JFK: The Great Schism BY JAMES CULLEN A man dies and goes to Heaven. “Welcome to Heaven,” says God, who proceeds to show him around. “Do you have any questions?” God asks at the end of the tour. “Well, there is one thing. Who shot JFK?” “You know,” God replied, “I have a theory about that …” Joke posted on bulletin board at JFK Assassination Symposium Dallas IF THE DEBATE OVER JFK has reached the level of secular religion, then is Gerald Posner the Moses of the movement or is he the Judas? In case you are among the 80 to 90 percent of Americans who doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in his plot to kill the President, but you pay about as much attention to the continuing assassination investigations as you do to the religion page of your daily newspaper: Posner is a lawyer who has written a book that takes the not-veryoriginal position that Oswald acted alone in shooting the 35th President of the United States from his sniper’s perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Posner’s publisher, Random House, slapped the title Case Closed on the book. On this 30th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination Posner has received tremendous favorable publicity from the establishment news media, which had not considered the case open since September 1964, when the Warren Commission made public its report that reached basically the same conclusions as Posner’s. Posner’s presumptive title ignores the fact that new evidence is continually floating to the surface, evidence that points to the curiousness of the coincidences and nagging questions that surround the murder of the president, Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit and Oswald over those 48 hours in November 1963. Still, the government and the news media engage in efforts to stifle the continuing popular inquiry. The New York Times Book Review, in Nicholas Lemann’s roundup of recent books on the assassination, finds Posner’s virtually the only one worth reading; his judgment appears to reflect the consensus in the establishment press. Once again, Dan Rather saddled up for a CBS special report: “Who Killed JFK, the Final Chapter,” which, leaning on Posner, knocks down the conspiracy evidence and concludes that Oswald had more than enough time to do the shooting himself. Even PBS’s Frontline, which produced a fascinating three-hour report that explored Oswald’s youth, his experience as a marine, his purported defection to the Soviet Union and his ties with the intelligence community, proand anti-Castro activists and underworld figures on his return to the United States, with its conclusion that the disgruntled former marine took it upon himself to kill the President, drew catcalls from conspiratorialists meeting in Dallas. If one were inclined to believe in conspiracies, one might wonder if there were still an effort to keep the lid on this case. But for Heaven’s sake, don’t put me down as a conspiracy theorist. Even after three days of listening to the latest research at the third annual Assassination Symposium on JFK, I’m still an agnostic. The JFK symposium convened at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, just across the railroad tracks and a few blocks over from Dealey Plaza. The event, co-sponsored by the Observer, drew 728 participants, some from overseas, most of whom devote a substantial amount of their time to researching the assassination. As a reporter with relatively little experience writing on the Kennedy assassination, I approached the symposium with a sense of dread as well as wonder. I settled in for “JFK 101: An Assassination Primer” and stayed through such panels as “Case ,Closed?” “Intelligence Community and Defectors,” “Photographic Evidence” and “Legal/Medical Evidence.” In this religion, I learned, doubt equals faith. The panelists went over some of the basic criticism of the official version of the assassination: Witnesses believe they heard at least one shot coming from the grassy knoll and an employee in the Union Terminal Railroad tower reported that he saw two men behind the picket fence overlooking the knoll and he thought he saw smoke or light, as if from a gun. Some have changed their stories over the years; others are dismissed. A surgeon who worked on Governor John Connally, Dr. Robert Shaw, believed the “magic bullet” could not have caused all the governor’s wounds. Dr. Charles Crenshaw, who was a surgical resident working on Kennedy, insists that a gunshot wound to the front of Kennedy’s neck was where the bullet entered, not where it exited, as the autopsy later reported. Other conflicts abound. The autopsy was clearly botched, “incredibly orchestrated incompetence,” in the judg ment of Dr. Cyril Wecht, a noted forensic pathologist who was asked by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in 1965 to review the Warren Commission’s report and who has remained a critic of the official version through the years. The military pathologists were told by federal agents and highranking military officials in the room not to dissect the bullet wound in Kennedy’s back to trace the bullet’s path through the body. The pathologists never dissected Kennedy’s brain. Despite the fact that there were more than 100 photographers at the scene, including at least 50 professional photographers and an estimated 50,000 frames of still and movie pictures were taken along themotorcade route, photographic consultant Richard Sprague noted, there is little photographic evidence to show what actually happened, and half of it is in the movie taken by Abraham Zapruder. Other pictures show unidentified tramps who are believed by some to be underworld or intelligence operatives, bystanders acting oddly before and after the shooting, murky details that, when “enhanced,” appear to show a puff of gunsmoke and a man with a badge shooting from the shadows in Kennedy’s direction. Even after 30 years new details emerge. Jean Hill, a key witness for conspiratorialists, who stated that she saw someone shoot from behind a fence across the grassy knoll, was ridiculed for her statements to police that she also saw a “white, fluffy dog” in the car, between the Kennedys; only recently Wallace Milam, a high school social studies teacher in Dyersburg, Tennessee, noticed in footage of the Kennedys taken at Love Field before the motorcade that the President and First Lady were given a small stuffed animal by a young girl. He informed Hill at the symposium of his discovery. At least these conspiratorialists stick together. In his keynote speech, Norman Mailer, who is researching a book on Oswald, suggested that assassination researchers keep up the search but redirect their energies. “You’ve all been intoxicated by the combination of vertigo and fog,” he said. “… On November 24, when Jack Ruby shot Oswald, I think many of us were born at that moment as conspiratorialists.” But after a generation of trying to solve the assassination, he said, “It may be that we’ve lost sight of the fundamental idea that some questions are better than others.” In his book, Harlot’s Ghost, Mailer supposed that the CIA and other government agencies 4 DECEMBER 10, 1993
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