Eric Norden: The Death of a President, Part Three

(First published in The Minority of One, January 1964, pp.16–23)

Reactions of the American and Foreign Press

The American press has, of course, been cautious about postulating the existence of a political conspiracy which killed the President and then eliminated his alleged assassin. Such a conspiracy, to be successful, would have to enjoy support and protection from powerful forces both within and without the government, a thought entertained with comfort by few Americans. But unpleasant facts will not disappear by ignoring them. And if the posture of the American press in discovering and examining all the facts in the murder of the President and Oswald has resembled the ostrich more than the eagle, the European press has shown no such reticence. More sophisticated, more analytical, and more objective than the American press, it has examined the assassination with a cold, appraising eye, and its conclusions have not been reassuring.

In France, Paris–Jour carried an article entitled “Oswald Cannot Have Been Alone In Shooting” (November 27, 1963.) The Dallas correspondent of Paris–Presse reported from Dallas on November 27th that the F.B.I. had evidence that Oswald had an accomplice beside him at the window who helped him to fire. According to Paris–Presse, Dallas Patrolman J.D. Tippit was shot to allow the other man to get away. Libération wrote that “there is no doubt that President Kennedy fell into a trap. He was the victim of a plot. And in this plot it is evident that the Dallas police, protectors of gangsters like Ruby, played a role you can only describe as questionable. They created a defendant. then allowed one of their stool pigeons to kill him.” Ruby’s role was closely scrutinized in the French press. “The behavior of this dubious person at the time of the assassination remains unexplained,” France Soir said on November 27th. The conservative Le Monde declared on November 25th its “serious doubts” about the Dallas police and their role in permitting Oswald’s murder.

In Great Britain, even the most conservative newspapers were deeply critical and suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Oswald’s treatment by Dallas authorities. The London Daily Telegraph’s Dallas correspondent reported that “it is recalled by officials, at last and only too well, that world opinion as much as American is not fully satisfied about this terrible affair. This has resulted in an elephantine attempt on the part of the local authorities concerned to cover up for one another.” (November 26, 1963.) On November 27th, the London Daily Mail said that “facts can be produced that a right–wing plot against the President had caused his death.”

In Germany, the Hamburger Echo declared on November 26 that Oswald’s murder in Dallas raised suspicions that “would make Kennedy’s assassination a gang plot.” The Frankfurter Abendpost said Dallas Police Captain Will Fritz’s declaration that the case was closed was “pitiful” and asked, “What was closed? Nothing.” The Berliner Morgenpost of West Berlin reported that U.S. authorities were checking to see whether Oswald was murdered to prevent him from talking and said “it is possible that Ruby silenced Oswald to cover the men behind the plot.” (November 26, 1963.)

In Austria, Vienna’s conservative Neues Österreich commented on November 25th that “Oswald can no longer talk, even if he wanted to, even if he was forced to. Was this the purpose of his death?” Another Viennese paper, the independent Die Presse, examined the Oswald murder and asked, “What if he was only a victim of that spiral of panic among police who, after having become guilty of negligence in protecting Kennedy’s life, might have been driven to find a murderer at once and at all costs and pronounced Oswald guilty?” (November 25, 1963.)

The reaction of the Soviet press to the Kennedy assassination was one of grief and shock mixed with deep apprehension that the act was part of a carefully planned plot to heat up the Cold War by shifting the blame for the President’s death to the Soviet Union and Cuba. Pravda commented on November 24th that the murder of the President and the arrest of Oswald were being deliberately used to “stir up anti–Soviet and anti–Cuban hysteria.” A Washington dispatch to Izvestia said of Oswald and his killer, “One of the most important questions is: were not these two men linked in one plot? And were not people from the Dallas police mixed up in this plot?” (November 25, 1963.) A Tass dispatch from Washington declared that “all circumstances of President Kennedy’s tragic death allow one to assume that this murder was planned and carried out by the ultra right–wing, fascist and racist circles, by those who cannot stomach any step aimed at the easing of international tensions, and the improvement of Soviet–American relations.” (November 25, 1963.)

The Eastern European press was also alarmed that the assassination of the President augured a new anti–Communist crusade in America. The East German news agency ADN charged on November 25th that the men behind Oswald’s murder could be found “in the same extreme right–wing circles who ordered the murder” of the President. Trybuna Ludu in Poland charged that the arrest of Oswald and his identification as a Communist was similar to the conviction of Van der Lubbe on charges of starting the Reichstag fire in Berlin in 1933. (November 26, 1963.)

