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ALLAH’S DEATH ANGELS: PART FIVE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 17, 2014 at 12:20 am

In San Francisco, the sudden collapse of the citywide police dragnet brought new shivers of panic to an already frightened citizenry.

Many whites stopped going outdoors after dark.  Even police officers frequently looked over their shoulders as evening approached.

Some whites–especially in the heavily Italian North Beach area–began talking about spreading vigilante terror among blacks.

And the murder-spree affected the city financially: The tourist trade–on which San Francisco depended for so much of its revenue–sharply declined.

The reaction of blacks was entirely different.

During the manhunt for the notorious “Zodiac” serial killer in the late 1960s, San Francisco police had relied heavily on dragnets and interrogations of young white men resembling a composite sketch.

But blacks charged racism when the same tactic was used to hunt for the supposed lone “Zebra” gunman. 

Zebra-Killer

Many blacks blamed “unemployment” and “oppression” for the attacks.  When interviewed by the San Francisco Examiner, none condemned the murders or expressed sympathy for their victims.

Then, on April 22, 1974, a break finally came in the case.  Anthony Cornelius Harris decided to tell the police what he knew about the men responsible for the murders.

Before doing so, he visited the parents of his close friend, Larry Craig Green–who was one of the “Zebra” killers.  He hoped that, through Green’s mother, he could persuade his comrade to go with him to the police as a witness against the other three Death Angels.

While at the home of Green’s parents, he called Green.

“I knew right there it was impossible to get him to admit to doing anything,” Harris later testified.  “He told me to get the hell out of his house and never to come back.”

Later, Harris phoned the Black Self-Help moving and storage company where he had been working for the last six months.

One of the Muslims he spoke with was Green, who warned him: “Man, they’ve got a contract out to kill you, your wife and the baby.”

It was then that Harris realized that he, his wife, Debra, and their newborn son had been marked for death by his former friends.  There was nowhere else to go but the police if he wanted to stay alive.

So, on April 22, 1974, he came forward as a police witness.

Many police believed Harris had been one of the killers himself.  He bore a strong resemblence to the suspect in a police artist’s sketch: A young black man with a short Afro and pointed chin.

But Harris insisted that he hadn’t murdered anyone, and that he had resisted efforts by his friends to enlist him in their murder spree.  He claimed to fear for his life at the hands of his fellow Muslims.

The police immediately placed Harris and his family under round-the-clock guard.

At 5 a.m. on the morning of May 1, 1974, more than 100 police officers assembled at the San Francisco Hall of Justice.  They were heavily armed–with shotguns, submachineguns and automatic rifles.

Their assignment: Arrest seven men believed responsible for the brutal series of murders known as the “Zebra” case.

At a given signal, police charged into the various homes and apartments where the suspects lay sleeping.  None of the wanted men offered any resistance.

Three of the seven were soon release for lack of evidence.  The remaining three–Larry Craig Green, Manuel Moore and J.C. Simon–were held at high bond.

A fourth suspect, Jessie Lee Cooks, was already serving a life sentence in prison for his admitted murder of Frances Rose, a physical therapist, on October 30, 1973.

Cooks would be charged with other “Zebra” murders by a San Francisco grand jury on May 16, 1974.

The trial began on March 3, 1975, and lasted longer than any previous one in the history of California–376 days.  Testimony from 181 witnesses–115 for the prosecution–filled 13,331 pages of trial transcript.

San Francisco Superior Court

The Nation of Islam paid for the legal representation of every one of the defendants except Cooks, who had admitted to murdering Frances Rose.

On March 13, 1976, Larry Craig Green, Manuel Moore, Jessie Lee Cooks and J.C. Simon were convicted of multiple murders.  All were sentenced to life in state prison.

Harris remained under heavy police guard throughout his tenure as a witness.  Then he was flown to Houston, Texas, and kept under the watchful eye of the local police.

From there he moved to El Paso, and then on to Las Vegas.  For a time, he came under the protection of the Justice Department’s Witness Security Program.

After the trial, Harris received a portion of the $30,000 reward.  Eventually he turned up in Oakland, and then ultimately disappeared.

The toll of victims taken by the “Zebra” killers had been staggering:

  • Sixteen murdered
  • Five wounded
  • One raped
  • The attempted kidnapping of three children

At the time of sentencing, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Joseph Karesh turned to a wall map showing where each of the murders had taken place.

“As I look at this map and see all these dots,” said Karesh, “I hope we do not forget all these people who have been reduced to dots.”

ALLAH’S DEATH ANGELS: PART FOUR (OF FIVE)

In Bureaucracy, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 16, 2014 at 12:10 am

According to the man who became the prosecution’s star witness against the notorious “Zebra” killers of San Francisco, entering the Death Angels wasn’t easy.

According to Anthony Harris: “[The Death Angels] is supposed to be a pretty high branch of the Nation of Islam, supposed to be 2,000 people inside it.

“And every time you kill a person, you’re supposed to have somebody witness your killing the person for verification when you go back to Chicago,” the national headquarters for the Nation of Islam.

