Introductory remarks on John Kaplan's "The Assassins"
This is a great article with a misleading title. Professor Kaplan, of
Stanford Law School, has not called his article "The assassins"
because he accepts a conspiracy, but because he discusses (and refutes) five
major early books on the assassination that proposed one. Kaplan's logic is
impeccable and devastating, especially when applied in detail to the likes of
Mark Lane and Leo Sauvage. Any of us who have never come into his sights may
consider ourselves lucky. All JFK researchers should study this article
carefully and learn from him.
Kaplan begins by proposing four stages of controversy over the assassination and the Warren Commission, the last of which was just being entered as he was writing in spring 1967. The bulk of the article focuses on Stage Three, that of individual critics. He lists five major books that he feels set the tone and agenda for this stage, those of Epstein, Lane, Weisberg, Sauvage, and Popkin. He summarizes their common arguments, shows some of their problems, and notes a couple of things that the WC might have done better. He then discusses each book in detail, taking no prisoners. After this, Kaplan considers Stage Three as a whole, and in particular the question of why the books received so much attention is they were so flawed. Other than that the Warren Commission and its report contained some flaws, the answers are not pretty, having to do with Vietnam and unbridled hatred of Lyndon Johnson by the Left. (From the added perspective of more than three additional decades, I suspect that there are more answers to be had, related to political paranoia and general conspiratorial mentality of much of our population, but that's another story.) Kaplan closes on a positive note by recognizing the calls for a new investigation (already starting in 1967!) and suggesting that at a minimum, the X rays and photographs from the autopsy should be released. He soberly predicted that any new investigation would be starting with several disadvantages relative to the Warren Commission, such as fading memories and a trail gone generally cold. History in the form of the HSCA proved him correct.
The fact that any of us can find a few minor errors here should not detract from appreciating the power and authority of this article as a whole. In my book, it's right up there with those of Dwight Macdonald and Herbert L. Packer. It is long, however, and requires effort from the reader. I have provided an outline to help.
Related materials on this web include the articles of Macdonald and Packer already mentioned plus "Comments on the three papers from the legal community" and "The power of the physical framework."
Outline of the article
I. The four stages of controversy on the assassination and the WC
A. Stage One—Buchanan and Joesten's books
B. Stage Two—The WCR and the 26 volumes
C. Stage Three—Individual critics
D. Stage Four—Powerful institutional critics
II. Stage Three and its five major books
A. The books
1. Epstein's Inquest
2. Lane's Rush to Judgment
3. Weisberg's Whitewash
4. Sauvage's The Oswald Affair
5. Popkin's The Second Oswald
B. Their arguments
1. They use the commission's testimony.
2. The WC was incompetent or worse.
3. WC interested only in "political truth," not real facts.
4. LG thesis would calm the country most.
C. Problems with their arguments
1. WC collected little of its own evidence.
2. The young staff would have to have participated, too.
3. The physical evidence forced the WC to make Oswald its prime suspect (working hypothesis).
4. So did Oswald's behavior after the assassination.
D. What WC might have done better.
1. Used adversarial system? Not for getting at conspiracy.
2. Specific defense counsel would have been good.
III. Epstein's Inquest
A. Commission endorsed the unlikely hypothesis of nonconspiracy.
B. Commission rejected evidence for a second shooter (the invalidity of the SBT).
1. Firing times.
3. Condition of CE 399.
C. Refutation of Epstein's points.
IV. Lane's Rush to Judgment
A. Seriously distorted but much time required to refute all the points.
B. Examples of Lane's techniques for distorting evidence.
1. Witnesses hearing shots from grassy knoll.
2. Smoke over the grassy knoll.
C. Lane's five methods of distorting.
1. Rank distortion of testimony.
2. Presenting one side without noting that other side demolishes it.
3. Use himself as (unqualified) expert witness.
4. The gross logical fallacy.
5. Set up and demolish false straw men.
V. Weisberg's Whitewash
A. Most strident, bitter, and irrational of all the attacks.
B. Ignore it out of charity.
VI. Sauvage's The Oswald Affair
A. Book is "absolutely bewildering."
B. His basic technique.
1. Starts with reports immediately after the assassination, which were confused and wrong.
2. Adds the rumors that leaked during the WC investigation.
3. Shows that they are all wrong and condemns the commission.
4. Refuses to accept most likely explanation because it isn't certain.
1. Seizure of revolver in Texas Theatre.
2. No evidence that Oswald was guilty.
3. The General Walker incident.
VII. Popkin's The Second Oswald
A. accepts the reports of two Oswalds.
B. Build complicated, fragile conspiracy theory on them.
C. Major problem with this theory—no one would have done it that way.
VIII. The "mysterious" deaths as part of Stage Three
A. Don't know whether the number is unusual.
B. They mostly involve fringe actors to the assassination.
C. Imply a huge conspiracy.
D. No need for the killings since conspirators already pulled it off.
IX. Major question of Stage Three: Why have the books of Stage Three received so much attention?
A. P. T. Barnum
B. Genuine doubts about the assassination
C. Defects of the Warren Report
1. Hurried and sloppy
2. Written with advocacy
D. WC's failure to disclose all materials
E. X-rays and photographs form the autopsy not released
X. Why so many strong attacks on the Warren Commission?
A. The five reasons of previous section are not enough.
B. Most conspiracists come from the Left and charge the Right.
C. Extreme Left hates Lyndon Johnson.
D. They may even be trying to pin the assassination on him.
XI. Stage Four has just begun.
A. Started in week of 25 November 1966 with big articles in Life and the New York Times.
B. Both articles may be flawed.
C. What to do?
1. Release X rays and photographs from autopsy.
2. But this won't resolve the one-bullet theory.
3. Time to recognize that the full truth will probably never be known.
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