Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery by Norman Mailer

“Mailer, after all, was the sort of author who could both dazzle and infuriate, often within the space of a single paragraph. He was a major talent who could not keep himself from reminding you that he was a major talent, an astute observer of his moment, who tended to operate as if that moment were entirely his.”

David L. Ulin, LA Times Staff Writer

The trouble with reading books by Norman Mailer is there is too much of Norman in them. Such a dominating character in American literary art, to read him is to sense he is trying to dominate the reader as well. To “dazzle and infuriate” as David Ulin says above. His foray into the mysterious nature and ways of Lee Oswald in his Oswald’s Tale is a prime example of that. There are some new tidbits scattered about and his foray into Russia seeking new information regarding Oswald’s time there which is informative, but Mailer is sticking to the script. The Lone Gunman is staying alone. Much of the book features Warren Commission interview transcripts and abundant sections of written work by other authors (largely, Priscilla Johnson McMillan, interviewer of Oswald in Moscow in 1959 and Marina Oswald’s biographer and also, a known CIA dabbler which is never admitted to in this book.) Occasionally, Mailer throws in tasty little morsels of his own to consider.

Mailer back in the day, was a conspiracy believer and then at some point decided the evidence did not merit that view and joined up with the Lone Nut purists where he stayed during his final days. That influence can seen throughout the book. Mailer takes a conventional view of the life of Lee Oswald, though he seems fascinated with forays into his personal habits, idiosyncrasies and sex life. Ironic that Mailer explores Oswald’s sexual habits in detail while ignoring more celebrated topics, such as, was he an intelligence agent as his mother claimed? There are so many controversies here that Mailer never addresses as if he doesn’t want to dirty his hands with the thing.

How Mailer Deals With Controversy
Mailer resorts to the same parsing of selective evidence as Posner, Bugliosi, and a host of other Warren Report defenders do. That of course, comes as no surprise.

A case in point his how his handles Oswald’s street scuffle with DRE member Carlos Bringuier while handling out pamphlets for the pro-Castro FPCC which has Oswald arrested, provides him local media time and establishes his persona as a communist in the public’s eye.

But along the way something odd happens that lets us know there is more here than meets the eye. Because Oswald mails a letter to the FPCC headquarters in New York vaguely describing the altercation. The trouble is, it was postmarked before the scuffle took place. This one little thing casts doubt on this street tussle being a spontaneous affair and implies it was a preplanned event. In CIA parlance, Oswald was being built a Legend. A common procedure of spy-craft.

And how does our great American literary figure handle this? Mailer recruits cabalist traditions and Classical Hebrew, with notions of calling things into being so as to create one’s future. In Mailer’s words, “To say, therefore, that you have done something that you have not yet done becomes the first and essential step in shaping the future.”

Sure, sure. Mailer resorts to metaphysics while missing the obvious–that Oswald mailed the letter too early for what was apparently a contrived event. Earlier, Oswald had approached the DRE to offer his Marine experience to Carlos Bringuier to train them. He offered them a donation as well and was rebuffed on both counts. It should be pointed out here, that the all Cuban DRE was being trained and financed by the CIA. A fact that Mailer never points out to his readers. Evidently, Oswald was on a fishing expedition, doing the labor of a “dangle” for somebody or some agency.

Frankly, I am perplexed as to why he would resort to this. It’s Mailer the novelist speaking here, not Mailer the seeker of the truth. I find it hard to believe that he even has confidence in these words. It is an odd way to brush off the controversy and it just doesn’t work on many levels. For a man so brilliant to revert to this weirdness is absurd but Mailer does so with no shame at all.
I guess when the mind is made up that there can’t be a conspiracy; that Lee Oswald is only lurching from one delusion and flight of fancy to the next, with no greater cause in effect.

KGB Transcripts
While investigation Lee Oswald’s Russian period, Mailer gets access to KGB transcripts taken from bugs that were placed in Oswald and Marina’s apartment. Ample sections of these are reproduced in the book. Basically, I found them not to add much light on Oswald’s character and it all amounts to a lot of bickering between a newly married couple. It’s essentially boring.

However, one item stands out, and it’s another thing Mailer omits–and that is what language are they speaking in? While it is known that Oswald was an excellent Russian speaker, it is also known that during his time in Russia he didn’t show off that skill that much. He apparently did upon meeting Marina, who thought at first he was a local as he spoke with a Baltic accent. But when socializing with the Ziger family, they report he never spoke Russian in front of them, only in English to their father who understood English. Fearing being arrested for being spy, which he most likely was, Oswald never wanted this skill to be known to those who were listening in on him. It would denote a swift arrest for espionage.

