Free Thinking Bibliophile Posts

himmlersLearning one’s family history can be an enlightening and liberating experience. However, it can also reveal many truths that some wish to remain hidden.  So what happens when you discover that your grandfather, the younger brother of a key architect in the “Final Solution” was not as innocent as you have been led to believe?  Well, that is what happened to Katrin Himmler, whose grandfather Ernst Himmler (1905-1945), was the younger brother of  Schutzstaffel Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945).  Himmler’s father had asked her to search the Federal Archives in Berlin for information on his father Ernst and what she discovered was a trove of information not just on her grandfather, but on her uncles Heinrich and Gebhard Himmler (1898-1982). What started out as simple research request, evolved into the family history contained within the pages of this eye-opening account of the Himmler story.

The book is not simply a collection of facts but rather a frank and beautifully written dicussion of the Himmler lineage, German politics and two world wars, both of which crippled Germany immensly.  The second war proved to be even more destructive for Germany than the first.  The Bavarian history in the Himmler family line is revisited and provides insight into daily life in Germany at the dawn of the 20th century.  The Himmlers are neither wealthy or in poverty but rather live in a comfortable middle class existence until a world war changes their entire lives.  The surrender of Germany in 1918, also referred to as the “stab in the back”, crippled the Germany economy, causing the Himmler family’s fortunes to take a stifling blow.   For Gebhard, who served in the war, it was a turning point in his life and younger brothers Heinrich and Gebhard would emulate their older sibling in military service.  And by the time Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) seized power in Germany, all three had become dedicated members of the Nazi Party.

If I had to quickly describe the book, I would say that it’s a biography of all three brothers. Katrin does a masterful job of recreating their intertwined lives and brings the past to life.  The brothers take slightly different paths while finding purpose, love and the accomplishment of their dreams. Heinrich would emerge as the most notorious of the three, using his powerful position within the Reich to influence the lives of those closest to him in various ways.  As World War II heated up, the Himmler brothers rose in  importance within the Reich but only one would surive the conflict.  And although each served in different capacities within the Reich, their allegiance to each other never wavers even in spite of trivial sibling rivalries.  Their differences are writted of here with Heinrich seeming to do most of the writng and griping.

The rise of National Socialism in Germany is well-document.  Heinrich became fanatical in his adoration for Hitler.  His brothers however, do not come across as fanatical in the book. In fact, there are hardly any “radical” statements from Ernst at all.  And while he certainly did join the Nazi party, there is no record of atrocities on his part as he was a communcations specialist and focused on radio transmissions.  But as part of the Reich, he certainly would have fallen into allied hands.  His demise at the end of the war is still a mystery as exlained by his granddaughter.  It is undoubtedly one of the many unexplained events of the second world war.

While the Nazi party and World War II are some of the interesting parts of the book, the personal lives of each are also explored to show readers the personal struggles and successes of each.  Marriage, children and even infidelity all have their part.  Class differences and opposing views on religion also factor in the story as each Himmler brother finds the woman they eventually marry.  For one brother however, one wife was not enough.  And the resolution to the predicament enlightened me on a topic which I was not aware of previously.  Those who are interested in further reading might want to look up the term Sippengemeinschaft which translate into “Clan Community” in English. As to how many of these communities existed in Nazi Germany during the war, is anyone’s guess.

I should note that Hitler himself only appears a few times in the story, mainly as a passing reference.  Further, the book does not focus on how and why Germany lost the war.  Readers in search of a full and thorough discussion will find that in William L. Shirer’s best selling classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. However, each brother did play a critical role in Reich functions to varying degrees with Heinrich standing out for obvious reasons.  The collapse of Germany became clear months before Berlin fell but up to the end, the brothers were quite busy in and around Berlin. In fact, the author examines correspondence between Ernst and Heinrich that makes one wonder if they really believed that Germany would come away unscathed.  To describe the letter as surreal would be an understatement and even our author is perplexed as the conversation contained within the letter.

When it became apparent that all hope was lost, each brother made their attempt to flee Berlin.  Their final moments in war are detailed here by their descendant Katrin Himmler.  Gebhard’s plight after being captured by Allied forces is also included as well as his life post-war.  The children of the former officials are also discussed but I should point out that as I write this post, Gudrun Himmler is deceased, having died on May 24, 2018Children of other Nazi leaders are still alive, well in advanced years.  Some of their stories can be found in the very interestinMy Father’s Keeper: Children of Nazi Leaders-An Intimate History of Damage and Denial, in which several explain the effect the war has had on their lives.  On a side note, Gudrun Himmler never renounced her father and remained committed to his image and beliefs throughout her life.

At the end of the book, a photo collection is included to match faces with the names in the story. And as I viewed the photos, I could not help to think of how an idyllic Germany family of its time would later be polarized and decimated by extreme ideology and world conflict. But such is the power of propaganda. This is the Himmler Brothers’ story as told by descendant Katrin Himmler.  Highly recommended.


World War II

20200419_110627 I have been taking advantage of the free time that I now have at my disposal and was reorganizing the book shelves when I came across this book which I had purchased quite some time ago. It is the translated diary of Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967), from the failed revoultion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo im 1965.  The book was published in 2011 and through the joint efforts of the Che Guevara Studies Center and his widow Aleida March. In the years following the repatriation of Che’s remains to Cuba in 1997, there was a resurgance of interest in his work and this diary is just one of several regarding the revolutions in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia where he met his untimely death.

Che has become a pop culture figure but the reality is that he had no use for captialism and saw American imperialism as a system that needed to be stopped.  After great succes in the Cuban revolution, he sought to spread those ideas across Latin America and any nation threatened by imperialism.  On June 30, 1960, the Congo achieved independence from Belgium and Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) became its first prime minister. Less than a year later, he was removed from office, detained and executed in a coup that resulted in the installation of Joseph Kasa Vubu (1915-1969) and Moise Tshombe (1919-1969) to positions of power which they maintained with an iron fist.  Guevara had traveled to several African nations as an emissiary of the Cuban Government. And he soon became convinced that a revolution was needed in the Congo to remove the dictators in office and establish true independence.

It is clear early in the journal that Che’s decision to leave Cuba did not come easily and he comments on it right away in this short but revealing passage:

“I was leaving behind nearly 11 years of work alongside Fidel for the Cuban revolution, and a happy home, if that is the right word for the abode of a revolutionary dedicated to his task and a bunch of kids who scarcely knew how much I loved them. The cycle was beginning again.” 