Suspicions of a plot against the President were echoed throughout the world. The Indian daily The Patriot in New Delhi said “it looks now as though Oswald, who was silenced so quickly, was only an agent … The ease with which a night–club keeper with a criminal record could get access to a prisoner in police custody and shoot him suggests collusion … Obviously the effort of the Dallas authorities … was to insinuate that Oswald was connected with Communism and the Soviet Union … This, taken together with the Dallas police chief’s haste in declaring that the ‘case had been closed’ with the killing of Oswald points to the existence of influences bent on changing Mr. Kennedy’s policies at whatever cost.” The Patriot, an organ of the left–wing faction of the ruling Congress party, was voicing suspicions held by even the most conservative Indian political leaders. Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, a close associate of Gandhi and founder of the Swantantra (Freedom) Party, the main Conservative opposition grouping in India, expressed his anxiety over events in America in an interview on November 27 with the New York Times New Delhi correspondent, Thomas F. Brady. Rajapalachari told Brady that neither Southern segregationists nor the “lunatic left” would possess the kind of money required to “facilitate a shooting like that done by Ruby and give him confidence of subsequent protection.” But, he declared, the “lunatic right” might well command such financial authority. In reporting Mr. Rajagolalachari’s analysis of the Dallas events, Times correspondent Brady pointed out that the Indian leader spoke only as one who “advocates not only ‘less Socialism in India’ but also closer alignment with the United States.”

Throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East, suspicion was widespread that Kennedy had been assassinated in a right–wing political plot whose authors were still unknown. Those U.S. newspapers which most vocally resent such charges as a slur on the national integrity would express their outrage most effectively by disproving them.

Using Oswald as an Anti–Communist Weapon

A people’s wrath voiced abroad bringeth grave danger, no less than public curse pronounced.

(Aeschylus, Agamemnon)

Lee Harvey Oswald may have been destined from the first as a Judas goat to lead what remains of the American Left to destruction at the hands of an enraged populace. The identification of Oswald, a man of hazy allegiances and ambiguous background, as pro–Communist was no accident: it was intended to launch a new wave of anti–Communist hysteria, plunge the Cold War into a new freeze and, in the process, divert attention from the perpetrators and planners of the President’s murder. If Oswald had succeeded in traveling to Cuba or Russia before his attack on the President, the shots in Dallas may well have had as fatal consequences for world peace as those fired at Sarajevo.

A vicious anti–Communist campaign has already started as a result of Oswald’s arrest, though his subsequent murder by Jack Ruby has robbed it of considerable fire by planting doubts about the whole affair in the mind of even the most obtuse patriot. In the first few days after Kennedy’s death, a concerted attempt was made by a segment of the U.S. press, spearheaded by the Hearst papers, to link Oswald to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and through FPFC directly to Castro.

In an article on FPFC entitled “Group Hid Behind Non–profit Veil” in the New York Journal–American on November 23, Walter K. Lewis charged that “The psychotic impulses that aided Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy to pull the trigger of the instrument of death, may be strongly woven into the fabric of the organization he headed in Texas and which inspired his alleged action.” (The fact that Oswald had nothing to do with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee outside of requesting and receiving some of its literature under an alias did not bother the Journal–American, any more than the fact that there was no Fair Play for Cuba organization in Texas for Oswald to head.) With customary responsibility, the Journal–American concluded by saying, “Whether the shot of infamy fired by Oswald had Castro’s personal blessings on it only history will tell.” On November 24 the Journal–American ran an article entitled “Demand Made to Outlaw Fair Play for Cuba Group— by Mike Pearl, quoting the statement of Rep. Frank Becker (R., New York) that “it is about time the Attorney General’s office investigated this organization and its members for the purpose of outlawing them or placing their names before the Subversive Activities Control Board.” Pearl quoted Sen. Olin D. Johnston (D., S.C.) as promising swift action against the Fair Play for Cuba group. “We are doing everything possible in connection with this group,” he said. “As soon as the Internal Security Subcommittee meets I am going to demand that the F.B.I. and Justice Dept. look into the matter.” The same day, Rep. Joseph R. Pool (D., Texas) attacked the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and declared that “I certainly think that this group should be placed on the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations…” U.S. Senator Jacob J. Javits, a “liberal” Republican, commented that “I would say from what I know at this time that the FPFCC is a pretty dangerous little outfit.” On November 27 Rep. Albert W. Watson (D., S.C.) proposed that the House Committee on Un–American Activities investigate the group, and introduced a resolution that would direct HUAC to investigate the “background, composition and activities” of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. (New York Times, November 27, 1963.)

On November 29, an editorial in the New York Herald Tribune, in a brilliant display of verbal gymnastics, attempted to tie Castro to the Kennedy assassination on the grounds that pro–Castro rebels in Venezuela do not eschew violence in their campaign against the Betancourt Government. Commented the Herald Tribune: “On the one hand, Fidel Castro disclaims any association with President Kennedy’s assassination by disavowing any association with Lee Harvey Oswald, an alleged member of the pro–Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee. On the other hand, even if he were not involved in the foul deed at Dallas, he is demonstrating every day, through the behavior of his agents in Caracas, that he is perfectly capable of political assassination.”

In Washington, the investigations analyst for the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, Robert C. McManus, attacked FPFCC and urged a new crackdown on the Left. “I have long believed that Congress should meet the terms of the Communist Manifesto head–on, make a declaration that the Cold War is a real war, and create a new set of laws which would designate anyone giving aid and comfort to the enemy as an enemy of the United States.” (New York Journal–American, Nov. 24, 1963.)

