Historian plows through new research
March 23, 2008
BY ROMAN MODROWSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
There have been so many analyses, fantasies and theories devoted to
the assassination of John F. Kennedy that anything purporting itself
as a fresh perspective runs the risk of suffocation. Anything less
than a smoking gun -- or two -- will cause many casual readers to
shrug with the frustration that they've heard it all before.
The Road to Dallas (Belknap Press, 536 pages, $35), written by David
Kaiser, tries to preempt that shrug by billing itself as the first
book written on the subject by a professional historian who has pored
over the volumes of recently declassified information.
Kaiser, a history professor at the Naval War College, not only
reports on what he has researched, but at times he takes an active
role in contacting pertinent subjects in the declassified material.
The result is a thorough recounting of facts interspersed with
interpretations and opinions that carry the weight of someone who
knows how to analyze history. The Road to Dallas is laboriously
comprehensive at times and shockingly illuminating at others. It may
not prove the conspiracy it suggests -- that while Lee Harvey Oswald
was the lone gunman he wasn't alone in planning the assassination --
but it provides unusual substance to its argument because of the
nature of the material and the background of the author.
Kaiser isn't the first to suggest JFK was assassinated by a
conspiracy of anti-Castro Cubans upset at Kennedy's failure to
eliminate Fidel Castro and a Mafia enraged by the obsession of JFK's
attorney general, his brother Robert Kennedy, to attack organized
crime. But Kaiser may be the first to reach the depth of reporting
the facts that support this theory.
The book is full of anecdotes that will make many wonder why these
facts weren't reported before, or at least reported on a more
mainstream level. It opens with three men visiting a Cuban woman --
Silvia Odio -- in Dallas in early October 1963. Odio testified that
one of the men was Oswald, while the other two were believed to be
American anti-Castro mercenaries Loran Hall and Lawrence Howard. Hall
had spent time in a Cuban prison with Florida mob boss Santo
Trafficante Jr., who owned several Havana casinos before Castro's
rise to power. During their time in prison, Trafficante was visited
by Jack Ruby.
The intermingling of key players in Kaiser's conspiracy theory,
including Jimmy Hoffa and his alliance with the mob, allows him to
connect the dots to effectively argue that Oswald did not act alone.
It was amazing to learn about the vast number of assassination plots
and attempts against Castro that were conceived, encouraged or at
least winked at by the U.S. government. Some of them were comical,
such as a plan to employ exploding seashells and a poisoned diving
suit. The incompetence of the endeavors was nearly as acute as the audacity.
Lyndon Johnson, as well as others, assumed Castro played a role in
The U.S. government's willingness to employ mob help to get rid of
Castro while at the same time Robert Kennedy was trying to crack down
on organized crime reflected the firewalls that existed between
government agencies before 9/11.
Kaiser uncovered several quotes by people such as Hoffa calling for
John Kennedy to be assassinated. Hoffa's mob associates relied on the
money stolen from Hoffa's Teamsters Union, so many powerful and
dangerous people suffered by RFK's personal quest to bring down
Hoffa. The Kennedy administration was an enemy to many.
It would be hard to imagine anyone but Kennedy assassination scholars
and historians not learning something new in Kaiser's book. For fans
of Oliver Stone's movie "JFK" (1991) and JFK assassination junkies,
the book is the latest -- and perhaps best -- view of the historic event.
Roman Modrowski is an assistant sports editor for the Sun-Times.