Reed Irvine - Editor
|January A , 1992||XXI-1|
STONE'S JFK -- A MASTERPIECE OF LIES
Oliver Stone is arguably the most talented filmmaker of his generation. As a producer/director he drives home his message with vivid, fast-paced imagery and an accretion of detail that persuades many a viewer to accept his point of view. Yet a central flaw mars Stone's talent: he is one of the biggest liars ever to stand behind a motion picture camera.
Beginning in December, Stone rode a media tidal wave of publicity about his latest movie JFK, which offers an all- encompassing conspiracy theory about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Stone blames the murder of President Kennedy on the "military-industrial complex," the CIA, anti-Castro Cubans, the Mafia, and a gaggle of New Orleans homosexuals. Lyndon Johnson, JFK's vice president, waits in the wings, as a suggested conspirator eager to seize the White House as a result of a coup d'etat.
Why kill Kennedy? Stone's thesis could be Para-phrased in these words: "Let us ask: Who profits from the assassination of Kennedy? The answer makes it clear that we are dealing with a criminal conspiracy spun by the darkest forces of reaction. The champions of the cold war, together with the wild men of all and every ilk, saw and realized perfectly well that every one of the President's measures aimed at international realization met with enthusiastic approval of the majority of the American people.... The enemies of President Kennedy and his administration's policy could not but understand that their fight against Kennedy's candidacy was hopeless in view of his popularity and growing prestige, so they killed the President."
This passage is a rough approximation of several monologues in JFK by Stone's hero, the New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison. But these actual words came from Yakov Viktorov, during a Moscow Radio broadcast on November 25, 1963 -- barely 48 hours after Kennedy's murder. Stone's version adds that Kennedy was killed because he was planning to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam, an idea Kennedy had not shared with his closest advisors, much less Soviet disinformers.
What an irony! The very month that the Soviet Union strikes its flag, a major American film gives vivid circulation to one of the most odious disinformation lies ever to come out of Moscow. The Soviet propaganda specialists did their job by planting the necessary seeds of doubt among American leftists, who in turn spawned a colony of conspiracy buffs who have been at work for three decades. Time Warner Inc., the media conglomerate which owns Time magazine, gave Stone $40 million to finance his fantasy. Time founder Henry Luce would surely cringe in his grave at the thought of the way his former company is now being used.
Soviet propagandists even foreshadowed Stone's casting of Garrison in a hero's role. In the late 1960s, Garrison prosecuted a homosexual New Orleans businessman named Clay Shaw for complicity in the JFK murder. Journalists who covered Garrison dismissed him as a flake who changed his conspiracy theories more often than most folks change their socks. A jury took less than an hour to laugh his case out of court.
Nonetheless, in a 1984 book, two Soviet propaganda writers lavished this praise on Garrison: "There is something in him from those heroes of the past which only remain on the screen of American cinemas -- the strolling Don Quixote's, the American Wild West, fighting for the weak and for the poor against insidious and pitiless mercenaries." This is exactly the same portrayal that Stone offers of the hapless Garrison.
A Gallup Poll conducted in July 1991 found that only 16 percent of Americans accepted the Warren Commission's finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy. Seventy-three percent said others were involved; 11 percent said they did not know. This skepticism has been nurtured in pan by wild conspiracy theories such as those propounded by the Soviets and their counterparts in this country -- people like Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone. Some are reluctant to accept the expert testimony that Oswald could have fired three shots in 5 to 7 seconds, that a neuromuscular reaction explains why Kennedy's head jerked back, not forward, when the bullet struck the back of his head, and that the bullet that pierced Kennedy's neck also struck Governor John Connally and exited from his arm virtually intact.
Experts both agree and disagree with the Warren Commission findings on these technical points, but the weight of the evidence favors the Warren Commission finding that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin. The House Committee investigation in 1979 reached the same conclusion, and it also found that there was no conspiracy involving any foreign government or any U.S. government agency. It did conclude that there was a high probability that a second gunman had fired at the same time as Oswald but had missed the president. That was based on a tape which some analysts believed recorded the sound of four shots, not three. Other experts too have disputed that.
