The Left and the Warren Commission Report
I. F. Stone
I. F. Stone’s Weekly
Vol. XII, NO. 33, October 5, 1964
Washington, D.C. 15 Cents
All my adult life as a newspaperman I have been fighting in defense of the Left and of a sane politics, against conspiracy theories of history, character assassination, guilt by association and demonology. Now I see elements of the Left using these same tactics in the controversy over the Kennedy assassination and the Warren Commission Report. I believe the Commission has done a first-class job, on a level that does our country proud and is worthy of so tragic an event. I regard the case against Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer of the President as conclusive. By the nature of the case, absolute certainty will never be attained, and those still convinced of Oswald’s innocence have a right to pursue the search for evidence which might exculpate him. But I want to suggest that this search be carried on in a sober manner and with full awareness of what is involved.
Slander, Not Controversy
It is one thing to analyze discrepancies. It is quite another to write and speak in just that hysterical and defamatory way from which the Left has suffered in the last quarter century or more of political controversy. I want to start with my dear and revered friend, Bertrand Russell. He owes it to all of us who have looked to him as a world spokesman of the peace movement, as a great philosopher and humanitarian, to speak more responsibly on this subject, It was not responsible, on the basis of a transatlantic phone call from Mark Lane, to attack the report as “a sorrily incompetent document” which “covers its authors in shame” without having first read it. This is on a par, in its febrile prejudgment, with Lord Russell’s earlier statement comparing Lane’s defense of Oswald with Zola’s defense of Dreyfus, and declaring, “There has never been a more subversive, conspiratorial, unpatriotic or endangering course for the security of the United States and the world than the attempt by the U.S. Government to hide the murderers of its recent President.” This assumes instead of proving. It is slander, not controversy.
Statements of this kind imply not just one but three conspiracies. One was a conspiracy to kill the President. The second was a conspiracy to kill Oswald lest he talk. The third is a conspiracy by the Warren Commission to hush up the facts. These are monstrous charges, and cannot honorably be made on the basis of surmise. Russell’s American advisers have fed him not evidence but misstatement and poppycock. The Warren Commission was chosen to provide a bipartisan body which would command the widest public respect. Russell calls it “utterly unrepresentative of the American people.” This is nonsense. The two Democrats chosen from either House of Congress, Senator Russell of Georgia and Congressman Boggs of Louisiana, are highly respected even by those who disagree with them. Lord Russell dismisses them as men “whose racist views have brought shame on the United States.” What do their typical Southern prejudices have to do with their probity? Russell dismisses the two Republicans as “Senator Cooper of Kentucky and Congressman Gerald L. Ford of Michigan, the latter of whom is a leader of his local Goldwater movement and an associate of the FBI.” Ford is chairman of the House Republican Conference. He is supporting his party’s ticket in this election but far from being “a leader of his local Goldwater movement” he nominated Romney for President at the Republican convention in the hope of stopping Goldwater. He denies any association with the FBI and there is no evidence of any such link. John Sherman Cooper in the Senate in 1954, when every Democratic liberal Senator except Kefauver lost his nerve, made the one uncompromisingly principled speech against the Anti-Communist Act passed in that year. There never was a more dangerous year in which to stand up against hysteria. I knew John J. McCloy during the war as a public servant of unusual competence. I have criticized Allen W. Dulles constantly over the years. But I would not impute to him or any other member of the Commission conduct so evil as to conspire with the secret services to protect the killers of a President. This is also to assume that Chief Justice Warren, whom the right hates for his decisions protecting Negroes and radicals, would be a party to a conspiracy to protect a cabal of rightist assassins.
This Is Demonology
This is what I call demonology, and this is what has so often been used against the Left. Demonology is the notion that because a man disagrees with you politically, he must be impervious to honor, duty, patriotism, and mercy—in short a demon, i.e. all of one piece, black evil, and not a human being, i.e. fill of contradictions. Demonology also implies that such a person is fair game for any libel or slander, since ipso facto beyond the pale of decency. This is the standard applied by the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Eastland Committee and McCarthy before them to the Left-wingers. It is no less evil when applied to the right. Here is a sample from Joachim Joesten’s book, “Oswald: Assassin or Fall-Guy.” To provide a motive for the conspiracy he alleges, Joesten writes:
“Cuba sticks in the craw of the CIA. The fiasco of the Bay of Pigs cost Allen Dulles his job. Moreover, once Kennedy began a policy of easing the Cold War, some of the CIA, like much of the Pentagon, would be dismantled and the agency brought under presidential control. I am sure there are men in the CIA, just as there are General Walkers in the army, who simply couldn’t accept this situation and who thought of Kennedy as a traitor. And traitors are executed.”
This is libellous in the extreme. It implies that
Allen Dulles would be a party to killing Kennedy and hushing up the truth
because he lost his job after the Bay of Pigs. Such charges, as sloppy as they
are wild, are dishonorable and dissolve the fabric of society. They seek to
destroy a man’s reputation on the basis of evil surmise and guilt by
association. People on the Left ought to recall the all too recent past before
allowing themselves to be drawn into folly by such tactics.
The Joesten book is rubbish, and Carl Marzani—whom I defended against loose charges in the worst days of the witch hunt—ought to have had more sense of public responsibility than to publish it. Thomas G. Buchanan, another victim of witch hunt days, has gone in for similar rubbish in his book, “Who Killed Kennedy?” You couldn’t convict a chicken thief on the flimsy slap-together of surmise, half-fact and whole untruth in either book. Here again elementary fairness is involved. The Joesten book implies that the rightist Texas oil millionaire H. L. Hunt was involved in the plot to kill Kennedy. Buchanan names an oilman he calls Mr. X. This imputes murder to a man whose views we dislike, and does so without evidence of any kind. Buchanan writes as if he were penning a whodunit. “I believe the murder of the President,” says Buchanan, “was provoked, primarily, by fear of the domestic and international consequences of the Moscow Pact: The danger of disarmament which would disrupt the industries on which the plotters depended and of an international détente which would, in their view, have threatened the eventual nationalization of their oil investments overseas.” And the whole commission, from Chief Justice Warren down, and its whole staff, and the vast network of the police, the FBI, and CIA and the Secret Service all conspired to keep this secret? Not one man felt impelled by conscience to break out and tell the truth? People who believe such things belong in the booby-hatch.
Gen. Walker Also Cries Whitewash
If the FBI and the CIA were so powerful, why didn’t they take advantage of the murder by a supposed Communist and Castroite to set off a wave of anti-Red hysteria, to poison our relations with Cuba and the Soviet Union? Why did they clear the Communists at home and abroad of complicity? Why did they disprove the wild stories about Oswald’s links with Castro? The box at the bottom [of this paragraph] gives a sample of the wild whoppers an unscrupulous secret service could have set loose. If they had so much power in the Warren Commission why didn’t they hush up its damning criticism of the FBI and the Secret Service (see [first box above])? If Oswald was innocent, why did they have to kill him to shut him up? If he was killed as part of a conspiracy, why was he killed in full view of the TV cameras when he might have been bumped off on a fake ambush while being moved at night to another prison? This is an insane morass of paranoid conjecture, and those who remain in it even after the Warren report are either unscrupulous or sick. Look at the ultimate lunacy: General Walker, who regarded Kennedy as a tool of the Communists, is sure he was killed by the Reds. He attacks the Warren report as a whitewash. “There’s bound to have been a plot,” Gen. walker says. On the other hand Leftists who lean to the Chinese viewpoint and regarded Kennedy in his lifetime as a warmonger and tool of the right, are now sure he must have been killed by a rightist conspiracy. How wacky can you get?
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