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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Letters to the Editor -- Yes, Oswald Alone Killed Kennedy

Here are some letters to editor regarding Jacob Cohen's article, "Yes, Oswald Alone Killed Kennedy."

The Kennedy Assassination

To the Editor: Bravo for Jacob Cohen's article, “Yes, Oswald Alone Killed Kennedy” [June]. It is concise, clear, and right…

To the Editor:

Bravo for Jacob Cohen’s article, “Yes, Oswald Alone Killed Kennedy” [June]. It is concise, clear, and right on the mark. It should set the record straight, but unfortunately those who believe there was a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy, and a government conspiracy at that, will never be silenced. . . .

My own feeling is that it is quite possible that Oswald did not act alone, but I certainly believe that government officials were not part of the conspiracy either to kill Kennedy or to influence the investigation. A lone accomplice could have remained silent all these years and might now be dead, his secret buried with him. However, it is just not conceivable that our government could have been involved and that no evidence would be forthcoming over this entire 30-year period . . . no death-bed confessions, no anonymous letters, etc., etc. . . .

No one is disputing Oliver Stone’s right to make a movie about the subject. However, if he were not intellectually dishonest, he would have changed the names and made the movie as fiction and let the public decide if it was relevant to the Kennedy assassination. . . . Instead, he presented it as a documentary, thereby eliciting severe criticism. . . . The fact that many of the “right people”—such as Tom Wicker and Anthony Lewis—labeled the movie bad fiction must really bother Stone. . . . On the other hand, . . . Studs Terkel was quoted as saying in effect that he doesn’t understand the criticism of the movie, since, after all, everyone knows our government acts in this manner. Unfortunately, there is a segment of the American public that agrees with Terkel. . . .

In any case, the damage to our young people, as Mr. Cohen concludes, is incalculable. . . . It is one thing to be critical of government actions as the facts warrant but quite another to lead our young people to believe that a conspiracy existed when there are no facts. . . .

Philip J. Schiller

Chicago, Illinois


To the Editor:

I have never understood the fascination of the American public with the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. The movie JFK, which evidently incorporates all the various conspiracy theories, purports to be history, but is instead a distortion, a dark fairy tale. A district attorney who prosecutes a person for a criminal offense without any credible evidence would ordinarily be considered a villain. . . . Yet Oliver Stone makes Jim Garrison a hero. The movie is an abomination, yet I am certain that Jacob Cohen’s careful analysis of the facts will not change the situation. However, it is still worthwhile to reexamine the record.

A former conspiracist, Jim Moore, in his book Conspiracy of One, presents a time analysis of the Zapruder film which makes sense and is based on evidence that is in the record. The first shot missed. Moore believes this shot was fired at Z-186. The movements of President Kennedy and Governor Connally at Z-228 and Z-230 were in reaction to this shot and not to the shot that hit them. The second shot, fired at Z-235, three seconds after the first shot, was the bullet that hit both the President and the Governor. The third and final shot is obvious at Z-312 and Z-313, over four seconds after the second shot.

Something that never seems to get mentioned is that the Attorney General of the United States on November 22, 1963, was Robert Kennedy. Enough said. Hurrah for Jacob Cohen.

Howard R. Harris

San Diego, California


To the Editor:

Jacob Cohen’s defense of the conclusions of the Warren Commission is the best that I have encountered. . . .

One qualification: the Warren Commission may have been unduly influenced by the testimony of the Connallys. . . . May it not be that the first shot (recovered bullet) penetrated the President’s neck and Connally’s body, but did not cause Connally’s wrist wound? Shot two could then have struck Connally’s wrist as he collapsed, and ricocheted, the core of it striking the curbing near where James T. Tague stood.

I have long believed that the above revision would strengthen the Warren Commission’s principal conclusion, i.e., that Oswald inflicted all of the President’s wounds.

Ultimately, my lesson from the controversy is fully as terrifying as any that Oliver Stone would have me learn. It has now been proven that, even without credible evidence, a few tendentious persons, their outcries amplified by the media, can discredit the work of government officials and leaders.

Ivan W. Parkins

Mount Pleasant, Michigan


To the Editor:

Jacob Cohen writes: “[I]f the idea . . . was to frame Oswald for having fired three shots, why fire six? Did the Conspiracy expect that no one would notice?” Mr. Cohen might also have added that if the idea was to frame Oswald by firing from behind the motorcade, why would the Conspiracy place its marksmen on the knoll in front of the motorcade? Necessarily, the Conspiracy would have had to instruct the assassins to shoot Kennedy from the front, but in such a way as to make it appear that the shots came from behind. . . .

Jerry Spindel

Newton, Massachusetts


To the Editor:

I thoroughly enjoyed Jacob Cohen’s spirited defense of the Warren Commission’s findings, and would like to add something for the benefit of conspiracy-minded people who might object to his casual dismissal of Jean Hill, who has made a career of claiming she saw a gunman running from the grassy knoll.

Less than an hour after the assassination, Jean Hill was interviewed by a reporter from WBAP-TV, the NBC affiliate in Dallas, and her unedited interview was broadcast to the entire country. In it, she did claim that she thought she saw a man running from the scene, but never mentioned seeing a gun of any kind.

However, she also claimed that from her vantage point of less than twenty feet from the presidential limousine, she could see a nonexistent fuzzy dog between the President and Mrs. Kennedy. Later, before the Warren Commission, Mrs. Hill admitted that she had been held up to a great deal of ridicule by her friends for having declared on national television that she had seen a dog in the presidential limousine that never was.

Warren Commission critics who constantly point to Mrs. Hill as “proof” of a grassy-knoll gunman (as Oliver Stone does) always leave out this element of her story because it creates a problem for them. If Jean Hill could not accurately remember the details of what was in the presidential limousine just twenty feet away, then her recollection of what she thought she saw from more than 100 feet away becomes highly suspect, and would surely never have stood up in any court of law.