These technical disputes will never be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone, but only the most incorrigible conspiracy theory addicts will find that justification for giving credence to the message of Stone's JFK. Stone set out to convince the gullible that the motive for the murder of Kennedy is to be found in the pursuit of profits by big business and power by the military, the intelligence community and Lyndon B. Johnson. This is Marxist economic determinism at its rawest. It is based on the false premise that Kennedy intended to disengage from Vietnam and withdraw the military advisers that he had sent there. This was supposed to have prompted the military-industrial-intelligence complex to get rid of him. The irony is that only weeks before the assassination Kennedy had not only given a speech warning about the domino effect if Vietnam were lost to the Communists, but he had also authorized the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam and the CIA to support the overthrow of the president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem. The reason given was that Diem was not prosecuting the war with sufficient vigor and was suspected of planning to make peace with the Communists.
Stone's theory of the motive for Kennedy's assassination is patently absurd. But the failure to establish a credible motive was also one of the most serious flaws of the Warren Commission Report. Albert H. Newman, veteran journalist and author of a brilliant but largely ignored book, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, The Reasons Why (N.Y., Clarkson N. Potter Inc., 1970), took the Warren Commission to task for giving only cursory attention to the "why" of the mystery -- Oswald's motive for the murder. The commission concluded that it "does not believe that it can ascribe to him any one motive or group of motives...." It spoke of such things as his "inability to enter into meaningful relations" and "deep-rooted resentment of all authority." The commission seemed to go out of its way to avoid examining any political motives. This gave rise to much of the suspicious reaction to its conclusions.
Based on his examination of the Warren Commission records and other materials, Newman argued convincingly that the motive should have been obvious had the commission looked: Oswald's perception of threats to Castro led him to kill Kennedy. The commissions own record (ignored in its report) made plain Oswald's dedication to Castro and the left-extremism Trotskyite wing of communism.
Newman went a step further and examined the print and broadcast material in which Oswald immersed himself during the months preceding November 1963. He concluded "it is quite clear enough that Oswald, ridden by this ideology and an inherent fanaticism, was inspired to his terrible deed by propaganda aimed at the victim and his national policies." Most of this material, Newman continued, "came straight from Havana" and from U.S. friends of Castro: the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, the Socialist Workers Party (a Trotskyite group) and the Communist Party, USA.
The Warren Commission makes frequent references to Oswald's devotion to overseas broadcasts of both the U.S.S.R. and Cuba, beginning when he was a teenager, and continuing during his Marine Corps service in Japan, his stay in the U.S.S.R. and in Dallas. He had a portable radio with a short-wave receiving capacity, and his Dallas landlady said he frequently would go to bed early "and listen to his small radio." Radio Havana's English language broadcasts could be heard at nine and eleven o'clock each night in Dallas. However, the commission did not assess the impact of this incessant propaganda on Oswald's attitude towards Kennedy. Nor did the commission trace Oswald's odyssey to the Trotskyites, the most violent wing of world communism.
First-hand testimony is ample that Oswald left the U.S.S.R. disillusioned with the Marxist variant of communism. He felt the Soviets treated him badly and did not recognize his potential. But within two months of his return to the U.S., he approached the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party (SWP) with a request for literature, which would help him "in finding out all about your program." This was in August 1962. Two months later, on October 28, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev infuriated Castro by withdrawing his missiles from Cuba. (Marina Oswald remembered that her husband was angry and slapped her that day.) On October 31 the SWP received a membership application from Oswald. Of the 36 books and pamphlets found in Oswald's possession after the JFK killing, 29 dealt with Castro and Cuba, and many came from the SWP, including its paper, The Militant.
Following his humiliation at the forced withdrawal of Soviet missiles, Castro raged at the detested Kennedy incessantly the first ten months of 1963. Most of these speeches were broadcast in English on Radio Havana (often repeatedly) and printed in The Militant. (One speech ran full 6,000 words, an extraordinary length for a tabloid paper.)
