A Texan Looks at Nelson: LBJ Mastermind of JFK’s Assassination
It seems like such a natural conclusion. The king is dead, long live the king. If you are studying the Kennedy assassination, and you ask the immortal question cui bono, you might first land on the name Lyndon Johnson. From “MacBird” to A Texan Looks at Lyndon to Ed Tatro in “The Guilty Men” episode in Nigel Turner’s The Men Who Killed Kennedy, many people have analyzed Johnson’s doings and cried foul.
Into this tradition comes Phillip F. Nelson with a sizable work on the subject, wanting to go further than anyone has before. His view of Johnson is comparable to Sherlock Holmes’s description of Professor Moriarty: “He is the Napoleon of crime…He sits motionless like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows very well every quiver of each of them.”[i] Nelson’s thesis is in his title: LBJ Mastermind of JFK’s Assassination.
This particular genre of Kennedy book is admittedly one I find less useful than others. It is possible to see the JFK assassination as a game of Clue, deciding whether you think it is David Morales with the candlestick in the conservatory or J. Edgar Hoover with the lead pipe in the study. To my mind, this tendency often becomes engrossed in the less important details of assassination mechanics and (to my way of thinking) the more important mechanics of how states operate, how that affects us, and how best to combat the forces behind it. But that is my bias, so let the reader be informed. As for Nelson, he makes his intent clear. Noel Twyman, he says, names “…Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover as having been involved in the plot and in the cover-up, though he failed to determine that Lyndon Johnson was the mastermind of the conspiracy. This book merely adds that last element in a case that has already been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” [ii]
Let’s see if Twyman’s ‘failure’ is Nelson’s gain.
The book is divided into 10 chapters that purport to show LBJ’s hand in every aspect of the assassination, from the planning to the execution to the aftermath. It begins, however, by spelling out his basic criteria. Nelson argues that Johnson has motive, means, and opportunity, and that further he was a psychopath who would stop at nothing to achieve power.
The author discusses Johnson’s rise to power, the ins and outs of the all too familiar tale of Box 13, and Johnson’s many distasteful characteristics. These are, by and large, taken from Johnson’s multi volume biographer Robert Caro. In the first chapter alone, at one point there are 26 consecutive footnotes going back to Caro. To this summary he also sprinkles a few quotes from Robert Dallek, but here also begins his penchant for questionable sources. He quotes from Jack Valenti, Victor Lasky, and (of all people) Seymour Hersh, just for starters. Now the problematic aspects of using those particular writers – at least without some qualification – is apparent to most Kennedy scholars. I won’t explain the nuts and bolts here, but instead direct the reader to Jim DiEugenio’s essay “The Posthumous Assassination of John F. Kennedy” for details. But suffice it to say that each of these writers has a rather large axe to grind and a willingness to use any means necessary to grind it.
Now these sources do little harm to the early part of the book because Johnson’s character is well-established. He was a low-class sort of a person, prone to vulgar and over bearing displays of machismo in public, and employing men like Mac Wallace who were murderous criminals. And if you take allthese famous incidents a face value, and then string them in tandem over the years, then hey! Maybe LBJ does seem like the sort of man who, were it within his power, could have had the president killed and not be halted by any moral barriers.
In Chapter 2, Nelson focuses on Kennedy’s relationship with the Joint Chiefs and their disagreements over foreign policy. Or were they disagreements? The author seems confused on this point. On the one hand, he seems to agree that Kennedy wanted peace and Johnson was more accommodating of the CIA and Department of Defense. Nelson describes, for example, how the CIA cut off aid to South Vietnam at a time when he was pondering whether to take this very action. They took the action automatically, following a playbook unknown to Kennedy. “But the larger point was that it was a message the CIA was sending to the president, who was being told who was really in control…it wasn’t John Kennedy.”[iii] He also describes how JFK and the military did not get along. And he then builds to this crucial statement: “Over the course of the next two years, those relationships would continue growing even further apart and become so well established that it could be argued that in the larger scheme, Lyndon B. Johnson had assumed the mantle of commander-in-chief.”[iv]
To say the least, this last bit seems overstated. However, that aside, the peculiar part of Nelson’s analysis is that he seems to buy into the CIA’s version of the Bay of the Pigs. He writes that Kennedy wanted a second set of air strikes but was intimidated into not doing so by Adlai Stevenson. He then goes on to criticize Dean Rusk for agreeing with the president’s refusal to provide air cover during the invasion.[v] (He gets all this, incidentally, from Lasky.) To call this particular version of events simplistic is to be generous; but things only get worse from here.
