Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Assassination of John F. Kennedy – 48 Years On


On November 22nd, 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. The evidence against the chief suspect Lee Harvey Oswald was overwhelming. Witnesses saw shots being fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Depository Building where Oswald was employed. A Mannlicher Carcano rifle was found on this floor. The bullet that hit the President and Governor Connally was traced to the rifle "to the exclusion of all other weapons". The rifle was purchased in the name of A. Hidell, a pseudonym used by Oswald. Handwriting on the purchase order was identified as Oswald’s. Oswald’s palm print was found on the rifle. Witnesses saw Oswald carry a package that could fit a disassembled Mannlicher Carcano. When asked about it by a fellow employee, he said the package contained curtain rods. But no curtain rods were ever found after the assassination and an empty package was found near the rifle with Oswald’s fingerprint and palm print.

About three quarters of an hour after the President was shot a Dallas Police Officer, J.D. Tippit was murdered. Two people saw Oswald shoot Tippit. Numerous witnesses saw Oswald fleeing the scene of the crime. Thirty-eight caliber shells found near the fatally wounded policeman were traced - "to the exclusion of all other weapons" - to the gun that Oswald was carrying when he was arrested a short time afterwards.

It would be difficult to conceive of a more clear cut case. Of course, Oswald's guilt does not preclude the possibility of a conspiracy. A year after the assassination the Warren Commission found that there was no evidence of this. However in 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) disagreed. The sole basis for this conclusion was acoustic evidence from a police recording device. A scientific analysis of the recording suggested that 3 shots were fired from the Texas school depository behind the President and there was a 95% probability that one shot was fired from the famous "grassy knoll" area to the front right of the President. None of the shots were audible on the recording so the Committee had to rely on expert evidence. Since the autopsy report on the President indicated that the bullet wounds were from behind and above the President (i.e. in the general area of the sixth floor of the Texas School Depository Building) the HSCA could only conclude that the grassy knoll shot had missed.

In the years after 1978 the acoustic evidence has been discredited. Since there was no credible corroborating evidence to support this piece of evidence the theory of a second gunman has collapsed like a house of cards. After nearly a half a century the Warren Commission view still stands: that three shots were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald; one missed (most likely the first shot); a second hit Kennedy, passed through his throat and then hit Governor Connally; and a third bullet was the fatal head shot.

However, even though the evidence points to a sole gunman this does not rule out a conspiracy. It is possible that Oswald received help and encouragement prior to the assassination. But it has to be said that if there was a conspiracy it was a little haphazard. Firstly, the weapon used was a Second World War Italian rifle, not the most modern of firearms. Secondly, the escape plan was disorganized. After leaving the building he hopped on a bus which took him back in the direction he had come from (i.e. towards the Texas School Depository). The bus stalled in traffic caused by the chaos following the assassination, so Oswald had to leave it and take a taxi home.

If there was a conspiracy it is more than a little surprising that the attempted escape was so shambolic. The co-conspirators would have risked exposure if Oswald was caught alive.

On the eve of the assassination Oswald left his estranged Russian wife his wedding ring. It seems as if he did not expect to see her again. Escape was the last thing on his mind.

Two days after Oswald was arrested he was shot by Jack Ruby. Was Ruby trying to prevent Oswald talking? And what could Oswald have revealed? Ruby ran a strip club. Inevitably in such a business he would have had connections with the mafia. At that time the mafia controlled the strippers’ union. He seems to have been in constant contact with "Union" officials complaining that rival strip clubs were undercutting him by not using unionized labor! However, that appears to have been the extent of Ruby’s underworld connections. Ruby was an unstable character given to violent fits of temper. He was the very last person that the Mafia would consider using for a "hit".

He also seems to have had a childish admiration for the police and tried to ingratiate himself to them, partly for business reasons. But the police seemed to have regarded him as a harmless buffoon. One police officer said at the HSCA hearing that if the Mafia had employed Ruby its personnel director should be fired.

But let’s assume it was a Mafia hit. What was the motive? If it was to silence Oswald, how could the silence of the garrulous Ruby be guaranteed? The idea does not make sense. Ruby died of cancer in 1967. So he had four years to spill the beans.

