Responses to Our Autumn 2016 Issue


In Spite of Education …

Alan Taylor is spot-on with regard to the necessity for an educated electorate in order to sustain a true republic  (“The Virtue of an Educated Voter,” Autumn 2016). However, the conclusion that an uneducated electorate predisposed our country to the rise of “reckless demagogues” ignores several other more significant factors at play. Taylor even indicates that we currently have a much higher percentage of college graduates than we did at the country’s founding. We should, therefore, be more resistant to manipulation by reckless demagogues.

Although I am quite certain that politicians have always attempted to twist the truth, our citizenry in the past 30 years has fallen prey to the most calculated, sophisticated Madison Avenue techniques to manipulate perception that mankind has ever known. Media—social or journalistic—is manipulated (and manipulative), as well. Confusion exists in our electorate across all levels of education. Honesty, integrity, and industriousness seem lacking in our candidates. Which ultimately brings us to a decision based on gut reaction, prejudice, and experience. The Trump phenomenon is the end result. Whether it is right or wrong only time will tell.

Randolph S. Lawrence
Atascadero, California

One of Alan Taylor’s salient points in “The Virtue of an Educated Voter” is that poorly educated voters might elect dangerous demagogues who would appeal to class resentments and promote the redistribution of wealth. Robert Wilson’s statement in his editor’s note, that Donald J. Trump is such a demagogue who “might dupe the people into a return to the tyranny that a revolution had been fought to undo,” and the placement of Trump’s likeness on the front cover, ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton would have been likelier to appeal to class resentments (those of women, blacks, Latinos) and promote the redistribution of wealth (in the form of higher taxes and free college education). Wilson’s willingness to insert his personal political opinion into the scholarly journal that he edits is disappointing, to say the least.

Charles R. Adams Jr.
Fort Valley, Georgia

Fiction and Our Changing Climate

I was glad to see Amitav Ghosh addressing the issue of climate change and fiction (“Writing the Unimaginable”). And although I found his piece enjoyable, it was curiously myopic. Specifically, there was no mention of the book Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver, a fictionalized account of climate change affecting the migration of monarch butterflies. Some reviews found the book preachy, and some found it didactic, taking pages, as it did, to explain the biology of monarchs (the author is trained as a biologist) and how climate change would affect them. I found it admirable, juxtaposing the deniers against the incontrovertible evidence that faced them—the issue of culture mentioned by Ghosh.

Daphne G. Fautin
Medford, Oregon

In an otherwise insightful and well-written essay about the lack of recognition of climate change in modern “serious” fiction, we find a telling statement: “the mere mention of the subject is enough to relegate a novel or a short story to the genre of science fiction.” In that line, Amitav Ghosh answers his own question about why “serious” fiction doesn’t deal with climate change: because of the snobbery and ignorance of too many “serious” writers whose only encounter with science fiction is the lamentable crap that Hollywood offers us. The written (dare I say it) literature of the genre has come a very long way from its disreputable roots.

Ghosh would be well advised to seek out some of the modern masters of science fiction who have both serious literary chops and enough scientific background to grasp the problems of climate change and their consequences for human beings. Consider, for example, Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, Kim Stanley Robinson’s series that begins with Forty Signs of Rain, and pretty much anything by Paolo Bacigalupi. These stories will endure long after most modern “serious” fiction has been forgotten.

Geoff Hart
Pointe-Claire, Quebec

Dallas Revisited

Howard P. Willens’s and the late Richard M. Mosk’s defense of their work on the Warren Commission (“The Truth About Dallas,” Summer 2016) is notable for what they omit from the official record. “What the critics often forget or ignore,” they write, “is that since 1964, several government agencies have also looked at aspects of our work.” Indeed, the Church Committee and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) did look at the commission’s work. But rather than plaudits, they issued stinging rebukes, principally for the commission’s having been rolled by J. Edgar Hoover and, to a lesser extent, by the CIA and the Secret Service.

“It must be said that the FBI generally exhausted its resources in confirming the case against Oswald as the lone assassin,” the HSCA concluded, “a case that Director J. Edgar Hoover, at least, seemed determined to make within 24 hours of the assassination.” In essence, the experienced investigators concluded that Hoover had divined the solution to the crime before starting the inquiry, and then his agents confirmed the boss’s epiphany. The intimidated commission went right along. And with good reason. Willens and Mosk admit that the “FBI had originally opposed the creation of the Warren Commission” and that Hoover “ordered investigations of commission staff.” But Hoover deployed one of his favorite dirty tricks to deal not only with support staffers, such as Willens and Mosk, but also with the commissioners themselves. “[D]erogatory information pertaining to both Commission members and staff was brought to Mr. Hoover’s attention,” the Church Committee reported.