Oswald’s role as a lightning rod to draw the public’s bolts of wrath upon the heads of the Left was meeting with success, so much so that responsible figures in the Washington Establishment were becoming alarmed lest a tidal wave of neo–McCarthyism sweep the nation. James Reston reported in the New York Times on November 26, 1963 that “one of the things President Johnson is said to be concerned about is that the pro–Communist background of Lee Oswald, the man who is accused by the Dallas police of assassinating President Kennedy, may lead in some places to another Communist hunt that will divide the country and complicate the new President’s relations with Moscow.”

Was Oswald Really a Communist?

The more that is revealed about Oswald’s actual political background, the more murky it becomes. Far from being pro–Communist, he appears to have been a bitter critic of Soviet life. According to the New York Times of November 23, Oswald became “disillusioned with life under Communist rule” while within the USSR. On November 29, the Times reported that Oswald, in a radio interview in New Orleans in the summer of 1963, expressed bitter opposition to the Soviet Union. On November 29, it was learned that Oswald had been writing a book on his stay in Russia in which, according to a UPI dispatch of that date from Fort Worth, he “criticized everything he found in the Soviet Union” and hinted that he “was working as a United States Secret agent.” On November 30, 1963 the New York Herald Tribune, in an article entitled “The Oswald Enigma: His Anti–Soviet Book,” reported that “Lee Harvey Oswald, variously described as a Marxist, pro–Communist and Communist, was writing an anti–Soviet book a year before he was seized as President Kennedy’s assassin.” According to the Herald Tribune account, Oswald was “bitterly critical of everything he had found during his travels” in Russia, and “hinted that he had gone to the Soviet Union as a U.S. secret agent.”

If Oswald really did have ties to U.S. Intelligence, much that is cloudy in the Dallas events would become clear, including perhaps the ambiguous role of the F.B.I. in the whole affair. But the implication that men in high places in Washington may have known, approved and even planned the tragic death of the President portends as much danger to the peace and security of the world as to the stability of the American polity.

Low Expectations of Warren Commission

If the facts of the President’s murder and its aftermath are ever fully revealed, it will not be as a result of the plethora of official government investigations now taking place. While the special Presidential commission established by President Johnson to investigate events in Dallas is headed by a great jurist and a firm supporter of human rights, Chief Justice Earl Warren, his influence alone will not be enough to dispel the smoke–screen of contradictions, lies and distortions laid over the assassination by powerful forces in the government and press. As Scripps–Howard columnist Richard Starnes wrote in a column entitled “Truth Won’t Out,” on December 3, “realism instructs us to expect little from the special commission created by President Johnson to investigate the death of his predecessor.” According to Starnes, “no member of the commission has any competence as an investigator, nor does any have access to a disinterested investigative staff. The commission will be almost wholly dependent upon the facts made available to it by the Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Dallas Police Department. In a sense, of course, the special commission is investigating the role played by each of these agencies, and it is manifestly naïve to expect these cops to bear witness against themselves or, indeed, each other.” After a searching analysis of events in Dallas and the failure of the F.B.I and Secret Service in their representative security functions, Starnes concludes by asking, “Will the presence on the panel of Allen Dulles, erstwhile headmaster of the Central Intelligence Agency, assure us that the truth of Oswald’s sojourn in the Soviet Union will ever be known? The Russians suggest they suspected him of being a spy. Can any realistic person ever believe any tentacle of the nation’s elephantine espionage apparatus will own up to ever having Oswald on its payroll? Can we expect the F.B.I. to explain why Oswald was not under close surveillance? How many would–be defectors to Russia did they have to watch that day in Dallas when the President’s widely heralded visit was scheduled? It is not in the nature of bureaucracies to destroy their carefully nurtured fables of omniscience. It would be well to bear this in mind, and to remember that the findings of the Warren Commission will depend wholly on what is told by these agencies.” (New York World–Telegram & Sun, December 3, 1963.)

Prospects

If the death of the President was a well–organized conspiracy to change the military and political direction of the United States, dark days are ahead for our country. People of good will everywhere will hope that some less calamitous explanation for the weird and terrible events in Dallas will present itself in the coming weeks and months. But if the President was indeed struck down to frustrate his aim of a limited détente in the Cold War and to plunge East–West relations into a new maelstrom of suspicion and fear, his death may be the prelude to far more terrifying events. Americans can best avenge the slaying of John F. Kennedy by searching out those behind the murder, whoever and wherever they may be, and by making sure that the policies and vision the President’s enemies sought to destroy do not go to the grave with him. Let us determine to lock from our lives forever the cruelty and treacherous arrogance that erupted in Dallas, so that November 22nd need not mark, as the assassins may well have intended, the portal to a nuclear hell.

Eric Norden’s Essay

‘The Death of a President’ was first published in The Minority of One in January 1964. The present version is taken from the University of Rhode Island website.

The text has been split into three parts, and has been formatted in correct HTML for easier access by humans and search engines. Headings have been added, and trivial errors in the Shakespeare quotations have been corrected.

Eric Norden went on to interview Jim Garrison in 1967 for Playboy magazine.

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22 November 1963

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