When I was studying relevant events from the spring of 1963, I was of course drawn to Dr. King’s funeral service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Upon watching the video of the service, I was interested in the recording of a sermon by Dr. King called the Drum Major Instinct, the audio of which was played during his service. I was taken aback when the text of that sermon was missing the biblical references and passages as spoken by Dr. King. Someone had removed the scripture which was the basis of the sermon. Well, that portion has been restored in my post, partially for the religious aspect and for the insight on human nature. I also thought as I listened to the service” Why was Martin Luther King killed. I will leave nothing out in respect to that question nor will I frivolously insert nonsense; not to lead the parade but to keep the moral compass pointed toward the truth, where Dr. King would have wanted it to be.
This morning I would like to use as a subject from which to preach The Drum Major Instinct.
The Drum Major Instinct.
And out text for this morningis taken from a very familiair passage in the tenth chapteras recorded by St. Mark beginning with the thiry-fifth verse of that chapter, we read these words, ” And James and Joh nthe sons of Zebedee, came unto him saying Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we should desire.”And he said unto them, ” whatwould ye that I should do for you?” And they said unto him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the the other on thy left hand in thy glory.
But Jesus said unto them.“Ye know not what ye ask: Can you drink of the cup I drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?And they said unto him “We can.”And Jesus said unto them ye shall indeed drink of the cup I drink of, and with. And the baptism that I am baptized with all shall be baptized. But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give. But it shall be given them for whom it is prepared.
And Jesus goes onto the end end of that passage to say, ” But so shall it not be among you: But whosoever will be great among you. shall be your servant: and whosoever of you be cheifest shall be the servant of all.”
The setting is clear. James and John are making a specific request of the master. They had dreamed as most of the Hebrews dreamed of a coming king of Israel who would set Jersusalem who would set Jerusalem free and establish his kingdom on Mount Zion and inrightousness rule the world. And they thought of Jesus as this kind of king. And they were thinking of that day when Jesus would rein supremeas this new king of Israel.And they were saying when you establish your kingdom, let one of us sit on the right hand and the other sit on the left hand of your throne.Now very quickly we condemn James and John, and we would say they were selfish. Why would they make such a selfish request?
But before we condem them too quickly, let us look calmly and honestly at outselves. And we will discover the we to have those same basic desires for recognition and importance.That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first. Of course the other deciples got mad at James and John and you could understand why, but we must understand the we have those sameJames and John qualties. And there is deep down within all of us an instinct.It is a kind of Drum Major Instinct— To be out front. To lead the parade, A desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamnut of life.
And so before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct.
We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.
And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession. Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego. And they have innately the drum major impulse or the drum major instinct.
Now, in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it. Now if you don’t believe that, you just go on living life, and you will discover very soon that you like to be praised. Everybody likes it, as a matter of fact. And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego. Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don’t deserve it and even if they don’t believe it. The only unhappy people about praise is when that praise is going too much toward somebody else. But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.
Now the presence of the drum major instinct is why so many people are “joiners.” You know, there are some people who just join everything. And it’s really a quest for attention and recognition and importance. And they get names that give them that impression. So you get your groups, and they become the “Grand Patron,” and the little fellow who is henpecked at home needs a chance to be the “Most Worthy of the Most Worthy” of something. It is the drum major impulse and longing that runs the gamut of human life. And so we see it everywhere, this quest for recognition. And we join things, overjoin really, that we think that we will find that recognition in.
There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. And that’s where I want to move now. I want to move to the point of saying that if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one’s personality to become distorted. I guess that’s the most damaging aspect of it: what it does to the personality. If it isn’t harnessed, you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting. Have you ever heard people that—you know, and I’m sure you’ve met them—that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves? And they just boast and boast and boast, and that’s the person who has not harnessed the drum major instinct.
Now the other thing is, that it leads to tragic—and we’ve seen it happen so often—tragic race prejudice. Many who have written about this problem—Lillian Smith used to say it beautifully in some of her books. And she would say it to the point of getting men and women to see the source of the problem. Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first. And they have said over and over again in ways that we see with our own eyes. In fact, not too long ago, a man down in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens Council. And so God being the charter member means that everybody who’s in that has a kind of divinity, a kind of superiority. And think of what has happened in history as a result of this perverted use of the drum major instinct. It has led to the most tragic prejudice, the most tragic expressions of man’s inhumanity to man.
And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy. And if something doesn’t happen to stop this trend, I’m sorely afraid that we won’t be here to talk about Jesus Christ and about God and about brotherhood too many more years. If somebody doesn’t bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody’s going to make the mistake through our senseless blunderings of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere. And then another one is going to drop. And don’t let anybody fool you, this can happen within a matter of seconds. They have twenty-megaton bombs in Russia right now that can destroy a city as big as New York in three seconds, with everybody wiped away, and every building. And we can do the same thing to Russia and China.
But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. “I must be first.” “I must be supreme.” “Our nation must rule the world.” And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.
God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize— that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.
Reverend Abernathy eulogizes his friend. An almost inconceivable moment as the body of Dr. Martin Luther King lay in a coffin at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. At the time it was unavoidable to not feel the loss. However, as the decades passed, the cataclysmic void of history, leadership and moral judgement becomes readily apparent. Trying to speculate on alternate timelines if Dr. King had lived is a fruitless task. And when seen in the larger context of 1968: to ‘ replace that stain of bloodshed,” said Robert Kennedy, ‘ which has spread across our land withan effort to understand, compassion, and love is a tall order in any generation.
REVEREND RALH DAVID ABERNATHY
EUOLOGY FOR DR. KING
APRIL 9, 1968
CALLING UP ON GOD, JESUS, WITH THEE, MY. SPIRIT. AND HE KNEELED DOWN, LORD LAY NOT THIS SIN TO THEIR CHARGE. IN THE SIGHT OF THE LORD IS THE DEPTH OF HIS FAITH. ONCE FOR EVERY MAN AND NATION COMES THE MOMENT TO DECIDE.
SOME GREAT CAUSE, SOME GREAT DECISION OFFERED EACH BLOOM OR BLIGHT. AND THE CHARGE GOES BY FOREVER. THEN DECIDE WHAT TRUTH IS NOBLE… THEN IT IS THE BRAVE MEN CHOOSES WHILE THE COWARD STANDS ASIDE. ON THE MULTITUDE MAKE A RICHER OF THE FAITH THAT THEY ONCE DENIED. THOUGH THE CALLS OF EVIL, YET THE TRUTH FEAR THOU NOT, FOR I AM WITH THEE. BE NOT DISMAYED FOR I AM GOD. I WILL HELP THEE, YAY I WILL PROTEST WITH THE WITH THE RIGHT HAND OF MY RIGHTEOUSNESS.
I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIGHT, SAITH THE LORD. MAY WE BE SEATED. WE GATHER HERE THIS MORNING ON ONE OF THE DARKEST HOURS IN THE HISTORY OF THE BLACK PEOPLE OF THIS NATION, AND IN ONE OF THE DARKEST HOURS IN THE HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND. FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING, A 20TH CENTURY PROPHET WHO WAS IMBUED WITH THE PHILOSOPHY OF NONVIOLENCE. SENT FORTH INTO THE WILDERNESS OF THIS SICK NATION OF OURS, TO LIFE HIS VOICE AND CRY OUT TO THE PHARAOHS TO LET MY PEOPLE GO. WAS ASSASSINATED ON LAST THURSDAY EVENING, IN MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE. WE COME TO THE CHURCH WHERE HE WAS DEDICATED AND BLESSED AS A BABY, WHERE HE WAS BAPTIZED AS A CHRISTIAN, WHERE HE WAS ORDAINED TO SPREAD GOOD TIDINGS OF JOY TO ALL HIS PEOPLE, THE CHURCH WHERE HIS FATHER HAD PASTORED FOR MANY YEARS IN SUCH A MARVELOUS WAY FOR EIGHT YEARS. LET US CONTINUE THIS SERVICE NOW WITH A CHOIR OF EBENEZER BAPTIST CHURCH, THE CHOIR WHICH HE LOVED SO DEARLY, OF 70’S AT BAPTIST CHURCH. SENDING ONE OF MARTIN LUTHER KING’S FAVORITE HYMNS, WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS.
WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS ON WHICH THE PRINCE OF GLORY DIED.
MY RICHEST GAIN I COUNT BUT LOSS AND POUR CONTEMPT ON ALL MY PRIDE
SEE FROM HIS HEAD, HIS HANDS, HIS FEET.
SO MUCH SORROW AND LOVE FLOW MINGLED DOWN DID E’ER SUCH LOVE AND SORROW MEET OR THORNS COMPOSE SO RICH, SO RICH A CROWNWERE THIS WHOLE REALM OF NATURE MINE THAT WERE A PRESENT FAR TOO SMALL
LOVE SO AMAZING
SO DIVINE DEMANDS MY SOUL
MY LIFE, MY ALL
THAT IS BOW OUR HEADS IN A MOMENT OF SOLEMN UTTERANCE. ETERNAL AND EVERLASTING GOD OUR FATHER, THOU WHO ART THE GIVER AND SUSTAINER OF LIFE, FROM WHOM ALL THINGS HAVE COME, AND TO WHOM ALL THINGS SHALL RETURN, WE BESEECH THY COMFORTING PRESENCE IN THIS HOUR. THIS HOUR OF DEEPEST AGREEMENT. FOR OUR HEARTS — DEEPEST BEREAVEMENT. FOR OUR HEARTS ARE HEAVILY LADEN WITH SORROW AND REMORSE AT THE REMOVAL OF ONE OF HISTORY’S TRUE’S REPRESENTATIVES OF THY WILL AND PURPOSE FOR MANKIND. WHILE WE PRAY FOR COMFORT, WE PRAY FOR WISDOM TO GUIDE OUR THOUGHTS TO LIGHT AT THIS HOUR. WE HOLD GOD IN OUR UNLIMITED DIVISION — GOD IN — WE CANNOT BEGIN TO COMPREHEND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS TRAGIC OCCURRENCE. WE KNOW HE HAS NO FEAR OF DEATH. HELP US TO FIND CONSOLATION IN THE FACT THAT HIS LIFE WAS NOT — WAS A GIFT GIVEN TO US AT THIS CRUCIAL JUNCTURE IN HISTORY OUT OF THE GREATNESS OF THY BEING. — OUT OF THE GRACIOUSNESS OF THY BEING. WE HAVE NO REAL PLANS UPON IT. IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME, HE CAME , AND IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME, HE HAS GONE. HE KNEW WHERE HE CAME FROM, AND HE KNEW WHERE HE WAS GOING. AND SO, AS WE ABIDE IN THIS KNOWLEDGE, OUR GRATITUDE WILL A BASE OUR SORROW. HE FOR THE MOMENT WILL NOT TRULY DIE, BUT LIVE FOR ETERNITY AND DEDICATE HIS LIFE TO THOSE ULTIMATE PRINCIPLES OF TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND LOVE, AS THIS MAN HAS DONE, WILL NEVER DIE. INSPIRE US TO ACCEPT THE IMPERATIVE THAT IS LIFE SO FULLY EXEMPLIFIED, THAT WE MUST NOT JUDGE THE WORTH OF OUR LIVES BY THEIR PHYSICAL LONGEVITY, BUT THE QUALITY OF THEIR SERVICE TO MANKIND. HE HAS SHOWN US HOW TO LIVE, O GOD. HE HAS SHOWN US HOW TO LOVE, YET THE MANNER OF HIS TEACHING AND THE MANNER OF HIS BEING WAS BOTH STRANGE AND UNFAMILIAR IN OUR WORLD. A WORLD ABOUND IN WAR, HATRED, AND RACISM. A WORLD THAT EXALTS THE WICKED AND CRUCIFIED THE RIGHTEOUS. A WORLD WHERE CONDEMNATION IS FAMILIAR, WHERE A WORLD OF KINDNESS IS STRANGE. SO CAME FORTH A PECULIAR MAN. HE TAUGHT A PECULIAR TEACHING. SO HE WAS NOT OF THIS WORLD. THE CONGRESS AND PRESIDENT OF THIS NATION, WHO HAVE BEEN SO GRACIOUS IN THEIR TRIBUTE, WILL BE GUIDED BY THEIR SERVANT, AND THE LEGISLATIVE POWERS DETERMINED TO PASS WITHOUT COMPROMISE OR RESERVATION, LEGISLATION SO VITALLY NEEDED TO PRESERVE THE TRANQUILITY AND SOCIAL DISRUPTION. GRANT, O LOVER OF PEACE, THAT WE WILL HAVE AN EFFECTIVE SETTLEMENT IN VIETNAM, TO END THE CRIMINAL ATROCITIES COMMITTED IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACIES. TUNE OUR HEARTS, O GOD, TO HEAR AND RESPOND TO THE ECHOES OF GRANT, O LOVER OF PEACE, THAT WE WILL HAVE AN EFFECTIVE SETTLEMENT IN VIETNAM, TO END THE CRIMINAL ATROCITIES COMMITTED IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACIES. TUNE OUR HEARTS, O GOD, TO HEAR AND RESPOND TO THE ECHOES OF THIS UNDYING VOICE OF THE AGES, A VOICE OF LOVE AND RECONCILIATION, A VOICE OF HOPE AND CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE. GRANT THAT IN RESPONSE TO HIS SACRIFICIAL DEATH, WE WILL WORK TOWARD THAT DAY WHEN THE LONG AND TRAGIC TUNE OF MAN’S INHUMANITY TO MAN WILL RESOLVE INTO A CHORUS OF PEACE AND BROTHERHOOD. THEN LOVE WILL TEAR OUT THE VEIL OF THE FIRES OF ANGER, AND FROM
THE ASHES GROW A TREE OF PEACE.
THIS IS OUR PRAYER. GRANT US THY BENEDICTION.
Fitton Books by Robert P. Fitton
American Injustice-volume 1 and 2 available spring 2021.
I speak to your underdiferent circumstances than I hadintended to just twenty-four hours ago. For this is a time of shame and a time of sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity — my only event of today — to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.
It’s not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one — no matter where he lives or what he does — can be certain whom next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.
Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.
Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children — whenever we do this, then whole nation is degraded. “Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their case and pay the cost.”
Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and we call it entertainment. We make it easier for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition that they desire.
Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of rioting, and inciting riots, have by their own conduct invited them. Some look for scapegoats; others look for conspiracies. But this much is clear: violence breeds violence; repression breeds retaliation; and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls.
For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions — indifference, inaction, and decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man amongst other men.
And this too afflicts us all. For when you teach a man to hate and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and to be mastered.
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as alien, alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear — only a common desire to retreat from each other — only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.
For all this there are no final answers for those of us who are American citizens. Yet we know what we must do, and that is to achieve true justice among all of our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.
We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions, the false distinctions among men, and learn to find our own advancement in search for the advancement of all. We must admit to ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortune of another’s. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or by revenge.
Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. Of course, we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember — if only for a time — that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek — as do we — nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.
Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow man, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Most people would flinch when those words are heard. Martin Luther King’s message over the years had prompted the bigots and the haters to come out of the shadows. Bringing African Americans into the mainstream of American life did not comport with those with prejudice and evil intent. Even though the civil rights movement was far from attaining the mainstream goals many powerful people did not want any social change between the races. King acknowledging the consequences of his efforts on the night before his death is quite extraordinary. Patch and Natalie in American Injustice-volume 2 are swept up by this event and the effect on the 1968 campaign. American Injustice- volumes 1 and 2 are available in the spring of 2022.
Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.
Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.
I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would come on up even to 1863 and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the early thirties and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but “fear itself.” But I wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”
Now that’s a strange statement to make because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”
And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.
And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that He’s allowed me to be in Memphis.
I can remember — I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.
And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.
Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be — and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: We know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”
Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.
And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take ’em off,” and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.”
And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham. Now we’ve got to go on in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday.
Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there.
But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech.
Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.
We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”
And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit.
But I want to thank all of them. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.
It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.
Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that?
After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.
We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned.
Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy — what is the other bread? — Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain.
We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on town — downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.
But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”
Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.
Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end.
Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base…. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side.
They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.
Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.”
That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.”
And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you. You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up.
The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said, “Yes.” And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, your drowned in your own blood — that’s the end of you.
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital.
They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply,
“Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.”
And she said,
“While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight — I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream, and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in inter-state travel.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.
If I had sneezed — If I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.
I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
And they were telling me –. Now, it doesn’t matter, now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us.
The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
American Injustice volumes 1 and 2 are available in the Spring of 2022.
In politics two weeks is a lifetime. One statement, policy change or perhaps a gaff can cause a campaign to freefall or another to skyrocket or at the least have a new life. Both Kennedy and McCarthy faced the man in the White House, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Gene McCarthy beat Johnson in New Hampshire. Bobby Kennedy’s campaign started with the mantra of challenging Johnson head on. Then in less than two weeks from Kennedy’s announcement for president Lyndon Johnson shocked even some of his advisors and shook the political landscape by withdrawing from the race. Patch and Natalie, who are fans of Bobby, are elated. But the competition with Johnson as a motivation for votes is gone. American Injustice- volumes 1 and 2 are available in the spring of 2022.
Good evening, my fellow Americans: Tonight, I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. No other question so preoccupies our people. No other dream so absorbs the 250 million human beings who live in that part of the world. No other goal motivates American policy in Southeast Asia. For years, representatives of our governments and others have traveled the world–seeking to find a basis for peace talks. Since last September, they have carried the offer that I made public at San Antonio. And that offer was this: That the United States would stop its bombardment of North Vietnam when that would lead promptly to productive discussions—and that we would assume that North Vietnam would not take military advantage of our restraint. Hanoi denounced this offer, both privately and publicly. Even while the search for peace was going on, North Vietnam rushed their preparations for a savage assault on the people, the government, and the allies of South Vietnam. Their attack—during the Tet holidays—failed to achieve its principal objectives. It did not collapse the elected government of South Vietnam or shatter its army–as the Communists had hoped. It did not produce a “general uprising” among the people of the cities as they had predicted. The Communists were unable to maintain control of any of the more than 30 cities that they attacked. And they took very heavy casualties. But they did compel the South Vietnamese and their allies to move certain forces from the countryside into the cities. They caused widespread disruption and suffering. Their attacks, and the battles that followed, made refugees of half a million human beings. The Communists may renew their attack any day. They are, it appears, trying to make 1968 the year of decision in South Vietnam–the year that brings, if not final victory or defeat, at least a turning point in the struggle. This much is clear: If they do mount another round of heavy attacks, they will not succeed in destroying the fighting power of South Vietnam and its allies. But tragically, this is also clear: Many men–on both sides of the struggle–will be lost. A nation that has already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again. Armies on both sides will take new casualties. And the war will go on. There is no need for this to be so. There is no need to delay the talks that could bring an end to this long and this bloody war. Tonight, I renew the offer I made last August–to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam. We ask that talks begin promptly, that they be serious talks on the substance of peace. We assume that during those talks Hanoi will not take advantage of our restraint. We are prepared to move immediately toward peace through negotiations. So, tonight, in the hope that this action will lead to early talks, I am taking the first step to deescalate the conflict. We are reducing-substantially reducing–the present level of hostilities. And we are doing so unilaterally, and at once. Tonight, I have ordered our aircraft and our naval vessels to make no attacks on North Vietnam, except in the area north of the demilitarized zone where the continuing enemy buildup directly threatens allied forward positions and where the movements of their troops and supplies are clearly related to that threat. The area in which we are stopping our attacks includes almost 90 percent of North Vietnam’s population, and most of its territory. Thus, there will be no attacks around the principal populated areas, or in the food-producing areas of North Vietnam. Even this very limited bombing of the North could come to an early end–if our restraint is matched by restraint in Hanoi. But I cannot in good conscience stop all bombing so long as to do so would immediately and directly endanger the lives of our men and our allies. Whether a complete bombing halt becomes possible in the future will be determined by events. Our purpose in this action is to bring about a reduction in the level of violence that now exists. It is to save the lives of brave men–and to save the lives of innocent women and children. It is to permit the contending forces to move closer to a political settlement. And tonight, I call upon the United Kingdom and I call upon the Soviet Union–as cochairmen of the Geneva Conferences, and as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council–to do all they can to move from the unilateral act of deescalation that I have just announced toward genuine peace in Southeast Asia. Now, as in the past, the United States is ready to send its representatives to any forum, at any time, to discuss the means of bringing this ugly war to an end. I am designating one of our most distinguished Americans, Ambassador Averell Harriman, as my personal representative for such talks. In addition, I have asked Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, who returned from Moscow for consultation, to be available to join Ambassador Harriman at Geneva or any other suitable place–just as soon as Hanoi agrees to a conference. I call upon President Ho Chi Minh to respond positively, and favorably, to this new step toward peace. But if peace does not come now through negotiations, it will come when Hanoi understands that our common resolve is unshakable, and our common strength is invincible. Tonight, we and the other allied nations are contributing 600,000 fighting men to assist 700,000 South Vietnamese troops in defending their little country. Our presence there has always rested on this basic belief: The main burden of preserving their freedom must be carried out by them–by the South Vietnamese themselves. We and our allies can only help to provide a shield behind which the people of South Vietnam can survive and can grow and develop. On their efforts–on their determination and resourcefulness–the outcome will ultimately depend. I pay tribute once again tonight to the great courage and the endurance of its people. South Vietnam supports armed forces tonight of almost 700,000 men–and I call your attention to the fact that that is the equivalent of more than 10 million in our own population. Its people maintain their firm determination to be free of domination by the North. There has been substantial progress, I think, in building a durable government during these last 3 years. The South Vietnam of 1965 could not have survived the enemy’s Tet offensive of 1968. The elected government of South Vietnam survived that attack–and is rapidly repairing the devastation that it wrought. The South Vietnamese know that further efforts are going to be required: –to expand their own armed forces, –to move back into the countryside as quickly as possible, –to increase their taxes, –to select the very best men that they have for civil and military responsibility, –to achieve a new unity within their constitutional government, and –to include in the national effort all those groups who wish to preserve South Vietnam’s control over its own destiny. Last week President Thieu ordered the mobilization of 135,000 additional South Vietnamese. He plans to reach–as soon as possible–a total military strength of more than 800,000 men. To achieve this, the Government of South Vietnam started the drafting of 19-year-olds on March 1st. On May 1st, the Government will begin the drafting of 18-year-olds. Last month, 10,000 men volunteered for military service–that was two and a half times the number of volunteers during the same month last year. Since the middle of January, more than 48,000 South Vietnamese have joined the armed forces–and nearly half of them volunteered to do so. All men in the South Vietnamese armed forces have had their tours of duty extended for the duration of the war, and reserves are now being called up for immediate active duty. President Thieu told his people last week, I quote, “We must make greater efforts and accept more sacrifices because, as I have said many times, this is our country. The existence of our nation is at stake, and this is mainly a Vietnamese responsibility.” He warned his people that a major national effort is required to root out corruption and incompetence at all levels of government. We applaud this evidence of determination on the part of South Vietnam. Our first priority will be to support their effort. We shall accelerate the reequipment of South Vietnam’s armed forces–in order to meet the enemy’s increased firepower. And this will enable them progressively to undertake a larger share of combat operations against the Communist invaders. On many occasions I have told the American people that we would send to Vietnam those forces that are required to accomplish our mission there. So, with that as our guide, we have previously authorized a force level of approximately 525,000. Some weeks ago–to help meet the enemy’s new offensive–we sent to Vietnam about 11,000 additional Marine and airborne troops. They were deployed by air in 48 hours, on an emergency basis. But the artillery, tank, aircraft, medical, and other units that were needed to work with and to support these infantry troops in combat could not then accompany them by air on that short notice. In order that these forces may reach maximum combat effectiveness, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended to me that we should prepare to send–during the next 5 months–the support troops totaling approximately 13,500 men. A portion of these men will be made available from our active forces. The balance will come from reserve component units which will be called up for service. The actions that we have taken since the beginning of the year –to reequip the South Vietnamese forces, –to meet our responsibilities in Korea, as well as our responsibilities in Vietnam, –to meet price increases and the cost of activating and deploying reserve forces, –to replace helicopters and provide the other military supplies we need, all of these actions are going to require additional expenditures. The tentative estimate of those additional expenditures is $2.5 billion in this fiscal year, and $2.6 billion in the next fiscal year. These projected increases in expenditures for our national security will bring into sharper focus the Nation’s need for immediate action: action to protect the prosperity of the American people and to protect the strength and the stability of our American dollar. On many occasions I have pointed out that, without a tax bill or decreased expenditures, next year’s deficit would again be around $20 billion. I have emphasized the need to set strict priorities in our spending. I have stressed that failure to act and to act promptly and decisively would raise very strong doubts throughout the world about America’s willingness to keep its financial house in order. Yet Congress has not acted. And tonight we face the sharpest financial threat in the postwar era–a threat to the dollar’s role as the keystone of international trade and finance in the world. Last week, at the monetary conference in Stockholm, the major industrial countries decided to take a big step toward creating a new international monetary asset that will strengthen the international monetary system. I am very proud of the very able work done by Secretary Fowler and Chairman Martin of the Federal Reserve Board. But to make this system work the United States just must bring its balance of payments to–or very close to–equilibrium. We must have a responsible fiscal policy in this country. The passage of a tax bill now, together with expenditure control that the Congress may desire and dictate, is absolutely necessary to protect this Nation’s security, to continue our prosperity, and to meet the needs of our people. Now, what is at stake is 7 years of unparalleled prosperity. In those 7 years, the real income of the average American, after taxes, rose by almost 30 percent–a gain as large as that of the entire preceding 19 years. [So the steps that we must take to convince the world are exactly the steps we must take to sustain our own economic strength here at home. In the past 8 months, prices and interest rates have risen because of our inaction. We must, therefore, now do everything we can to move from debate to action–from talking to voting. And there is, I believe–I hope there is–in both Houses of the Congress–a growing sense of urgency that this situation just must be acted upon and must be corrected. My budget in January, we thought, was a tight one. It fully reflected our evaluation of most of the demanding needs of this Nation. But in these budgetary matters, the President does not decide alone. The Congress has the power and the duty to determine appropriations and taxes. And the Congress is now considering our proposals and they are considering reductions in the budget that we submitted. As part of a program of fiscal restraint that includes the tax surcharge, I shall approve appropriate reductions in the January budget when and if Congress so decides that that should be done. One thing is unmistakably clear, however: Our deficit just must be reduced. Failure to act could bring on conditions that would strike hardest at those people that all of us are trying so hard to help. So, these times call for prudence in this land of plenty. And I believe that we have the character to provide it, and tonight I plead with the Congress and with the people to act promptly to serve the national interest, and thereby serve all of our people. Now let me give you my estimate of the chances for peace: –the peace that will one day stop the bloodshed in South Vietnam, –that will–all the Vietnamese people–be permitted to rebuild and develop their land, –that will permit us to turn more fully to our own tasks here at home. I cannot promise that the initiative that I have announced tonight will be completely successful in achieving peace any more than the 30 others that we have undertaken and agreed to in recent years. But it is our fervent hope that North Vietnam, after years of fighting that has left the issue unresolved, will now cease its efforts to achieve a military victory and will join with us in moving toward the peace table. And there may come a time when South Vietnamese–on both sides–are able to work out a way to settle their own differences by free political choice rather than by war. As Hanoi considers its course, it should be in no doubt of our intentions. It must not miscalculate the pressures within our democracy in this election year. We have no intention of widening this war. But the United States will never accept a fake solution to this long and arduous struggle and call it peace. No one can foretell the precise terms of an eventual settlement. Our objective in South Vietnam has never been the annihilation of the enemy. It has been to bring about a recognition in Hanoi that its objective–taking over the South by force–could not be achieved. We think that peace can be based on the Geneva Accords of 1954–under political conditions that permit the South Vietnamese–all the South Vietnamese–to chart their course free of any outside domination or interference, from us or from anyone else. So tonight I reaffirm the pledge that we made at Manila–that we are prepared to withdraw our forces from South Vietnam as the other side withdraws its forces to the north, stops the infiltration, and the level of violence thus subsides. Our goal of peace and self-determination in Vietnam is directly related to the future of all of Southeast Asia–where much has happened to inspire confidence during the past 10 years. We have done all that we knew how to do to contribute and to help build that confidence. A number of its nations have shown what can be accomplished under conditions of security. Since 1966, Indonesia, the fifth largest nation in all the world, with a population of more than 100 million people, has had a government that is dedicated to peace with its neighbors and improved conditions for its own people. Political and economic cooperation between nations has grown rapidly. And I think every American can take a great deal of pride in the role that we have played in bringing this about in Southeast Asia. We can rightly judge–as responsible Southeast Asians themselves do–that the progress of the past 3 years would have been far less likely–if not completely impossible–if America’s sons and others had not made their stand in Vietnam. At Johns Hopkins University, about 3 years ago, I announced that the United States would take part in the great work of developing Southeast Asia, including the Mekong Valley, for all the people of that region. Our determination to help build a better land-a better land for men on both sides of the present conflict–has not diminished in the least. Indeed, the ravages of war, I think, have made it more urgent than ever. So, I repeat on behalf of the United States again tonight what I said at Johns Hopkins–that North Vietnam could take its place in this common effort just as soon as peace comes. Over time, a wider framework of peace and security in Southeast Asia may become possible. The new cooperation of the nations of the area could be a foundation-stone. Certainly, friendship with the nations of such a Southeast Asia is what the United States seeks–and that is all that the United States seeks.
