Monday, January 17, 2011

Coda to "A Certain Type of Book"

Here are some additional comments about books on the assassination of JFK. A few of these titles are very obscure, but with Internet sites like they're still obtainable, so a commentary is not without value.

Eyewitness to History, by Howard Brennan and J. Edward Cherryholmes, is one of those books I wanted to see for a long time. But I could never justify its list price ($17.00), since I assumed it was unadulterated BS. So I left it in the same category as Case Closed, meaning I figured to find it in a used bookstore someday for fifty cents.

As it turned out, someone gave me a copy.
Howard Brennan: "Ol' Four Eyes"
Howard Brennan was one of the Warren Commission's star witnesses. He was a Dealey Plaza eyewitness who claimed to have seen Oswald, armed and dangerous, in the Texas School Book Depository's sixth floor window.

In Eyewitness to History (Texian Press) he does not veer far from the official story. Readers get the lone nut, and the second lone nut; they get the noble and wise President's Commission sifting countless facts in search of the awful truth. All of that was to be expected. Readers also get weird punctuation and repeated misspellings ("Dealy" Plaza and J.D. "Tippett") which were not expected and could almost be overlooked – except that this is such a dishonest book.

There is very little value to Eyewitness to HIstory. Brennan, the titular eyewitness, states at several points that he long declined all opportunities to tell his story. But with the guidance of his minister (J. Edward Cherryholmes, the book's co-author) he decided to "set the record straight for history."

Uh...didn't he do that with his Warren Commission testimony?

Maybe not.

The only thing Eyewitness to History has to offer that might be important is an observation Brennan said he kept from the Warren Commission and to himself for many years. Shortly before the assassination, Brennan asserts, he observed a car parked on Houston Street next to the TSBD – a spot supposedly closed to all vehicles by Dallas Police. It was a 1955 to '57 Oldsmobile with a lone, white middle-aged male at the wheel. As Brennan watched, a cop walked over to this car and began chatting amiably with its driver.

Just after the motorcade passed and the shots were fired, Brennan says he grabbed a second cop and told him, "The man you want is in the building!" Then, "I glanced back towards the street to the side of the building. The car I had seen PARKED there before the motorcade passed WAS GONE. Although only a few moments had elapsed and all exits were blocked except one, the car had disappeared ... I have always felt that he was somehow involved in the assassination" [emphasis in original].

Yet he didn't tell the cops or the Warren Commission about this possible getaway car.

Brennan claims he noticed Oswald in the alleged sniper's nest before the shots. After the third shot he hit the ground and looked back to the sixth floor of the TSBD.

"To my amazement the man still stood there in the window! He didn't appear to be rushed. There was no particular emotion visible on his face except for a slight smirk. It was a look of satisfaction, as if he had accomplished what he had set out to do."

Elsewhere in the book, Brennan goes to great pains to tell us his vision is "unusually good; I am one of a select few who, for some reason, are gifted with extraordinary eyesight." Yet he wore glasses.

Howard Brennan admitted to the Warren Commission that before he was taken to a police lineup he had twice seen Oswald on TV as a suspect, and that "I told them I could not make a positive identification." In his book he explains this away by saying he believed the assassination was "a communist activity," and he and his family would be in danger if he made his positive ID right off the bat.

Eyewitness to History was published in 1987, four years after Brennan's death. It is worth noting that among those listed in this book's acknowledgements are Forrest Sorrels of the Secret Service, Earl Warren, Gerald Ford, and "Mrs. Mohammad Bob Threlkeld, sister of the late Shah of Iran ... my best wishes to her."

Oh, What a Time!
I was browsing through a used book store in San Francisco a number of years back when I happened upon a novel I'd not seen before. I wasn't reading much fiction at the time, but A Time to Remember got my interest because it dealt with the Kennedy assassination.

I bought it. I read it. I hated it.

Written by Stanley Shapiro, A Time to Remember is basically Back to the Future meets the Warren Report. Be forewarned, I'm going to spill the beans on this one. If you don't like spoilers, you'd better stop reading right now.

I should mention first that this book has been kicking around for a while. It was published in 1986; the copy I found (for $2.50) is a Signet paperback.

The story of A Time To Remember is pretty simple, and indeed might appeal to science fiction fans. David, our hero, longs for a revered dead brother, who was killed in Vietnam. When David's path crosses with a Mad Scientist who has invented of a time machine, ba-boom – David decides he'll travel back to 1963 and stop Oswald from killing JFK. In the world of this novel, no Oswald means no assassination means no Vietnam war means no revered dead brother.

This same idea – stop Oswald to save the dead brother – could have worked with a conspiracy theory, and even provided a nice plot twist. Oswald could have been somehow neutralized by David – kidnapped or killed, or trapped inside an elevator perhaps – but, surprise! The assassination goes down anyway. What would David have done then?