Further going into the Cuban situation, Nelson blithely quotes Alexander Haig as saying that Robert Kennedy ran the hit teams killing innocents, although “…he took care to keep his own name out of most of the documents…” Haig goes on to say that with respect to the Cuban assault teams, “Bobby was the President!”[vi] (Haig, who is obviously not the most credible witness in this context, gave this interview to Gus ‘Single Bullet Fact’ Russo.) Hiag, or course, was the man who on an installment of Nightline actually said that Lyman Lemnitzer had told President Kennedy outright that the Bay of Pigs would fail without air cover. It was this kind of past-debacle CYA that provoked Kennedy to install a taping system in the White House. And this is how we know precisely what was said during the Missile Crisis. Yet, once again, Haig is all OK with our erstwhile author, who doesn’t stop to mention that maybe the sources for this information are a bit problematic.
But Nelson steams ahead unabated. He now quotes Richard Helms’ aide Nestor Sanchez as saying that “The buck stops with the President on operations like that…All the other conspiracies [about] the agency was running amok, that’s baloney…” He isn’t quoting this to isolate a point of view; he’s using Sanchez as a viable witness. He does the same with the notorious Sam Halpern and even Richard Helms himself. He then writes that “The Kennedys’ campaign to get rid of the Castro ‘problem’ was doomed from the start…”[vii] Just so there is no question, he elaborates: “Documents prove…Bobby Kennedy had authorized the plots…”[viii] In fact the CIA Inspector General report on the Castro plots actually says the opposite: that the Agency could not use presidential approval as a fig leaf for what they had done. So where does Nelson get this contrary view? One will not be surprised to learn that Nelson also got this from Russo i.e.from his asinine book Live by the Sword. Readers can take a look for themselves, but be aware that Russo believes in the “jet-effect theory,”[ix] (i.e., the desperate attempt to show that Kennedy’s violent rearward motion could have happened from a rear shot), claims that Lee Harvey Oswald left fingerprints all over the alleged sniper’s nest (!!!), and argues that the backyard photograph (with its obvious chin splice) is genuine.[x] You get the idea.
The pièce de résistance of this line of argument comes with Nelson’s assertion that Kennedy was aware of the assassination plots against Castro, but the CIA kept the Joint Chiefs in the dark.[xi]
Let the reader judge, but let me say that I find this a tad implausible.
Just for the record, please note the following list of people who testified to the Church Committee that Kennedy had never been informed of any assassination plots against Castro:
- Dean Rusk
- Maxwell Taylor
- John McCone
- McGeorge Bundy
- Richard Helms
- Bill Harvey[xii]
To put it mildly, these are not perceived as friends of JFK.
David Talbot put it like this:
In the ideological war to define the Kennedy administration, which broke out soon after the president was laid to rest in Arlington and continues to this day, national security officials insisted that the Kennedy brothers were ‘out of control’ on Cuba, pushing them to take absurd measures against Castro like the Mongoose folly. This would become the standard version of the Kennedys’ Cuba policy in countless books, TV news shows, and documentaries – it was rash, obsessive, treacherous, even murderous. But this is not an accurate picture of the Kennedy policy.[xiii]
Bill Harvey went so far as to say that he would have been the last person that JFK would have ever put in charge of a Castro assassination venture, even if he had desired it.[xiv]
HERE WE GO AGAIN
Enough about Cuba. Let’s get to the sex!
Nelson reports blandly the same things that the CIA friendly Sy Hersh wrote in his long since discredited hatchet job The Dark Side of Camelot. For example, JFK tried to get Judith Exner in a three-way, then impregnated her, then told her to go see Sam Giancana for assistance in getting an abortion![xv] I grant this would make for a very exciting telenovela on Galavisión, but is dubious at best and has zero to do with Lyndon Johnson. (Remember him?) Surprisingly, the author doesn’t seem to notice this: the fact that he is losing his focus. Instead he actually acknowledges that the reader may well be more interested in more prurient detail, but he or she should seek other books for this. The first one to read, he sagely recommends, is another CIA attached journalist: Ronald Kessler’s Sins of the Father.[xvi] Incredible.