Conversely, his wife Marina was apparently a very good English speaker but spoke little of it when she emigrated over to the United States. John Armstrong in his book, Harvey and Lee, states that he saw Marina’s handwritten notebooks in the National Archives and they were all in English. Lee wrote Marina letters in English to her while living in Russia and those are in evidence. Even mother Marguerite reveals in her Commission testimony detailed conversations she had with her daughter in law–conversations in English, without anyone to render in Russian. Yet Marina needs a translator to give her sworn testimony to the Warren Commission in 1964. What is going on here? Evidently, she was under similar pressures in America as Lee was in Russia. Which of course, would fashion her an operative as well. At any rate, both were in a Cold War contest to not reveal too much of who they are and what they know to the Big Players.

And all of this interesting stuff Mailer ignores to create his vision of Lee Oswald as Walter Mitty, with his visions of greatness, constantly encountering dead ends, seeing his destiny smothered before his eyes. The other Oswald, the one that was a shadow warrior for the Home Team, which would explain a lot of his mysterious undertakings, has no place in the narrative, Mailer’s narrative.

The Pay Off
So when the smoke clears we’ve got our lone gunman solely responsible for the act and it’s time to move along. It’s all a sad dream anyway. As I was reading this work, I kept getting the feeling that Mailer would rather have jotted this all down as a novel. After all, he considered the novel to be the apex of literary art, and art he had a gift for. He at times uses the same devices one does in fiction writing and those devices seem out of place, like when invents the metaphysical reason for Oswald’s forecast of a scuffle in a letter before the event happens to work his way out of that mess. This is what a fiction writer does–gives his character some luck out of nowhere to extract himself from a crisis. When Mailer doesn’t wish to deal with something troublesome, he ignores it. At times he seems set on exposing a deep truth and then veers off of it as it if the whole scene got too hot. Towards the end he refers to Lee Oswald as a ghost; the First Ghost he says. As if there are not hundreds of other ghosts haunting the American historical landscape. Once again, a metaphor better suited in fiction.

Oswald’s Tale takes off like it’s going to be an interesting, groundbreaking book, but that never happens as it fades into the same old thing for those of us familiar with the Oswald story. There are lots of fields left fallow, as Mailer never wants to deal with any of the major controversies in the case. After all, that might muddy up the nice, clean story being presented. Even at this late stage in JFK assassination research, by hundreds of researchers, Mailer still thinks the men selected to be a part of the commission were honorable and above reproach. You can still think that so long as your ignore their histories as Mailer does. Like many of his ilk, the Warren Report stands as the final authority on what happened and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the last official government investigation conducted in the late 1970s, which concluded in its report there was a probable conspiracy, is given no consideration at all.

Oswald’s Tale is really the same account of Lee Oswald’s life the Warren Report told us, just with better prose.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Sum Of All Things

"The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy."

HSCA, Final Report, 1979

From the very beginning, the Powers that Be have treated the Warren Report as if it is the word of God, come down from on high, etched in stone. In the picture above, that big book almost looks like a stone tablet. Why, it might was well be Moses himself placing it in Lyndon Johnson’s awaiting hands. Later, he would tell Walter Cronkite that he never believed in the lone gunman theory. After second thoughts he asked CBS is delete the comment, under the grounds of National Security. A moment of candor we are not supposed to know about.

In a 1999 doctoral dissertation by Ross Frank Ralston, he relates an important concept in the study of the JFK. It is the principle of "hegemony" in the media. In other words, the ability of the certain players in the media to dominate others. According to Ralston, those main players are CBS and Time-Life in the way they presented the government’s case in the assassination. And early on, they set the standard as to how the assassination would be relayed to the public after the Warren Report was published in late 1964. The Warren Report, as Ralston summarizes is, "a man in a building shot a man in a car..."

However, there is more than one theory of what happened because there was another, and final, investigation launched in 1977 to become known as the House Select Committee on Assassinations. In this case they explored both the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Despite political infighting and government agencies lacking in openness and outright lying to the Committee (i.e., CIA) they final report published in 1979 concluded there was a possibility of a conspiracy in the deaths of Kennedy and King but they didn't have the means to continue any further investigation.

So we are left with two official government investigations both with different outcomes. The first, a lone gunman with no confederates; and the last, more than one gunman with a conspiracy in play.

What Ralston concentrates on in his dissertation is how the media focuses on the former, ignoring the latter, and extending into every possible area of the media from print to TV. In effect, the Warren Report becomes the sum of all things.

The Watch Dog Became The Lap Dog
The way the "Fourth Estate" functions with the Kennedy assassination has long been the fly in the ointment. It is a frustrating issue to examine. Where they should question, they accept without comment. Isn't one of the aims of journalism to research what the facts are? Research what you are told? After all, we are not living in Nazi state, right? In many ways the American press operates like a propaganda arm of the government. Joseph Goebbels never had it so good! One can view this behavior in the way they cover the official government investigations from JFK, to Watergate, to 9-11.

And therein lies the disconnect. The public will question what the are told; the mainstream press, largely, will not. The Watch Dog became the Lap Dog. No one in the American Press ever did a critical analysis of the Warren Report, the 26 volumes of collected evidence and hearings, from then till now. It is as if they wanted to prove the Government's story of what happened. And why? Probably because press independence is a thing of the past. Plus, there are many connections between the government and press at this point. As Carl Bernstein reported in a piece for Rolling Stone magazine in 1976, he found at least 400 CIA operatives in the press, either as volunteers or paid agents.

