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WHAT WE TRULY LEARNED FROM THE GREAT WAR AND THE ABSURDITY OF REMEMBRANCE DAY

John Chuckman

No matter what high-blown claims the politicians make each year on Remembrance Day, The Great War was essentially a fight between two branches of a single royal family over the balance of power on the continent of Europe, British foreign policy holding to a longstanding principle that no one nation should ever be permitted to dominate the continent.

It was also a war between the world’s greatest existing imperial power, Britain, and another state, Germany, which aspired to become a greater imperial power than it was.

To a considerable extent, it was a war resulting from large standing armies and great arms races, a telling indictment of those who preach the false gospel of ever-greater military strength to defend freedom. As with any huge, shiny new investment, great armies will always be used, and the results are almost invariably great misery.

The First World War was not a war to end all wars, as a slogan of the time claimed. If anything, it was a precursor for a great many wars to follow, and, most importantly, it was a powerful and important cause of World War II.

It also was not a war about democracy since none of the participants, including Britain, would qualify as democracies by any reasonable reckoning with their heavily limited voting franchise and government structures stacked in the interests of old and privileged orders, quite apart from their holding empires whose populations enjoyed no franchise at all.

The war was also one of history’s great instances of mass hysteria, particularly among the young men of several countries. In Britain, there have been many laments over the loss of some fine and promising young men who rushed to join up. In Germany, it was no different, and we note one young man, then of no importance, by the name of Adolph Hitler rushing to join up, much as his British contemporaries, to share in the “glory.”

Today, we pretend shock that young men sometimes go abroad to fight for a cause, religious or otherwise, but compared to the mass insanity of World War I, what we see today is truly petty. The authorities everywhere then made great efforts to push young men, using songs, marching bands, slogans, shame and social pressure in many forms, and countless lies. The nonsense about the Kaiser’s troops bayonetting babies was one example, a lie served up again decades later with a slight twist by George Bush the Elder’s government as it desperately wanted support to invade Iraq, the babies the second time around supposedly being ripped from respirators.

World War I made absolutely no sense. It achieved nothing worth achieving, and it did so at immense cost. Apart from killing about 20,000,000 people, the war left countless crippled and disabled and created a great swathe of destruction across Europe.

If Germany had been allowed to dominate Europe for a time, it would have made comparatively little difference to the lives of most people. Indeed, today, that is the situation we find in the European Union.

It is important to realize that large wars are always revolutionary in nature, and no one at the outset can possibly predict the outcomes of such chaotic storms in terms of social, economic, and political change. World War I very much set the stage, with huge losses of men and the incompetence demonstrated by Imperial commanders, for the Communists to take power in Russia, a development which led ultimately to the Cold War.

The War’s immense costs and the realization by millions of soldiers from abroad that they fought for a nation which gave them no rights provided the great first blow towards ending the British Empire. The approaching World War II would finish the work of imperial rot and collapse.

The First World War set the stage for the rise of Hitler less than two decades later and made inevitable the catastrophe of World War II, which would inflict at least two and a half times as many deaths again and would see such horrors as the Holocaust and the use of atomic bombs.

So why, about a century later, do we still treat The Great War with reverence and sentimental remembrance?

The act of remembrance actually contradicts the sound human tendency to forget terrible experiences. Of course, we hear repeated countless times the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” one of those glib and catchy sayings which seem at first hearing to carry some deep truth. Just the consideration that in real life no two events ever can be identical makes the saying a pleasantly-phrased nonsense, resembling the aphorisms on far lighter subjects from Oscar Wilde.

Those repeating the glib phrase as received wisdom from an unimpeachable prophet always neglect to remind us of the importance of scrupulously defining what it is that you are remembering. If we remember World War One for exactly what it was, and not for what we wish it had been, we see a vast, pointless slaughter that succeeded in setting conditions for still more slaughter. Never repeating it would be a blessing indeed.

But if we see it as moving and inspirational, if we associate its name with thoughts of ending war or protecting democracy or of great camaraderie and shared hardship, if we are emotionally moved by troops in uniforms and flags flying and bugles and drumbeats, then we most assuredly will repeat it, as we have already done more than once, and I’m pretty sure that’s what the arrogant politicians and jingoes want us ready to do.

Remembrance Day surely is not about the loss of life, as we pretend it is, because the only way to hold those or any lives sacred is not to send them off to war in the first place. The ugly truth is that governments, run by men with great egos – likely more often than not, actual narcissists – who are supported by privileged wealth wanting to keep or expand its privilege, make the decision for wars largely on the basis of fairly primitive instincts, instincts about being first or not letting a competitor gain an advantage, or just vague and meaningless stuff about being manly or resolute – standing your ground, keeping a stiff upper lip, putting up with no nonsense, showing your manhood, and so on and so forth.

One American politician, in a play on an infamous quote by George Wallace, said no one would ever “out-commie” him again in an election. Such was the thinking of Lyndon Johnson in making the fatal decision to start a major war in Southeast Asia. On just such hormone-laden considerations hung a decade’s brutal fighting and the deaths of 3 million Vietnamese.

The real reason for the ceremonies and parades and speeches is to keep young men keen to go and kill and die, there being no group of humans more subject to cheap emotional appeals about glory and heroism than young men, as we see, ad nauseam, generation after generation.

As I’ve written before, humans are little more than chimpanzees with larger brains, those larger brains enabling us to magnify immensely the power of our murderous instincts, a fact we seem determined proudly to display every Remembrance Day.

 

 

 

 

 

SOME HARD FACTS ABOUT TERROR

John Chuckman

 

We are having an outbreak of reports in the Canadian press about “home grown” terrorists, “radicalized” young men of Muslim faith traveling out of the country to participate in extremist groups abroad, a relatively insignificant phenomenon which has received inordinate publicity. In any event, if you give the matter some thought, you realize that this “news” is a kind of empty publicity, noise about something as old and familiar as human life itself, although it has been bestowed with a new name intended to frighten us into supporting measures outside the framework of a society of laws.

