of Syndicate activity, the Teamster Pension Fund complex.
9. On the first of April, 1963, Kennedy announced that all U.S. raids on Cuba would stop. On April 4, Detective Sgt. C. H. Sapp of the Miami Police Intelligence Unit reported to Assistant Chief of Police A.W. Anderson the following:
For the past three days the Intelligence Unit has been receiving information concerning the feelings and proposed actions of the Cuban refugee colony in Miami. Since President Kennedy made the news release that the United States Government would stop all raiding parties going against Castro’s government, the Cuban people feel that the United States Government has turned against them….All violence hitherto directed toward Castro’s Cuba will now be directed toward various governmental agencies in the United States.
10. In September 1963, even as he was taking the first perceptible steps toward a Vietnam pullback, Kennedy ordered the FBI to raid secret CIA guerilla training camps and staging bases in Florida and Louisiana. Dave Ferrie, linked by New Orleans District Attorney James Garrison to Clay Shaw and the CIA, was infolved in the operation of the Louisiana camps. The camps were situated on land owned by a gambling associate of Jack Ruby’s, Bill McLaney. The McLaney brothers, cogs in the Lansky Syndicate, were among the big losers when the Cuban revolution ejected the Syndicate and its casinos from the island. Frank Sturgis (aka Fiorini) of the Watergate burglary was also connected to the base Kennedy closed at No Name Key. Sturgis was visible at Dallas two months later and was actually questioned by the FBI in connection with the assassination.
11. Constant and passionate struggle to win the hearts and minds of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was a leading existential feature of the actual life of Frontier Camelot. Camelot-Pentagon differences were multitudinous and many-layered, from theories of war to theories of peace, and they were heatedly joined, as indicated for example by Halberstam’s report that on the question of nuclear disarmament, “McNamara virtually locked [the Joint Chiefs] in a room for a week to fight it out with them.
12. But more gut-basic still was Kennedy’s assault on the sanctity of the defense budget. His administration drew up three defense budgets. The 1962 budget was $51.6 billion. In 1963 it went down to $50.8 billion. In 1964 it went down again to $49.9 billion. As of Watergate, after almost a decade of Cowboy rule, it had grown again to about twice that size.
Long-time no-conspiracy buff Garry Wills makes and opposite deduction about Kennedy’s politics, which he characterizes as a more genteel but otherwise conventional militarism, by focusing on a different fact” “On the very day he died [that morning in Fort Worth], Kennedy boasted publicly that he had ‘increased our special counter-insurgency forces in Vietnam by 600 percent.’”. Wills seems in no position to add (as late as 1973?) that “counterinsurgency” was Frontier Camelot’s euphemism for cheaper defense and a nonnuclear world strategy. It is not mischievous in serious polemic to decontextualize remarks made in a heightened context? Wills understands that Kennedy’s whole purpose in being in Texas that day to begin with, answering Connally’s imperative summons, was to persuade neo-Confederate elements in the Texas Democratic party that his administration had not been lax in the defense and national security areas in spite of signing on October 7 just past of his limited test-ban treaty, in spite of his closing of the anti-Castro staging bases in Florida and Louisiana, and in spite of his successive annual cuts in the defense budget from $51 to $50 to $49 billion.
But was it not clear enough in the contemporary dialogue itself, without “analysis”? Kenendy says, “Yesterday a shaft of light cut into the darkness. Negotiations were concluded in Moscow on a treaty to ban all nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water.” And the voice of the Joint Chiefs says, “True security lies in unlimited nuclear superiority.” Kennedy says, “There is the necessity for revolution in Latin America.” And the JCS says it is “anxious concerning our future security.” Kennedy says of the South Vietnamese, “We are prepared to continue to assist them, but I don’t think that the war can be won unless the people support the effort.” And the JCS says it is “not sure if it’s necessarily a good thing to cut down on the tensions.” One does not even have to believe that Krushchev was telling us the truth, or that he knew the truth to tell, when he said in his putative memoirs that he got a message from Robert Kennedy at the height of the 1962 Missile Crisis saying, “We are under very severe stress. In fact we are under pressure from our military to use force against Cuba….If the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power. The American army could get out of control.” Whether the threat specifically existed or not, the political outlines of that confrontation surely implied it.