Mr. Cohen is to be commended for providing a glimmer of sanity amid the endless barrage of mindless garbage generated by Oliver Stone’s movie. . . .

Eric J. Paddon

Devon, Pennsylvania


To the Editor:

Jacob Cohen’s “Yes, Oswald Alone Killed Kennedy” contains one small error: he conflates the names of S.M. Holland (a witness to the assassination who said he heard four shots) and A.J. Millican (who said he heard eight, a record) and gives Holland’s initials as AJ.

Other than that, the article is an excellent introduction to the case. I would like to expand on one point, namely, the way the Warren Commission’s critics deal with the earwitness testimony. Essentially, they(1)ignore the broad consensus among the witnesses that there were exactly three shots; (2) ignore the virtual unanimity among the witnesses that the shots all seemed to come from one location; (3) tendentiously count the witnesses who by some stretch of the imagination might be said to have identified some place in the general area of the knoll as the source of the shots . . . ; (4) use this testimony as a springboard to postulate four, five, six, or seven shots from two, three, or four different locations . . . ; and then (5) piously accuse the Commission of a cover-up for allegedly ignoring these witnesses’ testimony.

Unfortunately these machinations have served to obscure the fact that the main dispute among witnesses was whether there were three shots, all from the Book Depository, or three, all from the knoll. In Rush to Judgment, Mark Lane scored this issue 58-32 in favor of the knoll; Mr. Cohen mentions a report done for the House Committee (before its last-minute conversion to the belief that there was a conspiracy), which scores it 49-21 in favor of the Depository. Lane’s count is clearly biased, taking advantage of the very vague descriptions so many witnesses gave. But is the count Mr. Cohen cites, which is based largely on the same body of testimony, much better? I do not think so; I cannot find 49 witnesses who indicated the Depository, much as I would like to. But the exact number makes little difference; there was plainly some kind of distorting effect at work, and the rest of the evidence overwhelmingly supports the Commission’s version. . . .

Still, the great thing about having a conspiracy theory is that you can always explain away any contrary testimony by assuming it to be a lie and any contrary evidence by assuming it to be faked. After all, if critics can claim that dozens of frames on the Zapruder film were somehow seamlessly retouched to remove a gaping wound and to put in another one somewhere else, then there is nothing that cannot be similarly explained. . . .

Avinoam Freedman

Teaneck, New Jersey


To the Editor:

Excepting only the Lincoln assassination and the attempt on Truman, all American would-be assassins have been “lone nuts.” And, where the assassin succeeded, the resulting outpourings of national outrage and grief have inspired precursors to Jack Ruby. Charles Guiteau, Garfield’s assassin, was shot at in his cell by a guard who was later acquitted on grounds of insanity. John Wilkes Booth was killed by a mentally unbalanced soldier who some years before had castrated himself out of religious mania.

Presidential deaths have also inspired millions of credulous and suggestible people to swallow labyrinthine conspiracy theories concocted by con men and/or fanatics. Warren Harding died of food poisoning, but a book by Gaston Means, a corrupt former FBI agent fired for his participation in Harding-era scandals, convinced many that he had actually been murdered by his wife out of anger over his affairs or for some other motive. . . .

The tumult, confusion, mismanagement, and subsequent charges of ineptitude that inevitably accompany a sudden, totally unexpected national calamity provide dark questions for the delectation of conspiracy nuts. (What about the other man on the train platform where Garfield was shot? . . . Why did the police allow him to slip away unidentified and unquestioned?)

Lincoln’s assassination did involve a conspiracy: during the war, Booth’s gang had been encouraged by Confederate intelligence agents . . . in a harebrained scheme to kidnap Lincoln in order to bring about a general release of Confederate prisoners. The surrender having prevented this, Booth . . . struck in revenge, self consciously imitating the classical tyrannicides. But conspiracy nuts of various persuasions had other explanations. One is the familiar nefarious-Jewish-bankers scenario: led by the Rothschilds, the international Jewish bankers killed Lincoln, an economic protectionist, to facilitate their taking over the American economy. Another theory . . . was that the Catholic Church, which supposedly had supported secession in order to weaken the U.S., was behind the murder. . . . Moreover, à la JFK, it was “proved” that Catholic priests a thousand miles away knew of the assassination before it had even occurred. . . .

Mr. Cohen’s analysis and debunking of the JFK conspiracy nonsense are truly masterful. But he did not have space for the following, which are among our favorite points:

Why did Oswald wait until the limousine was going away rather than shoot as it was approaching him? Pointing a rifle out a window at scores of oncoming Secret Service agents and police minimizes an assassin’s chance of living long enough to get shots off, much less escaping unscathed. Oswald was a nut, not a moron. Moreover, the approach shot, which would have involved leading and tracking the target ever downward as the limousine approached, was inferior to the going-away shot which was virtually straight-on, giving Oswald what was, in effect, a stationary shot.

Direction of the shots. Stone thinks other assassins fired from in front of JFK’s limousine, whereas the Book Depository from which Oswald fired is in back. Had there been a conspiracy to blame the shooting on Oswald, the assassins would all have been positioned to shoot from the back. Having them shoot from the front necessarily would have revealed that it was a conspiracy if any of the assassins had hit JFK or the limo or its other occupants. . . .

Non-qualification of conspiracy cult writers. The various conspiracy writers include not a single person technically qualified as a coroner, pathologist, criminologist, or historian. From the biographical blurbs on the books, their qualifications are: High Treason—Robert J. Groden wrote a previous JFK conspiracy cult book and Harrison E. Livingstone graduated from Harvard, attended an unnamed law school (from which he apparently did not graduate), and writes fiction (unspecified); Best Evidence—David Lifton is a graduate of an engineering school; Mafia Kingfish—John H. Davis has written gossip books about the Kennedys and Bouviers; Rush to Judgment—the egregious Mark Lane is a self-promoting leftist lawyer and defender of America’s foremost anti-Semitic activist group, the Liberty Lobby (which, along with the John Birch Society, attributes the assassination to the “Jew-ridden” CIA, Trilateral Commission, and similar bêtes noires of the lunatic fringe Right); Contract on America—the only nonfiction work we recall that has no biographical information about its author. Last but not least comes Colonel Prouty, Oliver Stone’s “technical adviser” on the film. Prouty’s book is published by the Liberty Lobby, on whose advisory board he sits along with the former Grand Dragon of the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan.