One day, my fellow citizens, there will be peace in Southeast Asia. It will come because the people of Southeast Asia want it–those whose armies are at war tonight, those who, though threatened, have thus far been spared. Peace will come because Asians were willing to work for it–and to sacrifice for it-and to die by the thousands for it. But let it never be forgotten: Peace will come also because America sent her sons to help secure it. It has not been easy–far from it. During the past 4½ years, it has been my fate and my responsibility to be Commander in Chief. I have lived—daily and nightly–with the cost of this war. I know the pain that it has inflicted. I know, perhaps better than anyone, the misgivings that it has aroused. Throughout this entire, long period, I have been sustained by a single principle: that what we are doing now, in Vietnam, is vital not only to the security of Southeast Asia, but it is vital to the security of every American. Surely, we have treaties which we must respect. Surely, we have commitments that we are going to keep. Resolutions of the Congress testify to the need to resist aggression in the world and in Southeast Asia. But the heart of our involvement in South Vietnam–under three different presidents, three separate administrations–has always been America’s own security. And the larger purpose of our involvement has always been to help the nations of Southeast Asia become independent and stand alone, self-sustaining, as members of a great world community–at peace with themselves, at peace with all others. And with such an Asia, our country–and the world–will be far more secure than it is tonight. I believe that a peaceful Asia is far nearer to reality because of what America has done in Vietnam. I believe that the men who endure the dangers of battle there–fighting there for us tonight–are helping the entire world avoid far greater conflicts, far wider wars, far more destruction, than this one. The peace that will bring them home someday will come. Tonight, I have offered the first in what I hope will be a series of mutual moves toward peace. I pray that it will not be rejected by the leaders of North Vietnam. I pray that they will accept it as a means by which the sacrifices of their own people may be ended. And I ask your help and your support, my fellow citizens, for this effort to reach across the battlefield toward an early peace.
Finally, my fellow Americans, let me say this: Of those to whom much is given, much is asked. I cannot say and no man could say that no more will be asked of us. Yet, I believe that now, no less than when the decade began, this generation of Americans is willing to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Since those words were spoken by John F. Kennedy, the people of America have kept that compact with mankind’s noblest cause. And we shall continue to keep it. Yet, I believe that we must always be mindful of this one thing, whatever the trials and the tests ahead. The ultimate strength of our country and our cause will lie not in powerful weapons or infinite resources or boundless wealth, but will lie in the unity of our people. This I believe very deeply. Throughout my entire public career I have followed the personal philosophy that I am a free man, an American, a public servant, and a member of my party, in that order always and only.
For 37 years in the service of our Nation, first as a Congressman, as a Senator, and as Vice President, and now as your President, I have put the unity of the people first. I have put it ahead of any divisive partisanship. And in these times as in times before, it is true that a house divided against itself by the spirit of faction, of party, of region, of religion, of race, is a house that cannot stand. There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight. And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril to the progress of the American people and the hope and the prospects of peace for all peoples. So, I would ask all Americans, whatever their personal interests or concern, to guard against divisiveness and all of its ugly consequences. Fifty-two months and 10 days ago, in a moment of tragedy and trauma, the duties of this office fell upon me. I asked then for your help and God’s, that we might continue America on its course, binding up our wounds, healing our history, moving forward in new unity, to clear the American agenda and to keep the American commitment for all of our people. United we have kept that commitment. And united we have enlarged that commitment. And through all time to come, I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement. Our reward will come in the life of freedom, peace, and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead. What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, and distrust, and selfishness, and politics among any of our people.
And believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year. With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office–the Presidency of your country. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President. But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong, and a confident, and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honorable peace–and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause–whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require. Thank you for listening. Good night and God bless all of you.
Nothing was taken for granted when Robert Kennedy announced for President on March 16, 1968. He jumped into the race, facing an incumbent president, an anti-war senator who won the New Hampshire primary, and the thought he was only garnering support because of his fallen brother. In a second speech on March 18, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy traveled from an exuberant student reception at Kansas State to the University of Kansas where it became somewhat apparent that his message might generate interest in his candidacy. In the novel American Injustice volume 2, Patch Kincaid and Natalie Tompkins are part of a clandestine network unraveling the JFK assassination. That connection prompts their superiors to follow Bobby Kennedy’s campaign, specifically looking for a CIA operative. As they move with the campaign the incredible political and personal change in Senator Kennedy’s public persona becomes evident. American Injustice- volumes 1 and 2 are available in the Spring of 2022.
Thank you very much. Chancellor, Governor and Mrs. Docking, Senator and Mrs. Pierson, ladies and gentlemen and my friends, I’m very pleased to be here. I’m really not here to make a speech I’ve come because I came from Kansas State and they want to send their love to all of you. They did. That’s all they talk about over there, how much they love you. Actually, I want to establish the fact that I am not an alumnus of Villanova.
I’m very pleased and very touched, as my wife is, at your warm reception here. I think of my colleagues in the United States Senate, I think of my friends there, and I think of the warmth that exists in the Senate of the United States – I don’t know why you’re laughing – I was sick last year and I received a message from the Senate of the United States which said: “We hope you recover,” and the vote was forty-two to forty.
And then they took a poll in one of the financial magazines of five hundred of the largest businessmen in the United States, to ask them, what political leader they most admired, who they wanted to see as President of the United States, and I received one vote, and I understand they’re looking for him. I could take all my supporters to lunch, but I’m – I don’t know whether you’re going to like what I’m going to say today but I just want you to remember, as you look back upon this day, and when it comes to a question of who you’re going to support – that it was a Kennedy who got you out of class.
I am very pleased to be here with my colleagues, Senator Pierson, who I think has contributed so much in the Senate of the United States – who has fought for the interests of Kansas and has had a distinguished career, and I’m very proud to be associated with him. And Senator Carlson who is not here, who is one of the most respected members of the Senate of the United States – respected not just on the Republican side – by the Democratic side, by all of his colleagues and I’m pleased and proud to be in the Senate with Senator Carlson of the State of Kansas.
And I’m happy to be here with an old friend, Governor Docking. I don’t think there was anyone that was more committed to President Kennedy and made more of an effort under the most adverse circumstances and with the most difficult of situations than his father, who was then Governor of the State of Kansas – nobody I worked with more closely, myself, when I was in Los Angeles. We weren’t 100 percent successful, but that was a relationship that I will always value, and I know how highly President Kennedy valued it and I’m very pleased to see him – and to have seen his mother, Mrs. Docking today also, so I’m very pleased to be in his State.
And then I’m pleased to be here because I like to see all of you, in addition.
In 1824, when Thomas Hart Benton was urging in Congress the development of Iowa and other western territories, he was opposed by Daniel Webster, the Senator from Massachusetts. “What,” asked Webster, “what do we want with this vast and worthless area? This region of savages and wild beasts. Of deserts of shifting sands and of whirlwinds. Of dust, and of cactus and of prairie dogs.
“To what use,” he said, “could we ever hope to put these great deserts? I will never vote for one-cent from the public treasury, to place the west one inch closer to Boston, than it is now.” And that is why, I am here today, instead of my brother Edward.
I’m glad to come here to the home of the man who publicly wrote: “If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all the youthful vision and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come out of our college campuses, the better the world for tomorrow.” And despite all the accusations against me, those words were not written by me, they were written by that notorious seditionist, William Allen White. And I know what great affection this university has for him. He is an honored man today, here on your campus and around the rest of the nation. But when he lived and wrote, he was reviled as an extremist and worse. For he spoke, he spoke as he believed. He did not conceal his concern in comforting words. He did not delude his readers or himself with false hopes and with illusions. This spirit of honest confrontation is what America needs today. It has been missing all too often in the recent years and it is one of the reasons that I run for President of the United States.
For we as a people, we as a people, are strong enough, we are brave enough to be told the truth of where we stand. This country needs honesty and candor in its political life and from the President of the United States. But I don’t want to run for the presidency – I don’t want America to make the critical choice of direction and leadership this year without confronting that truth. I don’t want to win support of votes by hiding the American condition in false hopes or illusions. I want us to find out the promise of the future, what we can accomplish here in the United States, what this country does stand for and what is expected of us in the years ahead. And I also want us to know and examine where we’ve gone wrong. And I want all of us, young and old, to have a chance to build a better country and change the direction of the United States of America.
This morning I spoke about the war in Vietnam, and I will speak briefly about it in a few moments. But there is much more to this critical election year than the war in Vietnam.
It is, at a root, the root of all of it, the national soul of the United States. The President calls it “restlessness.” Our cabinet officers, such as John Gardiner and others tell us that America is deep in a malaise of spirit: discouraging initiative, paralyzing will and action, and dividing Americans from one another, by their age, their views and by the color of their skin and I don’t think we have to accept that here in the United States of America.
Demonstrators shout down government officials and the government answers by drafting demonstrators. Anarchists threaten to burn the country down and some have begun to try, while tanks have patrolled American streets and machine guns have fired at American children. I don’t think this a satisfying situation for the United States of America.
Our young people – the best educated, and the best comforted in our history, turn from the Peace Corps and public commitment of a few years ago – to lives of disengagement and despair – many of them turned on with drugs and turned off on America – none of them here, of course, at Kansas – right?
All around us, all around us, – not just on the question of Vietnam, not just on the question of the cities, not just the question of poverty, not just on the problems of race relations – but all around us, and why you are so concerned and why you are so disturbed – the fact is, that men have lost confidence in themselves, in each other, it is confidence which has sustained us so much in the past – rather than answer the cries of deprivation and despair – cries which the President’s Commission on Civil Disorders tells us could split our nation finally asunder – rather than answer these desperate cries, hundreds of communities and millions of citizens are looking for their answers, to force and repression and private gun stocks – so that we confront our fellow citizen across impossible barriers of hostility and mistrust and again, I don’t believe that we have to accept that. I don’t believe that it’s necessary in the United States of America. I think that we can work together – I don’t think that we have to shoot at each other, to beat each other, to curse each other and criticize each other, I think that we can do better in this country. And that is why I run for President of the United States.
And if we seem powerless to stop this growing division between Americans, who at least confront one another, there are millions more living in the hidden places, whose names and faces are completely unknown – but I have seen these other Americans – I have seen children in Mississippi starving, their bodies so crippled from hunger and their minds have been so destroyed for their whole life that they will have no future. I have seen children in Mississippi – here in the United States – with a gross national product of $800 billion dollars – I have seen children in the Delta area of Mississippi with distended stomachs, whose faces are covered with sores from starvation, and we haven’t developed a policy so we can get enough food so that they can live, so that their children, so that their lives are not destroyed, I don’t think that’s acceptable in the United States of America and I think we need a change.
I have seen Indians living on their bare and meager reservations, with no jobs, with an unemployment rate of 80 percent, and with so little hope for the future, so little hope for the future that for young people, for young men and women in their teens, the greatest cause of death amongst them is suicide.
That they end their lives by killing themselves – I don’t think that we have to accept that – for the first American, for this minority here in the United States. If young boys and girls are so filled with despair when they are going to high school and feel that their lives are so hopeless and that nobody’s going to care for them, nobody’s going to be involved with them, and nobody’s going to bother with them, that they either hang themselves, shoot themselves or kill themselves – I don’t think that’s acceptable and I think the United States of America – I think the American people, I think we can do much, much better. And I run for the presidency because of that, I run for the presidency because I have seen proud men in the hills of Appalachia, who wish only to work in dignity, but they cannot, for the mines are closed and their jobs are gone and no one – neither industry, nor labor, nor government – has cared enough to help.
I think we here in this country, with the unselfish spirit that exists in the United States of America, I think we can do better here also.
I have seen the people of the black ghetto, listening to ever greater promises of equality and of justice, as they sit in the same decaying schools and huddled in the same filthy rooms – without heat – warding off the cold and warding off the rats.
If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.
And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
If this is true here at home, so it is true elsewhere in world. From the beginning our proudest boast has been the promise of Jefferson, that we, here in this country would be the best hope of mankind. And now, as we look at the war in Vietnam, we wonder if we still hold a decent respect for the opinions of mankind and whether the opinion maintained a descent respect for us or whether like Athens of old, we will forfeit sympathy and support, and ultimately our very security, in the single-minded pursuit of our own goals and our own objectives. I do not want, and I do believe that most Americans do not want, to sell out America’s interest to simply withdraw – to raise the white flag of surrender in Vietnam – that would be unacceptable to us as a people, and unacceptable to us as a country. But I am concerned about the course of action that we are presently following in South Vietnam. I am concerned, I am concerned about the fact that this has been made America’s War. It was said, a number of years ago that this is “their war” “this is the war of the South Vietnamese” that “we can help them, but we can’t win it for them” but over the period of the last three years we have made the war and the struggle in South Vietnam our war, and I think that’s unacceptable.
I don’t accept the idea that this is just a military action, that this is just a military effort, and every time we have had difficulties in South Vietnam and Southeast Asia we have had only one response, we have had only one way to deal with it – month after month – year after year we have dealt with it in only on way and that’s to send more military men and increase our military power and I don’t think that’s what the kind of a struggle that it is in Southeast Asia.
I think that this is a question of the people of South Vietnam, I think its a question of the people of South Vietnam feeling its worth their efforts – that they’re going to make the sacrifice – that they feel that their country and their government is worth fighting for and I think the development of the last several years have shown, have demonstrated that the people of South Vietnam feel no association and no affiliation for the government of Saigon and I don’t think it’s up to us here in the United States, I don’t think it’s up to us here in the United States, to say that we’re going to destroy all of South Vietnam because we have a commitment there. The commander of the American forces at Ben Tre said we had to destroy that city in order to save it. So 38,000 people were wiped out or made refugees. We here in the United States – not just the United States government, not just the commanders of and forces in South Vietnam, the United States government and every human being that’s in this room – we are part of that decision and I don’t think that we need do that any longer and I think we should change our policy.
I don’t want to be part of a government, I don’t want to be part of the United States, I don’t want to be part of the American people and have them write of us as they wrote of Rome: “They made a desert and they called it peace.”
I think that we should go to the negotiating table, and I think we should take the steps to go to the negotiating table.
And I’ve said it over the period of the last two years, I think that we have a chance to have negotiations, and the possibility of meaningful negotiations, but last February, a year ago, when the greatest opportunity existed for negotiations the Administration and the President of the United States felt that the military victory was right around the corner and we sent a message to Ho Chi Minh, in February 8th of 1967 virtually asking for their unconditional surrender, we are not going to obtain the unconditional surrender of the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong anymore than they’re going to obtain the unconditional surrender of the United States of America. We’re going to have to negotiate, we’re going to have to make compromises, we’re going to have to negotiate with the National Liberation Front. But people can argue, “That’s unfortunate that we have to negotiate with the National Liberation Front,” but that is a fact of life. We have three choices: We can either pull out of South Vietnam unilaterally and raise the white flag – I think that’s unacceptable.
Second, we can continue to escalate, we can continue to send more men there, until we have millions and millions of more men and we can continue to bomb North Vietnam, and in my judgment we will be no nearer success, we will be no nearer victory than we are now in February of 1968.
And the third step that we can take is to go to the negotiating table. We can go to the negotiating table and not achieve everything that we wish. One of the things that we’re going to have to accept as American people, but the other, the other alternative is so unacceptable. One of the things that we’re going to have to accept as American people and that the United States government must accept, is that the National Liberation Front is going to play a role in the future political process of South Vietnam.
And we’re going to have to negotiate with them. That they are going to play some role in the future political process of South Vietnam, that there are going to be elections and the people of South Vietnam, are ultimately going to determine and decide their own future.
That is the course of action, that is the course of action that I would like to see. I would like to see the United States government to make it clear to the government of Saigon that we are not going to tolerate the corruption and the dishonesty. I think that we should make it clear to the government of Saigon that if we’re going to draft young men, 18 years of age here in the United States, if we’re going to draft young men who are 19 years-old here in the United States, and wer’re going to send them to fight and die in Khe Sanh, that we want the government of South Vietnam to draft their 18-year-olds and their 19-year-olds.
And I want to make it clear that if the government of Saigon, feels Khe Sanh or Que Son and the area in the demilitarized zone are so important, if Khe San is so important to the government of Saigon, I want to see those American marines out of there and South Vietnamese troops in there.
I want to have an explanation as to why American boys killed, two weeks ago, in South Vietnam, were three times as many – more than three times as many, as the soldiers of South Vietnam. I want to understand why the casualties and the deaths, over the period of the last two weeks, at the height of the fighting, should be so heavily American casualties, as compared to the South Vietnamese. This is their war. I think we have to make the effort to help them, I think that we have to make the effort to fight, but I don’t think that we should have to carry the whole burden of that war, I think the South Vietnamese should.
And if I am elected President of the United States, with help, with your help, these are the kinds of policies that I’m going to put into operation.
We can do better here in the United States, we can do better. We can do better in our relationships to other countries around the rest of the globe. President Kennedy, when he campaigned in 1960, he talked about the loss of prestige that the United States had suffered around the rest of the globe, but look at what our condition is at the present time. The President of the United States goes to a meeting of the OAS at Montevideo- can he go into the city of Montevideo? Or can he travel through the cities of Latin America where there was such deep love and deep respect? He has to stay in a military base at Montevideo, with American ships out at sea and American helicopters overhead in order to ensure that he’s protected, I don’t think that that’s acceptable.
I think that we should have conditions here in the United States, and support enough for our policies, so that the President of the United States can travel freely and clearly across all the cities of this country, and not just to military bases.
I think there’s more that we can do internally here, I think there’s more that we can do in South Vietnam. I don’t think we have to accept the situation, as we have it at the moment. I think that we can do better, and I think the American people think that we can do better.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”
So I come here to Kansas to ask for your help. In the difficult five months ahead, before the convention in Chicago, I ask for your help and for your assistance. If you believe that the United States can do better. If you believe that we should change our course of action. If you believe that the United States stands for something here internally as well as elsewhere around the globe, I ask for your help and your assistance and your hand over the period of the next five months.
And when we win in November, and when we win in November, and we begin a new period of time for the United States of America – I want the next generation of Americans to look back upon this period and say as they said of Plato: “Joy was in those days, but to live.” Thank you very much.
I watched with great anticipation when Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy for President of the United States and recorded the event on my tiny reel-to-reel recorder. We did not live in a world of instant news back then. Although I never heard the Senator speak at Kansas State, I was aware the ‘the campaign was on.’ When I heard this speech in 2021 Bobby Kennedy’s voice and his moral certainty invigorated all those ideals I felt at 17 years old and that were too easily buried between the pages of history. I wanted to bring in as much of that spring of 1968 into volume II of American Injustice as I could without dragging the novel’s flow. The energy of the crowd at this and subsequent speeches sustained that flow.
The reason I’m here is that someone sent me a history of this city. And I discovered that it was founded by people from Chicago who came to Kansas to found a town named Boston, which they later changed to Manhattan. So I knew I’d be right at home.
I am proud to come here at the invitation of Alfred M. Landon. I met him at the White House when he visited there. I know how highly President Kennedy respected Governor Landon, and the continuing contribution he made – still makes – the public life of the country.I am also glad to come to the home state of another Kansan, who wrote,“If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all the youthful vision and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come on college campuses, the better world for tomorrow.”The man who wrote these words was that notorious seditionist, William Allen White – the late editor of the Emporia Gazette and one of the giants of American journalism. He is an honored man today; but when he lived and wrote, he was often reviled on your campus and across the nation as an extremist – or worse. For he spoke as he believed. He did not conceal his concern in comforting words; he did not delude his readers or himself with false hopes and illusions. It is in this spirit that I wish to speak today.
A Year of Choice
For this is a year of choice – a year when we choose not simply who will lead us, but where we wish to be led; the country we want for ourselves – and the kind we want for our children. If in this year of choice, we fashion new politics out of old illusions, we insure for ourselves nothing but crisis for the future – and we bequeath to our children the bitter harvest of those crises.For with all we have done, with all our immense power and richness, our problems seem to grow not less, but greater. We are in a time of unprecedented turbulence, of danger and questioning. It is at its root a question of the national soul. The President calls it “restlessness;” while cabinet officers and commentators tell us that America is deep in a malaise of the spirit – discouraging initiative, paralyzing will and action, dividing Americans from one another by their age, their views, and the color of their skins.There are many causes. Some are in the failed promise of America itself: in the children I have seen, starving in Mississippi; idling their lives away in the ghetto; committing suicide in the despair of Indian reservations; or watching their proud fathers sit without work in the ravaged lands of Eastern Kentucky. Another cause is in our inaction in the face of danger. We seem equally unable to control the violent disorder within our cities – or the pollution and destruction of the country, of the water and land that we use and our children must inherit. And a third great cause of discontent is the course we are following in Vietnam: in a war which has divided Americans as they have not been divided since your state was called “bloody Kansas.” Crisis of Confidence
This questioning and uncertainty at home, divisive war abroad – has led us to a deep crisis of confidence: in our leadership, in each other, and in our very self as a nation.Today I would speak to you of the third of those great crises: of the war in Vietnam. I come here, to this serious forum in the heart of the nation to discuss with you why I regard our policy there as bankrupt: not on the basis of emotion, but fact; not, I hope, in clichés – but with a clear and discriminating sense of where the national interest really lies.I do not want – as I believe most Americans do not want – to sell out American interests, to simply withdraw, to raise the white flag of surrender. That would be unacceptable to us as a country and as a people. But I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that the course we are following at the present time is deeply wrong. I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that we are acting as if no other nations existed, against the judgment and desires of neutrals and our historic allies alike. I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that our present course will not bring victory; will not bring peace; will not stop the bloodshed; and will not advance the interests of the United States or the cause of peace in the world.I am concerned that, at the end of it all, there will only be more Americans killed; more of our treasure spilled out; and because of the bitterness and hatred on every side of this war, more hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese slaughtered; so that they may say, as Tacitus said of Rome: “They made a desert and called it peace.”And I do not think that is what the American spirit is really all about.Let me begin this discussion with a note both personal and public. I was involved in many of the early decisions on Vietnam, decisions that helped set us on our present path. It may be that the effort was doomed from the start; that it was never really possible to bring all the people of South Vietnam under the rule of the successive governments we supported – governments, one after another, riddled with corruption, inefficiency, and greed; governments which did not and could not successfully capture and energize the national feeling of their people. If that is the case, as it well may be, and then I am willing to bear my share of the responsibility, before history and before my fellow citizens. But past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation. Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live. Now as ever, we do ourselves best justice when we measure ourselves against ancient tests, as in the Antigone of Sophocles: “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride.”
Reversals and Escalations
The reversals of the last several months have led our military to ask for 206,000 more troops. Recently, it was announced that some of them – a “moderate” increase, it was said – would soon be sent. But isn’t this exactly what we have always done in the past? If we examine the history of this conflict, we find the dismal story repeated time after time. Every time – at every crisis – we have denied that anything was wrong; sent more troops; and issued more confident communiqués. Every time, we have been assured that this one last step would bring victory. And every time, the predictions and promises have failed and been forgotten, and the demand has been made again for just one more step up the ladder.But all the escalations, all the last steps, have brought us no closer to success than we were before. Rather, as the scale of the fighting has increased, South Vietnamese society has become less and less capable of organizing or defending itself, and we have more and more assumed the whole burden of the war. In just three years, we have gone from 16,000 advisers to over 500,000 troops; from no American bombing North or South, to an air campaign against both, greater than that waged in all the European theater in World War II; from less than 300 American dead in all the years prior to 1965, to more than 500 dead in a single week of combat in 1968.And once again the President tells us, as we have been told for twenty years, that “we are going to win;” “victory” is coming.But what are the true facts? What is our present situation?
The Present Situation
First, our control over the rural population – so long described as the key to our efforts – has evaporated. The Vice President tells us that the pacification program has “stopped.” In the language of other high officials, it is a “considerable setback” with “loss of momentum,” “some withdrawal from the countryside,” “a significant psychological setback both on the part of pacification people themselves and the local population.” Reports from the field indicate that the South Vietnamese Army has greatly increased its tendency to “pull into its compounds in cities and towns, especially at night, reduce its patrolling, and leave the militia and revolutionary development cadres open to enemy incursion and attack.” Undoubtedly, this is one reason why, over two recent weeks, our combat deaths – 1049 – were so much greater than those of the South Vietnamese – 557. Like it or not, the government of South Vietnam is pursuing an enclave policy. Its writ runs where American arms protect it: that far and no farther. To extend the power of the Saigon government over its own country, we now can see, will be in essence equivalent to the reconquest and occupation of most of the entire nation.Let us clearly understand the full implications of that fact. The point of our pacification operations was always described as “winning the hearts and minds” of the people. We recognized that giving the countryside military security against the Viet Cong would be futile – indeed that it would be impossible – unless the people of the countryside themselves came to identify their interests with ours, and to assist not the Viet Cong, but the Saigon government. For this we recognized that their minds would have to be changed – that their natural inclination would be to support the Viet Cong, or at best remain passive, rather than sacrifice for foreign white men, or the remote Saigon government.It is this effort that has been most gravely set back in the last month. We cannot change the minds of people in villages controlled by the enemy. The fact is, as all recognize, that we cannot reassert control over those villages now in enemy hands without repeating the whole process of bloody destruction which has ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam throughout the last three years. Nor could we thus keep control without the presence of millions of American troops. If, in the years those villages and hamlets were controlled by Saigon, the government had brought honesty, social reform, land – if that had happened, if the many promises of a new and better life for the people had been fulfilled – then, in the process of reconquest, we might appear as liberators: just as we did in Europe, despite the devastation of war, in 1944-45. But the promises of reform were not kept. Corruption and abuse of administrative power have continued to this day. Land reform has never been more than an empty promise. Viewing the performance of the Saigon government over the last three years, there is no reason for the South Vietnamese peasant to fight for the extension of its authority or to view the further devastation that effort will bring as anything but a calamity. Yet already the destruction has defeated most of our own purposes. Arthur Gardiner is the former chief of the United States AID mission in South Vietnam, and currently Executive Director of the International Voluntary Services. He tells us that we are “creating more Viet Cong than we are destroying” – and “increasing numbers of Vietnamese are becoming benevolently neutral toward the Viet Cong.” As a consequence, the political war – so long described as the only war that counts – has gone with the pacification program that was to win it. In a real sense, it may now be lost beyond recall.