The truth is that young men, at least a certain portion of them, have always traveled abroad to join causes and wars. It’s about as ordinary a phenomenon as playing team sports or joining clubs. In many cases, we end up praising them for their bravery and idealism, as was certainly the case with the many thousands of Europeans, Americans, and Canadians who traveled to Spain in the 1930s to volunteer in the civil war against General Franco. In other cases, we condemn and imprison them and sometimes even execute them as part of the losing side, as America has been doing in its rampage through the Middle East.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the emergence of new, independent nations from the British Empire drew thousands of young men to Africa to fight as mercenaries or volunteers. Apartheid South Africa used to run classified ads in newspapers abroad to attract young men in its battle against the African National Congress. Young Jewish men in the past went to Israel to join the IDF out of some sense of brotherhood, and they do so still. The French Foreign Legion gained almost mythical status as a place for young men to leave things behind, embracing an undefined sense of purpose and brotherhood. Young European adventurers, often young noblemen with hopes of gaining glory, sailed across the Atlantic in the 1770s to volunteer in the American colonies’ revolt against the British Empire, far more of them than Washington’s meagre army could use.

Magnetic leaders like Napoleon or Castro or Nasser attracted countless volunteers from abroad in their heyday. Our history books don’t dwell on the fact but large numbers of young men from many countries volunteered for Hitler’s invading legions. The phenomenon does not depend on the high or noble nature of the cause, although the luster and publicity around grand causes undoubtedly attracts a still wider range of young men.

Young men often just want to escape from every-day, humdrum life, a boring marriage, a nothing job, or, as in the case of the Foreign Legion, to leave a criminal or failed past behind in hopes of high adventure, a new identity, and a fresh start in life. The genuine nature of a cause often matters little because young men’s fantasies convert grubby deeds into mythic stuff at least for a time. Young men in the Foreign Legion were actually fighting for a brutal imperialism in North Africa. Volunteers to the IDF only assist in the oppression of an abused people, not in the protection of the Jewish people. Those who joined Napoleon thought they were spreading liberté, égalité et fraternité across a mummified old-order Europe, but they were helping one of history’s great bloody soldier-conquerors glorify himself and do what it was he lusted after doing.

Mental illness also intrudes into terrorist matters, all things unusual or different being grist for the big dumb mill of the press. In Canada, during the wave of empty chatter about “home-grown terrorists,” there were two isolated incidents of murder in different parts of the country, one of a policeman and one of a reservist in the military. Immediately the press began a completely uninformative and patience-exhausting round of speculation about the dark nature of the perpetrators, complete with interviews of various self-proclaimed “terrorism experts,” men, as it generally turns out, who run security firms and are out drumming up business. In both cases, we finally learned through the fog of misinformation generated by the press, that the young dead men were deeply mentally disturbed, their acts having no more political significance than the crazed men set on suicide who first kill their wives or children or the boys who periodically show up heavily armed at school, shooting their way through classmates.

And of course, it is almost invariably males who do these things, our prisons containing about ten men for every woman. The violence we see in professional football, hockey, or boxing being almost an exclusive male domain. Woman rarely commit murder, males being responsible for almost all of it, with young males being responsible for an extraordinarily disproportionate share.

Aside from the psychotic and deeply depressed, there is a certain segment of young men in every society who are simply attracted to opportunities for legal killing, rape, and mayhem – this being the truly ugly side of every war and conflict that we never mention in our sentimental world-war memorial services or high school textbooks. These men are variously termed sociopaths or psychopaths, and they appear to exist naturally in some proportion in any population. They enjoy killing, inflicting pain, and the sense of supreme power over the lives of others, and they are incapable of sympathy for their victims or remorse for their acts. They only fear being caught, and war provides a wonderful legal playground for them.

The bloodiest, most brutal and pointless war of the last half century, America’s grotesque slaughter in Vietnam, attracted thousands of volunteers from other countries to join in the gruesome fun – acts which included everything from raping girls and then shooting them to throwing men out of helicopters. Even then-peaceful Canada, whose prime minister, Lester Pearson, bravely turned down Lyndon Johnson’s bullying demands to send troops (charmer that Johnson was, he is said to have grabbed our Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader by the lapels during a meeting and pushed him against a wall), saw hundreds of adventure-seeking young men, on their own, join the American holocaust, which would see three million horribly slaughtered, countless wounded, and an ancient agricultural land overwhelmed with America’s landmines, cluster bombs, and poisons.

Today we call people terrorists as easily as we more accurately might have called them reckless or mad. The word terrorist has been given an almost frightening, superstitious connotation much resembling the word witch in the seventeenth century when any poor old soul who suffered from a mental illness like schizophrenia might be burnt alive for her mumblings and delusions. Today, the same people we once burnt would be sent to a homeless shelter or a psychiatric hospital. Another aspect of the word terrorist is related to what Stalin used to say when he expected his officials to launch a new purge to keep the country terrorized into submission. The Vozhd would say something about “wreckers” or “wreckers of the revolution” and his minions would busy themselves demonstrating alacrity in finding large numbers to consign to prison or death. All of our press and government spokespeople now use terrorist with those two meanings, and to the extent that they do, we should recognize the foolishness of their speech and its danger to a free society.

Of course, anyone who commits violent crime needs dealing with, and we do have laws covering every form of violent crime and what is judged the degree of culpability. But creating a special class or type of crime, somehow understood to be different in nature from other crimes, and thereby requiring extraordinary measures of espionage and policing and imprisonment and standards of evidence, is a shabby, dishonest, and cowardly political act. It is a political act in exactly the sense best explained by George Orwell.