The mystery which Nixon resigned to protect, and which the Ford pardon sought to “shut and seal,” appears to center on some as-yet-unknown intertwining of Nixon’s and Kennedy’s fates as adversaries in the great misadventure of the Bay of Pigs. To get at what this mystery might be, we find we have to go beyond the conventional Cold War picture of the Bay of Pigs operation. Instead of seeing the invasion simply as a U.S.-vs.-Cuba conflict and the “policy of the Kennedy administration”, we see it as the product of a conflict internal to the policy apparatus pitting a liberal-minded Yankee president against conservative-minded stalwarts of the defense and security bureaucracies.
The motive of the Cowboy-Nixon side in this conflict was its desire to push through with Cuban plans laid lovingly in the last days of Eisenhower. (Vice-President Johnson also supported the Bay of Pigs “activists.”) The motive of the Yankee-Kennedy side was its desire to avoid being drawn into a war against Castro’s Cuba. The pro-invasion side was strong enough to frustrate the anti-invasion side but not strong enough to break out, overcome, and be satisfied, just as the anti-invasion side was strong enough only to take the sting out of the invasion, not to stop it.
The result, the Cuban Fiasco, set the model for the Vietnam Quagmire, which followed exactly the same logical course, except in giant steps.
The period before Kennedy’s assassination is thus a period of accumulating polarizations throughout the universe of the White House policy apparatus. The Massachusetts-Texas electoral coalition that squeaked into the White House in 1960 had by 1963 proved itself nonfunctional and self-destructive as a governing coalition. It is one measure of the power relativities of this coalition’s crisis that the assassination of the president seemed to resolve it.
Whatever we decide about the evidence of the assassination, whether we walk away from Warren and the Warren critics believing in a right-wing conspiracy or a Castroite conspiracy or a left-wing lone assassin, we all will still acknowledge on monumental and central fact about the Dallas killing: It got rid of one policy and put another in its place. In the richness of his hypocrisy, Johnson successfully pretended to carry on the torch of domestic Kennedy reform and wholly mystified the question of war and peace in Vietnam by saying sometimes that Kennedy had actually been a hawk like him and other times that he, Johnson, was actually a dove like Kennedy. With Goldwater as an easy rightward foil, Johnson was able to represent his strategy of graduated ground, air, and naval escalation as the peace strategy and thus to campaign on all the arguments usually at the disposal of a peace candidate. Yet as the Ellsberg Papers later showed (and as the poet Brecht long before foretold), even as he beat his breast for peace in the ancient public drumshow, Johnson was secretly signing the marching orders. In this case it was the detailed day-by-day, target-by-target JCS plans for the bombardment of the North that would be launched, as though spontaneously against unexpected provocation (the VC attack on Pleiku), in February 1965, the elections safely past.
As for “the whole Bay of Pigs thing,” Johnson was shortly taking care of that, too, in the secret project launched by his Great Society in 1964 called “Second Naval Guerilla.” This project, as reported notably by Szulc, began as a let’s-do-it-right-this-time remake of the Bay of Pigs invasion in which U.S. troops would have been used and in which the assassination of Castro would have been attempted with presidential backing. It was to have been carried out sometime in 1965 after Johnson’s safe reelection, just as with Vietnam escalation. As Szulc observes, “it was an incredibly wild scheme because the resolution of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear confrontation, was based in part on Washington’s promise to let Castro be.” The reason the “Second Naval Guerilla” was never carried out is that the early 1965 rebellion in the Dominican Republic made it necessary to land in Santa Domingo the troops that had been made ready for Havana.