Our Regressive Ally
The second evident fact of the last two months is that the Saigon government is no more or better an ally than it was before; that it may even be less; and that the war inexorably is growing more, not less, an American effort. American officials continue to talk about a government newly energized, moving with “great competence,” taking hold “remarkably well,” doing “a very, very good piece of work of recovery.” I was in the Executive Branch of the government from 1961 to 1964. In all those years, we heard the same glowing promises about the South Vietnamese government: corruption would soon be eliminated, land reform would come, and programs were being infused with new energy. But those were not the facts then, and they are not the facts today. The facts are that there is still no total mobilization: no price or wage controls, no rationing, and no overtime work. The facts are, as a Committee of the House of Representatives has told us, that land reform is moving backward, with the government forces helping landlords to collect exorbitant back rents from the peasantry. The facts are that 18-year-old South Vietnamese are still not being drafted; though now, as many times in the past, we are assured that this will happen soon. The facts are that thousands of young South Vietnamese buy their deferments from military service while American Marines die at Khe Sanh.The facts are that the government has arrested monks and labor leaders, former Presidential candidates, and government officials – including prominent members of the Committee for the Preservation of the Nation, in which American officials placed such high hopes just a few weeks ago.Meanwhile, the government’s enormous corruption continues, debilitating South Vietnam and crippling our effort to help its people. Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives have officially documented the existence, extent, and results of this corruption: American AID money stolen, food diverted from refugees, government posts bought and sold while essential tasks remain undone. A subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Government Operations has reported that the Vietnamese Collector of Customs had engaged in smuggling gold and opium – and that he was protected by figures even higher in the government. President Johnson has responded to criticism of corruption in Vietnam by reminding us that there is stealing in Beaumont, Texas. I for one do not believe that Beaumont is so corrupt. I do not believe that any public official, in any American city, is engaged in smuggling gold and dope, selling draft deferments, or pocketing millions of dollars in U. S. government funds. But however, corrupt any city in the United States may be, that corruption is not costing the lives of American soldiers; while the pervasive corruption of the Government of Vietnam, as an American official has told us, is a significant cause of the prolongation of the war and the continued American casualties. As this government continues on its present course, and our support for it continues, the effect can only be to leave us totally isolated from the people of Vietnam. Our fighting men deserve better than that.
The Cost of Destruction
Third, it is becoming more evident with every passing day that the victories we achieve will only come at the cost of destruction for the nation we once hoped to help. Even before this winter, Vietnam and its people were disintegrating under the blows of war. Now hardly a city in Vietnam has been spared from the new ravages of the past two months. Saigon officials say that nearly three quarters of a million new refugees have been created, to add to the existing refugee population of two million or more. No one really knows the number of civilian casualties. The city of Hue, with most of the country’s cultural and artistic heritage, lies in ruins: Of its population of 145,000, fully 113,000 are said to be homeless. There is not enough food, not enough shelter, not enough medical care. There is only death and misery and destruction.An American commander said of the town of Ben Tre, “it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.” It is difficult to quarrel with the decision of American commanders to use air power and artillery to save the lives of their men; if American troops are to fight for Vietnamese cities, they deserve protection. What I cannot understand is why the responsibility for the recapture and attendant destruction of Hue, and Ben Tre and the others, should fall to American troops in the first place.If Communist insurgents or invaders held New York or Washington or San Francisco, we would not leave it to foreigners to take them back and destroy them and their people in the process. Rather I believe there is not one among us who would not tear the invaders out with his bare hands, whatever the cost. There is no question that some of the South Vietnamese Army fought with great bravery. The Vietnamese – as these units, and the Viet Cong have both shown us – are a courageous people. But it is also true that a thousand South Vietnamese soldiers, in Hue on leave for Tet, hid among the refugees for three weeks, making no attempt to rejoin their units or join the town’s defense; among them was a full colonel. And it is also true that in the height of the battle for Hue, as trucks brought back American dead and wounded from the front lines, millions of Americans could see, on their television screens, South Vietnamese soldiers occupied in looting the city those Americans were lighting to recapture.If the government’s troops will not or cannot carry the light for their cities, we cannot ourselves destroy them. That kind of salvation is not an act we can presume to perform for them. For we must ask our government – we must ask ourselves: where does such logic end? If it becomes “necessary” to destroy all of South Vietnam in order to “save” it, will we do that too? And if we care so little about South Vietnam that we are willing to see the land destroyed and its people dead, then why are we there in the first place?Can we ordain to ourselves the awful majesty of God – to decide what cities and villages are to be destroyed, who will live and who will die, and who will join the refugees wandering in a desert of our own creation? If it is true that we have a commitment to the South Vietnamese people, we must ask, are they being consulted – in Hue, or Ben Tre, or in the villages from which the 3 million refugees have fled? If they believe all the death and destruction are a lesser evil than the Wet Cong, why did they not warn us when the Viet Cong came into Hue, and the dozens of other cities, before the Tet Offensive? Why did they not join the fight?Will it be said of us, as Tacitus said of Rome: “they made a desert and called it peace?”It is also said that we are protecting Thailand – or perhaps Hawaii – from the legions of the Communists. Are we really protecting the rest of Southeast Asia by this spreading convict? And in any case, is the destruction of South Vietnam and its people a permissible means of defense?Let us have no misunderstanding. The Viet Cong are a brutal enemy indeed. Time and time again, they have shown their willingness to sacrifice innocent civilians, to engage in torture and murder and despicable terror to achieve their ends. This is a war almost without rules or quarter. There can be no easy moral answer to this war, no one-sided condemnation of American actions. What we must ask ourselves is whether we have a right to bring so much destruction to another land, without clear and convincing evidence that this is what its people want. But that is precisely the evidence we do not have. What they want is peace, not dominated by any outside force. And that is what we are really committed to help bring them, not in some indefinite future, but while some scraps of life remain still to be saved from the holocaust.
Our Weakening World Position
The fourth fact that is now clearer than ever is that the war in Vietnam, far from being the last critical test for the United States is in fact weakening our position in Asia and around the world, and eroding the structure of international cooperation, which has directly supported our security for the past three decades. In purely military terms, the war has already stripped us of the graduated-response capability that we have labored so hard to build for the last seven years. Surely the North Koreans were emboldened to seize the Pueblo because they knew that the United States simply cannot afford to fight another Asian war while we are so tied down in Vietnam. We set out to prove our willingness to keep our commitments everywhere in the world. What we are ensuring instead is that it is most unlikely that the American people would ever again be willing to engage in this kind of struggle. Meanwhile our oldest and strongest allies pull back to their own shores, leaving us alone to police all of Asia; while Mao Tse-Tung and his Chinese comrades sit patiently by, fighting us to the last Vietnamese: watching us weaken a nation which might have provided a stout barrier against Chinese expansion southward; hoping that, we will further tie ourselves down in protracted war in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand; confident, as it is reported from Hong Kong, that the war in Vietnam “will increasingly bog down the United States, sapping its resources, discrediting its power pretensions, alienating its allies, fraying its ties with the Soviet Union, and aggravating dissensions among Americans at home.” As one American observer puts it, truly “We seem to be playing the script the way Mao wrote it.”All this bears directly and heavily on the question of whether more troops should now be sent to Vietnam – and, if more are sent, what their mission will be. We are entitled to ask – we are required to ask – how many more men, how many more lives, how much more destruction will be asked, to provide the military victory that is always just around the corner, to pour into this bottomless pit of our dreams?But this question the Administration does not and cannot answer. It has no answer – none but the ever – expanding use of military force and the lives of our brave soldiers, in a conflict where military force has failed to solve anything in the past. The President has offered to negotiate – yet this weekend he told us again that he seeks not compromise but victory, “at the negotiating table, if possible, on the battlefield if necessary.” But at a real negotiating table, there can be no “victory” for either side; only a painful and difficult compromise. To seek victory at the conference table is to ensure that you will never reach it. Instead, the war will go on, year after terrible year – until those who sit in the seats of high policy are men who seek another path. And that must be done this year.For it is long past time to ask: what is this war doing to us? Of course, it is costing us money – fully one-fourth of our federal budget – but that is the smallest price we pay. The cost is in our young men, the tens of thousands of their lives cut off forever. The cost is in our world position – in neutrals and allies alike, every day more baffled by and estranged from a policy they cannot understand.
The Price We Pay
Higher yet is the price we pay in our own innermost lives, and in the spirit of our country. For the first time in a century, we have open resistance to service in the cause of the nation. For the first time perhaps in our history, we have desertions from our army on political and moral grounds. The front pages of our newspapers show photographs of American soldiers torturing prisoners. Every night we watch horror on the evening news. Violence spreads inexorably across the nation, filling our streets and crippling our lives. And whatever the costs to us let us think of the young men we have sent there: not just the killed, but also those who have to kill; not just the maimed, but also those who must look upon the results of what they do.It may be asked, is not such degradation the cost of all wars? Of course, it is. That is why war is not an enterprise lightly to be undertaken, nor prolonged one moment past its absolute necessity. All this – the destruction of Vietnam, the cost to ourselves, the danger to the world – all this we would stand willingly, if it seemed to serve some worthwhile end. But the costs of the war’s present course far outweigh anything we can reasonably hope to gain by it, for ourselves or for the people of Vietnam. It must be ended, and it can be ended, in a peace of brave men who have fought each other with a terrible fury, each believing he and he alone was in the right. We have prayed to different gods, and the prayers of neither have been answered fully. Now, while there is still time for some of them to be partly answered, now is the time to stop.
What We Can Do
And the fact is that much can be done. We can – as I have urged for two years, but as we have never done – negotiate with the National Liberation Front. We can – as we have never done – assure the Front a genuine place in the political life of South Vietnam. We can – as we are refusing to do today – begin to deescalate the war, concentrate on protecting populated areas, and thus save American lives and slow down the destruction of the countryside. We can – as we have never done – insist that the Government of South Vietnam broaden its base, institute real reforms, and seek an honorable settlement with their fellow countrymen.This is no radical program of surrender. This is no sell-out of American interests. This is a modest and reasonable program, designed to advance the interests of this country and save something from the wreckage for the people of Vietnam.This program would be far more effective than the present course of this Administration – whose only response to failure is to repeat it on a larger scale. This program, with its more limited costs, would indeed be far more likely to accomplish our true objectives.And therefore, even this modest and reasonable program is impossible while our present leadership, under the illusion that military victory is just ahead, plunges deeper into the swamp that is our present course.So, I come here today, to this great University, to ask your help: not for me, but for your country and for the people of Vietnam. You are the people, as President Kennedy said, who have “the least ties to the present and the greatest ties to the future.” I urge you to learn the harsh facts that lurk behind the mask of official illusion with which we have concealed our true circumstances, even from ourselves. Our country is in danger: not just from foreign enemies; but above all, from our own misguided policies – and what they can do to the nation that Thomas Jefferson once told us was the last, best, hope of man. There is a contest on, not for the rule of America, but for the heart of America. In these next eight months, we are going to decide what this country will stand for – and what kind of men we are. So, I ask for your help, in the cities and homes of this state, into the towns and farms: contributing your concern and action, warning of the danger of what we are doing – and the promise of what we can do. I ask you, as tens of thousands of young men and women are doing all over this land, to organize yourselves, and then to go forth and work for new policies – work to change our direction – and thus restore our place at the point of moral leadership, in our country, in our own hearts, and all around the world.
In my upcoming novel American Injustice Volume 2 an African American father encounters extreme prejudice in an airport as his daughters are listening to Dr. King’s speech on March 14, 1968. When Patch Kincaid attempts to intervene to stop the attack on the man, the police arrest him. This was the convoluted morals world faced by everyday citizens as well as Dr. King and others in the nonviolent civil rights movement. This speech by Dr. King is indicative of what happens in the airport. During this spring of 1968 the world not only turned upside down but inside out. Two days after Dr. King’s speech Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for President of the United States.
“The Other America” Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Grosse Pointe High School
March 14, 1968
Dr. Meserve, Bishop Emrich, my dear friend Congressman Conyers, ladies and gentlemen. I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight and to have the great privilege of discussing with you some of the vital issues confronting our nation and confronting the world. It is always a very rich and rewarding experience when I can take a brief break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with concerned people of good will all over our nation and all over the world, and I certainly want to express my deep personal appreciation to you for inviting me to occupy this significant platform.
I want to discuss the race problem tonight and I want to discuss it very honestly. I still believe that freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth. Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. And I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it. And so I want to use as a title for my lecture tonight, “The Other America.” And I use this title because there are literally two Americas. Every city in our country has this kind of dualism, this schizophrenia, split at so many parts, and so every city ends up being two cities rather than one. There are two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. In this America, millions of people have the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality flowing before them. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom, and human dignity for their spirits. In this America children grow up in the sunlight of opportunity. But there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this other America, thousands and thousands of people, men in particular walk the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. In this other America, millions of people are forced to live in vermin-filled, distressing housing conditions where they do not have the privilege of having wall-to-wall carpeting, but all too often, they end up with wall-to-wall rats and roaches. Almost forty percent of the Negro families of America live in sub-standard housing conditions. In this other America, thousands of young people are deprived of an opportunity to get an adequate education. Every year thousands finish high school reading at a seventh, eighth and sometimes ninth grade level. Not because they’re dumb, not because they don’t have the native intelligence, but because the schools are so inadequate, so over-crowded, so devoid of quality, so segregated if you will, that the best in these minds can never come out. Probably the most critical problem in the other America is the economic problem. There are so many other people in the other America who can never make ends meet because their incomes are far too low if they have incomes, and their jobs are so devoid of quality. And so in this other America, unemployment is a reality and under-employment is a reality. (I’ll just wait until our friend can have her say) (applause). I’ll just wait until things are restored and… everybody talks about law and order. (applause) Now before I was so rudely interrupted… (applause), and I might say that it was my understanding that we’re going to have a question and answer period, and if anybody disagrees with me, you will have the privilege, the opportunity to raise a question if you think I’m a traitor, then you’ll have an opportunity to ask me about my traitorness and we will give you that opportunity.
Now let me get back to the point that I was trying to bring out about the economic problem. And that is one of the most critical problems that we face in America today. We find in the other America unemployment constantly rising to astronomical proportions and black people generally find themselves living in a literal depression. All too often when there is mass unemployment in the black community, it’s referred to as a social problem and when there is mass unemployment in the white community, it’s referred to as a depression. But there is no basic difference. The fact is, that the negro faces a literal depression all over the U.S. The unemployment rate on the basis of statistics from the labor department is about 8.8 per cent in the black community. But these statistics only take under consideration individuals who were once in the labor market, or individuals who go to employment offices to seek employment. But they do not take under consideration the thousands of people who have given up, who have lost motivation, the thousands of people who have had so many doors closed in their faces that they feel defeated and they no longer go out and look for jobs, the thousands who’ve come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. These people are considered the discouraged and when you add the discouraged to the individuals who can’t be calculated through statistics in the unemployment category, the unemployment rate in the negro community probably goes to 16 or 17 percent. And among black youth, it is in some communities as high as 40 and 45 percent. But the problem of unemployment is not the only problem. There is the problem of under-employment, and there are thousands and thousand, I would say millions of people in the negro community who are poverty stricken – not because they are not working but because they receive wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the main stream of the economic life of our nation. Most of the poverty stricken people of America are persons who are working every day and they end up getting part-time wages for full-time work. So the vast majority of negroes in America find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. This has caused a great deal of bitterness. It has caused a great deal of agony. It has caused ache and anguish. It has caused great despair, and we have seen the angered expressions of this despair and this bitterness in the violent rebellions that have taken place in cities all over our country. Now I think my views on non-violence are pretty generally known. I still believe that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to the negro in his struggle for justice and freedom in the U.S.
Now let me relieve you a bit. I’ve been in the struggle a long time now, (applause) and I’ve conditioned myself to some things that are much more painful than discourteous people not allowing you to speak, so if they feel that they can discourage me, they’ll be up here all night.
Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity. Now every year about this time, our newspapers and our televisions and people generally start talking about the long hot summer ahead. What always bothers me is that the long hot summer has always been preceded by a long cold winter. And the great problem is that the nation has not used its winters creatively enough to develop the program, to develop the kind of massive acts of concern that will bring about a solution to the problem. And so we must still face the fact that our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nations winters of delay. As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption. The question now, is whether America is prepared to do something massively, affirmatively and forthrightly about the great problem we face in the area of race and the problem which can bring the curtain of doom down on American civilization if it is not solved. And I would like to talk for the next few minutes about some of the things that must be done if we are to solve this problem.
The first thing I would like to mention is that there must be a recognition on the part of everybody in this nation that America is still a racist country.Now however unpleasant that sounds, it is the truth. And we will never solve the problem of racism until there is a recognition of the fact that racism still stands at the center of so much of our nation and we must see racism for what it is. It is the nymph of an inferior people. It is the notion that one group has all of the knowledge, all of the insights, all of the purity, all of the work, all of the dignity. And another group is worthless, on a lower level of humanity, inferior. To put it in philosophical language, racism is not based on some empirical generalization which, after some studies, would come to conclusion that these people are behind because of environmental conditions. Racism is based on an ontological affirmation. It is the notion that the very being of a people is inferior. And their ultimate logic of racism is genocide. Hitler was a very sick man. He was one of the great tragedies of history. But he was very honest. He took his racism to its logical conclusion. The minute his racism caused him to sickly feel and go about saying that there was something innately inferior about the Jew he ended up killing six million Jews. The ultimate logic of racism is genocide, and if one says that one is not good enough to have a job that is a solid quality job, if one is not good enough to have access to public accommodations, if one is not good enough to have the right to vote, if one is not good enough to live next door to him, if one is not good enough to marry his daughter because of his race. Then at that moment that person is saying that that person who is not good to do all of this is not fit to exist or to live. And that is the ultimate logic of racism. And we’ve got to see that this still exists in American society. And until it is removed, there will be people walking the streets of live and living in their humble dwellings feeling that they are nobody, feeling that they have no dignity and feeling that they are not respected. The first thing that must be on the agenda of our nation is to get rid of racism.
Secondly, we’ve got to get rid of two or three myths that still pervade our nation. One is the myth of time. I’m sure you’ve heard this notion. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. And I’ve heard it from many sincere people. They’ve said to the negro and/to his allies in the white community you should slow up, you’re pushing things too fast, only time can solve the problem. And if you’ll just be nice and patient and continue to pray, in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out. There is an answer to that myth. It is the time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m sad to say to you tonight I’m absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the forces on the wrong side in our nation, the extreme righteous of our nation have often used time much more effectively than the forces of good will and it may well be that we may have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words of the bad people who will say bad things in a meeting like this or who will bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time. Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must always help time and realize that the time is always right to do right.
Now there is another myth and that is the notion that legislation can’t solve the problem that you’ve got to change the heart and naturally I believe in changing the heart. I happen to be a Baptist preacher and that puts me in the heart changing business and Sunday after Sunday I’m preaching about conversion and the need for the new birth and re-generation. I believe that there’s something wrong with human nature. I believe in original sin not in terms of the historical event but as the mythological category to explain the universality of evil, so I’m honest enough to see the gone-wrongness of human nature so naturally I’m not against changing the heart and I do feel that that is the half-truth involved here, that there is some truth in the whole question of changing the heart. We are not going to have the kind of society that we should have until the white person treats the negro right – not because the law says it but because it’s natural because it’s right and because the black man is the white man’s brother. I’ll be the first to say that we will never have a truly integrated society, a truly colorless society until men and women are obedient to the unenforceable. But after saying that, let me point out the other side. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also.
And so while legislation may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men when it’s vigorously enforced and when you change the habits of people pretty soon attitudes begin to be changed and people begin to see that they can do things that fears caused them to feel that they could never do. And I say that there’s a need still for strong civil rights legislation in various areas. There’s legislation in Congress right now dealing with the whole question of housing and equal administration of justice and these things are very important for I submit to you tonight that there is no more dangerous development in our nation than the constant building up of predominantly negro central cities ringed by white suburbs. This will do nothing but invite social disaster. And this problem has to be dealt with – some through legislation, some through education, but it has to be dealt with in a very concrete and meaningful manner.
Now let me get back to my point. I’m going to finish my speech. I’ve been trying to think about what I’m going to preach about tomorrow down to Central Methodist Church in the Lenten series and I think I’ll use as the text, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
I want to deal with another myth briefly which concerns me and I want to talk about it very honestly and that is over-reliance on the bootstrap philosophy. Now certainly it’s very important for people to engage in self-help programs and do all they can to lift themselves by their own bootstraps. Now I’m not talking against that at all. I think there is a great deal that the black people of this country must do for themselves and that nobody else can do for them. And we must see the other side of this question. I remember the other day I was on a plane and a man starting talking with me and he said I’m sympathetic toward what you’re trying to do, but I just feel that you people don’t do enough for yourself and then he went on to say that my problem is, my concern is, that I know of other ethnic groups, many of the ethnic groups that came to this country and they had problems just as negroes and yet they did the job for themselves, they lifted themselves by their own bootstraps. Why is it that negroes can’t do that? And I looked at him and I tried to talk as understanding as possible but I said to him, it does not help the negro for unfeeling, sensitive white people to say that other ethnic groups that came to the country maybe a hundred or a hundred and fifty years voluntarily have gotten ahead of them and he was brought here in chains involuntarily almost three hundred and fifty years ago. I said it doesn’t help him to be told that and then I went on to say to this gentlemen that he failed to recognize that no other ethnic group has been enslaved on American soil. Then I had to go on to say to him that you failed to realize that America made the black man’s color a stigma. Something that he couldn’t change. Not only was the color a stigma, but even linguistic then stigmatic conspired against the black man so that his color was thought of as something very evil. If you open Roget’s Thesaurus and notice the synonym for black you’ll find about a hundred and twenty and most of them represent something dirty, smut, degrading, low, and when you turn to the synonym for white, about one hundred and thirty, all of them represent something high, pure, chaste. You go right down that list. And so in the language a white life is a little better than a black life. Just follow. If somebody goes wrong in the family, we don’t call him a white sheep we call him a black sheep. And then if you block somebody from getting somewhere you don’t say they’ve been whiteballed, you say they’ve been blackballed. And just go down the line. It’s not whitemail it’s blackmail. I tell you this to seriously say that the nation made the black man’s color a stigma and then I had to say to my friend on the plane another thing that is often forgotten in this country. That nobody, no ethnic group has completely lifted itself by it own bootstraps. I can never forget that the black man was free from the bondage of physical slavery in 1863. He wasn’t given any land to make that freedom meaningful after being held in slavery 244 years. And it was like keeping a man in prison for many many years and then coming to see that he is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. Alright good night and God bless you.
And I was about to say that to free, to have freed the negro from slavery without doing anything to get him started in life on a sound economic footing, it was almost like freeing a man who had been in prison many years and you had discovered that he was unjustly convicted of, that he was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted and you go up to him and say now you’re free, but you don’t give him any bus fare to get to town or you don’t give him any money to buy some clothes to put on his back or to get started in life again. Every code of jurisprudence would rise up against it. This is the very thing that happened to the black man in America. And then when we look at it even deeper than this, it becomes more ironic. We’re reaping the harvest of this failure today. While America refused to do anything for the black man at that point, during that very period, the nation, through an act of Congress, was giving away millions of acres of land in the west and the mid-west, which meant that it was willing to under gird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor. Not only did they give the land, they built land grant colleges for them to learn how to farm. Not only that it provided county agents to further their expertise in farming and went beyond this and came to the point of providing low interest rates for these persons so that they could mechanize their farms, and today many of these persons are being paid millions of dollars a year in federal subsidies not to farm and these are so often the very people saying to the black man that he must lift himself by his own bootstraps. I can never think … Senator Eastland, incidentally, who says this all the time gets a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars a year, not to farm on various areas of his plantation down in Mississippi. And yet he feels that we must do everything for ourselves. Well that appears to me to be a kind of socialism for the rich and rugged hard individualistic capitalism for the poor.
Now let me say two other things and I’m going to rush on. One, I want to say that if we’re to move ahead and solve this problem we must re-order our national priorities. Today we’re spending almost thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight what I consider an unjust, ill-considered, evil, costly, unwinable war at Viet Nam. I wish I had time to go into the dimensions of this. But I must say that the war in Viet Nam is playing havoc with our Domestic destinies. That war has torn up the Geneva accord, it has strengthened, it has substituted.. . alright if you want to speak, I’ll let you come down and speak and I’ll wait. You can give your Viet Nam speech now listen to mine. Come right on. Speaker: Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Joseph McLawtern, communications technician, U.S. Navy, United States of America and I fought for freedom I didn’t fight for communism, traitors and I didn’t fight to be sold down the drain. Not by Romney, Cavanagh, Johnson – nobody, nobody’s going to sell me down the drain. Alright, thank you very much. I just want to say in response to that, that there are those of us who oppose the war in Viet Nam. I feel like opposing it for many reasons. Many of them are moral reasons but one basic reason is that we love our boys who are fighting there and we just want them to come back home. But I don’t have time to go into the history and the development of the war in Viet Nam. I happen to be a pacifist but if I had had to make a decision about fighting a war against Hitler, I may have temporarily given up my pacifism and taken up arms. But nobody is to compare what is happening in Viet Nam today with that. I’m convinced that it is clearly an unjust war and it’s doing so many things – not only on the domestic scene, it is carrying the whole world closer to nuclear annihilation. And so I’ve found it necessary to take a stand against the war in Viet Nam and I appreciate Bishop Emrich’s question and I must answer it by saying that for me the tuitus? cannot be divided. It’s nice for me to talk about … it’s alright to talk about integrated schools and in integrated lunch counters which I will continue to work for, but I think it would be rather absurd for me to work for integrated schools and not be concerned about the survival of the world in which to integrate. The other thing is, that I have been working too long and too hard now against segregated public accommodations to end up at this stage of my life segregating my moral concern. I must make it clear. For me justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Now for the question of hurting civil rights. I think the war in Viet Nam hurt civil rights much more than my taking a stand against the war. And I could point out so many things to say that… a reporter asked me sometime ago when I first took a strong stand against the war didn’t I feel that I would have to reverse my position because so many people disagreed, and people who once had respect for me wouldn’t have respect, and he went on to say that I hear that it’s hurt the budget of your organization and don’t you think that you have to get in line more with the administration’s policy … and of course those were very lonely days when I first started speaking out and not many people were speaking out but now I have a lot of company and it’s not as lonesome now. But anyway, I had to say to the reporter, I’m sorry sir but you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader and I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or by kind of taking a look at a gallop poll and getting the expression of the majority opinion. Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a succor for consensus but a mold of consensus. And on some positions cowardice ask the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question is it politics? Vanity asks the question is it popular? The conscience asks the question is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politics nor popular but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.
Now the time is passing and I’m not going to… I was going into the need for direct action to dramatize and call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment. I’ve been searching for a long time for an alternative to riots on the one hand and timid supplication for justice on the other and I think that alternative is found in militant massive non-violence. I’ll wait until the question period before going into the Washington campaign. But let me say that it has been my experience in these years that I’ve been in the struggle for justice, that things just don’t happen until the issue is dramatized in a massive direct-action way. I never will forget when we came through Washington in 1964, in December coming from Oslo. I stopped by to see President Johnson. We talked about a lot of things and we finally got to the point of talking about voting rights. The President was concerned about voting, but he said Martin, I can’t get this through in this session of Congress. We can’t get a voting rights bill, he said because there are two or three other things that I feel that we’ve got to get through and they’re going to benefit negroes as much as anything. One was the education bill and something else. And then he went on to say that if I push a voting rights bill now, I’ll lose the support of seven congressmen that I sorely need for the particular things that I had and we just can’t get it. Well, I went on to say to the President that I felt that we had to do something about it and two weeks later we started a movement in Selma, Alabama. We started dramatizing the issue of the denial of the right to vote and I submit to you that three months later as a result of that Selma movement, the same President who said to me that we could not get a voting rights bill in that session of Congress was on the television singing through a speaking voice “we shall overcome” and calling for the passage of a voting rights bill and I could go on and on to show. . .and we did get a voting rights bill in that session of Congress. Now, I could go on to give many other examples to show that it just doesn’t come about without pressure and this is what we plan to do in Washington. We aren’t planning to close down Washington, we aren’t planning to close down Congress. This isn’t anywhere in our plans. We are planning to dramatize the issue to the point that poor people in this nation will have to be seen and will not be invisible. Now let me finally say something in the realm of the spirit and then I’m going to take my seat. Let me say finally, that in the midst of the hollering and in the midst of the discourtesy tonight, we got to come to see that however much we dislike it, the destinies of white and black America are tied together. Now the races don’t understand this apparently. But our destinies are tied together. And somehow, we must all learn to live together as brothers in this country or we’re all going to perish together as fools. Our destinies are tied together. Whether we like it or not culturally and otherwise, every white person is a little bit negro and every negro is a little bit white. Our language, our music, our material prosperity and even our food are an amalgam of black and white, so there can be no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white routes and there can ultimately be no separate white path to power and fulfillment short of social disaster without recognizing the necessity of sharing that power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity. We must come to see. . .yes we do need each other, the black man needs the white man to save him from his fear and the white man needs the black man to free him from his guilt.