The template for this kind of state activity comes directly from Israel. It long ago succeeded in changing the outside perception of events since 1948 from that of a relatively powerless people having their homes and lands taken with great brutality. Everyone knows instinctively that people treated in that fashion have every right in international law and custom to fight their oppressors. We call them at various times and circumstances freedom fighters, guerillas, resistance fighters, or irregulars. But in this case, they were transformed into terrorists who seek only to destroy law-abiding, democratic Israel – unspeakably evil beings intent on attacking the imported Ozzie-and-Harriet peacefulness of white-picket fence neighborhoods constructed on other people’s property. It truly is a case of the world turned on its head.

It does make things so much easier when you shoot someone or bulldoze their home or send them to prison indefinitely with no trial and subject to torture, if you first have demonized them, much as in the case of witches or wreckers, with terrorist being this generation’s choice demonizing word. And when Israel kills some people whose identity as “terrorists” might be seen as very doubtful, the victims magically become militants, a Newspeak word which strives to make the killing of anyone from boys to grandfathers palatable, our shabby press in the West having adopted the word in its reportage without so much as blinking an eye, much less asking a question. This has been Israel’s day-in, day-out pattern of government for decades, but now it has managed to export to the United States the same pattern of behavior. The United States, after all, is a nation given to Captain Ahab-like obsessions, as it has demonstrated many times in its history, Muslims now having displaced the Communists it pursued with relentless fury for decades at home and abroad. And when the United States embraces a new obsession, its dependants in Europe, Canada, Australia, and other places are bullied into embracing it too. America has many avenues for pressuring the acceptance and recognition of its latest craze or special interest or dark operation and to quiet the criticism which would naturally flow from those who disagree and think for themselves.

Were America not enthralled with this voodoo about terror, Europe and others would quickly fall away, and Israel’s ugly behavior would be left in a glaring spotlight, much as South Africa’s once was.

It is the force of these considerations in part which leads so many to question the true nature of what happened on 9/11, for that set of events was pivotal in having American public opinion embrace extraordinary, anti-democratic, and anti-human rights measures. I do not subscribe to the (not-uncommon) conspiracy notion that the American government was complicit in 9/11, using it as a kind of Nazi Reichstag Fire to ignite the mindless war on terror and a crusade through the Middle East to overturn governments unfriendly to Israel. I do very much believe though that the full story of that event has never been told, and, as always, that can only mean highly embarrassing or compromising facts are being suppressed. The immense body of confidential information in Washington on all matters of state – literally tens of billions of documents – would largely disappear if it weren’t for considerations of embarrassment and compromise, the need for genuine government secrecy being much rarer than many assume.

A free society does not recognize crimes deemed in some way to be different or more heinous or extraordinary: it maintains and enforces sensible, well-reasoned laws which apply equally to all. It does not create criminal laws which reflect political pressure or special interests. The United States, now on a new hunt for a great white whale, has virtually re-created East Germany’s dreaded Stasi, only in a much more sophisticated and far-reaching form. It meshes with the all-pervasive secret state police apparatus Israel has constructed in the Middle East with infinite care since 1948. Now, over all our lives there is something, not answerable to any electorate, working to dissimulate, to intimidate, and to generate fear as nothing of which the Soviet Union was remotely capable. It influences all of our laws and customs, even attempting to shape the way we speak and think.

 

A Note to Readers: I am re-posting this article in view of the coming forty-eighth anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy. It remains an accurate critique of many key aspects of that event and was repeated in many publications around the world. You may also enjoy another later piece, “Lincoln was Wrong: The Ease of Fooling Most of the People Most of the Time,” at https://chuckmanwords.wordpress.com/2009/06/06/lincoln-was-wrong-the-ease-of-fooling-most-of-the-people-most-of-the-time/</

November 12, 2003

FORTY YEARS OF LIES

“If, as we are told, Oswald was the lone assassin, where is the issue of national security?”
Bertrand Russell

John Chuckman

Bertrand Russell’s penetrating question, one of sixteen he asked at the time of the Warren Commission Report, remains unanswered after forty years. That should trouble Americans, but then again there are many things around national secrecy today that should trouble Americans.

The most timely lesson to be taken from the fortieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination concerns secrecy and the meaning of democracy in the world’s most powerful nation. Perhaps no event better demonstrates the existence of two governments in the United States, the one people elect and another, often far more influential, as capable of imposing false history about large events as the fabled Ministry of Truth.

Since the time of the Warren Commission we have had the investigation of the House Select Committee and, in the last decade, the release of truckloads of previously-secret documents.
These documents were suppressed originally in the name of national security, but the fact is, despite their release, much of their content is heavily blacked out, and dedicated researchers know many documents remain unreleased, particularly documents from the CIA and military intelligence. Would any reasonable person conclude anything other than that those documents are likely the most informative and sensational?

Was it ever reasonable to believe that material of that nature would be included in document releases? Just a few years ago, records of some of the CIA’s early Cold War activities, due for mandated release, were suddenly said to have “disappeared,” and that declaration was pretty much the end of the story for a press regularly puffing itself as the fourth estate of American society. You do not have to believe in wild plots to recognize here the key to the Warren Commission’s shabby job of investigation. As it was, several members of the Commission expressed private doubts about the main finding of Oswald as lone assassin.

There is a sense in these matters of being treated as a child sent to his or her room for not eating the spinach served. This is not so different to the way the American government treats its citizens about Cuba: it restricts them from spending money there so they cannot freely go and judge for themselves what is and isn’t.

As it happens, the two things, Cuba and the assassination, are intimately related. Almost no one who studies the assassination critically can help but conclude it had a great deal to do with Cuba. No, I don’t mean the pathetic story about Castro being somehow responsible. That idea is an insult to intelligence.

No matter what opinions you may hold of Castro, he is too clever and was in those days certainly too dedicated to the purpose of helping his people, according to his lights, ever to take such a chance. Even the slightest evidence pointing to Castro would have given the American establishment, fuming over communism like Puritan Fathers confronting what they regarded as demon possession, the excuse for an invasion.

There never has been credible evidence in that direction. Yet, there has been a number of fraudulent pieces of evidence, particularly the testimony of unsavory characters, claims so threadbare they have come and gone after failing to catch any hold, remaining as forgotten as last year’s fizzled advertising campaign for some laundry detergent.