So Dallas was a turning point in any case, no matter who murdered Kennedy, no matter what the motive. Dallas brought to a close a period of Yankee dominance I the councils of state policy that stretched back essentially unbroken to the Civil War. Johnson easily attached to his own presidential coalition the bulk of Yankee forces willing to accept his reassurance that a military victory in Vietnam would soon be secured and that the advantages of it would be real. But the now splintered and demoralized detentist group found itself suddenly under the heel of precisely the man they had just been spitting on. Old New Frontierists hung on under Johnson, some on the strength of the argument that if they left those who came after would be worse or (as Halberstam suggests) out of a blend of naivete and arrogance that made them think they could find a solution; others because they thought their positions in the policy apparatus gave them power to hold the line of the Kennedy vision in spite of Johnson; others because Johnson seemed an improvement after all. For a long moment, there was even the heady fancy that by one of the ironies of politics, the death of the liberal prince and the ascendancy of the conservative would not make it still more possible to make peace in the world, more possible to bring about lasting changes for social and economic justice because (a) now everyone felt sorry for Kennedy and wanted to pay tribute to him and his social ideas, and because (b) now Johnson would be pulling all his people in, would actually bring the Solid South into the national civil-rights and peace coalition. Was there some uneasiness about that? But surely Johnson could be contained by the Yankees who controlled the bureaucracy around him? Outsiders are left wondering when, of if, the illusions finally wore through (for McNamara, say), or if any of the philosophers of Frontier Camelot ever asked if Kennedy died for Cuba and Vietnam in vain.
The illusion of the Cowboy-Yankee coalition proved ultimately the last illusion of Frontier Camelot, possibly because it was at bottom less an illusion than a gamble taken in the absence of alternatives. In any case, the consequences of that failure stretch out over the next decade like the ground path of a tornado. Here we anticipate our story of this failure enough to note briefly the long curve of it ahead: how the installation of Johnson in 1963 was in effect a transfer of presidential power from Yankee to Cowboy national ruling elites; how Yankee powers regrouped and challenged Cowboy rule with the bloodless power play of early 1968 which forced Johnson to abdicate, to start the peace negotiations in Paris, to stop the bombing of the North, and to open the way for the triumphal reform campaign of Robert Kennedy; how Johnson’s overthrow in March was followed by the conspiratorial assassination of King in April, then of Robert Kennedy in June; and how against a backdrop of general world tumult (Paris, Mexico City, Greece, Prague) all forces converged on the complex climax of the Democratic party in Chicago and the eventual triumph of Nixon, which sent the country slanting fiercely toward Watergate.
We do not yet know if or how Nixon might have been directly involved in any of this after leaving the office of vice-president, or if he was part of any secret group manipulating Eisenhower through control of information flowing through the National Security Council. But we have developed a more specific sense of the heart of this mystery when we come to see the Cuban invasion as a result of a conflict in which Nixon acted strongly against Camelot policy by way of an invasion group which we know for a fact included Hunt, Sturgis, the Watergate Cubans, yeasty parts of the CIA, Howard Hughes though his man Robert Maheu (to whom we return), and the Lansky Syndicate through John Roselli, whome Maheu reached on behalf of the CIA. What could be the organizational form of the ad hoc clandestine government which such details imply? Finding this, we would find the answer to the mystery of Ford’s pardon and Nixon’s crime.
Now our reconstruction comes to the turning point of Dallas. It is time to confront the question that the foregoing analysis of a divided Camelot suggests, namely: If we see that the JFK assassination was a coup d’etat in effect, is there any reason to suppose it was such a thing by design?
Carl Oglesby’s The Yankee And Cowboy War is a one of those rare books that is unfortunately out of print but gives us insight into the machinations of the true power structures in this country. I have been able to find only bits and pieces of this work on the internet and would greatly appreciate it if anybody who reads this is able to find additional chapters. I am going to post the introduction here and will follow whenever possible with newly available portions. There is also a good article on Oglesby and the potential for the necessary ‘best of the left and best of the right’ paradigm smashing alliance in a recent issue of The American Conservative (available online) by Bill Kauffman entitled When The Left Was Right. It will be necessary to build this alliance today in order to fight the fascist globalists and their police state/war machine.
The Yankee and Cowboy War
by Carl Oglesby
1: Yankees and Cowboys: A Perspective on the Dallas-Watergate Decade
The assassination of John Kennedy and the downfall of Richard-Nixon have both been viewed as isolated moral disasters for American democracy: Kennedy’s murder as a demonstration of our continuing national inability or unwillingness to cope with violence; Nixon’s downfall as a demonstration of the failure of our democratic institutions to overcome the abuses of secret intelligence and electronic surveillance at the seat of national power.
