The Left and the Death of Kennedy
By Jim DiEugenio
Probe, January-February 1997 (Volume 4, No. 2)
In this issue we are glad to be able to excerpt parts of a new book by Dr.
Martin Schotz. This new work, History Will Not Absolve Us, is an
anthology of essays on varying aspects of the Kennedy case. In that regard it
resembles previous anthologies like Government by Gunplay, and The
Assassinations. This new collection compares favorably with those two. One
of the glories of the book is that it includes Vincent Salandria’s early,
epochal essays published in 1964 and 1965 on the medical and ballistics
evidence. These essays were written in direct response to comments given by
another Philadelphia lawyer, Arlen Specter, at the conclusion of the Warren
Commission’s work. Working only from evidence available to the Commission and
in the public record, Salandria shatters the case against Oswald almost as soon
as it was issued. It is a shame that we have had to wait so long to see
Salandria’s wonderful work collected in book form.
There is more. Schotz has included a speech made by Fidel Castro, in which, from just reading the press reports off the wire services, he 1) exposes the murder as a conspiracy, 2) shows Oswald for what he was, 3) points towards the elements in American society from where the plot emanated, and 4) indicates the reasons for the murder. All this within twenty hours of the assassination. Shotz’s opening essay furthers his ideas used in Gaeton Fonzi’s book, The Last Investigation, dealing with concepts of belief versus knowledge and what that means for the mass psychology of American society. This fascinating, intuitive essay gives the book both its tone and its title—a play on a phrase used more than once by Castro.
There is much more to recommend the book. We choose to excerpt here two particular selections: one in whole, the other in part. They both deal with the response of the left, or as Ray Marcus terms it the “liberal establishment”, to the Kennedy assassination. The first excerpt is an analysis by Schotz of the early editorial policy of The Nation to the assassination. The second section is from Ray Marcus’ monograph Addendum B, originally published in 1995. We chose to excerpt these for three reasons. It shows both Schotz and Marcus at their best. Both the people and institutions they discuss are still around. And finally, what they deal with here is an emblematic problem that is so large and painful—the response of liberals to high-level assassination as a political tool—that no one left of center wishes to confront it.
Concerning the second point, The Nation repeated its pitiful performance when the film JFK was released by giving much space to writers like Alexander Cockburn and Max Holland. Neither of these men could find any evidence of conspiracy in the Kennedy case, any value to Kennedy’s presidency, or any validity to the scholarship within the critical community. In other words, a leading “liberal” magazine was acting like Ben Bradlee and the Washington Post. As far as The Nation is concerned, their editorial policy has been quite consistent throughout a 33 year period. Their article policy, with very few exceptions, has also been uniform.
Ray Marcus extends this analysis. Marcus is one of the original, “first generation” group of researchers. In 1995 he privately published his Addendum B, which is a personal and moving chronicle of his attempts to get people in high places interested in advocating the Kennedy assassination as a cause. Ray has allowed Schotz to include sections of that important work in the book. Probe has excerpted the parts of Ray’s work which touch on the reaction of the left, both old and new, to the assassination. We feel that the section entitled “Five Professors” is especially relevant. For in this section, Ray reveals his personal encounters with some of the leading intellectuals of that ‘60’s and ‘70’s movement called the “New Left”, namely Howard Zinn, Gar Alperovitz, Martin Peretz, and Noam Chomsky. He shows how each of them rejected his plea. The instances of Peretz and Chomsky are both important and enlightening. For Peretz, in 1974, purchased The New Republic, another supposedly liberal publication. He owned it during the period of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Except for excerpting declassified executive session transcripts of the Warren Commission in the mid-seventies, I can remember no important article in that publication dealing with the JFK case during his tenure. In fact, at the end of that investigation, The New Republic let none other than Tom Bethell have the last word on that investigation. Ray shows why Peretz allowed this bizarre, irresponsible choice. Bethell’s 1979 article tried to bury Kennedy’s death. Five years later, his periodical tried to bury his life. It actually made a feature article out of a review of the tawdry Horowitz-Collier family biography The Kennedys. Who did that publication find suitable to review this National Enquirer version of the Kennedy clan? None other than Midge Decter, wife of neo-conservative godfather Norman Podhoretz, mother-in-law of Elliot Abrams. Decter, presumably with the Peretz blessing, canonized this Kitty Kelley antecedent.
Ray’s encounter with Chomsky is especially revealing and will be disturbing to adherents of the MIT professor. In his book, Looking For the Enemy, Michael Morrisey includes parts of a 1992 letter from Chomsky. In discussing a government conspiracy to murder and cover-up the assassination, the esteemed professor writes:
That would be an interesting question if there were any reason to believe that it happened. Since I see no credible evidence for that belief, I can’t accept that the issue is as you pose it. (p.6)
Apparently, Chomsky never thought that Marcus would include their three hour
session over just three pieces of evidence. This exposes the above statement,
and Chomsky’s public stance since Stone’s film, as a deception.