But that isn't how it happens. Not only does David fail to stop Oswald; he finds himself the prime suspect in the assassination! David's girlfriend Laura comes back from the future to rescue him, but she too fails to alter history, and for a while Laura and David are both on the lam in Dallas, the prime suspects in the assassination.

The Kennedy assassination plays out several times during the course of A Time to Remember, but each time, our heroes fail in their quest to stop it.

Finally, after a few hard-to-swallow developments – David and his cohorts gaining an audience with new President LBJ, for example, and convincing him they're from the future – November 22 dawns yet again. Lee Oswald rises in the Paine home, leaves $175 and his wedding ring on a bureau, then heads out to the Paine garage to get his Mannlicher Carcano. He is still the Oswald according to Earl Warren.

Tense, almost fevered by the malice within him, he enters the garage, where he has hidden the rifle. Disassembled, it lies concealed in brown wrapping paper. Picking it up, he feels its hardness beneath its paper sheath. Soon it will bring him the sense of self-worth he has so desperately sought all his life.

Not so fast, Lee! The Mad Scientist inventor of the time machine has come back to save the day! Like Jack Ruby, he has stalked Oswald; unlike Ruby, he is a genuine good guy driven to murder. He is unfamiliar with firearms, so after consulting with the gun dealer "remembers the advice to aim and then fire." He drives off, leaving the gutshot Lee bleeding in a gutter.
He knows he will die on that curb, unnoticed, unknown. He is filled with outrage at this last cruel turn of a star-crossed life. He curses a fate that always stopped him just when he was about to make a move that would have given that life meaning. He dies wondering why anyone would have wanted to kill him.

But it's okay, because everyone else lives happily ever after. Kennedy is not slain, and goes on to a second term. The Vietnam War, fought only by the Vietnamese, is over by 1966. The revered brother doesn't die. David is reunited with him – not as his brother, since as a time traveler David has a time-space problem – but as a sort of surrogate brother. With his knowledge of the future (unaltered, even though history has been changed), David makes a killing on the stock market. He marries Laura, who is obliged to stay with him in 1963. All is well in the world. It is indeed a time to remember – but a book to forget.

My list of "good" assassination books contains, at position #2, Conspiracy, by Anthony Summers. Conspiracy was first published in 1980 and has been revised and updated several times. Some people love this book. Others do not.

Supposedly, Summers has since declared himself an "agnostic" on the question of conspiracy. That may be one reason why the latest reprint (in 1998) bore a new title, Not In Your Lifetime. This new title is derived from an astonishing remark by Earl Warren in February 1964, when he headed the commission that (informally) bore his name.

In the preface to Not In Your Lifetime, Summers calls it "outrageous" that, as of the mid-1990s, certain government agencies had still not made public all their records relating to the assassination of JFK. "What security-related secret of 1963," Summers asked, "can possibly be justifiably withheld today?"

It fascinates me that this very same question was posed by Theodore Roscoe in 1959, in a book about the Lincoln assassination called Web of Conspiracy.

There are some remarkable parallels to the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations. I do not mean the silly stuff, like the oft-cited, "Lincoln's assassin killed him in a theater and ran to a warehouse, while Kennedy's assassin killed him from a warehouse and ran to a theater!" That sort of crap reinforces lone nut mythology.

I refer, instead, to the fact that in both cases, the government moved in after each assassination, embargoed most of the evidence, and buried it.

A final comment: Anthony Summers is decidedly anti-Jim Garrison. Many in this field use Garrison as a sort of litmus test on an author's reliability or integrity. Since Conspiracy and Not In Your Lifetime give great weight to the New Orleans milieu, it seems quite strange to me, if not suspect, that Summers could refer to the Garrison case as a "grotesque, misdirected shambles."

Who Killed Kennedy?, by Thomas G. Buchanan, began as a series of newspaper articles published in l'Express in Paris. Buchanan was an American expatriate. There are two versions of the book; neither, I'd wager, are very easy to find nowadays. It was published first in the UK by Secker & Warburg. Later, it was published in the USA by Putnam.

Each edition came out before the Warren Report.

The material is presented somewhat differently in the two versions. I read the American edition first, because it was lying around the house. (This goes back a couple of eons.) I thought it had a very powerful ending, culminating with the line, "It is not the light that we must fear; it is the darkness."

Imagine my surprise when reading the UK version, I found this climactic sentence moved to the end of the Preface, on page 8!

Some of the other content was juggled around, too.

There are other assassination books worth mentioning, especially for those who might not read anything else on the subject. I think Jim Marrs' Crossfire is a good primer on the subject. So is Stewart Galanor's Cover Up, which is not be be confused with Cover Up by J. Gary Shaw and Larry Harris – also a serviceable primer, if you can find it. Others of note include Henry Hurt's Reasonable Doubt (in spite of an unworthy chapter about a self-proclaimed assassination participant) and JFK: The Book of the Film, by Zachary Sklar and Oliver Stone.

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