But these two events represent neither isolated disasters nor a generalized failure of American institutions but something almost beyond the ability of ordinary people even to see, much less control. The two events – Dallas and Watergate – are actually concrete links in a chain of related and ominous events passing through the entire decade in which they occurred and beyond. And this chain of events itself represents only the violent eruptions of a deeper struggle of rival power elites identified here as Yankees and Cowboys.
This book proposes to show that Dallas and Watergate are intrinsically linked conspiracies in a hidden drama of coup and countercoup which represents the life of an inner oligarchic power sphere, and “invisible government,” capable of any act in the pursuit of its objectives, that sets itself above the law and beyond the moral rule: a clandestine American state, perhaps an embryonic police state.
We see the expressions and symptoms of clandestine America in a dozen places now-the FBI’s COINTELPRO scheme, the CIA’s Operation Chaos, the Pentagon’s Operation Garden Plot, the large-scale and generally successful attempts to destroy legitimate and essential dissent in which all the intelligence agencies participated, a, campaign whose full scope and fury are still not revealed. We see it in the ruthlessness and indifference to world, as well as national, opinion with which the CIA contracted its skills out to ITT to destroy democracy’s last little chance in Chile. We see it as well, as this book argues, in the crime and coverup of Dealey Plaza, the crime and cover-up of Watergate.
How could the clandestine state have stricken us so profoundly? How could we – as we might have fancied, “of all people” – have given way with so little resistance, in fact with so little evident understanding of what was happening? What accounts for the way the various organs of state force-defense and security alike-became so divided – against each other? CIA-Intelligence against CIA-Operations, the CIA, the Pentagon, the FBI, and the presidency at one time or another against each other-what is this internal conflict all about? Why should the country’s premier political coalition, formed after Reconstruction and reformed by Franklin Roosevelt, have begun to destabilize so badly in the 1960s and 1970s?
The intensification of clandestine, illicit methods against racial and antiwar dissent as a “threat” to the (secret) state precisely coincided with the intensified use of such methods in conflicts for power and hegemony taking place within the secret state, against a background of declining consensus.
This book proposes to show that Dallas and Watergate are intrinsically linked conspiracies in a hidden drama of coup and countercoup which represents the life of an inner oligarchic power sphere, and “invisible government,” capable of any act in the pursuit of its objectives, that sets itself above the law and beyond the moral rule: a clandestine American state, perhaps an embryonic police state.
We see the expressions and symptoms of clandestine America in a dozen places now-the FBI’s COINTELPRO scheme, the CIA’s Operation Chaos, the Pentagon’s Operation Garden Plot, the large-scale and generally successful attempts to destroy legitimate and essential dissent in which all the intelligence agencies participated, aa campaign whose full scope and fury are still not revealed. We see it in the ruthlessness and indifference to world, as well as national, opinion with which the CIA contracted its skills out to ITT to destroy democracy’s last little chance in Chile. We see it as well, as this book argues, in the crime and coverup of Dealey Plaza, the crime and cover-up of Watergate.
The Dallas-to-Watergate outburst is fundamentally attributable to the breakdown taking place within the incumbent national coalition, the coalition of the Greater Northeastern powers with the Greater Southwestern powers, the post-Civil War, post-Reconstruction coalition, the coalition of the New Deal, of Yankees and Cowboys.
This is the theme, at bottom, of the entire narration to follow. The agony of the Yankees and the Cowboys, the “cause” of their divergence in the later Cold War period, is that there was finally too much tension between the militarist strategy of the Yankees in the Atlantic and the militarist strategy of the Cowboys in the Pacific. To maintain the two lines was, in effect, to maintain two separate and opposed realities at once, two separate and contradictory domains of world-historical truth. In Europe and the industrial world, the evident truth was that we could live with communism. In Asia and the Third World, the evident truth was that we could not, that we had to fight and win wars against it or else face terrible consequences at home.
As long as the spheres of detente and violence could be kept apart in American policy and consciousness, as long as the Atlantic and Pacific could remain two separate planes of reality wheeling within each other on opposite assumptions and never colliding, then American foreign policy could wear a look of reasonable integration. But when it became clear that the United States could not win its way militarily in the Third World without risking a nuclear challenge in the North Atlantic, the makings of a dissolving consensus were at hand.