Chicago Headquarters of the Nation of Islam

It was there, said Harris, that the photographs or eyewitnesses had to appear before the prospective Death Angel could receive his winged badge of membership.

“And after you get to killing people,” the Death Angels “give you a pair of wings to put on your neck, and they take a picture,” testified Harris.

“They say you kill four children, you automatically become a captain, or a lieutenant.  If you kill five or six women, you become a lieutenant.  Or kill nine men, the number of completion, and they give you a rank.”

Extra status was attached to Death Angels who mutilated the bodies of their victims.

“If you cut their heads off, and cut the legs and arms off and cut them open wide with a lot of blood, it’s supposed to symbolize you’re very vicious and that you could be well trusted.

“The killing was so, if they see you do it, they know for a fact you’re not a police officer and you’re not involved” as an informer,” testified Harris.

The slayings were always proceeded by elaborate safety precautions.  These included disguises, escape routes and the use of safehouses.

“In case you kill someone in that area,” Harris later testified that his Muslim friends were told, “you can automatically go to that house.  There won’t be any questions asked about it at all.

“They made that clear all the time, every Saturday, at the Fruit of Islam (FOI) meetings.  The FOI was the enforcement and disciplinary arm of the Nation of Islam.

“They said that if you’re going to kill someone, come right out and say it.  Let us know ahead of time so we can set up a good alibi.”

Recruiting poster for the Fruit of Islam, the elite guard of the Nation of Islam

Non-Muslims were not to be trusted or used in any way.

“Our own attorneys,” the listeners were told at these weekend meetings, “will lie for you,” Harris quoted one of the Muslim speakers as saying.

On the night of January 28, 1974, J.C. Simon, Larry Green and Manuel Moore launched their most spectacular assault on San Francisco whites.

Shots and screams echoed throughout the city as the killers, cruising in a fast-moving black Cadillac, literally turned the streets into a shooting gallery:

  • Tana Smith, a secretary, was slain while waiting at a bus stop.
  • A derelict, John Bambic, was murdered as he rummaged in a garbage can.
  • Vincent Wollin, a pensioner, was walking down the street when one of the gunmen fatally overtook him.
  • A housewife named Jane Holly was killed in a Laundromat while she removed clothes from a dryer.
  • And Roxanne McMillan, another housewife, was critically wounded and left paralyzed from the waist down as she walked down a flight of stairs to her apartment.

Each of these victims had been shot twice in the back by a black gunman using a .32 automatic pistol.

Just hours before the murder spree, Anthony Harris had asked his friend, Larry Green, why their comrade, J.C. Simon, was so depressed and irritable.

“He’s pretty pissed off because he didn’t make lieutenant,” Green had replied.  “He didn’t have enough kills on his record.”

The killings continued up to mid-April, 1974.

On April 20, 1974, San Francisco’s liberal mayor, Joseph L. Alioto, authorized a city-wide police dragnet to flush out the still-supposed lone gunman.

Throughout the city, roving squads of specially-assigned officers stopped and questioned over 600 young black men.  Those stopped were thought by police to resemble a vague description of the “killer,” as given by witnesses and surviving victims.

Some blacks were stopped so many times they were issued special identification cards to prevent future police interrogations.

The dragnet failed to flush out the Zebra Killers, but it touched off an uproar within the black community.  Mayor Alioto was heatedly denounced by civil rights and religious activists.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a suit in federal court for the Northern District of California to halt the stops.

On April 26—six days after the dragnet began—San Francisco’s U.S. District Judge Alfonzo J. Zirpoli acted on the NAACP’s suit.  He declared the stops an unconstitutional violation of blacks’ civil rights.

In the future, ordered Zirpoli, police would need specific information leading them to believe that whoever they stopped had committed a crime or was in the process of doing so.

ALLAH’S DEATH ANGELS: PART THREE (OF FIVE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 13, 2014 at 12:10 am

The reign of the “Zebra” killers began on October 20, 1973–with the machete decapitation of Quita Hague and the near-murder of her husband, Richard.

Almost immediately after the two Black Muslims finished hacking their victims, flashbulbs began popping.  Two other cars, driven by members of the Nation of Islam, had pulled up

Several camera-toting Muslims started taking pictures of the blood-soaked murder scene–as evidence of Larry Green’s and Jessie Lee Cooks’ worthiness as Death Angels.

A series of murders followed.

On October 30–ten days after the abduction of Richard and Quita Hague–Jessie Lee Cooks struck again.

He shot Frances Rose, a physical therapist, four times in the head and neck as she sat in her car at the entrance of the parking lot to the University of California Extension.

Cooks was arrested within a few minutes and only a short distance from the scene, still in possession of the murder weapon, a revolver.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment on December 14, 1974.

He would be tried again and convicted of other murders, along with the other “Zebra” defendants on March 13, 1976.

On November 25, Salem Erakat, a grocer, was found shot in the back of the head in his mom-and-pop market, which lay across the street from the San Francisco Federal Building.

On December 11, a San Francisco resident named Paul Dancik was fatally shot three times as he used a public telephone.