I personally could not imagine leaving a wife and five children to take part in a revolutionary struggle thousands of miles away from home. And this part of Che’s life has alwasy left me conflicted.  While I always admired his abilty to commit to his beliefs unfailingly, I also questioned whether a father should leave his family for those same beliefs.  His widow Aleida has continued to maintain his legacy which is open for debate, depending on the participants in the discussion.  She does provide a discussion of her thoughts and feelings regarding their life together in Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara.  

The tone of the diary is set from the beginning through Che’s words that “this is the story of a failure“.  Upon his arrival in the Congo, it becomes clear that there is much work to do if the revolution is to succeed.  However, the Congolese and groups of Rwandans who have also joined the resistance movement, are not guerilla fighters and lack the basic tools needed for armed struggle.  The Argentine revolutionary kicks into gear and attempts to apply the lessons learned in Cuba to the Congolese struggle but learns over time that the feat is nearly impossible.  The discipline and ideological commitment found in Cuba does not exist in the same capacity in the Congo. And the effort is cursed by power hungry and extravagant characters whose only concern is self-endorsement. His anecdotes show the disorganization and monumental challenged he faced in creating a revolutionary army.

Africa is far more diverse than some people realize. Within the borders of the many countries that compose the continent, are hundreds if not thousands of various different langauges and customs.  Traditional medicine and superstition are combined in daily life and carried over into the independence movement.  The concept of dawa weighs heavily in the story and Che explains its power over the men and the challenge it presented. Throughout the diary, he explains other important aspects of the Congolese culture, in particular food staples that the men are forced to rely on.  For Che, the meager and simplistic diet is not a challenge but for the men, it proves to be beyond grueling.

As a trained physican, he notes the medical issues that arise including self-inflcited alcohol poisoning and other ailments including veneral disease.  And although he does not take part in much of the fighting himself, he does treat fighters who return from the front lines after having been wounded.  He provided descriptions of their conditions and characters in his observations about the reality of their degrading campaign.  Hope and optimism had led Che to the Congo but it is not long before see in the diary, a change in his level of confidence in the struggle. In letters between himself, other figures and Fidel Castro (1926-2016) the serious issues developing within the group become critically important and an indicator that doom awaits.

Halfway through the book, it is clear that the Congo revolution is struggling to stay alive.  Booze, women and popularity have infected the mindset of a number of fighters. Further, division between the Congolose, Rwandans and Cubans proved to be too much to overcome. Che quickly sums up the issue that had developed:

The Rwandans and the different Congolese tribes regard each other as enemies, and the borders between ethnic groups are clearly defined. This makes it very difficult to carry out political work that aims toward regional union – a phenomenon common throughout the length and breadth of the Congo.

This small passage summarizes the challenges Che faced which he document, in addition to what he believes were his own failures as a leader.  Whether he could have truly succeeded is left up to the reader to decide.  But what is clear to me is that the mission was doomed from the start and the Congo was not yet ready to be a truly independent nation. Dejected, the Cubans eventually return home to Cuba as well as Che, where he remained until 1967 when he set off for the ill-fated Bolivian campaign from which he would not return alive.

The power that comes with being a dictator has proved to be too seductive for many to resist and Africa has continued to be plauged by megalomaniacs who have failed to bring economic wealth and true democracy. Poverty, sham elections and crackdowns against resistance to government policy continues to this day. Perhaps the polticial and social climate in many parts of Africa will one day change and they do, it will have to be through diplomacy and not armed struggle.  And if we need a reminder of why violence will not succeed, Che’s words here are perfect reference guide.

ISBN-10: 0980429293
ISBN-13: 978-0980429299


hillI have always wondered what happened to the family of former Lucchese family assoaciate Henry Hill (1943-2012) following their entry into the Witness Protection Program.  Hill had been expelled from the program due to multiple arrests, including one in 1987 for narcotics trafficking.  In the years that followed, he became somewhat of a celebrity, appearing on shows and giving interviews about his life in the mafia. His ex-wife Karen, has remained out of the public light, living her days peacefully under the cloak of anonymity.  Their children Gregg and Gina have families of their own but do their best to also remain out the public light.  Their father’s life was portrayed on screen by Martin Scorcese, whose film Goodfellas, is considered by some to the best film about the Italian-American Mafia ever made. Ray Liotta gave a great performance as Hill and what I found while watching the movie, is that for all his faults, Hill still comes in the film as a likable person. I had heard that the real Henry Hill was not as nice as portrayed on screen and the real story was far worse than what we see on film.  Neither the film or Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, shed light on the relationship between Hill and his children so we are not given any hints as to what things were like at home.  There is one scene in Goodfellas where Henry and Karen have a blowup fight and as Henry storms out, the camera zooms in on one of their daughters to capture her reaction.  However, there is much that was not said.  That is where this book by Gregg and Gina Hill comes into play.  Written with Sean Flynn, the siblings tell their story of life with a mobster father and the realities of being in witness protection.

Hill’s arrest in 1980 by Nassau County narcotics officers officially marked the end of his  life in the Lucchese family.  As the reality of the charges settled in and the threat of murder by his former associates became strikingly clear, Hill made the decision to cooperate with federal prosecutors, forever changing the lives of his wife and children.  We would expect to hear that the family was close knit and fully prepared for their new life together. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  I feel compelled to warn readers that this book does not have a typical happy ending.  And what we learn about the Hill household both before and after Hill’s arrest in 1980 through the words of his children, is both eye-opening and mind-boggling. Karen Hill did not participate in the writing of this book but of course, she is in the story.   And whether she will one day write her own memoir remains to be seen but if she has not done so by now, I doubt that she ever will.

Those of us familiar with other books by former mobsters and their family members know that the life is nowhere near as glamorous as movies portray.  It is a dysfunctional and dangerous life that shatters lives.  The Hill children ae frank about the off the wall experiences they had as the children of a man who was “always looking to score”.  Hill’s addiction to drugs is portrayed accruately in the film but what his children describe here in the book puts things in a whole new light.  And at some points I shuddered as I read Gina’s words about the parties held at their home.  This part of the book was actually the most difficult to read and I felt an inner rage as what was a severe case of negligence.  Their parents were caught up in the life and not even the words of their grandmother whom Gina calls “Gram”, were enough to get Hill to change. And Gregg’s description of their last day in New York before disappearing is truly hearbreaking.  His his father had become increasingly bizarre and embarrassing and Hill’s inablity to live a normal life combined with his demons, created sharp divisions between parent and siblings.  Gregg sums up his frustrations with his father in this simple yet pointed statement:

