Philip Shenon, ” A Cruel and Shocking Act, the secret history of the Kennedy Assassination.” ( New York, 2013 )
Far too many books have been written about the assassination of JFK . Indeed I gather that in total no less than twenty eight different gunmen have been identified in Dealey Plaza by various authors. If this was just another bonkers conspiracy book it would be best to ignore it.
In fact though it is interesting for two reasons. First, Shenon, who has also written about the Commission that looked into 9/11, has obviously made a profound and detailed study of the Warren Commission’s internal workings. The Commission, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, has always known to have been a bit of a shambles which relied far too much on the information provided by the FBI. What I had not known though before I browsed through Shenon’s account, is how disgraceful the it was in other ways. Apparently one of its senior staffers even tried to seduce Marina Oswald- then an attractive widow! And there were also more serious lapses.
While the Warren Commission certainly reached the right conclusion about the events in Dallas- namely that Oswald was not part of a wide conspiracy. Nevertheless Shenon may be on firm ground when he suggests that not enough was done to investigate some important leads which suggested that Oswald had been influenced by left wingers who he had met when he paid a brief visit Mexico City some weeks before he opened fire.
The Warren Commission took the view that Oswald’s trip to Mexico had been essentially inconsequential- nothing much had happened there except that Oswald had failed to get the visas he had wanted which would have enabled him to travel to Cuba and the Soviet Union. We will never now know the facts, but Shenon provides fairly convincing evidence that Oswald may have had a brief affair with the junior Cuban diplomat who handled his visa application, that she introduced him to a group of anti American students; and that he may have convinced himself that he would be welcomed back into this group if he proved himself worthy of their attention. Shenon implies that it was to do this, and perhaps to win himself a lover, that he killed President Kennedy when the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself a six weeks later.
All this is, of course, far, far, too vague to rank as history or anything like it. The woman concerned denies that she had a fling with Oswald, and the story of Oswald presence at a “Twist party” where he is alleged to have been seen in the company of Mexican/ Cuban leftists could well just be the creation of someone’s imagination. But then again, some such course of events does explain Oswald’s actions after the assassination. Were was Oswald headed when he fled from the Book Depository building?Was he- like rocket man- on a suicide mission? Or did he have a plan? Was he headed to back to Mexico and the “friends” he had met there? Shenon describes how the suggestion that he was trying to get to Mexico was nearly included in the Warren Commission’s report, but was excluded from the final version.
The best that can be said is that Shenon’s book raises some interesting possibilities. However it should not be despised like so many of the other idiotic publications about the assassination. At the very least Shenon does at least ask the right questions, questions that have been ignored too often both by those with a conspiracy to sell and those who have tried to debunk them. The deep point that he makes is, I think, that in respect of the assassination, and other matters too, we should be thinking not so much about plots, but about contexts. Future historians will have to make use of Shenon’s book, and not just for what it tells us about the Warren Commission, interesting though that is.
NOTE: “The Daily Mail” should be ashamed of itself for giving publicity to an absurd theory that identifies Jackie Kennedy as one of the assassins. Even by the standards of planet tabloid…..