On December 13, Arthur Agnos, a former administrative aide to San Francisco Assemblyman Leo T. McCarthy, was shot and wounded while standing on a street corner, talking to two friends.

He would survive and later serve as Mayor of San Francisco from 1988 to 1992.

On Christmas Eve, Larry Craig Green and J.C. Simon asked Anthony Harris to help them take some packages to a nearby beach.

“When I unloaded the truck, I recall getting a lot of blood on my hands,” Harris later testified as a witness for the prosecution.  He asked Simon and Green what was in the packages.

“They said, it was probably a dog or a cat,” said Harris.  Later, he learned that the package had held a human body.  But he never learned whose.

Harris helped to dispose of similar packages “about 40-some times.”

Harris was taken along by the “Zebra” killers on several shootings.  Later, Harris reasoned: “I guess they thought that, sooner or later, I would join their little clique.”

One night, Harris, J.C. Simon and Manuel Moore parked their black Cadillac near an apartment complex.  Simon and Moore got out, leaving Harris in the vehicle.

“The next thing I knew,” said Harris, “I heard a gunshot.  Manuel started running from the same area that the gunshot came from.”

Moore and Simon jumped into the car.  As the vehicle sped off, Harris saw “what appeared to be a body” lying on the sidewalk.

On another occasion, Harris asked his comrades what had happened after he heard shots ring out.

“Just watch television or listen to the radio, and you’ll see what happened,” one of them said.

Harris learned from the news later on that “somebody had been shot and killed.”

Between killings, Harris and his friends attended regular meetings at the Black Self-Help, the Muslim-owned furniture-moving company in San Francisco.

The Black Self-Help

At some of these meetings, as many as 40 to 50 or more Muslims were present.

“They were talking about killing people,” Harris later testified.  Films were shown “of the Watts riots [in 1965]   and different riots taking place throughout the past, black people being beaten down by the police and shot.”

The meetings’ participants were asked, “Could we allow this to continue?  They said the only way to stop it was to act and be vicious…like the police department.

“That you had to…be able to go out and just deliberately take a baby and smash his head against the wall and kill him and, if you have to, even drink the blood to show how vicious you are.

“And they showed us a large number of pictures” on a bulletin board “of a lot of bald-headed men with little white wings on their necks, and identified each guy as being members of the Death Angels.”

Harris was told that “if I wanted to be a member of the Death Angels, that I’d have to go out and kill people to get some wings.”

Not only was the wearing of a pair of white wings a symbol of belonging to the Death Angels, so was a shaved head, stated Harris.

Only certified members of the Death Angels could enter Muslim temples with shaved heads.  Anyone else who entered such a temple with a shaved head “can be killed or put out of the temple for coming in like that.”

ALLAH’S DEATH ANGELS: PART TWO (OF FIVE)

In Bureaucracy, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 12, 2014 at 12:15 am

While an inmate at San Quentin prison, Anthony C. Harris became a devout member of the Nation of Islam.

At that time, the spiritual leader of the Nation was Elijah Muhammad, who preached a gospel of black separatism and superiority.  Muhammad taught that whites were literally the incarnation of evil, a race of “blue-eyed devils.”

Elijah Muhammad NYWTS-2.jpg

Elijah Muhammed

To test the worthiness of His Chosen Black People, proclaimed Muhammad, Allah had allowed their 400-year persecution by these “bleached-out, grafted snakes.”

But that great testing period would soon come to its end.  Then would follow the literal, heaven-sent destruction of all whites.  At the conclusion of this divine slaughter, Allah would create a paradise earth for His Chosen Black People.

It was also in San Quentin that Harris met two other inmates who would radically change his life: Manuel Moore and Jessie Lee Cooks.

Both men asked Harris–a fifth-dan kung-fu expert–to teach them the martial art–so they could kill whites.

Harris agreed to supply the lessons.

The three men had a conversation in the temporary Muslim temple in the prison–about “killing people and cutting their heads off–just white people,” Harris later testified in court.

After Harris was paroled on October 15, 1973, he drifted into San Francisco.  There he made a new friend–Larry Craig Green, who helped him into a job at the Black Self-Help, a Muslim-owned, furniture-moving company in the city.

Yet another new friend he made there was J.C. Simon.

Soon he was reunited with Jessie Cooks, who had been paroled in July.  The release of Manuel Moore followed in November–as did his own arrival in San Francisco.

In September or October, 1973, Harris and 12 to 13 other Muslims–including Simon, Cooks and Green–met at J.C. Simon’s San Francisco apartment.

“They asked me,” Harris later testified, “was I able to kill anyone?  Did I have my mind together?  They wanted me to work in the [Muslim] temple” as a kung-fu instructor.

At a second meeting at Simon’s apartment, a large, velvet-lined case was prominently displayed.  In it were two machetes, three pistols–a snubnose .38 revolver, a .357 Magnum and an automatic–and a shotgun.

“They asked me, how did I feel about white people?  Did I feel they were my enemy?  Was my mind together enough to destroy my enemy?

“And I just told them, ‘I don’t know what you mean by destroying my enemy.’”  Harris told the other Muslims that he had no enemies.

