Symposium On The 30th Anniversary Of The Assassination Of
President John F. Kennedy
Harvard University, November 12-14, 1993

Volume VIII#4

Updated and edited
November 18,2003


" A paranoid is a person who has all the facts"
- Daniel Ellsberg

This introductory section holds information and observations about the speakers commentators at this conference of a decade past. In the following section I discuss their fundamental conclusions , around which there was a remarkable consensus .

The report then covers in as much detail as possible, the more outstanding presentations, including those from several surprise visitors.

The Speakers

The conference opened at 7 P.M. in Langdell, the ancient Greek bank-vault style building housing the law library at Harvard. Most of the speakers were drawn from what one might call the "research community" , a closely associated collection of academics, journalists and writers that has grown up over the 3 decades since the Kennedy assassination.

Because of the illness of the keynote speaker, Richard Goodwin ( creator of the Alliance for Progress under Kennedy and the Great Society under Johnson) , the opening address was delivered by Carl Oglesby, founder of SDS. As he was called in on such short notice her merely re-read the text of a speech he'd given at a similar conference in Chicago the previous spring.

After presiding over the collapse of SDS in the 60's ( We are not implying that the blame was his : SDS itself was to blame, althouth he was partly to blame for SDS) , Oglesby has concentrated much of his energy these last twenty years, into probing the Kennedy assassination: its principal actors, their motives, the cover-ups. He's written 3 books on the subject. In a low voice he outlined the ideas in the consensus opinion. They would be fleshed out, extensively documented and supplemented over the week-end.

Oglesby's prime defect as a speaker, shared by many of us, is that it's often difficult to shake off the posturing, sometimes outright silliness, of 60's New Left rhetoric. In those days many of us imagined it to be effective public speaking. Chalk it up to our karma. ( Yowl! )

Carl Oglesby's presentation was followed by those of Theresa Seay and Edgar Tatro. Theresa Seay writes about political assassinations. In 1979 she was called to the meetings of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, where she presented arguments against the Warren Commission report.

Ed Tatro is a high school and college teacher in Quincy, Mass. A heavyset, verbose, energetic man, he has been trying for 25 years to dump most, if not all , of the blame for the JFK assassination onto Lyndon Baines Johnson. His obssession had a way of undermining his credibility. He raced through an hour long slide show that proved nothing, speaking in a rapid-fire manner with much waving of arms, salty language, vehement accusations and humor varying greatly in its level of taste. If LBJ had in fact been one of the sinister architects of the assassination conspiracy, this did not seem to be the way to going about preparing the inditement.

Following Ed Tatro's presentation , there was a short introductory talk by Bob Groden. He would be speaking for 2 hours the next afternoon and I will return to him. Then the Friday night session adjourned.

Saturday morning's sessions were held in the large Auditorium B of the Harvard Science Center, a hideous building with little relevance to either art or science , designed by Jose-Luis Sert. They opened at 9:30 AM. The stated focus was "Oswald - The Man and the Myth" . Persons familiar with the field will recognize the high quality of all the speakers, including:

  1. Peter Dale Scott: Author of many excellent analyses of the interconnections of the Vietnamese War, the Kennedy assassination, the Mob, the international traffic in drugs, and American intelligence agencies.In his spare time he teaches English at UC Berkeley, where I met him in 1984 and signed him up for a Ferment subscription for 6 months. He has always regarded me oddly: as one of those 'de-institutionalized' writers who therefore lack credibility, yet who also, for exactly that reason, are also the only 'real' writers around - a dilemma that only bothers English teachers at universities.

  2. John Newman: He is the proponent and chief defender of the argument that JFK's refusal to commit ground troops to VietNam was the primary motive for the assassination. He's with the University of Maryland .

  3. Phillip Melanson has spent many years tracing the interconnections between the major American political assassinations of the 60's: JFK, RFK, MLK (1)
    (*1) and, as my friend Rush Harp, a conspiracy obssessive in Woodstock ,NY, might have said before his sudden death under mysterious circumstances in 1983: MJK! ( Mary Jo Kopecnek )) . Rush invested a large sum of his own money into placing a billboard on the NY Thruway outside Saugerties which asked, in giant letters:


He placed a letter almost every week in the Woodstock Times about his own investigations into these assassinations. It wouldn't surprise me that he had indeed uncovered something) .
During the Conference, Melanson focused on the thick fog of mystery surrounding Oswald's years in Russia.

