Monday, March 30, 2015

Killing Kennedy

Book: Killing Kennedy
Author:Bill O'Reilly and Martin Duggard
Edition:Hardback, first edition
Read:March 30, 2015
311 pages
Rated: 3  out of 5

A brief review of key parts to JFK's life leading up to his presidency. Then accelerates through the major milestones of his last three years. The last week is particularly examined.

Also O'Reilly and Dugard examine Kennedy's relationship with Jackie, his children and Robert Kennedy.  There is an early emphasis on showing the numerous mistresses JFK had in the early part of his presidency.


The twin questions of why am I reading this book and why was this book written wandered through my mind. The first was easily answered: because it was part of an Osher book group I have been attending. (Osher is a life long learning institute housed at various learning institutes, such as UCLA or CSU, Fresno.)  The second question, I do not have any proof of, but my suspicion is that these two were on a roll after Killing Lincoln, a book I have not read, and felt there was money to be made.

The sources seemed a bit thin, or at least statements made were not directly linked to a source. Along that lines, several people have noted that the book is based almost entirely on secondary sources. So I wonder how much of that colored this book.

One thing which seems very glaring is the death of a benefactor of Lee Harvey Oswald, George de Mohrenschildt.  de Mohrenschildt committed suicide when facing questions about his role with Oswald. The thing which seemed out of place when I read the book was that O'Reilly stated he was at de Mohrenschildt's front door when this even took place. My wife did some searching and found out this was made up. Many people say that O'Reilly lied. But I am thinking along the lines of Brian Williams, that the facts get confused in ones mind and becomes reality to the person.  I can see that happening in both O'Reilly's and WIlliams' cases. You report on so many stories that when asked about it some distance from the event, things become muddled. Instead of checking on some inconsequential fact, you just go with the memory. As the story gets repeated, a reality is formed, at least in the person's mind.

But the part which bothers me was where was Duggard and others who I assume were checking the facts of the book? If something like this gets printed, what else was not checked very well? WHat kind of level of trust do I have in what is present?

O'Reilly and Duggard state they want to give us the facts, just the facts. Thus Killing Kennedy tends to be a pretty bland book on the events leading up to the Kennedy assassination.  Even with all of the adjectives used to describe Kennedy and the assassination, stripping down some of the sensationalism, I did not get anything more than just the facts.  With O'Reilly's reputation, I would have thought that there might have been at least some conjecture, or derogatory. But I did not feel like O'Reilly was unleashing his conservative leanings in the book.

The question which I was left with was, besides reading for the book group, why was I reading this book?  There is not any surprises or interesting conclusions as I grew up with this event and knew the relevant events.

Notes from the Osher book group:

Some opinions from the group included:
  • Duggard is a better writer than O'Reilly
  • Most of the factual research was Duggard's
  • Most of the sources in this book are secondary
  • Also the authors seemed to pick their sources, which may have slanted the outlook of the book
  • Recommendation was to go to the Dallas Book Repository. Also go to the JFK Library in Boston