“They wanted me to go out and kill some people, to show them I could be trusted among them.  They told me I would have to make some kind of move sooner or later.”

Once again, Harris found himself under cross-examination: was he ready to take his first step towards joining the elite of Allah, the Death Angels?  Was he willing to assist his brethren in destroying the blue-eyed white devils?

To drive the point home, the Muslims showed Harris photographs of his brother, stepbrother, mother, sister and fiancee.

“They told me I knew too much about the organization, and something could happen” to Harris himself and his family unless he joined the group of future killers.

Still, Harris refused to commit himself to the coming plot to slaughter whites.

So his companions decided to enlist him in their cause in one dramatic–and lethal–move.

On the night of October 20, 1973, Americans were glued to their TV sets.  President Richard Nixon had just fired Special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox and disbanded the Watergate Special Prosecutor’s office.

On that same evening, Harris stood at a bus stop, waiting to be taken home from his job at the Black Self-Help, when a panel truck driven by Larry Green pulled up in the bus zone.

Next to Green, in the passenger’s seat, sat Jessie Lee Cooks.  Both men offered Harris a ride home, and he accepted.

The truck drove around for awhile, then parked in the shadows near Powell and Chestnut Streets, in a residential neighborhood.

A few minutes later, the three Muslims spotted a young–and white–married couple, Richard and Quite Hague, strolling nearby.

Hague, 30, worked as a mining engineer for the San Francisco office of Utah International.  Quita, 28, was a reporter for the Industrial City Press, in South San Francisco.  The previous month they had celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary.

Cooks stopped the Hagues, asking for directions.  Then he shoved a pistol into the back of Richard Hague and  forced the couple into the rear of the panel truck.

The Hagues were bound, beaten and driven to a remote spot in the San Francisco industrial district.  There they were yanked from the van.  Larry Green seized a machete and, with one stroke, nearly decapitated Quita Hague.

“He got blood all over him,” Harris would later testify.

“Larry came over with the knife and said something about, ‘You ought to have seen all the blood gush out of her neck.’”

Green handed the machete to Cooks, who slashed Richard Hague about the face and back of the head.  Left for dead, Hague would eventually recover–and testify against his wife’s killers.

ALLAH’S DEATH ANGELS: PART ONE (OF FIVE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics on June 11, 2014 at 12:30 pm

From October 20, 1973 to April 20, 1974, San Francisco was rocked by a series of random, brutal attacks against whites.  The assailant was at first thought to be a lone black gunman.

The toll finally reached 16 murders, five woundings, one rape, and the attempted kidnapping of three children.

The rampage, however, was not limited to San Francisco.  Throughout California–from Bakersfield to San Diego–at least 93 other whites were murdered, according to later police investigations.

To end the San Francisco slaughter, teams of police decoys roamed the streets, posing as hitchhikers, a favorite target of the supposed lone gunman.

To prevent ham radio operators from honing in on their operation, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD)used a special high-frequency “zebra” radio band.

When the use of this became known, the slaughters were dubbed “the Zebra case” by the media.  Most people assumed the term referred to black-on-white crime.

But the killer failed to blunder into any of these ambushes.

On April 20, 1974, then-Mayor Joseph Alioto–desperate to end the slaughter–authorized a massive, city-wide dragnet.

Over 600 young black males were stopped and questioned by police who were armed with only a vague description of the killer, as given by surviving victims.  Some blacks were stopped so many times they were given special ID cards to prevent future stops.

Civil libertarians and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) protested vigorously.  The NAACP filed a complaint with U.S. District Judge Alfonso J. Zirpoli in San Francisco.

Just six days after the dragnets began, Zirpoli declared the stops illegal.

In San Francisco, the tourist trade fell off.  Many whites stopped going outside after dark.  Some whites began talking about forming vigilante committees and spreading similar terror among blacks.

Then, on April 22, 1974, a break finally came in the case.

Anthony Cornelius Harris, a tall, thin, handsome member of the Nation of Islam–otherwise known as the Black Muslims–came forward as a police witness.

At 28, he was a fifth-dan kung-fu expert who always dressed well and spoke softly.  He also had firsthand knowledge of the “Zebra murders.”

Anthony Harris

Tne killings, said Harris, weren’t the work of a crazed loner.  They were being carried out by a group of militant Black Muslims who made use of elaborate security precautions.

Harris’ intimate knowledge of the killers stemmed from their having been among his closest friends for over six months.

According to Harris, the killers had repeatedly tried to enlist him as an accomplice.  But Harris–so he later claimed–could not bring himself to commit cold-blooded murder.  This led his friends to suspect that Harris might be a police informer or agent.

Harris began fearing for his life.  He also wanted the $30,000 reward being offered for the capture of the still-supposed lone gunman.

On May 1, 1974, police–acting on Harris’ information–arrested seven suspects.

Chief Assistant District Attorney W.H. Guibbini asked for high bail for three of the suspects after their indictment.  Presiding Superior Court Judge Clayton V. Horn raised it to $300,000 each.

The accused killers remained in jail before and during their trial.

Four of these were tried and convicted.  On March 29, 1976, they were sentenced to prison for life.

