(Possible Spoiler Alert for 2nd Part)
In more than 37 years spent as a researcher into the JFK assassination, and having read more than four dozen books, this is the first time I have ever written a review. The reasons mainly boil down to one: with each book I always found some manner of untied up loose string, or defect that rendered my judgment tentative. I simply didn't feel it worth the time, or energy to invest in writing something I didn't accept completely.
I confess I was also very skeptical of Douglass' book to start. I worried he'd go over the same well-trod ground as others, merely regurgitate many of the same issue with no new insights, while repeating most of the mistakes.
I am happy to report I was wrong on all counts. When I finished Douglass' book I had the sense (that I had received from few others) that this 46 year mystery and all the attendant, ambiguating "Operation Mockingbird" tricks, pseudo-evidence and propaganda that engulfed it,were finally finally unravelled. And not only unravelled, but the new story woven into a credible and coherent narrative. More importantly, using a key criterion (how much it dovetailed with the other most serious books I have read), I score it a '10'.
Here, I want to digress and say the best accompanying book one can have to read along with this book is Military Science Professor John Newman's: 'Oswald and CIA'. Important because while Douglass makes the coherent anecdotal case for Lee Harvey Oswald being an intelligence operative, Newman proves it using his insights, and vast troves of FOIA -released documents. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that one cannot fully appreciate Douglass' achievement here, without first reading Newman's book.
Okay, why have I never done a review of Newman's? Probably because, while worthwhile, I beheld one or more reviews that already said pretty much what I would have. There was nothing new to add.
In reading the book, I strongly advise people not to immediately skip to the end and Douglass' assassination scenario. I believe it is much more important to first: read his Introduction (and the basis for the definition of the "unspeakable" predicated on Thomas Merton's insights) then the Chronology of Events: 1961-63 and then the first three chapters: 1) A Cold Warrior Turns, 2) Kennedy, Castro and the CIA, and 3) JFK and Vietnam. These comprise 134 pages, but every page is essential to the overall picture Douglass is portraying.
The reason for the first two is to get into the context in which the author is placing his book. Without the context, it will be difficult to appreciate what he puts forth as relevant. People will become too impatient for the "meat" and neglect the "veggies".
The first three chapters proper lay the moral perspective for how and in what deep ways JFK altered his stance from being a cold-warrior ab initio. What threads and dynamics turned him? These are critical to grasp, if one is to understand who had the means, motive and opportunity to kill him.
In (2) the most important aspect that Douglass brings to light is the now well-documented rapprochement which JFK initiated with Castro via the latter's aide-de-camp, Rene Vallejo. Peter Kornbluh, of the National Archives, has done yeoman work in making the series of events known, via a book as well as NA documents - and terrific articles in The Baltimore Sun wherein I first became aware of it. It is essential more people know about it to understand how it may well have been the key and final "nail" in JFK's coffin, after his withdrawal of air cover for the Playa de Cochinos debacle (finally fessed up and owned by the CIA itself in its secret report on the events, made public some ten years ago), his reluctance to use aggressive force (invasion, bombing) during the October, 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (I lived in Miami at the time), and his NSAM-263 to remove all personnel from VietNam by 1965.
Another reason the Cuban-CIA link is so meaningful to me is personal. Many of the same CIA-trained elements that were causing problems for Kennedy ca. 1961-63 (via Operation Mongoose, etc.) re-emerged years later in the right-extremist group "Alpha 66" - which also was responsible for the worst act of terrorism in the hemisphere before 9/11. That, of course, was the bombing of the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 over BARBADOS on Oct. 6, 1976 - resulting in the deaths of all 73 on board.
I saw the plane explode then break up in the sea while swimming at Paradise Beach, Barbados, with my nieces- visiting in Barbados at the time from Trinidad. To this day, they still have terrible nightmares driven by those grotesque images - and they are now all grown women. My wife, who worked at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital as a radiographer at the time, was there when the hundreds of body parts were brought in.
Anyway, there is still an immediacy there, and the pain and horror from that bright, clear skies day remains with me, and why I still have trouble understanding why people (trapped in denial and the "unspeakable") are more attuned to blaming the "left" for assorted horrors than the extremists of the Right. (Just look at the recent faux outrage that erupted when the Right's terrorists were being noted by the Justice Dept. for extensive scrutiny. Weeks after the Dept. relented an abortion provider was murdered- then people were shot at- 1 killed- in the Holocaust museum by another loonie)
But I digress. Once the potential reader has covered the chapters above, it is okay to plow full steam ahead with the rest. You will be especially impressed with how the various narratives, interviews are intertwined and integrated to make the connections that need to be made.
Among these, the interviews with Thomas Arthur Vallee's sister is critical - along with other documents Douglass has - to show how an early assassination attempt was originally scheduled for Nov. 2, 1963 in Chicago - the same day the Diems were to be offed in Vietnam. As fortune transpired, an operative named "Lee" phoned in to Chicago FBI HQ and gave the heads up, whereby the hit was thwarted. Also thwarted, was the effort to trot out the first patsy or scapegoat, who was to be Thomas Arthur Vallee, another former Marine like Oswald. In any case, it all became academic as plans to go to the football game at Soldier Field were cancelled.