It does point out the long-term damage books like these can do, however. My own local public library around the corner has perhaps a half-dozen books on JFK, and one of them is The Dark Side of Camelot. The name ‘Seymour Hersh’ is stronger than the book’s own infamy, which partly consisted of the investigative reporter being snookered into buying fake documents.[xvii]
In any event, please accept my apologies. We were talking about sex. Nelson actually writes the following sentence, unawares of the ironic humor: “In the interest of brevity, we will consider further only JFK’s relationships with Marilyn Monroe, Mary Pinchot Meyer, Judith Exner, and Ellen Rometch…”[xviii] In the interests of brevity! Nelson then goes on to discuss these stories with no discernment at all, using as his sources material not just from Nina Burleigh and Deborah Davis, but also Hersh, Donald Wolfe, etc., without any analysis or elaboration on how credible the information is that he’s using. From the likes of Wolfe, he gets the observation that “…Hoover had warned Jack about exposing his affairs with Judith Campbell [Exner] and Marilyn Monroe, so he had resigned himself to give up both, no doubt because there were so many others to replace them.”[xix] If you can believe it, Nelson asserts that Wolfe “made a compelling case” of RFK’s involvement in Monroe’s death, and brings up rumors that JFK and Mary Meyer used drugs together. There are several astonishing claims made in the text, but here is one of my favorites: “It may be just a coincidence that, concurrently with his affair with Mary Pinchot Meyer and their rumored use of drugs together, Kennedy had become less tolerant of the CIA’s intelligence breakdowns and the Pentagon’s aggressive provocation for military actions, especially in Vietnam.”[xx]
OK, let’s think about this. Which of these conclusions is more likely?
- JFK grew apart from his military advisors because of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, where they revealed themselves to be prepared to destroy the entire planet in defense of American interests.
- JFK grew apart from his military advisors because he was toking it up with a girlfriend.
I am going to go with option 1 myself, particularly since we have no evidence (2) ever happened.
There is a larger point here, which I raise again: What does this have to do with the book? We were talking about Lyndon Johnson, right?
And so we are. Sometimes. Phillip Nelson’s book is truly a rambling one, taking 700 pages to express a claim that he could have made in 200 pages. If you delete material which consists of summaries of other people’s books, you might have as little as 20 pages of original material. And these 20 pages largely consist of his analysis of the Altgens photograph. We’ll get to that later.
Having dealt with Caro’s stories about LBJ and cheapjack authors’ versions of Kennedy’s involvement in Cuba and women, the middle section of the book turns its attention to the scandals that clung to the Vice-President. Most of these are familiar to anyone who has studied Johnson. They involve Bobby Baker, Mac Wallace, and the various people Johnson is alleged to have murdered, including his sister. Much of this appeared in The Men Who Killed Kennedy, although Nelson gets most of the juicy bits from Barr McLellan and the hoary volume by J. Evetts Haley A Texan Looks at Lyndon.[xxi]
Any book that posits Johnson’s involvement in the assassination is going to use this material, and whether you buy this or not depends a great deal on testimony from people who may not be the most reliable witnesses. Nelson has little to add here, and if you are familiar with the McLellan book nothing here will be news. At least LBJ’s scandals have the virtue of being on-topic.
THE MEAT OF THE ARGUMENT
The last third of the book starts to deliver on some of Nelson’s conclusions. To this point, the main ideas of the book (that is, the ones that relate to LBJ) could be summarized as follows:
- LBJ was a scoundrel, hungry for power, and possibly psychopathic.
- LBJ got along better with the Department of Defense than JFK did. (Although Nelson does, curiously, quote Howard Burris from John Newman’s book JFK and Vietnam, saying that he didn’t believe Johnson had a “very deep” understanding of political issues.) Which is odd for a “mastermind.”[xxii]
- LBJ had very possibly committed several murders, or at least ordered them done, had stolen elections, and had generally shown little regard for the law.
Having tried to show all these things, the author now has to demonstrate Johnson’s mastery. And one must give Nelson his due in this regard – he doesn’t mess around. He doesn’t lack for boldness. He has Johnson planning the entire assassination, and ordering people around who were not used to taking orders.