The movements of Ruby before the killing of Oswald don’t suggest a cold blooded, calculating assassin. On the morning that he killed Oswald (Nov.24), Ruby was attending to routine business. The Western Union Office recorded that Ruby wired some money to one of his employees at precisely 11:17 a.m. He then walked to the Dallas police station which was nearby and entered through the basement. It was at precisely this moment that Oswald was being transferred from the station to the County Jail. The window of opportunity for killing Oswald was very narrow and it was by a sheer fluke that Ruby managed to slip through.

The murder has the hallmarks of an impromptu act. The police had announced the previous day that Oswald would be transferred some time after 10:00 a.m. Anthony Summers in his book (Conspiracy: Who killed President Kennedy, 1980) thinks that the very fact that Ruby "knew" the precise time of the transfer meant that he must have had inside knowledge. But nobody knew at precisely when the questioning of Oswald prior to his transfer would be completed.

At first sight it might seem implausible that two "lone nuts" committed a murder within such a short period of time. But in the immediate aftermath of the assassination the United States was seized with a sense of grief. It doesn’t seem too far fetched to suggest that such an emotional atmosphere might have affected someone like Ruby who had access to the police station and carried a gun as a matter of routine. Ruby actually thought that he would be hailed as a hero. Indeed he received telegrams from all over the world congratulating him on his act. But, of course, he had completely undermined the investigation of Oswald as well as giving the Dallas police force a Keystone Cops image because of its failure to protect the chief suspect.

It might also be said that if there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy (through Oswald) and a conspiracy to cover it up (through Ruby) the pay rates were not very good. Oswald lived on the poverty line and Ruby was permanently on the verge of bankruptcy.

There the matter might have been allowed to rest if it were not for the enigmatic personality of Lee Harvey Oswald. Norman Mailer said of him:

"...Oswald was a secret agent. There is no doubt about that. The only matter unsettled is whether he was working for any service larger than the power centers in the privacy of his mind. At the least, we can be certain he was spying on the world in order to report to himself. For, by his own measure, he [was] one of the principalities of the universe." (Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery, 1995)

In his teens Oswald developed an interest in Marxism as a result of publicity surrounding the Rosenberg trial. However, he joined the Marines which suggests that his Marxism was not that profound. Edward Epstein in his book (Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald, 1978) thinks that Oswald may have been spying for the Russians when he was based in Japan. Epstein claims that Oswald had access to confidential information concerning America’s U2 spy plane and that he seemed to be living a lifestyle and socializing in a milieu above what would be expected of a marine with the rank of private. Also some of the women he had been seeing were considered way out of his league.

In October 1959 – the month of his 20th birthday - he left the Marines without being completely discharged and departed for the Soviet Union via a boat from New York, then a plane from England to Finland and finally boarding a train to Moscow. The Soviets did not want to accept Oswald’s application for political asylum, but after his attempted suicide they relented. (This was not the first time that Oswald had resorted to self harm to get his way. While in the Marines he shot himself in the arm in order to remain in Japan).

He was sent to Minsk where he worked in an electronics factory. He seems to have found Soviet life boring and in particular thought the factory lectures in Marxism were tedious: further evidence of his superficial commitment to Marxism. He saw Marxism as a means to express his alienation from American society rather than having virtues in itself. In February 1961 he applied to return to the United States. And the following month he met Marina Prusakova. Following a whirlwind romance he married her in May 1961. It was not until June 1962, more than a year later, that the couple was allowed to leave the Soviet Union for the United States.

Edward Epstein in his book is suspicious of the relative ease with which both Oswald and his wife were allowed enter the US. The word "legend" in the title of Epstein’s book has a specific meaning in intelligence circles. It is a false profile given to a person to enable him to spy. In Epstein’s view Oswald was not who he claimed to be when he returned to the US but a Soviet spy. The evidence for this is pretty flimsy. In 1964 a Soviet defector called Yuri Nosenko claimed that the KGB had not handled Oswald; that the Soviet authorities thought he was nuts; and that his wife Marina had "anti Soviet tendencies". According to Nosenko the Soviets were quite happy to see the back of them. Epstein gives some plausible evidence to suggest that Nosenko was not a genuine defector but a double agent whose object was to spread disinformation. However, it does not follow that because the Soviets wanted to convey a message to the CIA that that message was necessarily false.

The idea that Oswald could have been a Soviet agent when he returned to the US is preposterous. Firstly, and most obviously, Oswald was "damaged goods". He had defected to the Soviet Union and had a dishonorable discharge from the Marines. Such a person was not likely to be given any access to information that would be useful to the Soviets. Secondly, Oswald did not behave like a Soviet agent when he returned to the US. He continued to subscribe to left wing publications and espouse his idiosyncratic version of Marxism to anyone who would listen.