“What I really wanted was a father. Or maybe I wanted my mother to leave him, to stop visiting him in prison so we could move on with our lives. It was his mistake, his fuckup, that created all these problems, that made her work so hard, that made us rely on food stamps to eat, that got the electricity shut off because there wasn’t enough money to pay the bill. I didn’t know how to say that then, but I knew having a normal father would have been better than any present.” – Gregg Hill

The book picks up speed and intensity as they enter the Witness  Protection Program under the care of the United States Government.  They soon find themselves in a cycle of settling into a new place and then being uprooted unexpectedly.  Omaha, Nebraska is the first stop, before moving on to Kentucky and eventually Redmond, Washington.  But no matter where they went, Henry could not let go of his gangster past.  Gregg and Gina have an endless supply of anecdotes about their father’s actions which put the family in danger on more than one occasion.   In fact, Hill became so out of the control, that the the U.S. Government was forced to make a decision that Gregg only learned about years later while reading the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (“FBI”) file on his father.  The family’s life in Washington State simply spirals out of control as Henry embarks on a path of destruction that finally resulted Gregg and Gina making life changing decisions.  Alcohol, drugs, gambling and infidelity surrounded enry and he was unwilling and maybe unable to face them once and for all.  Throughout all Karen remained loyal and supportive but even she too reached her breaking point, divorcing Hill in the late 1980s.  Following a very scary physical altercation with her father, Gina reflects on all that happens and remarks:

“I don’t know why I didn’t leave after that. I guess it was because I didn’t want to abandon my mom. I didn’t understand then the role she’d played in everything, how if it hadn’t been for her tolerating my father, always taking him back and believing his apologies, none of it ever would have happened. Maybe we never would have had to run from New York. Maybe we would have had a chance, a good chance, at the life I’d always wanted.” – Gina Hill 

If you liked the film Goodfellas and want to know more about the family of Henry Hill, you cannot go wrong here.  And although Uncle Jimmy (James Burke), Uncle Paulie, Tommy (Tommy DeSimone) and Stacks (Pernell “Stacks” Edwards) are mentioned in the book, it is only in a memory by one of the Hill children, Gregg more often than Gina.  I am sure the book was painful to write and dredged up dark memories of life with an alcoholic and abusive father who could not leg go of “the life’.  It is a sobering account of the real effects that a life of crime has on those we love.


Organized Crime

20200413_171348Recently, I was browsing Netflix and saw that Martin Scorcese’s classic film Goodfellas had been added to their collection.  The film was released in 1990 and nearly thirty years later, it still captivates audiences while remaining part of American pop culture. Surprisingly, I have come viewers of the film who were unaware that the film based based on a true story and was adapted for the silver screen from this best-selling book by author Nicholas Pileggi. Aptly titled Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, the book chronicles the life of Lucchese Family associate Henry Hill (1943-2012). Several years ago I read the book to satsify my curiousity about the real life characters that are in the film. A few days ago while watching a short documentary about the real-life story, I realized that there were some things I could not quite recall and realized that I needed to take another look at the story behind the film.

The movie does follow the book quite closely, although some events were rewritten for the big screen.   As a kid, Hill adopted as a fatherly figure, the Mafia figure Paul vario (1914-1988). In the film, he is played by actor Paul Servino, and his last name is changed to Cicero. Further, the film mentions very little about Vario’s brothers Lenny,  Tommy and Salvatore, who were all involved both legal and illegal ventures.   The author explains their presence and dominance in my old neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn.  Hill quickly learns the tricks of the trade and Mafia code, and in the process becomes a full fledged gangster to the dismay of his parents Henry, Sr. and Carmela HIll.  But as  he explains in the book,  his father could never understand what he was apart of and how it made him feel as if he belonged. I could not help but wonder if Hill would have taken a different path if the relationship he had with his father had been different.

The differences between the book and movie diverge greatly when it comes to the characters in the story.   Some of the names were changed by filmmakers but the core group of  Karen Hill, Jimmy Burke (1931-1996) (last name changed to Conway in the film),  Thomas “Tommy” DeSimone (1950-1979) (last named change to DeVito in the film) and the crew at Robert’s lounge are all here, with each playing a different role in the story.   However, Hill is the main focus and his story is told spot on in the film. I personally think Liotta nailed the role perfectly with the only exception that the real-life Hill was a far heavier drinker and more reckless.

In the film, only the biggest schemes that took place are shown, most likely due to time constraints.  Hill goes into more detail here about how he learned to score and bring in money for the family through dozens of smaller schemes that range from credit car fraud to cigarette hijacking.  Many of the schemes are low-level but Hill made a name for himself with the Air France robbery in 1967 and later Lufthansa heist in 1978.  The latter placed the Lucchese family on a level of infamy from which is has never returned.  And on a side note,  the money and jewelry taken from the heist were never recovered.  Exactly what Burke did with money and jewelry remains a mystery.  And because all of the major players involved are now deceased, whatever information could have been gleaned is most likely lost for good.

There is one aspect of the book that might confuse some readers.  In the story, Henry and wife Karen have two daughters and the same is portrayed in the film. However in real life, the couple had a son Gregg and daughter Gina.  Hill later had a third child Justin with Kelly Alor, but that took place long after the film had been released and this book had been published.  The most reasonable explanation that I can think of is that at the time the movie was released, Hill’s family was still in the Federal Witness Protection Program and keeping their identities secret was of utmost concern as the Mafia still had an open contract on Hill’s life.

As I read through the book, I felt that Hill’s story was even more dysfunctional than we see in the film.   Between the stormy relationship with his wife, threat of death on the streets and large amounts of narcotics and alcohol, Hill was a walking timebomb.  When he is arrested for the last time, he makes a comment in the book that sums up the exhaustion that comes with a life that moves at the speed of light.  Karen Hill also narrates in the book, giving her side of the story about the life she shared with Hill. But unlike her former husband, she has stayed out of the public sight since entering the witness protection program and her current location is unknown publicly. In the film, she is played actress Lorraine Bracco. He words support Hill’s story and also should remove all doubt as to the surreal existence their life became. Those who have never lived “the life’ as they call it, will find their words had to understand and accept.  But this was their life in the mob and all that came with it.

I may watch Goodfellas again in the near future, to see what I may have missed in prior viewings.  And I will probably watch many more times in the future as my nostaglia for history related films kicks in.   And when I do, I will keep the real story in mind as I watch Henry and Karen’s life on screen.  Good read.