Castro blamed Kennedy for every action against Cuba, whether it came from the CIA or the teeming, bitter exile community. Radio Havana gave detailed accounts of attacks on farms and schools; arson, sabotage, and murder -- these were the crimes Castro attributed directly to JFK. "This ruffian Kennedy," he called the President. On January 2, 1963, after Kennedy spoke to returnees from the Bay of Pigs in Miami, Castro gave what analysts called "the blood speech." Castro charged that Kennedy "conducted himself like a pirate. He conducted himself like a leader of buccaneers because, really, never has a President.... degraded the dignity of his office as that day when Mr. Kennedy met with the criminal invaders of our country." He continued: "Mr. Kennedy, there is a river of blood between you and us, between Revolutionary soldiers and the Yankee empire!" In the next sentences he used the word "blood" eleven times, concluding, "There is much blood, an abyss of blood between us and you, Messrs. Imperialists? The Cubans considered the "blood speech" important, for it was rebroadcast repeatedly; the text was published in The Militant.
On October 23, a month before the murder, Castro gave a long harangue against Kennedy over Radio Havana: "The CIA acts under the direct orders of the President, in this case Mr. Kennedy," he said. "When they launch a pirate attack against the Cuban coastline, and murder a militiaman or a teacher, when they commit acts of sabotage against a Cuban vessel or an industry, they are acting under orders of the U.S. President. The United States is the only country in the world where sabotage, subversion and piracy are protected by law."
Oswald once told a friend that in reading the Communist papers you could tell what they wanted you to do by reading between the lines. One issue of The Militant found among Oswald's possessions contained a speech by Castro denouncing Kennedy in which the Cuban dictator declared, "With the rifle and the work tool, the work tool and the rifle, with these both we must bring about our victory." Oswald couldn't contribute anything to Castro's victory with his work tools, but he knew how to use a rifle.
On April 10, 1963, Oswald shot at but missed retired Maj. General Edwin A. Walker, who had just returned from a speaking tour in which he "proposed that the U.S. 'take the 82d Airborne Division...and liquidate the scourge that has descended on Cuba.'" Both the Dallas Times-Herald and The Militant, the Trotskyite pro-Castro paper that Oswald read religiously, covered these speeches.
On April 21, 1963, the Dallas Morning News ran a front-page story on a Nixon speech in Dallas: "Nixon Calls for Decision to Force Reds Out of Cuba; Open U.S. Support of Rebels Urged." Marina Oswald told the Warren Commission that after reading the story, her husband left his house with a pistol, saying he was going to "have a look" at Nixon. He also said that he "would use the pistol if the opportunity arose." Nixon had already left town.
On November 19, 1963, the Dallas Times-Herald reported on a Kennedy speech in Miami in which he "all but invited the Cuban people to overthrow the regime of Castro and promised them U.S. support if they do." Three days later Kennedy came to Dallas, and this time Oswald succeeded in doing what he thought Castro wanted.
Oswald's brother Robert, in his 1967 book Lee, accepted the commission's finding but nonetheless said he could not help feeling that since his younger brother had always been so easily influenced, someone put him up to the murder. Harrison Salisbury of The New York Times was among many commentators who did not see the common Cuban thread in these episodes. Salisbury said he understood why many persons thought it "odd" that Oswald would pick "three such diverse persons" as targets. "The explanation is simply that this was not a rational mind," Salisbury wrote in a preface to the Bantam paperback edition of the Warren Report.
The Warren Commission could have forestalled Oliver Stone's "right-wing conspiracy" nonsense had it adequately explored Oswald's desire to ingratiate himself with his hero Fidel Castro. Newman shows that his carefully planned attempt to kill retired Maj. General Edwin Walker was designed to make him a hero in Cuba. Walker was a prominent and controversial figure in the early 1960s. In 1961, he resigned from the army under pressure after being criticized for teaching anti-communism to his troops in Germany. He was constantly denounced as a fascist by the left. In the fall of 1962, he was prominent in resisting use of Federal troops to force the integration of Ole Miss and indeed was arrested by Federal marshals and briefly put into a psychiatric hospital. After returning to Dallas, he was the subject of no less than 16 major stories in the Dallas Morning News between October 1 and 19, 1962.
