Fifty years on, most Americans still feel they have not been told the truth about President Kennedy’s death. Chief Justice Warren, who chaired the first inquiry, said “some things” that “involve security” might not be released in our lifetime. Millions of pages of assassination records were finally made public in the late 1990s. Yet the CIA is withholding more than a thousand documents under “national security”—until 2017.
Why? Why hold these records back if—as we were told half a century ago—Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone assassin? Anthony Summers set out to write a reliable account of the murder mystery that haunts America.Not in Your Lifetime, in this fresh edition, is one of the finest books written on the assassination.
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Not in Your Lifetime
The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination
By Anthony Summers
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Anthony Summers
All rights reserved.
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath ...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
—battle poem by Alan Seeger, quoted by John F. Kennedy
In his office at the White House, President Kennedy looked gloomily across the desk at his press secretary. "I wish I weren't going to Dallas," he said. The secretary replied, "Don't worry about it. It's going to be a great trip."
It was November 20, 1963. The President had received warnings about Dallas from all sides. Senator William Fulbright had told him, "Dallas is a very dangerous place. I wouldn't go there. Don't you go." That morning, Senator Hubert Humphrey and Congressman Hale Boggs had advised him not to go, the congressman saying, "Mr. President, you're going into a hornet's nest."
The President knew he had to go. Dallas, a thousand miles away, had voted overwhelmingly for Richard Nixon in the last presidential election. This time around, the state of Texas as a whole was sure to be tough territory for the Democrats, and Kennedy was determined to take the initiative.
Yet Texas was a menace. Dallas, sweltering in its interminable summer, was dangerously overheated in a different way. It was a mecca for the radical right. Leading lights of the community included a racist former Army general, a mayor who reportedly sympathized with the city's flourishing and furiously right-wing John Birch Society, and a vociferous millionaire obsessed with the Communist menace. Men of their ilk cried "treason" at Kennedy's talk of racial integration, his nuclear test ban treaty, and the possibility of accommodation with the Communist world. It was only a year since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the President was now showered with accusations that he had gone soft on Fidel Castro. Right-wing extremism was the boil on the face of American politics, and Dallas the point where it might burst. But Kennedy had set his mind on going.
On November 21, the President flew south from Washington, DC, to San Antonio, his first stop on the Texas tour. All went well there, and Kennedy made a speech about the space age. "We stand on the edge of a great new era...." He went on to Houston and talked about the space program again. "Where there is no vision, the people perish...." Before the President arrived in Fort Worth, at midnight, he had traveled safely in four motorcades.
November 22 began with a speech in the rain and a political breakfast. Then, back in his hotel room, Kennedy read the newspapers. In the Dallas Morning News, he saw an advertisement placed by "The American Fact-Finding Committee." Headlined "Welcome, Mr. Kennedy, to Dallas," it inquired, "Why do you say we have built a 'wall of freedom' around Cuba when there is no freedom in Cuba today? Because of your policy, thousands of Cubans have been imprisoned ... the entire population of 7,000,000 Cubans are living in slavery...." The advertisement, whose leading sponsors included a local organizer of the John Birch Society and the son of H. L. Hunt, the Dallas oil millionaire, prompted the President to turn to his wife and murmur, "You know, we're heading into nut country today."
Four days earlier, when the President visited Miami, there had apparently been a security flap. A motorcade was reportedly canceled following concern about disaffected Cuban exiles. The Secret Service had information that a right-wing extremist had spoken of a plan to shoot the President "from an office building with a high-powered rifle." Perhaps his personal escort had mentioned it to Kennedy, for now—in Fort Worth—he murmured to an aide, "Last night would have been a hell of a night to assassinate a president.... Anyone perched above the crowd with a rifle could do it." John F. Kennedy even crouched down and mimed how an assassin might take aim.
Just before noon, the President arrived in Dallas. There were welcoming crowds at the airport, and then he was traveling to the city center in an open limousine. As Kennedy passed, one spectator said to her husband, "The President ought to be awarded the Purple Heart just for coming to Dallas."
At 12:29 p.m., the motorcade was amidst cheering crowds, moving slowly through the metal-and-glass canyons of central Dallas.
For a while, there had been no talking in the President's car. Then, with the passing crowd a kaleidoscope of welcome, the wife of the Governor of Texas, Nellie Connally, turned to smile at the President and said, "Mr. Kennedy, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you." The President, sitting behind her and to her right, replied, "That is very obvious." With his wife, Jacqueline, beside him, he continued waving to the people.
Ponderously, at eleven miles an hour, the procession moved onto Elm Street and into an open space. This was Dealey Plaza, a wide expanse of grass stretching away to the left of the cars. To the right of the President towered the Texas School Book Depository, a warehouse, the last high building in this part of the city. Its far end marked the end of the urban ugliness and the end of likely danger to the President during the motorcade. Here there was a grassy slope, topped by an ornamental colonnade. In the lead car, an officer looked ahead at a railway tunnel and said to a colleague, "We've almost got it made." It was twelve seconds past 12:30 p.m.
