Saturday, August 27, 2016

Trees died for this? Ultimate Sacrifice

Image result for conspiracy theory meme
See end note.
I finally made it to the end of Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for A Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of J.F.K. I'm not sure why I bothered pushing on through the incoherence, tautologies, and general weirdness for almost 800 pages, but I did. I think I kept hoping that the authors would actually tell me something interesting.

For example, the authors say the Central Intelligence Agency (a misnamed agency if there ever was one) indulged in multiple "let's kill Fidel Castro" schemes. The plans ranged from sending in hit squads armed with machine guns to sneaking in various poisons lurking in mundane items: cigars, lotions, pens. Reading that the CIA wanted to assassinate Fidel Castro through the use of a poison pen intrigued me. How exactly was that going to work? What type of strange James Bondian technological wonder had the agency dreamed up? The poison pen plan gets mentioned multiple times, but the authors never do provide more than vague references. I had to Google it. Turns out the pen was rigged with a hypodermic that would supposedly inject poison. managed to describe it in one brief sentence; why Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann couldn't do something similar is a mystery.

The pen, incidentally, is one of at least ten methods the CIA has admitted to either trying or planning to try in their attempts to assassinate Castro. If they've admitted to ten, there were probably a whole lot more, all of which quite obviously failed given that Fidel is now 90 years old and still tottering out of the Aging Dictators Nursing Home to make occasional public appearances. We can see just how effectively the Agency managed to spend our taxpayer dollars. I ask again: why does the CIA still exist? (And, yes, I am willing to make the completely amoral argument that if they're going to be evil they should at least be good at it.)

Back to the book. Ultimate Sacrifice is one of the many books that have been written that attempt to explain why President Kennedy was shot. It's a long, rambling, badly focused, repetitive, and rather murky explication of the Mob Hit Theory. The version of the Mob Hit Theory I was most familiar with prior to reading this book is that mobster Sam Giancana had JFK assassinated because JFK was banging Sam's girlfriend, Judith Campbell. This is a theory that always struck me as ridiculous. If Judith Campbell had been anything other than a casual girlfriend to a mobster, she'd have been the one who got whacked for screwing around and not Kennedy for taking advantage of her availability. If anything, if the mob knew about Campbell's intimate encounters with Kennedy, the logical thing to do would be to use it as a blackmail tool. Still, quite a few people apparently believe it.

This book is a variation on the Mob Hit Theory. The authors claim that Kennedy was shot by the mob, but it wasn't because of his love life. Nope. The motive was Bobby Kennedy's emphasis on fighting organized crime. As a Senator, John Kennedy had been aggressive in holding hearings to expose gangster activity, and after he was elected and appointed his brother Attorney General the crime fighting continued. Various mafioso began to feel threatened. Eventually the "godfathers" who controlled Chicago, Miami, and New Orleans got together and decided that much as they'd like to get rid of Bobby Kennedy, the more logical approach was to off JFK. With JFK dead, Bobby wouldn't last long as Attorney General because he and Lyndon Johnson hated each other.

As conspiracy theories, go it's not a bad one. What makes it slide over the line into the tinfoil hat territory pretty quickly is the combination of the authors' tendency to kitchen sink (every little factoid about any of the people involved, no matter how tangential, gets treated with equal seriousness), to rely heavily on hearsay that definitely falls into "a friend of a friend" urban legend category, and to speculate over and over that there are still a gazillion classified documents lurking in the filing cabinets at the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and elsewhere. You know, there are way too many paragraphs that contain outright speculations, in essence saying "We haven't seen the actual documents, but we're sure they're there." Right. I've known people who believed in the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot who I thought were sliding pretty deeply into wishful thinking and fantasy, but in retrospect they were hardcore realists compared with Waldron and Hartmann.