On January 21, 1963, a Federal grand jury refused to indict Walker for his Mississippi activities. On January 27, a Sunday, Oswald ordered by mail a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver under the name "A. Hidell." Newman wrote, "Obviously, 'Hidell' is 'Fidel' with the 'F' dropped and an 'L' for 'Lee' and an 'H' for 'Harvey' wrapped in close embrace around the remaining 'idel.'" He concluded: "Thus, on the weekend immediately after Walker was cleared of Federal charges, Oswald ordered a lethal weapon under aliases that attest his devotion to the cause of Fidel Castro."
Oswald reconnoitered Walker's house, photographing it. A high-rise apartment building was under construction in the background, enabling the FBI to fix the date of this visit as March 10. Oswald apparently decided against trying to kill Walker with a pistol at close range. On March 12 he ordered by mail the rifle that he later used to kill Kennedy. On the night of April 10 he used it to fire one bullet from the dark alley behind Walker's house into the study where the general sat at his desk. He missed.
Marina Oswald testified that her husband had been keeping a notebook in which he recorded his activities relating to the attempt on Walker's life. He included in the record the photos he had taken of Walker's house, as well as a photo of himself holding copies of two communist papers, The Worker and The Militant. Mrs. Oswald said that three days after the failed attempt on Walker's life he burned the notebook but not all the photos. Prior to the shooting he had left her a note, which she had preserved, in which he gave her instructions as to what she should do should he not return. Newman makes a persuasive case that Oswald intended to flee to Cuba if he succeeded in killing General Walker and that the notebook was to serve as proof that he was the assassin, thinking that he would be treated as a hero for killing this notorious foe of Fidel. Having failed, he destroyed the incriminating evidence, but he did not abandon the idea of assassinating Walker. Newman cites evidence suggesting that he was on his way to Walker's house, with his pistol, when officer J.D. Tippit, who became his next victim, intercepted him.
Oswald apparently had accomplices who helped him in his attempt on General Walker. Walker himself caught sight of a car driving away, and a 14-year-old boy in the neighborhood testified that when he heard the shot he peered over his back fence and spotted two cars, one with two men in it, leaving the area. Oswald didn't own a car and couldn't drive. Newman speculates that the two drivers served as lookouts for him as well as providing his transportation and holding his rifle and precious notebook for three days after the shooting. The identity of these accomplices remains a mystery, but they were certainly not pillars of the military-industrial-intelligence complex.
Oliver Stone makes much of the fact that both the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee that investigated the assassination ordered some documents withheld from public disclosure for 50 years. Stone believes this is evidence of a dark conspiracy and has challenged the government to make all the documents public. Rep. Louis Stokes (D. -Ohio), who chaired the House committee, has explained that the sealed material consists largely of FBI documents containing a "lot of raw data that would tend to defame, degrade, humiliate or embarrass people without adding any solid information." In addition there are classified CIA and FBI reports. He doubts that the House will vote to open these files.
We know now, because of the Church Committee and other disclosures, that President Kennedy and his brother Robert indeed were trying to kill Castro, just as the Cuban dictator stated. A CIA task force working from Miami, Operation Mongoose oversaw the sabotage raids. The Church Committee documented half a dozen attempts by the CIA to kill Castro, at the Kennedy brothers' order.
But what and when did Castro know of these actions? Revelations in the last 18 months documented the on-going success of the DGI, the Cuban intelligence service, in doubling many of the agents which CIA dispatched to Cuba. Through these persons, DGI knew what CIA was doing on the island, and fashioned misinformation for them to report to their handlers. What is not known is how much Castro knew of the Kennedy plots against his life in the months prior to November 1963.
It is possible that some documents sealed by the Warren Commission related to these plots. Such revelations, of course, would have taken much of the luster off the Kennedy name. If indeed this is so, it would explain why the commission at the same time did not pursue the many indications that Oswald killed Kennedy because of his sympathy for Castro -- but not at the direction of Castro or any other Cuban, other than seeds planted in his mind by the violent polemics he heard via Havana Radio and The Militant. Instead, the Warren Commission was content to conclude that it "found no evidence that Oswald was...persuaded or encouraged by any foreign government to assassinate President Kennedy."