Compare the “qualifications” of these conspiracy cultists to those who reject the lunacy: Professors Cohen and Lattimer; Nobel Prize-winning scientist Luis Alvarez; Colonel Martin Fackler, M.D., an experienced battle surgeon and co-author of the NATO medical manual, who until his retirement headed the Army’s Experimental Ballistics Laboratory.

Kennedy’s politics: . . . Kennedy was an ardent cold-war liberal—with the emphasis on cold war. His world view was shaped by the failure of appeasement in the years leading up to World War II: “The 1930’s taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked, ultimately leads to war” (October 22, 1962). . . .

Stone projects his own violently inconsistent beliefs on Kennedy to create the myth that Kennedy was murdered to prevent his abandoning operations against Cuba and Vietnam. In the Eisenhower years, Kennedy had been a vociferous partisan of the domino theory. . . . He was deeply concerned not to be blamed for the loss of Southeast Asia, which, according to the domino theory, he believed would be lost unless he opposed Communist insurgency there.

Likewise, far from being a “victim” of rogue CIA policies against Castro, he and his brother were the architects of those policies. Kennedy’s only problem with the CIA was that it had botched the Bay of Pigs invasion and was too slow in carrying out his and Bobby’s assassination and sabotage plots against Castro.

In the speech he was intending to give on the day of his death, Kennedy again expressly rejected withdrawal from Vietnam as he had repeatedly done in public pronouncements in the preceding months. Or consider the speech he gave the day after the collapse of the Bay of Pigs invasion. It began by expressly reserving our right to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro whenever he menaced U.S. security. Kennedy cautioned Moscow that “should that time ever come, we do not intend to be lectured on intervention by those whose character was stamped for all time on the bloody streets of Budapest.” . . .

Don B. Kates, Jr.

Valerie J. Klein

Novato, California


To the Editor:

In “Yes, Oswald Alone Killed Kennedy,” Jacob Cohen aptly demolishes the conspiracy theories regarding the Kennedy assassination. The only question remaining concerns the motivation of the conspiracists. Mr. Cohen offers one explanation when he notes the mindset of the “liberated” who “hold the view that to question any official version of anything is important in and of itself, even if the questions are based on palpable falsehoods.”

I would like to suggest one other explanation—at least with regard to Oliver Stone. I have seen Stone in several televised interviews and noticed that whenever he enumerates his theories . . . , he invariably interjects a statement which in large measure tells us what prompts him. He matter-of-factly states that if Kennedy had not been killed, there would have been no Vietnam, and suggests that the assassination was a conspiracy of elements eager for that war who knew Kennedy was about to withdraw. He makes this statement without elaboration as if it were a given . . . , but offers no evidence for it. . . .

Indeed, what evidence there is suggests the opposite of what Stone would have us believe, namely, that Kennedy was on his way deeper into Vietnam, not on his way out. The Kennedy administration encouraged the coup which overthrew the Diem regime in South Vietnam in the fall of 1963, thereby making South Vietnam more dependent—almost totally dependent—on the United States, and shortly before he died Kennedy sent more American troops to Indochina. Further, Kennedy’s top foreign-policy advisers were, to a man, the same people who advised Johnson.

Stone . . . is not merely another example of that reflexive adversarialism which has characterized so much of the American intelligentsia since the 1960’s. Stone, I submit, is looking for an explanation of Vietnam, seeking to place blame for the tragedy in Indochina. If Stone wants to place blame for Vietnam, he should place it . . . where the evidence indicates the blame belongs—with the Presidents themselves and their advisers and, in the cases of Kennedy and Johnson, with the . . . Ivy League academics who advised both Presidents. To blame Vietnam on the machinations of “the military-industrial complex” with the Kennedy assassination as the linchpin constitutes a fabrication of colossal proportions. . . .

James E. Salyers

Ashmore, Illinois


To the Editor:

. . . Public-opinion polls show that about half the population now believes that Kennedy was murdered by a conspiracy of government officials. That opinion is spreading steadily, especially as the younger generation becomes familiar with recent research. The percentage of the population that shares Jacob Cohen’s opinion that a lone assassin was responsible is dwindling to an irreducible hard core of about 10-15 percent. Mr. Cohen has now reasserted his own fundamentalist opinion and claims that his “serious study” should cause “the mountain of conspiracy literature” to “collapse.”

I do not expect COMMENTARY to provide equal space to refute all of Mr. Cohen’s arguments, but allow me the space at least to address his first argument as a typical example. He calls this the “issue of timing.” . . . In the literature about the assassination, the timing issue is normally understood as follows:

It seems that Kennedy was hit the first time somewhere in the interval of Zapruder frames 210-224, while the limousine was behind the highway sign. As Kennedy emerges from behind the sign, he is clutching his neck and has obviously been hit. It does not seem that Connally was hit by that first bullet, because of his position and unpained expression. He is not obviously hit until about Z-234-238. The timing issue is that the interval between Z-210 and Z-238 is only about 1.5 seconds (the film speed was about 18 frames per second), which was less than the rifle’s minimum retiring time.

The Warren Commission resolved the timing issue by concluding that a single bullet hit both Kennedy and Connally during the Z-210-238 interval and that Connally simply did not react immediately when this bullet hit him.

For many reasons, the critics dispute this single-bullet explanation. Without going into the entire controversy, their point in regard to the timing is that if Connally was hit by a separate bullet, then three bullets struck during the 5.6 seconds between Z-210 and Z-312, when the final bullet seems to hit Kennedy’s head.