The notion that Castro had anything to do with the assassination is like an old corpse that’s been floating around, slowly decomposing, periodically releasing gases for decades. And it is still doing so, Gus Russo’s Live by the Sword of not many years ago being one of the most detailed efforts to tart-up the corpse and make it presentable for showing.

Any superficial plausibility to the notion of Castro as assassin derives from the poisonous atmosphere maintained towards him as official American policy. Researchers in science know that bias on a researcher’s part, not scrupulously checked by an experiment’s protocols, can seriously influence the outcome of an otherwise rigorous statistical study. How much more so in studies of history on subjects loaded with ideology and politics?

When you consider with what flimsy, and even utterly false, evidence the United States has invaded Iraq, it is remarkable that an invasion of Cuba did not proceed forty years ago. But in some ways the U.S. was less certain of itself then, it had a formidable opponent in the Soviet Union, and there was an agreement with the Soviets concerning Cuba’s integrity negotiated to end the Cuban missile crisis, an agreement which deeply offended the small army of Cuban exiles, CIA men, and low-life hangers-on who enjoyed steady employment, lots of perquisites, and violent fun terrorizing Cuba.

Considering America’s current crusade over the evils of terrorism, you’d have to conclude from the existence of that well-financed, murderous mob in the early 1960s that there was a rather different view of terror then. Perhaps there is good terror and bad terror, depending on just who does the wrecking and killing?

If you were a serious, aspiring assassin, associated with Castro and living in the United States during the early 1960s, you would not advertise your sympathies months in advance as Oswald did. You would not call any attention to yourself. It is hard for many today to have an adequate feel for the period, a time when declaring yourself sympathetic to Castro or communism could earn you a beating in the street, quite apart from making you the target of intense FBI interest. Oswald was physically assaulted for his (stagy) pro-Castro efforts in New Orleans, and he did receive a lengthy visit from the FBI while held briefly in jail, but this was not new interest from the agency since he was already well known to them.

Whatever else you may think of Castro, he is one of the cleverest and most able politicians of the second half of the twentieth century. He survived invasion, endless acts of terror and sabotage from the CIA and Cuban exiles, and numerous attempts at assassination, and he still retains a good deal of loyal support in Cuba. A man of this extraordinary talent does not use someone like Oswald to assassinate an American president. And if Castro had made such a mistake, he quickly would have corrected the error when Oswald made a (deliberate) fool of himself, over and over, in New Orleans well before the assassination, his actions there looking remarkably like the kind of provocateur-stuff a security service might use to elicit responses and identify the sympathies of others.

Oswald’s (purported) visit to Mexico and clownish behavior in New Orleans laid the groundwork for the myth of Castro’s involvement, and that almost certainly was one of the purposes of the activity, laying the groundwork for an invasion of Cuba. The motive for the assassination is likely found there. It is just silly to believe Castro risked handing the U.S. government a new “Remember the Maine.”

In recent years, we’ve had Patrick Kennedy say he believes Castro was responsible, but his views on this matter are more like built-in reflexes than informed judgment. Besides broadcasting a tone agreeable to America’s political establishment, his statement comes steeped in de’ Medici-like conviction that Castro’s success stained the honor of his ferociously ambitious family. Cross that family’s path, and you earn a lifetime grudge. That’s the way the family fortune’s founder always behaved.

Robert Kennedy hated Castro (just as he hated other powerful competitors including Lyndon Johnson), and he took personal oversight of efforts to assassinate him. Robert also hated certain elements of the Mafia, who, after supporting his brother with money and influence in the election, felt betrayed by Robert’s legal actions against them. The killing of Castro would have made all these people much happier, Havana having been one of the Mafia’s gold mines before Castro. Interestingly enough, it appears that the FBI, under pressure from Robert, was at the same time making efforts to crackdown on the excesses of the Cuban refugees. Their excesses , including insane acts like shooting up Russian ships and killing Russian sailors in Cuban ports, threatened relations with the Soviet Union.

One of the centers of the FBI’s crackdown effort was New Orleans, and that is where it appears clearest that Oswald worked for them. His defector background made him a logical candidate for provocative activities like handing out leaflets about Castro. At the same time he was offering his services as an ex-Marine to at least one of the refugee groups.

Oswald almost certainly had a minor role in American intelligence, an assumption that explains many mysterious episodes in his life. We know the Warren Commission discussed this in closed session. We also know Texas authorities believed they had discovered such a connection. And we know the FBI in Dallas destroyed important evidence.

If you’re looking for Cuban assassins, why not some of those nasty refugee militia groups, armed to the teeth by the CIA and trained to terrorize Castro’s government? They also terrorized their critics in Florida. The extensive preparations necessary for assassinating the President might have raised little suspicion from the CIA or FBI at a time when these groups, subsidized and protected by the CIA, were carrying out all kinds of violent, lunatic acts. There are strong parallels here with the suicide-bombers of 9/11, who undoubtedly eluded suspicion because the CIA had been regularly bringing into the country many shady characters from the Middle East to train for its dark purposes in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Cuban extremists in Florida were furious over the Bay of Pigs and felt betrayed by Kennedy’s terms for settling the missile crisis. You couldn’t find a better explanation for the CIA’s unhelpful behavior over the years since. Imagine the impact on the CIA, already badly damaged by the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy’s great anger over it, of news that some of its subsidized anti-Castro thugs had killed the President?

I don’t say that is what happened, only that there is at least one conjecture with far more force and substance than the official one. Assassination-theorizing is not one of my hobbies, but I have contempt for the official explanation, and it seems rather naive to believe that the American security establishment would have been satisfied with the insipid conclusions of the Warren Commission.

Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that the vast resources of American security and justice employed at the time – that is, those not concerned with kicking up dust into the public’s eyes – were not able to identify the assassins and their purpose. Documents covering a surreptitious, parallel investigation almost certainly exist because what we know includes suggestions of two investigations intersecting at times. Perhaps, the best example of this is around the autopsy (discussed below).