ISBN-10: 0671723227
ISBN-13: 978-0671723224

Organized Crime

Haslam1On July 21, 1964, New Orleans police officers responded to a call about a mysterious fire in an apartment complex. When officers arrived and entered the apartment, they found the body of Dr. Mary Sherman (1913-1964), a noted orthopedic surgeon and cancer researcher.  The details surrouning her grisly demise are hair raising, chilling and also mystifying.  The murderer was never caught.  Edward T. Haslem is a New Orleans native whose father was a close acquaintance of Sherman.  In fact, his father was asked to identify her remains and the incident left him visibily shaken as Haslam captures the below passage:

“As a Navy doctor during World War II, my father had seen more than his share of burned and broken bodies. Someone (I don’t know who) had asked him to go to the morgue to look at Mary Sherman’s body to get a second opinion on her unusual death. He came home from the morgue that day, fixed himself a drink, sat down in his chair, and cried silently. I wondered what was wrong. My mother told me that a woman he knew from the office had died. It was only later that I learned it was Mary Sherman.”

Little did Haslam know at the time, but Sherman’s death would take him places he could have never imagined.  His curiousity soon gets the better of him and his search for the truth about her murder, led him down a path that revealed many dark secrets in the America during the 1950s and 1960s.  Some readers might be wondering why Sherman is important and how her death is related to the assassination of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).  It is a complicated connection to be sure and certainly not direct.  The key to understanding the two requires an examination of the Cold War, right-wing movements in New Orleans, well-connected doctors and the threat of a deadly disease we have come to know as polio.

The field of virus research is one that stretches back several decades as doctors have sought to understand viral transmission from one species to another.  Books and articles had been written about the dangers of animal to human transmission previously and Congress began to take notice.  Further, the United States and Soviet Union were both determined to explore the issue of cancers induced by viruses.  The United States Government commissioned the Delta Regional Primate Center with Tulane University serving as the host institution.  The facilites were located near Covington, Louisiana on the waters of Lake Ponchartrain and few outside of its grounds knew of its existence and as Haslam shows, for every good reason.

If so far this sounds like something from a science fiction film, just wait because there is more to come.  Primates were found in many research centers across the United States and served in the testing of vaccines developed by doctors.. As polio raged, the race for a vaccine heated up and primates were fully immersed in studies and trials.  Eventually a vaccine was found but at first, things went horribly wrong and the horrors of viral cross-contamination became vividly real.  The primate viruses known as SV-40 and SIV take center stage and will cause many readers to stare in shock at Haslam’s revelations.  The current day situation regarding Covid-19 might even seem like a dark case of deja vu.

Haslam’s discussion of SV-40 and SIV are just the tip of the iceberg.  What really raises eyebrows are the strange facts about Sherman’s real work and the colleagues arround her.  Dr. Sherman had become a close family friend and one day while talking to his mother, Haslam learns many unsettling things about the laboratory at Tulane.  A dark and disturbing picture soon begins to emerge.  And by the end of the book, it includes characters such as David Ferrie (1918-1967), Dr. Alton Oschner (1896-1981) and even Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963).  The connection between all of them is quite interesting and sheds light on the political climate in New Orleans at the time.  And while many things are probably still hidden in classified documents, what is evident in Haslam’s book is that within the City of New Orleans, many strange individuals operated right under the nose of several United States intelligence agencies seemingly with the seal of approval.  The story is simply mind-boggling and although Sherman was not right-wing nor a conspirator in any sense, she was closely collaborating with those who were.  And we can only wonder as to what exactly she did discuss with David Ferrie and others who were knowledgable about the project they were working on.  Ferrie as many know, was not a doctor by any means, so why was he so closely aligned with a distinguished surgeon?  The author provides a theory about their working relationship and what he believes was the true purpose of their work.  It is highly plausible and considering the fallout from the initial polio vaccine, makes perfect sense.  Haslam’s theory regarding Sherman’s death also is highly plausible and the most likely explanation based on the reports and evidence that did survive.

Towards the end of the book as he is in search of the linear particle acclerator, things take a very interesting turn.  And yes, the acclerator did in fact exist and is not something out of the Twilight Zone.  Haslam’s search for it, results in an interesting discussion about Lee Harvey Oswald about whom he has his own suspicions.  There is no “smoking gun” about Kennedy’s murder, but Haslam did ask a good question as to who might have ordered that Oswald be allowed back in the United States after attempting to defect to the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.  It is a possible scenario that does make one wonder.

As he continues on Oswald, he also discusses the story Judith Vary Baker, who has stated publicly that she was Lee Harvey Oswald’s mistress in the summer of 1963.  She wrote about her time with him in the book Me & Lee: How I Came to Know, Love and Lose Lee Harvey Oswald. I have read the book and have no doubt that she knew and worked with Oswald.  Proof of their working relationship is documented and Haslam discusses the evidnece he found himself.  But because Oswald and the others in the book are deceased, I felt that some parts of her story will be difficult to verify.  Nonetheless, the book is good and leaves us with more questions than answers. The information that Baker provides does line up with what Hasam has found  and it is further proof of the unorthodox circle people brought together in a city run by the Mafia and right-wing extremists and intelligence operatives.

Admittedly, the book will be a tough sell to those who cannot fathom such a thing taking place in the United States. However, further research of those mentioned in the book, will reveal even more bizarre facts.  Ferrie and Clay Shaw (1913-1974) are proof of this.  Haslam is no conspiracy nut and simply gives us the facts.  He has his own theories which are perfectly justified based on the material he presents.  And while he convicts no one of anything, he has shown that there was far more than meets the eye in New Orleans before, during and after the death of John F. Kennedy.



20200410_123739I decided to use the spare time at hand to reorganize my book case and other shelves upon which sit the other literature that I have come to love and appreciate.  While perusing the books, I found this book by former New Orleans District Attorney James “Jim” Garrison (1921-1992) who is remembered for bringing the only public trial in the murder of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). In 1992, Warner Brothers released Oliver Stone’s JFKwhich captured Garrison´s investigation on film. Kevin Costner took on the role of Garrison and delivered a compelling performance.  The film is great cinema but as one would expect, many liberties were taken by Stone and producers.  Reasons for the changes are beyond the scope of this review.  Stone´s film was based on a number of source including the late Jim Marrs’ (1943-2017) Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy which is regarded as one of the best books published on Kennedy’s death and Garrison’s memoir of his investigation.

