Vincent Bugliosi's new book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy seeks to set the record straight, once and for all and forever, regarding the greatest enduring mystery of the twentieth century: Who killed J.F.K.?
If this is not the mother of all assassination books, then I don't know what is.
How can I be so sure?
Well, leaving aside the fact that it's 1500 small-print pages, the equivalent of thirteen regular-font books, how about this:
I've read the first two hundred pages, and there's already over one thousand footnotes, and, get this, he's only finished describing a single fucking day.
That's right: two hundred pages on November 22, 1963. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. In exhaustive, almost irrelevant detail. (Did you know, for example, that Oswald's older brother, Robert, ate a ham sandwich in his hotel's cafeteria late that night? Not just any sandwich -- a ham sandwich. Talk about details.)
Of course, for assassination-nuts like me, it's pennies from heaven, this book is.
A year or so ago I wrote on this blog about my own mild obsession with the Kennedy assassination, one that started with my father's teenage scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings about Kennedy's death, and fueled into overdrive by Oliver Stone's brilliant film J.F.K. I've read all the conspiracy books I can get my hands on, doubted most of them, been intrigued by a few. As Bugliosi makes clear in his forceful, blistering introduction, this is, quite simply, the greatest story of the past hundred years. No way in hell a novelist could create this kooky cast of characters, with so many diverting and delusionary subplots. Reality trumps fantasy yet again.
But the J.F.K. case is fantasy, or at least much of it is, anyway. Who shot from where at what time and for what reason? Madness lies down these precarious paths, me thinks. For if you start to delve too long into this hyopnotic funnel, you begin to see the entire course of the twentieth century reflected in its myriad depths. Communism, socialism, the military-industrial complex, craven political leaders and two-bit mafia hoods, lonely Marxists and frightened wives, all of them mixed together in a maddening stew of inneuendo and grief, vengeance and lunacy. You can get lost in it. (Some of us want to get lost in it.)
Bugliosi's intent, though, is crystal clear: to prove that Oswald, and Oswald alone, did it. Pulled the gun. Fired the shots. End of story. Case closed.
And, as I've said before, I have no doubt that I'll come to the end of this massive motherfucker of a book absolutely convinced of Oswald's guilt. Beyond a doubt. Without hesitation.
In the J.F.K. case, there's always an 'and yet...'
Bugliosi states in his introduction that he ultimately had to finally put the book to bed and send his baby to the printers earlier this year, so there's no possible way he could respond within the text to any subsequent revelations, accusations, hyperbolations (?) that might pop up in the press regarding other theories.
A sensible statement, on his part, because as the foremost assassination researcher he simply knew that alternative ideas would pop up on a regular basis.
And boy, have they.
A few weeks back an Italian company that manufactured the rifle Oswald supposedly used to kill Kennedy conducted some tests and concluded: Impossible -- nobody could have fired three shots in that amount of time from that particular rifle.
The bullet fragments used to indict Oswald were found by some recent researchers to indicate that they all might not have come from a single bullet.
E.Howard Hunt, convicted White House burglar and lifetime C.I.A. spook, is recorded on his deathbed, by his son, stating that he, himself, and the C.I.A. did, indeed, have something to do with Kennedy's death. (Despite his own denials in his recent autobiography, where he states that he didn't have anything to with J.F.K.'s murder, but he couldn't deny that somebody out there might have helped Oswald out.)
And here we have, on the heels of Bugliosi's book, David Talbott's Brothers, which explores the relationship between J.F.K. and R.F.K., and the suspicions the younger brother had regarding the possible conspiracy surrounding Jack Kennedy's death.
And on and on and on.
The assassination of J.F.K. remains a vortex into which we channel our own beliefs and observations and obsessions about the very nature of humanity and history. Is fate changed by one man with a rifle? Can kings be cut down by peasants? Is there a secret cabal plotting and planning who lives and who dies? Can we trust those in authority? Can we trust our own eyes and ears?
There's something mysterious, almost celestial, at the core of this entire case, as if reality somehow sidestepped the regular course of human events that terrible day and led us down another, darker path. The twentieth century truly began to head downhill after that day in Dallas, and, despite all evidence to the contrary, I cannot believe that one simple, lonely, troubled man was at the heart of it.
For no matter how much evidence is presented against Oswald, something in the deepest place within thinks, almost insists: There's something else. There's something else. There's something else.
It's the place where logic and rationality can't reach. The part of our humanoid core that refuses to acknowledge the obvious in favor of the ephemeral. Because even logic has its own limits. Bugliosis states that it's not logical to believe that the heads of the Mafia and the F.B.I. and the military-industrial complex sat down at a big brown table to plot the president's death. Puh-leeze, he practically writes.
Well, wait a minute. ("Hold the phone, Chuck," as Michael Keaton tells Henry Winkler in Night Shift.) We know for a fact that the C.I.A. worked with the Mafia to assassinate Castro. That they helped undermine the Diem regime in Vietnam. That they funded the contras in El Salvador to disrupt its corrupt government. That in the past few months they quietly helped Ethiopia overtake the Islamic warlords terrorizing Somalia. Is it not then logical, if not inevitable, to assume that they, or some other 'they' went further on that dreadful day in Dallas in the fall of 1963?
It is to me. If anything, the past thirty years of American intelligence has proven once and for all and forever that some nasty, nefarious deeds are being enacted, continually, daily, while most of the country is choosing their next American Idol. And my exposure to rotten-to-the-fucking-core regimes in Cambodia and the Philippines over the past few years has made me decidedly skeptical of governments in general, and especially those constantly proclaim that all is hunky-dory, folks. "Just believe what we tell you," the say. "Believe what we report," they write. "We're looking out for you."
But this is what I mean about logic: it takes a vacation when it comes to J.F.K's death. Because most people need proof, and the proof points to Oswald, yes, but, but, but, but. There's some much other, well, stuff reverberating through the ensuing decades to dismiss. We can dismiss it logically, yes, but logic has no place in the hearts of humans. Just because there's no direct, credible evidence pointing to the intelligence community's involvement doesn't mean it didn't happen. We infer, hypothesize, connect dots that aren't there but make pretty little diagrams nevertheless.
The case has become its own, monstrous supernova. In his introduction, Bugliosi wonders why, after all the years that have passed, there have been no deathbed confessions, given the supposed size of the alleged conspiracy. And no sooner has he typed those words than out comes E.Howard Hunt's son with his old man's recorded ramblings regarding the C.I.A.'s, and his own, personal involvement in the killing.
It's neverending, this thing is.
I sometimes wonder if the Kennedy assassination is a metaphor for life, or life is a metaphor for the Kennedy assasination: We study one day in infinite detail, and examine all the players, and look for answers, and look for reasons, and look for understanding, and look for a purpose, and nobody but nobody can agree on anything except that we don't agree.
But I'm rambling.
Besides, there's no time to waste. I have to get back to Bugliosi's book.
There is, after all, another thirteen hundred or so pages to sift through. (I mean, shit, I've only made it through the first fucking day of the case...)
Oh, and did I mention the complimentary CD-ROM that's included at the back of the book, one that includes an additional one thousand pages of endnotes?
Not to mention David Talbott's new work, Brothers, focusing on Bobby Kennedy and his own conspiracy theories, which is next on my shopping list.
I told you: It's neverending.