If Oswald was - to use Norman Mailer’s memorable phrase - "working for any service larger than the power centers in the privacy of his mind", could he have been a CIA agent? His political activities in the summer of 1963 have aroused suspicions. Oswald set up a branch of a pro Castro organization called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans where he was then residing. Although he had correspondence with this group soon after he returned from the Soviet Union he was not active until the summer of 1963 and then only sporadically. Oswald, who was the only member of this branch, tried to infiltrate an anti Castro group. Shortly after this attempt he distributed pro Castro leaflets within a short distance of the anti Castro offices. This caused an altercation in the street, which resulted in the arrest of Oswald for disturbing the peace.

Proponents of the view that Oswald was working for the FBI or CIA believe that his activities in New Orleans were for the purposes of undermining support for pro Castro organizations. But this theory seems a little implausible for a number of reasons. Firstly, New Orleans was overwhelmingly anti Castro at the time. There was no pro Castro tendency to undermine. Secondly, he didn’t try to infiltrate any left wing groups or seek out such tendencies. His only contact with other members of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee was through correspondence with the head office in New York. Thirdly, as will be discussed later it is not at all clear that he did undermine the Fair Play for Cuba Committee by his activities.

Edward Epstein’s view that Oswald was trying to construct a left wing curriculum vitae for himself for the purpose of obtaining a visa for Cuba seems more likely. Oswald assiduously collected newspaper cuttings of his court appearance in New Orleans and presented them at the end of September 1963 to bemused officials of the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City. But while Epstein’s theory is plausible, it undermines his overall thesis that Oswald was a Soviet spy. Why go to the trouble of constructing a left wing CV if you are already working for the Soviets?

There are a number of radio and television recordings of Oswald available on the internet. These date from his New Orleans political activities in August 1963. There is a two part radio interview (part one recorded on August 17, 1963 – a portion of which was later broadcast) conducted by William Stuckey who is hostile without being abusive to Oswald. Oswald is extremely impressive in his defense of Castro and a policy of non intervention by the United States. It is very likely that any anti Castro activists listening to this would have been apoplectic. In part 2 of the interview, which was broadcast live on August 21, 1963, and was probably as a result of complaints by anti Castro elements, Oswald is confronted by an anti Castro Cuban (Carlos Bringuier) and a professional anti communist (Ed Butler).

There is little pretense of balance and Oswald is ambushed with the accusation that from 1959 to 1962 he was in the Soviet Union. There is no doubt that this would have given most listeners pause for thought. Nevertheless, Oswald handled this devastating fact with some skill. Later when asked if he was a communist he replied that he was a Marxist but not a communist. He then gave examples of countries such as Britain, Ghana and Yugoslavia that had socialist elements, but were not necessarily communist. In the case of Britain he gave the example of socialized medicine as a socialist feature of Britain. The point he seems to be making is that a Marxist – in contrast to a communist - is not ideologically bound to a particular model or state. One could agree or disagree with Oswald on this point, but it must be admitted that it is quite a sophisticated political argument.

However, there is a famous photograph of Oswald, which suggests the opposite: that he was a political simpleton. The photograph shows him carrying a rifle in one hand and two left wing magazines: The Worker, which was a Communist Party or Pro Soviet publication; and The Militant, which was a Trotskyist or anti Soviet publication. Oswald seems to have been impervious to the profound ideological differences between the two publications.

Later in the radio discussion he makes the point that the American State distinguishes between the various political systems in the world. He gives as an example the subsidies amounting to over 100 million dollars, which the US gives to Yugoslavia. But this is a point that would not come naturally to a Marxist. It’s a geo political rather than a philosophical point. The competence of Oswald’s media performance as well as its content gives the impression that he had been coached by someone working for the US State.

After the Second World War the CIA actively encouraged and sponsored independent Marxists and social democrats as a means of undermining the strong pro Moscow communist parties in France and Italy. So although it is difficult to see how such a strategy might make sense in the United States, there was at least a precedent for such a policy. Also, Oswald was correct about Yugoslavia. His sympathy for Communist Yugoslavia would not have been completely incompatible with US foreign policy at the time since Yugoslavia had left the Pro Moscow Communist International in 1948. The US was trying to isolate the Soviet Union by encouraging division within the communist camp.