If you have never watched JFK, I think it would best to read Garrison’s book and then watch the film.  I firmly believe it will have an even more powerful effect in spite of the liberties taken by the filmmmakers. However, with that being said, overall the film is true to the book but the real story is even more perplexing and disturbing.  Similar to the film, Garrison is at his desk with Assistant D.A. Frank Klein comes in to inform him about the Kennedy shooting.  The revelation that Oswald had spend the summer of 1963 in New Orleans caused Garrison to investigate any connections that the alleged gunman may have had in New Orleans.  The trail quickly leads to David Ferrie (1918-1967), a former priest and airline pilot who had become known in New Orleans for connections to a wide range of characters including organized crime figures. Within days, Ferrie is cleared by Garrison and life seems to go on until Garrison has an encounter with former Louisiana Senator Russell Long (1918-2003) who tells him “those fellows on the Warren Commission were dead wrong, there’s no way in the world that one man could have shot up Jack Kennedy that way.” Garrison soon obtains a copy of the Warren Commission Report and the full twenty-six volumes of exhibits and testimony.  And the rest as they say is history.

At the end of the book, Garrison reveals that some of the files he had locked away from the investigation were stolen and he was forced to go by memory when reconstructing some events.  It was no small feat for and must have been a painstakingly long process. Nonetheless, the book is an incredible recollection of events that changed American history.   What I found the most enjoyable in the book were the explanations of how leads were developed and relevant information was obtained.   Incredibly, Garrison operated with a small staff and they still had other cases to work on while keeping tabs of the Kennedy investigation.  Combined with a limited budget, the results from Garrison’s investigation are even more potent. Today we have the benefit of hindsight that allows us to see that Garrison was vindicated on many fronts but at the time, he could not have forseen just how deep a fully open and welcome investigation would have led.

Early in the investigation, most of his team’s work is done in private.  This veil of secrecy allowed the Garrison team to cultivate a staggering amount of information, not only on David Ferrie and Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963), but also on businessman Clay Shaw (1913-1974), who becomes the target of Garrison’s criminal investigation.  In the film, Shaw is played by Tommy Lee Jones who delivers a breathtaking performance alongside Joe Pesci, who stars as Ferrie. The information comes pouring in Garrison finds himself on the trail of the assassins. However, unknown to him, he had awakened the sleepign giant and the efforts by the FBI and Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) may or may not surprise some readers.  For reasons unknown, their interference with Garrison’s investigation is kept to a minimum in the film.   Regardless, the real story is simply mind-blowing and also produces a number of disturbing questions. Further, as Garrison explains the book, Shaw’s arrest brought upon him a new wave of agression from Washington that at first made no logical sense.   But as the story moves forward, the government’s response begins to take on a new light.  And a statment in 1979 by former C.I.A. Director Richard Helms (1913-2002) probably would not have come about had it not been for Garrison’s case.

Similar to the film, Garrison does go into detail about aspects of the crime that never made sense, including the parade route, Oswald’s actions that day and the murder of J.D. Tippit (1924-1963).  Today, there are scores of books that address what Garrison found and have expounded on those facts significantly.  However, reading the words of the man who was the driving force behind the refutation of the Commission’s report, gives way to feelings of nostaglia and satisfaction.   And undoubtedly, I am sure there was far information that Garrison could not readily recall that would have given the book an even bigger impact.  However with his death and the theft of certain files, some facts may possibly be lost forever.  But Garrison provides enough material for a good discussion of why the case against Oswald would not have held up in a court of law.

Shaw’s trial eventually becomes the subject of discussion and happened far differently from what we see on film.  Hollywood theatrics certainly played their role but a more accurate picture is presented here by Garrison as to how things played out in the courtroom. In particular, the testimony of Vernon Bundy is intriguing but receives scant attention in the film.  Garrison discusses the importance of Bundy’s statements to underscore Shaw’s actions and connections to those suspected of being part of his intelligence network.  And although the case did not result in a conviction, I do believe Garrison was certainly on the right track.  And as we see many years later, at the time, the full scale of where he was headed was unknown.

In the wake of the Shaw trial, Garrison found himself the target of an investigation by federal authories as part of alleged pinball machine scheme which sounds like something out of a television show.  The case fell apart and Garrison breaks down each part of it, highlighting the absurdity of the case.  Some readers may express bewilderment at the charges brought against Garrison and the case presented by federal prosecutors.  And it is hard to refute Garrison’s belief that the charges were retaliation for what he revealed about the United States Government during Clay Shaw’s trial.

As the book closes, Garrison provides a short summary of his thoughts about the case, working in New Orleans and the impact it had on his life. While there is nothing groundbreaking in this section, it is a fitting way to end an important story.  And whether you believe in the lone gunman theory or not, what is clear is that Garrison’s investigation became a threat to many in high places and could have brought to light dark secrets that had remained hidden to date.  As I read through this section, I was struck by the comments he makes on Shaw’s death.  I had never given it second thought before but after reading what Garrison says, I might take another look at it.  And for readers interested in Clay Shaw’s life, I strongly recommend Donald Carpenter’s Man of a Million Fragments: The True Story of Clay Shaw.   Many of the figures in the book are now deceased and although more than fifty years have passed since Kennedy’s death, the story is as important and disturbing now as it was then.  One day the truth will be known and when it is, Garrison’s legacy just might take on a new dimension.

ISBN-10: 0446362778
ISBN-13: 978-0446362771


Chopra1We hear the word peace often, typically while watching news broadcasts regarding ongoing conficts around the world.  The search for peace remains the ultimate goal of mediators intent on resolving long standing feuds that have claimed lives and destroyed cities.  Cease-fires and treaties are signed by which all parties agree to end hostilities.  However, conflict resolution and geunine peace are two very different concepts.  Many of us seek peace in our lives, away from those who have wronged us or others who remain a source of irritation.  The American pacifist A.J. Muste (1885-1967) believe that there is no way to peace, but instead that peace is the way.   That is the central theme of this book by Deepak Chopra, M.D., who along with brothe Sanjiv, wrote the beautiful memoir Brotherhood Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream. As he explained there, the became a proponent of transcendental meditation and his practice of it, has led to him becoming a world reknown figure whose name is now synonymous with it.  Here, he is focusing on the concept of peace, showing how and why so many of us fail to find it in our lives.

Skeptics might be tempted to write off the book as yet another attempt by a “guru” to tell us to be nice to each other.  Those beliefs are not only misguided but inaccurate.  At no point in the book does Chopra tell us to that peace comes about by simply being nice to each other.  Peace is far more involved than that and if we pay close attention to what he says, the place where it can be found is within. All of us go through life experiencing joyful moments and other times of fear, tragedy an uncertainty.  Peace, along with happiness, are truly what we all crave regardless of our backgrounds. However, out methods to attain each are what ultimately lead us astray and sometimes to our destruction.