They were Larry Craig Green, 22; Manuel Moore, 29; Jessie Lee Cooks, 29; and J.C. Simon, 29.  They appealed their convictions to the California Supreme Court–which affirmed them.

Jessie Cooks, Manuel Moore, J.C. Simon and Larry Craig Green

During his testimony as a prosecution witness, Harris was guarded constantly by San Francisco police.

When the SFPD’s resources began to be strained, Harris was placed on the Witness Security Program, operated by the U.S. Marshals Service for the Justice Department.

Also known as WITSEC, it offers protection, relocation and new identities to those who testify against organized crime groups.

Harris was eventually given a new name and relocated to a series of different states.  He received a portion of the $30,000 reward he was seeking.  Then he vanished altogether.

What follows is an inside account of the “Zebra” death cult, as depicted through the grand jury testimony of the star witness against the killers: Anthony C. Harris.

* * * * *

Born in Long Beach, California, in 1946, Anthony Cornelius Harris got as far as the sixth grade.  He clashed often with police and, on January 3, 1969, he was convicted for assaulting a policeman.

He was released from prison in May, 1970, when he won a reversal of his sentence at the California Supreme Court.

But he was once again arrested and convicted, in 1971, of second-degree burglary in Los Angeles.  For this, he drew a sentence at San Quentin prison.

And he also met two of the future “Zebra” killers: Manuel Moore and Jessie Lee Cooks.

Cooks had been convicted of robbery; Moore had been sent to prison for burglary.  Both wanted Harris, a fifth-dan kung-fu expert, to teach them the martial arts.

According to Harris, Cooks wanted to learn kung-fu so he could kill whites “because they had castrated and killed our ancestors and stomped our babies’ heads in.”

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART TEN (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 22, 2013 at 12:30 am

Fifty years ago this November 22, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that he left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmosphereic testing–and poisoning–by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon–in 1969–Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war.  From 1965 to 1972, the war angrily divided Americas as had no event since the Civil War.

But there was a fourth legacy–and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverence.

White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War.

And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011,  the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

President Kennedy speed-read several newspapers every morning. He nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for entirely altruistic reasons.

These journalistic relationships gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

In 2012, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.”  Thus he excused his ignorance of the reasons for President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you–I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Ccourt judges. And, uh, ah–

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, on the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences.

Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake-–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Contrast that with today’s woeful historical ignorance among Republican Presidential candidates-–and those who aspire to be.

Consider Sarah Palin’s rewriting of history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”:

“He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”

In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything.  Instead, he was warning his fellow Americans about an impending British attack–as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

Republicans have attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resent his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.  It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART NINE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 21, 2013 at 12:16 am

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, John F. Kennedy served six undistinguished years before being elected U.S. Senator from Massachussetts in 1952.

In 1956, his eloquence and political skill almost won him the Vice Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention.  But the nominee, Adlai Stevenson, chose Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver as his running mate.

Fortunately for Kennedy.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, running for re-election, easily beat Stevenson.

Had Kennedy been on the ticket, his Catholic religion would have been blamed for the loss–and almost certainly prevented him from getting the Presidential nomination in 1960.

In 1957, his book, Profiles in Courage won the Pulitzer Prize for history.

From 1957 to 1960, Kennedy laid plans for a successful Presidential race.  Many voters thought him too young and inexperienced for such high office.

But he used his TV debates with then-Vice President Richard Nixon to calm such fears, transforming himself overnight into a serious contender.

Many Americans identified with Kennedy as they had with film stars.  In contrast with normally drab politicians, he seemed exciting and glamorous.

Since 1960, for millions of Americans, mere competence in a President isn’t enough; he should be charming and movie-star handsome as well.

John F. Kennedy after taking a swim at Santa Monica Beach, 1960

But charismatic politicians face the danger of waning enthusiasm.

Many people were growing disillusioned with Kennedy before he died.  He had raised hopes that couldn’t be met–especially among blacks.

And many whites bitterly opposed his support of integration, believing that Kennedy was “moving too fast” in changing race relations.

Still, for millions of Americans, Kennedy represented a time of change.

“Let’s get this country moving again” had been his campaign slogan in 1960.  He had demanded an end to the non-existent “missile gap” between the United States and Soviet Union.

And he had said that America should create full employment and re-evaluate its policies toward Africa, Latin America and Asia.

His youth, the grace and beauty of his wife and the oft-reported antics of his two young children–Caroline and John–added to the atmosphere that change was on the way.

But Kennedy was not so committed to change as many believed.

  • As a Senator he had strongly opposed abolishing the Electoral College.
  • He had made no outcry against the Red-baiting tactics of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, a frequent dinner guest at the home of his father.
  • As President, Kennedy never forgot that he had been elected by a margin of 112,881 votes.  He often rationalized his refusal to tackle controversial issues by saying: “We’ll do it after I’m re-elected.  So we’d better make damn sure I am re-elected.”
  • He thought it absurd for the United States to refuse to recognize “Red”China, but didn’t try to change American foreign policy in that area.