John Donne was right. No man is an island and the tide that fills every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. And he goes on toward the end to say, “any man’s death diminishes me because I’m involved in mankind. Therefore, it’s not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Somehow we must come to see that in this pluralistic, interrelated society we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And by working with determination and realizing that power must be shared, I think we can solve this problem, and may I say in conclusion that our goal is freedom and I believe that we’re going to get there. It’s going to be more difficult from here on in but I believe we’re going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom and Our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. Before the Pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence we were here. Before the beautiful words of the Star Spangled Banner were written we were here. And for more than two centuries our forbearers labored here without wages. They made cotton King, they built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to grow and develop and if the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face including the white backlash will surely fail.
We are going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. So however difficult it is during this period, however difficult it is to continue to live with the agony and the continued existence of racism, however difficult it is to live amidst the constant hurt, the constant insult and the constant disrespect, I can still sing we shall overcome. We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.
We shall overcome because Carlisle is right. “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right. “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right. “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.” Yet that scaffold sways the future. We shall overcome because the Bible is right. “You shall reap what you sow.” With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children all over this nation – black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual, “Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, We are Free At Last.”
It was a time of disinformation from Generals, the policy makers, and the president- all at the expense of the American people, especially the drafted boys who were thrown into the meat grinder. How many of us who lived through that time heard the news that someone we knew had been killed in the war in Vietnam? It was a war that was planned and it was a war that was beginning to be stopped. Until JFK was murdered. Here is a news conference from November 1967-pre-Gene McCarthy, four months before Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the presidential race, followed by LBJ announcing he would not run for another term as president.
LBJ: Well, I think we had better do that a little later. I can’t tell all the good things that have happened or the bad ones, either, in these 4 years in a 30-minute press conference. I would be charged with filibustering.
But we primarily want to think of the future–and not the past.
It has been almost two centuries since our Revolution and since we won our freedom. We have come a long way during that period. But we have much farther to go, as you can see from our education and health and city statistics, and farm statistics.
As long as there are four people out of every ten in the world who can’t spell “cat,” or can’t write “dog,” we have much to do.
I am particularly proud of what we have done in education–from Head Start to adult education, where men and women past 70 are learning to read and write for the first time.
I am very pleased, for instance, that we have raised our contributions from the Federal Government to higher education from 16 percent to 24 percent in the last 4 years, while the States have remained practically static.
We have made revolutionary strides in education, in health, in conservation, where we are probably taking in as much land in the public domain for the first time in years as we are letting out.
We feel that we have brought a degree of stability into our international relations to this hemisphere through the Alliance for Progress and our meetings at Punta del Este.
Working with other nations, we have made material advances in helping underdeveloped nations in Africa.
We are very pleased with what has come out of our meetings with the Germans and with the British in connection with our trilateral talks; what has come out of our Kennedy Round meetings; the several treaties that we have negotiated with the Soviet Union, and the one that we are working on so hard now–the nonproliferation treaty.
We are happy that 9 million more people have good-paying jobs today than had them when I came into this office. But these are things of the past, and we should accept. They are here. We want to preserve them. But the important problems are ahead. What is the next century going to be like? What is the third century going to be like?
As long as the ancient enemies are rampant in the world–illiteracy, ignorance, disease, poverty, and war–there is much for government to do. We are working on that now. We will be talking more to you about that in the months ahead.
REPORTER: Mr. President, in view of your talks this week with General Westmoreland, Ambassador Bunker, and others, what is your present assessment of our progress and prospects in Vietnam?
LBJ: Well, I will repeat to you their assessment, because they are the ones who are in the best position to judge things locally. I will give you my evaluation of what they have said.
First, I think every American’s heart should swell with pride at the competence and capacity of our leadership in Vietnam. I believe, and our allied people believe, that we have a superior leadership. I think it is the best that the United States of America can produce–in experience, in judgment, in training, in general competence.
I have had three meetings with Ambassador Bunker and three with General Westmoreland. I had coffee with him at length this morning, just before I came here.
Our American people, when we get in a contest of any kind–whether it is in a war, an election, a football game, or whatever it is–want it decided and decided quickly; get in or get out.
They like that curve to rise like this [indicating a sharp rise] and they like the opposition to go down like this [indicating a sharply declining line].
That is not the kind of war we are fighting in Vietnam.
We made our statement to the world of what we would do if we had Communist aggression in that part of the world in 1954.
We said we would stand with those people in the face of common danger.
The time came when we had to put up or shut up. We put up. And we are there. We don’t march out and have a big battle each day in a guerrilla war. It is a new kind of war for us. So, it doesn’t move that fast.
Summarizing and trying to be fully responsive to your question in the time allotted, we are moving more like this [indicating gradual rise]. They are moving more like this [indicating decline], instead of straight up and straight down.
We are making progress. We are pleased with the results that we are getting.
We are inflicting greater losses than we are taking.
LBJ: Amidst the horrors of war–and more people have been killed trying to vote in South Vietnam than have been killed by bombs in North Vietnam, according to the North Vietnam figures–in the midst of all the horrors of war, in guerrilla fighting in South Vietnam, we have had five elections in a period of a little over 14 months.
There was great doubt whether we could have any. It took us from 1776 to 1789–not 13 months but 13 years–to get a Constitution with our Anglo-Saxon background and all the training we had.
To think that here in the midst of war, when the grenades are popping like firecrackers all around you, that two-thirds or three-fourths of the people would register and vote and have 5 elections in 13 months–and through the democratic process select people at the local level, a constituent assembly, a house of representatives, a senate, a president and a vice president-that is encouraging.
The fact that the population under free control has constantly risen, and that under Communist control has constantly gone down, is a very encouraging sign.
LBJ: The improvement that has been made by the South Vietnamese themselves in putting in reforms, in announcing other programs, and in improving their own Army, is a matter of great satisfaction to Ambassador Bunker and to General Westmoreland.
We have a lot to do yet. A great many mistakes have been made. We take two steps forward, and we slip back one. It is not all perfect by any means. There are a good many days when we get a C-minus instead of an A-plus.
But overall, we are making progress. We are satisfied with that progress. Our allies are pleased with that progress. Every country that I know in that area that is familiar with what is happening thinks it is absolutely essential that Uncle Sam keep his word and stay there until we can find an honorable peace.
If they have any doubts about it, Mr. Ho Chi Minh–who reads our papers and who listens to our radio, who looks at our television-if he has any doubts about it, I want to disillusion him this morning.
We keep our commitments. Our people are going to support the men who are there. The men there are going to bring us an honorable peace.
REPORTER: Mr. President, Hanoi may be interpreting current public opinion polls to indicate that you will be replaced next year. How should this affect the campaign in this country?
LBJ: I don’t know how it will affect the campaign in this country. Whatever interpretation Hanoi might make that would lead them to believe that Uncle Sam-whoever may be President–is going to pull out and it will be easier for them to make an inside deal with another President, then they will make a serious misjudgment.
REPORTER: Are you going to run next year?
LBJ: I will cross that bridge when I get to it, as I have told you so many times.
REPORTER: Mr. President, there are increasing statements from Capitol Hill that say your tax bill is dead for this session of Congress. Is there any plan on the part of your administration to try and revive this before Congress leaves; and, secondly, if not, what plans might you have next year to avert this inflationary trend that we are told will be coming?
LBJ: We want very much to have a tax bill just as quickly as we can get it. We think the sound, prudent, fiscal policy requires it. We are going to do everything that the President and the administration can do to get that tax bill.
I would be less than frank if I didn’t tell you that I have no indication whatever that Mr. Mills or Mr. Byrnes or the Ways and Means Committee is likely to report a tax bill before they adjourn.
I feel that one of our failures in the administration has been our inability to convince the Congress of the wisdom of fiscal responsibility and the necessity of passing a tax bill not only for the effect it will have on the inflationary developments, but the effect it will have on the huge deficit that we are running.
I think one of the great mistakes that the Congress will make is that Mr. Ford and Mr. Mills have taken this position that they cannot have any tax bill now. They will live to rue the day when they made that decision. Because it is a dangerous decision. It is an unwise decision.
I think that the people of America–none of whom want to pay taxes–any pollster can walk out and say, “Do you want to pay more tax?” Of course, you will say, “No, I don’t want to pay tax.”
But if you ask him: “Do you want inflation; do you want prices to increase 5 or 6 percent; do you want a deficit of $30 or $35 billion; do you want to spend $35 billion more than you are taking in?” I think the average citizen would say, “No.”
Here at the height of our prosperity when our gross national product is going to run at $850 billion, when we look at the precedents of what we have done in past wars-in Korea when President Truman asked for a tax increase, people supported it.
This request has been before the Congress since last January. They have finished most of the appropriations bills. I read the story this morning. It looks like out of $145 billion they will roughly cut a billion dollars in expenditures.
But they will cut several billion from revenues because of inaction, because people don’t like to stand up and do the unpopular thing of assuming responsibility that men in public life are required to do sometime.
I know it doesn’t add to your polls and your popularity to say we have to have additional taxes to fight this war abroad and fight the problems in our cities at home. But we can do it with the gross national product we have. We should do it. And I think when the American people and the Congress get the full story they will do it.
We have failed up to now to be able to convince them. But we are going to continue to try in every way that is proper.
REPORTER: Senator McCarthy has said he is considering opposing you in the presidential primaries because he believes it would be a healthy thing to debate Vietnam in the primaries, for the party and for the country, too. Do you agree with him? What effect do you think this would have on your own candidacy?
LBJ: I don’t know how I am going to be, after all this opposition develops, so far as my state of health is concerned. But I am very healthy today. I don’t know whether this criticism has contributed to my good health or not.
I don’t know what Senator McCarthy is going to do. I am not sure that he knows what he plans to do. I think we had better just wait and see, until there is something definite there, and meet it when it is necessary.
REPORTER: Why do you think there is so much confusion, frustration, and difference of opinion in this country about the war in Vietnam?
LBJ: There has always been confusion, frustration, and difference of opinion when there is a war going on.
There was in the Revolutionary War when only about a third of the people thought that was a wise move. A third of them opposed it, and a third were on the sideline.
That was true when all of New England came down to secede in Madison’s administration in the War of 1812 and stopped in Baltimore. They didn’t quite make it because Andrew Jackson’s results in New Orleans came in. They were having a party there that night. The next morning, they came and told the President they wanted to congratulate him-that they had thought he was right all along, although they had come from Boston to Baltimore in a secessionist move.
That was true in the Mexican War when the Congress overwhelmingly voted to go in and later passed a resolution that had grave doubts about it. Some of the most bitter speeches were made. They were so bitter they couldn’t be published. They had m hold up publication of them for 100 years.
I don’t have to remind you of what happened in the Civil War. People were here in the White House begging Lincoln to concede and work out a deal with the Confederacy when word came to him of his victories. They told him that Pennsylvania was gone; that Illinois had no chance.
Those pressures come to a President.
You know what President Roosevelt went through, and President Wilson in World War I. He had some Senators from certain areas then that gave him very serious problems until victory was assured.
Now, when you look back upon it, there are very few people who would think that Wilson, Roosevelt, or Truman were in error.
We are going to have this criticism. We are going to have these differences.
No one likes war. All people love peace. But you can’t have freedom without defending it.
REPORTER: Mr. President, the foreign aid authorization has been cut back nearly a third from what you requested. What is the impact of this economy?
LBJ: At a time when the richest nation in the world is enjoying more prosperity than it has ever had before, when we carefully tailor our requests to the very minimum that we think is essential–the lowest request that we have had in years-and then Congress cuts it 33 1/3 percent; I think it is a mistake. It is a serious mistake.
When you consider that $1 billion that we are attempting to save there, out of the $850 billion that we will produce, we ought to reconsider that decision. Because what we are doing with that money not only can give great help to underdeveloped nations; but that, in itself, can prevent the things that cause war where you are required to spend billions to win it.
I would rather have a little preventive medicine. Every dollar that we spend in our foreign assistance, trying to help poor people help themselves, is money well spent.
I don’t think we overdid it. I don’t think we went too far. But I think the Congress has, in the reductions it has made.
Again, it is popular to go back home and say, “Look what I did for you. I cut out all these foreign expenditures.”
But when the trouble develops–the people who are starving, the people who are ignorant, illiterate, and diseased–and wars spring up and we have to go in, we will spend much more than we would if we had taken an ounce of prevention.
REPORTER: Mr. President, some people on the air and in print accuse you of trying to label all criticism of your Vietnam policy as unpatriotic. Could you tell us whether you have guidelines in which you are enabled to separate conscientious dissent from irresponsible dissension?
LBJ: No, I haven’t called anyone unpatriotic. I haven’t said anything that would indicate that. I think the wicked flee when no one pursues, sometimes.
I do think that some people are irresponsible, make untrue statements, and ought to be cautious and careful when they are dealing with the problem involving their men at the front.
There is a great deal of difference, as I said a moment ago, between criticism, indifference, and responsible dissent–all of which we insist on and all of which we protect-and storm trooper bullying, throwing yourself down in the road, smashing windows, rowdyism, and every time a person attempts to speak to try to drown him out.
We believe very strongly in preserving the right to differ in this country, and the right to dissent. If I have done a good job of anything since I have been President, it is to ensure that there are plenty of dissenters.
There is not a person in this press corps that can’t write what he wants to write. Most of them do write what they want to. I say “want” advisedly. I want to protect that. Our Congress wants to protect it.
But if I, by chance, should say: “Now, I am not sure that you saw all the cables on this and you are exactly right; let me explain the other side of it,” I would hope that you wouldn’t say I am lambasting my critics, or that I am assailing someone.
What I am trying to do is to preserve my right to give the other side. I don’t think one side ought to dominate the whole picture.
So, what I would say is, let’s realize that we are in the midst of a war. Let’s realize that there are 500,000 of our boys out there who are risking their lives to win that war. Let’s ask ourselves what it is we can do to help.
If you think you can make a contribution and help them by expressing your opinion and dissenting, then do it.
But then if the Secretary of State starts to explain his viewpoint, don’t send out instructions all over the country and say: “When he starts to talk and says ‘Mr. Chair, man,’ stamp your feet. When he comes to the end of a sentence, all of you do this, and at the third sentence, all of you boo.”
I am amazed that the press in this country, who insist on the right to live by the first amendment, and to be protected by it, doesn’t insist that these storm trooper tactics live by the first amendment, too, and that they be wiped out.
I think the time has come when it would be good for all of us to take a new, fresh look at dissent.
We welcome responsible dissent. But there is a great deal of difference between responsible dissent and some of the things that are taking place in this country which I consider to be extremely dangerous to our national interest, and I consider not very helpful to the men who are fighting the war for us.
Now, everyone must make that judgment for himself.
I have never said anyone was unpatriotic. I don’t question these people’s motives. I do question their judgment.
I can’t say that this dissent has contributed much to any victories we have had.
I can’t say that these various proposals that range from a Senator to a county commissioner to a mayor of a city have really changed General Westmoreland’s plan much, or Ambassador Bunker’s approach. The papers are filled with it every day.
So, I think you have to consider it for what you think it is worth and make your own judgment.
That is the theory of the first amendment.
We don’t stop the publication of any papers. We don’t fine anyone for something they say. We just appeal to them to remember that they don’t have the privilege at the moment of being out there fighting.
Please count to 10 before you say something that hurts instead of helps.
We know that most people’s intentions are good. We don’t question their motives. We have never said they are unpatriotic, although they say some pretty ugly things about us.
People who live in glass houses shouldn’t be too anxious to throw stones.
REPORTER: Mr. President, is your aim in Vietnam to win the war or to seek a compromised, negotiated solution?
LBJ: I think our aims in Vietnam have been very clear from the beginning. They are consistent with the SEATO Treaty, with the Atlantic Charter, and with the many, many statements that we have made to the Congress in connection with the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. The Secretary of State has made this clear dozens and dozens of times–and I made it enough that I thought even all the preachers in the country had heard about it.
That is, namely, to protect the security of the United States. We think the security of the United States is definitely tied in with the security of Southeast Asia.
Secondly, to resist aggression. When we are a party to a treaty that says we will do it, then we carry it out.
I think if you saw a little child in this room who was trying to waddle across the floor and some big bully came along and grabbed it by the hair and started stomping it, I think you would do something about it.
I think that we thought we made a mistake when we saw Hitler moving across the landscape of Europe. The concessions that were made by the men carrying umbrellas at that time–I think in retrospect we thought that was a mistake.
So as a consequence, in 1954 under the leadership of President Eisenhower and Secretary Dulles, we had a SEATO Treaty.
It was debated, it was considered and it was gone into very thoroughly by the Senate. The men who presented that treaty then said: This is dangerous. The time may come when we may have to put up or shut up.
But we ought to serve notice in Asia now as we refused to serve notice in Europe a few years ago that we will resist aggression-that we will stand against someone who seeks to gobble up little countries if those little countries call upon us for our help. So we did that.
I didn’t vote for that treaty. I was in the hospital. Senator Kennedy didn’t vote for it–the late President–he was in the hospital. Senator Dirksen didn’t vote for it. But 82 Senators did vote for it. They knew what was in that treaty.
The time came when we had to decide whether we meant what we said when we said our security was tied into their security and that we would stand in unison in the face of common danger.
Now, we are doing that. We are doing it against whoever combines out there to promote aggression. We are going to do whatever we think is necessary to protect the security of South Vietnam–and let those people determine for themselves what kind of a government they have.
We think they are moving along very quickly in that direction to developing a democratic procedure. Third, we are going to do whatever it is necessary to do to see that the aggressor does not succeed.
Those are our purposes. Those are our goals. We are going to get a lot of advice to do this or to do that. We are going to consider it all. But for years West Point has been turning out the best military men produced anywhere in the world.
For years we have had in our Foreign Service trained and specialized people. We have in 110 capitals today the best brains we can select.
Under our constitutional arrangements the President must look to his Secretary of State, to his foreign policy, to his ambassadors, to the cables and views that they express, to his leaders like the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and to General Westmoreland and others–and carefully consider everything they say and then do what he thinks is right.
That is not always going to please a county commissioner, or a mayor, or a member of a legislature. It never has in any war we have ever been in been a favorite of the Senate.
The leaders on the military committees and the leaders in other posts have frequently opposed it. Champ Clark, the Speaker of the House, opposed the draft in Woodrow Wilson’s administration. The Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee–with the exception of Senator Vandenberg–almost invariably has found a great deal wrong with the Executive in the field of foreign policy.
There is a division there, and there is some frustration there.
Those men express it and they have a right to. They have a duty to do it.
But it is also the President’s duty to look and see what substance they have presented; how much they thought it out; what information they have; how much knowledge they have received from General Westmoreland or Ambassador Bunker, whoever it is; how familiar they are with what is going on; and whether you really think you ought to follow their judgment or follow the judgment of the other people.
I do that every day. Some days I have to say to our people: “Let us try this plan that Senator X has suggested.” And we do.
We are doing that with the United Nations resolution. We have tried several times to get the United Nations to play a part in trying to bring peace in Vietnam.
The Senate thinks that this is the way to do it. More than 50 of them have signed a resolution.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had a big day yesterday. They reported two resolutions in one day. I have my views. I have my views about really what those resolutions will achieve. But I also have an obligation to seriously and carefully consider the judgments of the other branch of the Government. And we are going to do it.
Even though we may have some doubts about what will be accomplished, that they think may be accomplished, if it is a close question, we will bend to try to meet their views because we think that is important.
We have already tried the United Nations before, but we may try it again because they have hopes and they believe that this is the answer. We will do everything that we can to make it the answer.
I don’t want to hurt its chances by giving any predictions at this moment.
We will consider the views that everyone suggests.
Return to 1967 and really listen to what Garrison is saying. Everything else follows. We may not know everything about the Kennedy Assassination today but we know more and more as time goes by. It all begins with this man, who had the temerity to challenge, investigate and litigate the official version.
PLAYBOY: You have been accused — by the National Broadcasting Company, Newsweek, the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, and your own former investigative aide William Gurvich — of attempts to intimidate witnesses, of engaging in criminal conspiracy and of inciting to such felonies as perjury, criminal defamation, and public bribery. How do you respond to these charges?
GARRISON: I’ve stopped beating my wife. All the charges you enumerate have been made with one purpose in mind — to place our office on the defensive and make us waste valuable time answering allegations that have no basis in fact. Also involved is a psychological by-product valuable to those who don’t want the truth about Kennedy’s assassination to become known: The very repetition of a charge lends it a certain credibility, since people have a tendency to believe that where there’s smoke, there’s fire — although I find it difficult to believe that the public will put much credence in most of the dastardly deeds I’ve been accused of in the past few months. Just recently, for example, the rumor went around that my staff was peddling marijuana to high school students and that one of our major witnesses had just confessed that his testimony was based on a dream induced by an overdose of LSD. We’ve also been accused of planning an attack on the local FBI office with guns loaded with red pepper, having stolen money from our own investigative files and having threatened to shoot one witness in the derriere with an exotic gun propelling truth-serum darts. I just hope they never find out about my involvement in the Boston Brinks robbery. I must admit, however, that I’m beginning to worry about the cumulative effect of this propaganda blitzkrieg on potential jurors for the trial of Clay Shaw. I don’t know how long they can withstand the drumbeat obbligato of charges exonerating the defendant and convicting the prosecutor. For months now, the establishment’s artillery units have been pounding away at the two themes NBC focused on — that my office uses “improper methods” with regard to witnesses and that we don’t really have a case against Mr. Shaw and he should never be brought to trial. I hope you’ll give me the chance to answer each of these charges in detail; but first, let me elaborate a bit on the methods we employ in this or any other investigation. My office has been one of the most scrupulous in the country with regard to the protection of individual rights. I’ve been on record for years in law journals and books as championing the rights of the individual against the oppressive power of the state. My office moved in and prevented police seizure from bookstores of books arbitrarily labeled “obscene.” I intervened and managed to persuade the Louisiana legislature to remove a provision from its new code of criminal procedure that would allow judges to reach out from the bench and cite newsmen for contempt if they penned anything embarrassing to the judges. My office has investigated cases where we had already obtained convictions; and on discovering new evidence indicating that the defendant was not guilty, we’ve obtained a reversal of the verdict. In over five years of office, I have never had a single case reversed because of the use of improper methods — a record I’ll match with any other D. A. in the country. In this particular case, I’ve taken unusual steps to protect the rights of the defendant and assure him a fair trial. Before we introduced the testimony of our witnesses, we made them undergo independent verifying tests, including polygraph examination, truth serum and hypnosis. We thought this would be hailed as an unprecedented step in jurisprudence; instead, the press turned around and hinted that we had drugged our witnesses or given them posthypnotic suggestions to testify falsely. After arresting Mr. Shaw, we filed a motion for a preliminary hearing — a proceeding that essentially operates in the defendant’s favor. Such a hearing is generally requested by the defense, and it was virtually unheard of that the motion be filed by the state, which under the law has the right to charge a defendant outright, without any evaluation by a judge of the pending charges. But I felt that because of the enormity of this accusation, we should lean over backward and give the defendant every chance. A three-judge panel heard our evidence against Mr. Shaw and his attorneys’ rebuttals and ordered him indicted for conspiracy to assassinate the President. And I might add here that it’s a matter of record that my relationship with the judiciary of our fair city is not a Damon-Pythias camaraderie. Once the judges had handed down their decision, we could have immediately filed a charge against the defendant just by signing it and depositing it with the city clerk — the customary method of charging a defendant. Nevertheless, out of concern for Mr. Shaw’s rights, we voluntarily presented the case to a blue-ribbon grand jury. If this grand jury had failed to indict Mr. Shaw, our case would have been dead as a doornail. But the grand jury, composed of 12 eminent New Orleans citizens, heard our evidence and indicted the defendant for participation in a conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy. In a further effort to protect the rights of the defendant, and in the face of the endlessly reiterated accusation that we have no case against him — despite the unanimous verdict of the grand jury and the judges at the preliminary hearing — I have studiously refrained from making any public statement critical of the defendant or prejudging his guilt. Of course, this puts me at a considerable disadvantage when the press claims I have no case against him, because the only way I could convince them of the strength of my case is to throw open our files and let them examine the testimony of all our witnesses. Apart from the injustice such an act would do Mr. Shaw, it could get our whole case thrown out of court on the grounds that we had prejudiced the defendant’s rights by pretrial publicity. So I won’t fall into that particular trap, whatever the provocation. I only wish the press would allow our case to stand or fall on its merits in court. It appears that certain elements of the mass media have an active interest in preventing this case from ever coming to trial at all and find it necessary to employ against me every smear device in the book. To read the press accounts of my investigation — my “circus,” I should say — I’m a cross between Al Capone and Attila the Hun, ruthlessly hounding innocent men, trampling their legal rights, bribing and threatening witnesses and in general violating every canon of legal ethics. My God, anybody who employs the kind of methods that elements of the news media attribute to me should not only not be a district attorney, he should be disbarred. This case has taught me the difference between image and reality, and the power of the mythmakers. But I know I’ve done everything possible to conduct this investigation with honesty and integrity and with full respect for the civil rights of the defendant. But a blanket denial of charges against me isn’t going to convince anyone, so why don’t we consider them one by one?
PLAYBOY: All right. The May 15th issue of Newsweek charged that two of your investigators offered David Ferrie’s former roommate, Alvin Beauboeuf, $3000 and an airline job if he would help substantiate your charges against Clay Shaw. How do you answer this accusation?
GARRISON: Mr. Beauboeuf was one of the two men who accompanied David Ferrie on a mysterious trip from New Orleans to Texas on the day of the assassination, so naturally we were interested in him from the very start of our investigation. At first, he showed every willingness to cooperate with our office; but after Ferrie’s death, somebody gave him a free trip to Washington. From that moment on, a change came over Beauboeuf; he refused to cooperate with us any further and he made the charges against my investigators to which you refer. Fortunately, Beauboeuf had signed an affidavit on April 12th — well after the alleged bribe offer was supposed to have been made — affirming that “no representative of the New Orleans Parish district attorney’s office has ever asked me to do anything but to tell the truth. Any inference or statement by anyone to the contrary has no basis in fact.” As soon as his attorney began broadcasting his charges, we asked the New Orleans police department to thoroughly investigate the matter. And on June 12th, the police department — which is not, believe me, in the pocket of the district attorney’s office — released a report concluding that exhaustive investigation by the police intelligence branch had cleared my staff of any attempt to bribe or threaten Beauboeuf into giving untrue testimony. There was no mention of this report, predictably enough, in Newsweek. Let me make one thing clear, though: Like every police department and district attorney’s office across the country, we have sums set aside to pay informers for valuable information — but we would never suborn perjury. This isn’t because we’re saints — short cuts like that could be awfully tempting in a frustrating case — but because we’re realistic enough to know that any witness who can be bought by us can also be bought by the other side. So it’s rather naive, apart from being ethically objectionable, to assume that our investigators travel around the country with bags of money trying to bribe witnesses to lie on the witness stand. We just don’t operate that way.
