Reading and All-Knowing Space Gods

Right now one of the several books that I am reading is L. Fletcher Prouty’s JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.  Prouty was the basis for Mr. X, played by Donald Sutherland, in the Oliver Stone film JFK.  Prouty is a controversial figure, as one can imagine, given the fact that he believed in a conspiracy in the JFK assassination, amongst other things.  If you look him up on the internet you will see him praised as a hero and called a sham.  I think there are very interesting ideas in this book that are very credible, especially regarding our reasons for getting involved in Vietnam.  I also feel there are times he makes bold claims which he does not back up.  He often talks about a High Cabal of money men that are making decisions for the country, but he never backs up this claim in any substantive way.  I haven’t even gotten to the JFK stuff yet.  

The reason that I bring up this book is that I believe that when we are reading, that we always read with a hyper critical eye.  I think reading in general is positive.  I think you should purposely read things from a wide variety of perspectives.  I think Ayn Rand is batshit crazy, but I still read The Fountainhead.  Even in a book so full of asinine theories, there were small moments of truth.  All humans, no matter how flawed, are still possible of revelations.  Also, even the best writers have biases and blind spots.  Even if you are reading for escapism, you should occasionally reflect about what the author’s aims are and if they hold water or not. 

However, life is short, and you do not want to spend too much time out in la la land.  You cannot possibly read every book.  You need to pick and choose your battles.  Occasionally though, you should venture out into strange territory and try out some new ideas to make sure that life is never too safe.  Just make sure you are thinking when you do so.   

The only exception is when you are reading this blog.  I have clearly descended from some all-knowing space god. My aim is true.  

The Smoke and Mirrors of History

Last night I couldn’t sleep and was reading L. Fletcher Prouty’s book JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.  Prouty was the basis for Mr. X in the movie JFK.  I got it several months ago because it was cheap and I heard Oliver Stone recommend it.  In fact he wrote the forward to the book.  I love Oliver Stone films and really enjoyed his book The Untold History of the United States.  What I have seen of the documentary series is pretty great too.  The thing that is really great about Oliver Stone, even if you don’t buy what he is selling, is that he at least asks questions that other people don’t.  Asking questions is the first step to thinking about things.  We need to be careful not to get lost down in a labyrinth, but it is always good to question and challenge things.   

The truth about this book I was reading last night is I don’t know how to read it.  I don’t know if I should read it as fiction, fact, or something in between.  I imagine it is somewhere in between.  But telling what is what is almost impossible. 

I was a history major at West VirginiaUniversity.  I transferred near the end of my college years to PennState and got an American Studies degree.  I know how history can shift depending on the author that you read.  Even a seemingly straightforward history book has it’s own biases and blind spots.  When you are reading about something controversial, like the Kennedy Assassination, there are an incredible amount of smoke and mirrors.  Who is writing the book and why?  What are their political and economic motives?  However, these are really questions you should ask yourself when reading any history book.  If you read something that seems like a revelation you should always cross reference it with multiple sources. 

While I was in Japan I read two books on Custer.  One of them, the least substantial of the two, was Larry McMurtry’s book on Custer.  He wrote a short form biography and I don’t even think he would rate his book as one of the substantial books on Custer.  It’s more of a light read to get you thinking and get you interested.  However, in the book McMurty, who is an avid reader and book collector, says that there are four excellent biographies of Custer and his Last Stand.  He claims that if you read all four you have a really good idea of what happened that day.  One of them that I read was Nathaniel Philbrick’s Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn

I think as a challenge to myself I want to read the other three books.  Not because I am any more interested in Custer than I am in many other historical events, although I do find it to be an interesting story.  But I think the event is small enough that by reading several books, if McMurty is correct, one can get a good multi-angle view of what happened that day.  It would be much harder to do that for a big event along the lines of World War II.  Although I have read a lot of history books, I can’t say that I’ve read more than one or two on any subject except for big events like World War II which you can probably never really grasp completely, unless you spend your whole life studying it.  Even then there are just too many stories and viewpoints.  But while it may sound incredibly boring to you, it seems like something fun for me to try to get a well rounded view of a historical event.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that in recent days.  The squalor of the mind…

The Kennedy Assassination

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination.  I have read enough history to know that conspiracies led by powerful people to do unscrupulous things are a real part of the human experience.  However, much like the Tea Party base, that has a right to be angry, but misdirects its anger at the wrong things, I often feel like conspiracy theorists believe in things that aren’t real, while spending less time on things that have been duly noted in the history books.  I am someone that believes in human fallibility.  The larger the conspiracy the less chance I believe it has of being real, because I don’t believe you could get a large group of people to keep quiet if something was a success.  It is well documented knowledge that the CIA used LSD on people.  We know about Presidents have used distorted information to lead this country to war as in the Gulf of Tonkin incident.  Even the “black sites” created in the war on terror didn’t last long before the general public became aware of them.  The list could go on and on.  So while again conspiracies by governments and people of power to do unscrupulous things behind our backs is a very real part of history, keeping them quiet for a long time is not something that appears to be done very well. 

However, the Kennedy assassination is the one large conspiracy where there just seems to be too many weird coincidences and troubling facts.  How do you explain Jack Ruby?  How do you explain Oswald shooting so quickly and accurately with such a cheap rifle?  We now know that even Robert Kennedy was suspect of the Warren Commission Report.  There are many facts about the assassination that sow the seeds of doubt in my mind. 

I have only read about the Kennedy assassination with mild curiosity.  I am no expert.  There are plenty of books and websites which you can turn to that give facts supporting both sides of the argument.  You should make up your own mind.  I go back and forth on the issue myself.  However, I don’t think people that believe that Oswald was not the lone shooter are crazy.  Although it may be an event of highly unlikely coincidences coming together, as nothing is impossible, I think there are enough reasons to at least be suspicious of the official story.