I argue in Part Two of this book that the power-elite collision one sensed at Dallas on November 22, 1963, was real. It was no chance collision of a lone political maniac with a lone political star. It was a collision anchored in the larger social dialectic that propels the life of the national ruling elites. The conspiracy to kill JFK and the much larger conspiracy to keep official silence embodied this collision and had their being in this, the opposition of Yankee and Cowboy.
The lines of division became clear early in 1968 with the rapid crystallizing of a whole new front of opposition to the war, that of the “corporate liberals.” Formerly, the established liberalism of the sort we associate with Xerox and Harvard had been inclined to defend the U.S. position in Vietnam as a part of its long-standing general commitment to anticommunism. The Yankee lights had made the usual arrangements to provide world banking services to a Free South Vietnam and take the oil from its waters, and it was always clear that there would be no serious objection from the Yankees as a whole if the Vietnam War turned out to be winnable.’ But now in 1967-68 a new line of criticism of Johnson and his war policy opened up.
The war’s costs had exploded out of all proportion to the original objective, one now heard. No vital American interests were being attacked or defended in Vietnam, after all. Europe was appalled at us. Our European alliances were suffering. Our young people were strenuously alienated. Our economy was hurting. Other problems were lying neglected. We needed to wrap up the bleeding stump and move to a better position. General James Gavin, for example, one of President Kennedy’s chief military advisers, developed these and related ideas about the war in various public forums during that period.
But the strategy that was continued by Nixon in 1969 in the aftermath of the Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinations and Nixon’s resultant reelection, was, of course, escalation – the secret air war, the invasion of the “sanctuaries” in Cambodia and Laos, the Christmas bombings, etc. But for a moment in 1968, Johnson had suddenly and strangely abdicated, stopped the bombing, and opened the Paris peace talks, and Robert Kennedy had assembled an electoral coalition reaching from Mayor Daley to the liberal peaceniks, if not Tom Hayden, a New-Politics style coalition that appeared easily capable of beating , the opposition of Yankee and Cowboy.
The lines of division became clear early in 1968 with the rapid crystallizing of a whole new front of opposition to the war, that of the “corporate liberals.” Formerly, the established liberalism of the sort we associate with Xerox and Harvard had been inclined to defend the U.S. position in Vietnam as a part of its long-standing general commitment to anticommunism. The Yankee lights had made the usual arrangements to provide world banking services to a Free South Vietnam and take the oil from its waters, and it was always clear that there would be no serious objection from the Yankees as a whole if the Vietnam War turned out to be winnable.’ But now in 1967-68 a new line of criticism of Johnson and his war policy opened up.
So whereas there had formerly appeared to be essential agreement at the top of the American power structure on the Vietnam question, now we had two “ruling-class” voices to account for, one demanding more military effort and insisting upon the necessity of the original objective, the other tiring of the frustrations and costs of the attempt, unwilling to sacrifice resources at a yet higher magnitude, and wanting to be free to worry about other things-oil, gold, the Middle East, Europe, the economy, and so on.
It was directly clear that there was a regional component to this difference. Of course there are major points that do not fit the Yankee/Cowboy curve. The West Coast Bank of America, for example, spoke throughout the period of maximum unrest over the war with an essentially liberal voice. And Fulbright is from Arkansas. But on balance, the souls most fervently desirous of decisive military measures to prevent a Communist takeover tended to argue from a Frontierist, China-Lobby kind of position, and the souls most calmly able to accept losses and pull back tended to argue from an Atlanticist, Council on Foreign Relations, NATO-haunted kind of position.
The Yankee/Cowboy split thus suggested itself as a not too simplistic way to indicate in swift, available terms the existence of a rich and complex rivalry, the general cultural disposition of its chief contending principals, and the jointly historical and mythic character of their struggle, commingling John Wayne fantasies with real bloodshed, real genocide.