Nevertheless, many historians believe that. by vocally supporting civil rights and healthcare for the elderly, Kennedy laid the groundwork for Lyndon Johnson’s legislative victories.

Perhaps no aspect of Kennedy’s Presidency has received closer study than his assassination.

Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have hotly debated whether he was murdered by a lone “nut” or a deadly conspiracy of powerful men.

JFK’s assassination: The moment of impact

The murder has been the subject of two government investigations.  The first, by the Warren Commission in 1964, concluded that an embittered ex-Marine and Marxist, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone in killing Kennedy.

Similarly, the Commission determined that nightclub owner Jack Ruby had killed Oswald on impulse, and not as the result of a conspiracy.

Millions of disbelieving Americans rejected the Warren Report–and named their own villains:

  • the KGB;
  • Anti-Castro Cubans;
  • Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson;
  • Right-wing businessmen and/or military leaders;
  • Fidel Castro.

Each of these groups or persons had reason to hate Kennedy:

  • The KGB–for Kennedy’s humiliation of the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Anti-Castro Cubans–for JFK’s refusal to commit American military forces to overthrowing Castro at the Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • Lyndon Johnson–lusting for power, he stood to gain the most from Kennedy’s elimination.
  • Right-wing businessmen and/or military leaders–for believing that Kennedy had “sold out” the country to the Soviet Union.
  • Fidel Castro–knowing the CIA was trying to assassinate or overthrow him, he had reason to respond in kind.

The second investigation, conducted in 1977-79 by the House Assassinstions Committee, determined that Oswald and a second, unknown sniper had fired at Kennedy.  (Oswald was deemed the assassin; the other man’s shot had missed.)

The Chief Counsel for the Committee, G. Robert Blakey, believed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello organized the assassination, owing to his hatred of Robert Kennedy for his war on the crime syndicates.

Still, 50 years after JFK’s assassination, no court-admissible evidence has come forward to convict anyone other than Oswald for the murder.

The impact of Kennedy’s death on popular culture remains great.  Millions saw him as an American sccess story–a brilliant and courageous hero who had worked his way to the top.

But his sudden and violent end proved a shock for those who believed there was always a happy ending.

If so gifted–and protected–a man as John F. Kennedy could be so suddenly and brutally destroyed, no one else could depend on a secure future.

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART EIGHT (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 20, 2013 at 12:05 am

Throughout his life, John F. Kennedy was lucky–both personally and politically.

Part of the secret lay in his physical presence.  He was young and handsome, witty and articulate.

He appeared zestful and athletic despite a series of ailments, including Addison’s disease (a malfunction of the adrenal glands) and an injured back that required the use of a brace.

His wit was sophisticated and often self-depcrecating.  Addressing an assembly of Nobel Prize winners at the White House, he said: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House–with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

JFK making a joke at a press conference

And his sense of humor often defused otherwise ticklish problems.  During the 1960 Presidential race, he was sharply criticized for relying on his millionaire father for much of his funding.  At a campaign rally, he deflected the charge with humor:

“I just received a telegram from my generous Daddy.  It says: ‘Dear Jack: Don’t buy one more vote than necessary.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.’”

Another controversey emerged when he named his brother, Robert, Attorney General.  Critics charged that the appointment smacked of neoptism–and that Robert didn’t have enough legal gravitas to be the nation’s chief law enforcement offer.

“I see nothing wrong in giving Robert a little experience before he goes out to practice law,” he said at a press conference.

His highly-polished rhetoric–produced by wordsmiths such as Theodore Sorensen–dazzled audiences.  His Inaugural Address was acclaimed by Democrats and even most Republicans.

Its signature line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” has become as famous as Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

His speeches often urged Americans to seek a higher cause than mere self-interest.  Speaking of the role of the arts in a nation’s life, he said:

“It may be different elsewhere, but [in] democratic society…the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.”

Memorial at the Arlington gravesite for John F. Kennedy

But he could be blunt and profane in private.

“My father always told me all businessmen were sonsofbitches, but I never believed it till now,” he said in private when the steel companies made an inflationary price increase in 1962.

Like Richard Nixon, Kennedy installed a secret taping system in the White House.  And, as with Nixon, this picked up many of his profanities.  Unlike Nixon, however, Kennedy died before his secret taping system was discovered.

Kennedy impressed many journalists with his capacity for detail.

“He swallows and digests whole books in minutes.  His eye seizes instantly on the crucial point of a long memorandum.  He confounds experts with superior knowledge of their field,” wrote Games McGregor Burns in 1961.

Having briefly worked as a journalist (covering the opening of the United Nations Assembly in 1945) JFK understood and catered to the sensitivities of the Washington press corps.

Using charm, wit, candor and selective accessibility, he cultivated his own favored group of reporters. Critics charged that he was manipulating the media–and they were right.

Sometimes the manipulation was heavy-handed.  He pressured The New York Times to censor its coverage of actions he intended to take–such as during the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But he failed to coerce the Times into removing David Halberstam, its Vietnam correspondent, whose highly critical articles cast doubt on the effectiveness of the American military commitment to Vietnam.