The ‘Johnson plan’ would be based upon the concept that the operational and tactical plans would be carefully kept away from the highest level planners; Johnson and Angleton, possibly Hoover and LeMay as well, consistent with the precepts of ‘plausible deniability’ and interagency secrecy protocols would protect others throughout the ‘hierarchical’ chain.[xxiii]
Not only does he plan the assassination, he controls the Secret Service, [xxiv] putting in orders for the Secret Service to compromise themselves. Nelson has no evidence for this, but it is, in his view, a “reasoned conjecture.”[xxv] We are assured that “Johnson’s hand would be kept invisible through his having three levels of staff separating him from motorcade planning.”[xxvi]
As noted, Johnson is the boss, resulting in some dubious statements. One mid-chapter heading reads:
J. Edgar Hoover: Johnson’s Willing Lieutenant[xxvii]
I had to put the book down for a moment upon reading that. Hoover was not anyone’s willing lieutenant, and the idea that he would have kowtowed to the big Texan – well, I suppose it’s not impossible, but it is awfully hard to imagine. Similar to his saying that Johnson would “…undoubtedly recruit…General Curtis LeMay, who shared many of Johnson’s attitudes, especially about the president, whom he regarded as an indecisive coward and avowed socialist.”[xxviii] Johnson recruited LeMay into the operation? Just so there is no confusion: “Just as Vice President Johnson had been feeding secrets to his friends in the CIA (as noted in chapters 2 and 3), it is a reasonable presumption that he was doing the same with his friends in the Pentagon, probably including General LeMay, who was cut from the same, practically identical, bellicose cloth as Johnson.”[xxix]
This last remark simply isn’t true. Even in pro-LeMay biographies, one gets the clear sense that LeMay counseled Lyndon Johnson in full commitment, an immense bombing campaign into North Vietnam, which he declined to do. Johnson only kept him on board for a year, listening to LeMay complain the whole time that air strikes were not timely or powerful enough for his liking.[xxx]
Much of the rest of Nelson’s arguments rely upon his specific interpretation of specific events. For example, John Connally was “insistent upon the selection of the Trade Mart,”; but instead of throwing suspicion upon Connally directly, Nelson writes that “…it suggests the unseen hand of his mentor, Lyndon Johnson.”[xxxi]
Nelson tells the story of how Johnson got into an argument about wanting Connally rather than Ralph Yarbrough to sit next to him during the assassination. JFK told Johnson that seating arrangements would not be changed and the latter became very upset. To Nelson, this is sinister; his foreknowledge intact, Johnson is trying to keep his buddy Connally out of harm’s way. However, Nelson also does note that Johnson hated Yarbrough, so he has another reason to not want to sit next to him. So, one assumes, LBJ would have been upset even if he was not the criminal mastermind behind the operation. [xxxii] That is to say, if you already believe in Nelson’s thesis, this becomes further corroborative evidence.
The author also provides the solution to why Lyndon Johnson began crying hysterically on Air Force One shortly after the assassination, as appeared recently in Steven Gillon’s book. We must consider the “…likelihood that it was a result of his finally finding enough privacy to allow himself a moment to physically release the built-up tension that he had suppressed for hours – actually days, and weeks of intense anticipation – as he planned the critical action that would save his career: the murder of JFK.”[xxxiii]
A story that Nelson does not use in his book occurs on board Air Force One, when new President Johnson tells Bill Moyers, “I wonder if the missiles are flying.” That is, Johnson was aware that certain factions within the national security state were interested in a war with the Soviets, and he thought they might use this excuse to get it. James K. Galbraith, the son of Kennedy advisor John Kenneth Galbraith, felt that Johnson understood that Kennedy and McNamara had been holding them off from blowing up the world, and that LBJ himself thought of the assassination as a potential coup.[xxxiv] However, this story obviously does not fit the program.
Since so much of the argument for this book depends upon the author’s interpretation of various events, it is fair to ask whether we have what literature professors call “an unreliable narrator.” We have already seen, curiously, that he accepts material about the Kennedys promulgated by their ideological enemies. He also seems to buy into a rather facile description of Lee Harvey Oswald.