The profile of these types is best suggested in the persons and relationship of corporate-banker/monopolist David Rockefeller and tycoon entrepreneur Howard-Hughes. An inquiry into their long rivalry is the first step in our exposition of Watergate in Part Three. But the spirit of Yankeeness is given off by many things besides the Chase Manhattan and of Cowboyness by many things besides the Hughes empire. Yankeeness is the Ivy League and Cowboyness is the NFL. Yankee is the exclusive clubs of Manhattan, Boston, and Georgetown. Cowboy is the exclusive clubs of Dallas and New Orleans, Orange County East and West. Yankee is the Council on Foreign Relations, the secret Round Table, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bundles for Britain, and at a certain point, the Dulles brothers and the doctrine of massive retaliation. Cowboy is Johnson, Connally, Howard Hunt and the Bay of Pigs team. Yankee is Kennedy, Cowboy is Nixon.
But I stress my purpose is not to name a concrete group of conspirators and assassins, though I do not doubt that the conspiracies I speak of are actual. My aim rather is to call attention to the persistence of Civil War splits in the current situation and to the historical ideological substance of the positions at play.
It must be often the case, as it was with me and the Yankee/Cowboy idea, that one’s fresh insight turns out to be already well mapped and settled. I first proposed the Yankee/Cowboy references in early 1968 but wrote nothing of any account on the theme until a series of articles about Watergate for the Boston Phoenix in 1973 and 1974. A reader of one of those pieces informed me of the similarity of my views with those of Professor Carroll Quigley, a historian at Georgetown.
Quigley is the author of a huge book about the contemporary world, Tragedy and Hope, to which I will return in chapter two. I begin my debt to Quigley here by borrowing the following observation from his summary. Noting that since 1950 a “revolutionary change” has been occurring in American politics, Quigley says this transformation involves “a disintegration of the middle class and a corresponding increase in significance by the petty bourgeoisie at the same time that the economic influence of the older Wall Street financial groups has been weakening and been challenged by new wealth springing up outside the eastern cities, notably in the Southwest and Far West.” He continues:
“These new sources of wealth have been based very largely on government action and government spending but have, none the less, adopted a petty-bourgeois outlook rather than the semi aristocratic outlook that pervades the Eastern Establishment. This new wealth, based on petroleum, natural gas, ruthless exploitation of national resources, the aviation industry, military bases in the South and West, and finally on space with all its attendant activities, has centered in Texas and southern California. Its existence, for the first. time, made it possible for the petty-bourgeois outlook to – make itself felt in the political nomination process instead of in the unrewarding effort to influence politics by voting for a Republican candidate nominated under Eastern Establishment influence…. By the 1964 elec¬tion, the major political issue in the country was the financial struggle behind the scenes between the old wealth, civilized and cultured in its foundations, and the new wealth, virile and uninformed, arising from the flowing profits of government-dependent corporations in the Southwest and West.” (Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope, 1966)
The whole point of introducing the Cowboy/Yankee language, of course, is to bring precisely that old money/ new money, Atlanticist-Frontierist tension into focus in the plane of current events. The main idea of looking at things this way is to see that a sectional rivalry, derived from the patterns of the Civil War, still operates in American politics, indeed that at the altitude of national power elites, it may be the most sensitive and inflamed division of all, more concentrated than race and class and more basic than two-party system attachments and ideologies. The argument of this book is that the emerging clash of Yankee and Cowboy wills beneath the visible stream of events is the dominant fact of real U.S. political life since 1960. The dissolution of the Yankee/ Cowboy consensus of World War II and the Cold War until 1960 is behind the Dallas of Kennedy and the Watergate of Nixon.
Let us go a step further with these types, Cowboy and Yankee, and sketch a first outline of the differing worlds they see.
The Yankee mind, of global scope, is at home in the great world, used to regarding it as a whole thing integrated in the far-flung activities of Western exploration, conquest, and commerce. The Yankee believes that the basis of a good world order is the health of America’s alliances across the North Atlantic, the relations with the Western Democracies from which our tradition mainly flows. He believes the United States continues the culture of Europe and relates to the Atlantic as to a lake whose other shore must be secured as a matter of domestic priority. Europe is the key world theater, and it is self-evident to the Yankee mind that the fate of the United States is inevitably linked up with Europe’s in a career of white cultural destiny transcending national boundaries: that a community of a unified world civilization exists, that there is such a thing as “the West,” “One World.”
