Pre-WCR Reactions by the Left
(With two exceptions, they blamed the right.)
The New Republic
"Another Beginning" ( 7 December 1963)
"How Could It Happen?" ( 7 December 1963)
"John F. Kennedy" (14 December 1963)
"The Climate of Violence" (14 December 1963)
"The American Condition" (21 December 1963)
"The Warren Commission" (28 December 1963)
"Task of the Warren Commission" (27 January 1964)
"Then How About Koch?" (2 March 1964)
"The Dallas Rejoinder" (25 May 1964)
"The Warren Commission: An Editorial" ( January 1964)
The New Republic
"When Castro Heard the News" (Jean Daniel, 7 December 1963)
"Unofficial Envoy: An Historic Report from Two Capitals" (Jean Daniel, 14 December 1963)
"Further Clarification: Interviews with Kennedy and Castro" (Jean Daniel, 21 December 1963)
"Seeds of Doubt: Some Questions About the Assassination" (Jack Minnis and Staughton Lynd, 21 December 1963)
"Seeds of Doubt" (Annotated version)
The Minority of One
"Who Killed Whom and Why?" (M.S. Arnoni, January 1964)
"The Death of a President" (Eric Norden, January 1964)
"16 Questions On The Assassination" (Bertrand Russell, September 1964)
"The Dallas Investigation" (11 December 1963)
"Assassin or Fall Guy?" (23 September 1964)
"Oswald Innocent? A Lawyer's Brief" (Mark Lane, December 1963)
"A Most Unstuffy Man" (H. Stuart Hughes, 14 December 1963)
"The TV Image" (Paul T. David, 14 December 1963)
"The Roots of the Agony" (Reece McGee, 21 December 1963)
"'Manchurian Candidate' in Dallas" (Richard Condon, 28 December 1963)
"Oswald and the FBI" (Harold Feldman, 27 January 1964)
"Tussle in Texas" (Saul Friedman, 3 February 1964)
"The Oswald Affair" (Leo Sauvage, March 1964)
The New Leader
"Thomas Buchanan, Detective" (Leo Sauvage, 28 September 1964)
"In Defense Of A Theory" (Thomas G. Buchanan, 9 November 1964)
"As I Was Saying" (Leo Sauvage, 9 November 1964)
Reactions of the Left
The Left reacted as strongly as the Right did. Without benefit of formal investigation, they securely and self-confidently blamed right-wing Americans for the assassination. How did they know? They didn't, pure and simple, because they couldn't have—it was too early. No official evidence or findings had been released, and the Warren Commission was still deep in its work. But that didn't stop The Left from announcing The Truth.
Editorials We present early editorials from The New Republic, The Nation, and Commentary. The two from The New Republic are not polemic. The first, "Another Beginning," discusses with hope the transition to Lyndon Johnson's administration. "How Could It Happen?" takes an incredulous look at how Jack Ruby was able to enter the Dallas Police Station and kill Oswald. Seven editorials from The Nation deal with various aspects of the assassination and early reaction to it. "John F. Kennedy" notes that the late President was just beginning to reach his stride when he was cut down. "The Climate of Violence" calls for concerted effort to begin to change America's social climate of violence rather than just bemoaning it. 'The American Condition" says that like it or not, Oswald was "one of us." "The Warren Commission" supports the fledgling organization but calls for diligence in evaluating it and checking its conclusions. "Task of the Warren Commission" notes just how difficult the Commission's job will be. "Then How About Koch?" makes the point that if the University of Illinois gives its professor Revilo P. Oliver merely a slap on the wrist for writing a hate-filled article about the late JFK, it should not have fired professor Leo Koch for advocating liberalized social morays on campus. "The Dallas Rejoinder" concludes the series by observing that the claim of "don't blame us" by certain well-placed Texans rings a bit hollow. Finally, "The Warren Commission: An Editorial," from Commentary, warns that the Commission must be exceedingly thorough or it won't be believed.
Articles The three articles by Jean Daniel in The New Republic make some of the earliest reactions by individuals of the Left that we have. "When Castro Heard the News" deals with the reactions of Fidel Castro to the assassination, which Daniel could observe directly because he was interviewing Castro as the news came in. "Unofficial Envoy: An Historic Report from Two Capitals" and "Further Clarification: Interviews with Kennedy and Castro" deal mostly with the Cuban missiles, but are included here because of their intense interest and their tight relation to the first article. Together, these articles make riveting reading.
