Saturday, December 31, 2016

Book Review: Case Closed by Gerald Posner

When I learned that my flight plans for the big western trip that my son and I were taking over the summer had been changed by the airline, and that we would be spending almost 24 hours in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (instead of the three or four hours that we originally were supposed to be there for), there was one place above all others that stood out as a must see destination while down in Dallas. That would be Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy was assassinated more than half a century ago now. 

In the confusing aftermath of the event itself, Americans generally believed that the assassination was part of some larger, secretive plot. The official Warren Commission report did little to alleviate the doubts, and the conspiracy theories grew. Jim Garrison's investigations initially re-energized the conspiracy theorists, although his mishandling ultimately compromised them. Still, they did not go away, and when the Zapruder film was finally released to the public in March of 1975, the doubts about the official version grew, as did the various alternative theories. Shortly after that, it was discovered that the CIA withheld assassination plots against Cuba's Fidel Castro from President Kennedy and even CIA commissioner Allen Dulles, and this fanned the flames still more. Another official government investigation, the House Committee, investigated the assassination again, and at first, it agreed with the Warren Commission report. But then, with the addition of audio tapes purported to have been from the assassination brought into the mix, the House Committee changed it's mind, and suggested that a conspiracy was likely. An official government body suggesting such a thing confirmed the worst suspicions of conspiracy theorists, and these took off, even though some of them went far, far beyond reasonable doubts about the official version. Some of these theories were downright crazy. Then, in the early 1990's, Oliver Stone released his movie, JFK, about the assassination and his belief that it was a conspiracy, and the doubts multiplied even more. They have never gone away, either. 

Knowing this in advance, I brought the one book that looked especially appealing about this singular event. It was Gerald Posner's "Case Closed."

Yes, I brought it with me, and right after landing at Love Field Airport (the same airport that the John F. Kennedy landed at, and which his body was flown out of a few hours later, as well as where Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office to become the new president), my son and I took the rental car, and the first place that we headed was to Dealey Plaza. I wanted to see it, badly.

It was smaller than I thought, and my impressions have already been posted here in an earlier blog entry during the summer.

However, one thing that I did was bring my book there, and started reading it, right there at the controversial site that was the center of all of that controversy. Indeed, fittingly, Dealey Plaza almost feels like a sacred burial site of sorts. Everyone who's there knows what happened, understands the significance of it, and shows a certain measure of proper respect (a rarity these days). 

I mentioned how taken I was a few years ago by the whole chapter in history of the Kennedy assassination, and the surrounding controversies that ensued from it.

Some of the lingering questions that persist, to me include the following:

 - the movement of Kennedy in response to the kill shot. 

 - the mysterious (or non-mysterious, according to Posner) deaths of people associated with the case, which 

- the files that remained closed to the public, and which secretive government agencies go to extraordinary lengths to keep from the public eye.

Why so many of the files pertaining to the assassination remained so secret for so long, and why some still have yet to be released to the public. If there is any one thing that has, if anything, added constant fuel to the fire and kept the controversies alive, it is this reluctance to fully release the documents regarding this case. Keeping them locked up for decades and decades, until the thing hardly matters, was probably the idea. However, the Kennedy assassination has taken on a life of it's own, and despite the fact that most Americans were not even born yet when it actually happened (and that includes yours truly), there still remains this kind of morbid fascination with the whole event that is not about to go away soon.

Indeed, Posner recognizes this much, and quotes Professor Josiah Thompson about this, as Thompson likened the entire event - and particularly it's aftermath - as sort of "a religious event":

"There is a fantastic way in which the assassination becomes a religious event. There are relics and scriptures and even a holy scene—the killing ground. People make pilgrimmages to it." (p.413)

Yes, the assassination has taken a life of it's own, and that is an understatement. Indeed, there are almost religious overtones surrounding this event, as in many respects, it seemed to usher in a dark, new reality in the country, and indeed the world. What had existed before came to an end, and what has come to be the reality since has never fully been pinned down. But there is a sense by many that there are forces that control every event in this world, and that these powers that be rule over us secretly. They orchestrate everything, and this seems to have really come out in full force following the assassination of Kennedy. Surely, this thinking goes, the world could not have been shaken so dramatically just because of one crazed man, one lone gunman, right?

Well, indeed, sometimes it is extremely hard to believe. Difficult to the point that the doubts begin to creep up once again. The fact that he was basically a nobody, but somehow managed to take down the most powerful man in the world, adds still more mystery to the whole thing, and heaps still more skepticism from those who reject the official verdict of the Warren Commission. Indeed, with so many strange coincidences surrounding the assassination, and with such a seemingly small chance of this guy actually succeeding in actually killing the president, it really is no wonder that a majority of Americans have consistently not believed the official account of how the assassination took place. 