Discussion Questions from Kay Davies
  1. In the introductory Note to Readers for Killing Kennedy, co-authors Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard announce that their narrative will “go only as far as the evidence takes us.” With that in mind, how does this work differs from other books, articles, or films you’ve previously read or viewed on JFK’s assassination?
  2. At the outset, we see John F. Kennedy being sworn in by Chief Justice Earl Warren. What distinguished Kennedy from Dwight Eisenhower, the man who immediately preceded him as president? What set them apart? What set Kennedy apart from every president that came before him? And what did JFK and Ike actually think of one another? (And how did Jackie differ from Mamie?)
  3. “Lee Harvey Oswald wants to come home,” we learn at the end of the Prologue. Why? Why was he there? Do we really know?
  4. Much is made of John F. Kennedy’s sexual liaisons and infidelities in the book. Discuss whether and how JFK’s sexual infidelities weakened or lessened him as a president. Is it fair to suppose that Kennedy would have been a better, more effective, or more successful President if he hadn’t had the sexual infidelities? How did you feel about the detail the authors included about JFK's infidelities.
  5. “Jackie assembles a team of top collectors to enhance the décor of the White House. What is your view about her focus on style and redoing the White House? If you remember seeing Jackie’s historic tour of the White House on CBS, be sure to share with others how that landmark TV special registered with you.
  6. In Chapter 5, we read that JFK has known for years that Jacqueline Kennedy is number one political asset. Why did he continue to cheat on her? Why the affair with Marilyn Monroe, and others?
  7. Discuss the bitterly acrimonious relationship had by Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Why did these men despise one another? Do you think it was more than the hunting incident they had? How did JFK feel about LBJ?
  8. Compare/contrast how John Kennedy handled the Bay of Pigs invasion (in 1961) with how he facilitated the rescue of the crew of PT-109 (in 1943).
  9. What was the “Irish Mafia”? Who were the key players in this squad, and why were they important to John Kennedy? What did they do for him?
  10. Why was JFK’s decision to stay for a few days at Bing Crosby’s residence in Palm Springs, California—rather than at Frank Sinatra’s residence—so devastating? Why did this last-minute change of venue turn out to be so hurtful, so pivotal? And how did this change come about in the first place?
  11. “The president of the United States is rolling around on the bedroom floor with his children,” we read at the beginning of Chapter 7. What did you glean from Killing Kennedy about JFK as a family man? What sort of father was he?
  12. During his typically eloquent, televised speech during the Cuban missile crisis, John F. Kennedy said: “Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right. Not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom—here in this hemisphere and, we hope, and around the world.” Did this remain a paramount “goal” for the U.S. in the years following the early 1960s? And is it still one of America’s primary aims today? Explain.
  13. “On April 10, 1963,” O’Reilly and Dugard write ominously, “Oswald decides it’s time to kill someone.” Describe what has brought him to this decision; pinpoint those events that have led up to it. 
  14.  Killing Kennedy maintains that certain Associated Press photographs significantly influenced Jack Kennedy’s ideas and feelings about both the civil rights movement and Viet Nam. Why did each image have such an impact on the president. How were Kennedy’s views on civil rights and Viet Nam influenced by RFK as well as LBJ.
  15. Were you surprised to learn that the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the March on Washington, was—at least, at the outset—an “unusually stiff ” and “flat” and “dull” piece of oratory? When and why did King’s speech turn the corner? And what did Jack and Bobby, and also Jackie, think of MLK? What were their respective opinions of King, and what were these opinions based on?
  16. Talk about the role the City of Dallas plays in this narrative. Describe what Dallas, Texas, was like—as a place, as an American town—in the early 1960s. Why did people (several different people, actually) warn JFK not to travel there? And why did he decide, nevertheless, to do so?
  17. “He doesn’t know whether he wants to be an American, a Cuban, or a Russian,” we read of Oswald in Chapter 21. “Still, he longs to be a great man. A significant man. A man whose name will not be forgotten.” In Chapter 10, along the same lines, we read of Oswald being “worse than a failure; he is anonymous.” How common is this thirst for lasting famousness—or if not for outright fame, at least for notoriety—among assassins? 
  18. After considering the ways in which Jack and Jackie Kennedy dealt with the death of their infant son, Patrick, reflect on how their marriage changed over the course of their time together in the White House. Why was JFK so jealous of Aristotle Onassis? And why, conversely, were the First Couple closer and more intimate with one another—and much closer with their two kids—in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis?
  19. Having read this book, do you believe Oswald acted alone?. Killing Kennedy presents the assassination of JFK as though Lee Harvey Oswald committed the terrible act of and by his own accord, but the book also leaves room for the possible involvement of other events, schemes, or persons. Do you agree with this assertion? or was there more involved than Oswald?
  20.  Looking again at this book’s subtitle, and also at the last few paragraphs of Chapter 27, explain the “Camelot” allusion that Jackie passed along to journalist and author Theodore White, and that the rest of the nation was all too ready to accept as fact. Was this bright and graceful “Camelot” of a White House a mythic place, or did it—if only to some degree—truly exist?
  21.  Killing Kennedy boasts a memorable cast of incredible-yet-real-life characters, a rich, diverse dramatis personae that’s as colorful and compelling as any other roster in the annals of history. Therefore, reading this book’s Afterword can be a treat. Whatever happened, for instance, to George de Mohrenschildt, Allen Dulles, and Sam Giancana? And how, respectively, might’ve each man had a hand—perhaps, perchance—in the killing of JFK?
  22.  In the Epilogue, we find a letter that JFK wrote concerning Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. What traits did Kennedy and Lincoln had in common—as presidents, leaders, thinkers, statesmen, fathers, inspirational figures, tragic heroes, and American visionaries. They are sometimes regarded, Lincoln and JFK, as two sides of the same proverbial coin. Would you agree?


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