The author blames Oswald’s “…fatherless childhood and his early life with a cold and distant mother…” for his willingness to be used. He quotes his brother Robert about the show ‘I Led Three Lives’ and how much young Oswald loved Ian Fleming novels. “It is ironic,” Nelson writes, “that Oswald shared one thing in common with Lyndon Johnson…a determined obsession with fulfilling the fantasies which he dreamt about as a child.”[xxxv]
“Oswald thought that, finally, he would achieve his ultimate lifetime goal: becoming a full-time well-paid spy just like his hero from I Led Three Lives.”[xxxvi] In this day and age, in light of the work of writers like John Newman and John Armstrong, how can any serious author still write the above? Nelson’s analysis of Oswald is so fatuous it could have come from someone like Norman Mailer. As most everyone knows who studies the Kennedy assassination for any length of time, a mass of contradictions surrounds Lee Harvey Oswald. He was allegedly a Marxist, but his best friend was George de Morenschildt, a much older man, in a higher social class, who was a White Russian. He managed to travel unperturbed from the U.S. to the Soviet Union and back, despite being ostensibly a marine, and also brought his Soviet wife back with him, although she had belonged to a Communist youth organization.[xxxvii]
But that’s not all. Nelson has this to say about Officer J. D. Tippit: “It remains unclear whether the murder of Tippit had anything to at all to do with Kennedy’s assassination: A more likely scenario was that it was simply retribution by the husband of the woman Tippit was known to have been sleeping with.”[xxxviii] Nelson writes this even though it has been discovered that someone left Oswald’s wallet at the scene of the crime.
Curiouser and curiouser.
It should also be specifically noted that Nelson supports, for the most part, the scenario presented in David Lifton’s Best Evidence. Whether or not this counts in his favor or not will depend on the reader’s allegiances. But let us observe that adopting Lifton’s premises means a whole other set of problems.
He is wise enough not to assert, as Lifton did in his book, that all of the shots came from the front. This is untenable given the works of people like Don Thomas, for example, who in his recent book finds five shots, with four emanating from behind.[xxxix] Robert Groden, another serious analyst, has four shots, with three coming from the rear.[xl] These conclusions emerge from serious examination of the available forensic evidence.
However, Nelson claims that there was evidence of body alteration, rather than photographic alteration. The author does try to make a case for it, and again he has Johnson as part of it, directing traffic to his swearing-in ceremony, which is mere cover for the snatching of the body. This was done, in accordance with Lifton’s thesis, so that JFK’s body was placed in a body bag.[xli] Even if we assume that it is plausible that persons unknown were able to sneak the body away for a time in order to perform this surgery – at any point in the swearing-in, the flight, or the arrival home – there are still enormous problems with this scenario.
If Lifton is right, then “…the plot to alter the body was integral to the plot to shoot the President – i.e., that it was planned, as part of the murder, to secretly falsify the circumstances of his death.”[xlii] The mind staggers at this prospect. Why would you plan such a bizarre episode as part of your plot? There isn’t an easier way to kill a president? Lifton also writes that “…the plotters could know, once they saw the body, how much ammunition was needed, and so could coordinate the planting of bullets with the fabrication of trajectories.”[xliii]
So all the bullets were planted – but they were also planted in such a way as to fool the FBI: “The central fact was that if President Kennedy’s body was altered, and false ammunition planted, then within twenty-four hours of the murder, the U.S. Department of Justice had been deceived.”[xliv] Deceived? Would this be the same Department of Justice that got a palm print off Oswald’s dead body?
As questionable as one might find aspects of Lifton’s thesis, it gets even worse for Nelson. Because he has to have LBJ coordinating all this! And he dutifully theorizes: Johnson knows the body can be stolen, and he also knows “…that a ‘special’ autopsy would be necessary, one that would obliterate any evidence that Kennedy was shot anywhere but from behind…”[xlv] The chapter in which this appears is entitled ‘A More Plausible Scenario.’ A less plausible scenario can hardly be imagined.
AND, FINALLY, THE ALTGENS PHOTOGRAPH
Nelson spends many pages claiming that Lyndon Johnson cannot be seen in, and is therefore ducking in, the Altgens photograph.[xlvi] He claims that this is smoking-gun evidence that cannot be ignored. It has been sitting in front of all of us this whole time and we’ve missed it. How can LBJ be ducking so early? He must have known what was coming.
Except I can see LBJ in the photograph, as can most others.
Nelson realizes some might argue this. However, people who see Johnson in the photo are lying to themselves.[xlvii]
TOWARD A MORE COHERENT SCENARIO
We know, thanks to Hoover’s famous comment, that someone seemed to be impersonating Lee Harvey Oswald years prior to the Kennedy assassination. And we know that the CIA repeatedly tried to distance itself from Oswald, despite all evidence to the contrary. A couple of good questions in this regard were asked by Gerald McKnight: “Why did the supersensitive SIG have a file on an ex-marine defector? Why did the CIA wait for a year before opening a file on Oswald after learning about his defection?”[xlviii] To this let me add a third question: Is it because Lyndon Johnson said so? And another: Why would the CIA cover for Johnson? In the House Select Committee investigation, Robert Blakey made a pact with the Devil in allowing the CIA to vet the final report pre-publication. Investigator Gaeton Fonzi at first thought Blakely was being too careful, then began to harbor thoughts that Blakey was cooperating with the CIA for other reasons. [xlix] It was the CIA, for example, that classified the Lopez Report. [l] Why would they do this? What interests are they protecting if LBJ and the Del Charro cronies did it?