Mr. Cohen can honestly argue for his single-bullet theory, but I say he misrepresents the critics’ argument in the timing issue. The critics do not say that Oswald could not have fired the gun twice or even three times during 5.6 seconds—of course he could have. What they say is that (1) separate bullets hit Kennedy and Connally during Z-210-238; (2) two bullets could not have been fired from the rifle during that short interval; and (3) therefore, three bullets were not fired from that one rifle during the 5.6-second interval of Z-210-312. (This issue is presented clearly in complete detail by Josiah Thompson in his classic book, Six Seconds in Dallas: A Micro-Study of the Kennedy Assassination, 1967.)

The main point is that it is simply not true that Mr. Cohen’s arguments are going to “collapse” the conspiracy literature. Anyone who understands this controversy well can clearly see that Mr. Cohen is missing this particular point widely and will only influence the uninformed. . . .

Mike Sylwester

Ft. Belvoir, Virginia


To the Editor:

Jacob Cohen’s absolute certainty that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone to kill John F. Kennedy is not shared by those who are willing to consider evidence that Mr. Cohen overlooks.

For example, Mr. Cohen reports in great detail how post-mortem X-rays of Kennedy’s head supposedly match previous X-rays of Kennedy, and claims that the post-mortem X-rays prove without a doubt that the fatal shot came from behind “unless the photos and X-rays are faked.” One of those X-rays clearly shows that the orbital bone around Kennedy’s right eye is disintegrated to such an extent that his eye would have been missing. Yet the autopsy photos of Kennedy’s face show absolutely no evidence of what would have been a horribly disfiguring injury. This disparity indicates that either the X-rays or the photos were not of Kennedy.

Mr. Cohen discounts the length of the shadows in the backyard photos of Oswald bearing a rifle and copies of The Militant and The Worker. He does not mention that the size of Oswald’s head remains the same in each of the three pictures, while the length of his body mysteriously changes. This type of disparity is consistent with doctored photos. In addition, the photos show a man with a broad, square chin; Oswald’s chin was notable for its narrowness.

The rifle found on the sixth floor of the Book Depository was identified as a German Mauser by deputy sheriff and former gun-shop owner Seymour Weitzman. Roger Craig, another deputy sheriff, later confirmed seeing the rifle at the time it was found, as well as an inscription on it that identified it as a Mauser. In contrast, Mannlicher-Carcano rifles are inscribed with “Made in Italy.” No Mannlicher-Carcano was found during the search of the Book Depository, yet it appeared later at the Dallas police headquarters, and was identified as the murder weapon.

Of the six witnesses Mr. Cohen refers to who said they saw someone on the sixth floor with a rifle, four of them said that they saw two people working together. This testimony is inconsistent with the hypothesis of one assassin acting alone.

None of the above discrepancies is trivial and they make it impossible to accept Mr. Cohen’s claim that Oswald alone killed Kennedy.

William Kelley Eidem

Bethesda, Maryland


To the Editor:

. . . There are a number of points where Jacob Cohen has not been as accurate and as fair as he should be in dealing with such a serious topic as the murder of a President. For example, he glosses over the fact that Oswald denied killing the President with the remark, “as though guilty people do not deny things all the time.” However, assassins typically admit their deeds with open pride. The assassins of Presidents Garfield and McKinley did. The assassin who almost killed President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt and killed Chicago Mayor Cermak instead did. . . . The Warren Commission portrayed Oswald as having “a highly exaggerated sense of his own importance,” but also as having “failed at almost everything he had ever tried to do.” Isn’t it reasonable to expect such a person, when allegedly “succeeding” in a deed that would make him known throughout the world and put him in the history books, to take some open satisfaction in what he had accomplished? . . .

Mr. Cohen lists a number of alleged lies by Oswald while he was in police custody which, in addition to his refusal to submit to a polygraph test, he suggests indicate Oswald’s guilt. However, he conveniently leaves out the details. Oswald refused to submit to a polygraph test until he had been provided with an attorney. Oswald’s refusal does not seem sinister if the whole story is revealed. Regarding Oswald’s alleged untruthfulness, Mr. Cohen claims that “lies of this sort indicate a ‘consciousness of guilt,’ especially if they are explicable only by the hypotheses that the accused knows he is guilty.” But there is another possible hypothesis which explains Oswald’s prevarications: that Oswald could in fact have been innocent and, as he himself said, “just a patsy,” set up to take the blame for Kennedy’s death. If that was the case, then he could have understandably attempted to avoid admitting things suggestive of guilt. And let us not forget that Oswald never had a lawyer present when he provided the answers that Mr. Cohen says were misleading. . . .

Mr. Cohen also conveniently ignores the fact that the paraffin test given to Oswald revealed the absence of nitrate compounds on Oswald’s cheek, and thus indicated that Oswald had not fired a rifle. How, then, could Oswald have fired a rifle three times and a pistol at least four times?

Mr. Cohen mentions Oswald’s “historic diary” and speculates that Oswald killed Kennedy in order to “become a hero in Cuba as the assassin of Castro’s enemies.” But if so, why didn’t he admit his guilt? How could he have expected to become a “hero of Cuba” for killing Kennedy if he kept insisting he didn’t kill Kennedy? Mr. Cohen also ignores the evidence that Oswald’s diary was fabricated. It contains many inconsistencies. For example, in the entry for October 31, 1959, Oswald discussed visiting the U.S. embassy in Moscow and noted that John McVickar had replaced Richard Snyder as head consul. Oswald’s entry must have been written twenty months after its stated date, for this change did not happen until August 1961! In the entry that Oswald supposedly wrote on January 5, 1960, he stated his salary at a Minsk factory. But in fact the Soviet monetary devaluation which made one new ruble equal ten old rubles did not take place until a year later! . . .

In contrast to the contention that Kennedy was shot only from the rear, the Zapruder film shows Kennedy’s head snapping backward, and a gush of bloody brain tissue spewing backward. Both suggest the impact of a shot from the front. However, the “Oswald-alone” supporters contend that the two effects are actually indicative of a rear entrance wound producing a “jet effect” and a neuromuscular reaction, even though films of people shot in the head in battle and in executions fail to demonstrate such results. . . .