And yet, the arguments that Posner and others who believe that it was Oswald, and Oswald alone - behind this assassination are hard to refute. When you examine Oswald's life and history of violence, and take into consideration the facts of where he was and what he did in the lead-up to the assassination, and then take into consideration how some men just below the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository heard the bullets falling to the ground, and how Oswald, a political animal, did not even stick around by the site of the assassination of the president just moments after the event, and his shooting a police officer and physically resisting arrest, it becomes very difficult to at least not believe that he was most certainly involved in the killing of the president. Then, when you look at the fact that he was, indeed, a loner who was generally, largely friendless, and how nobody seems to have proven any concrete links to Oswald actually being some secret agent within the government, then the prospect that he was, indeed, the lone assassin - however improbable it might seem - starts to feel a lot more plausible.

“Lee Harvey Oswald wanted his name to go down in history and he got his wish. Sometimes it seems that before all America knew those five nerdish syllables nothing could go wrong for us, while in the years since Thanksgiving time, 1963, nothing has gone quite right. This may be illusion conditioned by age, but surely there is something to it. Looking back, we seemed then to stand at noon. After the fall of John Kennedy in Dealey Plaza the shadows kept lengthening.”
(The Loser’s Loser by Robert Stone JUNE 22, 1995 ISSUE Review of Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery by Norman Mailer -

That last description was probably the most poignant quote on this whole event, because it really hit the mark. For me, and others who were not yet born to witness the Kennedy assassination, let alone the "golden age" of America that had come before it, this singular event - literally, the death of the handsome, witty, glamorous, idealistic young president that seemed to represent the country itself at the pinnacle of it's success - marked the definite end of an era. Up to that point, it felt like the country could do no wrong, that it was far and away the envy of the world in almost every respect. But the assassination was the turning point, and ever since, the country seems to have been sinking ever downward, and the standards just keep lowering and lowering. As if to both illustrate and underscore this point, look at the two major party nominees for the highest office in the land during this past election for proof of just how far this nation's standards have sunk. The notion that either one would have had an icicle's chance in hell of being taken seriously, with their level of corruption and empty political rhetoric and insults to groups of millions of Americans with careless words. In many respects, the United States has become a laughing stock, and you get the impression that not only prominent political leaders, but the American people themselves, would not have stood for that in the glory days of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. But with the assassination, and the skepticism and wild theories that followed, something seemed to have snapped from the previously well-oiled machine that this country had relied on and likely taken for granted. 

The fact of the matter is that, given just how much the assassination seemed to end the glory days, and to be a harbinger of things (and not good things) to come, it really is no wonder then that the assassination became such a source of controversy. Plus, there are just so many coincidences, that one cannot help but be uncomfortable committing either to some of the conspiracy theories (and some of them are really out there), nor to the official version. It feels like each interpretation has holes in it. It feels like this mystery will never be resolved, and that these lack of answers happen to coincide with the lack of answers about exactly what had gone wrong with our country, as well. 

Probably, that explains the morbid fascination that this event still holds over the country, and indeed, much of the world. This was a tragic loss for us, a life taken far too early, and of a man who seemed to most of us to hold some kind of potential for a brighter, more inspiring future. His untimely death not only shook the world, but ended what must have felt like a magical run for Americans. The country has clearly never been the same since, and that is clear even to those of us not yet born on November 22, 1963. 

That is why we continue to study this event, and to read about it. Truth is, I do not fully know what happened. Frankly, I am not certain anyone does. Even Gerald Posner, who has written this rather authoritative book on the subject, admits that it is reasonable for many to have their doubts about what happened on that day that changed American history forever.

Indeed, that is why we explore this particular chapter in history, over and over again. It is one of those singular events that just never seems to fully go away. People still view those six or so seconds on a late autumn day in Dallas as relevant to what has happened since, and to what still could happen. Many people feel that Oswald was not the one who really wanted Kennedy killed, although there are various theories as to who was behind it. In each case, there are powerful, ominous forces who were behind the assassination. Some of the most popular theories was that it was inside the government itself, whether Lyndon B. Johnson, or the CIA, or the FBI. Some believe that it was the Soviets, or the Cubans, or communists inside of the country. Some believe it was the mob. Some feel it was another group behind the killing.

And, of course, many feel that it was Lee Harvey Oswald - and Oswald alone - who was behind the killing.

We have been exploring this issue ever since, and even the staunchest supporters of the official version seem to admit to doubts. Norman Mailer wrote an entire book on the subject, and came into it skeptical that Oswald could have done it, but he reluctantly changed his mind, even though he still expressed some mild doubts. Stephen King claims to be 98 percent sure that it was Oswald acting alone, but that still leave a little room (admittedly, very little room) for doubt. Even Posner, the chief living advocate for the official Warren Commission version, has admitted that much about how the investigations were conducted were extremely flawed and only served to hasten the avalanche of skeptics. 

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