Did Johnson also arrange the Chicago plot, exposed by Edwin Black in his fine 1975 article in Chicago Reader? If they had killed him in Chicago, Thomas Arthur Vallee would be the “lone nut.” Would we then have theories that Mayor Daley was the mastermind of the Kennedy assassination?
Good questions, all.
If you want to be serious about it, you can make a better case for Allen Dulles being the mastermind of the assassination than Lyndon Johnson. His oil ties, for example, are actually stronger than Johnson’s. The Dulles brothers had worked hard to destroy the antitrust suit filed against Standard Oil of New Jersey all the way back in 1953.[li] Dulles was a key planner in the overthrow of Mossadeq; under the latter’s rule, the Anglo-American Oil Company suffered huge losses. The company was a client of Dulles’s firm, Sullivan & Cromwell.[lii] Nor was Dulles a stranger to Cuba. As Morris Morley proves in his masterly study, Imperial State and Revolution, it was Dulles who pushed Eisenhower into his policy of isolating Castro, and then mounting a covert campaign against him.[liii] Also, Dulles had been involved in the recruitment and first interviews of General Reinhard Gehlen, the Nazi-turned American spy.[liv]
As Jim Douglass points out:
Dulles got Prouty to create a network of subordinate focal point offices in the armed services, then throughout the entire U.S. government…The consequence in the early 1960s, when Kennedy became president, was that the CIA had placed a secret team of its own employees through the entire U.S. government.[lv]
According to Nelson, LBJ was afraid he was going to lose his job and go to prison – but Dulles had already lost his, due to the Bay of Pigs. LBJ was a wildly ambitious man who would do nothing to stop at getting power – but Dulles was head of the CIA, arguably a more powerful position than President. LBJ was a sonofabitch – but so was Dulles. He was a different kind of sonofabitch, sure, but his whole life Dulles had been making decisions that got people killed, and he exhibited nothing more than a dry sense of humor about it. There are some fruitcakes in government; it’s one of the first things you learn when you start doing research into this stuff.
Now all that being said, am I going to write the book Allen Dulles: Mastermind of JFK’s Assassination? Of course not. The operation is bigger than any one man, even people like Dulles or James Angleton. The head of the snake is the snake.
Fidel Castro had a much deeper and insightful analysis of the situation than anything in this book:
I haven’t forgotten that Kennedy centered his electoral campaign against Nixon on the theme of firmness toward Cuba. I have not forgotten the Machiavellian tactics and the equivocation, the attempts at invasion, the pressures, the blackmail, the organization of a counter-revolution, the blockade, and above all, the retaliatory measures which were imposed before, long before there was the pretext and alibi of Communism. But I feel that he inherited a difficult situation; I don’t think a President of the United States is ever really free, and I believe Kennedy is at present feeling the impact of this lack of freedom, I also believe that he now understands the extent to which he has been misled, especially, for example, on Cuban reaction at the time of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion.[lvi]
To say the least, Lyndon Johnson was an unappealing personality. It would not necessarily be surprising, in the abstract, if he had foreknowledge or tacitly approved of the assassination. He might even have been directly involved, although one can argue that. I do not think, however, that at this date, given the documentary evidence, an explanation which ignores the larger political forces of the national security state can be taken seriously.
It is less important, ultimately in my view, to understand how he was killed than why he was killed. This is not addressed when one says ‘LBJ did it for power,’ or ‘Allen Dulles did it for revenge.’ Again I quote Douglass:
Those who designed the plot to kill Kennedy were familiar with the inner sanctum of our national security state…The assassins’ purpose seems to have encompassed not only killing a president determined to make peace with the enemy but also using his murder as the impetus for a possible nuclear first strike against that same enemy.[lvii]
JFK’s fateful decision was to go against the same system that profited his family and assisted his rise to power, and to lead with his conscience. That decision literally killed him. Our whole form of government, and indeed our entire consumer society, depends entirely on suppressing our consciences and destroying our empathy. Our economic and political system is devoid of it – for good reason. If we allowed ourselves to feel empathy for all the people in the world who suffer on our behalf, the system could not be maintained.