In an attempt to establish the existence of neuromuscular spasms from bullet wounds to the head, films were prepared for the House Select Committee which “reinvestigated” the assassination showing goats shot in the head. . . . But the goat tests were contrived to produce misleading results. The unfortunate goats were shot between the eyes from the front. The goats lurched backward slightly from the physical effect of the bullet impact—not from a neuromuscular reaction. . . . Further, the goats . . . jerked backward, away from—not toward—the source of the bullets. It does not make sense to claim that a goat jerking backward from a shot from the front proves that a man jerked backward when shot from the rear. . . .

Not only did Kennedy’s head jerk backward, but a gush of bloody brain matter splattered backward, too. The “Oswald-alone” supporters claim that this gush was a “jet effect” from a rear rather than a frontal wound. Supposedly, when someone is shot in the brain, a jet of brain matter gushes back in the direction from which the bullet came. But this jet effect has never been observed in anyone else shot in the brain. Kennedy is a unique case. Everyone else shot in the brain has had brain tissue splattering out in the same direction as the exiting bullet. . . .

In a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the two Kennedy autopsy pathologists mentioned the “beveling effect” of a missile’s exit, whereby an exit wound is larger than an entrance wound. The pathologists cite the example of a BB striking a pane of glass and causing a small hole on the entrance side and a much larger hole on the exit side of the pane. But the exit of a BB from a glass pane pushes the pulverized glass particles away from, not toward, the source of the BB. Kennedy’s alleged head wound from the rear drove his pulverized brain tissue not away from . . . but back toward the source of the alleged shot, if we believe the Warren Commission. Thus it seems that the beveling effect, which is readily demonstrable, is incompatible with the assumed but undemonstrated jet effect. . . .

Thus the implication of the beveling effect applied to Kennedy’s head wound is that the projectile which inflicted it exited toward his back—toward, not away from, the Book Depository. Are we to believe that a bullet hit the back of Kennedy’s head, made a 150-degree change of direction inside his brain, and then exited back toward the Book Depository? . . .

Evidently, Kennedy was shot from the front, while undoubtedly someone was also shooting at him from the rear. Was Oswald a gunman?

Mr. Cohen claims: “Two eyewitnesses who saw the gunman in the window identified Oswald as the gunman.” This is untrue. Two witnesses, Howard Leslie Brennan and Amos Lee Euins, claimed they saw a man in the sixth-floor window of the Book Depository with a rifle. Euins believed the man was either a black or a “white man with a bald spot on top of his head.” Neither description fits Oswald. Euins himself does not believe that the man he saw was Oswald. . . .

To finger Oswald, the Warren Commission relied upon the testimony of Brennan, who claimed the person he saw was standing up when he fired the rifle. The Warren Commission stated that he erred, that Oswald could not have been standing up, but still accepted his testimony. When shown Oswald at a police lineup, Brennan could not identify him. After changing his mind three times, Brennan finally decided that the gunman he had seen was Oswald—on December 17, 1963, after a session with FBI agents, a transcript of which was not made. Yet according to the Warren Commission, Brennan gave a detailed description of Oswald to the Dallas police. But the Commission did not explain how Brennan could have accurately estimated Oswald’s age, physical build, weight, and height from seeing him kneeling in a window over 100 feet away.

Joseph Forbes

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


To the Editor:

. . . It is obvious that Jacob Cohen has not studied the evidence, or he would not keep making so many obvious and simple mistakes. Simple stupidity cannot explain such a pattern of deliberate propaganda.

Mr. Cohen’s most obvious error, which then leads to other erroneous conclusions, is his misidentification of Zapruder’s position on the grassy knoll. Zapruder was not behind the picket fence, he was 44 feet in front of the fence. Anyone who knows anything about the JFK assassination knows that simple fact. . . .

While I agree that the “badge man” is an optical illusion, Mr. Cohen misidentifies the grassy-knoll gunman’s location to belittle the possibility of any gunman shooting from the knoll. The “badge man” would have been behind the fence, almost directly behind Zapruder. The real grassy-knoll gunman, as independently located by the House Assassinations Committee acoustical study, is seen in Mary Moorman’s Polaroid, taken just after—not before—the head shot, behind the fence and ten feet up from the corner. . . . Notice that Mr. Cohen does not tell you about that real person. He was well-hidden and appeared only briefly. Yet a few people reported seeing him, just as only a few of the 692-plus people reported seeing a gunman in the Texas Book Depository.

Why must the burden of seeing the grassy-knoll gunman rest on Zapruder? Zapruder was concentrating on filming the President’s motorcade driving down Elm Street. His eye never left the camera’s viewfinder. To hunt for potential assassins he would have needed to stop filming and turn around on that narrow pedestal, not a pleasant task given his vertigo. . . . His secretary was behind him to his left, holding him steady by the waist. If she had glanced to the right, about all she would have seen would have been Zapruder. If she had let go of Zapruder to turn around, Zapruder probably would have fallen off the pedestal. . . .

Yet, in fact, Zapruder did identify the location of the grassy-knoll gunman. Zapruder said that the shot came from behind him and that he heard the shot whistle past his right ear. That would place the origin somewhere near the picket fence. Notice, again, that Mr. Cohen does not reveal that information.

Now, just a few brief words about the “single-bullet” theory. It was the Warren Commission, David Belin especially, which imposed that 5.6-second limit for three shots, not the critics. The commissioners assumed that Z-313 was the last shot of only three. They desperately wanted the other two shots to have been fired by Oswald from his sniper’s nest in the Texas Book Depository. Because it appeared that President Kennedy was unhurt before disappearing behind the sign, they assumed that the earliest possible hit would have been at Z-210. If the Zapruder camera was running at 18.3 frames per second, those 103 frames gave them only 5.6 seconds. JFK was clearly hit by Z-225. If Z-225 had been the second shot, then 2.3 seconds before that would have been at about Z-183. But Oswald’s trajectory to the limousine was blocked by a tree from Z-166 to Z-209, so the Warren Commission thought it was unlikely that the first shot would have been through the tree. That is why they thought the first shot came no earlier than Z-210. That is the origin of the 5.6-second limit for three shots. If Mr. Cohen is such a great defender of the Warren Commission, let him defend its logic on that.