PLAYBOY: On an NBC television special, “The J.F.K. Conspiracy: The Case of Jim Garrison,” a former Turkish-bathhouse operator in New Orleans, Fred Leemans, claimed that one of your aides offered him money to testify that Clay Shaw had frequented his establishment with Lee Harvey Oswald. Do you also deny this charge?
GARRISON: Yes; and it’s a perfect illustration of the point I was just making about how easy it is for the other side to buy witnesses and then charge us with its own misconduct. Mr. Leemans came to us in early May, volunteering testimony to the effect that he had often seen a man named Clay Bertrand in his bathhouse, sometimes accompanied by men he described as “Latins.” In a sworn affidavit, Leemans said he had also seen a young man called Lee with Bertrand on four or five occasions — a man who fits the description of Lee Harvey Oswald. Leemans also identified the Clay Bertrand who had frequented his establishment as Clay Shaw. Now, this was important testimony, and initially we were favorably impressed with Mr. Leemans. But then we started receiving calls from him demanding money. Well, I’ve told you our policy on this, and the answer was a flat no. He was quiet for a while and then he called and asked if we would approve if he sold his story to a magazine, since he badly needed money. We refused to give him such approval. Apparently, the National Broadcasting Company was able to establish a warmer relationship with Mr. Leemans. In any case, he now says that he didn’t really lie to us; he just “told us what he thought we wanted to hear.” I’m sure he was equally cooperative with NBC — although he’s beginning to spread his favors around. When a reporter asked him for more information after the broadcast, Leemans refused, explaining that he was saving himself for the Associated Press, “since I want to make something out of this.” I would like to make one personal remark about Mr. Leemans. I don’t know if he was lying to us initially or not — though I suspect from other evidence in my possession that his statement as he first gave it was accurate — but anybody, no matter what his financial straits, who tries to make a fast buck off the assassination of John Kennedy is several rungs below the anthropoid ape on the evolutionary scale.
PLAYBOY: On this same NBC show, newsman Frank McGee claimed that NBC investigators had discovered that your two key witnesses against Clay Shaw — Perry Russo and Vernon Bundy — both failed polygraph tests prior to their testimony before the grand jury. In the case of Russo, who claimed to have attended a meeting at David Ferrie’s apartment where Shaw, Oswald and Ferrie plotted the assassination, NBC said that “Russo’s answers to a series of questions indicate, in the language of the polygraph operator, ‘deception criteria.’ He was asked if he knew Clay Shaw. He was asked if he knew Lee Harvey Oswald. His ‘yes’ answer to both of these questions indicated ‘deception criteria.'” Did Bundy and Russo fail their lie-detector tests?
GARRISON: No, and NBC’s allegations in this area are about as credible as its other charges. The men who administered both polygraph tests flatly deny that Russo and Bundy failed the test. I’ll offer right now to make Russo’s and Bundy’s polygraph tests accessible to any reputable investigator or reporter the day Clay Shaw’s trial begins; I can’t do it before that, because I’m restrained from releasing material pertaining to Shaw’s guilt or innocence. Just for your information, though, the veracity of Bundy and Russo has been affirmed not only through polygraph tests but through hypnosis and the administration of sodium amytal — truth serum. I want to make a proposition to the president of NBC: If this charge is true, then I will resign as district attorney of New Orleans. If it’s untrue, however, then the president of NBC should resign. Just in case he thinks I’m kidding, I’m ready to meet with him at any time to select a mutually acceptable committee to determine once and for all the truth or falsehood of this charge. In all fairness, however, I must add that the fact Bundy and Russo passed their polygraph tests is not, in and of itself, irrefutable proof that they were telling the truth; that’s why we administered the other tests. The lie detector isn’t a foolproof technique. A man well-rehearsed and in complete control of himself can master those reactions that would register on the polygraph as deception criteria and get away with blatant lies, while someone who is extremely nervous and anxiety-ridden could tell the truth and have it register as a lie. Much also depends on who administers the test, since it can easily be rigged. For example, Jack Ruby took a lie-detector test for the Warren Commission and told lie after outright lie — even little lies that could be easily checked — and yet the Warren Commission concluded that he passed the test. So the polygraph is only one weapon in the arsenal we use to verify a witness’ testimony, and we have never considered it conclusive; we have abundant documentation to corroborate their stories.
PLAYBOY: Two convicts, Miguel Torres and John Cancler, told NBC that Vernon Bundy admitted having lied in his testimony linking Clay Shaw to Lee Oswald. Do you dismiss this as just another NBC fabrication?
GARRISON: Messrs. Cancler and Torres were both convicted by my office, as were almost half the men in the state penitentiary, and I’m sure the great majority of them have little love for the man who sent them up. I don’t know if they fabricated their stories in collusion with NBC or on their own for motives of revenge, but I’m convinced from what I know of Vernon Bundy that his testimony was truthful. NBC manipulated the statements of Cancler and Torres to give the impression to the viewer that he was watching a trial on television — my trial — and that these “objective” witnesses were saying exactly what they would say in a court of law. Actually — and NBC scrupulously avoided revealing this to its audience — their “testimony” was not under oath, there was no opportunity for cross-examination or the presentation of rebuttal witnesses, and the statements of Cancler, Torres and all the rest of NBC’s road company were edited so that the public would hear only those elements of their story that would damage our case. The rules of evidence and adversary procedure, I might add, have been developed over many years precisely to prevent this kind of phony side show. Of course, these two convicts have been used against my office in variety of respects. Miguel Torres also claims I offered him a full pardon, a vacation in Florida and an ounce of heroin if he would testify that Clay Shaw had made homosexual overtures to him on the street. What on earth that would have established relevant to this case I still don’t know, but that’s his story. I think it was actually rather cheap of me to offer Torres only an ounce of heroin; that wouldn’t have lasted out his vacation. A kilo would be more like it. After all, I’m not stingy. Torres’ friend John Cancler, a burglar, has also charged that one of my investigators tried to induce him to burglarize Clay Shaw’s house and plant false evidence there, but he refused because he would not have such a heinous sin on his conscience. I suppose that’s why Cancler’s prison nickname is “John the Baptist.” I can assure you, if we ever wanted to burglarize Shaw’s home — which we never did — John the Baptist would be the last man on earth we’d pick for the job. By the way, Mr. Cancler was called before the grand jury and asked if he had told the truth to NBC. He replied, “I refuse to answer on the grounds that my answer might incriminate me” — and was promptly sentenced to six months in prison and a $500 fine for contempt of court.
PLAYBOY: The NBC special also claimed to have discovered that “Clay, or Clem, Bertrand does exist. Clem Bertrand is not his real name. It is a pseudonym used by a homosexual in New Orleans. For his protection, we will not disclose the real name of the man known as Clem Bertrand. His real name has been given to the Department of Justice. He is not Clay Shaw.” Doesn’t this undermine your entire case against Shaw?
GARRISON: Your faith in NBC’s veracity is touching and indicates that the Age of Innocence is not yet over. NBC does not have the real Clay Bertrand; the man whose name NBC so melodramatically turned over to the Justice Department is that of Eugene Davis, a New Orleans bar owner, who has firmly denied under oath that he has ever used the name Clay, or Clem, Bertrand. We know from incontrovertible evidence in our possession who the real Clay Bertrand is — and we will prove it in court. But to make this whole thing a little clearer, let me tell you the genesis of the whole “Clay Bertrand” story. A New Orleans lawyer, Dean Andrews, told the Warren Commission that a few months before the assassination of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald and a group of “gay Mexicanos” came to his office and requested Andrews’ aid in having Oswald’s Marteaue Corps undesirable discharge changed to an honorable discharge; Oswald subsequently returned alone with other legal problems. Andrews further testified that the day after President Kennedy was assassinated, he received a call from Clay Bertrand, who asked him to rush to Dallas to represent Oswald. Andrews claims he subsequently saw Bertrand in a New Orleans bar, but Bertrand fled when Andrews approached him. This was intriguing testimony, although the Warren Commission dismissed it out of hand; and in 1964, Mark Lane traveled to New Orleans to speak to Andrews. He found him visibly frightened. “I’ll take you to dinner,” Andrews told Lane, “But I can’t talk about the case. I called Washington and they told me that if I said anything, I might get a bullet in the head.” For the same reason, he has refused to cooperate with my office in this investigation. The New York Times reported on February 26th that “Mr. Andrews said he had not talked to Mr. Garrison because such talk might be dangerous but added that he believed he was being ‘tailed.'” Andrews told our grand jury that he could not say Clay Shaw was Clay Bertrand and he could not say he wasn’t. But the day after NBC’s special, Andrews broke his silence and said, yes, Clay Shaw is not Clem Bertrand and identified the real Clay Bertrand as Eugene Davis. The only trouble is, Andrews and Davis have known each other for years and have been seen frequently in each other’s company. Andrews has lied so often and about so many aspects of this case that the New Orleans Parish grand jury has indicted him for perjury. I feel sorry for him, since he’s afraid of getting a bullet in his head, but he’s going to have to go to trial for perjury. [Andrews has since been convicted.]
PLAYBOY: You expressed your reaction to the NBC show in concrete terms on July seventh, when you formally charged Walter Sheridan, the network’s special investigator for the broadcast, with attempting to bribe your witness, Perry Russo. Do you really have a case against Sheridan, or is this just a form of harassment?
GARRISON: The reason we haven’t lost a major case in over five years in office is that we do not charge a man unless we can make it stick in court. And I’m not in the business of harassing anybody. Sheridan was charged because evidence was brought to us indicating that he attempted to bribe Perry Russo by offering him free transportation to California, free lodgings, and a job once there, payment of all legal fees in any extradition proceedings and immunity from my office. Mr. Russo has stated that Sheridan asked his help “to wreck the Garrison investigation” and “offered to set me up in California, protect my job and guarantee that Garrison would never get me extradited.” According to Russo, Sheridan added that both NBC and the CIA were out to scuttle my case. I think it’s significant that the chief investigator for this ostensibly objective broadcast starts telling people the day he arrives in town that he is going to “destroy Garrison” — this at the same time he is unctuously assuring me that NBC wanted only the truth and he had an entirely open mind on my case. Let me tell you something about Walter Sheridan’s background, and maybe you’ll understand his true role in all this. Sheridan was one of the bright, hard young investigators who entered the Justice Department under Bobby Kennedy. He was assigned to nail Jimmy Hoffa. Sheridan employed a wide variety of highly questionable tactics in the Justice Department’s relentless drive against Hoffa; he was recently subpoenaed to testify in connection with charges that he wire-tapped the offices of Hoffa’s associates and then played back incriminating tapes to them, warning that unless they testified for the Government, they would be destroyed along with Hoffa. A few years ago, Sheridan left the Justice Department — officially, at least — and went to work for NBC. No honest reporter out for a story would have so completely prejudged the situation and been willing to employ such tactics. I think it’s likely that in his zeal to destroy my case, he exceeded the authority granted him by NBC’s executives in New York. I get the impression that the majority of NBC executives probably thought Sheridan’s team came down here in an uncompromising search for the truth. When Sheridan overstepped himself and it became obvious that the broadcast was, to say the least, not objective, NBC realized it was in a touchy position. Cooler heads prevailed and I was allowed to present our case to the American people. For that, at least, I’m singularly grateful to Walter Sheridan.
PLAYBOY: How do you respond to the charge of your critics — including NBC — that you launched this probe for political reasons, hoping the attendant publicity would be a springboard to a Senate seat or to the governorship?
GARRISON: I’d have to be a terribly cynical and corrupt man to place another human being on trial for conspiracy to murder the President of the United States just to gratify my political ambition. But I guess there are a lot of people around the country, especially after NBC’s attack, who think that’s just the kind of man I am. That rather saddens me. I’m no Albert Schweitzer, but I could never do a thing like that. I derive no pleasure from prosecuting a man, even though I know he’s guilty; do you think I could sleep at night or look at myself in the mirror in the morning if I hounded an innocent man? You know, I always received much more satisfaction as a defense attorney in obtaining an acquittal for a client than I ever have as a D.A. in obtaining a conviction. All my interests and sympathies tend to be on the side of the individual as opposed to the state. So this is really the worst charge that anyone could make against me — that in order to get my name in the paper, or to advance politically, I would destroy another human being. This kind of charge reveals a good deal about the personality of the people who make it; to impute such motives to another man is to imply you’re harboring them yourself. But to look at a different aspect of your question, I’m inclined to challenge the whole premise that launching an investigation like this holds any political advantages for me. A politically ambitious man would hardly be likely to challenge the massed power of the Federal Government and criticize so many honorable figures and distinguished agencies. Actually, this charge is an argument in favor of my investigation: Would such a slimy type, eager to profiteer on the assassination, jeopardize his political ambitions if he didn’t have an ironclad case? If I were really the ambitious monster they paint me, why would I climb out on such a limb and then saw it off? Unless he had the facts, it would be the last thing a politically ambitious man would do. I was perfectly aware that I might have signed my political death warrant the moment I launched this case — but I couldn’t care less as long as I can shed some light on John Kennedy’s assassination. As a matter of fact, after this last murderous year, I find myself thinking more and more about returning to private life and having time to read again, to get out in the sun and hit a golf ball. But before I do that, I’m going to break this case and let the public know the truth. I won’t quit before that day. I wouldn’t give the bastards the satisfaction.
PLAYBOY: According to your own former chief investigator, William Gurvich, the truth about the assassination has already been published in the Warren Report. After leaving your staff last June, he announced, “If there is any truth to any of Garrison’s charges about there being a conspiracy, I haven’t been able to find it.” When members of your own staff have no faith in your case, how do you expect the public to be impressed?
GARRISON: First of all, I won’t deny for a minute that for at least three months I trusted Bill Gurvich implicitly. He was never my “chief investigator” — that’s his own terminology — because there was no such position on my staff while he worked for me. But two days before Christmas 1966, Gurvich, who operates a private detective agency, visited my office and told me he’d heard of my investigation and thought I was doing a wonderful job. He presented me with a beautiful color-TV set and asked if he could be of use in any capacity. Well, right then and there, I should have sat back and asked myself a few searching questions — like how he had heard of my probe in the first place, since only the people we were questioning and a few of my staff, as far as I knew, were aware of what was going on at that time. We had been under way for only five weeks, remember. And I should also have recalled the old adage about Greeks bearing gifts. But I was desperately understaffed — I had only six aides available to work on the assassination inquiry full time — and here comes a trained private investigator offering his services free of charge. It was like a gift from the gods. So, I set Gurvich to work; and for the next couple of months, he did an adequate job of talking to witnesses, taking photographs, etc. But then, around March, I learned that he had been seeing Walter Sheridan of NBC. Well, this didn’t bother me at first, because I didn’t know then the role Sheridan was playing in this whole affair. But after word got back to me from my witnesses about Sheridan’s threats and harassment, I began keeping a closer eye on Bill. I still didn’t really think he was any kind of a double agent, but I couldn’t help wondering why he was rubbing elbows with people like that. Now, don’t forget that Gurvich claims he became totally disgusted with our investigation at the time of Clay Shaw’s arrest — yet for several months afterward he continued to wax enthusiastic about every aspect of our case, and I have a dozen witnesses who will testify to that effect. I guess this was something that should have tipped me off about Bill: He was always enthusiastic, never doubtful, or cautionary, even when I or one of my staff threw out a hypothesis that on reflection, we realized was wrong. And I began to notice how he would pick my mind for every scrap of fact pertaining to the case. So, I grew suspicious and took him off the sensitive areas of the investigation and relegated him to chauffeuring and routine clerical duties. This seemed to really bother him, and every day he would come into my office and pump me for information, complaining that he wasn’t being told enough about the case. I still had nothing concrete against him and I didn’t want to be unjust, but I guess my manner must have cooled perceptibly, because one day about two months before he surfaced in Washington, Bill just vanished from our sight. And with him, I’m sorry to confess, vanished a copy of our master file. How do you explain such behavior? It’s possible that Bill joined us initially for reasons of opportunism, seeing a chance to get in at the beginning of an earth-shaking case, and subsequently chickened out when he saw the implacable determination of some powerful agencies to destroy our investigation and discredit everyone associated with it. But I really don’t believe Bill is that much of a coward. It’s also possible that those who want to prevent an investigation learned early what we were doing and made a decision to plant somebody on the inside of the investigation. Let me stress that I have no secret documents or monitored telephone calls to support this hypothesis; it just seems to me the most logical explanation for Bill’s behavior. Let me put it this way: If you were in charge of the CIA and willing to spend scores of millions of dollars on such relatively penny-ante projects as infiltrating the National Students Association, wouldn’t you make an effort to infiltrate an investigation that could seriously damage the prestige of your agency?
PLAYBOY: How could your probe damage the prestige of the CIA and cause them to take countermeasures against you?
GARRISON: For the simple reason that a number of the men who killed the President were former employees of the CIA involved in its anti-Castro underground activities in and around New Orleans. The CIA knows their identity. So do I — and our investigation has established this without the shadow of a doubt. Let me stress one thing, however: We have no evidence that any official of the CIA was involved with the conspiracy that led to the President’s death.
PLAYBOY: Do you lend no credence, then, to the charges of a former CIA agent, J. Garrett Underhill, that there was a conspiracy within the CIA to assassinate Kennedy?
GARRISON: I’ve become familiar with the case of Gary Underhill, and I’ve been able to ascertain that he was not the type of man to make wild or unsubstantiated charges. Underhill was an intelligence agent in World War Two and an expert on military affairs whom the Pentagon considered one of the country’s top authorities on limited warfare. He was on good personal terms with the top brass in the Defense Department and the ranking officials in the CIA. He was a full-time CIA agent, but he occasionally performed “special assignments” for the Agency. Several days after the assassination, Underhill appeared at the home of friends in New Jersey, apparently badly shaken, and charged that Kennedy was killed by a small group within the CIA. He told friends he believed his own life was in danger. We can’t learn any more from Underhill, I’m afraid, because shortly afterward, he was found shot to death in his Washington apartment. The coroner ruled suicide, but he had been shot behind the left ear and the pistol was found under his left side — and Underhill was right-handed.
PLAYBOY: Do you believe Underhill was murdered to silence him?
GARRISON: I don’t believe it and I don’t disbelieve it. All I know is that witnesses with vital evidence in this case are certainly bad insurance risks. In the absence of further and much more conclusive evidence to the contrary, however, we must assume that the plotters were acting on their own rather than on CIA orders when they killed the President. As far as we have been able to determine, they were not in the pay of the CIA at the time of the assassination — and this is one of the reasons the President was murdered: I’ll explain later what I mean by that. But the CIA could not face up to the American people and admit that its former employees had conspired to assassinate the President; so from the moment Kennedy’s heart stopped beating, the Agency attempted to sweep the whole conspiracy under the rug. The CIA has spared neither time nor the taxpayers’ money in its efforts to hide the truth about the assassination from the American people. In this respect, it has become an accessory after the fact in the assassination.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any conclusive evidence to support these accusations?
GARRISON: I’ve never revealed this before, but for at least six months, my office and home telephones — and those of every member of my staff — have been monitored. If there is as little substance to this investigation as the press and the Government allege, why would anyone go to all that trouble? I leave it to your judgment if the monitoring of our phones is the work of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union or the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce.
PLAYBOY: That’s hardly conclusive evidence.
GARRISON: I’d need a book to list all the indications. But let’s start with the fact that most of the attorneys for the hostile witnesses and defendants were hired by the CIA — through one or another of its covers. For example, a New Orleans lawyer representing Alvin Beaubouef, who has charged me with every kind of unethical practice except child molesting — I expect that allegation to come shortly before Shaw’s trial — flew with Beauboeuf to Washington immediately after my office subpoenaed him, where Beaubouef was questioned by a “retired” intelligence officer in the offices of the Justice Department. This trip was paid for, as are the lawyer’s legal fees, by the CIA — in other words, with our tax dollars. Another lawyer, Stephen Plotkin, who represents Gordon Novel [another of Garrison’s key witnesses], has admitted he is paid by the CIA — and has also admitted his client is a CIA agent; you may have seen that story on page 96 of The New York Times, next to ship departures. Plotkin, incidentally, sued me for $10,000,000 for defaming his client and sued a group of New Orleans businessmen financing my investigation for $50,000,000 — which meant, in effect, that the CIA was suing us. As if they need the money. But my attorney filed a motion for a deposition to be taken from Novel, which meant that he would have to return to my jurisdiction to file his suit and thus be liable for questioning in the conspiracy case. Rather than come down to New Orleans and face the music, Novel dropped his suit and sacrificed a possible $60,000,000 judgment. Now, there’s a man of principle; he knows there are some things more important than money.
PLAYBOY: Do you also believe Clay Shaw’s lawyers are being paid by the CIA?
GARRISON: I can’t comment directly on that, since it relates to Shaw’s trial. But I think the clincher, as far as Washington’s obstruction of our probe goes, is the consistent refusal of the Federal Government to make accessible to us any information about the roles of the CIA, anti-Castro Cuban exiles and the para-military right in the assassination. There is, without doubt, a conspiracy by elements of the Federal Government to keep the facts of this case from ever becoming known — a conspiracy that is the logical extension of the initial conspiracy by the CIA to conceal vital evidence from the Warren Commission.
PLAYBOY: What “vital evidence” did the CIA withhold from the Warren Commission?
GARRISON: A good example is Commission Exhibit number 237. This is a photograph of a stocky, balding, middle-aged man published without explanation or identification in the 26 volumes of the Warren Report. There’s a significant story behind Exhibit number 237. Throughout the late summer and fall of 1963, Lee Oswald was shepherded in Dallas and New Orleans by a CIA “baby sitter” who watched over Oswald’s activities and stayed with him. My office knows who he is and what he looks like.
PLAYBOY: Are you implying that Oswald was working for the CIA?
GARRISON: Let me finish and you can decide for yourself. When Oswald went to Mexico City in an effort to obtain a visa for travel to Cuba, this CIA agent accompanied him. Now, at this particular time, Mexico was the only Latin-American nation maintaining diplomatic ties with Cuba, and leftists and Communists from all over the hemisphere traveled to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City for visas to Cuba. The CIA, quite properly, had placed a hidden movie camera in a building across the street from the embassy and filmed everyone coming and going. The Warren Commission, knowing this, had an assistant legal counsel ask the FBI for a picture of Oswald and his companion on the steps of the embassy, and the FBI, in turn, filed an affidavit saying they had obtained the photo in question from the CIA. The only trouble is that the CIA supplied the Warren Commission with a phony photograph. The photograph of an “unidentified man” published in the 26 volumes is not the man who was filmed with Oswald on the steps of the Cuban Embassy, as alleged by the CIA. It’s perfectly clear that the actual picture of Oswald and his companion was suppressed and a fake photo substituted because the second man in the picture was working for the CIA in 1963, and his identification as a CIA agent would have opened up a whole can of worms about Oswald’s ties with the Agency. To prevent this, the CIA presented the Warren Commission with fraudulent evidence — a pattern that repeats itself whenever the CIA submits evidence relating to Oswald’s possible connection with any U.S. intelligence agency. The CIA lied to the Commission right down the line; and since the Warren Commission had no investigative staff of its own but had to rely on the FBI, the Secret Service and the CIA for its evidence, it’s understandable why the Commission concluded that Oswald had no ties with American intelligence agencies.
PLAYBOY: What was the nature of these ties?
GARRISON: That’s not altogether clear, at least insofar as his specific assignments are concerned; but we do have proof that Oswald was recruited by the CIA in his Marteaue Corps days, when he was mysteriously schooled in Russian and allowed to subscribe to Pravda. And shortly before his trip to the Soviet Union, we have learned, Oswald was trained as an intelligence agent at the CIA installation at Japan’s Atsugi Air Force Base — which may explain why no disciplinary action was taken against him when he returned to the U.S. from the Soviet Union, even though he had supposedly defected with top-secret information about our radar networks. The money he used to return to the U.S., incidentally, was advanced to him by the State Department.
PLAYBOY: In an article for Ramparts, ex-FBI agent William Turner indicated that White Russian refugee George De Mohrenschildt may have been Oswald’s CIA “baby sitter” in Dallas. Have you found any links between the CIA and De Mohrenschildt?
GARRISON: I can’t comment directly on that, but George De Mohrenschildt is certainly an enigmatic and intriguing character. Here you have a wealthy, cultured White Russian émigré who travels in the highest social circles — he was a personal friend of Mrs. Hugh Auchincloss, Jackie Kennedy’s mother — suddenly developing an intimate relationship with an impoverished ex-Marteaue like Lee Oswald. What did they discuss — last year’s season at Biarritz, or how to beat the bank at Monte Carlo? And Mr. De Mohrenschildt has a penchant for popping up in the most interesting places at the most interesting times — for example, in Haiti just before a joint Cuban exile-CIA venture to topple Duvalier and use the island as a springboard for an invasion of Cuba, and in Guatemala, another CIA training ground, the day before the Bay of Pigs invasion. We have a good deal more information about Oswald’s CIA contacts in Dallas and New Orleans — most of which we discovered by sheer chance — but there are still whole areas of inquiry blocked from us by the CIA’s refusal to cooperate with our investigation. For public consumption, the CIA claims not to have been concerned with Oswald prior to the assassination. But one thing is certain: Despite these pious protestations, the CIA was very much aware of Oswald’s activities well before the President’s murder. In a notarized affidavit, State Department officer James D. Crowley states, “The first time I remember learning of Oswald’s existence was when I received copies of a telegraphic message from the Central Intelligence Agency dated October 10, 1963, which contained information pertaining to his current activities.” It would certainly be interesting to know what the CIA knew about Oswald six weeks before the assassination, but the contents of this particular message never reached the Warren Commission and remain a complete mystery. There are also 51 CIA documents classified top secret in the National Archives pertaining to Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby. Technically, the members of the Commission had access to them; but in practice, any document the CIA wanted classified was shunted into the Archives without examination by the sleeping beauties on the Commission. Twenty-nine of these files are of particular interest, because their titles alone indicate that the CIA had extensive information on Oswald and Ruby before the assassination. A few of these documents are: CD 347, “Activity of Oswald in Mexico City”; CD 1054, “Information on Jack Ruby and Associates”; CD 692, “Reproduction of Official CIA Dossier on Oswald”; CD 1551, “Conversations Between Cuban President and Ambassador”; CD 698, “Reports of Travel and Activities of Oswald”; CD 943, “Allegations of Pfc. Eugene Dinkin re Assassination Plot”; and CD 971, “Telephone Calls to U.S. Embassy, Canberra, Australia, re Planned Assassination.” The titles of these documents are all we have to go on, but they’re certainly intriguing. For example, the public has heard nothing about phone calls to the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, warning in advance of the assassination, nor have we been told anything about a Pfc. Dinkin who claims to have knowledge of an assassination plot. One of the top-secret files that most intrigues me is CD 931, which is entitled “Oswald’s Access to Information About the U-2.” I have 24 years of military experience behind me, on active duty and in the reserves, and I’ve never had any access to the U-2; in fact, I’ve never seen one. But apparently this “self-proclaimed Marxist,” Lee Harvey Oswald, who we’re assured had no ties to any Government agency, had access to information about the nation’s most secret high-altitude reconnaissance plane. Of course, it may be that none of these CIA files reveals anything sinister about Lee Harvey Oswald or hints in any way that he was employed by our government. But then, why are the 51 CIA documents classified top secret in the Archives and inaccessible to the public for 75 years? I’m 45, so there’s no hope for me, but I’m already training my eight-year-old son to keep himself physically fit so that on one glorious September morn in 2038 he can walk into the National Archives in Washington and find out what the CIA knew about Lee Harvey Oswald. If there’s a further extension of the top-secret classification, this may become a generational affair, with questions passed down from father to son in the manner of the ancient runic bards. But someday, perhaps, we’ll find out what Oswald was doing messing around with the U-2. Of course, there are some CIA documents we’ll never see. When the Warren Commission asked to see a secret CIA memo on Oswald’s activities in Russia that had been attached to a State Department letter on Oswald’s Russian stay, word came back that the Agency was terribly sorry, but the secret memo had been destroyed while being photocopied. This unfortunate accident took place on November 23, 1963, a day on which there must have occurred a great deal of spontaneous combustion around Washington.