This is why there is a constant and pervasive stream of anti-Kennedy books, shows, and films, and why that fervor slides into seemingly irrelevant places likes Nelson’s current book. The major media is desperate to tear down the Kennedy legacy – to make him a criminal, a cad, or a dope fiend. “He was like all the others,” the Victor Laskys of the world will tell us. And Philip Nelson then echoes it.
He might have been when he came in. But he clearly changed.
This is the key point. The essence of the Kennedy assassination is the state destroying conscientious leadership like white blood cells killing a virus; understanding this fact changes the assassination from a puzzle to be solved to a cause to be championed. Anything less is an insult to both history and JFK. And therefore a disservice to ourselves.
[i] Doyle, Arthur Conan, “The Final Problem,” The Complete Sherlock Holmes Vol. 1 (Barnes & Noble Classics: NY 2003), 559.
[ii] Nelson, Phillip F., LBJ The Mastermind of JFK’s Assassination (Xlibris Corporation: 2010), 138.
[iii] Nelson, 571.
[iv] Nelson, 151.
[v] Nelson, 148-149.
[vi] Nelson, 156-157.
[vii] Nelson, 171-172.
[viii] Nelson, 217.
[ix] Russo, Gus, Live By the Sword (Bancroft Press: 1998), 298.
[x] Russo, 444.
[xi] Nelson, 147.
[xii] DiEugenio, James, and Lisa Pease, The Assassinations (Feral House:Los Angeles CA 2003), 328
[xiii] Talbot, 100.
[xiv] Talbot, 111.
[xv] Nelson, 197.
[xvi] Nelson, 203.
[xvii] There is a quick summary of these events in Thomas Powers’ contemporaneous review of the book in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/11/30/reviews/971130.30powerst.html.
[xviii] Nelson, 191.
[xix] Nelson, 195.
[xx] Nelson, 193.
[xxi] I did find it curious that the book never once mentions Ed Tatro, who is well-known for his research on Johnson.
[xxii] Nelson, 131.
[xxiii] Nelson, 379.
[xxiv] Nelson, 360.
[xxv] Nelson, 425.
[xxvi] Nelson, 426.
[xxvii] Nelson, 346.
[xxviii] Nelson, 125-126.
[xxix] Nelson, 369.
[xxx] Cronley, Major T. J., “Curtis LeMay: The Enduring ‘Big Bomber Man,’ (United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College Center, Quantico VA 1986).
[xxxi] Nelson, 355.
[xxxii] Nelson, 422.
[xxxiii] Nelson, 448.
[xxxiv] Talbot, David, Brothers (Free Press: NY 2007), 252.
[xxxv] Nelson, 385.
[xxxvi] Nelson, 493.
[xxxvii] Parenti, Michael, Dirty Truths (City Lights Books: San Francisco CA 1996), 163-164.
[xxxviii] Nelson, 529.
[xxxix] Thomas, Don, Hear No Evil (Mary Ferrell Foundation Press: Ipswich MA 2010), 604.
[xl] Groden, Robert and Harrison Livingstone, High Treason (The Conservatory Press: Baltimore MD 1989), 224. Actually, Groden seems likely to revise his thesis in his upcoming book, since he has since found at least one other shot on the Zapruder film itself.
[xli] Lifton, David, Best Evidence (Macmillan: New York 1980), 680.
[xlii] Lifton, 346.
[xliii] Lifton, 359.
[xliv] Lifton, 362.
[xlv] Nelson, 546.
[xlvi] Nelson, 501.
[xlvii] Nelson, 507.
[xlviii] McKnight, Gerald, Breach of Trust (University Press of Kansas 2005), 308.
[xlix] Fonzi, Gaeton, The Last Investigation (Thunder’s Mouth Press: NY 1993), 257.
[l] Fonzi, 267.
[li] Lisagor, Nancy, and Frank Lipsius, A Law Unto Itself (William Morrow and Company: New York 1988), 203-204.
[lii] Lisagor and Lipsius, 210.
[liii] Morley, 95
[liv] Mosley, Leonard, Dulles (The Dial Press/James Wade: NY 1978), 477-478.
[lv] Douglass, Jim, JFK and the Unspeakable (Orbis Books: NY 2008), 86.
[lvi] Douglass, Jim, 197.
[lvii] Douglass, 242.