Interestingly, Mr. Cohen seems to take heart from the fact that even the House Assassinations Committee endorsed the “single-bullet” theory. However, there is an interesting twist here. The Warren Commission stated that the only time when both JFK and Connally could have been in the right alignment for the “single bullet” was between Zapruder frames 210 and 226, when they were hidden from Zapruder’s view by a sign (then how the hell could anyone see this supposedly perfect alignment?). Then the House Assassinations Committee tells us that its match-up of the acoustical data places the timing of the “single-bullet” shot at Z-190, the only time when JFK and Connally were in perfect alignment for a “single bullet,” when JFK and Connally are clearly visible and clearly not in perfect alignment, plus the shot would have had to go through the tree. It seems that no matter which Zapruder frame you choose, JFK and Connally are always in perfect alignment for the “single-bullet” theory, regardless of how impossible the shot.

I don’t expect that COMMENTARY will allow a debate on the issues and evidence, but at least you should be made aware of the factual errors in Jacob Cohen’s article. . . .

W. Anthony Marsh

Somerville, Massachusetts


To the Editor:

Jacob Cohen’s “Yes, Oswald Alone Killed Kennedy” is persuasive, but I would be much better convinced if he would elaborate on why Jack Ruby killed Oswald.

Elliott J. Howard

New York City


Jacob Cohen writes:

Here is the point of view from which I write: I believe that there is an objective truth, which is to say that events actually happen in one way and no other, and that a correct account of the events is true. (One of the wonderments of working at a university is to notice how often this self-evident axiom is challenged, subverted, scoffed at, or ignored in the toniest scholarly discourse of our day.) However, this axiom has a corollary which helps explain why so much controversy attaches to the reconstruction of factual reality. While it is the case that things happen in only one way, it is also indubitable that one can imagine them happening otherwise; the truth is one but the imaginative possibilities are many. The evidence which trails every human event is usually ambiguous and therefore defense attorneys and conspiracists are never at a loss for words. The more evidence there is, the more alternative possibilities one can imagine, but also, I have found, the more clear the singular truth becomes. But because of the notorious impossibility of proving a negative and also because it is always possible to develop elaborate conspiracy theories which, if believed, discredit the overwhelming burden of contrary evidence, one can never “prove” a given version of reality to a certainty. All one can say, with William of Occam, is that a sufficient, direct, and simple explanation is to be preferred to a monumentally complicated one. In other words, if doubt is to prevail, it should be “reasonable” and not just imaginable. I do not and obviously cannot say that conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination are unimaginable or impossible; what I say is that the ones I have seen are unreasonable and mostly absurd.

As illustration of the foregoing, consider passing comments in even these, mainly supportive, letters. Philip J. Schiller has the “feeling” that there might have been a “lone accomplice,” but he “certainly” believes that government officials were not part of the killing. My question to him is, what is the basis of that “feeling” and also that “certainty”? If the feeling arises from a vague general impression created by the Himalaya of conspiracist allegations about multiple gunmen, then I say that complete analysis would show that those writings are incorrect in every crucial respect. I know of no objective basis for Mr. Schiller’s “feeling,” although I certainly understand his desire to rewrite the often disappointing scripts which reality presents to us. Nor is there any basis for his “certainty” about the government, although, of course, I share his hunch.

Howard R. Harris, also supportive, offers the suggestion that the double hit, Kennedy and Connally, took place in Zapruder frame 235 and not a second earlier. As I say in my article, if he will look at Kennedy’s and, particularly, Connally’s position in that frame, he will see that the Governor could not have received his five wounds at that time unless the bullet made several twists and U-turns in midair. Indeed, Z-235 is just a sixth of a second before the time (Z-238) when Oliver Stone and the conspiracist literature he summarizes claim that Connally was struck. The theory is untenable for both frames. The Warren Commission’s account of an earlier hit is simple, elegant, and direct; a hit at Z-235 or Z-238 requires the very “magical” behavior which Stone and the others attribute to the Warren Commission.

Mike Sylwester and Ivan W. Parkins should study the same frames. Mr. Sylwester writes: “It does not seem that Connally was hit by that first bullet, because of his position and unpained expression.” If Connally was hit later, timing is an issue, he says. But he wasn’t. I have no idea of what he means by his “position,” which—as has been pointed out by the Warren Commission, the Rockefeller Commission, the House Assassinations Committee Panel, the review of the case by the Nova TV series, a photograph analysis by the Itek Corporation, and analysis by me and others—was in perfect alignment to receive all his wounds precisely and only at the time Kennedy was first struck. That was less than a second before he first got a pained expression. Delayed reactions of that brief sort are not uncommon.

More to the point, as I have repeatedly pointed out: Connally cannot have been hit later, when Josiah Thompson, Stone, and their confreres say he was, precisely because of his position in those later frames. In 1975, when Thompson wrote to COMMENTARY to protest an article of mine on the subject [“Conspiracy Fever,” October 1975], he conspicuously did not engage me on this most pivotal of factual points. What I said to him then still holds: this is not an arguable point, like Hamlet and Polonius disagreeing about whether a cloud resembles a camel or a whale, it is as plain as day.