To describe this book as eye-opening is an understatement.  There is a profound amount of information to digest which surely will cause many of us to rethink what we knew about peace, not only towards those we meet but within ourselves.  Early in the book, he sets the tone right when he says “the way of Peace isn’t based on religion or morality. It doesn’t ask us to become Saints overnight, or to renounce our feelings of anger or out thirst for Revenge. What you ask for is something new: conscious evolution“.  From that point on it is clear that to fully understand this book, requires the reader to open the mind, clear it and be willing to learrn a new approach to life.  And to set us on the right path, he includes a seven day plan for introducing true peace in our lives.  I have yet to try it but have made a note of it and do believe that it can be beneficial especially in light of the current events in our world.

Chopra makes each point by drawing our attention to the very things which are supposed to result in “peace” such as Iraq War that began in 2003, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and others that have either achieved an outcome devoid of true peace or in other cases, failed to truly find it.  Today, animosity and acts of aggression continue on the Gaza Strip making peace seem like a very distant possibility. But Chopra has hope for all of us and believes that one by one we can change the world simply by the way we live our own lives.  And while you may not believe that to be true, there is certainly nothing wrong with living your own life in true peace.

Religion is also discussed as Chopra frames a very interesting discussion of how it relates to peace.  Those of us who are devout in our beliefs will remain committed to our convictions.  But Chopra is not asking you abandon your faith. He simply wants us to see where religion can sometimes lead us astray as we profound the utmost belief in the system of principles and scriptures we have been taught from a young age.  In essence, religion is neither the cause or the cure.

There were many moments when I had to take a step back and reflect on my own life.  And what I found is that Chopra had provided tools for me to personally understand how I can have peace in my own life.  In particular, there are three concepts that he writes about early that could be seen as pillars for a way of peace: Seva:  Your actions harm no one and benefit everyone, Simran: You remember your true nature and your purpose for being here and Satsang:  You belong in the community of peace and wisdom.  The book contains a far more detailed discussion of each but in their simplest forms, each speaks volumes.

Pain, turmoil and violence are parts of our world.  We do our best to navigate life and avoid them as much as we can.  But simply avoiding them does not automatically give us peace.  Peace is a person process that requires deep introspection and an understanding of ourselves.  Once that happens, we will truly understand that peace is the way.

ISBN-10: 0307339815
ISBN-13: 978-0307339812

General Reading

Chopra1The unexpected increase in spare time that that I now have, has allowed me to catch up on books that I had planned to read over the next several weeks. Among them is this inspiring memoir by brothers Deepak and Sanjiv Chopra. I was familiar with Deepak, having seen him in interviews and on social media.  Sanjiv was a bit more obscure but also just as accomplished as we learn in the book.  But there is far more to the story than their known accomplishments. In fact, what I found is a story of the challenges a person faces when deciding to leave one home and make another in a place thousands of miles away.  It is the story of immigration and two brothers finding the Amerian Dream, a concept which many today do not always believe in or in other cases, have come to misunderstand.

The story as to be expected, begins in India where Dr. Krishan Chopra and wife Puspha, welcome their first child Deepak. Several years later he is joined by brother Sanjiv.  As each brother recalls his life as a child and experiences with his sibling, we are able to learn about India culture which includes a significant amount of diversity that still remains unknown to many.  Each discusses the traditions in their culture from the appendix “chahca” onto the name of the father’s youngest brother to fascinating aspects of Hinduism.  Those who are accustom to a monotheistic faith may possibly find Hinduism completely at odds with their belief system. However, I found many intriguing lessons to be found in the book that can be applied regardless of religious convictions.

Family plays an important role throughout the story and what remains strong are the bonds they have with their parents, uncle Rattan Chacha and their own children.  As an American, I could relate to their story but I also do see where family relations are different in the United States.  Does that mean one system is better than the other? Not all and it truly does depend on where we find ourselves.  For Deepak and Sanjiv, a new place known as America would be their calling and New Jersey became the first stop.

As they get older and advanced through medical school, the Unied States becomes the focus so that they can advance their education.  What is interesting, is that neither expected to stay their permanently but rather get the right education and return to India where they could put it to use.  And that is the true irony of the book: two doctors who had no intention on staying in America, became citizens and have led incredible lives living out the American Dream.  I think  Sanjiv said it best when he remarks ” When you start on your path there is no way of knowing where it will take you or even where it will end. It’s just the natural way to go.”  Boston eventually called both brothers where each makes a name for himself.  Sanjiv’s wife Amita also established herself in the medical field and Sanjiv never fails to praise her accomplishments.  Deepak also gives his wife Rita her rightful place in the story and each brother shows their devotions to the women they fell in love with.

The Chopra brothers find success in America, through trials and tribulations.  Similar to many new immigrants, they learn about supermarkets, credit, American holidays and even the element of crime which confronts Deepak in his own home.  Thankfully no one was injured and he survived to later co-author this book.  The issue of race does appear in the story as Indian doctors are forced to prove themselves in a new culture which knows very little about India.   Their actions, in particular those of Deepak, shed light on a dirty secret with the medical professional community but one that is not unique to it.  But while they adapt to life in America, India is never lost on them and and I felt that the decision by Sanjiv and Amita to celebrate the holidays Diwali and Holi is one of the most moving moments in the book.   And as their children grow up, along with Deepak and Rita’s, both families make it a point to never forget India and their roots.   As a black American, my roots are mostly to be found here in the United States so the concept of the “old country” does not always fit into my existence.  As a result, this part of the book caused a stir of emotions and if I did have the “old country” to return to, I would also want my own children to maintain that ancestral connection.

Anyone familiar with Deepak will be aware of his association and promotion of transcendental meditation.  He discusses how and why he came to practice it and the interest taken by Amita and finally Sanjiv.  The holisitic system of Ayuverda is also discussed by Deepak, who maintains his commitment to western medicine while at the same time embracing the thought that altnerative medicine also has a place in treatment regimens.  It is a good discussion but also one that needs several books to be covered fully.  However, Deepak presents his own compelling reasons for becoming a proponent of transcendental meditation and it has prompted me to take a deeper look at it myself.

Sanjiv is not as much of an explorer as Deepak and he gives his own reasons. He remains committed to western medicine but fully supports his brother’s exploratory nature.  Their relationship reminds me of my brother and I,  who are very different in ways but always committed to each other.  Brotherhood is a truly beautiful thing when all of the right pieces are in place.  I think in our situation, I would be Deepak and my brother certainly is more like Sanjiv.  But we have our common ground and genuine love for each other.