The mystery regarding Oswald’s political influences is resolved by a reading of the Warren Commission testimonies; in particular the testimony of the enigmatic George de Mohrenschildt. De Mohrenschildt was born in 1911in Russia. In 1922 following the revolution his aristocratic family emigrated to Poland. He served in the Polish Cavalry. In 1938 he arrived in the USA. Following the outbreak of war in 1939 Poland was carved up between the Soviet Union and Germany. Edward Epstein thinks that when the Polish State collapsed its former employees gravitated towards either the Soviet or German State. Given de Mohrenschildt's aristocratic Russian background it is more likely that he would have had German sympathies.

In his testimony to the Warren Commission de Mohrenschildt claimed to have worked for French intelligence during the war. However, it appears that the FBI suspected him of working for German intelligence. He was arrested for sketching a naval station in Texas. Edward Esptein says that de Mohrenschildt corresponded with the Japanese Prime Minister’s son who was responsible for co-ordinating Japanese and German intelligence in America. These activities were an obstacle to obtaining US citizenship. They also might have made him vulnerable to US State influence after Germany lost the war.

Whatever about the murky world of espionage the handsome, aristocratic and charming de Mohrenschildt seems to have cut a dash in American high society. He became very friendly with the Bouvier family. The young Jacqueline – the future first lady – used to call him "Uncle George".

After the war he became involved in oil exploration. This business took him all over the world. It is in the nature of this business that the exploration company must have a relationship with the State in which the exploration is done. That relationship in the case of American companies is mediated through the US State. Also the various arms of the US State would have been in a position to help win foreign contracts for American companies.

It is very clear that de Mohrenschildt had a close relationship with the CIA. Interestingly, given Oswald’s radio interviews, de Mohrenschildt had visited Yugoslavia and Ghana. He told the Warren Commission that he was shot at when sketching some fortifications around Marshall Tito’s villa (it seems that the Yugoslav communists were no more appreciative of de Mohrenschildt’s artistic pursuits than the FBI!). When he returned to the USA in 1957 he was debriefed by the CIA.

De Mohrenschildt said at the Warren Commission that he voted Republican. Nevertheless Igor Voshinin (a member of the Russian community living in Dallas at the time) in his Warren Commission statement said that both de Mohrenschildt and his wife were pro-Yugoslavia. De Mohrenschildt also believed that a communist system might be suitable for undeveloped countries, a view, which Oswald also expressed in his radio interviews.

De Mohrenschildt was one of the casualties of the fallout from the Kennedy assassination. He made a number of statements that were embarrassing to the CIA and would have as a consequence damaged his business interests. Around the time he first met Oswald in the summer of 1962 he made contact with J. Walton Moore, who worked for the domestic contacts division of the CIA. He told the FBI that he asked Moore about Oswald. Moore, according to de Mohrenschildt, immediately replied without consulting his files that Oswald was a "harmless lunatic" (Conspiracy: Who Killed President Kennedy, 1980, page 227). Much has been made of this statement. It indicates that the CIA knew all about Oswald and that they had formed a spectacularly wrong assessment of his harmfulness. But it would have been amazing if a CIA agent based in Dallas was not aware of Oswald. It is doubtful that there were any other American born Dallas or Fort Worth residents who had returned from the Soviet Union. Secondly, Oswald had no violent convictions. So the assumption of his harmlessness was reasonable at the time.

A number of commentators have questioned the relationship between a wealthy and sophisticated individual in his early fifties such as de Mohrenschildt and a social misfit in his early twenties. There is no suggestion of a homosexual relationship. It seems likely that de Mohrenschildt was debriefing Oswald on behalf of the CIA. He encouraged Oswald to write down his memoirs with particular emphasis on his time in Minsk. However, it appears that there was much more to it than that. De Mohrenschildt and his wife appear to have grown quite fond of Oswald. George, in particular, enjoyed late night political discussions with him and regretted that his own children were not interested in such matters. The New Orleans radio interviews suggest that de Mohrenschildt had a quite profound influence on Oswald and Oswald, for his part, must have found it a very pleasant and novel experience to have his political views taken seriously.