A major part of Kennedy’s appeal lay in his glamorous background.  He was born–on May 29, 1917–into a large, robust family headed by wealthy and powerful financier Joseph P. Kennedy.

He attended Princeton and Harvard, graduating from the latter with top honors.

During World War II he became a Naval hero in 1943 after a Japanese destroyer sliced his PT boat in half–by towing an injured shipmate to safety.  Stranded on a South Pacific island, Kennedy persuaded a native to summon rescue help from the U.S. Navy.

Kennedy had no plans for a postwar political career.  That had been assigned to his elder brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., by their ambitious father, who was determined to seat the first Irish Catholic President.

After learning of his younger brother’s heroism, Joseph volunteered for a dangerous Naval bombing mission.  On August 12, 1944, he and a co-pilot flew an explosives-laden plane from England toward France.

While over the English Channel, they were supposed to parachute from the aircraft–after activating a remote control system to send the plane crashing into a German command center.

But the plane mysteriously exploded before the pilots could eject–and before the plane reached its target.

The death of his elder brother ended John F. Kennedy’s plans for a career as a writer.  Joseph Kennedy, Sr., insisted that “Jack” assume the political career that the Kennedy patriarch had assigned for his dead brother.

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART SEVEN (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 19, 2013 at 12:18 am

John F. Kennedy fired the imaginations and captured the hearts of Americans and foreign citizens as no President since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Millions who voted for him–or against him or didn’t vote at all–still believe that, if only he had lived to be re-elected, America would have entered a truly Golden Age.

Kennedy certainly encouraged such belief.  Asked for his definition of happiness, he quoted the ancient Greeks: “The full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”

Almost 50 years after his death on November 22, 1963, he remains frozen in time.  Assassinated at age 46, he remains forever young, vigorous and charming.

But even if he had not been assassinated, his Presidency could have ended in disaster.

After his 1953 marriage to Jaqueline Bouvier, he continued to pursue both a married and a bachelor life.  Rumors of Kennedy’s extramarital affairs swirled throughout his Senatorial career and followed him into the White House.

His conquests included secretaries, wives of friends, strippers, movie stars (such as Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich) prostitutes and even a mobster’s mistress.

Various theories have been advanced for his taking such dangerous risks with his political career:

  • As a victim of Addison’s Disease (insufficiency of the adrenal glands) he had been told by doctors he might not live beyond 35.
  • As a result of the cortisone he took to control his Addison’s, his libido was greatly enhanced.
  • After escaping death with the sinking of PT-109, he decided to cram as much excitement into his life as possible.
  • His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., a notorious womanizer, had encouraged him and his three other sons to sleep with as many women as possible.

During the 1960 Presidential campaign, Frank Sinatra–who had become smitten with Kennedy and was determined to see him elected–introduced him to a “good time girl” named Judith Campbell.

Judith Campbell

Whether Kennedy knew it or not, Campbell was also sleeping with Sam Giancana–the most-feared Mafia boss in Chicago.  And it wasn’t long before Giancana learned about her trysts with Kennedy.

As a favor to Sinatra, Giancana and his fellow mobsters used their powerful influence to ensure that JFK carried Illinois in 1960.

Sam Giancana

In turn, JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy had promised Giancana that the Mob would get a free ride under a Kennedy Presidency.

When JFK appointed his brother, Robert, Attorney General, the latter declared war on organized crime.  Giancana and his fellow hoods felt betrayed.

Giancana often raged to Campbell: “If it wasn’t for me, your boyfriend wouldn’t be President.”  And having knowledge of her scandalous relationship with JFK, Giancana was in a position to expose Kennedy to what would be a shocked public.

And if Giancana didn’t do it, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover might.

John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy

Hoover, under relentless pressure from Robert Kennedy to crack down on the Mob, had, through illegal electronic surveillance, discovered the Giancana-Campbell-Kennedy connection.

Always fearful that he might be replaced as FBI director, Hoover had quickly alerted the Attorney General to his latest discovery in February, 1962.  Neither RFK nor JFK could not dare fire Hoover now.

White House telephone logs reveal that, from January, 1961 until February, 1962, Campbell phoned the White House 70 times.

After Hoover informed Robert Kennedy of Campbell’s status with the President, she made only one more call to Kennedy.  It was then that the President said the affair was over.

Similarly, the President’s on-and-off affair with Marilyn Monroe put him in an equally dangerous position.  Monroe’s behavior, fueled by emotional instability, alcohol and pills, became increasingly erratic.  And she grew convinced that Kennedy should divorce Jackie and make her the new First Lady.

Rumors still circulate that the President sent Robert Kennedy–who was by now an old hand at cleaning up JFK’s messes–to tell Monroe their relationship was over.

Whatever secrets Monroe may have been able to reveal about her relationship with Kennedy, she took them to the grave in an overdose of alcohol and sleeping pills on August 5, 1962.

In his 1995 bestseller, The Dark Side of Camelot, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh got several former members of Kennedy’s Secret Service detail to speak about JFK’s extramarital sex life.

They revealed that they had not been allowed to search any of the women Kennedy cavorted with.