PLAYBOY: John A. McCone, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has said of Oswald: “The Agency never contacted him, interviewed him, talked with him or received or solicited any reports or information from him or communicated with him in any manner. Lee Harvey Oswald was never associated or connected directly or indirectly, in any way whatsoever, with the Agency.” Why do you refuse to accept McCone’s word?
GARRISON: The head of the CIA, it seems to me, would think long and hard before he admitted that former employees of his had been involved in the murder of the President of the United States — even if they weren’t acting on behalf of the Agency when they did it. In any case, the CIA’s past record hardly induces faith in the Agency’s veracity. CIA officials lied about their role in the overthrow of the Arbenz Guzman regime in Guatemala; they lied about their role in the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran; they lied about their role in the abortive military revolt against Sukarno in 1958; they lied about the U-2 incident; and they certainly lied about the Bay of Pigs. If the CIA is ready to lie even about its successes — as in Guatemala and Iran — do you seriously believe its director would tell the truth in a case as explosive as this? Of course, CIA officials grow so used to lying, so steeped in deceit, that after a while I think they really become incapable of distinguishing truth and falsehood. Or, in an Orwellian sense, perhaps they come to believe that truth is what contributes to national security, and falsehood is anything detrimental to national security. John McCone would swear he’s a Croatian dwarf if he thought it would advance the interests of the CIA — which he automatically equates with the national interest.
PLAYBOY: Let’s get down to the facts of the assassination, as you see them. When — and why — did you begin to doubt the conclusions of the Warren Report?
GARRISON: Until as recently as November of 1966, I had complete faith in the Warren Report. As a matter of fact, I viewed its most vocal critics with the same skepticism that much of the press now views me — which is why I can’t condemn the mass media too harshly for their cynical approach, except in the handful of cases where newsmen seem to be in active collusion with Washington to torpedo our investigation. Of course, my faith in the Report was grounded in ignorance, since I had never read it; as Mark Lane says, “The only way you can believe the Report is not to have read it.” But then, in November, I visited New York City with Senator Russell Long; and when the subject of the assassination came up, he expressed grave doubts about the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Now, this disturbed me, because here was the Majority Whip of the U.S. Senate speaking, not some publicity hound with an ideological ax to grind; and if at this late juncture he still entertained serious reservations about the Commission’s determinations, maybe there was more to the assassination than met the eye. So, I began reading every book and magazine article on the assassination I could get my hands on — my tombstone may be inscribed “Curiosity Killed The D.A.” — and I found my own doubts growing. Finally, I put aside all other business and started to wade through the Warren Commission’s own 26 volumes of supportive evidence and testimony. That was the clincher. It’s impossible for anyone possessed of reasonable objectivity and a fair degree of intelligence to read those 26 volumes and not reach the conclusion that the Warren Commission was wrong in every one of its major conclusions pertaining to the assassination. For me, that was the end of innocence.
PLAYBOY: Do you mean to imply that the Warren Commission deliberately concealed or falsified the facts of the assassination?
GARRISON: No, you don’t need any explanation more sinister than incompetence to account for the Warren Report. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the Commission simply didn’t have all the facts, and many of those they had were fraudulent, as I’ve pointed out — thanks to the evidence withheld and manufactured by the CIA. If you add to this the fact that most of the Commission members had already presumed Oswald’s guilt and were merely looking for facts to confirm it — and in the process tranquilize the American public — you’ll realize why the Commission was such a dismal failure. But in the final analysis, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference whether the Commission members were sincere patriots or mountebanks; the question is whether Lee Oswald killed the President alone and unaided; if the evidence doesn’t support that conclusion — and it doesn’t — a thousand honorable men sitting shoulder to shoulder along the banks of the Potomac won’t change the .
PLAYBOY: So you began your investigation of the President’s assassination on nothing stronger than you own doubts and the theories of the Commission’s critics?
GARRISON: No, please don’t put words in my mouth. The works of the critics — particularly Edward Epstein, Harold Weisberg and Mark Lane — sparked my general doubts about the assassination; but more importantly, they led me into specific areas of inquiry. After I realized that something was seriously wrong, I had no alternative but to face the fact that Oswald had arrived in Dallas only a short time before the assassination and that prior to that time he had lived in New Orleans for over six months. I became curious about what this alleged assassin was doing while under my jurisdiction, and my staff began an investigation of Oswald’s activities and contacts in the New Orleans area. We interviewed people the Warren Commission had never questioned, and a whole new world began opening up. As I studied Oswald’s movements in Dallas, my mind turned back to the aftermath of the assassination in 1963, when my office questioned three men — David Ferrie, Alvin Beaubouef and Melvin Coffey — on suspicion of being involved in the assassination. I began to wonder if we hadn’t dismissed these three men too lightly, and we reopened our investigation into their activities.
PLAYBOY: Why did you become interested in Ferrie and his associates in November 1963?
GARRISON: To explain that I’ll have to tell you something about the operation of our office. I believe we have one of the best district attorney’s offices in the country. We have no political appointments and, as a result, there’s a tremendous amount of esprit among our staff and an enthusiasm for looking into unanswered questions. That’s why we got together the day after the assassination and began examining our files and checking out every political extremist, religious fanatic and kook who had ever come to our attention. And one of the names that sprang into prominence was that of David Ferrie. When we checked him out, as we were doing with innumerable other suspicious characters, we discovered that on November 22nd he had traveled to Texas to go “duck hunting” and “ice skating. Well, naturally, this sparked our interest. We staked out his house and we questioned his friends, and when he came back — the first thing he did on his return, incidentally, was to contact a lawyer and then hide out for the night at a friend’s room in another town — we pulled him and his two companions in for questioning. The story of Ferrie’s activities that emerged was rather curious. He drove nine hours through a furious thunderstorm to Texas, then apparently gave up his plans to go duck hunting and instead went to an ice-skating rink in Houston and stood waiting beside a pay telephone for two hours; he never put the skates on. We felt his movements were suspicious enough to justify his arrest and that of his friends, and we took them into custody. When we alerted the FBI, they expressed interest and asked us to turn the three men over to them for questioning. We did, but Ferrie was released soon afterward and most of its report on him was classified top secret and secreted in the National Archives, where it will remain inaccessible to the public until September 2038 A.D. No one, including me, can see those pages.
PLAYBOY: Why do you believe the FBI report on Ferrie is classified?
GARRISON: For the same reason the President’s autopsy X rays and photos and other vital evidence in this case are classified — because they would indicate the existence of a conspiracy, involving former employees of the CIA, to kill the President.
PLAYBOY: When you resumed your investigation of Ferrie three years later, did you discover any new evidence?
GARRISON: We discovered a whole mare’s-nest of underground activity involving the CIA, elements of the paramilitary right and militant anti-Castro exile groups. We discovered links between David Ferrie, Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby. We discovered, in short, what I had hoped not to find, despite my doubts about the Warren Commission — the existence of a well-organized conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy, a conspiracy that came to fruition in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and in which David Ferrie played a vital role.
PLAYBOY: Accepting for a moment your contention that there was a conspiracy to assassinate President John Kennedy, have you been able to discover who was involved — in addition to Ferrie — how it was done and why?
GARRISON: Yes, I have. President Kennedy was killed for one reason: because he was working for a reconciliation with the U.S.S.R. and Castro’s Cuba. His assassins were a group of fanatic anti-Communists with a fusion of interests in preventing Kennedy from achieving peaceful relations with the Communist world. On the operative level of the conspiracy, you find anti-Castro Cuban exiles who never forgave Kennedy for failing to send in U.S. air cover at the Bay of Pigs and who feared that the thaw following the Missile Crisis in October 1962 augured the total frustration of their plans to liberate Cuba. They believed sincerely that Kennedy had sold them out to the Communists. On a higher, control level, you find a number of people of ultra-right-wing persuasion — not simply conservatives, mind you, but people who could be described as neo-Nazi, including a small clique that had defected from the Minutemen because it considered the group “too liberal.” These elements had their canteens ready and their guns loaded; they lacked only a target. After Kennedy’s domestic moves toward racial integration and his attempts to forge a peaceful foreign policy, as exemplified by his signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, they found that target. So, both of these groups had a vital stake in changing U.S. foreign policy — ideological on the part of the paramilitary rightists and both ideological and personal with the anti-Castro exiles, many of whom felt they would never see their homes again if Kennedy’s policy of détente was allowed to succeed. The CIA was involved with both of these groups. In the New Orleans area, where the conspiracy was hatched, the CIA was training a mixed bag of Minutemen, Cuban exiles, and other anti-Castro adventurers north of Lake Pontchartrain for a foray into Cuba and an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro. David Ferrie, who operated on the “command” level of the ultra-rightists, was deeply involved in this effort. The CIA itself apparently did not take the détente too seriously until the late summer of 1963, because it maintained its financing and training of anti-Castro adventurers. There was, in fact, a triangulation of CIA-supported anti-Castro activity between Dallas — where Jack Ruby was involved in collecting guns and ammunition for the underground — and Miami and New Orleans, where most of the training was going on. But then, Kennedy, who had signed a secret agreement with Khrushchev after the Missile Crisis pledging not to invade Cuba if Russia would soft-pedal Castro’s subversive activities in the Americas, began to crackdown on CIA operations against Cuba. As a result, on July 31, 1963, the FBI raided the headquarters of the group of Cuban exiles and Minutemen training north of Lake Pontchartrain and confiscated all their guns and ammunition — despite the fact that the operation had the sanction of the CIA. This action may have sealed Kennedy’s fate.
By the early fall of 1963, Kennedy’s plan for a détente with Cuba was in high gear. Ambassador William Attwood, a close personal friend of the late President, recounts that a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations was definitely in the works at this time and “the President more than the State Department was interested in exploring the [Cuban] overture.” One of the intermediaries between Castro and Kennedy was the late television commentator Lisa Howard, who met secretly with Ernesto Che Guevara to prepare peace terms between the U.S. and Castro. Miss Howard was arranging a conference between Bobby Kennedy and Guevara when the President was shot in Dallas. In a United Nations speech on October 7, 1963, Adlai Stevenson set forth the possibility of a termination of hostilities between the two countries, and on November 19th. Presidential aide McGeorge Bundy, who was acting as an intermediary in the secret discussions, told Ambassador Attwood that the President wanted to discuss his plans for a Cuban American détente in depth with him right after “a brief trip to Dallas.” The rest is history. One of the two heads of state involved in negotiating that detente is now dead, but the survivor, Fidel Castro, said on November 23rd that the assassination was the work of “elements in the U.S. opposed to peace,” and the Cuban Foreign Ministry officially charged that “the Kennedy assassination was a provocation against world peace perfectly and minutely prepared by the most reactionary sectors of the United States.” Most Americans at the time, myself included, thought this was just Communist propaganda. But Castro knew what he was talking about. A few weeks after the assassination, the Cuban ambassador to the UN, Dr. Carlos Lechuga, was instructed by Castro to begin “formal discussions” in the hope that Kennedy’s peace plan would be carried on by his successor. Ambassador Attwood writes that “I informed Bundy and later was told that the Cuban exercise would be put on ice for a while — which it was and where it has been ever since.” The assassins had achieved their aim.
PLAYBOY: This is interesting speculation, but isn’t that all it is — speculation?
GARRISON: No, because we know enough about the key individuals involved in the conspiracy — Latins and Americans alike — to know that this was their motive for the murder of John Kennedy. First of all, you have to understand the mentality of these people. Take the Cuban exiles involved; here are men, some of whom survived the Bay of Pigs, who for years had been whipped up by the CIA into a frenzy of anti-Castro hatred and who had been solemnly assured by American intelligence agencies that they were going to liberate their homeland with American support. They had one disappointment after another — the Bay of Pigs debacle, the failure to invade Cuba during the Missile Crisis, the effective crushing of their underground in Cuba by Castro’s secret police. But they kept on hoping, and the CIA kept fanning their hopes. Then they listened to Kennedy’s famous speech at American University on June 10, 1963, where he really kicked off the new drive for a détente, and they heard the President of the country in which they’d placed all their hope saying we must make peace with the Communists, since “we both breathe the same air.” Well, this worries them, but the CIA continues financing and training their underground cadres, so there is still hope. And then suddenly, in the late summer of 1963, the CIA is forced by Presidential pressure to withdraw all funds and assistance from the Cuban exiles. Think of the impact of this, particularly on the group here in New Orleans, which had been trained for months to make an assassination attempt on Castro and then found itself coolly jettisoned by its benefactors in Washington. These adventurers were worked up to a fever pitch; and when the CIA withdrew its support and they couldn’t fight Castro, they picked their next victim — John F. Kennedy. That, in a nutshell, is the genesis of the assassination. President Kennedy died because he wanted peace.
PLAYBOY: How many people do you claim were involved in this alleged conspiracy?
GARRISON: Too many for their own security. If they had let fewer men in on the plot, we might never have stumbled onto it. But let me add one additional point here: The brief account I’ve just given you shouldn’t be construed to indicate that any of the legitimate anti-Castro organizations were involved in the assassination — or that all Minutemen were implicated. Nor should the fact that there was a conspiracy from the paramilitary right be used to start a witch-hunt against conservatives in general, any more than Oswald’s phony pro-Communist record should have been used to purge leftists from our national life. In this case, the very terminology of “right” and “left,” which is essentially an economic definition, has little validity as a description of those fanatic war lovers who were ready to assassinate a President because he worked for peace. If you go far enough to either extreme of the political spectrum, Communist or fascist, you’ll find hard-eyed men with guns who believe that anybody who doesn’t think as they do should be incarcerated or exterminated. The assassination was less an ideological exercise than the frenzied revenge of a sick element in our society on a man who exemplified health and decency.
PLAYBOY: You’ve outlined the genesis of the alleged conspiracy as you see it. Will you now tell us how it was carried out — and by whom?
GARRISON: I won’t be able to name names in all instances, because we’re building cases against a number of the individuals involved. But I’ll give you a brief sketch of how the conspiracy was organized, and then point by point we can go into the participants we know about so far and the role we believe each played. Let me stress at the outset that what I’m going to tell you is not idle speculation; we have facts, documents, and reliable eyewitness testimony to corroborate much of it — though I can’t lay all this evidence before you without jeopardizing the investigation. But there are many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle still missing. Not one of the conspirators has confessed his guilt, so we don’t yet have an “inside” view of all the pre-assassination planning. In order to fill in these gaps for you, I’ll have to indulge in a bit of informed deduction and surmise. It may sound melodramatic, but you can best envisage the plot as a spider’s web. At the center sit the organizers of the operation, men with close ties to U.S. and western-European intelligence agencies. One of them is a former associate of Jack Ruby in gun-smuggling activities and a dedicated neo-Nazi in close contact with neo-fascist movements in Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy. Radiating out from these key men, the strands of the web include a motley group of political adventurers united only in their detestation of Kennedy and their dedication to the reversal of his foreign policy. One such man was David Ferrie. Another member of this group is an individual who deliberately impersonated Lee Oswald before the assassination in order to incriminate him: we believe we know his identity. Several others, about whom we have evidence indicating that they helped supply weapons to the plotters, were the right-wing extremists I mentioned earlier who broke off from a fanatic paramilitary group because it was becoming “too liberal.” Also involved is a band of anti-Castro adventurers who functioned on the second, or “operative,” level of the conspiracy. These men include two Cuban exiles, one of whom failed a lie-detector test when he denied knowing in advance that Kennedy was going to be killed or having seen the weapons to be used in the assassination — and a number of men who fired at the President from three directions on November 22nd. The link between the “command” level and the Cuban exiles was an amorphous group called the Free Cuba Committee, which with CIA sanction had begun training north of Lake Pontchartrain for an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro, as I mentioned earlier. It was this group that was raided by the FBI on July 31st, 1963, and temporarily put out of commission. Our information indicates that it was shortly after this setback that the group switched direction and decided to assassinate John Kennedy instead of Fidel Castro, after the “betrayal” of the Bay of Pigs disaster. That’s it in a nutshell, but I think the development of the conspiracy will become clearer if you ask me one by one about the individuals involved.
PLAYBOY: All right, let’s begin with Clay Shaw. What was his role in the alleged conspiracy?
GARRISON: I’m afraid I can’t comment even inferentially on anything pertaining to the evidence against Mr. Shaw, since he’s facing trial in my jurisdiction.
PLAYBOY: Can you answer a charge about your case against him? On March second of this year, shortly after Shaw’s arrest, Attorney General Ramsey Clark announced that Shaw “was included in an investigation in November and December of 1963 and on the evidence that the FBI has, there was no connection found between Shaw and the President’s assassination.” Why do you challenge the Attorney General’s statement?
GARRISON: Because it was not true. The FBI did not clear Clay Shaw after the assassination. You don’t have to take my word for it; The New York Times reported on June third that “The Justice Department said today that Clay Shaw. New Orleans businessman, was not investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation … The statement contradicted Attorney General Ramsey Clark … A Justice Department spokesman said that Mr. Clark’s statement last March second was in error.” Now, the Attorney General’s attempt to whitewash Shaw via the FBI, as you pointed out, was made immediately after our office arrested him, and it really constituted the first salvo of the propaganda barrage laid down against us. The natural reaction of many people across the country to Clark’s statement, which was carried prominently on TV and in the press was, “Well, if the FBI cleared him, there can’t be anything to this whole conspiracy business.” Most defendants have to wait for trial before they’re allowed to produce character witnesses. When, three months later, the Justice Department finally admitted Clark was “in error,” the story appeared in only a few newspapers and wasn’t picked up by the radio or TV networks. But what was even more significant about the Justice Department’s attempt to bail out Shaw was the fact that the day after Clark’s statement, The New York Times’ Washington correspondent. Robert B. Semple, Jr., reported that he had been told by an unnamed Justice Department spokesman that his agency was convinced “that Mr. Bertrand and Mr. Shaw were the same man” — and that was the reason Clark released his untrue story about the FBI’s having cleared Shaw! In other words, knowing that our case was based on fact, the Justice Department deliberately dragged a red herring across the trail.PLAYBOY: Are you free to discuss Oswald’s role in the conspiracy?
GARRISON: Yes, but before you can understand Oswald’s role in the plot, you’ve got to jettison the image of him as a “self-proclaimed Marxist” that the mass media inculcated in the public consciousness after his arrest on November 22nd. Oswald’s professed Marxist sympathies were just a cover for his real activities. I don’t believe there are any serious students of the assassination who don’t recognize that Oswald’s actual political orientation was extreme right wing. His associates in Dallas and New Orleans — apart from his CIA contacts — were exclusively right wing, some covert, others overt: in fact, our office has positively identified a number of his associates as neo-Nazis. Oswald would have been more at home with Mein Kampf than Das Kapital.
PLAYBOY: If Oswald wasn’t a leftist, what motivation would he have had for shooting at another right-winger, Major General Edwin Walker, eight months before the assassination
GARRISON: If he did it, his motive — which is to say the motive of those behind him — was a simple one: to ensure that after the assassination, people would ask this very question and assume that because Oswald had shot at General Walker, he must have been a left-winger. It was just another part of Oswald’s cover; if you defect to Russia, pass out pro-Castro leaflets on street corners and take a pot shot at General Walker, who on earth would doubt you’re a Communist? Of course, if you really look deeply into this incident, there is no real proof that Oswald was the man who did it; the whole charge rests on the unsupported testimony of Marteaua Oswald, after she had been threatened with deportation if she didn’t “cooperate.” It makes little difference, though, whether this incident was prepared in advance to create a cover for Oswald or fabricated after the assassination to strengthen his public image as a Marxist. But we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. Let’s backtrack a bit to fill in the background of Oswald’s involvement in the conspiracy. After “defecting” to Russia, where he served as an agent for the CIA — perhaps this is where his knowledge about the U-2 becomes relevant — he returned to this country in June 1962, lived in Fort Worth and Dallas until April 1963, and then went to New Orleans, where he resumed his friendship with David Ferrie, whom he had met several years before when he belonged to a Civil Air Patrol unit led by Ferrie. We have evidence that Oswald maintained his CIA contracts throughout this period and that Ferrie was also employed by the CIA. In this regard, we will present in court a witness — formerly a CIA courier — who met both Ferrie and Oswald officially in their CIA connection. Parenthetically, Ferrie gave his name as Ferris to this witness — a name recorded without further explanation in Jack Ruby’s address book. In 1963, Ferrie and Oswald worked together closely. They were two of the organizers of the group of anti-Castro exiles and Minutemen who trained north of Lake Pontchartrain for a foray into Cuba to assassinate Castro — the venture that changed direction in the summer of 1963 and chose John Kennedy as its new victim. Toward this end — for reasons that will become clear — it became Oswald’s role to establish his public identity as a Marxist. It appears that it was with this plan in mind that Oswald was sent to Mexico City in order to get a visa for travel to Cuba, where he planned to solidify his Marxist image, perhaps by making himself conspicuous with a few incendiary anti-Kennedy speeches, and then return to Dallas in time for the assassination. However, this end of the plot was frustrated because the Soviet and Cuban intelligence services apparently had Oswald pegged as an intelligence agent, and he was refused visas at both embassies. Another way in which Oswald tried to establish his procommunism was by setting up a letterhead Fair Play for Cuba Committee — of which he was the only member — and distributing on street corners leaflets praising Castro. He made two blunders here, however. First, one of the men helping him hand out leaflets was a fanatic anti-Castro Cuban exile whom we’ve subsequently identified from TV footage of a street incident. Second, Oswald “blew his cover” by using the wrong address for his phony New Orleans Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
PLAYBOY: Will you elaborate on this second point?
GARRISON: Yes, because this incident ties together some of the strands of the spider’s web. At the time Oswald started his so-called Fair Play for Cuba Committee, two men — Hugh Ward and Guy Banister — operated a private investigative agency at 544 Camp Street in downtown New Orleans. There are some intriguing aspects to their operation. For one thing, Guy Banister was one of the most militant right-wing anti-Communists in New Orleans. He was a former FBI official and his headquarters at 544 Camp Street was a clearinghouse for Cuban exile and paramilitary right-wing activities. Specifically, he allowed his office to be used as a mail drop for the anti-Castro Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Front; police intelligence records at the time reported that this group was “legitimate in nature and presumably had the unofficial sanction of the Central Intelligence Agency.” It did. Banister also published a newsletter for his clients that included virulent anti-Kennedy polemics. My office also has evidence that Banister had intimate ties with the Office of Naval Intelligence and the CIA. Both Banister and Ward were deeply involved in covert anti-Castro exile activities in New Orleans. Banister in particular seemed to have had an almost messianic drive to fight communism in every country in Latin America; and he was naturally of value to Cuban exiles because of his intimate connections with American intelligence agencies. In the Ramparts article you mentioned earlier, ex-FBI agent Bill Turner revealed that both Banister and Ward were listed in secret Minutemen files as members of the Minutemen and operatives of a group called the Anti-Communism League of the Caribbean, which was allegedly used by the CIA in the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954. So, in other words, these are the last guys in the world you’d expect to find tied up with left-wing or pro-Castro activities. Right? And yet, when Lee Harvey Oswald set up his fictitious branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans, he distributed leaflets giving the committee’s address as 544 Camp Street — Guy Banister’s office! Somebody must have pointed out to Oswald shortly afterward that he was endangering his cover by using this address, because he subsequently changed it to 4907 Magazine Street. But it’s certainly significant that at the inception of his public role as a pro-Castro activist, Oswald was utilizing the mailbox of the most militantly conservative and anti-Communist outfit in the city. I might add that we have several witnesses who will testify in court that they saw Oswald hanging out at 544 Camp Street. I want to stress, however, that I have no evidence that Banister and Ward were involved in the plot to kill Kennedy. Their office was a kind of way station for anti-Castro and right-wing extremists passing through New Orleans, and it’s perfectly possible that they were completely unaware of the conspiracy being hatched by men like Ferrie and Oswald.
PLAYBOY: Were any of the other figures in the alleged conspiracy connected with Banister?
GARRISON: Yes, David Ferrie was a paid investigator for Banister, and the two men knew each other very well. During 1962 and 1963, Ferrie spent a good deal of time at 544 Camp Street and he made a series of mysterious long-distance phone calls to Central America from Banister’s office. We have a record of those calls.
PLAYBOY: Where are Banister and Ward now?
GARRISON: Both have died since the assassination — Banister of a heart attack in 1964 and Ward when the plane he was piloting for New Orleans Mayor De Lesseps Morrison crashed in Mexico in 1964. De Lesseps Morrison, as it happened, had introduced Clay Shaw to President Kennedy on an airplane flight in 1963.
PLAYBOY: Do you believe there was anything sinister about the crash that killed both Morrison and Ward?
GARRISON: I have no reason to believe there was anything sinister about the crash, though rumors always spring up in a case like this. The only thing I will say is that witnesses in this case do have a habit of dying at the most inconvenient times. I understand a London insurance firm has prepared an actuarial chart on the likelihood of 20 of the people involved in this case dying within three years of the assassination — and found the odds 30 trillion to one. But I’m sure NBC will shortly discover that one of my investigators bribed the computer.
PLAYBOY: Was Oswald involved with paramilitary activists and anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Dallas, as well as in New Orleans?
GARRISON: Oh, God, yes. In fact, many of his New Orleans contacts overlap with those in Dallas. Jack Ruby, who played a key role in smuggling guns to the anti-Castro underground — on behalf of the CIA — was one of Oswald’s contacts in Dallas. Furthermore, Oswald was virtually surrounded by White Russians in Dallas, some of whom were CIA employees. Moreover, some of Oswald’s anti-Castro friends from Miami and New Orleans showed up in Dallas in October of 1963. In a “Supplementary Investigation Report” filed on November 23, 1963, by Dallas policeman Buddy Walthers, an aide to Sheriff Bill Decker, Walthers stated: “I talked to Sorrels, the head of the Dallas Secret Service, I was advised that for the past few months at a house at 3128 Harlandale, some Cubans had been having meetings on the weekends and were possibly connected with the Freedom for Cuba Party of which Oswald was a member.” No attention was paid to Walther’s report, and on November 26th, he complained: “I don’t know what action the Secret Service has taken, but I learned today that some time between seven days before the President was shot and the day after he was shot, these Cubans moved from this house. My informant stated that subject Oswald had been to this house before.” This was the last that was ever heard of the mysterious Cubans at 3128 Harlandale. A significant point in Walthers’ report is his mention of the Freedom for Cuba Party. This appears to be a corruption of the anti-Castro Free Cuba Committee of which Oswald, Ferrie and a small cadre of neo-Nazis — including the man we believe was the “second Oswald” — were members. You may remember that on the night of the assassination, Dallas D.A. Henry Wade called a press conference and at one point referred to Oswald as a member of the “Free Cuba Committee” instead of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Jack Ruby, who just happened to be there, promptly chimed in to correct him. Ruby was obviously in the jail that night on a dry run prior to his successful murder of Oswald on Sunday — a possibility the Warren Commission never bothered to consider — and could hardly have been eager to draw attention to himself. However, he must have been afraid that if the press reported Oswald was a member of the “Free Cuba Committee,” somebody might begin an investigation of that group and discover its anti-Castro and ultra-right-wing orientation. And so he risked his cover to set the record straight and protect his fellow conspirators.
PLAYBOY: In regard to Oswald’s role in the conspiracy, you have said that “he was a decoy at first and then he was a patsy and then he was a victim.” Would you explain what you meant by that?