The relationship with Oswald began in the Summer of 1962 and lasted until April 1963 when a very significant event occurred. On the evening of April 13, 1963, George and Jeanne de Mohrenschildt arrived unannounced at the Oswalds’ home with an Easter present for their child. While Marina was showing Jeanne around the apartment the latter noticed a rifle in one of the closets. Jeanne immediately remarked on this to her husband who asked was Lee the person "who took a pot shot at General Walker". This jocose comment referred to an unsuccessful assassination attempt a few days earlier on this very right wing Texan. It was also a reference to a conversation George, Lee and a German geologist called Volkmar Schmidt had at a party earlier that year in which Schmidt expressed the opinion that Walker was an American Hitler. George de Mohrenschildt noticed that Lee was highly embarrassed by this joke. Jeanne de Mohrenschildt by contrast denied that she noticed anything unusual in Oswald’s reaction. She said she asked what Oswald was doing with a rifle. Marina replied that he liked to shoot leaves in the park. In Jeanne de Mohrenschildt’s testimony to the Warren Commission she claimed that she didn’t think there was anything unusual about this explanation.

George de Mohrenschildt’s jocose comment was a case of "never a truer word spoken in jest". After the assassination of Kennedy police found surveillance photos of the Walker residence among Oswald’s personal effects. Marina testified that Oswald was not at home the night of the Walker assassination attempt. Also, he left a note giving her instructions as to what she should do if he did not return that night. Ballistic evidence indicated that the bullet that missed Walker could have been fired from Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano. However, the damage done to the bullet was such that experts could not exclude the possibility that it was fired from a similar weapon.

George Mohrenschildt’s evidence to the Warren Commission reads like a man who is wrestling with his conscience. On the one hand he says that the security services should have protected him and his wife from "even knowing" a man like Oswald and "they shouldn’t have let him come back to the United States". On the other hand he thinks Oswald was innocent. The Warren Commission Counsel asked him about the rifle incident on April 13, 1963. Remarkably, de Mohrenschildt was not asked if he mentioned this to any security service. Was the Warren Commission Counsel covering up for the CIA or was he saving de Mohrenschildt himself from embarrassment?

It is unlikely that de Mohrenschildt did inform his CIA handlers or any other state agency of his suspicions. If he had, he would have not been so insistent in subsequent years about Oswald’s innocence.

In April 1963 the de Mohrenschildts were preparing to leave Dallas and begin a new life in Haiti where George was involved in a long term geological project. Perhaps at the time they regarded the period in which they knew the Oswalds as an amusing interlude in their adventurous lives. They could not have known then that their fate had already been sealed and that they would never escape from their association with Lee Harvey Oswald.

After the assassination George de Mohrenschildt’s business declined and he was ostracized by his wealthy friends. In particular, the Bouvier family was not sympathetic. The assassination also inflicted a heavy psychological toll on de Mohrenschildt.

It is sometimes the case that those people with only a peripheral involvement in a violent criminal act suffer the most psychological trauma. De Mohrenschildt cannot be held responsible for the assassination of Kennedy. But in his quiet moments he might have wondered what would have happened if he had behaved differently. What, for instance, would have happened if had contacted his CIA friend J. Walton Moore and suggested that the latter revisit the "harmless" part of his "harmless lunatic" description of Oswald. It might be said that it is not an honorable thing to inform on your friends. But if de Mohrenschildt had already been passing on information to the CIA on Oswald’s time in Minsk, what moral objection could there be to informing on Oswald’s recent violent inclinations. De Mohrenschildt’s friendship with the Bouvier family must have added bitterness to his inner turmoil.

But it seems that de Mohrenschildt dealt with these doubts by convincing himself that Oswald was innocent. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) published a manuscript that de Mohrenschildt had written entitled "I’m a patsy! I’m a patsy!" about his "dear, dear friend" Oswald. He is sympathetic to Oswald but has some unkind words to say about Jackie Kennedy:

"Jacqueline was not so beautiful. Especially, she was not beautiful inside when she married that gangster of international shipping Aristotle Onassis."

In the 1970s Jeanne de Mohrenschildt committed her husband to a mental institution for three months suffering from severe depression. By 1977 it had all become too much. He had granted a series of four interviews to Edward Epstein, but never completed them. On the day that he received a summons to appear before the HSCA he put a gun to his head and shot himself.

