Commentary Magazine


Countering the Conspiracists

To the Editor:

Like Jacob Cohen, I have been teaching about the JFK assassination—at Boston University, New England College, and the College of Central Florida—for almost 30 years. Unlike Mr. Cohen, I have reached other conclusions after a lifetime of study, although we have some points of commonality. His December piece [“Will We Never Be Free of the Kennedy Assassination?”] on the crime of the 20th century is, alas, just not good history.

First, he admits that the Warren Commission was deeply flawed. That is a very good place to begin. But then Mr. Cohen sets up a straw man in Jerome Corsi’s Who Really Killed Kennedy? Of the thousands of assassination books, why pick the one that sets up the wackiest theories? Why not set the compass to a more realistic balance in the direction of some of the best books and lay out the pros and cons of both sides of the assassination argument? Mr. Cohen could have balanced his piece by arguing Vincent Bugliosi’s long but well-written case against a conspiracy in Reclaiming History, or Gerald Posner’s easy-to-read Case Closed. On the other side, there is David Lifton’s The Best Evidence for a well-reasoned scientific argument, or Gaeton Fonzi’s The Last Investigation, which chronicles Fonzi’s work as an investigator on the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which came down on the side of conspiracy. There is also a recent book, Brothers in Arms, by Gus Russo and Stephen Molton, that makes a pretty convincing case that Oswald had been recruited by Castro intelligence operatives in Mexico City.

Instead, Mr. Cohen chooses to roam far afield historically with the most outlandish theories possible and then he throws other monkey wrenches into the assassination stew by comparing the JFK case with other high-profile assassinations and conspiracy theories, and even the ever-boring Obama birthers, the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, and the Vince Foster murder theorists. True, in just six pages nobody is going to get to the bottom of the JFK murder. But there are just too many events surrounding the assassination that are unexplained and where the Warren Commission did not or could not go: the many eyewitnesses who claimed shots and saw smoke from “the Grassy Knoll,” the murders of Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana, the unexplained curious public statements of Jack Ruby, the documented claims of involvement by Carlos Marcello, Oswald’s time in Mexico City, to name a few.

Mr. Cohen and I agree: Lee Harvey Oswald was obviously involved; he killed Officer Tippett and was, most probably, the JFK shooter (or one of them). But as Mr. Cohen would have to admit, if it was a conspiracy—well, the very nature of conspiracy is secrecy. So, there are the wackos like Mark Lane whose recent book on the CIA’s complicity offers up little documentation and makes no sense whatsoever, or the important work of Edward Jay Epstein who should not be overlooked. Maybe, just maybe, the conspiracy worked. Or, as Rutgers Professor William L. O’Neill has written: “Like UFO’s, it seemed the assassination of John F. Kennedy would always puzzle us.”

Martin S. Goldman
Summerfield, Florida

To the Editor:

Jacob Cohen missed numerous facts in his critique of Dr. Jerome Corsi’s book Who Really Killed Kennedy? Among them:

1. Oswald’s job at the depository: His job application and the school district’s follow-up documents have not been produced. The application would have work history, references, and other qualifications. Who at the book depository actually hired him, and when?

2. On November 22 there were contract workers on the sixth floor repairing various things such as flooring and air-conditioning, whose work order has not yet been produced. What was the name of the contractor and names of the workmen? Where were they all around 12:30?

3. Was any gunshot residue found on Oswald? Were any such tests performed?

4. The bullet that killed JFK had to come from the front in order to blow his brains out onto the limo trunk. It could not have come from behind. The entrance wound was on the front.

5. Bystander Tague, who was standing on the median near the underpass, was hit in the cheek by a bullet. Where did that bullet come from? In must have come from behind JFK.

6. Gunsmoke was reported by numerous bystanders and riders in parade limos. Where did it come from? Was it the Secret Service agent in the car behind JFK who stood up and took a couple shots with his automatic rifle?

7. Where did the bullet come from that went through the JFK limo’s windshield? It must have come from the front.

8. Two independent witnesses saw Oswald in the second-floor lunchroom getting Coke at the time of the shooting. So who was up on the sixth floor?

9. The bullet entry wounds on JFK have a different diameter than those that were from the sixth-floor shell casings. Where else could these bullets come from other than the sixth floor?

10. In order to enlist participation from the CIA, Secret Service, FBI, Dallas police, etc., the driving force must have had enormous financial resources to give orders to them all. The only ones of this magnitude were the worldwide drug cartels.

Let’s hope further production of evidence and documents will come forth to detail just how big the conspiracy against JFK and America was.

Carl Olson
Woodland Hills, California

Jacob Cohen writes:

I appreciate the responses to my reflections on the perpetual storm of inquiry around the Kennedy assassination. Martin S. Goldman ignores the occasion for my article and badly misstates one of its principle conclusions. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the assassination and the lamentable legacy of that event as evidenced by the avalanche of new books that appeared late in the year, last year, almost all of them rehashing or gussying up the many outlandish conspiracy theories that have been posited over the last half century. I chose to concentrate on Dr. Jerome Corsi’s new book because it, uniquely, ardently commends nearly all of those theories, even when they contradict each other, and uses their flawed postmodern approach. I also wrote about the 50-year legacy of the Warren Commission, which is routinely savaged in these works.