Kicking-up dust around the assassination is an activity that continues intermittently to this day. In a piece a few years ago in the Washington Post about new Moscow documents on the assassination, a reporter wrote, “Oswald…defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 and renounced his American citizenship.”

Oswald never renounced his citizenship, although he made a public show of wanting to do so. This was one of many theater-of-the-absurd scenes in the Oswald saga. We now know that on one of his visits to the American embassy in Moscow, Oswald was taken to an area reserved for sensitive matters, not the kind of business he was there to conduct.

The Soviets let him stay, never granting him citizenship, always treating him as an extraordinary outsider under constant scrutiny.

The Washington Post reporter also wrote, “Historians have expressed hope that the documents could shed light on whether Oswald schemed to kill Kennedy when he lived in the Soviet Union….” That begs the genuine question of whether Oswald killed Kennedy and kicks-up more dust. No historian of critical ability could think that way. The Soviets went out of their way at the time of the assassination to reassure the U.S. government that they had no connection with it. Any credible evidence they could produce, we may be absolutely sure, was produced. The stakes were immensely high.

The testimony of many Soviet citizens who knew Oswald agreed that he was a man temperamentally incapable of killing anyone. An exception was his (estranged) wife, Marina, who found herself, after the assassination, a Soviet citizen in a hostile country, able to speak little English, the mother of two young children with absolutely no resources, and hostage to American agents who could determine her destiny.

Even so accomplished and discerning a journalist as Daniel Schorr has assisted in kicking-up dust, writing some years ago at the release of more than a thousand boxes of memos and investigative reports from the national archives that there wasn’t much there. Somehow, Schorr had managed to digest and summarize that monstrous amount of information in a very short time. Then again, in view of all the blacked-out information, maybe Schorr’s assertion owed less to incredible skills at reading and digesting information than to serene confidence in the methods of the establishment.

Schorr went from the merely silly to the ridiculous with his assertion, “There remains no serious reason to question the Warren Commission’s conclusion that the death of the president was the work of Oswald alone.” How re-assuring, but, if you think about that for a moment, it is the equivalent of saying what never was proved has not now been disproved, so we’ll regard it as proved – absurd, yet characteristic of so many things written about the assassination.

Schorr went on to praise Gerald Posner’s new book, Case Closed, as “remov[ing] any lingering doubt.” We’ll come back to Posner’s book, but Schorr also saw fit to trot out the then obligatory disparaging reference to Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. Why would a piece of popular entertainment be mentioned in the same context as genuine historical documents? Only to associate the movie with Schorr’s claim that the documents had little to say.

Every handsomely-paid columnist and pop news-celebrity in America stretched to find new words of contempt for the Stone movie, miraculously, many of them well before its release. The wide-scale, simultaneous attack was astonishing. You had to wonder whether they had a source sending them film scraps from the editing room or purloined pages from the script. When Stone’s movie did appear – proving highly unsatisfactory, almost silly, in its explanation of the assassination – you had to wonder what all the fuss had been about.

I was never an admirer of President Kennedy – still, the most important, unsolved murder of the 20th century, apart from the lessons it offers, is a fascinating mystery for those who’ve studied it.

The President’s head movement at the impact of the fatal shot, clearly backward on the Zapruder film, a fact lamely rationalized by the Warren Commission, is not the only evidence for shots from the front. In the famous picture of Mrs. Kennedy reaching over the back of the car, she was, by her own testimony, reaching for a piece of the President’s skull. Equally striking is the testimony of a police outrider, to the rear of the President’s car, that he was struck forcefully with blood and brain tissue.

The doctors who worked to save the President at Parkland Hospital in Dallas said that the major visible damage to the President was a gaping wound near the rear of the skull, the kind of wound that typically reflects the exit of a bullet with the shock wave generated by its passing through layers of human tissue. We’ve all seen a plate glass window struck by a B-B where a tiny entrance puncture results in a large funnel-shaped chunk of cracked or missing glass on the opposite side.

The President’s head wound, as described in Dallas, is not present in published autopsy photographs. Instead, there is a pencil-thin entrance-type wound in an unknown scalp. Although the Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, who climbed aboard the President’s car after the shots, testified to seeing a large chunk of skull in the car and looking into the right rear of the President’s head, seeing part of his brain gone, the autopsy photos show no such thing.

The wound at the front of the President’s neck, just above his necktie, which was nicked by the bullet, was regarded by those first treating him in Dallas as an entrance wound since it had the form of a small puncture before a tracheotomy was done. But the throat wound in the published autopsy photos is large and messy.

The nature of the pathologists forcefully raises Russell’s question. Why would you need military pathologists, people who must follow orders? Ones especially that were not very experienced in gunshot wounds, far less so than hospital pathologists in any large, violent American city? Why conduct the autopsy at a military hospital in Washington rather than a civilian one in Dallas? Why have the pathologists work with a room full of Pentagon brass looking on? The President’s body was seized at gunpoint by federal agents at the hospital in Dallas where the law required autopsy of a murder victim. Why these suspicious actions and so many more, if the assassination, as the Warren Commission and its defenders hold, reduces to murder by one man for unknown motives?

The autopsy, as published, was neither complete nor careful, rendering its findings of little forensic value. There is some evidence, including testimony of a morgue worker and references contained in an FBI memo, pointing to autopsy work, particularly work to the President’s head, done elsewhere before receipt of the body for the official autopsy, but no new documents expand on this. We do learn the relatively trivial fact that the expensive bronze casket, known to have been damaged at some point in bringing it to Bethesda, was disposed of by sinking in the ocean, but the morgue worker said the bronze casket arriving with Mrs. Kennedy was empty and that the body, separately delivered in a shipping casket, displayed obvious signs of work done to it. The FBI memo, written by two agents at the “earlier stages” of the official autopsy, states that the unwrapped body displayed “surgery of the head area.” The same FBI agents also signed a receipt for a mysterious “missile removed” by one pathologist.