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AIM HELD A JOINT NEWS CONFERENCE ON DECEMBER 26 WITH THE KOREAN WAR Veterans Association and the Council for the Defense of Freedom to publicize the $100,000 reward we are advertising in Russia and Israel for information leading to the liberation of American POWs or survivors of KAL 007 held captive in the former Soviet Union. C-SPAN aired it in full six times, and it got other TV and radio coverage. We announced that we would be urging President Bush and the other candidates seeking the presidential nomination to support the position that aid to the new republics would be contingent on their cooperating fully in identifying and locating any captives and handing over the black boxes recovered from KAL 007, which should show whether or not anyone may have survived the shootdown. KGB General Oleg Kalugin, who will soon visit the U.S., has admitted that the KGB interrogated American POWs in Vietnam two to five years after all of them were supposedly freed. Human Events quotes retired National Security Agency analyst Jerry Mooney as saying the intelligence community knew in 1973 that POWs were left behind and that "some were Moscow bound, some were China bound." He said those interrogated by the Soviets who did not break were sent to labor camps. Mooney said the Soviets were eager to interrogate F-111 pilots and that of seven shot down, only two were returned. He wants to testify at the hearings to be held in the near future by the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.
OLIVER STONE ENJOYED A LARGELY FAVORABLE PRESS AS LONG AS HE TOED THE leftist line in attacking the war in Vietnam, the elected anti-communist government of El Salvador and Wall Street. But he has run into a media buzz saw with his new film, JFK. The mainstream media, to their credit, have been nearly unanimous in denouncing the film as a misleading concoction of fiction presented as fact. A Newsweek cover story carried the headline, "The Twisted Truth of 'JFK' -- Why Oliver Stone's New Movie Can't Be Trusted." Tom Wicker, who covered the assassination as a young White House correspondent for The New York Times, wrote a page-plus article on Dec. 15 demolishing Stone's "factual basis" for Kennedy's murder-- that he had decided to withdraw from Vietnam. "Paranoid and fantastic," Wicker concluded. George Lardner, Jr., who covered Garrison's JFK probe for The Washington Post, wrote on Dec. 20, "Oliver Stone knows how to make a movie. It's too bad he doesn't know how to tell the truth."
ONE NOTABLE EXCEPTION IS TIME MAGAZINE, WHOSE SISTER COMPANY, WARNER Bros., produced the film at a cost, Time says, of $40 million, some of which came from outside investors. Time and Warner Bros. are both owned by Time Warner Inc. A two-page ad in The New York Times on Dec. 20 featured a quote from Time reviewer Richard Corliss: "A knockout. Breathless. Enthralling. Sensational. Terrific." Those were Corliss's words, although he also acknowledged that Stone was sometimes careless in his use of facts. But that is fine with Time, because, says Corliss, "JFK is only a movie." He says that the film should carry a warning: "This is a drama based on fact and conjecture," but it would be more accurate to warn that it is based on lies and conjecture. Corliss acknowledges that the portrayal of Kennedy as "so progressive, so 'soft on communism' (and on Castro) and so popular that the right-wing establishment was driven to kill him" is "a romantic, perhaps fantasy J.F.K." Corliss also allows that Stone's portrayal of the film's hero, Jim Garrison, is "semi fictional" and "open to charges of distortion."