It is difficult to accept that a social misfit such as Oswald could have killed the most powerful person in the United States. It is even more difficult to accept that he acted alone. And yet that is where a cold, dispassionate examination of the evidence leads. But it appears that a significant element within the American Left cannot set aside its emotional predilections and see the obvious. It views the world in terms of conspiracies perpetrated by an almost omnipotent elite against the passive, inert and impotent masses. The conspiracies can be benign or malign depending on the nature of the elite in question. A prime exponent of this worldview is the influential filmmaker Oliver Stone.

The Stone view of the world dictates that Kennedy’s virtues must be embellished and if he made mistakes in the past (the Bay of Pigs) he had the potential to be the greatest President. Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights record must be diminished in order to emphasize the loss to the world caused by Kennedy’s assassination. And since the assassination was a catastrophe, it could only have been perpetrated by a malign elite. Stone’s film JFK is a risible pot pourri of long debunked conspiracy theories. It is irrelevant that the conspiracies have no basis in reality. The ideological perspective cannot conceive of an individual acting independently of an elite.

There is no doubt that this perspective is disabling for any left wing development in the USA. One might find the Tea Party Movement repugnant, but it must be admitted that there has been no equivalent grassroots movement in recent times on the American Left.

Oswald was capable of independent action but there is less to him than meets the eye. Knowledge of the events of November 22nd, 1963 tempts the reader to infuse his prior actions with a meaning that is not there. His defection to the Soviet Union and his political engagement distinguish him from other notorious killers. But in other respects there is a similar pattern. He never knew his father. His brother Robert has said that his mother considered her children, and particularly Lee, a burden. When he lived in New York as a child, a social worker discovered that he didn’t attend school and spent all his time looking at television. From an early age he was alienated from society.

A remarkable feature of Oswald’s personality was the unbalanced nature of his intellectual capacities. He had the ability to become fluent at Russian - a considerable intellectual achievement – and yet was barely able to write in English, possibly because of dyslexia. He was able to hold his own in a foreign policy debate on a New Orleans radio station but seemed to have no understanding of basic Marxist concepts or debates within the communist movement.

His political activity reflected his social isolation. It does not appear that he ever co-operated with anyone to achieve a political goal. His demonstration in New Orleans against American foreign policy consisted of just himself and a paid assistant. Although his political activity in New Orleans was presented as being under the auspices of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee it does not seem that he ever submitted to that organization’s discipline or advice. His communication with it consisted of him telling them what he was going to do in its name. His inability to work with others has as its corollary that others would be unwilling to work with him. It is inconceivable that his putative conspirators: the CIA, the Mafia, the Soviets, the Cubans etc would have touched Oswald with the proverbial 30 foot barge pole.

The tragic story of Lee Harvey Oswald has its comic elements. His grand act of allegiance to the Soviet Union was met with sublime indifference by his communist hosts. He had to threaten suicide before he was allowed to stay in the Soviet Union. The United States treated his renunciation of citizenship with equal indifference and was happy to allow him return when he grew tired of his Soviet sojourn. His brother Robert said that he was disappointed that there had been no reporters on his arrival at Dallas airport. The Cubans had no interest in his New Orleans heroics when he arrived at their embassy in Mexico City. His wife laughed at him when he said that he could become a senior official in the Cuban government or when he said that in the future he would be a "Prime Minister" of the USA. He couldn’t provide for his children or his demanding and materialistic wife who was dependent on the charity of the virulently anti communist Russian émigré community in Dallas.

Objectively, the assassination was a political act with political consequences. But the motivation was primarily psychological. When Oswald was caught he did not proclaim any political objective. On the contrary he denied having anything to do with the assassination. He did not want legal representation from Dallas but instead contacted John Abt, a New York lawyer who had represented defendants prosecuted under the Smith Act, which prohibited advocating the violent overthrow of the US government and was used against communists in the 1950s. It appears that Oswald wanted to present himself as an innocent victim who had been mistreated by a world whose most famous representative was John F. Kennedy.

On the eve of the assassination his separated wife refused to take him back. Perhaps the assassination was a vicarious suicide. By killing Kennedy, Oswald would bring finality to his own life. At last he would be taken seriously. It is said that nobody would have been more pleased about the thousands of books, articles and documentaries on the assassination than Lee Harvey Oswald himself. [END]

First published in the September 2011 issue of Irish Foreign Affairs. Republished with permission.

The author was born in Ireland in 1964. He is a regular contributor on economic and historical matters to current affairs magazines such as Irish Foreign Affairs and the Irish Political Review. His most recent book The Irish Times: Past and Present was published in 2008.