The official autopsy avoided some standard procedures. For example, the path of the so-called magic bullet through the President’s neck was not sectioned. A mysterious back wound, whose placement varies dramatically from the hole in the President’s jacket (a fact officially explained by an improbable bunching-up of the jacket), was probed but no entrance into the body cavity found. The preserved brain – what there was of it, and with its telltale scattering of metal fragments – later went missing. One of the pathologists admitted to burning his original draft before writing the report we now see.

The Warren Commission did no independent investigation (it did not even examine the autopsy photos and x-rays), adopting instead the FBI as its investigative arm at a time when the FBI had many serious matters to explain. The FBI had failed to have Oswald’s name on its Watch List even though they were completely familiar with him, seeing him at intervals for unexplained reasons. His name even had appeared earlier in an odd internal FBI advisory memo signed by Director Hoover. The FBI also had failed to act appropriately on an explicit threat from a known source recorded well before Kennedy went to Dallas. And the agency destroyed crucial evidence.

With a lack of independent investigation and the absence of all proper court procedures including the cross-examination of witnesses, the Warren Report is nothing more than a prosecutor’s brief, and a sloppy one at that, with a finding of guilt in the absence of any judge or jury. The only time the skimpy evidence against Oswald was considered in a proper court setting, a mock trial by the American Bar Association in 1992, the jury was hung, 7 to 5.

Oswald’s background is extraordinary. By the standards of the 1950s and early 1960s, aspects of his life simply make no sense if viewed from the official perspective. Here was a Marine, enlisted at 17, who mysteriously started learning Russian, receiving communist literature through the mail, and speaking openly to other Marines about communism – none of which in the least affected his posting or standing.

He became a defector to the Soviet Union, one who reportedly threatened to give the Soviets information about operations of the then top-secret U-2 spy plane. Some even assert he did provide such information, making it possible for a Soviet missile to down Gary Power’s U-2 plane just before the Eisenhower-Khrushchev summit. Unlikely as that is, for Oswald would certainly have been treated harshly on his return to the United States were it true, he did know some important facts about the U-2’s capabilities, because this Russian-studying, communist literature-reading Marine was posted at a secret U-2 base in Japan as a radar operator before his defection.

At a time when witch-hunting for communists was a fresh memory and still a career path for some American politicians, Oswald returned to the U.S. with a Russian wife, one whose uncle was a lieutenant colonel in the MVD, the Ministry of the Interior, but the CIA and other security agencies supposedly took little interest in him. Oswald’s source of income in the U.S. at critical times remains a mystery. A mystery, too, surrounds the connections of this young man of humble means to some well-heeled, anti-Soviet Russian speakers in Dallas after his return from the Soviet Union. His later ability to get a passport for travel to Mexico in just 24 hours – with a personal history that must have ranked as one of the most bizarre in the United States – is attributed to “clerical error.”

Oswald, so far as we know, was a patriotic individual when he joined the Marines. There is no evidence that he was ever actually a communist or member of any extremist organization. In fact, there is striking evidence suggesting he did work supporting the opposite interest after his return to the United States. Thus the address on some of the “Fair Play for Cuba” pamphlets he distributed in New Orleans was the office of Guy Bannister, a former senior FBI agent and violent anti-communist, still well-connected to the agency.

Oswald’s connections with the FBI have never been satisfactorily examined. There are many circumstances suggesting his being a paid informant for the FBI, especially during his time in New Orleans. A letter Oswald wrote to a Dallas agent just before the assassination was deliberately and recklessly destroyed by order of the office’s senior agent immediately after the assassination with no reasonable explanation.

One way or another, all the major police or intelligence agencies were compromised during the assassination or its investigation. The Secret Service performed abysmally, in both planning the motorcade and responding to gun fire. Some of the agents on duty had actually been out late drinking the night before, as it happens at a bar belonging to an associate of Jack Ruby, Oswald’s own assassin. The performance of the Dallas police suggests terrible corruption. The FBI failed in vital respects before and after the assassination. The CIA failed to cooperate on many, many details of the investigation. These facts understandably encourage the more farfetched assassination theories.

The CIA has never released its most important information on Oswald, importantly including documentation of his supposed activities in Mexico City at the Cuban and Russian embassies where every visitor was routinely photographed and identified by the CIA. We may speculate what a thorough vetting of CIA files would show: likely that Oswald was a low-grade intelligence agent during his stint in the Soviet Union, perhaps working for military intelligence to collect information on day-to-day living conditions and attitudes there, one of several men sent for the purpose at that time; that he was trained at an American military school in basic Russian and encouraged to build a quickie communist identity by subscribing to literature and talking foolishly before defecting. We would also likely find that he was serving American security, probably the FBI, during the months before Dallas in the murky world of CIA/FBI/Cuban refugee/Mafia anti-Castro activities; and that in the course of that anti-Castro work, he was sucked without realizing it into an elaborate assassination plot, offering the plotters, with his odd background, a tailor-made patsy. The CIA assessment of Oswald would likely show, just as testimony from his time in the Soviet Union shows, that Oswald was not capable psychologically of acting as an assassin, lone or otherwise.

The case against Oswald is a flimsy tissue. It includes a poor autopsy of the victim offering no reliable evidence; a rifle whose ownership is not established; a rifle never definitively proved to have actually killed the President; a claim that jacketed bullets were used, a type of ammunition that could not possibly cause the kind of wounds to which many testify; the accused’s record of mediocre marksmanship in the Marines; a parafin test which showed no residue on his cheek despite his supposedly firing three shots from a bolt-action rifle; a single palm print claimed to have been obtained from the rifle after earlier failed attempts; gimmicky, suggestive photographs of Oswald with a rifle declared montages by several experts; a completely unacceptable evidence chain for the shell casings from the site of Officer Tippit’s shooting, those submitted as evidence being almost certainly not those found at the scene; a bizarre history for the bullets supposed to have killed Tippet; an illogical weighting of witnesses who told different stories about Tippit’s shooting; plus many other strange and contradictory details.

