How, then, make sense of a 1600 page book with a library's worth of references on a CD? Break it down into synopses of the two parts of the book. The first part summarizes what happened. The opening chapter is called "Four Days in November." There is a book by that name, as well as a video, and much of that chronology is from that book and from William Manchester's The Death of a President. Mr Bugliosi follows much more closely the movements of Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby, and he places an armed Jack Ruby in proximity to Lee Oswald on Friday evening. You'd think a mob hitman would have seized the opportunity then. But Mr Bugliosi finds a member of the Outfit who tells the FBI "No matter how much you investigate, you'll never learn nothing, because he had nothing to do with nothing." (Page 1108. That's the same Chicagoese as the Machine's "We don't want nobody nobody sent.") If there is a mystery in the chronology, it is what happened to the President's brain. It may have been reburied in 1967 (when Arlington Cemetery completed the permanent gravesite) on Attorney General Robert Kennedy's orders, meaning, as Mr Bugliosi (p. 434) describes it, he's taking "someone else's secret" to his grave. Apart from that, it's as the Warren Report put it, and it's a series of small decisions that look like a conspiracy, but with the unlikeliest of conspirators.
The second part of the book is dealing with most of the popular conspiracies. It's impossible to debunk all possible conspiracy hypotheses, because a sufficiently fertile (fevered??) imagination can permute and combine people who were or were not in Dallas ad infinitum. Any conspiracy explanation must, however, distort some pretty simple logic. All forensic evidence points to a twenty-buck mail order rifle as the murder weapon. All evidence points to Lee Oswald as the purchaser of that rifle and as in possession of that rifle on November 22, 1963. Thus, no second shooter. All the evidence of Lee Oswald's life and character precludes his employment by U.S. or Soviet intelligence or by anti-Castro Cubans, or by the Outfit. Much of that part of the book is heavy going, and Mr Bugliosi understandably has announced his retirement from further research and writing about the Kennedy assassination.
The second part devotes what might be excessively much space to debunking the phoney hypotheses of Oliver Stone's movie, JFK. That part, however, might be an act of public service to the young, one of whom Mr Bugliosi quotes as accepting the conspiracy argument because "somebody made a movie about it." Roger Rabbit. (And over the weekend, I had the second and third Godfathers running as background for housecleaning. In the second, a button man shoots a mobster who crossed Don Michael during an impromptu press conference in an airport. The arrangement of cops, press, mobster, and hit man mirror those in the Dallas jail on November 24. In the third, a cardinal in the pay of Don Michael serves the Pope a cup of poisoned tea and is shortly thereafter shot at a distance by a hit man. Perhaps people who get their public affairs from movies could benefit from a debunking.)
What's less laudable is Mr Bugliosi's willingness to cut Oliver Stone some slack because the two men share some of the same views on the great issues of the day. This is an error that Richard Dawkins correctly characterizes as "undeserved respect." Save the mutual admiration on matters other than bad movies for some other book. So, too, let it be, with the lamentations over Camelot. Mr Bugliosi quotes (p. 1507) Washington journalist Helen Thomas, "You never had the sense again that we were moving forward, that we could do things." There's that fatal conceit again about Presidential Power, the same hubris that impels Senator Clinton to aspire to "run" the government and "manage" the economy (the Constitution checks the first impulse, complexity (in the mathematical sense) precludes the second) and the naivete in Caroline Kennedy's endorsement of Senator Barack Obama.
"Over the years, I've been deeply moved by the people who've told me they wish they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president," Caroline Kennedy told a cheering throng of students at American University. "This longing is even more profound today. Fortunately, there is one candidate who offers that same sense of hope and inspiration, and I am proud to endorse Senator Barack Obama for president."The article from which I took that quote presents a somewhat more balanced view of her father's presidency. Suppose, as Mr Bugliosi speculates, Lee Oswald had reconciled with his wife Marina on November 21 and left the rifle at the Paines'? Suppose also that President Kennedy hadn't escalated the Vietnam War, and upon re-election, ended it. He'd still be dealing with a civil rights community, possibly angrier at the slower pace of civil rights legislation compared to the commemorative spirit with which his successor got it passed, and had he been re-elected it would be he, not Lyndon Johnson, facing the challenges to the legitimacy of "the system" that were forming in the academy and among other oppressed populations seeking to draw parallels between their experience and the black experience, and "tune in, turn on, drop out" would have happened on his watch.
Now take that "hope and inspiration." Some of the very people who sought that in an activist President dismissed it in President Reagan as "cheerleading." Senator Obama has now characterized President Reagan as "transformative". President Reagan had some simple goals. Cut taxes. Deregulate. Call an evil empire evil. Which of these ideas, Senator Obama, is a bad idea? The conspiracy that will outlast silly stories about alliances between the KGB and the Outfit or the CIA and Cuban exiles is the conspiracy to preserve the legend of Camelot.
Cross-posted at the Fifty Book Challenge.