Chomsky and his good friend and soulmate on the JFK case, Alexander Cockburn went on an (orchestrated?) campaign at the time of Stone’s JFK to convince whatever passes for the left in this country that the murder of Kennedy was 1) not the result of a conspiracy, and 2) didn’t matter even if it was. They were given unlimited space in magazines like The Nation and Z Magazine. But, as Howard Zinn implied in a recent letter to Schotz defending Chomsky, these stances are not based on facts or evidence, but on a political choice. They choose not to fight this battle. They would rather spend their time and effort on other matters. When cornered themselves, Chomsky and Cockburn resort to rhetorical devices like exaggeration, sarcasm, and ridicule. In other words, they resort to propaganda and evasion.
CTKA believes that this is perhaps the most obvious and destructive example of Schotz’s “denial.” For if we take Chomsky and Cockburn as being genuine in their crusades—no matter how unattractive their tactics—their myopia about politics is breathtaking. For if the assassinations of the ‘60’s did not matter—and Morrisey notes that these are Chomsky’s sentiments—then why has the crowd the left plays to shrunk and why has the field of play tilted so far to the right? Anyone today who was around in the ‘60’s will tell you that the Kennedys, King, and Malcolm X electrified the political debate, not so much because of their (considerable) oratorical powers, but because they were winning. On the issues of economic justice, withdrawal from Southeast Asia, civil rights, a more reasonable approach to the Third World, and a tougher approach to the power elite within the U.S., they and the left were making considerable headway. The very grounds of the debate had shifted to the center and leftward on these and other issues. As one commentator has written, today the bright young Harvard lawyers go to work on Wall Street, in the sixties they went to work for Ralph Nader.
The promise of the Kennedys or King speaking on these issues could galvanize
huge crowds in the streets. But even more importantly, these men had convinced a
large part of both the white middle class, and the younger generation that their
shared interests were not with the wealthy and powerful elites, but with the
oppressed and minorities. Today, that tendency has been pretty much reversed.
Most of the general public and the media have retreated into a reactionary pose.
And some of the most reactionary people are now esteemed public figures e.g.
Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Howard Stern, people who would have been mocked or
ridiculed in the ‘60’s. And the Washington Post and Los Angeles
Times, under no pressure to disguise their real sympathies, can call
Limbaugh a mainstream conservative (12/2/96).
What remains of the left in this country today can be roughly epitomized by the nexus of The Nation, the Pacifica Radio network (in six major cities), and the media group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). We won’t include The New Republic in this equation since Peretz has now moved so far to the right he can’t be called a liberal anymore. The Nation has a circulation of about 98,000. Except for its New York outlet, WBAI, Pacifica is nowhere near the force it was in the sixties and seventies. The FAIR publication EXTRA has a circulation of about 17,000. To use just one comparison, the rightwing American Spectator reaches over 500,000. To use another point of comparison, the truly liberal Ramparts, which had no compunctions taking on the assassinations, reached over 300,000. As recently declassified CIA documents reveal, Ramparts became so dangerous that it was targeted by James Angleton.
One of this besieged enclave’s main support groups is the New York/Hollywood theater and film crowd, which was recently instrumental in bailing out The Nation. As more than one humorous commentator has pointed out, for them a big cause is something like animal rights. Speaking less satirically, they did recently pull in $680,000 in one night for the Dalai Lama and Tibet. Whatever the merits of that cause, and it has some, we don’t think it will galvanize youth or the middle class or provoke much of a revolution in political consciousness. On the other hand, knowing, that our last progressive president was killed in a blatant conspiracy; that a presidentially appointed inquest then consciously covered it up; that the mainstream media like the Post and the Times acquiesced in that effort; that this assassination led to the death of 58,000 Americans and two million Vietnamese; to us that’s quite a consciousness raiser. Chomsky, Cockburn and most of their acolytes don’t seem to think so.
In the ‘80’s, Bill Moyers questioned Chomsky on this point, that the political activism of the ‘60’s had receded and that Martin Luther King had been an integral part of that scene. Chomsky refused to acknowledge this obvious fact. He said it really wasn’t so. His evidence: he gets more speaking invitations today ( A World of Ideas, p. 48). The man who disingenuously avoids a conspiracy in the JFK case now tells us to ignore Reagan, Bush, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Stern and the rest. It doesn’t matter. He just spoke to 300 people at NYU. Schotz and Marcus have given us a textbook case of denial.
With the help of Marty and Ray, what Probe is trying to do here is not so much explain the reaction, or non-reaction, of the Left to the death of John Kennedy. What we are really saying is that, in the face of that non-reaction, the murder of Kennedy was the first step that led to the death of the Left. That’s the terrible truth that most of these men and organizations can’t bring themselves to state. If they did, they would have to admit their complicity in that result.
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