Moreover, Oswald had no motive, having expressed admiration for Kennedy. And Oswald was promptly assassinated himself by Jack Ruby, a man associated with the murky world of anti-Castro violence, someone whose past included gun-running to Cuba and enforcer-violence in Chicago.

There is a kind of cheap industry in publishing assassination books, most of which are superficial or silly. This fact makes it easy to attack credible efforts to question the official story, but in this respect the subject is no different from others. Just look at the shelves of superficial or trashy books on psychology, business management, or self-help available in bookstores.

Russell’s question echoes again and again down the decades as adjustments are made to the official story. Employing techniques one expects to be used for covering up long-term intelligence interests, various points raised by early independent researchers like Joachim Joesten or Mark Lane, have been conceded here or there along the way without altering the central finding. This is an effective method: concede details and appear open to new facts while always forcefully returning to the main point.

A significant writer along these lines is Edward Epstein, an author whose other writing suggests intelligence connections. His first book on the assassination, Inquest, conceded numerous flaws in the Warren Report. Epstein went on in subsequent books, Counterplot and Legend to attack at length – and for the critical reader, quite unconvincingly – ideas of conspiracy, Oswald’s intelligence connections, and his innocence.

The Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, 1979, was the grandest effort of this type. The Committee was used for selective leaks and plants, as for example the publication of some bootlegged autopsy photos, which ended by raising only more questions. Leads often were not followed-up, greatly frustrating some of the able investigators employed. The Committee squandered the last opportunity to pursue an independent, well-financed investigation – last, in the sense of never again being able to overcome the inertia against assembling the needed resources and authorities and in the sense that with passing time evidence deteriorates, memories fade, and witnesses die. Despite the Committee’s attention-getting conclusion from technical analysis of an old Dictabelt recording that a shot probably was fired from the front, it also concluded that the shot missed, a truly bizarre finding that welds hints of conspiracy to yet another assertion that Oswald was the only killer.

Gerald Posner’s Case Closed, 1993, was another of these. You couldn’t help noticing this lamentable book being widely reviewed and praised. Why would that be? Because, without producing any new evidence and despite a number of errors, it freshly re-packaged the main speculations of the Warren Report, but no repackaging of the Report’s jumble of partial facts, guesses, and accusations can strengthen its conclusions. You can’t build a sound house with large sections of the foundation missing.

Priscilla Johnson’s Marina and Lee,1980 , was another kind of book, one of several resembling the kind of quickie books churned out to discredit Anita Hill in the Judge Clarence Thomas confirmation. Ms. Johnson managed to interview Oswald in Russia – I wonder what connections might have made that possible? – and later used that fact to gain access to Oswald’s widow, Marina. Impressing many who had heard her as a distracted and confused person, Marina was a woman who had been subjected to immense, frightening pressure from the FBI and other security services after the assassination. The book is an almost unreadable hatchet-job on Oswald’s character, effectively diminishing the image that comes through many photographs and anecdotes of a rather naïve, brash, sometimes rude but not unlikable young man caught up in events he incompletely understood.

The official story of the assassination remains pretty much unchanged from just a few days after events of forty years ago: one man with an almost broken-down rifle, no expertise, no resources, and no motive killed the President, and he was himself killed by a man with the darkest background simply out of sympathy for the President’s wife. Those with no vested interest and critical faculties intact can never accept such a fable explaining the brutal work of a well-planned conspiracy.

Now, the really horrifying possibility is that the security agencies never discovered the assassins despite vast efforts. That means officials hold tenaciously to the Oswald story to cover national nakedness. The FBI has a long and shabby record of blunders and going after the wrong people, and when you think of the CIA’s many failures assessing the capabilities and approaching demise of the Soviet Union, the many failures in Vietnam, and its miserable failure around 9/11, that is not a farfetched possibility. The answer to Russell’s question then becomes that national security indeed applies, if only in the unexpected form of hiding miserable failure.

But if you can write false history of an event so large as a Presidential assassination, what truly are the limits?

DISTURBING THE PLANET AND BLAMING THE MESS ON OTHERS

John Chuckman

I received a letter from a reader recently asking me what it is about America that I hated so much. Since its tone was polite, I replied at length. I don’t hate anything – ‘hate’ is an awfully strong word – but there are things I find disturbing about America, and, as it happens, these are things many others also find disturbing.

There’s certainly no need for my services in the 24-hour-a-day orgy of noisy, self-praise that pours from television, radio, magazines, movies, sporting events, and even sermons in the home of brave. This non-stop, drum-beating, national revival meeting has become the background noise of everyday American life, so much so that many are not aware that there is anything unusual about it.

There is a wonderful scene in “The Gulag Archipelago.” After a speech by Stalin, the audience applauds and applauds and cannot stop applauding. Everyone waits for his or her neighbors to stop before stopping, only the neighbors also do not stop. The applause threatens to continue forever. Why? Because NKVD men prowl the aisles, looking for anyone who stops applauding.

Without making any outlandish, inappropriate comparisons between Bush’s America and Stalin’s Russia, there is still a very uncomfortable parallel between that frightening historical scene and recent events in the US, especially the State of the Union address.

Even though the President said nothing demonstrating statesmanship or imagination or even compassion, everyone applauded and applauded and kept applauding. Some media commentators actually compared his feeble recitation of platitudes with the thrilling cadence and brilliant words of Franklin Roosevelt at a time of true darkness. Several well-known television news personalities felt called upon to make odd, jingoistic personal statements as though they felt the need to prove their patriotic bona fides.

What a big fat disappointment America is today. An affluent, noisy, moral netherworld. A place where fundamentalist pitchmen in blow-dried coifs and Pan-Cake makeup plead to fill the moral void, but only add to the noise.

