Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board
U.S. Government Printing Office. 208 pp. Free
Real Answers: The True Story
of the John F. Kennedy Assassination
By Gary Cornwell
Paleface. 205 pp. $24.95
Live by the Sword: The Secret War
Against Castro and the Death of JFK
By Gus Russo
Bancroft. 512 pp. $26.95
With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald
and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit.
By Dale K. Myers
Oak Cliff. 702 pp. $35
No More Silence: An Oral History
of the Assassination of President Kennedy
By Larry A. Sneed
Three Forks. 601 pp. $35
By Max Holland
The advance text of John F. Kennedy’s Trade Mart speech was generating, on the morning of November 22, 1963, more of a buzz in the press than usual, even among the jaded White House contingent. This was no boilerplate presidential address. The President was going to deliver it in Dallas, after all, the virtual capital of his right-wing opponents and the one large municipality that had chosen Nixon over Kennedy in 1960 and was predicted to favor Goldwater in 1964. Not coincidentally, Dallas was also a fount of anti-Communist paranoia and the wellspring for some of the ugliest anti-Kennedy bile in circulation. “We’re heading into nut country today,” the President told his wife that morning in Fort Worth, where she donned her pink suit. And the press knew it, half expecting, perhaps half hoping, that some newsworthy incident would occur during the motorcade en route to the Trade Mart. What better than a display of local venom to juxtapose against the President’s speech, which would pointedly criticize “voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties”?
Thirty-five years later, because John Kennedy never delivered that speech, we have the following result: The October issue of George, edited by the President’s son, features an article by Oliver Stone. Although he strikes a vaguely leftish pose, Stone in fact uses the familiar rightist logic of those who mutter darkly about black helicopters, fluoridation of the water and one-world government, not to mention precious bodily fluids. Kennedy was “calling for radical change on several fronts--the USSR, Cuba, Vietnam,” writes Stone. “If nothing else, a motive for murder is evident.” Until this article in George, the Kennedy family had steadfastly refused to dignify conspiracy buffs. Now Kennedy fils lends respectability to one of the worst purveyors of the kind of paranoid nonsense eschewed by his father, vigorous anti-Communist though he was.
It is not just John junior who validates Stone, of course. A special feature of Film & History (Vol. 28, Nos. 1-2) devoted to Stone says this of the director:
In many respects, then, Stone is one of the most influential “historians” in America today....
In calling Stone a historian we are, of course, expanding upon the familiar definition.... In the modern age of film and video, producers and directors are acting historians, too, and their productions often make a significant impact on the public’s perceptions of history.
A subsequent article in the same issue speaks of how students may benefit from “evaluating specific pieces of conflicting evidence from the Warren Commission and Stone’s JFK.” [Emphasis added.] No one should dismiss for a moment Stone’s reach and influence, pernicious as it is, and surely Stone’s JFK deserves rigorous study in the classroom, for he is as emblematic of his age as Leni Riefenstahl was of hers. But Stone is no historian.
In seemingly stark contrast to this Wonderland, where words mean whatever people say they mean, stands Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a historian as predictable as an old shoe. Schlesinger uses words to convey commonly accepted meanings, except that he manipulates them as if he were a lifetime employee of the Kennedy White House, his eloquence in the writing of history rivaled only by his skill at dissembling it. Readers of Schlesinger’s 1978 biography of Robert Kennedy will be forgiven if they reach the last page not realizing that the attorney general forced out the one advocate, Under Secretary of State Chester Bowles, of a genuine alternative to arrogant and blinkered anti-Communism. With Bowles’s elimination, there was no one left in higher councils to argue that Cuba represented a thorn in the US flesh, not a dagger in its heart, and RFK was free to become the “wild man...out-CIAing the CIA.”
One can almost set a clock by Schlesinger’s rebuttals. The latest, published in the December Cigar Aficionado, dismissively treats RFK’s central role in the post Bay of Pigs, government-wide obsession to overthrow Castro as not being the attorney general’s “finest hour.” The professor also trots out a very tired rogue elephant: There is no direct evidence that President Kennedy “authorized or knew of the assassination plots” (note the absence of Robert Kennedy’s name), and that the CIA’s involvement occurred because it “believed that it knew the requirements of national security better than transient elected officials, like presidents.”