Hoover had a personal spy on the Warren Commission, then-Rep. Gerald Ford, who tattled on commissioners who were (justifiably) skeptical of the FBI’s work. “Ford indicated he would keep me thoroughly advised as to the activities of the Commission,” FBI agent Cartha DeLoach wrote in a once-secret memo. “He stated this would have to be done on a confidential basis, however he thought it should be done.” At the bottom of the memo, Hoover scrawled, “Well handled.”

The HSCA’s chief counsel, Robert Blakey, was impressed with neither the commission’s vigor nor its independence. “What was significant,” Blakey determined, “was the ability of the FBI to intimidate the Commission, in light of the Bureau’s predisposition on the questions of Oswald’s guilt and whether there had been a conspiracy.”

Testifying before the HSCA, the commission’s chief counsel, J. Lee Rankin, shamefully admitted, “Who could protest against what Mr. Hoover did back in those days?” Apparently not the president’s commissioners. The HSCA’s Blakey also reported that “[w]hen asked if he was satisfied with the [Commission’s] investigation that led to the [no conspiracy] conclusion, Judge Burt Griffin said he was not.” According to author Gus Russo, Griffin also admitted, “We spent virtually no time investigating the possibility of a conspiracy. I wish we had.”

Thus, despite their clear misgivings, the commissioners bowed to the imperious FBI chief rather than investigate. Notably, the commission never once employed a rudimentary investigative tool. “The Commission itself,” the HSCA reported, “failed to utilize the instruments of immunity from prosecution and prosecution for perjury with respect to witnesses whose veracity it doubted.” This policy had serious repercussions when the commission confronted two key issues: published claims that Lee Harvey Oswald had been an FBI informant, and the possibility that Jack Ruby was mobbed up. “The Commission did not investigate Hoover or the FBI, and managed to avoid the appearance of doing so,” the HSCA determined. “It ended up doing what the members had agreed they could not do: Rely mainly on the FBI’s denial of the allegations [that Oswald had been a Bureau informant].” Hoover merely sent the commission his signed affidavit declaring that Oswald was not an informant and also “sent over 10 additional affidavits from each FBI agent who had had contact with Oswald.” And with that, case closed.

The FBI had Ruby’s phone records, yet failed to spot Ruby’s obvious and atypical pattern of calls to known Mafiosi in the weeks leading up to the assassination. After performing the task of analyzing those calls, the HSCA determined that, if not a sworn member of La Cosa Nostra, Ruby had ongoing, close links to numerous Mafiosi. Thus the HSCA rejected the commission’s conclusion that “the evidence does not establish a significant link between Ruby and organized crime.”

The list of commission shortcomings that the HSCA assembled is not short. A brief summary of them runs some 47 pages in the paperback copy of the report. “The evidence,” it concludes, “indicates that facts which may have been relevant to, and would have substantially affected, the Warren Commission’s investigation were not provided by the agencies [the FBI and the CIA]. Hence, the Warren Commission’s findings may have been formulated without all of the relevant information.” The Church Committee said that the problem was that “the Commission was perceived as an adversary by both Hoover and senior FBI officials. … Such a relationship was not conducive to the cooperation necessary for a thorough and exhaustive investigation.”

But the FBI did more than just withhold evidence from the Warren Commission. Although Willens and Mosk mention that the FBI destroyed a note Oswald wrote to Agent Hosty and withheld that information from the commission, they don’t mention that Agent Hosty reported that his own personnel file, and other FBI files, had been falsified. Or that author Curt Gentry learned from assistant FBI director William Sullivan that other JFK documents at the bureau had been destroyed. Legitimate questions persist about issues that Willens and Mosk consider settled, including the single-bullet theory and JFK’s bungled autopsy.

Gary L. Aguilar
San Francisco, California

Cyril Wecht
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Aguilar is vice chief of staff at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of California, San Francisco. Wecht is the former coroner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and a former member of the House Select Committee’s Forensic Panel, which studied the JFK medical and autopsy evidence in the late 1970s.

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