“The many negative things he has heard about Dallas are being confirmed. Trusted friends are warning him to cancel this leg of the Texas trip. But John Kennedy is the president of the United States of America – all of them. There should be no place in this vast country where he has to be afraid to visit.”
“Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (2012)
I’ve always been fascinated by the presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I have to admit that a lot of my interest is in the conspiracy theories surrounding his assassination in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963. Also, though, I like to delve into his policies while he was in office and his handling of the political and social climate of the country at this volatile time. I’ve oft contemplated how the American people feel about the accomplishments of his office when considered in the light of the revelations of his prolific marital infidelities; I wonder if this harms his legacy. Kennedy and other presidents often cause me to ponder the separation between their ability to govern and their personalities; is it worth noting the sometimes vast difference between a president’s comportment and the way he runs the country? Can a man with severe personal failings still be a successful president?
Killing Kennedy is one of a best-selling series from O’Reilly and Dugard that includes books on Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ and Ronald Reagan. The three books of this series that I’ve read are excellent. Very informative, very business-like and I particularly enjoy the present tense style of writing that is employed as it puts you right inside the action. Contributing to this feeling is the method of citing exact place and time at the beginning of each chapter.
In keeping with their practical method of relating the story, the writers of the Killing series keep to the facts, citing many and varied sources to give the reader intimate inside information pertinent to many historical events. Personally, I was happy to read in the sources that books on the Kennedys by my man, J. Randy Taraborrelli, were utilized. J. Randy knows the Kennedy family, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra and how they intertwine.
Killing Kennedy spelled out for me in plain terms some of the events that took place during the Kennedy administration. The first of which was the Bay of Pigs invasion. Here is the first example of this book explaining to the reader the origin of some of the enemies that JFK created during his time in office. I’m no expert on the Bay of Pigs but when Fidel Castro took control of Cuba he turned it into a Communist country which was obviously problematic for their neighbours 90 miles away, the U.S.A. The Bay of Pigs was an ill-fated attempt to oust Castro from power. When Kennedy reneged and pulled the plug on the operation when it had essentially already begun, he earned the ire of the CIA who were involved in the operation and also the Cuban exiles who were stranded in Cuba waiting for the next phase of the operation that never came.
The book explains Kennedy’s loss of face internationally in the wake of the Bay of Pigs and does not sugarcoat what it considers to be the failures of Kennedy and his office. The ship was soon righted though during the tenuous 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Killing Kennedy brings home the fear that permeated the country when it was discovered that, at any moment, the Soviets could launch the missiles they had placed in Cuba and trigger global nuclear war. The book describes well Jackie Kennedy’s desire to stay with her husband during this frightening time, expressing her desire to die by his side if that’s what it should come to. For someone of my age, it was interesting to be placed in the mindset of an American during this time when thermonuclear annihilation was a very real concern.
Fascinating too was the book’s description of Lyndon Baines Johnson and his political neutering during his time as vice president. The hayseed politician from Texas had nothing to do as the VP and John Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Bobby, had no use for him; in fact, Johnson was barely even acknowledged by the Kennedys. Johnson feared that he would not be on the ticket in ’64 and – without the vice presidency, such as it was – LBJ would have nothing as the politics of his home state had moved on without him. In Killing Kennedy, the authors make it plain that only Kennedy’s removal from office would save Johnson’s political life.
The book pivots back and forth between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald. Again, incredibly detailed but dispassionate reporting is employed to tell the tale of Oswald who is described as a little man who is a loser on all fronts and wants to be noticed, to do something grand. He’s described as a communist who doesn’t hate JFK but wants to make a name for himself.
The thing that really struck me about Killing Kennedy is the manner in which it stays well clear of the discussion of any conspiracies surrounding Kennedy’s murder. What it does do however is document the enemies that Kennedy made. Organized crime played a role in getting Kennedy elected – and then attorney general Bobby tried to eradicate these criminal concerns. Enemy Number 1; the Mafia. Kennedy pulled the plug on the Bay of Pigs invasion, leaving Cubans stranded on a beach and the Central Intelligence Agency with no coup to carry out. Enemies 2 and 3; Cuban exiles and the CIA. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK dealt cannily with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev as opposed to invading Cuba, a move that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were pushing for. Enemy Number 4; the Pentagon. Kennedy pushes to implement civil rights, drawing the enmity of many in the south, including those in the Texas city of Dallas where “KO the Kennedys” bumper stickers are common. Could we say that many Southerners, including the citizens of Dallas, are Enemy Number 5? Lyndon Johnson is reviled by the Kennedy brothers and only attaining the presidency himself will save LBJ’s career. All these things added together can cause the reader to consider the very real possibility of a conspiracy in the assassination of John Kennedy; many people do not want him to remain president.
But as I say, this is not a book that puts forth conspiracy theories. It lets the reader decide. After Oswald had been captured and arrested for killing the president, he uttered the words “I’m just a patsy”, indicating that he was just a fall guy and that others were involved. And more importantly, J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, desperately wanted jurisdiction over the investigation into the death of the president; shooting the president is not a federal offence and therefore the Dallas police were in charge. However, conspiring to kill the president is a federal offence. Hoover suggested there was a conspiracy so that he could gain control of the investigation. In the hours after the assassination, the two people that initially hinted at a conspiracy would have had something to gain if there had been one.
The main goal of Killing Kennedy is an admirable one. It is to pay tribute to a great man. A war hero, a husband and father, a brother and a president that acted with honour and with the best interests of the country – and the world – at heart. It is also a tribute to a time when optimism ruled the land; perhaps the last great golden era in American history.
Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot can be easily found at Amazon, Abe Books or Bill O’Reilly’s website. It has also been made into a film starring Rob Lowe as JFK.