WE DEAL WITH THE FALSE PORTRAYAL OF JOHN F. KENNEDY AND THE MOTIVE THAT inspired his killer in this report. The falsity of the film's portrayal of District Attorney Jim Garrison is equally mendacious. Tom Bethell, now a prominent conservative writer, served on Garrison's staff in 1966-68 when Garrison was trying to prove that a New Orleans businessman named Clay Shaw played a key role in the Kennedy assassination. Bethell writes in the December 16, 1991 National Review that Garrison was not the fearless crusader for truth and justice that he appears to be in Stone's film. He says, "Most of the time...he lived in a strange world of his own imagination -- which he sometimes confused with the real world. His most striking characteristic as DA was a truly astounding recklessness and irresponsibility." Bethell says, "Everyone in Garrison's office knew that the case against Shaw was an embarrassment," but Garrison's hopes were raised when a witness contacted him and said he could testify that he had heard Shaw discuss killing Kennedy in 1963. An elated Garrison sent two attorneys to interview the man, and they brought back the good news that he would make a good witness except for one thing -- he was crazy. He fingerprinted his children every morning to make sure the government had not replaced them with doubles during the night. Incredibly, Garrison decided to put this fruitcake on the witness stand, without notifying the defense in advance, hoping that his quirky character would go undiscovered. Bethell, unwilling to see an innocent man convicted by such a despicable stratagem, provided the defense attorney with the list of witnesses. He was prepared for Garrison's surprise, and was able to discredit the witness. The jury took less than an hour to find Shaw not guilty.
THIS IS DEALT WITH IN STONE'S FILM, BUT THE LEAK IS NOT ATTRIBUTED TO TOM Bethell, but to a member of the staff named Boxley, now deceased, who had been fired for incompetence long before this witness appeared on the scene. Just before the trial begins an aide tells Garrison that Boxley has been working for the federal government and that he has leaked to the enemy Garrison's strategy for the trial and a list of all his witnesses. Boxley is blamed for having found the crazy witness in the first place. One of Garrison's lawyers is shown saying, I'm sorry. He was totally sane when we talked." Thus an incident that demonstrated Garrison's dishonesty is used to show the omnipresence of the conspiracy that Garrison was trying to expose.
THE MEDIA HAVE OVERLOOKED THE ORIGIN OF THE CONSPIRACY THEORY THAT OLIVER Stone has embraced. We axe indebted to an old friend, Johann W. Rush, a journalist and propaganda specialist in Hattiesburg, Miss., for calling to our attention the Soviet disinformation angle. Rush is writing a book on the assassination, and he studied Soviet press accounts. He told us, "The very first JFK conspiracy theory came out of Moscow the day of the assassination." It was written in the New York office of TASS, the official Soviet news agency. Two bureau staff members, Vitaly Petrusenko and Sergei Losev, later "contributed much conspiracy material to Soviet and Eastern bloc newspapers. Eventually they made direct contact with Garrison and with other conspiracy writers." The early Soviet articles foretold the massive conspiracy investigation that was to come, Rush said. Radio Moscow summarized the stories on Nov. 26, 1963: "Soviet newspaper columnists feel that the investigation into the President's murder will continue even though Oswald has been put out of the way. The reactionary forces will be made to answer for this crime."
WE'VE JUST RECEIVED ANOTHER REPORT ON HOW AIM MEMBERS MAKE GOOD USE OF AIM information. Maurice Reidy, an engineer in Newton, Mass., says that his local school board was ready to approve a $295,000 contract for asbestos removal from school buildings, part of a project which was expected to cost residents $1 million. "Whoa!" called Reidy. He knew from our September-A 1990 AIM Report that the EPA had made a mess of the asbestos issue, first scaring the daylights out of citizens by demanding that it be removed, then deciding that leaving it in place was generally the safer course. Our media predictably hyped the scare stories and then underplayed the good news. Reidy made copies of the AIM Report and sent them to all 24 school board members, along with a Science magazine article critical of the EPA's handling of the asbestos issue. The board cut the contract to $15,000, saving the taxpayers $280,000. Many board members wanted to stop the asbestos program altogether. To all who are concerned about asbestos, I recommend a new book, The Asbestos Racket by Michael Bennett. The author pioneered in exposing the exaggerated fear of asbestos in a series he wrote for the Detroit News in the mid-1980s. Bennett has helped force the EPA, reluctantly and under great pressure from the scientific community, to admit its asbestos removal policies were wrong. His fact-based reporting makes much more interesting reading than the polemics that pass for reporting, all too often, on the pages and screens of our mass media. Bennett's book literally could save your community hundreds of thousands of dollars. Buy a copy and show it to your local officials before they get involved in asbestos removal. The AIM price is $6.95 plus $2 for mailing inside U.S.