On a related point, Mr. Parkins tries to salvage a somewhat later hit of Connally by suggesting, as others have, that Connally’s wrist might have been hit separately by yet another (missing) bullet. A fair hypothesis, an imaginable alternative. But did it happen that way? As I have pointed out, this theory needs to explain why lead taken from Connally’s wrist has been shown, by neutron-activation analysis, to be identical to lead in the bullet from Oswald’s rifle which struck his back, exited his chest, and lodged in his thigh. Is the analysis faulty? Are the scientists lying and fabricating elaborate scientific reports? Is it only a coincidence that Connally was in a perfect position to receive all his wounds at the time, earlier, when a bullet exited from Kennedy’s throat in a trajectory which would have carried it right into Connally’s back? William of Occam would protest against this elaborate substitution for a simple and sufficient explanation.

Jerry Spindel has added to my argument and I am grateful for the help, and so has Eric Paddon by further discrediting Jean Hill. Let me supplement his information: not only did Jean Hill claim to see a puppy dog between the President and his wife, but S.M. Holland (my thanks to Avinoam Freedman for the correction), one of those who reported a puff of smoke over the knoll, also said he saw a man with a machine gun arise in the back of the President’s limousine. Needless to say, the Zapruder and other films of the car show no such weapon. Further: A.J. Millican, who indeed said he heard eight shots, claims to have heard the last of them five minutes after the assassination, at a time when Kennedy was being wheeled into the Parkland Hospital.

Don B. Kates, Jr. and Valerie J. Klein sound as if they could give a fine course on the history of assassination in America. For the most part I concur with and applaud their letter. Two caveats, however: they say that a shot at Kennedy’s back as his car turned away from Oswald was easier than one at his front, when his car approached Oswald’s perch. Actually, Oswald could have shot Kennedy in the chest as he approached; the first shot after he turned away was through the leaves of a tree, which seems more difficult to me. Many have asked why Oswald didn’t shoot earlier, suggesting, as Stone does, that he wanted to wait until Kennedy had turned toward the grassy knoll and was in the range of the gunman there. My answer, of course, is that this is unlikely because there was no gunman there. I’m not sure we could settle the question of why he waited even if we asked Oswald. Maybe it’s easier to shoot someone in the back than the front. Maybe he didn’t spot the President, amid the rush of police and cars in the caravan, until after he had passed. Maybe the delay reveals some ambivalence on his part. We’ll never know; however, since Oswald is the lone gunman, speculation is entirely academic.

With regard to Kennedy’s politics, he was perceived to be a Communist by the extreme Right and a fanatical anti-Communist by the extreme Left. Either misperception could, imaginably, have provoked a killing by fanatics and if it did, his actual politics are irrelevant. It is always possible to imagine “could-have-beens”; that is why I insist that getting the facts straight first is of the essence. With regard to Stone’s politics, James W. Salyers is probably right. But my sense of the film JFK and all it represents in our culture is that it is about much more than the 60’s and the Vietnam war. If Stone is right about the assassination, then whirl is king, and only a total revolution can replace it. The conspiracists, as I see them, worship chaos more deeply than any political agenda, which is why serious leftists deplored Stone’s film as infantile fantasy.

William Kelley Eidem suggests that X-rays and photos of the President are fabrications, as indeed they would need to have been if a second gunman shot at and hit the President. In Mr. Eidem’s telling, these important documents are not just fake, but crudely and transparently so, and the scientists perpetrating this fraud are not only venal but monumentally clumsy. For reasons I offer at length in my article, I believe that both the X-rays and photos are of Kennedy, taken the night of the assassination, and so too has every expert who has examined them for signs of inauthenticity. Studying other conspiracy allegations, one finds the motif of the crude and transparent frameup arising again and again: the hotel registration card in the Rosenberg case is probably the classic example. It helps support a vision of a world driven by conspiracies so brutal, of powers so overbearing, that they do not scruple at scrupulosity. Not being a member of that congregation, I find such allegations funny.

About the shadows in the backyard photos, over and over again those photos have been shown to be authentic by teams of experts who published their findings. As Mr. Eidem knows, those photos of Oswald holding a rifle were taken on his camera to the exclusion of all others in the world. His wife remembers taking the photos eight months before the assassination. They were found among his effects the day of the assassination, as was the camera, and they are perfectly useless as evidence against him, for a photo cannot establish that the rifle in it was the actual murder rifle. Is Mr. Eidem suggesting that the FBI (or whoever) stole the camera, staged the photo, clumsily pasted Oswald’s head onto someone else’s body, planted the photos, and persuaded Marina to lie, all for the purpose of proving something which other evidence proves much better, namely, that Oswald possessed the gun which fired all the bullets recovered? As for the Mauser tale: if a Mauser was used, why were all the bullets and shells recovered fired from Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano? Did the conspiracy shoot him with an Italian rifle and then leave a German one to be discovered? Why? Seymour Weitzman later admitted that he erred in calling the recovered gun, Oswald’s, a German Mauser. Human beings make mistakes, Mr. Eidem, don’t be frightened by that revelation.

Let us turn to the suspicious Joseph Forbes who asks why Oswald would lie about killing the President: lots of political figures lie when caught; most relevant to Oswald, I believe, is Fidel Castro, his hero, who when he was caught for revolutionary activity denied those activities and then later triumphantly confessed, before the world, in open court. The Rosenbergs, also heroes of Oswald, insisted on their innocence to the end as well. As for “consciousness of guilt,” as I said, lies of the sort Oswald indubitably told do not of themselves prove guilt, though they confirm the impression. The paraffin tests on Oswald’s hands were positive, the one on his cheek was negative. But so was the test on the cheek of an FBI man who test-fired his rifle. The paraffin test is unreliable and is used as an interrogatory device to break witnesses; it is not admissible as evidence. If Oswald did not fire the cheap rifle he carried to the Book Depository that morning, the rifle which shot all the bullets recovered, who did? And why would a conspiracy which has fabricated as many documents as is alleged by conspiracists, not have faked a paraffin test? I do not dispute that Oswald’s diary was inaccurate and fabricated, in fact I insist on the point. It was fabricated by him, in his handwriting, with his misspellings, proof of his rich fantasy life. That is why I referred to it.