  • Dick Russell, an investigative journalist, talked about the testimony of Richard Case Nagell, a career spook whose path intersected Oswald's in Japan, Europe, and the U.S. I recommend his 800 page book " The Man Who Knew Too Much" Holt, Rinehart & Winston, as an example of dangerous, difficult, comprehensive investigative journalism at its best.

  • Marina Oswald Porter appeared for 1 hour on Saturday to field questions and present her point of view. Her remarks will be discussed below.

    From 2 to 4 questions were addressed to a panel consisting of Russell, Melanson, Newman, Scott, and Jim DiEugenio. (Unfortunately I missed it, citing my customary lack of a civilized income as excuse). I returned at 4 to watch Robert Groden's two hour slide and videotape show covering all the non-trivial photographic evidence from Dealey Plaza on the afternoon of November 22, 1963.

    Groden's interest in the assassination goes back 30 years. He served as Staff Photographic Consultant for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and was a consultant to Oliver Stone for the movie JFK .He is the leading expert on the photographic record of the JFK assassination, and has recently issued both a book and a videotape. The thick volume of photographs with commentary ,"The Killing of a President", is published by Viking . The videotape: "JFK- The Case For Conspiracy " makes the relevant core of the Zapruder film available to the general public for the first time. It can be obtained from New Frontier Productions, P.O. Box 2164, Boothwyn, Pa, 19061, for $29.00

    For me Groden was the most persuasive of Saturday's speakers. Neither hysterical nor opinionated, with no obvious ax to grind, his careful analysis of the photographic record left me with the feeling of having witnessed a credible reconstruction of the physical facts of the event.

    The night sessions for Saturday were held, once again, in Langdell. Gary Mack is a radio and television announcer from Forth Worth, Texas. He is the person who thought up the idea of examining the acoustic record left on the tapes of the Dallas police. He is also known as the discoverer of the Badge Man , a possible candidate for one of the assassins, whose intriguing outline appears on a Polaroid photograph taken by a spectator in the Plaza. The FBI collected all the photographs they could find; many of them were never returned, but are supposed to become available shortly in the thousands of boxes of documents from theKennedy adminstration being released at this time. Her snapshot was returned because it didn't seem to have anything on it, but Mack and a team at Bolt, Beranek and Newman in Cambridge had , through blow-up and enhancement techniques, discovered a number of figures in it, one of whom does indeed seem to be firing a gun.

    I did not stay for a review of the medical evidence by Dr. Douglas Sells and Roger Feinman, which appeared to be a re-statement of material previously presented.

    For all of Sunday we were in Langdell. All of the sessions were panel discussions organized around the themes: " JFK and the Mass Media" "JFK and the Mafia, "JFK and Cuba" , " JFK and Vietnam" , "JFK and the Intelligence Community" . The title for the morning session was : The Taboo of Conspiracy - Mass Media and Academia". All of the speakers were dissident journalists, (which still existed in 1993 in America) : Danny Schechter , Jerry Policoff, Jim DeEugenio, Roger Feinman, Gary Mack and Jim Marrs.Following the lunch break came the remaining 4 panels:

    1. "JFK and the Mafia" was moderated by Peter Dale Scott and David Scheim, with Edgar Tatro being given about 5 minutes to speak. Scheim specializes in research on the Mafia and is known for his book: "Contract on America: The Mafia Murder of JFK".

    2. " JFK and Cuba" was moderated by Gaeton Fonzi and Warren Hinckle. Fonzi is a journalist, author of a recent book about the assassination, "The Last Investigation". Warren Hinckle, former editor of Ramparts and neo-Dada muckracking journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, was a sorry disappointment. Clearly he had things to say but he hadn't prepared any of it.

    3. " JFK and Vietnam" was dynamite. We will be going over that in some detail. It included presentations by John Newman, Peter Dale Scott and Daniel Ellsberg, whose appearance on the panel was a welcome surprise.

    4. The last panel was "JFK and the Intelligence Community." John Stockwell was listed as speaker but did not put in an appearance. There was nothing very new about any of the material presented until the microphone was passed to John Judge, who said some very disturbing things that we will be discussing. John Jodge is a co-founder of the Committee for an Open Archive and an specialist on the history of U.S. Intelligence agencies.
  • The Two Standard Models

    Constantly at the fore in all discussions were the two "standard models", two contrasting scenarios of what really happened in Dealey Plaza at 12:25 on November 22, 1963.