The several shots rang out in rapid succession. According to a Secret Service agent in the car, the President said, "My God, I'm hit." He lurched in his seat, both hands clawing toward his throat. As Jacqueline Kennedy remembered it just a week later—in an interview partially suppressed at the time:
"You know when he was shot. He had such a wonderful expression on his face.... [Then] he looked puzzled ... he had his hand out, I could see a piece of his skull coming off; it was flesh-colored not white. He was holding out his hand—and I can see this perfectly clean piece detaching itself from his head...."
Directly in front of the President, Governor Connally had heard one shot and was then hit himself. He screamed. For five seconds, the car actually slowed down. Then had come more gunfire. The President had fallen violently backward and to his left, his head exploding in a halo of brain tissue, blood, and bone. To Mrs. Connally, it "was like buckshot falling all over us."
As the car finally gathered speed, Mrs. Kennedy believed she cried:
"I love you, Jack ... I kept saying, 'Jack, Jack, Jack' ... All the ride to the hospital, I kept bending over him saying, 'Jack, Jack, can you hear me? I love you, Jack.' I kept holding the top of his head down trying to keep the ..."
She was unable to finish the sentence.
From the front seat the Governor's wife heard the President's wife exclaim, "Jack ... they've killed my husband." Then: "I have his brains in my hand." This last Mrs. Kennedy repeated time and time again.
Half an hour later, in an emergency room at nearby Parkland Hospital, a doctor told the President's wife what she already knew: "The President is gone." Governor Connally, though seriously wounded, survived.
The dying of President Kennedy was brutally brief. Yet it took some time and care to write this summary of the shooting with integrity. Fifty years on, much has changed about our perception of the Kennedy era. Many no longer see the brothers as innocent martyrs of an idealized time called Camelot. A mass of persuasive information links their names to election tampering, to philandering that may have risked more than their reputations, to compromising contacts with the Mafia, and—by black irony—to assassination plots. A public that once revered the Federal Bureau of Investigation and trusted the Central Intelligence Agency has been made cynical by revelations of sins ranging from incompetence to unconstitutional malfeasance—in the CIA's case, too, a sordid history of murder plots.
With the passing of half a century, much remains unclear about what happened in Dealey Plaza. Few murders in history had such a massive audience or were caught in the act by the camera, yet for millions the case remains unsolved. No assassination has been analyzed and documented so laboriously by public officials and private citizens. Yet the public has remained understandably skeptical.
Skeptical when, after one official probe proclaimed the assassination was the work of a lone gunman, another declared it the result of a conspiracy—"probably." Skeptical after a welter of media coverage and books, when much of the media work has proven inaccurate or biased, and when supposedly authoritative books have been unmasked as inept, or naïve, or cynical propaganda. The 1991 movieJFK, directed by Oliver Stone, misled a whole new generation of filmgoers with a hodgepodge of half-truth and excess masquerading as revelation about conspiracy. A heavily promoted tome called Case Closed, by Gerald Posner, hoodwinked its readers with its packaging of the opposite message—that there could be no real doubt that the assassination had been the uncomplicated act of a lone gunman.
Above all, perhaps, the public attitude to the Kennedy assassination has been tempered by all the scandals, all the exposés that over the years have eroded belief in government. Far from starting with the premise that the authorities tell the truth, a depressingly large number of people now accept as a given that the government constantly lies. If it does not actively lie, many are persuaded, it conceals the truth. Much of the material in this book was pried out of reluctant agencies thanks to the Freedom of Information Act—albeit a law long since seriously emasculated—and to the JFK Records Act, passed into law in 1992 specifically to enforce release of assassination-related records. Yet some records remain unreleased, many under the rubric of "national security," the justification used by Chief Justice Earl Warren to explain why some material would not be released in the lifetime of his audience. Hence the title of this book: Not in Your Lifetime. What sort of national security concerns prevent us seeing all there is to see about the Kennedy assassination, a supposed random act by a lone nut, all these years later? It is a question to ponder while reading this book.
For all of these reasons, thinking people remain uncertain who was behind the killing of President Kennedy. Why the murder was committed, only the arrogant or the opinionated can pretend to know for sure. And weary though we may be after decades of controversy and nitpicking, any serious inquiry has to begin where life ended for John F. Kennedy—the moment the shots were fired in Dealey Plaza.CHAPTER 2
The Evidence Before You
"Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner."