Two days after Mark Lane's infamous Oswald Innocent? A Lawyer's Brief appeared in the National Guardian, Jack Minnis and Staughton Lynd published a superficially similar article in The New Republic entitled Seeds of Doubt: Some Questions About the Assassination. The articles are similar in that they both deal with doubts concerning the official story of the assassination—primarily whether there was only a single shooter. Lane refers to the Minnis-Lynd article both in the reprinted version of his article and in A Citizen's Dissent (1968). Although both references lead the reader to believe that the articles are similar and that Lane's is more detailed, and presumably better, nothing could be further from the truth. The Minnis-Lynd article is actually much more reasonable and far less dogmatic than Lane's. I consider it "must reading" for anyone interested in early reactions to the assassination because it shows that dedicated people on the Left could actually write a balanced, enquiring article rather than something harsh and condemning. If you want to see a longer commentary on the article, go to Staughton Lind's biography. Best of all, read Lane's article first, then Minnis-Lynd's and see the vast difference for yourself.
M.S. Arnoni was the publisher of the leftist monthly entitled The Minority of One--Independent Monthly For An American Alternative--Dedicated To The Eradication Of All Restrictions Of Thought. During the early sixties, it published many articles of consequence on the JFK assassination that helped promote the idea of conspiracy. The article "Who Killed Whom And Why?" was written 1 December 1963 and published in the January 1964 issue. In it, Arnoni offers the idea of Kennedy-the-warrior, even to the point of his administration's planning to stage a fake international incident that would provide an excuse to "take back" Cuba. He pictures the conspiracy that killed Kennedy as having arisen with a group of highly placed military men who were embittered at Kennedy's seeking detente with the Soviet Union, whom they considered their mortal enemy. He further pictures this cabal as being so strong as to effectively tie the government's hand for the present. In other words, the leftist Arnoni is blaming a rightist plot. He ends by predicting that if the Johnson Administration eases off from negotiating with the Soviets, this will prove that the rightist conspirators have reached their goal.
Eric Norden was a leftist freelance writer. His long article "The Death Of A President" appeared in the same issue of The Minority of One as Arnoni's did, which makes it another very early reaction by the Left. Norden review all the difficulties with the official explanation, which was still less than one month old as he was writing, and concludes that Kennedy was most likely killed by a rightist plot initiated at very high levels, which involved Oswald and Ruby but made them both fall guys. Also, the Dallas Police Department must have been deeply involved in the plot. Further, the plot was set up so as to make it appear the work of Leftists, for which Norden takes a certain amount of umbrage. He ends by noting that signs of a backlash against Leftists were already beginning to appear in the U.S.
One prescient aspect of Norden's article is his dire warning about how much the Warren Commission (which was still called the "special Presidential commission") would be at the mercy of the investigating agencies FBI, CIA, and SS for their information. They would hardly criticize themselves or each other. This prediction turned out to be right on the money. As you read Norden's highly detailed article, you may find it interesting to see what fraction of his "facts" were correct. My reading suggests that he was right far more often than he was wrong.
Bertrand Russell was a world-famous socialist in England who became interested in the JFK assassination under the influences of Mark Lane and Ralph Schoenman. In September 1964, Russell published his famous "16 Questions On The Assassination" in M.S. Arnoni's The Minority of One. For this, he was roundly criticized on both sides of the Atlantic (see Bertrand Russell for details). The article, which incorporated many ideas from Mark Lane, dwelt on omissions, inconsistencies of the Warren-Report-to-be, as well as alternative evidence (generated by Mark Lane) that ran counter to the Commission. In that sense, it is like reading Mark Lane all over again. As with Lane, it is full of errors. Its questions of the Commission have also been answered. We include it here for historical value, as a picture of a great man adversely affected by compatriots unworthy of his intellect.
The Soviet Union reacted immediately after the fact. It released a series of news articles that are reviewed in Norden's "The Death of a President." He says that "The reaction of the Soviet press to the Kennedy assassination was one of grief and shock mixed with deep apprehension that the act was part of a carefully planned plot to heat up the Cold War by shifting the blame for the President's death to the Soviet Union and Cuba." The USSR also commented at great length in a series of broadcasts, the thrust of which was followed by several of its satellite states. They produced the first conspiracy theories (involving the ultrarightists of the American south), which a week or so later began to be espoused by American leftists. Transcripts of the relevant portions of those broadcasts are reproduced here.