A place where jingoism and mediocrity are lavishly praised. A people bristling with demands about their rights and redress of grievances, but with no thought about their responsibilities. A people who brag of being freer than any other people without knowing anything about other people.

An insatiably-consuming engine of a country whose national dream has been reduced to consuming more of everything without a care for anyone else on the planet. A people without grace who always blame others for what goes wrong.

Americans, roughly 4% of the planet by numbers, gulp down more than half the world’s illegal drugs, but in all the strident speeches and in all the poorly-conceived foreign policy measures, it is always the fault of Mexico or Colombia or Vietnam or Panama or the French Connection or someone else out there. Anyone, that is, but the people who keep gulping and snorting the stuff down, and all the shady American officials who are so clearly necessary to keep the merchandise widely available.

One of history’s great moments of insufferable posturing came with the creation of annual “report cards” on how well various nations were doing at controlling drugs, as though these other countries were unreliable children being assessed by their wise Auntie America, the same wise Auntie zonked out on a million pounds of chemicals at any given moment.

America has a long history of vote tampering and rigged elections in many local jurisdictions. It is widely understood that vote tampering, especially in Chicago, gave John Kennedy a victory he did not win in the 1960 election. Biographer Robert Caro has revealed how Lyndon Johnson’s political career in Texas had the way smoothed by vote fraud. And now, two and a quarter centuries after the great republic’s founding, she still cannot run a clean election for president.

On top of fraud and unwillingness to spend enough to assure proper ballots, America clings to the most corrupt method possible to finance election campaigns, defining private money as free speech. The more of it, the better. One would almost think that all the billions in bribes paid out by the CIA over the decades to corrupt other governments had influenced thinking about how things should be done at home.

Yet with a record like this, the State Department never stops passing public judgement on the inadequacies of democracy in other places. The State Department’s views on democracy, about as deserving of serious consideration as the last Congress’s idea of why you impeach an elected president, reduce to the same tacky business as the drug report cards: it’s always someone else who’s wrong. Even worse, the sermons on democracy and rights frequently are used as wedges for trade concessions. It just doesn’t get more hypocritical than that.

Having mentioned the CIA’s bribery over the decades, its interference in the internal affairs of so many countries, I recall the reaction of American legislators a few years ago when it was thought possible, though never proved, that Chinese money had been funneled into an American election. Heavens, how dare they do an underhanded thing like that! Sully an American election! The same legislators never considered that they themselves, in tolerating a corrupt system of election finance, were responsible for such activity’s even being possible.

Consider Mr. Bush’s lurid fantasy about an “axis of evil.” One almost wants to ask whether the choice of words reflects long-term deleterious effects of the cocaine he reportedly used when he was sowing oats instead of bombs. The fact is that much of the world’s terror is a direct response to American foreign policy that reflects daydreams and wishes in Georgia and Iowa rather than actual conditions abroad.

The CIA’s three billion-dollar fraternity prank with other people’s lives during the 1980s in Afghanistan was great fun while it lasted, and there was no concern about Osama and the boys until they decided that the U.S. was just as unwelcome as the U.S.S.R.

But it must be someone else’s fault, so we’ll topple the entire national structure of Afghanistan, destroy much of its infrastructure, kill thousands of innocent people, hold thousands more as illegal prisoners, and maybe go on to attack other places that never heard of Osama bin Laden just in case they’re thinking about anything underhanded.

A former American diplomat has revealed how hundreds of visas were rubber-stamped for Afghan fighters. How else was it possible for 19 suspicious people to enter the U.S., some working away for months, with no attention paid by those immense, highly intrusive agencies, the CIA, FBI, and NSA, whose snooping costs tens of billions of dollars every year? Every phone call, fax, and e-mail in America, and a lot of other places, is vetted daily by these agencies’ batteries of super-computers.

After the attack on the World Trade Center, there were many American news stories about two of these nineteen people who possibly entered the U.S. by way of Canada – stories that proved utterly false as it turned out. But huge pressures were, and still are being, put on the Canadian government over this concern. America simply blames someone else rather than cleaning up its own house.

A few years ago, the world’s richest country suddenly decided to stop paying U. N. dues, ignoring its long-standing treaty obligations. With an arrogant wave of the hand, it dismissed its responsibilities and blamed the U. N. for waste and bureaucracy. The “waste and bureaucracy” stuff came from American legislators who spent years investigating an insignificant, sour real estate deal and put on a colossal, lunatic, government-stopping, impeachment-as-passion play spectacle. The same folks now prepare to squander tens of billions on useless new defense schemes and on measures to curtail American freedoms. But the U. N. has to lobby and wheedle in hopes of receiving its meager portion.

American technical experts analyzing data from a Chinese thermonuclear test some years ago were stunned to realize that the blast had a radiation “signature” similar to that of America’s most advanced warhead. Espionage was immediately suspected, and the long, painful ordeal of Wen Ho Lee, an American scientist born in Taiwan, began. While investigation was reasonable, it was not reasonable to target Wen Ho Lee. His career was ruined even though not a shred of clear evidence was ever produced. The more rational conclusion that the Chinese, a clever and resourceful people, had managed the feat themselves stood little chance when someone from “there” was there to blame.

The case of the Cuban boy Elian provided what may be the most remarkable example of this kind of obtuse and arrogant behavior. An ill-considered policy of granting automatic refugee status to all Cubans who made it in flimsy boats to American shores, part of an incessant campaign of hatred against Castro, lured the boy’s mother to her death, as it had lured many others. The boy still had a loving father, other family, and friends, but they just happened to live in the wrong country. So an already-injured child was put through months of hell in Miami, a hostage to ideology as surely as American diplomats in Iran, his father, family, and home repeatedly ridiculed and insulted, and it was all someone else’s fault, Castro’s in this case.

I closed by telling my reader that I never object to letters that disagree with me, only to those that are rude or insistent or obscene. And, I have to say, America does generate an awful lot of those.