—Sherlock Holmes, in The Sign of the Four
In any fatal shooting inquiry, the primary factors are ballistics and wounds. Human testimony, though often crucial, must be weighed against the picture presented by hard evidence. In the Kennedy assassination, they are the raw material for the answers to key questions. How many gunmen fired how many bullets, and from what position? If gunfire came from more than one vantage point, there obviously must have been more than one assassin. Similarly, if more shots came from one position than could be fired by one gunman in the available time, it follows that accomplices were at work.
Evidence there was in profusion, and much of it was poorly handled in the first investigation. This is what we are left with—leaving aside for the moment the question of assigning guilt for the shooting.
Dealey Plaza provided a field day for the ballistics experts. Soon after the assassination, a policeman found three spent cartridge cases lying near an open window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, the large warehouse to the right rear of President Kennedy's car at the time of the attack. Within an hour, another policeman spotted a bolt-action rifle, the now infamous 6.5-mm Mannlicher-Carcano, stashed behind a pile of boxes and also on the sixth floor.
A number of bullet fragments were recovered—from the wounds suffered by the President and Governor Connally, and in the presidential limousine. One bullet, which looked almost undamaged to the inexpert eye, turned up on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital, where the victims had been treated. Suffice it to say, at this point, that firearms experts have firmly linked the cartridge cases to the rifle; they are sure the whole bullet and the bullet fragments came from the same gun.
Bullet damage was also noticed on the inside of the windshield of the presidential car and on a section of the curb in Dealey Plaza. No other gun or missiles were recovered immediately after the assassination. The catalog of ballistics evidence is at least clear-cut, but the accounting of the wounds is a different matter.
The autopsy on President Kennedy, one of the most important autopsies in twentieth-century history, was seriously flawed. Had it not been, much wearisome doubt could have been avoided.
An hour and a half after the shooting of the President, there was a struggle over his corpse. At the hospital, as the Secret Service team prepared to take the body to Washington, DC, Dr. Earl Rose, the Dallas County Medical Examiner, backed by a Justice of the Peace, barred their way. The doctor said that, under Texas law, the body of a murder victim may not be removed until an autopsy has been performed. Justice of the Peace Theran Ward, declared the President's death, "just another homicide as far as I'm concerned."
Kenneth O'Donnell, special assistant to the dead President, replied, "Go screw yourself." The Secret Service agents put the doctor and the judge up against the wall at gunpoint and swept out of the hospital with the President's body. They were wrong in law, and with hindsight denied their President an efficient autopsy. That evening, at eight o'clock, three doctors at Bethesda Naval Hospital began the examination to determine precisely how the President had died.
Incredibly, according to the expert study commissioned by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the 1970s, the doctors "had insufficient training and experience to evaluate a death from gunshot wounds." Not one of them was a full-time forensic pathologist, an expert in determining the cause of death in criminal cases.
The late Medical Examiner for New York City, Dr. Milton Helpern, said of the President's autopsy, "It's like sending a seven-year-old boy who has taken three lessons on the violin over to the New York Philharmonic and expecting him to perform a Tchaikovsky symphony. He knows how to hold the violin and bow, but he has a long way to go before he can make music."
Cruel words, yet some of the autopsy's shortcomings are glaring even to the layman. Although the President's fatal injuries were to his head, and although the location of such wounds is crucial information, routine procedures were not followed. The doctors failed to shave Kennedy's head to lay bare the skull damage, apparently because the Kennedy family wanted him to look good should the casket be left open. And, although the damaged brain was removed and fixed in formaldehyde, the doctors omitted to section it to track the path of the bullet or bullets. As discussed later, the brain itself later disappeared.
Excerpted from Not in Your Lifetime by Anthony Summers. Copyright © 1998 Anthony Summers. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Ambush,
I. DALLAS: The Open-and-Shut Case,
Chapter 2: The Evidence Before You,
Chapter 3: How Many Shots? Where From?,
Chapter 4: Other Gunmen?,
Chapter 5: Did Oswald Do It?,
Chapter 6: The Other Murder,
Chapter 7: A Sphinx for Texas,
II. OSWALD: Maverick or Puppet?,
Chapter 8: Red Faces,
Chapter 9: Cracks in the Canvas,
Chapter 10: Mischief from Moscow,
Chapter 11: An "Intelligence Matter",
Chapter 12: Oswald and the Baron,
III. CONSPIRACIES: Cuba and the Mob,
Chapter 13: The Company and the Crooks,
Chapter 14: The Mob Loses Patience,
Chapter 15: Six Options for History,
Chapter 16: Viva Fidel?,
Chapter 17: Blind Man's Bluff in New Orleans,
Chapter 18: The Cuban Conundrum,
IV. ENDGAME: Deception and Tragedy,
Chapter 19: Exits and Entrances in Mexico City,
Chapter 20: Facts and Appearances,
Chapter 21: Countdown,
Chapter 22: Casting the First Stone,
Chapter 23: The Good Ole Boy,
Chapter 24: Hints and Deceptions,
Sources and Notes,
About the Author,