GARRISON: Oswald’s role in the proposed assassination of Kennedy, as far as he seems to have known, was strictly political: not to fire a gun but — for reasons that may not have been explained to him by his superiors at their planning sessions — to establish his left-wing bona fides so unshakably that after the assassination, quite possibly unbeknownst to him, the President’s murder would appear to be the work of a sharpshooting left-wing fanatic and thus allow the other plotters, including the men who actually shot Kennedy, to escape police attention and flee Dallas. Though he may not have known why he was instructed to do so, this was undoubtedly why he got the job at the Texas School Book Depository Building; we’ve learned that one of the members of the conspiracy was in a position to learn from perfectly innocent Dallas business contacts the route of the Presidential motorcade more than a month before Kennedy’s visit. The conspirators — more than probably not including Oswald — knew this would place him on the scene and convince the world that a demented Marxist was the real assassin.
PLAYBOY: Even if Oswald was unaware of his role as a decoy, didn’t he suspect that he might be double-crossed by his co-conspirators?
GARRISON: We have uncovered substantial evidence that he was influenced and manipulated rather easily by his older and more sophisticated superiors in the conspiracy, and it’s probable that he trusted them more than he distrusted them. But even if the opposite were true, I think he would have done what he was told.
PLAYBOY: Even if he suspected that he might be arrested and convicted as the President’s assassin?
GARRISON: As I said, I don’t think it’s likely that he was aware of his role as a decoy. But even if he was, it’s probable that he would have been given some cock-and-bull assurances about being richly rewarded and smuggled out of the country after Kennedy’s death. But it’s even more probable, in my opinion — if he did know the true nature of his role — that he wouldn’t have felt the necessity to escape. He would have known that no jury in the world — even in Dallas — would have been able to find him guilty of the assassination on the strength of such transparently contrived circumstantial evidence.
PLAYBOY: That’s debatable. But even if Oswald had been brought to trial for and acquitted of the assassination, what reason would he have had to believe that he would also be exonerated of involvement in the conspiracy — which you’ve admitted yourself?
GARRISON: I don’t want to evade your question, but I can’t answer it without compromising my investigation of a crucial new area of the conspiracy. I’m afraid I can’t discuss it until we’ve built a solid case. I can say, however, that whatever his knowledge of his role as a decoy, he definitely didn’t know about his role as a patsy until after the assassination. At 12:45 P.M. on November 22nd, the Dallas police had broadcast a wanted bulletin for Oswald — over a half hour before Tippit was shot and at a time when there was absolutely no evidence linking Oswald to the assassination. The Dallas police have never been able to explain who transmitted this wanted notice or on what evidence it was based; and the Warren Commission brushed aside the whole matter as unimportant. I think it’s obvious that the conspirators tipped off the police, probably anonymously, in the hope — subsequently realized — that all attention would henceforth be focused on Oswald and the heat would be taken off other members of the plot. We have evidence that the plan was to have him shot as a cop killer in the Texas Theater “while resisting arrest.” I can’t go into all the details on this, but the murder of Tippit, which I am convinced Oswald didn’t commit, was clearly designed to set the stage for Oswald’s liquidation in the Texas Theater after another anonymous tip-off. But here the plotters miscalculated, and Oswald was not shot to death but was merely roughed up and rushed off to the Dallas jail — where, you may remember, he shouted to reporters as the police dragged him through the corridors on November 22nd: “I didn’t kill anyone — I’m being made a patsy.” The conspiracy had gone seriously awry and the plotters were in danger of exposure by Oswald. Enter Jack Ruby — and exit Oswald. So, first Oswald was a decoy, next a patsy and finally — in the basement of the Dallas jail on November 24, 1963 — a victim.
PLAYBOY: Even if Oswald was a scapegoat in the alleged conspiracy, why do you believe he couldn’t also have been one of those who shot at the President?
GARRISON: If there’s one thing the Warren Commission and its 26 volumes of supportive evidence demonstrate conclusively, it’s that Lee Harvey Oswald did not shoot John Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Of course, the Commission concluded not only that Oswald fired at the President but that he was a marksman, that he had enough time to “fire three shots, with two hits, within 4.8 and 5.6 seconds,” that his Mannlicher-Carcano was an accurate rifle, etc. — but all these conclusions are actually in direct contradiction of the evidence within the Commission’s own 26 volumes. By culling and coordinating that evidence, the leading critics of the Commission have proved that Oswald was a mediocre shot; that the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle he allegedly used was about the crummiest weapon on the market today; that its telescopic sight was loose and had to be realigned before Commission experts could fire it; that the 20-year-old ammunition he would have had to use could not have been relied on to fire accurately, if at all; that the rifle quite possibly was taken from Oswald’s home after the assassination and planted in the Depository; that the Commission’s own chronology of Oswald’s movements made it highly implausible for him to fire three shots, wipe the rifle clear of fingerprints — there were none found on it — hide the rifle under a stack of books and rush down four flights of stairs to the second floor, all in the few seconds it took Roy Truly and Officer Marion Baker to rush in from the street after the shots and encounter Oswald standing beside the vending machine in the employees’ cafeteria. I could cite additional evidence proving that Oswald didn’t fire a rifle from the sixth floor of the Depository, but it would just be a recapitulation of the excellent books of the critics, to which I refer your readers. There are a number of factors that we’ve examined independently during the course of our investigation that also prove Oswald didn’t shoot at the President. For one thing, the nitrate test administered to Oswald on the day of the assassination clearly exonerated him of having fired a rifle within the past 24 hours. He had nitrates on both hands, but no nitrates on his cheek — which means it was impossible for him to have fired a rifle. The fact that he had nitrates on both hands is regarded in the nitrate test as a sign of innocence; it’s the same as having nitrates on neither hand. This is because so many ordinary objects leave traces of nitrate on the hands. You’re smoking a cigar, for example — tobacco contains nitrate; so, if you were tested right now, you’d have nitrate on your right hand but not on your left. I’m smoking a pipe, which I interchange between my hands, so I’ll have traces of nitrate on both hands but not on my cheeks. The morning of the assassination, Oswald was moving crates in a newly painted room, which was likely to have left traces of nitrate on both his hands. Now, of course, if the nitrate test had proved positive, and Oswald did have nitrate on one hand and on his cheek, that would still not constitute proof positive that he’d fired a gun, because the nitrates could have been left by a substance other than gunpowder. But the fact that he had no nitrate whatsoever on his cheek is ineluctable proof that he never fired a rifle that day. If he had washed his face to remove the nitrate before the test was administered, there would have been none on his hands either — unless he was in the habit of washing with gloves on. This was a sticky problem for the Warren Commission, but they resolved it with their customary aplomb. An expert was dug up who testified that in a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, the chamber is so tight that no nitrates are emitted upon firing; and the Commission used this testimony to dismiss the whole subject. However, the inventor of the nitrate test subsequently tested the Mannlicher-Carcano and found that it did leave nitrate traces. He was not called to testify by the Warren Commission. So, the nitrate test alone is incontrovertible proof that Oswald did not fire a rifle on November 22nd. We’ve also found some new evidence that shows that Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano was not the only weapon discovered in the Depository Building after the assassination. I recently traveled to New York for a conference with Richard Sprague, a brilliant man who’s been independently researching technical aspects of the assassination, and he showed me a hitherto unpublicized collection of film clips from a motion picture taken of the assassination and its aftermath. Part of the film, shot shortly after one P.M., shows the Dallas police carrying the assassination weapon out of the Book Depository. They stop for the photographers and an officer holds the rifle up above his head so that the inquisitive crowd can look at it. There’s just one little flaw here: This rifle does not have a telescopic sight, and thus cannot be Oswald’s rifle. This weapon was taken from the building approximately 20 minutes before Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano was “discovered” — or planted — on the premises. To sum up: Oswald was involved in the conspiracy; shots were fired at Kennedy from the Depository but also from the grassy knoll and apparently from the Dal-Tex Building as well — but not one of them was fired by Lee Harvey Oswald, and not one of them from his Mannlicher-Carcano.
PLAYBOY: If Oswald didn’t shoot President Kennedy from the sixth-floor window of the Book Depository, who did?
GARRISON: Our office has developed evidence that the President was assassinated by a precision guerrilla team of at least seven men, including anti-Castro adventurers and members of the paramilitary right. Of course, the Ministry of Truth concluded — by scrupulously ignoring the most compelling evidence and carefully selecting only those facts that conformed to its preconceived thesis of a lone assassin — that “no credible evidence suggests that the shots were fired from … any place other than the Texas School Book Depository Building.” But anyone who takes the time to read the Warren Report will find that of the witnesses in Dealey Plaza who were able to assess the origin of the shots, almost two thirds said they came from the grassy-knoll area in front and to the right of the Presidential limousine and not from the Book Depository, which was to the rear of the President. A number of reliable witnesses testified that they heard shots ring out from behind the picket fence and saw a puff of smoke drift into the air. Additional evidence supporting this can be found in the Zapruder film published in Life, which reveals that the President was slammed backward by the impact of a bullet; unless you abrogate Newton’s third law of motion, this means the President was shot from the front. Also — though they were contradicted later — several of the doctors at Parkland Hospital who examined the President’s neck wound contended it was an entrance wound, which would certainly tend to indicate that Kennedy was shot from the front. In the course of our investigation, we’ve uncovered additional evidence establishing absolutely that there were at least four men on the grassy knoll, at least two behind the picket fence and two or more behind a small stone wall to the right of the fence. As I reconstruct it from the still-incomplete evidence in our possession, one man fired at the President from each location, while the role of his companion was to snatch up the cartridges as they were ejected. Parenthetically, a book on firearms characteristics was found in Ferrie’s apartment. It was filled with underlining and marginal notations, and the most heavily annotated section was one describing the direction and distance a cartridge travels from a rifle after ejection. Scribbled on a bookmark in this section, in Ferrie’s handwriting, were the figures, not mentioned in the text, “50° and 11 feet” — which indicates the possibility that Ferrie had test-fired a rifle and plotted the distance from the gunman to where the ejected cartridges would fall. But to return to the scene of the crime, it seems virtually certain that the cartridges, along with the rifles, were then thrown into the trunk of a car — parked directly behind the picket fence — which was driven from the scene some hours after the assassination. If there had been a thorough search of all vehicles in the vicinity of the grassy knoll immediately after the assassination, this incriminating evidence might have been uncovered — along with the real authors of the President’s murder. In addition to the assassins on the grassy knoll, at least two other men fired from behind the President, one from the Book Depository Building — not Oswald — and one, in all probability, from the Dal-Tex Building. As it happens, a man was arrested right after the assassination as he left the Dal-Tex Building and was taken away in a patrol car, but like the three other men detained after the assassination — one in the railroad yard behind the grassy knoll, one on the railroad overpass farther down the parade route, and one in front of the Book Depository Building — he then dropped out of sight completely. All of these suspects taken into custody after the assassination remain as anonymous as if they’d been detained for throwing a candy wrapper on the sidewalk. We have also located another man — in green combat fatigues — who was not involved in the shooting but created a diversionary action in order to distract people’s attention from the snipers. This individual screamed, fell to the ground, and simulated an epileptic fit, drawing people away from the vicinity of the knoll just before the President’s motorcade reached the ambush point. So, you have at least seven people involved, with four firing at the President and catching him in a crossfire — just as the assassins had planned at the meeting in David Ferrie’s apartment in September. It was a precision operation and was carried out coolly and with excellent coordination; the assassins even kept in contact by radio. The President, of course, had no chance. It was an overkill operation. As far as the actual sequence of shots goes, you’ll remember that the Warren Commission concluded that only three bullets were fired at the President — one that hit just below the back of his neck, exited through his throat and then passed through Governor Connally’s body; one that missed; and one that blew off a portion of the President’s skull and killed him. Like most of the other conclusions of the Commission, this one contradicts both the evidence and the testimony of eyewitnesses. The initial shot hit the President in the front of the neck, as the Parkland Hospital doctors recognized — though they were later contradicted by the military physicians at the Bethesda autopsy, and by the Warren Report. The second shot struck the President in the back; the location of this wound can be verified not by consulting the official autopsy report — on which the Commission based its conclusion that this bullet hit Kennedy in the back of the neck and exited from his throat — but by perusing the reports filed by two FBI agents who were present at the President’s autopsy in Bethesda, Maryland. Both stated unequivocally that the bullet in question entered President Kennedy’s back and did not continue through his body. I also refer you to a photograph of the President’s shirt taken by the FBI, and to a drawing of the President’s back wound made by one of the examining physicians at Bethesda; the location of the wound in both cases corresponds exactly — more than three inches below the President’s neck. Yet the Commission concluded that this wound occurred in this neck. This, of course, was to make it more believable that the same bullet had exited from the President’s throat and slanted on down through Governor Connally. Even if this bullet had entered where the Commission claims and then exited from the President’s throat, it would have been possible for it to enter Governor Connally’s upper back at a downward angle, exit from his lower chest and lodge finally in his thigh — fired, as the Commission says it was, from the elevation of the sixth-floor window of the Book Depository — only if Connally had been sitting in the President’s lap or if the bullet had described two 90-degree turns on its way from President Kennedy’s throat to Governor Connally’s back. Clearly, the President’s throat wound was caused by the first shot, this one from the grassy knoll in front of the limousine; and his back wound came from the rear. I’ve already given you my reasons for reaching this conclusion.
PLAYBOY: If the first bullet was fired from the front, why wasn’t it found in the President’s body, or somewhere in the Presidential limousine?
GARRISON: The exact nature of the President’s wounds, as well as the disposition of the bullets or bullet fragments, are among the many concealed items in this case. I told you earlier about the men on the grassy knoll whose sole function we believe was to catch the cartridges as they were ejected from the assassins’ rifles. We also have reason to suspect that other members of the conspiracy may have been assigned the job of removing other evidence — such as traceable bullet fragments — that might betray the assassins. In the chaos of November 22nd, this would not have been as difficult as it sounds. We know that a bullet, designated Exhibit number 399 by the Warren Commission, was planted on a stretcher in Parkland Hospital to incriminate Oswald. The Commission concluded that this bullet allegedly hit both Kennedy and Governor Connally, causing seven wounds and breaking three bones — and emerged without a dent! In subsequent ballistics tests with the same gun, every bullet was squashed completely out of shape from impact with various simulated human targets. So, if the conspirators could fabricate a bullet, they could easily conceal one. But to return to the sequence of shots: Governor Connally was struck by a third bullet — as he himself insisted, not the one that struck Kennedy in the back — also fired from the rear. A fourth shot missed the Presidential limousine completely and struck the curb along the south side of Main Street, disintegrating into fragments; the trajectory of this bullet has been plotted backward to a point of origin in the Dal-Tex Building. The fifth shot, which struck the President in the right temple, tore off the top of his skull and snapped him back into his seat — a point overlooked by the Warren Commission — had to have been fired from the grassy knoll. There is also medical evidence indicating the likelihood that an additional head shot may have been fired. The report of Dr. Robert McClelland at Parkland Hospital, for example, states that “the cause of death was due to massive head and brain injury from a gunshot wound of the left temple.” And yet another shot may also have been fired; frames 208 to 211 of the Zapruder film, which were deleted from the Warren Report — presumably as irrelevant — reveal signs of stress appearing suddenly on the back of a street sign momentarily obstructing the view between the grassy knoll and the President’s car. These stress signs may very well have been caused by the impact of a stray bullet on the sign. We’ll never be sure about this, however, because the day after the assassination, the sign was removed and no one in Dallas seems to know what became of it. Some of the gunmen appear to have used frangible bullets, a variant of the dumdum bullet that is forbidden by the Geneva Treaty. Frangible bullets explode on impact into tiny fragments, as did the bullet that caused the fatal wound in the President’s head. Of course, frangible bullets are ideal in a political assassination, because they almost guarantee massive damage and assure that no tangible evidence will remain that ballistics experts could use to trace the murder weapon. I might also mention that frangible bullets cannot be fired from a Mannlicher-Carcano, such as the Commission concludes Oswald used to kill the President. Also parenthetically, this type of bullet was issued by the CIA for use in anti-Castro-exile raids on Cuba. In summation, there were at least five or six shots fired at the President from front and rear by at least four gunmen, assisted by several accomplices, two of whom probably picked up the cartridges and one of whom created a diversion to draw people’s eyes away from the grassy knoll. At this stage of events, Lee Harvey Oswald was no more than a spectator to the assassination — perhaps in a very literal sense. As the first shot rang out, Associated Press photographer James Altgens snapped a picture of the motorcade that shows a man with a remarkable resemblance to Lee Harvey Oswald — same hairline, same face shape — standing in the doorway of the Book Depository Building. Somehow or other, the Warren Commission concluded that this man was actually Billy Nolan Lovelady, an employee of the Depository, who looked very little like Oswald. Furthermore, on the day of the assassination, Oswald was wearing a white T-shirt under a long-sleeved dark shirt opened halfway to his waist — the same outfit worn by the man in the doorway — but Lovelady said that on November 22nd he was wearing a short-sleeved, red-and-white-striped sport shirt buttoned near the neck. The Altgens photograph indicates the very real possibility that at the moment Oswald was supposed to have been crouching in the sixth-floor window of the Depository shooting Kennedy, he may actually have been standing outside the front door watching the Presidential motorcade.
PLAYBOY: Between June 25th and 29th, CBS telecast a series of four special shows revealing the findings of the network’s own seven-month investigation of the assassination. CBS agreed with the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald was the assassin, that he acted alone and that only three shots were fired; but it theorized that the first shot was fired earlier than the Warren Commission believed, thus giving Oswald sufficient time to fire three well-aimed shots at the President with his Mannlicher-Carcano — and overcoming the implausibility of the Commission’s conclusion that he had scored two hits out of three shots in only 5.6 seconds. Don’t you consider this a logical explanation of the discrepancies in the Commission’s time sequence?
GARRISON: I’m afraid it’s neither logical nor an explanation. In case your readers aren’t familiar with all the ramifications of this question, the Commission’s entire lone-assassin theory rests on the fact that all three shots were fired, as you point out, within a period of 5.6 seconds. Now, the film taken of the assassination by Abraham Zapruder proves that a maximum of 1.8 seconds elapsed between the time Kennedy was first hit and Governor Connally was hit — this is crystal clear from their own reactions — but it requires 2.3 seconds just to work the bolt on a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. To escape this dilemma, the Commission produced the magical bullet, Exhibit 399, which I referred to earlier. Apart from the pristine condition of 399, the whole-time sequence was the weakest link in the Commission’s shaky chain of evidence, and CBS seems to have taken it upon its shoulders to resolve the problem by inventing a new time sequence. What they did was to have a photo analyst, Charles Wyckoff, examine the Zapruder film and find that certain frames were blurred. Wyckoff arbitrarily decided that these blurs were caused by Zapruder’s physical reaction to the sound of shots ringing out — although by the same logic, Zapruder could just have sneezed. Now, the Warren Commission had concluded that Kennedy would not have been visible to Oswald until Frame 210 of the Zapruder film; until then, he was obscured by an oak tree — and was first hit in Frame 222 or 223. But Wyckoff detected a blur in the vicinity of Frame 186; and on the basis of this, CBS speculated that Zapruder heard a shot at Frame 186 — the first shot in CBS’ revised time schedule — which Oswald allegedly fired at Kennedy through the branches of the oak tree. CBS even speculated that the bullet lodged in the trunk of the oak tree and sent a team of men with metal detectors scurrying up it, but to no avail; the commentator explained that maybe someday more sophisticated detection devices would be developed and the bullet would be found. Sure. This scenario, of course, gave Oswald several extra seconds in which to take careful aim and fire his subsequent shots — and thus let the Commission off the hook. The only trouble here is that the people who conducted the CBS study — like most defenders of the Warren Report — didn’t do all of their homework. They forgot, or chose to ignore, that by the Commission’s own admission, the bullet that missed Kennedy — the second bullet in the Commission’s sequence — hit the curb on Main Street near the railroad underpass 100 yards ahead of the limousine, shattering into fragments and causing superficial wounds on the face of a bystander, James Tague. But the trajectory of any bullet fired from the sixth floor of the Depository through the branches of the oak tree is such that it could not conceivably hit within a city block of the underpass. So please excuse me if I’m not overwhelmed by the ineluctable logic of CBS’ presentation. And just let me add a footnote here: CBS made a great deal out of its assumption that the blurs on Zapruder’s film indicated a reflexive reaction to shots ringing out. But they never asked Zapruder about his statement to Secret Service agents after the assassination about the origin of the shots; along with the majority of the witnesses to the assassination, he said the shots came from the grassy knoll, on which he was standing — from behind the stone wall, which was only a few dozen feet from him, in the opposite direction from the Depository. Like the Warren Commission, CBS was scrupulously selective in its choice of evidence. Its broadcast wasn’t a hatchet job like the NBC show, but it was equally misleading and, however unintentionally, dishonest. I’m not imputing sinister motives to CBS; it appears that its greatest handicap was its own ignorance of the assassination.
PLAYBOY: To return to your own investigation of the assassination: Have you discovered the identity of any of the conspirators you say were involved in the actual shooting?
GARRISON: I don’t want to sound coy or evasive, but I’m afraid I can’t comment on that. All I can say is that this is an ongoing case and there will be more arrests.
PLAYBOY: Let’s move on to the events that followed the assassination. What reason do you have for believing that Oswald didn’t shoot Officer Tippit?
GARRISON: As I said earlier, the evidence we’ve uncovered leads us to suspect that two men, neither of whom was Oswald, were the real murderers of Tippit; we believe we have one of them identified. The critics of the Warren Report have pointed out that a number of the witnesses could not identify Oswald as the slayer, that several said the murderer was short and squat — Oswald was thin and medium height — and another said that two men were involved. The Warren Commission’s own chronology of Oswald’s movements also fails to allow him sufficient time to reach the scene of Tippit’s murder from the Book Depository Building. The clincher, as far as I’m concerned, is that four cartridges were found at the scene of the slaying. Now, revolvers do not eject cartridges, so when someone is shot, you don’t later find gratuitous cartridges strewn over the sidewalk — unless the murderer deliberately takes the trouble to eject them. We suspect that cartridges had been previously obtained from Oswald’s .38 revolver and left at the murder site by the real killers as part of the setup to incriminate Oswald. However, somebody slipped up there. Of the four cartridges found at the scene, two were Winchesters and two were Remingtons — but of the four bullets found in Officer Tippit’s body, three were Winchesters and one was a Remington! The last time I looked, the Remington-Peters Manufacturing Company was not in the habit of slipping Winchester bullets into its cartridges, nor was the Winchester-Western Manufacturing Company putting Remington bullets into its cartridges. I don’t believe that Oswald shot anybody on November 22nd — not the President and not Tippit. If our investigation in this area proves fruitful, I hope we will be able to produce in a court of law the two men who did kill Tippit.
PLAYBOY: How do you explain the fact that the Warren Commission concluded that the bullets in Officer Tippit’s body had all been fired from “the revolver in the possession of Oswald at the time of his arrest, to the exclusion of all other weapons?”
GARRISON: The Warren Commission’s conclusion was made in spite of the evidence and not because of it. To determine if Oswald’s gun had fired the bullets, it was necessary to call in a ballistics expert who would be able to tell if the lines and grooves on the bullets had a relation to the barrel of the revolver. The Commission called as its witness FBI ballistics expert Cortlandt Cunningham, and he testified, after an examination of the bullets taken from Tippit’s body, that it was impossible to determine whether or not these bullets had been fired from Oswald’s gun. Yet, on the basis of this expert testimony, the Warren Commission concluded with a straight face that the bullets were fired not only from Oswald’s gun but “to the exclusion of all other weapons.” They simply chose to ignore the fact that revolvers don’t eject cartridges and that the cartridges left so conveniently on the street didn’t match the bullets in Tippit’s body.
PLAYBOY: You mentioned earlier that a so-called “second Oswald” had impersonated the real Lee Harvey Oswald before the assassination in an attempt to incriminate him. What proof do you have of this?
GARRISON: I hesitate to use the words “second Oswald,” because they tend to lend an additional fictional quality to a case that already makes Dr. No and Goldfinger look like auditors’ reports. However, it is true that before the assassination, a calculated effort was made to implicate Oswald in the events to come. A young man approximating Oswald’s description and using Oswald’s name — we believe we have discovered his identity — engaged in a variety of activities designed to create such a strong impression of Oswald’s instability and culpability in people’s minds that they would recall him as a suspicious character after the President was murdered. In one instance, a man went to an auto salesroom, gave his name as Lee Oswald, test-drove a car at 80 miles an hour — Oswald couldn’t drive — and, after creating an ineradicable impression on the salesman by his speeding, gratuitously remarked that he might go back to the Soviet Union and was expecting to come into a large sum of money. Parenthetically, the salesman who described this “second Oswald” was subsequently beaten almost to death by unknown assailants outside his showroom. He later fled Dallas and last year was found dead; it was officially declared a suicide. In another instance, this “second Oswald” visited a shooting range in Dallas and gave a virtuoso demonstration of marksmanship, hitting not only his own bull’s-eye but the bull’s-eyes of neighboring targets as well — thus leaving an unforgettable impression of his skill with a rifle. The real Oswald, of course, was a mediocre shot, and there is no evidence that he had fired a rifle since the day he left the Marteaues. Consequently, the fact that he couldn’t hit the side of a barn had to be offset, which accounts for the tableau at the rifle range. I could go on and on recounting similar instances, but there is no doubt that there was indeed a “second Oswald.” Now, the Warren Commission recognized that the individual involved in all these activities could not be Lee Oswald; but they never took the next step and inquired why these incidents of impersonation occurred so systematically prior to the assassination. As it turned out, of course, the organizers of the conspiracy needn’t have bothered to go to all this trouble of laying a false trail incriminating Oswald. They should have realized, since Oswald was a “self-proclaimed Marxist,” that it wasn’t necessary to produce any additional evidence to convict him in the eyes of the mass media; any other facts would simply be redundant in the face of such a convincing confession of guilt.
PLAYBOY: You’ve given your reasons for believing that Oswald, despite his leftist “cover,” was involved with the conspirators and with the CIA. Do you have any evidence indicating that he was also connected with the FBI, as some critics of the Warren Report have alleged?
GARRISON: Let me preface my answer by saying that I believe the FBI was not given the full picture of Oswald’s CIA involvement. I have nothing but respect for the Bureau and feel that if it weren’t for the FBI reports still available in the Commission exhibits, the door would have been closed forever. While the CIA has behaved like a cross between the Gestapo and the NKVD, the FBI has worked assiduously in many different areas and gathered facts that have proved of great value to those interested in uncovering the truth about the assassination. It isn’t the FBI’s fault that dozens of its reports have been classified top secret in the Archives by order of certain officials in the Department of Justice. The trouble I face today is that, after four years, not only are these documents unavailable but the trail has grown cold in many areas. Ruby is dead. Ferrie is dead. Many other witnesses with valuable information have either been murdered or fled the country.
PLAYBOY: You still haven’t answered the question: Was Oswald involved with the FBI?
