Monday, August 5, 2013

"Killing Kennedy" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard: A Review

Little do the horrified onlookers know, but historians and conspiracy theorists, as well as average citizens born years after this day, will long argue whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or perhaps had the help of others. Federal authorities will scrutinize ballistics and use a stopwatch to time how quickly a man can aim and reload a 6.5-millimeter Mannlicher-Carcano. A variety of people will become self-described experts on grainy home videos of the assassination, grassy knolls, and the many evil doers who longed to see John F. Kennedy physically removed from power.

Those conspiratorial arguments will become so powerful and so involved that they will one day threaten to overwhelm the human tragedy of November 22, 1963. So let the record state, once and for all that at 12:30 PM on a sunny Friday afternoon in Dallas, Texas, John Fitzgerald Kennedy is shot dead in less time than it takes to blink an eye.

He leaves behind a beautiful widow. 
He leaves behind two adoring young children. 
He leaves behind a nation that loves him. (269)

Non-fiction when written right is more compelling to read than fiction. Though fiction can take the reader to an imaginary world and explore places only imaginable in dreams, non-fiction takes the reader to history and those who changed the world. In their book Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot authors Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard have shown just how compelling well-written non-fiction can be. The authors tell the true story of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in a way that mixes history and story without ever stepping into conspiracy or fantasy.

When I pick up this book I assumed the book would be only about the assassination. At most I assumed that the writers were going to tell the story beginning with the Kennedy's arrival in Texas and end it with the swearing in of LBJ or some other major event. I was wrong. The authors go much farther back - to the first time Kennedy almost died: World War 2.

The power of the book isn't just the history, but its story. The book mixes the story of Kennedy and Oswald. For example, while Kennedy was mourning the death of his son born prematurely (a fact I did not know before), Oswald is distributing pro-communist material in New Orleans. It is a fascinating juxtaposition between the two man throughout the book. Kennedy was everything Oswald longed to be but never could be. Oswald was a loser and a failure in every area of his life from his marriage to his (lack of) career. Prior to the assassination, this communist sympathizer couldn't even get into Cuba.

The death of Kennedy's infant son serves as an example of just how good the writing is.

Kennedy is holding young Patrick's hand as the child breathes his last. As the president absorbs the terrible moment, he is well aware that his grief is not private. The nurses, doctors, and his own staff watch to see how he handles this awful moment. Slowly, JFK leaves the room and wanders the hospital hallway, keeping his pain to himself. (197)

Can you imagine being in the President's shoes?

The authors present Kennedy has an immoral hero. A hero who was a decorated soldier (they even made a movie about him while he was President) who after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, led like a President should. The authors dedicated some space to the Cuba Missile crisis showing Kennedy's strong leadership. Other examples of his courage are given.

However, this is by no means hagiography. Most all of the major players in the book are revealed to be immoral and troubled characters. Martin Luther King, Jr. is compared to JFK's love for sex and women. Kennedy I knew about, but MLK? I was surprised. The extra-marital affairs are given a lot of ink throughout the book. Kennedy is presented as a frat boy who slept with any and every woman he was attracted to and dangerously flirted with ruining his Presidency. The last thing America needed during the heat of the Cold War was for the truth to come out. The same was true for MLK and Kennedy warned him about it. Jacki was a chain smoker, but is mostly presented as the woman she was portrayed to be in public - a lovely, attractive woman who loved her kids and her husband.

The question the reader wants to know regards the supposed conspiracy. The book presents the story as Oswald being the lone gunman. I personally reject the conspiracy theory, although that has not always been the case. The authors acknowledge the conspiracies but give some historic context for that. For example, it was apparently not a federal crime to assassinate the President of the United States and thus there was a heated battle between the state of Texas and the Secret Service. Because this was a murder, by law Texas must first do an autopsy. The Secret Service would have none of that. The FBI director assumed that multiple shooters were involved - a conspiracy. Such a fact would have solved the heated debate. It appears that the director's fear has become a lot of American's belief.

Overall, this is a great book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am impressed with its writing, its story, and how it is all presented. Reading Killing Kennedy makes me want to read Killing Lincoln and likely will at some point. The authors tell the story of Kennedy's presidency leading the reader to its unfortunate and tragic ending. Kennedy was a great leader - though flawed - whose life was cut short. Oswald wanted approval and fame and all he earned was judgment, condemnation, and hatred from the American people.







For more biographies on the Presidents
President Barack Obama - "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama: A Review
President George W. Bush - "Decision Points" by George W. Bush
President Bill Clinton - "The Natural" by Joe Klein: A Review 
President Ronald Reagan - "Ronald Reagan" by Dinesh D'Souza 
President Gerald Ford - "Gerald R. Ford" by Douglas Brinkley: A Review
President Richard Nixon - "Breach of Faith"
President Abraham Lincoln - "Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage"

For more:
Great Conspiracies: The JFK Assassination
Clinton: An American Experience
HW Bush: An American Experience
Jimmy Carter: An American Experience
Richard Nixon: American Experience
Dwight Eisenhower: An American Experience
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