The Cowboy mind has no room for the assumption that American and European culture are continuous. The Cowboy is moved instead by the discontinuity of the New World from the Old and substitutes for the Yankee’s Atlantic-oriented culture a new system of culture (Big Sky, Giant) oriented to an expanding wilderness Frontier and based on an advanced Pacific strategy.
The Yankee monopolists who first broke faith with the goal of military victory in Vietnam did so in view of what they saw as the high probability of failure and the certain ambiguity of success. The Cowboy entrepreneurs who fought hardest to keep that faith alive did so out of conviction of the necessity of success. Said the multicorporate-liberal Yankee (about 1968): “The United States cannot wage a whining nonnuclear land campaign in Asia. It will destroy its much more essential relations in Europe if in spite of all wisdom its leadership continues to siphon off precious national blood and treasure to win this war. It is necessary to stand down.” Said the Cowboy: “Only the strong are free.”
The distinction between the East Coast monopolist and the Western tycoon entrepreneur is the main class-economic distinction set out by the Yankee/ Cowboy perspective. It arises because one naturally looks for a class-economic basis for this apparent conflict at the summit of American power. That is because one must assume that parties without a class economic base could not endure struggle at that height. It is then only necessary to recall that antiwar feeling struck the Eastern Establishment next after it struck the students, the teachers, and the clergy-struck the large bank-connected firms tied into the trans-Atlantic business grid. During the same period, industrial segments around the construction industry, the military-industrial complex, agribusiness, the Southern Boom of the sixties and seventies, and independent Texas/ Southwest oil interests-i.e., the forces Quigley calls “new wealth”-never suffered a moment of war-weariness. They supported the Texan Johnson and the Southern Californian Nixon as far as they would go toward a final military solution. (See Steve Weissman and Steve Johnson, Ramparts, August 1974)
Why should this difference have arisen? After a century of Northeastern leadership, and one-quarter century of Cold War unity, why should the national ruling coalition of the old and new owning classes, Yankee and Cowboy, have begun pulling apart? But then we have to go back: What was the basis of their unity to begin with?
William Appleman Williams deals with a variation of this question when he argues that the basis for the long-term general (or “pluralist”) coalition of the forces of capitalism (or “plutocracy”) with the forces of democracy in American politics is the constant companionship of the expanding wilderness frontier. Williams thus stands the Turner Frontier on its head, correcting it. (William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, 1959)
I add that another and cognate effect of the frontier in American economic development was to preserve the entrepreneurial option long after the arrival of the vast monopoly structures which tend to consume entrepreneurs. In the states whose political-economic histories Marx studied, for example, the frontier was never the factor that it was in America, except as America itself was Europe’s Wild West. The rugged individualist self-made rich man, the autonomous man of power, the wildcatter, began to drop out of sight, to lose presence as individual, type, and class, with the rise of the current-day computer-centered monopoly-corporate formations. The tycoon-entrepreneur is of course disappearing as a type in America too, at least as a political force in national life. The Hughes empire, at last, has been corporatized. Old man Hunt is dead. His sons are bringing Harvard Business School rational bureaucracy to the operation. But that only makes it all the more curious that political power continued to emanate from the type and the person, the image and the reality, the ghost perhaps, of a creature like Hughes as late as the second victorious presidential campaign of Nixon. Why should the Cowboy tycoon have persisted so long as a political force, competent to struggle against the biggest banking cartels for control of the levers of national power?
As others have argued, the Frontier was a reprieve for democracy. We may note here that it was also a reprieve for capitalism as well, whose internal conflicts were constantly being financed off an endless-seeming input of vast stretches of natural riches, having no origin in capitalist production. All that was needed was for the settlers to accept the genocidal elimination of the native population and a great deal became possible-the purple mountains, the fruited plains. And generation after generation of American whites were able to accept that program. The Indian wars won the West. The railroads and highways were laid. The country was resettled by a new race, a new nation.
Energies of expansion consumed the continent in about two centuries, pushing on to Hawaii and Alaska. There is no way to calculate the impact of that constant territorial expansion on the development of American institutions.