Any of these women could have injected the President with a poisonous hypodermic.  Or secretly tape recorded their trysts with Kennedy for blackmail purposes.

Kennedy believed he would be re-elected in 1964–especially if his opponent was Barry Goldwater, the Republican Senator from Arizona.

And he almost certainly would have been re-elected; Lyndon Johnson scored a smashing victory over Goldwater that year.

But it’s also possible that Kennedy could have been forced to resign in disgrace over his affairs with Campbell, Monroe or any number of other women.

Such a fate overtook British Secretary of State for War John Profumo in 1962.  In 1961, he had begun an affair with Christine Keeler, an attractive model.  But Keeler was also bedding Yevgeney Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in Britain.

When the press learned about the threesome, Profumo was forced to resign, his 22-year political career destroyed.

JFK’S LEGACY 50 YEARS LATER: PART SIX (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 18, 2013 at 12:00 am

President Kennedy’s untimely death has since fueled arguments over how, if he had lived, he would have dealt with Vietnam.

In his memoirs, former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote: “Kennedy would have never let his country get bogged down in Vietnam.”

But David Halberstam, who covered the early years of the war for The New York Times, came to a different conclusion.

David Halberstam in Vietnam

In his bestselling 1972 book, The Best and the Brightest, he wrote that although Kennedy questioned the wisdom of a combat commitment, he had never shown those doubts in public.

In public, he had expressed doubts only about the Diem regime–whether it held enough support among the Vietnamese to win the war.

His successor had to deal with Kennedy’s public statements, all supportive of the importance of Vietnam.

And it was that successor, newly-elevated President Lyndon B. Johnson, who decided, in 1965, to commit heavy military forces to protecting “freedom-loving” South Vietnam.

In short: Even if Kennedy had intended to withdraw American forces after winning re-election in 1964, he made a fatal mistake: He assumed there would always be time for him to do so.

Historian Thurston Clarke, in his 2013 book JFK’s Last Hundred Days, reached a totally diferent conclusion: That Kennedy planned to quietly remove American military advisors regardless of the military situation.

Like Halberstam, Clarke believes that Kennedy intended to gradually withdraw troops from Vietnam–but felt he could not afford to inflame the Right during an election year.

Essentially, the question, “What would  Kennedy have done?”–on Vietnam, civil rights, relations with the Soviet Union–lies at the heart of his continuing fascination among Americans.

For millions, the later turmoil of the 1960s remains such a traumatic memory that they assume: “America would have had to be better-off if Kennedy had lived.”

But much of Kennedy’s proposed legislation–such as his civil rights act–did not become law until President Johnson overcame conservative opposition to it.

Johnson had first been elected to the House of Representatives in 1937, where he gained influence as a protege of its speaker, Sam Rayburn.  In 1948, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and eventually became  one of its most powerful members–especially after becoming its Majority Leader in 1954.

Johnson knew the strengths and weaknesses of his political colleagues, and he ruthlessly exploited this knowledge to ensure the passage of legislation he supported.

Kennedy had served in the House from 1946 to 1952, and from 1952 to 1961 in the Senate.  But he had never been a major leader in either body.

It was as a Senator that he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage.  But it was also as a Senator that he refused to vote on whether U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy should be censured by his Senatorial colleagues.

In 1954, the Senate voted to condemn McCarthy, whose slanders of Communist subversion had bullied and frightened Americans for four years.  McCarthy’s influence as a political figure died overnight.

Joseph P. Kennedy, the family patriarch, was a strong McCarthy supporters   And Robert F. Kennedy had briefly worked for McCarthy’s Red-baiting Senate subcommitee.

JFK’s refusal to say how he would have voted on censuring McCarthy damaged his support among liberals during the 1960 election.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said that Kennedy should show “more courage and less profile.”

Although Lyndon Johnson’s legislative achievements as Senator and President remain unprecedented, he has become a pariah figure among Democrats.

His 1965 decision to wage all-ou war in Vietnam ignited nationwide protests and elected Richard M. Nixon as President in 1968.

Like a doomed character in George Orwell’s novel, 1984, he has largely become an un-person.

Meanwhile, John F. Kennedy continues to endlessly fascinate Americans.  In poll after poll they continue to rate him highly–even though he served less than three years in the White House.

Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been written about JFK.  On the big screen he’s been depicted by actors such as Cliff Robertson (PT 109), Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days) and James Marsden (The Butler).

Movie poster for PT-109

On TV, he’s been portrayed by William Devane (The Missiles of October), William Petersen (The Rat Pack), Martin Sheen (Kennedy), James Franciscus (Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy) and Cliff De Young (Robert Kennedy and His Times).

William Devane as John F. Kennedy in The Missiles of October

Kennedy has even appeared on Saturday Night Live (perhaps most famously in a sketch where he chides then-President Clinton for his twadry choices as a womanizer).

He even figured in a 1986 episode of the revised Twilight Zone episode where a history professor travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination.

The result: JFK is saved but Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is murdered and World War III erupts.

In fact, the Internet Movie Database lists a total of 94 movies, mini-series. TV dramas and even comedies featuring the character of John F. Kennedy.

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