THE END OF CAMELOT – August 2013

Killing Kennedy:  The End of Camelot

by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

Reviewed by Rima Walker

Nearly 50 years ago, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated.  Yet like the assassination of Abraham Lincoln so many years in the past, no one can lay Kennedy’s story to rest.  Fiction and nonfiction books abound, and there are still arguments over who killed him, whether it was a lone assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald; or a conspiracy by groups or individuals who used  Oswald to end Kennedy’s life.  O’Reilly had it easier in his book, Killing Lincoln  because, although only one man actually fired the lethal gun, it didn’t take long to find the conspirators and bring them to justice.

Although this book is purported to be nonfiction, I sometimes wondered where in his research O’Reilly got his information–particularly when his leading characters, and there were many, said certain things or had certain attitudes. His scenario for Oswald’s desire to see Kennedy dead, for example, made me wonder if O’Reilly has some form of ESP.  And then there is LBJ.  Some time is spent in this book about the poor relationship with him, his waning prominence in Texas, and his keen ambition to be president; and thus he enters the conspiracy camp with three good motives to see JFK dead.

Not far into the book, O’Reilly delves into the morass of Kennedy’s womanizing, something that is no secret  and doesn’t  warrant  the amount of time he spends on it. Ditto the same for Martin Luther King, Jr.  I did wonder if the rest of the book was going to be as sensationalized.  It wasn’t, particularly in the matter of the death of Patrick, Jack and Jackie’s baby son, a moving and sensitive scene. Though I am not a fan of O’Reilly, I read as much about Kennedy and the assassination as I can and learn new things from each one, especially if the books are nonfiction like Seymour Hersch’s The Dark Side of Camelot. 

O’Reilly also does justice to Kennedy’s heroism when he recounts the story of PT-109 and to Kennedy’s ineptness when he talks of the Bay of Pigs, both of which I had heard of, naturally, but neither of which I learned  about in any detail, unlike my knowledge of the Cuban missile crisis.  But to me the most fascinating parts of the book had to do with his relationships with those around him, both political and personal—Jackie in particular but also LBJ, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Dick Powers—a long time friend and adviser, his brother-in-law Peter Lawford who was a member of the famous Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra among others, Marilyn Monroe, Sam Giancana the Mafia mobster, Fidel Castro, and the Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.  Many of these people are addressed in detail, especially those O’Reilly considered capable of a conspiracy to murder him.

Included in the situations that lead up to the “destruction of Camelot” O’Reilly cites the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban missile crisis which made “a permanent enemy of Fidel Castro” and alienated the CIA.  Another was Kennedy’s severing the relationship with Sinatra and Giancama when Bobby Kennedy “zealously prosecuted organized crime”.  But mostly O’Reilly sees it in the misguided motorcade route that Kennedy and his entourage  would take in Dallas, going past the book depository in Dealey Plaza, despite the fact that Special Agent Sorrels saw all the windows on both sides of the street and said “Hell. . .we’d be sitting ducks.”  And how right he was.

The fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s death is right around the corner, and no doubt there will be many articles and books coming out about his administration and assassination.  And notice that there is a great deal going around about Abraham Lincoln as well—the two presidents are linked in the minds of so many people not only because of the abundant information, but because of the strange list of similarities between the two men.  O’Reilly mentions this as well.   But there is nothing strange about the fact that both men wanted to bring about equality with Afro-Americans and no denying that there were large groups of people very much against this.

Upstairs in our library are many non-fiction books about JFK.  But if you also favor fiction and the creative minds behind it, pick up the latest by Stephen King, 11/22/63.  Be careful—it’s heavy, being very long, so you will need some time to read it; but it is fascinating.  It’s about a time traveler who wants to go back to that fateful day and save the president who will then go on to do great things.  Two other good ones are Don DeLillo’s Libra and Charles McCarry’s Tears of Autumn. ~