LITTLE wonder that an endless stream of books continue to roll off the presses about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The event was one of the pivotal turning points of late-20th-century America. Millions of Americans remember where they were on Nov. 22, 1963, when JFK was gunned down on Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Later, the Warren Commission, made up of some of the most trusted men in Washington, confirmed what Americans had been told. Yes, Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin. Yes, he acted a lone.
The Warren Commission report has been increasingly tattered by time, in part because of the work of such gadflies as writer Mark Lane and former New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison. The House Select Committee on Assassination, which issued its report in July 1979, concluded that Oswald killed the president. It said that no United States government agency was involved, nor was the Soviet Union nor Cuba.
But the report found a high probability of a second gunman. And it raised the possibility that organized crime was implicated. Earlier, in 1976, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee had suggested that the assassination might have been in retaliation for Central Intelligence Agency assassination attempts against Cuba's Fidel Castro. The Senate committee put the spotlight on a whole subculture of shadowy "agents," including organized crime figures ostensibly working for the CIA.
And now, the assassination has been given new attention following release of Oliver Stone's searing film, "JFK," which argues that the shooting was a coup dtat linked to officials at the highest levels of the United States government.
These three disturbing books all add new insights to the case against the official viewpoint of the Warren Commission. Taken individually, they fail to establish a "smoking gun" explaining who shot JFK. Taken together, they offer startling new perspectives on Washington in 1963 and 1964: of a young president eager to get out of Vietnam; of a president intimately linked to organized crime; of a US intelligence community deeply apprehensive that President Kennedy was going to dismantle the CIA.
It should also be noted that two of the books, "JFK and Vietnam" and "Double Cross," are published by Warner Books, which is owned by the company - Time Warner - distributing the Stone film.
THE most measured of the three books is JFK and Vietnam (Warner Books, 506 pp., $22.95). John M. Newman is an Asia expert at the University of Maryland. He reports, convincingly, that President Kennedy was locked in a struggle with his own defense and intelligence planners and totally opposed to sending US combat troops to Vietnam; JFK, he says, was going to withdraw US forces there after the 1964 presidential election.
Attorney Mark Lane wrote "Rush to Judgment," the first major critique on the Warren Commission. In Plausible Denial: Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? (Thunder's Mouth Press, 393 pp., $22.95), Lane suggests that the killing of JFK leads to the corridors of the CIA, where top officials believed that Kennedy wanted to dismantle their agency following the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
Lane's latest book, which is polemical but disturbing, is based on government documents and sworn depositions from a libel trial in the US District Court of Miami in 1978.
The most explosive of the three books, as befits its crime-genre title, is Double Cross, by Sam and Chuck Giancana (Warner Books, 366 pp., $22.95). Chuck Giancana is the younger brother of former Chicago mob boss Sam "Mooney" Giancana. Co-author Sam Giancana is Mooney's "godson."
The book, written in soap-opera style, has been highly publicized on talk shows; the Giancanas argue that Kennedy was the victim of a Mafia hit. The book claims that film actress Marilyn Monroe and Robert Kennedy, the President's brother, were also killed by organized crime, called in this book "the Outfit."
The Giancanas assert that Marilyn Monroe was deliberately murdered by the mob to embarrass Robert Kennedy, who had supposedly visited her the day of her death. The assassins are said to have used a suppository laced with toxic drugs. But Robert Kennedy, fearful that he would be linked to the death, had her room cleared of evidence by federal agents.
JFK, the Giancanas allege, was killed because of Jack and Robert Kennedy's increased targeting of organized crime - the "double cross" referred to in the title. Oswald, they allege, was a CIA man and a patsy. The actual assassin was a mob hit man who also worked for the CIA.
How credible is all of this? The Giancanas offer no direct evidence. Everything is hearsay. What is troubling is that the overall account has a plausible logic to it. But if so many people knew about the mob link to the shooting, as "Double Cross" asserts, why hasn't something leaked out over the years?
Americans love conspiracy theories. And a whole new generation of Americans was not around in 1963 and 1964 when the assassination was fresh news and the Warren Commission revered. That's why it has become so imperative that, almost 30 years after the Kennedy assassination, the US government finally take the wraps off the official documents and let the public examine the evidence.