Not In Your Lifetime: The Assassination of JFK by Anthony Summers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When it comes to believing in conspiracy theories, the Kennedy Assassination is the respectable conspiracy. The one it is ok to believe was a conspiracy without people immediately having an image of you sat at your computer in a tin-foil hat when you tell them. Some ‘conspiracies’ (9/11, Moon landings, etc) ARE only believed by tin-foil hat with a propellor on top-wearing nincompoops blind and deaf idiots…but that John F. Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy, is beyond question. The only question is ‘by whom?’ Forget Oswald. It is first unlikely he was at the window with a gun, if he was, he certainly wasn’t the ‘lone gunman’ of the Warren Commission’s whitewash, though he was probably not actually aware he had had an accomplice – you’re not gonna keep a ‘patsy’ in the loop, now are you?
One has to face one of the few undisputed facts in the whole JFK assassination case – it wasn’t suicide. I mean, the fact is that we will never find out what really happened that day, the 22nd November, 1963. About the only other fact on which most people interested in the case can agree, is that he died in the car in Dealy Plaza, or on the way to the hospital (he didn’t die at the hospital, as is sometimes claimed, as half his skull was blown out by the shots in the square, you try it). ’Shots’ yeah, but how many? From where? By whom? Anything other than he was killed in Dallas, 22 November 1963, is disputed. And often.
Think about it: If someone came tomorrow and said “I did it and this is how I did it and why,” no one would believe them. Or, for everyone who did, there’d be ten who could ‘prove’ – most likely in print – why it couldn’t have been so. There is film of the shooting, of bullets hitting Kennedy. That is disputed. Not that it doesn’t show Kennedy being hit by bullets, but for everyone who says it shows Kennedy being hit with bullets from (at least) two different directions, there are an equal number who say it does not. There is an (audio only) recording of the whole incident. Yet for every ‘expert’ who says you can hear four shots (the minimum number to be agreed upon for there to have been a conspiracy), there are an equal number of experts who say you can hear no such thing. The people in the square, on the day, who swore blind that they heard shots coming from the direction of the grassy knoll, heard no such thing say experts (usually experts who weren’t there at the time, or have run tests subsequently – which obviously cannot replicate the conditions of the time). The people in the square on the day who heard and saw smoke from shots from the grassy knoll and ran there to investigate, were wrong or fooled, by mass hysteria I have even read. And ’The Umbrella Man’…don’t even go there. There are people who saw two figures just prior to the shooting up near the offending window of the Texas School Book Depository, where Lee Harvy Oswald worked. Unfortunately, not at the window where the boxes piled and three bullet casings were found. There were people who ’saw’ Oswald there, when there are also people who saw him several floors below in the canteen at the same time. The parade was delayed in arriving at the plaza. Something an assassin would not have known, so would have had to have been in place at or before the originally predicted time. Yet there are people who saw Oswald at that time, just before it or just after. In a condition which would not have suggested he just fired three shots (or was on his way to fire them) and dashed away and down stairs to be in the canteen having a drink. And, three shots? Why? Because three bullet casings were found? Yes…but…the casings were found in a neat little arrangement, not gathered up as an assassin not wanting to be caught might have been reasonablyexpected to have done. And only three. No other bullets or ammunition if you like, for the gun were found. Ever. Not at the site or at Oswald’s property. The cases they found didn’t have his fingerprints on them, which might be considered unusual when loading a bolt-action gun. Which it is highly unlikely could have been fired three times in the timeframe with the accuracy credited to it. It IS possible, but not by Oswald, at that time. His palm print was ‘found’ on the gun stock. Much later. After it had been reported there wasn’t a print and in a position which wouldn’t suggest it was a print from someone who held the gun in a manner by it could be fired. He took three bullets, fired three bullets and hit the President three times…nope, maybe twice. Something somewhere up in that old attic I call a brain there, also tells me something like I’ve even seen a theory that the real target that day, wasn’t Kennedy, but Connally. I won’t go on.
‘Not In Your Lifetime’ was, as I suspected on reading, a book I read previously (1980) as ‘Conspiracy.’ It is – he says at the start – significantly updated and rewritten. Almost a new book. Up-dated with (his) new ‘evidence’ (interviews and document combing) and a change the title. It is now a quote from Chief Justice Earl Warren, when asked if all the Commission’s investigation’s evidence would ever be made public, who said “Yes, there will come a time. But it might not be in your lifetime. I am not referring to anything especially, but there may be some things that would involve security. This would be preserved but not made public.” That would suggest first there is more evidence still to come out. Summers makes much of this, but not in an overt way. He doesn’t want it to appear that his book isn’t complete, after all. More in a way to suggest that his research has led him to find what is most likely the evidence still to come out. Though he – naturally – hedges his bets on this front. It is unlikely there is still a ’smoking gun’ to come, it’s more likely, you ask me, to be information which would show what a right Royal lash-up the USA Secret (and non-secret) Services made of the whole sorry mess, before and after. That despite Oswald being under such close, documented security, by any number of agencies, he – and his undoubted accomplices – managed to sneak, undetected, past, fooling them all? Unless THAT is why they want to cover their asses? It’s more likely kept hidden (if not already ‘accidentally’ destroyed) for those reasons. Even now. Most of the principle figures are dead and the world has turned, but being shown up to be idiotic, inefficient blundering fools can still hurt reputations.