On a longer time scale, the Soviet press also produced a series of articles in their weekly New Times, which at its maximum was printed in 53 languages. They began commenting on the assassination soon after it occurred. These articles pushed the idea that the assassination was the work of reactionary rightist elements in the United States, whose goal was to get the U.S. government to blame the Soviet Union and thereby deepen the Cold War. The two earliest of these articles that we have been able to find appeared before the Warren Report did. They are "The Dallas Investigation," in the New Times of 11 December 1963, and a review of Joachim Joesten's "Assassin Or Fall-Guy?", the issue of 23 September 1964, just before the Warren Report was released.
Some writers, particularly Armand Moss in his Disinformation, Misinformation, and the "Conspiracy" to Kill JFK Exposed, have proposed that the Soviet Union was using this propaganda to try to take advantage of America's time of weakness and soul-searching by driving a wedge into it and dividing it. We discuss this idea at greater length under "Soviet Fostering of Conspiracy."
Mark Lane was one of the first Americans to raise his voice against the "official" version of the assassination as he saw it developing. As early as December 19, 1963 (less than one month after the assassination), he published a five-page lawyer's brief in New York's leftist National Guardian, promoting Oswald's innocence. Entitled "Oswald Innocent? A Lawyer's Brief," it occupied nearly one-half the Guardian's twelve pages. It was received so favorably that the Guardian reprinted it, along with a page of comments and a page of letters from readers, as a special eight-page tabloid-size pamphlet. Because this pamphlet so thoroughly captures Lane's early reaction to the assassination, we reproduce it in its entirety here. For a more detailed background to this article, see Lane's biographical sketch.
The liberal The Nation also weighed in, with a series of six articles over two months. These articles, which collectively declined to invoke a conspiracy of the Right, drew the ire of legions of leftists and began the split down the middle that is discussed further under Reactions to the Warren Report. The idea in many minds was that you weren't a good leftist unless you didn't see the obvious rightist plot and the Warren Commission's role in hiding it from the public. The militant side criticized The Nation roundly for not jumping onto the bandwagon. It got worse when The Nation supported the Warren Report after it appeared.
The first article, "A Most Unstuffy Man," by H. Stuart Hughes, was a brief paean to the President who died at the top of his form. "The TV Image," by Paul T. David, is a one-pager that marvels at the power of television for those four days. It also speculates that the uninterrupted coverage gave a great boost to Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic party. Reece McGee's "The Roots of the Agony" recounts this professor of sociology's observations of the unique social mores of Texas that led him to conclude that the assassination almost certainly had to happen in Texas. This is great background reading for the setting of the assassination. "'Manchurian Candidate" in Dallas," by Richard Condon, describes his belief that Lee Harvey Oswald was conditioned by society, directly or indirectly, to do his evil deed. "Oswald and the FBI," by Harold Feldman, uses several pieces of evidence to raise the question of whether Oswald could have been an agent of the FBI. Saul Friedman's "Tussle in Texas" describes the hegemony of the extreme Right in Texas at that time, and particularly in Dallas. Texas was different, and Dallas more different. Did this have anything to do with the assassination? The question is raised but not answered.
Leo Sauvage was chief U.S. correspondent for the French daily Le Figaro. He took an early interest in the JFK assassination and soon published the book L'Affaire Oswald in Paris. In March 1964 he published a summary of the book under its English title "The Oswald Affair" in Commentary, making it one of the earliest articles published after the assassination. The gist of his argument was that there are so many loopholes in the evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald that there is certainly far more to the story than had come out to that point.
After Thomas Buchanan published his early book Who Killed Kennedy?, Sauvage aligned himself strongly against it. He did battle with Buchanan in a three-part series in The New Leader ("Thomas Buchanan, Detective," by Sauvage; "In Defense Of A Theory," by Buchanan; "As I Was Saying," by Sauvage) in its issues of 28 September and 9 November 1964. Because these articles draw on Buchanan's book that was published in May 1964, well before before the Warren Report was issued the following September, we include them here as pre-WCR reactions. For more information on Sauvage, see his biography. Thomas Buchanan was an American expatriate living in Paris at the time of the assassination. He kept copious notes on it and soon developed a theory on what had happened and why. Those ideas were published in a six-part series in the French weekly L'Express and shortly thereafter (May 1964) turned into the book Who Killed Kennedy? It was very influential in Europe but never in the United States. For more on Buchanan, see his biography.
Joachim Joesten (to come)
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