    The first is the official version sanctified by the 26 volumes of the Warren Commission and pushed with missionary zeal by virtually the entire mainstream press up to the present day.

    The other is the opinion of the Research Community, differing in many details but with a virtual consensus in the grand outlines. I came away with the conviction that the official version is deliberately contrived rubbish and that the model of the research community is much closer to the truth.

    However, and this is very important, I also received the distinct impression that there was a political agenda within the conference as well , even as there is clearly a political agenda in the government version. This agenda is nowhere as insidious , and one should certainly begin by accepting the research community's model as a basis for further understanding; yet it was irritating, sometimes amusing, to hear so many speakers so proud of their 'objectivity', who were clearly falling in lockstep with an unspoken commitment to conformity.

    It was annoying when much of the auditorium stood up to give a rousing applause to Marina Oswald, when it was obvious to me, ( and should have been even more so to them, being experts in the field), that she was telling one lie after another, lies that could have easily been exposed by a few skillful questions that no-one seemed to have the nerve to ask. I don't think she's in the service of any agency, national or foreign; her lies were motivated by personal fears. Then again, why invite her to a conference ostensibly designed to get at the truth?

    For two solid hours the media were blasted in vituperative language in the panel discussion : "The Taboo of Conspiracy - Mass Media and Academia". However the only peep of a criticism heard against the Academy came from someone who had invited Mark Lane to come give a talk at his college and nobody attended!

    It looked to me like the usual academic hatchetjob against the press. We all know that academics are better scholars than journalists, (that is to say, people who are obliged to spend so much time out in the field that they haven't got time to "learn anything". )

    A more balanced judgment came from Danny Schechter, a cross-blend of academic and TV producer. (co-founder of Globalvision, and one time Nieman Fellow at Harvard). He expressed frank disgust at the neo-Chomskyian ( and it appears that a lot of this media bashing in the academies does originate with Chomsky) contempt shown towards the media, and asked people to examine the real structural problems faced by reporters and editors who are trying to communicate to the mass of the public. As Schechter described it, through historical reasons of various sorts, the mass media simply do not have the tools to properly deal with any serious or complex issue. Even a sincere TV producer could not, without the rigid format imposed upon TV programming , sort out all of the labryinthian details , let alone the moral, political or ideological issues associated with the Kennedy assassination.

    Still, even Danny Schechter could barely restrain his outrage when it came to the specific issue of systematic media sabotage of truth in accounts of Kennedy assassination. He re-iterated the view, stated several times during the conference, that despite a 30 year cover-up at the highest levels, despite a propaganda program worthy of Goebbels himself, only 6% of the American public believe the Warren Commission's version. Commercial journalism is out of step with the public - and knows it. Schechter also condemned the media campaign to smear Garrison as hitting an 'appalling and unique' lowpoint in modern journalism.

    Despite this lone voice of reason, any sort of attack on the academy, or on its bloodlust against the media as evidenced in the Chomsky school of media-bashing, was the Taboo part of the title : " The Taboo of Conspiracy - Mass Media and Academia."

    Another unspoken prohibition was that one should say nothing critical of Oliver Stone's movie, JFK . I haven't seen JFK ; I decided not to see it after watching the trailers television: it smelt like Hollywood. I don't need my political opinions fed to me on a 'newspaper spoon' - (Allen Ginsburg's famous line) . Yet this appeared part of the agenda, which went somewhat on these lines : (1) Marina Oswald Porter is an innocent bystander anxious to reveal and uncover the truth; (2) Bash the media but spare the universities; (3) Don't knock Oliver Stone, and; (4) Don't be too hard on JFK, despite the clear presence of a moral character so utterly base that one cannot begin to count the number of candidates of persons and organizations who might have wanted him murdered.

    In this day of PC awareness , one could not help but observe that there was not a single black person at any of the sessions. Was this due to lack of interest in the black community towards a subject that should concern all of us? An absence of competent scholarship in the ranks of black professors, journalists and writers? A failure of initiative on the part of the organizers to bring in anyone to speak of the related murders of Martin Luther King and - who knows, Malcolm X ?

    Or would such professors, journalists and writers have disputed the view that JFK was ,though flawed, essentially an idealist? That his own views as a Cold War hawk may have contributed to his demise as much as his supposedly firm stand against opening up ground wars in Cuba and Vietnam? That one deserved something better than a confused Camelot in the most dangerous and terrible days of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear war was all to real ?


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