How does their explanation actually play out? Well, it involves the CIA hiring mafioso to work with Cuban exiles on a plan to overthrow the Castro government. Supposedly, one particular action, a combination coup and invasion, was planned for December 1, 1963. Because the Kennedys wanted to get rid of Castro, Bobby Kennedy was deeply enmeshed in the coup/invasion planning. Why are the mafioso involved? Because they weaseled their way in on purpose so they could set up the Cubans to take the blame. They're going to use the planned coup to help cover up their plans to whack JFK. The reasoning is supposedly that if Bobby Kennedy thinks the Cubans did it, he won't push for a thorough investigation because that would reveal that JFK and Bobby had been plotting to overthrow Castro. It all struck me as unnecessarily complicated as well as illogical. If Kennedy hadn't been whacked, the coup planning would have gone forward as planned, Castro would have been gone, and the gangsters could have gotten their Cuban casinos back. If they had their Cuban casinos, brothels, and drug running safe havens back, they wouldn't have to worry as much about the Justice Department going after them for racketeering in the U.S.

It is true that a number of gangsters were openly gleeful when JFK got shot. So was Jimmy Hoffa, who was so far in bed with organized crime he came close to qualifying as a mobster himself. Does that mean they would have bothered to have come up with a plot with as many moving parts as the plots Waldron and Hartmann propose? I'm doubtful. 

In any case, the authors argue that the mob planned to pin the assassination on Cuba, hoping for an American invasion that would have the same end result as the aborted coup attempt. They manage to fill hundreds of pages of remarkably repetitive text with descriptions of various losers being set up to be patsies with Cuban connections. Lee Harvey Oswald was just one of several who would be manipulated into a position to take the fall. Unfortunately for the mob (and fortunately for the rest of us), LBJ worried a lot more about what the Russians might do than he did about impulsively avenging Kennedy's death.

In the end, the only surprising thing about this book was just how empty of actual content it was. The authors seem to think that the readers are already so thoroughly familiar with the various players involved that they can omit details like just exactly when did Oswald go to the Soviet Union? How long was he there? When he did move back to the U.S.? When did he start working at the Texas Book Depository? How much did he pay for the gun? How did he get the job? Turns out that if I want to know the answers to those questions, once again Google will be my friend.

As for my own thoughts, I can understand why so many people are reluctant to believe that Oswald acted alone. By today's standards, the postmortem examination and forensic investigation following the assassination were a disaster. Potential evidence wasn't secured, the Secret Service actually washed the blood out of the limo before investigators had a chance to do thorough documentation, and numerous other mistakes were made. It definitely did not help that J. Edgar Hoover pushed hard for the single shooter explanation -- he was in full CYA mode because he didn't want it coming out that the FBI had received multiple reports of potential attempts on JFK's life and had basically ignored them all. There was enough bureaucratic ineptitude and silo-ing of information that to anyone who assumes that law enforcement (especially federal law enforcement) knows what it's doing it does look suspiciously like deliberate attempts at obfuscation took place.

I'm skeptical. To me, Oswald strikes me as fitting the profile of semi-delusional misfit so well that I find it totally believable he was the only one involved. We've seen a fair number of these poor saps in the past few decades: John Hinckley thinking he was going to impress Jody Foster by shooting Reagan, Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon, various celebrity stalkers, some of the guys who go on mass shooting rampages. Maybe Oswald really did think he was striking a blow for some ideology, maybe he had deluded himself into believing he was secret agent on a mission, who knows? And, to be blunt, at this late date (almost 53 years after the fact) who cares?

I do know that having read one "who shot JFK?" conspiracy theory book, I am unlikely to ever read another. If this one was typical of the genre I won't be missing much.

Note: Back in 1996 I was living in Blacksburg, VA, and dependent on public transportation to get to and from the Virginia Tech campus. Got on the bus one morning and a seemingly normal-looking (no visible tinfoil) dude was talking to the driver about the X-Files episode he'd watched the night before. It was a long enough ride into town that it slowly dawned on me that the dude thought the X-Files were real. He really did think the television show was a documentary series. No doubt this year he's waiting impatiently to cast his ballot for Trump.


  1. " if they're going to be evil they should at least be good at it."
    I like that. I may steal that.

  2. I was in the eleventh grade when Castro fought in Cuba. Castro was like a Robin Hood fighting the corrupt Batista. I thought at the time that when I graduated I might go and join the Cuban revolution; mainly because sultry Cuban women were fighting right along side the rebels, and it would be and adventure, and again there were sultry Cuban women...
    It wasn't until the United States sided with Batista and tried to kill the revolution that Castro sought Russian backing and aligned itself with the communist.
    Had we staid out of it... There is a theme here.
    the Ol'Buzzard


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