If you are looking for a great story about brotherhood, love and success in America, this is an excellent read that will surely improve your mood after you have finished it.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and being able to fully understand the importance of Dharma in our lives.  Great read.



scottWhen I think of the murder of rap star Tupac Shakur (1971-1996), I not only think of the brutal manner in which he died but also of his enormous potential as an actor and possibly more in a career for which the sky was the limit.  At only twenty-five years of age, Shakur had lived an incredible life and even reading about it today results in my constant amazement at his rise to stardom.  I have always believed that a part of the rap industry died that day, never to return.  At the time of his death, Shakur was the highest selling rapper and a titan of the industry.   When he told Marion “Suge” Knight that he would “put Death Row on the map”, he did not exaggerate.  Officially, his murder remains unsolved and is an open homicide within the Las Vegas Police Department (“LVPD”). Shakur’s murder remains a mystery but journalist Cathy Scott decided to take a look at the killing of Tupac Shakur. 

Detectives in multiple police departments have long believed that the man who fired the shots that took Shakur’s life was Orlando Anderson (1974-1998), a member of the South Side Crips in Compton, California.  And although he was never formally charged in the murder, his name is forever linked to the crime as a result of a physical altercation earlier that night at the MGM Grand Hotel.  Anderson had been attacked and seriously beaten by an entourage composed of Shakur, Knight and affiliates of Death Row Records in town that weekend for the Mike Tyson – Bruce Seldon boxing match.   The incident was captured on camera and the footage is widely available on the internet for those who have yet to watch it.   Compton police officers familiar with Anderson, believed that he was certainly capable of murdering Shakur and that he would have no hesitations in shooting anyone who had disrepected him. Further, detectives in the gang unit have always felt that the shooting was direct retaliation for the earlier altercation.  The LVDP declined to charge Anderson with murder due to lack of evidence.  And whatever secrets Anderson did keep went with him to his grave.

It should be noted that no “smoking gun” exist here in the book.  If it had, Scott would have certainly been heralded as the person who finally revealed the truth.  Instead, the book is a thorough examination of everything that happened that night, the following investigations and a look at the lives of Tupac, Suge Knight and Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (1972-1997) whose death on March 9, 1997 seemed to indicate that it was open season on rappers.  Interestingly, I found that although I have followed the Shakur case since the shooting, there were a few things that I learned here which I had not previously known.  Further, Scott does not subscribe to any conspiracy theories, thus removing any trace of bias or insanity in the book.  She is simply the investigative reporter, relaying to the reader what she has discovered.

In my perception, the crux of the book is the investigation by the LVPD.  Shakur’s murder is perhaps the most notorious crime to take place on the Las Vegas. However, in spite of the location of the shooting and the extensive number of witnesses, no one was ever charged with the murder.  Scott shows the early mistakes made by the LVPD and interactions between the department and the Compton Police Department and even the New York City Police Departmet which still had a vested interested in any information gleaned that could help in its own investigation of the 1994 shooting at Quad Studios in which Shakur was critically injured.  The faulty investigations and lack of cooperation from potential witnesses combined to ensure that Shakur’s murder would never be solved.  Further, the one witness who could have been useful, Yafeu Fula (1977-1996), was himself murdered two months to the day that Shakur died, taking with him any information he had about the death of his best friend and rap’s brightest star.

As I read the book, I began to see that the biggest threat to Tupac’s life were the very people he was surrounded by.  As shown in the book, Suge Knight, who had once played for the Los Angeles Rams, had embraced the criminal culture and Death Row Records had evolved into a haven for off-duty cops and gang members.  For Shakur, turning over a new life soon became a pipe dream.  Las Vegas was his destiny and in the final act, blood was spilled and a young man lost his life to sheer insanity.  However, to understand Tupac in death, we must understand his life and Scott provides a good discussion of his early life that began on the streets of New York City and took him all the way to California. The role of his mother Afeni Shakur (1947-2016) is also discussed both prior to and after his death. Other figures important in Shakur’s life are also part of the story to varying degrees.  Yet Scott never loses her focus on Shakur who is the main subject.

Another area of the book I found intriguing was the financial affairs of Death Row.  Putting aside the well-known story of Michael “Harry-O” Harris, Scott also reveals a few interesting facts about the company’s founding and its finances which had resulted in an investigation by federal authorities.   What is evidently clear is that there was far more taking placed behind the scenes at Death Row than fans could have ever known at the time. Its CEO is known as a shrewd businessman, having risen from the streets of Compton to becoming the CEO of a record company that became a juggernaut. His fall from grace is nothing short of mind blowing.

To be expected, high focus is placed on Anderson and while Scott does not reveal anything goundbreaking, what she does present is food for thought.  For a more thorough examination of Orlando Anderson, I do recommend  Once Upon a Time in Compton, which provides a more detailed analysis of the raids by the Los Angeles Police Department and Compton Police Department on Anderson’s homes and the evidence tht was seized.  The information is largely based on the work by former Compton Gang Unit detectives Tim J. “Blondie” Brennand and Robert Ladd.  There was one part of Scott’s discussion of Orlando that did stand out with regards to the lawsuit filed by Anderson against Shakur’s estate and Afeni’s countersuit. Both were pending at the time of Anderson’s death but there had been a surprise turn of events in the case literally hours before his death.

In the years that have followed his murder, rumors of Shakur having faked his own death can still be found online and through social media.  He has joined Elvis, whom many people continue to proclaim is still alive and well somewhere. I believe Scott puts the rumors of Shakur being alive to rest for good. His death is surely a tragedy but far from being a staged event.  As they say, the proof is in the pudding.  I could not help feel while reading that part of what makes Shakur’s death so tragic, is that it comes across as another case of the deadly system of black on black violence that has endured for far too long.  Consider these facts revealed by Scott:

Statistics show that black-on-black gun violence has been the leading cause of death for black youths 15 to 19 years old since 1969. From 1987 to 1989, the gun homicide rate for black males 15 to 19 increased 71 percent. Of the roughly 20,000 murders committed each year in the U.S. between 1991 and 1995, 50 percent were cases involving black victims.

Twenty-five years have passed since Shakur’s death but the issue of black on black crime has not subsided as we can see by the violence in the streets of places such as Los Angeles, Compton, Watts, Chicago, Houston and even New York City.   It is like a festering wound that can never heal and reminds me of my old neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn, which saw its own deadly cycle of black on black crime.  I truly hope the future brings a much needed change that will see less young black men dying in the streets of America.  For those in search of solid and theory free information on the killing of Tupac Shakur, this is a good place to start and a must-have for any reader familiar with the case.