Neal said...

Such a shame.

Another intelligent journalist taken in by the "official" story, and apparently there is not a shred of doubt.

Whilst I agree there are some pretty wacky conspiracy theories, there are undoubtedly questions that still need answering.

It is depressing and frustrating that both the conspiracy theorists and Warren Commission supporters feel the need to adopt such extreme views.

Life is rarely black or white.

If the two groups could only put their prejudices to one side and actually instigate intelligent debate, then, one day, maybe, a true picture of the tragedy would emerge.

Unfortunately it seems we still have to wait for that day.

John Martin said...

Thank you for your comment, Neal.

You seem to believe that the truth necessarily lies somewhere between two “extreme views”. I disagree. Either Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy (and Tippit) or he did not. Either there was a conspiracy or there was not. The correctness of either position stands or falls on the evidence.

Of course, it is possible to take an agnostic view on both questions. However, I’m not sure that it follows that the “agnostics” are moderate while those who take a position on the JFK assassination are necessarily “extreme” or “prejudiced”.

In my opinion the evidence for Oswald’s guilt is overwhelming. Both the anti conspiracy Warren Commission in 1964 and the pro conspiracy HSCA in 1979 agree on this.

As I indicated in my article the acoustic evidence that the HSCA relied on for its conspiracy conclusion has been discredited.

Of course, there are numerous issues surrounding the JFK assassination that are open to question such as: the motivation of Oswald; the level of cooperation of the security services with the Warren Commission and other inquiries; the objectivity of the Warren Commission etc.

But in my opinion, there is very little doubt on the two most important issues: 1) the guilt of Oswald and; 2) the existence or not of a conspiracy to assassinate JFK. On these questions the conclusions of the Warren Commission have not been overturned.

Patrick said...

Could Oswald not have been both guilty AND a part of a conspiracy? Just because he fired the fatal shots does not necessarily mean he acted alone.

The only FACT I have seen regarding the JFK assassination is that much of the "evidence" has been tampered with to some degree.

This does not mean that there was definitely a conspiracy, it just means that the evidence we do have should have been handled better.

Without credible evidence we can not say for sure either way. Therefore, we are left to fill in the blanks ourselves.

I agree with Neal in that there are questions that still need to be answered, but this alone is not proof of a conspiracy.

John Martin said...


I suppose it is theoretically possible that Oswald was both guilty and part of a conspiracy. But while the evidence for Oswald’s guilt is overwhelming, the evidence for him being part of a conspiracy is practically non existent.

If it is accepted that Oswald is guilty – and it is difficult to come to any other conclusion – the evidence for conspiracy must relate to Oswald. One of Oswald’s acquaintances must have been involved. But there is absolutely no evidence that any of his acquaintances had any desire to kill Kennedy.

Was there anything in Oswald’s personality that might point to a conspiracy? In my view the opposite is the case. All his life he found it difficult to work with other people. Also, despite being a loner he could be quite garrulous in company. He delighted in holding forth on his political views. These are not the personality traits of a conspirator. I find it implausible that he would either initiate a conspiracy or be invited by any individual or organisation to participate in one.

I was very struck by the statements of Oswald’s mother to the Warren Commission. She described herself as a “historical figure”. His brother Robert considered that Lee took after his mother. I believe that Lee had a great desire to make his mark on history, even if that mark was a stain rather than an adornment to the historical record.

On the question of tampering or altering evidence I am not sure what you have in mind. The FBI agent James Hosty was ordered to destroy a threatening letter from Oswald. I suppose this comes close to “tampered” evidence. The motivation for the destruction was to protect the reputation of the FBI. The FBI was concerned that it would be criticised for not taking the document more seriously. The contents were described by Hosty under oath and had no bearing on Oswald’s guilt or innocence.

There have, of course, been allegations of lack of cooperation from the security services. Who knows! Perhaps there is some document or other piece of evidence stuck behind a filing cabinet or in the bottom drawer of some shadowy bureaucrat waiting for an intrepid reporter to have a “Watergate moment” and transform our understanding of the events of November 22, 1963. Such is the stuff that journalistic dreams are made of! But after nearly 50 years I seriously doubt that such a document exists.

kevin said...

An excellent article. The more you read about the assassination the more fascinating it becomes. The indirect connection between jackie and oswald would seem preposterous if it were fictional.