Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Review: Vincent Bugliosi's "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy."

The assassination of John F. Kennedy sits like a big, ugly scar upon the cheek of Lady Liberty. She remains beautiful, inspiring and entirely imperfect. But that scare – it’s there and rests in the nation’s craw like an unmade bed. It’s hard for many of us, whether alive at the time of the assassination or not, to accept the fact that a twisted, unfocused, malcontent could harm, let alone, kill, the most powerful man in the world and arguably one of the more inspirational political leaders in world history. Certainly, a Presidency, based on a new optimism and appeal to the best of humanity could never end this way. Unthinkable.

This sustained mourning and shock, spanning decades and generations, might have something to do with the fact that 7 in 10 of us think that there was something nefarious afoot, an evil plot spawned by the CIA, FBI, LBJ, the Mafia, the Castro brothers, and/or the Soviets.

Vincent Bugliosi of Charles Manson, Helter Skelter and OJ fame, takes on the issue of the assassination with this Reclaiming History: the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. While not nice to conspiracy theorists, the attorney, who actually prosecuted Lee Harvey Oswald in a 1986 mock court, facilitated by an English television channel, lays out – clearly and meticulously – a defense of the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald did it by himself. I’m not sure that there’s a lasting argument that Oswald “participated,” firing shots from the 6th floor window of the depository. It seems to now come down to the other guy – a “badge man” or clean-shaven “hobo” from beyond the picket fence. Here are a few of the arguments that Bugliosi proffers.

1) Counsel for the Commission, Burt Griffin, was hell bent on finding a conspiracy. Like so many of the younger members of the group (including Arlen Specter), they wanted to be heroes. They wanted to find something that would enable a springboard effect for their political careers. Yet, there was nothing.
2) The members of the Commission had little motivation to facilitate a conspiracy. Why would they fetter their careers and sully their legacies with conspiring to kill the Commander-in-Chief?
3) Why would an ardent Marxist join forces with the CIA, the actual agency that planned the botched invasion at the Bay of Pigs?
4) The Warren Commission took 10 months to compile its report, conducting tests, interviews and research all on its own, without using much at all of the FBI’s - thought my many to be dubious - investigative conclusions. J. Edgar Hoover, suspected to be an enabler for conspiracy, was a scoundrel all on his own and didn’t need to add coup d’état to his resume.

There’s a whole lot more to Bugliosi’s argument than this. Plus, as someone whose read a few assassination treatises, his layout and narrative of the events in Dallas is impressive. Also, for those of us who are medically-minded, his description of the treatment of both the President and assassin are unprecedented in their detail. He also produces myriad facts about the assassination, so easily lost.

1) Jack Ruby thought Lee Harvey Oswald was handsome – thought he looked a lot like Paul Newman.
2) At a funeral where Oswald’s pallbearers were newsmen, the lone floral arrangements were donated by a mysterious figure named Virginia Leach.
3) In spite of numerous appeals from a jumpy Secret Service, LBJ refused to ride in a covered limo during the funeral procession to Arlington, stating that he’d “rather die than be afraid to die.”
4) Kennedy’s longtime aid, Ken O’Donnell, and the Secret Service, bull rushed the Dallas County Coroner and several Dallas city police officers to get the President’s body out of Parkland Hospital. When the coroner said that he had no interest in the person in the coffin, but that Texas state law required an autopsy be done, O’Donnell exclaimed “go ---- yourself” and the group tore off to Love Field to return to Washington.

If you think something smelled rotten that day in Dallas (I continue to), then I still recommend reading Bugliosi’s work. A sharp study of the Kennedy assassination should include a strong dialectic of ideas – if you care enough to read about the assassination, you owe the fallen President and the truth that much. The 46th anniversary of JFK's death falls on Sunday, the 22nd of November at 10:30 AM PDT.

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