Amazingly, Mr. Goldman claims that I “admit that the Warren Commission was deeply flawed.” On the contrary, I said that no report could have silenced this hallucinatory tsunami, and that after a half century of further research and counter claims, the commission’s account of the actual killing seems to be correct in every important essential.

Ignore all the crazies, Mr. Goldman says. They are easy targets and should not be linked to the responsible scholars and writers, presumably like himself and others he names, who do solid work, carefully pointing to evidentiary anomalies so disturbing, so urgent, that they force us to keep open the possibility of wider conspiracies. So what anomalies does he have for us and what proper attention is due the writers he recommends?

Well, he says, what about the “many eyewitnesses who…saw smoke just above ‘the Grassy Knoll’”? Does that not suggest that there may have been shots from there and therefore more than one gunman? He’s right, several people reported a considerable amount of smoke, wafting above the knoll, and precisely where conspiracists place a would-be assassin. What might have caused so much smoke? Not modern weapons clearly, which exude a tiny puff, if any at all. A better explanation may be the burning hot steampipes, just atop the knoll, exactly where they need to be. On April 1, 1964, testifying to the Warren Commission, Seymour Weitzman, deputy constable of Dallas County, spoke of hearing the first shot and running immediately to a spot very near the reported smoke. “I scaled the wall, and apparently, my hands grabbed steam pipes. I burned them.” I am tempted to coin a new phrase: With so much smoke, there cannot have been (gun) fire.

But the whole question about smoke is academic. For many very powerful reasons it is clear there was no shot from the knoll; all that smoke is a false flag. I have developed this point at great length in previous articles in Commentary (see “Yes, Oswald Alone Killed Kennedy,” from June 1992). To offer one detail, I wonder what answer Mr. Goldman gives himself when he ponders how it could be that Abraham Zapruder, he of the Zapruder film, and Marilyn Sitzman, his secretary, standing atop a pedestal that enabled them to look down into the crucial area behind the fence, failed to see an assassin preparing to shoot the president during that half hour they awaited the late arrival of the president’s limousine. And did they not glance to the right and see him with his gun when a loud bang went off in their right ears?

What of those other formidable conspiracists, whose work, Mr. Goldman says, I avoid, preferring to shoot at sitting ducks? He mentions David Lifton’s “well-reasoned, scientific argument.” Actually I did take Lifton on in my article without naming him, as Mr. Goldman, if he had read Lifton closely and read my article, should know. Mr. Lifton is a very nice man, but in conversations with me, he has posited that, yes, Kennedy’s body showed every evidence of shots from a single source behind the president, just as the Warren Commission concluded. What I had neglected to consider, he would say to me, was the possibility that upon arrival in Washington of the plane carrying Kennedy’s body, that body had been slyly removed, and, unnoticed, brought to a secret laboratory where it was altered. A decoy empty coffin was brought to Bethesda to disguise the operation. When the work was complete, the altered body was then smuggled into the autopsy room (again unnoticed) and the official autopsy performed. How the conspiracists could know which changes to make or how such a complex scheme could be kept secret is never explained. Is this the “well-reasoned scientific argument” that Mr. Goldman is referring to?

As for Edward Jay Epstein, the best known and probably the most widely respected of the sane conspiracists, I did not, as Mr. Goldman suggests, ignore him. I mentioned, for example, the easily refuted “fake Oswald” theory he posits. There is not space here to comment on the other authors that Mr. Goldman praises, including Fonzi, who did great mischief as chief consultant to the House Assassinations Committee. But I know the work of several of these authors, and to me they too seem to be conspiracy wolves in sheepish clothing.

As for Carl Olson: here are quick responses to his questions.

1. The job was as a warehouse man; I’m not sure what qualifications he seeks. Oswald got the job on October 15; the decision that brought Kennedy to Oswald at his place of work was made in early November, by one of Kennedy’s close friends.

2. The workers on the sixth floor went down to the fifth floor to eat their lunch and watch the presidential cavalcade. They can be seen in pictures, they are named in the report, and they testified.

3. Paraffin tests are often unreliable. But we know Oswald fired his pistol, he was seen doing it by several people, and we have persuasive reasons to believe he fired his rifle as well.

4. The wind was blowing so hard toward the back of the car that several Dallas police motorcyclists in their testimony later recalled its strong blast into their faces as they turned onto Elm Street. The wind may be the reason that matter was found on the back of the car.

5. Bystander Tague was not struck in his cheek by a bullet but by a sliver of cement sent flying when a missile hit the curb on which he stood. The scar in the cement showed only traces of lead, there is no copper. Oswald used copper-jacketed bullets, with a lead core. This missile probably came from a portion of the bullet that cracked apart when it struck Kennedy’s skull. It is not the much sought-after “fourth bullet.”

6. See my earlier response on gunsmoke.

7. No bullet went “through” the windshield. There was a lot of stuff flying around inside the car, which probably accounts for the damage to the glass.

8. In my view, the witnesses are in error, as eye and ear witnesses often are. Oswald was seen walking into the lunchroom a few minutes after the shots, by Roy Truly and a Dallas police officer. He had time to get down there, as Justice Warren showed by personally retracing his likely steps.

9. Is Mr. Olson referring to the measurements the autopsy doctors scribbled on their worksheets? Remember we have the bullet that actually struck Kennedy and went on to hit Governor Connally (see my article). It must have caused the holes in Kennedy.

10. I had no idea the drug cartels were so rich. Thanks for the information.




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