GARRISON: Well, I just wanted to phrase my reply in such a manner that it wouldn’t be misconstrued as a broadside against the entire FBI. Oswald may have been a petty informer for the Bureau, receiving small sums of money in return for information about left-wing activities in the Dallas-New Orleans area. But I must stress that there is no indication of any connection between Oswald and the FBI with regard to the assassination, and that his position with the FBI was in no way analogous to his position with the CIA; the FBI retains hundreds, perhaps thousands of such informants across the country and is no more responsible for their over-all pattern of political activity than the Internal Revenue Service is responsible for the behavior of its confidential informants on tax-evasion matters. Oswald’s possible ties to the Bureau are never mentioned in the Warren Report, but a member of the Commission, Congressman Gerald Ford, revealed in his otherwise undistinguished book, Portrait of an Assassin, that the Commission was informed by Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr and Dallas D.A. Henry Wade that Oswald had been employed by the FBI as an informant since September of 1962; his salary, they revealed, was $200 a month and his FBI code number was 179. The Warren Commission acted promptly on this information from two responsible Texas officials: Chief Counsel Rankin told the members of the Commission that “We have a dirty rumor that is very bad for the Commission . . . and it is very damaging to the agencies that are involved in it and it must be wiped out insofar as it is possible to do so by the Commission.” The Commission then launched one of its typically thorough investigations: J. Edgar Hoover was asked if the alleged assassin of the President of the United States had been an employee of his; Mr. Hoover said “No”; and the Commission closed the case. If Congressman Ford hadn’t developed writer’s itch, we would never even have heard of the incident. Once again, the Commission made an unwise choice between tranquility and truth. There is also other evidence linking Oswald to the FBI — though, again, not in any conspiratorial context. A Dallas police investigative report dated February 17, 1964, describes a police interview with Mrs. Teofil Meller, a White Russian émigrée in Dallas who had befriended Oswald and Marteaua. Mrs. Meller revealed, according to the report, that “she saw the book Kapital, which was written by Karl Marx, during one of these visits at Oswald’s house and became very worried about it. Subject [Mr. Meller] said he checked with the FBI and they told him that Oswald was all right.” So here you have this “self-proclaimed Marxist,” who had defected to the Soviet Union, tried to renounce his American citizenship and was now allegedly active in pro-Castro activities, being given a clean bill of health by the FBI. It’s quite possible that this clean bill of health was originally issued by the State Department, which, in reply to an FBI request for information about Oswald’s activities in Russia — this was shortly after his “defection” — assured the Bureau that he was a solid citizen. So, I don’t see anything sinister in all of this, at least as far as the FBI is concerned. The Bureau has to obtain information on subversion and it’s going to get what it needs not from Rhodes scholars and divinity students but from apparently marginal figures like Lee Oswald with an entree into the political underworld.
PLAYBOY: If you see nothing sinister in the FBI’s relationship with Oswald, why did you subpoena FBI agents Regis Kennedy and Warren De Brueys to testify before the New Orleans Parish grand jury?
GARRISON: Regis Kennedy is one of the FBI agents who interrogated David Ferrie in November 1963, and I hoped to learn from him what information the Bureau had elicited from Ferrie. But on the instructions of our old friend Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Kennedy refused to answer the questions put to him by the grand jury on the grounds of executive privilege. Warren De Brueys is a former FBI agent based in New Orleans who also questioned Ferrie in 1963. Between 1961 and 1963, De Brueys was involved with anti-Castro exile activities in New Orleans and was seen frequently at meetings of the right-wing Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Front. I’d like to find out the exact nature of De Brueys’ relationship with Lee Oswald. As long as Oswald was in New Orleans, so was De Brueys. When Oswald moved to Dallas, De Brueys followed him. After the assassination, De Brueys returned to New Orleans. This may all be coincidence, but I find it interesting that De Brueys refuses to cooperate with our office — significant and frustrating, because I feel he could shed considerable light on Oswald’s ties to anti-Castro groups.
PLAYBOY: On March 23, 1967, you ordered the arrest of Gordon Novel as a material witness in the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy, and you have subsequently sought his extradition from Ohio. What role do you believe Novel played in the alleged conspiracy?
GARRISON: I can’t go into all aspects of Novel’s activities, because we have a live case against him. Novel worked closely with David Ferrie and the anti-Castro Cuban exiles. In 1961, he raided a munitions bunker in Houma, Louisiana, with David Ferrie and a prominent anti-Castro exile leader, and the weapons seized were subsequently shipped by CIA agents to the counterrevolutionary underground in Cuba. He also worked for the Evergreen Advertising Agency in New Orleans, a CIA front that alerted anti-Castro agents to the date of the Bay of Pigs invasion by placing coded messages in radio commercials for Christmas trees. Novel himself was a paid employee of the CIA. As I mentioned earlier, Novel’s own lawyer, Stephen Plotkin, has admitted that his client is a CIA agent. On May 23, 1967, Plotkin was quoted in the New Orleans States-Item as saying that “his client served as an intermediary between the CIA and anti-Castro Cubans in New Orleans and Miami prior to the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.” And that same day, the Associated Press, which has hardly served as my press agent in this case, reported: “When Novel first fled from New Orleans, he headed straight for McLean, Virginia, which is the Central Intelligence Agency suburb. This is not surprising, because Gordon Novel was a CIA employee in the early Sixties.” There is no doubt that Gordon Novel was a CIA operative.
PLAYBOY: If the CIA, as you charge, not only refuses to cooperate with you but has actively obstructed your investigation, how are you in a position to know about Novel’s activities on behalf of the Agency?
GARRISON: The people of Louisiana pay my investigators to investigate. But in this specific instance, we’ve benefited by sheer luck. After Novel fled the city in March, my investigators, and the city police both scoured his apartment for evidence, but Novel appeared to have covered his trail pretty effectively. I’m afraid, in this case, we weren’t as efficient as two young girls who moved into Novel’s apartment a few weeks later and, during a thorough house cleaning, found a penciled rough draft of a letter under a strip of linoleum on the kitchen-sink drainboard. One of the girls gave it to her boyfriend, a student at Tulane University, and he in turn passed it on to one of his professors, who subsequently showed the letter to Hoke May, a reporter for the New Orleans States-Item. May had the letter examined by an independent handwriting analyst, Gilbert Fortier, who compared it with other samples of Novel’s writing and determined that the draft had been written by Novel — a fact that was confirmed by Novel’s attorney, who said that “everything in the letter as far as Novel is concerned is actually the truth.” This letter makes fascinating reading. It is addressed to a Mr. Weiss, Novel’s apparent superior in the CIA. Novel tells Weiss: “I took the liberty of writing you direct and apprising you of current situation expecting you to forward this through appropriate channels. Our connection and activity of that period involved individuals presently about to be indicted as conspirators in Mr. Garrison’s investigation.” Novel goes on to warn that my probe was in danger of exposing his ties to the Double-Chek Corporation in Miami, which the book The Invisible Government exposes as a CIA front that recruited pilots and saboteurs for the Bay of Pigs and subsequent anti-Castro adventures. Novel writes in the letter: “Mr. Garrison … is unaware of Double-Chek’s involvement in this matter but has strong suspicions.” He also adds that he lied to the FBI: “I have been questioned extensively by local FBI recently as to whether or not I was involved with Double-Chek’s parent holding corporation … My reply on five queries was negative. Bureau unaware of Double-Chek association in this matter.” The letter indicates that Novel was growing edgy, because he complains: “We have temporarily avoided one subpoena not to reveal Double-Chek activities … We want out of this thing before Thursday, 3/ — /67. Our attorneys have been told to expect another subpoena to appear and testify on this matter. The Fifth Amendment and/or immunity and legal tactics will not suffice.” In case the CIA decided Novel was expendable, he seems to have taken out a kind of insurance policy: “Our attorneys and others are in possession of complete sealed files containing all information concerning this matter. In the event of our sudden departure, either accidental or otherwise, they are instructed to simultaneously release same for public scrutiny in different areas.” Novel concludes his little billet-doux by urging the CIA to take “appropriate counteraction relative to Garrison’s inquisition concerning us through military channels, vis-a-vis the DIA man.” Interesting enough, the DIA is the abbreviation for the Defense Intelligence Agency, a top-secret group set up after the Bay of Pigs to supervise the CIA and ensure increased Administration control of CIA activities — a task at which it has proved spectacularly unsuccessful.
PLAYBOY: Novel subsequently fled New Orleans and took refuge in Ohio. Why were you unable to obtain his extradition?
GARRISON: The reason we were unable to obtain Novel’s extradition from Ohio — the reason we are unable to extradite anyone connected with this case — is that there are powerful forces in Washington who find it imperative to conceal from the American public the truth about the assassination. And as a result, terrific pressure has been brought to bear on the governors of the states involved to prevent them from signing the extradition papers and returning the defendants to stand trial. I’m sorry to say that in every case, these Jell-o-spined governors have caved in and “played the game” Washington’s way. To give them the benefit of the doubt, I suppose it’s also possible that they just didn’t want to aid and abet an investigation that every official effort, overt and covert, has been made to discredit as irresponsible and unfounded. Whatever his motivation, Governor Rhodes of Ohio, to name one, has said that he would allow me to extradite Novel to stand trial on charges arising from the CIA-inspired burglary of the ammunitions bunker in Houma, Louisiana — but that I would not be allowed under the stipulations of the extradition agreement to question him about the assassination! In other words, it’s OK for me to send a man to jail on a burglary rap, but I mustn’t upset him by inquiring if he killed the President. I’m all in favor of protecting a defendant’s civil rights, but this is straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
PLAYBOY: The New Orleans States-Item of June 14, 1967, quoted Novel as saying that if he were granted immunity from the assassination investigation, he would be willing to testify on a number of points, including “international fraud, mysterious intelligence activities from November 1959 to date in the Southern quadrant of the U.S.A. and certain islands off Florida, seditious treason, hot war games and cold munitions transfers, ten 1950-model Canadian surplus Vampire jet supporter fighter aircraft and certain Cuban-Anglo-French sabotage affairs of early 1961.” Why did you reject his offer?
GARRISON: These are all intriguing aspects of Novel’s career as a U.S. intelligence agent, and I’d love to hear about them — especially his knowledge of seditious treason — but that isn’t the subject of my investigation.
PLAYBOY: Let’s move on from Gordon Novel to Jack Ruby, who you claim murdered Oswald to “silence” him. Do you have any evidence that Ruby and Oswald knew each other?
GARRISON: Though Ruby and the Warren Report denied it vehemently, there is simply no question about it. We didn’t even have to do a great deal of investigative digging; connections popped up everywhere we scratched the surface.
PLAYBOY: What evidence do you have to support your charge that Ruby was involved in anti-Castro exile activities with Oswald and Ferrie?
GARRISON: We have evidence linking Ruby not only to anti-Castro exile activities but, as with almost everyone else involved in this case, to the CIA itself. Never forget that the CIA maintains a great variety of curious alliances it feels serve its purposes. It may be hard to imagine Ruby in a trench coat, but he seems to have been as good an employee of the CIA as he was a pimp for the Dallas cops. Just let me add parenthetically that I stress the word “employee” here as opposed to “agent.” The CIA employs many people in many different capacities, sometimes just on a retainer basis, and these individuals do not fall under the over-all authority of the CIA. I have solid evidence indicating that Ruby, Ferrie, Oswald and others involved in this case were all paid by the CIA to perform certain functions: Ruby to smuggle arms for Cuban exile groups, Ferrie to train them and to fly counterrevolutionary secret missions to Cuba, and Oswald to establish himself so convincingly as a Marxist that he would win the trust of American left-wing groups and also have freedom to travel as a spy in Communist countries, particularly Cuba. But I have reason to believe that none of them was a salaried agent operating under a direct chain of command. In this particular case — though as with the others involved, it seems to have been unrelated to his CIA work — Ruby was up to his neck with the plotters. Our investigators have broken a code Oswald used and found Ruby’s private unlisted telephone number, as of 1963, written in Oswald’s notebook. The same coded number was found in the address book of another prominent figure in this case. We have further evidence linking Ruby to the conspiracy, but it involves testimony to be given in court in the future, so I can’t reveal it here. On the broader point of Ruby’s involvement with anti-Castro exile activity, there can be no doubt whatsoever. Let me refer you here to the testimony of Nancy Perrin Rich before the Warren Commission. This lady arrived in Dallas in 1961 with her husband, Robert Perrin, a gun runner and one time narcotics smuggler and, through police intervention, secured a job as a bartender at Ruby’s Carousel Club. She quit soon after and didn’t see Ruby again until one night when she and her husband, as she tells it, attended a conference of anti-Castro exiles presided over by a lieutenant colonel — an Army colonel, she thought. She testified that Robert Perrin was offered $10,000 if he would run guns to the underground in Cuba, and she haggled the sum up to $25,000. When Perrin demanded a cash retainer, a phone call was made and, shortly after, Mrs. Rich recounts, “I had the shock of my life … A knock comes on the door and who walks in but my little friend Jack Ruby … You could have knocked me over with a feather … and everybody looks like … here comes the Savior.” Ruby was the CIA bag man — or paymaster — for the operation, and he left immediately after handling over a large sum in cash to the colonel. Mrs. Rich and her husband subsequently bowed out of the gun-smuggling deal, because, in her words, “I smelled an element that I did not want to have any part of.” Afraid of retaliation, she and Perrin fled from Dallas and hid out in several different cities, winding up finally in New Orleans. A year later, he was found dead of arsenic poisoning. Though it would be difficult to pick a slower and more excruciating way to kill yourself, it was officially declared a suicide. There are too many other instances of Ruby’s anti-Castro activity to go into here. Ruby appears to have been the CIA’s bag man for a wide variety of anti-Castro adventures. In this connection, let me point out that one of the documents classified top secret in the Archives is a CIA file entitled “The Activities of Jack Ruby.” Perhaps this will become a Book-of-the-Month Club selection in September 2038.
PLAYBOY: Even if Ruby was associated with certain Cuban exile groups, as you claim, couldn’t all of this be totally unrelated to the assassination?
GARRISON: It could be, but it isn’t. As a result of our investigation, I can say, with the same certitude that I can say the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning, that Jack Ruby was involved in the conspiracy to kill John Kennedy. Much of the evidence we’ve uncovered about Ruby’s involvement relates to our court case against Clay Shaw, so the canon of legal ethics prevents me from broadcasting it before trial. But I will give you one bit of evidence, recently uncovered by our office, that links Ruby to the conspiracy. Four days before the assassination, on November 18th, 1963, a young woman from Dallas named Rose Cheramie was thrown from a moving car on a highway outside Eunice, Louisiana. She was badly bruised and taken to the East Louisiana Hospital in Jackson, Louisiana. When she came out of sedation, on November 19th, she was distraught and sobbed that she had been thrown out of the car by associates of a man named Jack Ruby in Dallas. She claimed to have been sent by Ruby from Dallas to Miami to pick up a shipment of narcotics. When asked by a hospital attendant — who fortunately took notes of her remarks in case the police had to be called in — why she had been hurled from the car, she replied that narcotics smuggling was one thing, but she drew the line at murder. The president, she said, was going to be killed in Dallas within a few days. At this point, sadly enough, the hospital authorities seemed to dismiss her as hysterical and lost interest in her story, although she repeated it in detail the next day. After the assassination, of course, people in the hospital became interested once more, but she had already checked out, leaving no forwarding address other than Dallas, Texas. There the story stood until a few months ago, when we began searching for Miss Cheramie, but it was too late. After the assassination, she was killed by a hit-and-run driver on a highway outside Dallas.
PLAYBOY: If Jack Ruby was really the sinister and cunning figure you paint him, why would he kill Oswald in the Dallas city jail, where his own apprehension and conviction for murder were inevitable? Wasn’t this more logically the act of a temporarily deranged man?
GARRISON: First of all, let me dispose of this concept of the “temporarily deranged man.” This is a catchall term, employed whenever the real motive of a crime can’t be nailed down. In the overwhelming majority of instances, the actions of human beings are the direct consequences of discernible motives. This is the fatal flaw of the Warren Report — its conclusion that the assassination of President Kennedy was the act of a temporarily deranged man, that the murder of Officer Tippit was equally meaningless and, finally, that Jack Ruby’s murder of Oswald was another act of a temporarily deranged individual. It is, of course, wildly improbable that all three acts were coincidentally the aberrant acts of temporarily deranged men — although it’s most convenient to view them as such, because that judgment obviates the necessity of relentlessly investigating the possibility of a conspiracy. In Jack Ruby’s case, his murder of Lee Oswald was the sanest act he ever committed; if Oswald had lived another day or so, he very probably would have named names, and Jack Ruby would have been convicted as a conspirator in the assassination plot. As it was, Ruby made the best of a bad situation by rubbing out Oswald in the Dallas city jail, since this act could be construed as an argument that he was “temporarily deranged.” But I differ with the assumption of your question, because, while there could have [been] no doubt in Ruby’s mind that he would be arrested, he could very well have entertained hopes of escaping conviction. You’ve got to remember the atmosphere in Dallas and across the country at that time; when word was flashed to the crowd outside the jail that Oswald had been shot, they burst into wild applause. Ruby’s lawyer, Tom Howard, spoke for a sizable segment of public opinion when he said, “I think Ruby deserves a Congressional Medal,” and the largest-circulation newspaper in the country, the New York Daily News, editorialized after Oswald’s death that “the only good murderer is a dead murderer and the only good Communist a dead Communist.” In the two days between his arrest and his liquidation, Oswald had been convicted by the mass media as the President’s assassin and as a Communist, and Ruby may well have felt that he would be acquitted for murdering such a universally despised figure. It turned out, of course, that he was wrong, and he became a prisoner of the Dallas police, forced over a year later to beg Earl Warren to take him back to Washington, because he wanted to tell the truth about “why my act was committed, but it can’t be said here … my life is in danger here.” But Ruby never got to Washington, and he’s joined the long list of witnesses with vital information who have shuffled off this mortal coil.
PLAYBOY: Penn Jones, Norman Mailer and others have charged that Ruby was injected with live cancer cells in order to silence him. Do you agree?
GARRISON: I can’t agree or disagree, since I have no evidence one way or the other. But we have discovered that David Ferrie had a rather curious hobby in addition to his study of cartridge trajectories: cancer research. He filled his apartment with white mice — at one point he had almost 2000, and neighbors complained — wrote a medical treatise on the subject and worked with a number of New Orleans doctors on means of inducing cancer in mice. After the assassination, one of these physicians, Dr. Mary Sherman, was found hacked to death with a kitchen knife in her New Orleans apartment. Her murder is listed as unsolved. Ferrie’s experiments may have been purely theoretical and Dr. Sherman’s death completely unrelated to her association with Ferrie; but I do find it interesting that Jack Ruby died of cancer a few weeks after his conviction for murder had been overruled in appeals court and he was ordered to stand trial outside of Dallas — thus allowing him to speak freely if he so desired. I would also note that there was little hesitancy in killing Lee Harvey Oswald in order to prevent him from talking, so there is no reason to suspect that any more consideration would have been shown Jack Ruby if he had posed a threat to the architects of the conspiracy.
PLAYBOY: You’ve claimed that many of the people involved in the conspiracy were “neo-Nazi” in their political orientation. What would motivate Ruby, a Jew, to work with such people?
GARRISON: Money. As far as my office has been able to determine, Jack Ruby had no strong political views of his own. Historically, of course, there have been a number of self-hating Jews who abetted their own tormentors: Adolf Hitler’s mentor in Vienna, Karl Lueger, was born a Jew, and I understand that one of the leading pro-Nazis in New York City, a retired millionaire who finances anti-Jewish activity across the country, is the son of a rabbi. But I don’t believe Jack Ruby falls into this category; he was just a hoodlum out for a buck. I will say — with the understanding that it’s pure speculation — it’s not impossible that Jack Ruby developed certain guilt feelings in prison over his role in the plot. Remember his repeated lament, “Now there will be pogroms. They will kill all the Jews.”? Most people assumed this was just the fantasy of a crumbling mind. But maybe Jack Ruby knew better than the rest of us what the master-racist authors of the assassination had in mind for the country.
PLAYBOY: Let’s move on from Jack Ruby to David Ferrie. Wesley Liebeler, the Warren Commission counsel who handled the New Orleans end of the inquiry, said Ferrie “was picked up shortly after the assassination and questioned by local officials of the FBI. I remember specifically doing up a substantial stack of FBI reports on Ferrie that we reviewed in order to make our determination.” He states that the FBI reports on Ferrie were not included in the Commission’s 26 volumes of evidence, “because it was so clear he wasn’t involved.” Why do you refuse to accept this explanation?
GARRISON: I think it’s a lovely explanation. Now perhaps Mr. Liebeler will intercede with the Department of Justice to release 25 pages of the FBI report on Ferrie that have been classified top secret in the Archives. Then we’ll all have a chance to see for ourselves how clear it is that Ferrie wasn’t involved. Every scrap of evidence we’ve uncovered — and it hasn’t been difficult to find — reveals not only the fact of his involvement but the reasons for it. His politics were ultra-right wing, as I indicated earlier, but we’ve been able to determine conclusively that his motivation was closer to that of the Cuban exiles on the “operative” level — a burning hatred of Fidel Castro. When Castro was a guerrilla in the Sierra Maestra, Ferrie is reliably reported to have piloted guns for him. But in 1959, when Castro started to show his Marxist colors, Ferrie appears to have felt betrayed and reacted against Castro with all the bitterness of a suitor jilted by his girl. From that moment on, he dedicated himself to Castro’s overthrow and began working with exile groups such as the Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Front and planning airborne missions against Castro’s military installations. He was reported to have been paid up to $1500 a mission by an ex-Batista official named Eladio del Valle. But I haven’t been able to check out Del Valle’s involvement with Ferrie, because on February 22, 1967, the same day Ferrie died in New Orleans, Del Valle’s head was split open by a hatchet and he was shot through the heart in Miami. His murder is listed as unsolved by the Miami police. In any case, Ferrie was recruited by the CIA, which employed hundreds of such people in their network of anti-Castro exile activities. From the Bay of Pigs on, he hated Kennedy as much as he did Castro; he felt that J.F.K. had betrayed the invasion brigade by not sending in air cover. As the events I described earlier led to a détente between Russia and America, and as the FBI — under Kennedy’s orders — started cracking down on the CIA-supported anti-Castro underground, Ferrie’s hatred for Kennedy grew more and more obsessive. Let me add here that this isn’t just speculation on my part; we have a number of reliable witnesses who were privy to Ferrie’s thoughts at this period and saw his hatred of Kennedy develop into a driving force. After the assassination, as a matter of fact, something psychologically curious happened to Ferrie: He dropped out of anti-Castro exile activities, left the pay of the CIA and drifted aimlessly while his emotional problems increased to the point where he was totally dependent on huge doses of tranquilizers and barbiturates. I don’t know if Ferrie ever experienced any guilt about the assassination itself; but in his last months, he was a tortured man.
PLAYBOY: After Ferrie’s death, you called it “an apparent suicide,” but the coroner announced that the autopsy showed death was due to a ruptured blood vessel at the base of the brain, which caused a fatal hemorrhage. Have you subsequently resolved the discrepancy in your points of view?
GARRISON: Dr. Nicholas Chetta is an excellent coroner, and inasmuch as he found a total absence of traceable poisons or barbiturates in Ferrie’s system, I would respect his opinion that it was a natural death. On the other hand, I can’t help but lend a certain weight to two suicide notes Ferrie left in his apartment, one of which said how sweet it was to finally leave this wretched life. I suppose it could just be a weird coincidence that the night Ferrie penned two suicide notes, he died of natural causes.
PLAYBOY: Your critics have charged that your relentless investigation of Ferrie and the publicity the press gave to your charges against him induced the state of hypertension that was said to have caused his fatal hemorrhage. Do you feel in any way responsible for Ferrie’s death?
GARRISON: I had nothing but pity for Dave Ferrie while he was alive, and I have nothing but pity for him now that he’s dead. Ferrie was a pathetic and tortured creature, a genuinely brilliant man whose twisted drives locked him into his own private hell. If I had been able to help Ferrie, I would have; but he was in too deep and he was terrified. From the moment he realized we had looked behind the facade and established that Lee Oswald was anything but a Communist, from the moment he knew we had discovered the role of the CIA and anti-Castro adventurers in the assassination, Ferrie began to crumble psychologically. So, to answer your question directly — yes, I suppose I may have been responsible for Ferrie’s death. If I had left this case alone, if I had allowed Kennedy’s murderers to continue to walk the streets of America unimpeded, Dave Ferrie would probably be alive today. I don’t feel personally guilty about Ferrie’s death, but I do feel terribly sorry for the waste of another human being. In a deeper sense, though, Dave Ferrie died on November 22, 1963. From that moment on, he couldn’t save himself, and I couldn’t save him. Ferrie could have quoted as his epitaph the last words of the Serb partisan leader Draja Mikhailovitch before Tito shot him for collaboration: “I was swept up in the gales of history.”
PLAYBOY: Many of the professional critics of the Warren Commission appear to be prompted by political motives: Those on the left are anxious to prove Kennedy was murdered by a conspiracy within the establishment; and those on the right are eager to prove the assassination was an act of “the international Communist conspiracy.” Where would you place yourself on the political spectrum — right, left of center?
GARRISON: That’s a question I’ve asked myself frequently, especially since this investigation started and I found myself in an incongruous and disillusioning battle with agencies of my own Government. I can’t just sit down and add up my political beliefs like a mathematical sum, but I think, in balance, I’d turn up somewhere around the middle. Over the years, I guess I’ve developed a somewhat conservative attitude — in the traditional libertarian sense of conservatism, as opposed to the thumbscrew-and-rack conservatism of the paramilitary right — particularly in regard to the importance of the individual as opposed to the state and the individual’s own responsibilities to humanity. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to formulate this into a coherent political philosophy, but at the root of my concern is the conviction that a human being is not a digit; he’s not a digit in regard to the state and he’s not a digit in the sense that he can ignore his fellow men and his obligations to society. I was with the artillery supporting the division that took Dachau; I arrived there the day after it was taken, when bulldozers were making pyramids of human bodies outside the camp. What I saw there has haunted me ever since. Because the law is my profession, I’ve always wondered about the judges throughout Germany who sentenced men to jail for picking pockets at a time when their own government was jerking gold from the teeth of men murdered in gas chambers. I’m concerned about all of this because it isn’t a German phenomenon; it’s a human phenomenon. It can happen here, because there has been no change and there has been no progress and there has been no increase of understanding on the part of men for their fellow man. What worries me deeply, and I have seen it exemplified in this case, is that we in America are in great danger of slowly evolving into a proto-fascist state. It will be a different kind of fascist state from the one of the Germans evolved; theirs grew out of depression and promised bread and work, while ours, curiously enough, seems to be emerging from prosperity. But in the final analysis, it’s based on power and on the inability to put human goals and human conscience above the dictates of the state. Its origins can be traced in the tremendous war machine we’ve built since 1945, the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower vainly warned us about, which now dominates every aspect of our life. The power of the states and Congress has gradually been abandoned to the Executive Department, because of war conditions; and we’ve seen the creation of an arrogant, swollen bureaucratic complex totally unfettered by the checks and balances of the Constitution. In a very real and terrifying sense, our government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with Congress reduced to a debating society. Of course, you can’t spot this trend to fascism by casually looking around. You can’t look for such familiar signs as the swastika because they won’t be there. We won’t build Dachaus and Auschwitzes; the clever manipulation of the mass media is creating a concentration camp of the mind that promises to be far more effective in keeping the populace in line. We’re not going to wake up one morning and suddenly find ourselves in gray uniforms goose-stepping off to work. But this isn’t the test. The test is: What happens to the individual who dissents? In Nazi Germany, he was physically destroyed; here, the process is more subtle, but the end results can be the same. I’ve learned enough about the machinations of the CIA in the past year to know that this is no longer the dreamworld America I once believed in. The imperatives of the population explosion, which almost inevitably will lessen our belief in the sanctity of the individual human life, combined with the awesome power of the CIA and the defense establishment, seem destined to seal the fate of the America I knew as a child and bring us into a new Orwellian world where the citizen exists for the state and where raw power justifies any and every immoral act. I’ve always had a kind of knee-jerk trust in my government’s basic integrity, whatever political blunders it may make. But I’ve come to realize that in Washington, deceiving and manipulating the public are viewed by some as the natural prerogatives of office. Huey Long once said, “Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism.” I’m afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security.
PLAYBOY: Considering all the criticism that has come your way, would you still launch your investigation into the assassination if you had it to do over again?
GARRISON: As long as the men who shot John Kennedy to death in Dallas are walking the streets of America, I will continue this investigation. I have no regrets about initiating it and I have no regrets about carrying it on to its conclusion. If it takes me 30 years to nail every one of the assassins, then I will continue this investigation for 30 years. I owe that not only to Jack Kennedy but to my country.