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Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

by David Talbot

Any reader who thinks the passage of time has ended efforts to solve the dark mysteries of the Kennedy murders is mistaken. Maybe most people who still think about that awful time have formed conclusions they are comfortable with about whether each murder was committed by a single deranged assassin or whether there was a conspiracy. But the flaws in the lone-gunman theory and other aspects of the conventional wisdom ensure that assassination researchers will continue to unearth new details and formulate more nuanced explanations.

The latest serious contribution to this eternal issue comes from David Talbot, whose Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years offers a coherent thesis, a review of existing evidence, and many new and fascinating details, mostly gleaned by Talbot from interviews with principals still alive. The result is a compelling exposition of why and how JFK and RFK were killed and by whom.

Talbot, the founder of Salon.com, asserts that JFK had determined to break with the "Cold War lobby" of CIA and military hardliners, Mafia dons, and right-wing ideologues, viewed not as a taut organization but as a loose and disparate group of powerful people whose interests sometimes coincided in common cause. A perennial cause was the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and Cuba.

Talbot argues that the CIA knew its plan to overthrow Castro with the Bay of Pigs invasion could not succeed, but gambled that JFK would have no choice but to back it up with decisive American military power to avoid leaving the Cubans stranded on the beach. When JFK rejected air cover and other reinforcements that the planners unrealistically believed would have insured victory, the invaders were rounded up and humiliated. The CIA, Miami Cubans, and others never forgave him.

It's impossible to read Talbot's review of the Bay of Pigs fiasco without drawing searing parallels to Iraq, and Talbot does so without belaboring the issue. Both were based on false assumptions by some of the planners that the operation would be easy, with invaders greeted as liberators, and plans for follow-up were woefully inadequate. Talbot notes that a common factor in preventing a better understanding of American tragedies such as the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, and now Iraq—as well as the Kennedy assassinations—has been the performance of the media. Talbot comments, "the American media's coverage of the Kennedy assassination will certainly go down in history as one of its most shameful performances, along with its tragically supine acceptance of the government's fraudulent case for the wars in Vietnam and Iraq."

Talbot reports that JFK planned to tell his audience at the Dallas Trade Mart on November 22, 1963, that "Americans must stop listening to the voices of 'nonsense' that blared 'peace is a sign of weakness.' The most effective way to demonstrate America's strength was not to brandish our awesome weapons and threaten our enemies . . . but to pursue peace instead of 'aggressive ambitions.' "

Using an impressive array of relevant details, Talbot alleges that Mafia big shots, CIA operatives working in Miami, and Cold War hardliners concluded that JFK's peace ideas were a threat to the national security apparatus—and that these disparate groups could have colluded in the assassination. Talbot introduces fresh material to buttress his case and add weight to old theories. For example, Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense, said in an interview, "If (JFK) had lived, the world would have been different. . . . Whether we would have had détente sooner, I'm not sure. But it would have been a less dangerous world."

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