There is no way to imagine those institutions apart from the environment created by that expansion. It is a matter our standard national hagiography paints out of the picture, though we make much of the populist-saga aspect of the pioneering (never “conquering”) of the West. How can we congratulate our national performance for its general democracy and constitutionalism without taking into account the background of that constant expansion? We do not teach our children that we are democrats in order to expand forever and republicans on condition of an unfrozen western boundary with unclaimed wilderness. To the extent that the American miracle of pluralism exists at all, we still do not know how miraculous it would be in the absence of an expanding frontier, its constant companion till the time of the Chinese revolution.
The war in Asia has its internal American origin in the native reflex to maintain the Western Frontier on the old terms and to do so at all cost, since our whole way of life hinges on the Frontier. What the late-blooming Yankee liberal critics of the Vietnam war refused to hear and recognize between the lines of the prowar arguments of the more philosophical Cowboy hawks was this essential point about the importance of Frontier expansion in American life from the beginning.
In the nature of things, the American Frontier continued to expand with the prosperity it financed. Now, in our generation, it has brought us to this particular moment of world confrontation across the Pacific, fully global in scale for both sides, fully modern in its technological expression far both sides – the old Westward-surging battle for space projected onto the stage of superpowers.
The success and then the successful defense from 1950 to 1975 of the Asian revolutionary nationalist campaigns against further Western dominance in Asia-China, Korea, Vietnam-means that all that is changed. What was once true about the space to the west of America is no longer true and will never be true again. There will never be a time again when the white adventurer may peer over his western horizon at an Asia helplessly plunged in social disorganization. In terms of their social power to operate as a unified people and in the assimilation of technology, the Chinese people are, since 1950, a self-modernizing people, not colonials any more. And instead of a Wild West, Americans now have a mature common boundary with other moderns like ourselves, not savages, not Redskins, not Reds, only modern people like ourselves in a single modern world. This is new for us, a new experience for Americans altogether.
Our national transformation from an unbounded to a bounded state will of course continue to stir the internal furies. No one interpretation of the event will be able to establish itself. No one will agree what the end of the Frontier means, what it will lead to, what one ought to do about it. But all will agree that it is upon us and past, whether it is called one thing or another. And now after Vietnam, as though it were not clear enough before, it is apparent beyond any possibility of doubt that whatever this force of Asian self-modernization is, whether it is evil br good or beyond good and evil, it is assuredly not a force that United States policy-makers can manhandle and manipulate and hold back through diplomatic chicanery and military force. Even if it were still advisable for the United States to stop “the march of Asian communism,” if that is what we are really talking about, it is not possible for the United States to do that. Look and see: China, Korea, Vietnam.
I have not written this book to say at the end, choose sides between Cowboy and Yankee for Civil War II. My less bloody belief is that ordinary people all over the map, Northeast by Southwest, have a deep, simple, and common need to oppose all these intrigues and intriguers, whatever terms one calls them by and however one understands their development. But this need of course must be recognized, and that is why I write: to offer an analysis of the situation of domestic politics from the standpoint of power-elite collisions taking place at the top, and then, at the end, to suggest that democracy’s first response must be to demand a realistic reconstruction of the assassination of President Kennedy. To comprehend his murder (as with the murder of Lincoln) is to comprehend a very basic event in the history of American government, as well as the crimes that came after it. The comprehension of these covert political actions is the absolute precondition of self-government, the first step toward the restoration of the legitimate state.
More broadly I write to say that we are the American generations for whom the frontier is the fact that there is no more frontier and who must somehow begin to decide how to deal with this.
What shall America do about the loss of its wilderness frontier? Can we form our nation anew, on new, non-expansionist terms without first having to see everything old swept violently away? The unarticulated tension around, that question undermined the long-standing Yankee/Cowboy coalition and introduced, with President Kennedy’s assassination, the current period of violent and irregular movement at the top of the power hierarchy. It is the precipitous and at the same time unfocused character of this question of the closed, lost frontier that has created such a challenge, such a threat, to traditional American values and institutions, the threat of a cancerously spreading clandestine state within.