True Crime

horne1One of the most important questions surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) has always been why was he murdered?  We do have the official explanation that Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963), a former Marine and attempted defector to the Soviet Union, murdered Kennedy due to his own deranged thoughts which no one has been able to accurately explain.  And although he was murdered before he could stand trial in a Texas courtroom, Oswald remains labeled as Kennedy’s assassin.  But to understand the murder of any politician, it is necessary to examine the political and social climate in existance at the time. There are many clues to why Kennedy was murdered if we are willing to look.  Douglas Horne served on the Assassination Records Review Board, the organization that was developed to examine the voluminous recorsds produced in response to the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.  The act was created as a result of Oliver Stone’s groundbreaking film JFK, starring Kevin Costner as former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (1921-1992). His unique position on the board, has allowed him to view documents that many had never seen before and some of what he found is covered here with regards to the internal battle between Kennedy and factions within his own administration.

To some readers it may sound unbelievable that a sitting United States President was at odds with his own cabinet but that is exactly what was taking place prior to Kennedy’s death.   But what were the roots of the tensions and widely differing views?  Horne clues us in as we re-examine the Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuban Missile Crisis, Laos and ultimately the Vietnam War.  Kennedy did not live to see the escalating U.S. involvement and had set into motions plans for a far different course of action.  A full discussion of his true plan for Vietnam is discussed by John Newman in his phenomenal book JFK & Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power, which I highly recommend to any reader interested in how the United States might have avoided war in Southeast Asia.   The book is spellbinding and will leave readers in shock.  But Newman’s work does not detract from the work of Horne, whose discussion of the very critical events during Kennedy’s administration present some very disturbing revelations.  Also, Horne references Newman’s work on occassion even including information unvailable to Newman at the time.

The first event that Horne addresses is the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961.  Fidel Castro’s (1926-2016) removal and the installation of a government favorable to Washington had become of the utmost urgency during the transition of power from Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) to John F. Kennedy.  Before leaving office, Eisenhower had approved several covert plans and Horne explains Cuba quite pointedly:

On January 3, 1961, Eisenhower terminated diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, setting the stage for the paramilitary invasion. President-elect Kennedy had learned of the proposed invasion (by about 1400 Cuban exiles training in Guatemala) on November 17, 1960, after his election. Eisenhower left the invasion to his successor to implement.

The invasion was a failure and Kennedy soon came to distrust the intelligence community and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The seeds of division had been planted and grew exponentially over the next two years.  Cold-War warriors had mistakenly believed the young president could be bullied into taking action but they would soon learn that Kennedy had a whole different idea for United States foreign policy.

Horne’s narrative is chilling to the core and at some points in the book I had to take a step back and digest what I had just read.  In what could only be described as mind-boggling, the failed Cuban invasion did not deter the military from setting its sights on Southeast Asia, in particular Laos and later Vietnam.  Kennedy’s refusal to invade Laos is the earliest indication of how he viewed the “Domino Theory” and the futility of a ground war in Indochina.

Behind the scenes in Washington,  Kennedy was under enormous pressure to launch a first strike not only against Cuba but also against the Soviet Union on more than one occassion with China being collateral damage.  It was estimated that in a nuclear exchange, well over three hundred million Americans and hundreds of millions of people in Russia, China and Eastern Europe would have died within a matter of hours or even minutes.  Today, it seems unthinkable that those in power were actually considering intiating a nuclear confrontation but at the time, World War II was still fresh in the minds of Americans, in particular those who served in the war.  Horne focuses highly on one person in particular who very well could have started World War III.  Gen. Curtis E. LeMay (1906-1990) was chosen by Kennedy himself in the wake of his first summit with former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971).   The summary Horne provides about LeMay sets the tone of the book going forward and at that point, it will be clear to readers that tensions are about to increase. But who was LeMay?  Horne explains:

By the time President Kennedy attended the public swearing-in of General Curtis LeMay as the new Air Force Chief of Staff on June 30, 1961, LeMay was already a revered American icon to many. He had courageously led large elements of the 8th Air Force in Europe during World War II, and had personally designed, and commanded, the horrific firebombing campaign against Japan’s cities that had virtually razed that nation to the ground during 1945 (and in this role, his bombers had dropped the first two strategic nuclear weapons ever used in combat on Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

It is clear from the start that Kennedy had aligned himself with someone who saw combat as the only means to an end.  And by the end of the book, the dysfunctional and bitter relationship between the two helps to explain the forces Kennedy was contending with unbeknownst to the American people. LeMay is just one of multiple figures in the book, whose actions and statements are nothing short of scary.  A post-apocalyptic future akin to the film The Book of Eli, could have very well happened had some individuals been successful in their efforts to goad Kennedy into nuclear conflict.  And if you have any doubts that this could have happened, considered this quote by Horne:

LeMay’s concept of nuclear war was total: he believed in what he called the “Sunday punch,” or throwing everything you had at the enemy at the very beginning of hostilities — an attack from all directions, with the majority of your own weapons — that would go on without stop, for several days. His concept of nuclear war was orgiastic, and Wagnerian.

When it became clear that Kennedy would not approve an invasion of Cuba nor attack the Soviet Union, the topic of Vietnam takes center stage, becoming the hotbed issue that researchers believe was the last straw, resulting in the “green light” to remove Kennedy from office.  Horne’s essays are informative and should be read by those who study the Vietnam War, those who served and anyone in search of the truth about Dallas.  It is a case study of when U.S. foreign policy does disastrously wrong.  And for the young president, Vietnam became a moment of extreme clarity and proof that he could no longer trust his own administration.

The book is filled with dozens of important events, National Security Action Memos and transcripts of critical meetings.  One committee meeting in particular stands out not for what was said in the meeting but what was captured by the secret recording system after Kennedy had departed the room.  The discussion by the military generals who remained in the room is provided here showing that none supported Kennedy and wanted nothing short of a show of force.  Nearly all of the former officials are deceased but their names will remain ingrained in American history.  Kennedy had enormous foresight but had his hands full with powerful and intimdating figures including J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), Allen Dulles (1893-1969) and Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer (1899-1988), the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff whom Kennedy replaced with Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor (1901-1987).  The military industrial complex, described by Presiden Eisenhower in his farewell address was alive and well, forcing Kennedy to make decisions that bucked the establishment and resulted in him being engulfed in a hornet’s nest of enemies.  It is simply an American tragedy and the fictional book Seven Days in May, provided a blueprint for regime change which many never thought could be possible in the United States.

Research into Kennedy’s murder continues to reveal information that has been carefully hidden to elude investigators and curious citizens who intend on learning the truth about the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  Some will always believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did in fact pull the trigger.  But others who have long ago learned to see past the shots in Dealey Plaza, will find this book by Horne to be eye-opening and hair-raising.  And as author John Newman has made clear in his own works on the assassination, a storm was definitely brewing before Kennedy’s murder.