As for the goats, heartlessly murdered: Mr. Forbes does not tell us that those tests were conducted solely to test the speed of a neuromuscular reaction, not the nature of it. As doctors who conducted the test pointed out, Kennedy’s physical movements after being struck in the head cannot be explained by any bullet or bullets, from any direction. The violent jerk of his body comes within the allowable time of a strike to the brain, as the goats prove. As for Mr. Forbes’s rehashing of other conspiracy arcana, I can only refer him back to my article.

Turning to the reckless W. Anthony Marsh, while he clears me of the charge of stupidity, he suggests that I was lying when I placed Zapruder and his secretary behind the gunman, and behind the stockade fence, rather than, as he insists, “44 feet in front of the fence.” The apparent contradiction is easily explained; it depends upon what one means by “the fence.” Every prior observer, critics included, have meant by “the fence” the long stretch of fencing, nearly 100 feet, running parallel to Elm Street, down which the presidential limousine was traveling. At the end of that long stretch the fence turns at approximately a right angle back from Elm Street a short distance, perhaps twenty feet. In a sketch which Mr. Marsh sent accompanying his letter he makes the short distance long and the long distance short, as if “the fence” were that short appendage rather than the long leg which everyone has always identified as the “picket fence.” With that little trick he can get Zapruder in front of the gunman and “44 feet in front of the fence.”

If, as Mr. Marsh says, Zapruder were 44 feet in front of the fence, or what everyone has always called the fence, he would have been on Elm Street and in danger of being struck by the limousine. Mr. Marsh’s argument is so much stuff and nonsense. The question is: where was the alleged gunman vis-a-vis Zapruder and his secretary as the President’s moving car came in front of the two of them? From that perspective, looking down on Elm, the alleged gunman is exactly as I described him, to Zapruder’s right and slightly ahead of him, such that Zapruder, and his secretary, facing Elm, glancing to their right, would have seen the gunman, from behind, clearly and directly. And they would have seen him even if he was crouching behind the fence in order to pop up to shoot the President and then immediately pop down again, as in Mr. Marsh’s hilarious scenario. (No wonder the gunman missed entirely; as Mr. Marsh tells it he took no time to find the President, aim the gun, and fire it.) Zapruder and his secretary were standing on a pedestal from which they could look down on the entire area behind the fence. I have stood on the pedestal and I know from direct experience how easily the alleged crouching gunman could have been seen.

Mr. Marsh avoids the salient point, which is the absurdity of a plot in which the idea was that the gunman who gets away unnoticed was supposed to stand up in broad daylight, in clear view of hundreds, and their cameras, and not be seen firing a gun. (Six people saw a gun and/or gunman in the Depository where Oswald was.) Zapruder and his secretary could easily have seen the gunman firing or immediately thereafter; the gun exploded in their right ears from about 50 feet away and all they had to do was turn their heads to the right. They could have seen him preparing in the minutes before the President’s arrival. (How could he have known when the entourage, fifteen minutes late, would arrive?) They didn’t, no one did, although hundreds could easily have; and no pictures show a gunman. Was all that intended?

On the timing. The Warren Commission concluded, correctly in my view, that Kennedy was first struck between frames 210 and 224, which is a time when Kennedy and Connally were in alignment to receive their wounds. (I have stressed that that was also the only time when Connally was in position to receive all his indubitable wounds.) With regard to whether the bullet which struck the two of them was the first fired or not, the Warren Report says: “The evidence is inconclusive as to whether it was the first, second, or third shot which missed.” (See Chapter III, “The Shot that Missed.”) As I said, 5.6 seconds is approximately the time between the two hits, not the time of all the shots. Mr. Marsh’s statement in his letter that the Warren Commission “imposed” a 5.6-second limit “for three shots” is flat-out false.

Two final screechers. Mr. Marsh asks how analysts could have specified Kennedy’s and Connally’s alignment when the two were behind a sign during the crucial period Z-210-226. Those sixteen frames comprise less than one second. The alignment before and after is perfect and the assumption that the two men did not spring out of and back into alignment in less than a second seems sound to me. Finally, Mr. Marsh taxes me with the fact that at one point the House Committee, relying on the acoustical evidence, places the single hit at Z-190. (Relying upon the alignment of the two men the Committee placed that hit exactly where the Warren Commission placed it.) What Mr. Marsh doesn’t tell you is that, as I pointed out in my article, the acoustical evidence has now been totally discredited after reexamination by the National Academy of Science, and with that discreditation passes another shred of conspiracist credibility.

Finally, there is Elliott J. Howard’s brief question about Jack Ruby. I did not deal with this inescapable question in my article, but I think he knows that I could have. An extended treatment would show that Ruby walked into the basement of the police department and directly into Oswald as Oswald was about to be transferred to another jail. He shot him then and there; if Ruby had arrived moments later, he would not have had the opportunity to shoot Oswald. The timing was perfect. When you know all that is known about Oswald’s and Ruby’s movements that morning it turns out that Ruby could not possibly have known when Oswald would be in the basement. The transfer was an hour after the announced time and the encounter was entirely accidental. And consider this: if Ruby shot Oswald to silence him, why wasn’t Ruby killed to silence him? (He died years later of cancer.) Was Ruby a kamikaze pilot ordered to kill Oswald on television and spend the rest of his life in jail, taking the rap? Oswald was interrogated for an entire weekend; he even appeared on a televised news conference during which time he could have blurted out some incriminating information about the conspiracy. Why wasn’t he killed earlier? Etc., etc.

As I have tried to present the matter: Oswald killed the President by himself, there were no other gunmen sent by the Mafia, the CIA, or any of the other forces allegedly behind the killing. Nor am I persuaded that anyone helped Oswald plan the killing, or influenced him to do so. In particular, every speculation linking Oswald to Ruby, every alleged sighting, has been punctured. If what I have just said is correct, the notion of Ruby as a second lonely nut is less difficult to accept. I cannot, I would not, silence imaginative speculation about what might have been; I can only suggest that such imaginings submit themselves to the discipline of finding the singular factual reality which is the fundament of all events.


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