Summers does organise a huge amount of evidence and conjecture superbly well into a very easily understandable story/timeline. The main area of interest in NIYL, is the section dealing with the day itself. Something the other ‘definitive’ book I’ve read recently, A Farewell To Justice, has very little to say about. To be fair, Joan Mellen’s aims are elsewhere, concerned with the CIA and FBI involvement, along with Ferrie, Shaw and Oswald’s links to both the afore-mentioned and each other. I did think, given the near perfection of the Mellen book it was more than a little churlish of Summers to almost dismiss her efforts – I’d put money on that he had her in mind when he wrote, “It is hugely improbable that any US agency – or top leadership of an agency- had any part in the assassination.” Something, from my reading of her book any way, Mellen proved without a shadow of a doubt. Though, the ‘or’ could be important in the quote above. I also think he makes a mistake when, early on, he points out that “What the polls have consistently shown is that millions do not believe what the official inquiry that followed the assassination, the Warren Commission, told them happened…74 percent of those Americans polled in a January 2013 study believed…that there had been a conspiracy… 74 percent of respondents, according to the same poll, believed that there had been “an official cover-up to keep the public from learning the truth about the assassination” The vast majority, 77 percent, thought the full truth would never be known.” Oh really, Mike Brearley? And the public are all experts with expert knowledge of the case? Nope. Basing a premise on that the great American unwashed think it must be so, isn’t a good way to go. Maybe that the next question the same group were asked, “Did God create the world an all of us inside seven days?” which got a higher poll reading, got edited out. That’s from me, for the cheap Mellen shot.
However, while dismissing CIA links (as above), we get “…renegade anti-Castro forces within the CIA or used by it, sought to assassinate President Kennedy and by manipulation of Oswald, and through true or false facts that could be pinned on him, lay the blame on Castro. That done, they would have surmised, the United States would be almost bound to retaliate by invading and toppling the Cuban communist regime.” And he gets closer to one of the most shocking areas of the Joan Mellen book, in that Robert Kennedy didn’t actually want the murder investigated. The Warren Commission was to squash the whole investigation. Summers uses a quote from Gore Vidal, saying “Castro had told her (Lisa Howard) of the efforts by the CIA against him, and it upset her to think that the Kennedy’s had been talking peace while they were also out to do him in. I think all this is why Bobby never really wanted Jack’s assassination investigated. Because they more they dug up, the more quickly they would ask whether Castro had done it to forestall the Kennedy’s. And the Kennedy’s would come to be regarded as American Borgias.” The Warren Commission wasn’t set up to investigate, but to bury. As Mellen suggests.
And…not one mention of the main pivot of the Garrison investigation (still the only court charge brought concerning the assassination), Clay Shaw/Bertrand. The whole Garrison aspect should have been given more space here, I felt.
Anyway, why do people think there was a conspiracy – and therefore not a lone, motiveless gunman and, therefore, we were lied to and, therefore, there was a cover-up? Poll people today, 2014, NSA, Snowden, et al behind them and of course you’ll get an answer in the affirmative. Back then, pre-computers, pre-Internet, pre-hacking, was surely different? However, it was seen as suspicious even then, as the book says; “…because President John F. Kennedy was killed during the Cold War, at a time when nuclear war seemed a real and constant threat; and in part too, because November 1963 signalled an end to the cozy security of the previous decade, the waning of public trust in authority.” The Warren Report was set up with the aim of putting a lid on the conspiracy theories and was supposed to sweep them aside in finding that one man, Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, murdered President Kennedy. But, while on Snowden, Summers mentions the release of documents on the assassination in 1977, noting that the authorities admitted that “’up to 10% of the (Kennedy) file will not be released.'” Then even after the 1992 JFK Records Act there were still some documents withheld, by the FBI amongst other security agencies. Seems clear that their need to avoid scrutiny now, is as valid – for them – as it was then. It makes me wonder why in all the Edward Snowden leaks, nothing has come out about the assassination. I haven’t followed the whole Snowdon business in any way even remotely close to closely, so may have misunderstood what info he had access to and leaked. But still…nothing? It can’t have all been ‘rutinely’ or ‘accidentally’ destroyed, can it?
As I’ve said above, given the thoroughness of Joan Mellen’s book, it is, in a way, hard to see what Summers’ point with re-writing this book was. As I can’t think that he came down particularly hard on one theory or another. I think you can probably get out of it what you want. Mellen’s book Farewell To Justice’s aim was to show that there was a conspiracy and that the CIA, in one form or another, were behind it. By changing the name of his book, from ‘Conspiracy’ to the comparatively nondescript ‘not in your lifetime’ and bearing in mind his comments on any possible CIA involvement, it’s as if he is afraid of coming down on one side or the other, for fear of cutting himself off, driving up a blind alley, going out on a limb – and later being proved wrong. If convincing evidence for something else, comes to light. The phrase “not in your lifetime” is used as a means of indicating that either not all the evidence has been made public, or evidence, convincing evidence for one theory or other, is still to come to light. So, he’s saying “these are all the theories – in slightly more than outline form, you make your own mind up, but it could all change if something new turns up at sometime when ‘National Security’ is not deemed to be in danger from its publication.” What Summers himself thinks, I felt was a little hard to determine. If I had to put your money on it, I’d say The Mafia.
The best part of the book, though there are several excellent sections dotted throughout, to be fair, is the look at what happened on the day, at the time and the involvement of the Mafia in the whole thing. He looks at the actual event from all sides and answers all the questions he knows people have raised, for each step of the way. If nothing else, this is worth the admission fee. If you read this on its own, you’d be in no doubt of a conspiracy. My only problem was, I felt Summers then sidestepped the questions he needed to answer after the excellent beginning. It could just be me though, read it and decide for yourself. Me? Oswald was set up to look pro-Castro, by anti-Castro operatives, backed and helped by Mafia figures and deliberately not hindered by elements of the CIA. He was set up to be there on the day and appear guilty, but the killing was actually carried out by (at least) two others.
I’ve read a tremendous amount of books about November 22, 1963. There are very few books I’d recommend, though this (along with Farewell to Justice of course), is now going to be one of them.