Friday, 3 June 2011

One book and one film about the shooting of JFK. One is well-researched and fascinating, the other is a piece of cack. Sorry, Oliver.

I have just finished reading The Kennedy Conspiracy by Anthony Summers, and boy it is some read. Halfway through reading it, I sent off for a DVD of Oliver Stone’s JFK and sat through that, too. The two are like chalk and cheese. Summers is a journalist and former television producer, who worked on Granada TV’s World In Action (which, in its day, was highly respected) and he approaches the subject of Kennedy’s murder methodically and with a marked lack of drama. He states that his aim was not to reach a conclusion as to who was responsible for bumping of JFK or to ‘solve’ the case, but to marshal as much as possible of what we know so far. And he manages to marshal a great deal.

Oliver Stone had a completely different agenda and one which is true to what seems to me to be something of a champagne socialist outlook. I can’t deny that he can make very entertaining films, but the thesis of his film strikes me as being 24-carat bollocks and then some. Sorry, Oliver, but it does. (There is also the rather irritating fact that JFK was made in Hollywood, whose producers are not known for their interest in history and the truth, rather bums on seats and the cash to be made from getting those bums onto the seats.) According to Stone at the core of the conspirators was America’s military industrial complex who were rather alarmed by Kennedy’s intention to pull out of Vietnam. Stone postulates that the heads of the FBI, the CIA and the US armed forces were involved and that the ‘conspiracy’ went to the highest level with Kennedy’s deputy and successor Lyndon Johnson being in it up to his neck.

Naturally, I have no way of knowing what really happened more than anyone else, but Stone’s thesis does strike me as just so much steaming cack. He doesn’t help his case by inventing characters and scenes, including a ludicrous gay orgy involving two of the central villians on the ground. Some pretentious git might, at this point and in Stone’s defence, begin to talk about ‘dramatic truth’, but I’m not buying that either. In fact, the more I think about the film, the less it hangs together. If the security establishment really wanted to ensure Kennedy was bumped off, would they really have left organising it to two wacky gays, one of whom used to walk around in an orange wig and false eyebrows? There is also a welter of 'fact' - the rather neat and clean looking hobos who were rounded up, but who then disappeared who Stone would have us believe are CIA agents.

Although Summers doesn’t reach a conclusion — I repeat that he is at pains simply to present what we know and to allow the reader to reach his or her own conclusion — what emerges from his account of the assassination is that Kennedy was probably bumped off in a conspiracy between anti-Castro exiles and Mafia who were aided and abetted to a certain extent by rogue elements in the FBI, the CIA, the intelligence services of the armed forces and the Dallas police department. The central character, Lee Harvey Oswald, was almost certainly — as he realised within hours of the assassination and announced to the world before he, too, was murdered — a patsy set up to take the wrap.

. . .

I’m not claiming, never would claim, that I, too, could never be hoodwinked, but everything about Summers book rings true. Despite the often outlandish incidents he relates and his often bizarre protagonists, the tone of his book is utterly unsensational. I mention that the possibility that Summers’ book might be just another in a long line of flawed accounts of an enduring mystery because by chance when I had just started reading the book, I received an email in response to one I had sent warning me off Summers in no uncertain terms. Summers, the email’s writer suggested, was all ‘this might have happened’, and then, within a few pages putting forward his postulations as accepted fact.

Well, I am familiar with that technique, and very effective it is, too. Eric von Daniken (the author of Was God A Gooner?) and a certain Graham Hancock (who writes pseudo-intellectual volumes suggesting that the Bible is full of encoded references to next year’s Premier League results written four thousand years ago!) and many others put it to use with great effect. (‘As I showed several pages ago, when the angels arrived on Earth, they were wearing Arsenal shirts. Could it be that they made their way straight to the Emirates Stadium, or rather to that part of Europe which 30,000 years later would be chosen as the site of the Emirates Stadium? We can’t say for sure, but ...’ ‘As I demonstrated earlier, the angels who arrived on Earth as the emissaries of God and were wearing the Arsenal strip immediately made their way to what would later become North London. Were they looking for the birthplace of Arsene Wenger? Or if not his birthplace, the place on Earth which would forever be associated with his work on this planet? We can’t say for sure, but ...’). It’s a technique you can also spot a mile off and it is not one Summers employs.

I suppose one problem he does face, which is certainly not his fault, is that a great deal of what his cast of characters do often makes no sense or is contradictory. And in his account
an awful lot of people seemed to have some kind of direct or indirect connection with the security services, which is invariably held against them. Another hurdle he must overcome is to get us, the reader, to accept that, according to his account, there was a great deal of disloyalty verging on treason in the CIA and FBI. And one small problem I had with his book was that an acquaintance with a guilty party most certainly doesn’t imply guilt all round. So we are told that so and so was ‘an associate’ of so and so. Fair enough, but in truth a mere association doesn’t prove anything either way.
But, on balance, Summers more than gets my vote.

. . .

Stone’s work is another kettle of fish entirely. I mentioned the entirely fictional characters he comes up with (‘Willie O’Keeffe’, a gay prostitute, and ‘Bill Bruissard’, an assistant district attorney), but the character who really takes the biscuit is a Mr X. Stone’s film is based on a book by the former New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison in which he recounts how he tried to solve the Kennedy assassination. I haven’t read it, so I don’t know whether Mr X appears in Garrison’s book or is an invention by Stone. That character, who Garrison travels to Washington to meet in a cloak and dagger encounter in a park near the White House, is key to the whole military industrial complex, CIA, FBI and White House ‘conspiracy’.

Stone shows him as a retired army man who once headed a ‘black ops’ department who was not ‘in on the conspiracy’ and was conveniently sent on a mission to Antarctica at the time Kennedy was killed. And Stone has Mr X confirm to Garrison that the bad guys are those in charge. It is all rather to pat and convenient for my taste. And Stone makes no mention whatsoever of the murky Cuban exiles and mafia men (not least Jack Ruby, who murdered Oswald and thus silenced him) for which there is overwhelming evidence that they were heavily involved in all kinds of skullduggery to do with Kennedy’s murder. But look at Stone’s film and it is all apparently an open and shut case. Well, up to a point, Mr Stone.

. . .

Finally, I suppose, there is the question of whether there even was a conspiracy at all and whether Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t actually work entirely alone, as the Warren Commission concluded. Well, all I can say is that once I had seen the short snippet of film shot by Abraham Zapruder (which is available on You Tube), it seemed pretty obvious to me that Kennedy was hit twice. The first bullet came from behind in an area from where Oswald was allegedly shooting, but the second, fatal shot, came from in front of Kennedy (from somewhere on the now notorious grassy knoll).

So whether or not Oswald was one of the assassins, he most certainly wasn’t working alone.

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