The internet itself has been a great boon to critical thought on JFK’s assassination. No other media outlet comes close. True, there is a lot of junk out there, misinformation out there from both sides of the issue. One ultimately needs to do their own research to filter out the nonsense. And as I have found in my own research, a careful examination of the evidence paints a totally different picture of the assassination and the surrounding events. Well, back in the day when there only three networks reporting the news it was easy to play cover for the Ruling Class. Or for that matter, cover up anything that status quo wanted. Of course they have their own shills in operation on the Internet now as well, but they are all just voices–their impact is diminished as there are so many more voices in opposition.

Various Machinations
Ross Frank Ralston does a good job at accounting the various machinations of CBS, Time and Life. It’s the standard mishmash of cherry picked evidence, straw man arguments, and slight of hand, misdirection ploys. These guys are good! And run this same game now. Just watch any History Channel or Discovery Channel documentary on the assassination of Kennedy and you’ll see the Warren Commission’s conclusion verified every time. If you take note of any of these documentaries, they aim is to support the government’s theories and claims on everything from assassinations to terror attacks. While there are too many to document in this post, you can download the PDF HERE (about 7.9 megs in size).

I would however, like to point out a few discrepancies that Ralston chronicles regarding the 1967 CBS Kennedy assassination documentary since so much malfeasance occurred masquerading as a legitimate journalistic investigation.

Such as, when they tell us that Oswald’s rifle, utilized by an expert could recycle the weapon in 5 seconds. (The Warren Report settled on 4.8 to 5.6 seconds.) Sounds reasonable, of course. The trouble is, they never alert the viewers that Oswald was never an expert rifleman and barely qualified on his last of three marksmen tests. Nor do they mention the three metal shims used to properly align the telescopic site, or a host of other problems with the lone gunman scenario. (And I might add, you can read about this and a lot more here on this blog.) And since then, a FOIA request has uncovered a CIA document that their own photographic analysis department concluded a time span of just 1.6 seconds, obviously far too fast for anybody to work the bolt manually.

Never the less, it’s interesting to see how they manipulate the facts so the man in the building is forever shooting at the man in the car. The Lone Gunman is an ever present character in documentaries like this since he’s the fall-guy to quash conspiracy. In CBS ballistics tests done with a Mannlicher-Carcano, which by the way, is a model they acquired, not Oswald’s original weapon, they used it to shoot up masonite and gelatin dummies to simulate bone and flesh. Their conclusion? Yep, one bullet could do all that damage on two men. The trouble is, they never showed what the spent bullets looked like. Did they resemble CE399, the so-called pristine bullet? We’ll never know for sure but my hunch is that it did not. It certainly didn’t at the Edgewood Arsenal test where experts fired at the radial bones in 10 different cadavers and all ten bullets were, as Dr. Joseph Dolce said in his report, “markedly deformed.” He was never called to testify for the Commission and his report was concealed.

One thing Ralston left out, which I think is particularly egregious of CBS, is the way they treated Orville Nix in this show. He, of the Nix film and a witness to shots coming from the grassy knoll was interviewed in such a way so they could edit the tape later so he was heard saying the shots came from the school book depository building. This bit of tomfoolery is what they Nazis used to make propaganda films showing Jews in the ghetto, living happily. Years later, another TV producer would pull the same stunt on Jim Garrison making him look like a nut saying there were 33 gunmen in Dealey Plaza. When actually, he was referring to the number of people involved in a conspiracy. Garrison thought only six gunman were involved in the slaying, which were cut out of the final broadcast in order to make him look like a fool. This is an example of the nasty games these people play under the guise of “journalism.” Yes, journalism for their Masters.

And this is why the Internet so great. They can’t do this now. It would be posted somewhere on the web. One can see why the Ruling Class despises this new medium so much and are constantly floating ways of controlling it. As we used to say, “The free press is free for whomever owns one.” Now we all do.

Look at the lengths the government goes to quash a conspiracy in the death of John F. Kennedy? If this case is so strong and so true, why go to all the trouble to manipulate witness testimony as the CBS did with Orville Nix, or Life Magazine’s notorious shuffling of the Zapruder film frames in order to fool the public in thinking all the shots came from the rear? What do they have to fear? Why do they want us to believe this myth they created, so strongly?

Probably because there is official history and there is what actually happened. They fear the truth and the public’s lack of confidence in them and their seat of power. Finally, they failed. The Majority do not believe the official fiction of what happened. They fail every time they have to resort to Nazi-style propaganda techniques in order to present their case, and by doing so, show us how weak their case really is.

Fonzi, Gaeton; The Last Investigation; Law, William In The Eye of History; HSCA Report, 1979; Warren Report, 1964