Douglass makes the excellent case that it was none other than Lee Oswald who alerted the feds in Chi-town, but in so doing he placed himself in the cross-hairs, as the next patsy- but now in Big D. One omission I am having trouble processing is that there was no mention by Douglass of the next attempt on JFK's life in Miami, on Nov. 18. I lived in Miami and to all intents, the motorcade went off uneventfully. However, years later undercover FBI tape recordings (of a Joseph Milteer) were released of the plan to shoot Kennedy from a tall office bldg. Some of these recordings were presented in the A&E Special: 'The Men Who Killed Kennedy' - but I have not seen or heard of this program since last shown in 2002.
The other most critical interview is that with Sgt. Robert Vinson, who on Nov. 22 was tring to get home to Colorado Springs. He took a bus to Andrews AFB in Washington, DC, and got on a C-54 (the first available flight to "the vicinity" of COS is what he wanted, and was informed it was about to depart for Lowry AFB near Denver.
What Vinson recalled most about this particular flight, is that it had no crew chief or manifest. (Usually the crew chief always asked him to sign a manifest). The flight itself didn't land at Lowry, but in Dallas, as Vinson made out the skyline. Vinson noted a lot of dust blew up as the craft landed near the Trinity River.
Two men boarded, just after 3:30 p.m. central time, one a "Latino", 6' or 6'1" weighing 180-190 lbs. and wearing a mustache, the other 5'7" to 5'9" and Caucasian, 150-160 lbs. Only later, when press photos materialized and circulated in newspapers, did Vinson realize the latter guy was the spitting image of Lee Harvey Oswald.
I don't wish to give any more of the Vinson narrative away here -especially as it connects to other critical segments, but suffice it to say many researchers (including me) had always suspected an Oswald double may have been employed to paint the necessary patsy. The process itself is known in CIA lingo as "sheep dipping". While the patsy was being marched through Dallas Police HQ, one of the actual mechanics - an Oswald lookalike, was making his getaway from the airfield near the Trinity River.
Needless to say, when the authorities found Vinson had been on this flight (by mistake), they put the guy through the wringer. Including making him work as a covert operative to keep him under close scrutiny, and on a short leash in case he might have tempted to blab.
Now, some aspects of the latter part of the book, nailing down the time frames and personnel for the assassination, that I found credible and compelling:
1) No where is any mention made of "James Files" or the Files claimed-evidence that he was the Grassy Knoll shooter. It is clear from this that Douglass is either leery of the evidence put forth, or of the credibility of Files. This discloses a caution that is redeeming, especially for many new readers to the literature- who might at first balk at "Oswald doubles" and earlier patsies set up for earlier assassination attempts.
2) There is no attention whatever to the claimed "Murchison Party" - ostensibly held the night before to "sign all parties onto the deed". The Murchison party, at the home of oil tycoon Clint Murchison, has figured prominently in the online research community and also certain books (e.g. 'Killing the Truth', By H.L. Livingstone)
3) There is no attempt to pinpoint the number or timing of the shots, or diagnose the magic bullet and its "evidence" or the autopsy photos, or the x-ray images. Again, this is heartening and discloses that Douglass is only content to deal with he believes is most credible and which backs up other facets of his presentation, and propositions.
4) The personal notes and effects that showed Lee "loved and respected JFK", totally dovetail with interviews Marina Oswald gave for the 30th anniversary, which I still have on tape. In one particularly intense altercation with Tom Brokaw, she makes clear that the Warrenites twisted her arm (and testimony) in not so subtle ways, threatening deportation if she refused to play ball.
In toto, when read right through, this book is absolutely terrifying. It reveals the unspeakable still in our midst, especially amongst those who would still defend the Warren Commission's version of history, despite the fact it is now essentially consigned to the dustbin. Douglass - as well as Newman, cited earlier- give numerous examples of outright fraudulent or manipulated evidence.
In short, this is the best book I have ever read on this topic. For the first time it powerfully shows the moral force and character in Kennedy, even - following the past ten years or more- numerous cowards have sought to make their names and profits off the stories circulating about a dead man, who can no longer defend himself.
None of this is "Kennedy worship" it is important to grasp, since as author Michael Parenti (The Dirty Truth) has noted, the error of all who claim it is that they typically conflate the low political value of the victim with the high political value of the assassination".
Thereby effectively deflating the widely held perception amongst media mavens that people so worshipped JFK and "Camelot" it was unfathomable he could be offed by a lone loser....WRONG.
What we, including Douglass, want - is for the nation to finally face this tragic event without pretense for the first time. NO denials, no subterfuge, no deflections.
We do so not to try and "run from reality" but to face it. As Michael Parenti notes (op. cit. p. 186), we are citizens who are effectively:
"raising grave questions about the nature of state power in what is supposed to be a democracy."
It is more than past time those questions got answered, and Douglass' book is an excellent start.