David R. Wrone

David R. Wrone

David R. Wrone was professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, where he taught American and Indian history. He has done extensive research on Native American Treaty rights, and on the Menominee and Stockbridge nations.

Wrone is also an expert on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Books by him on the subject include The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: A Comprehensive Historical and Legal Bibliography, 1963-1979 (1980), Who's the Savage: The Documentary History of the Mistreatment of the Native North Americans (1982) and The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK's Assassination (2003).

His 40 years of research on the assassination have concentrated on the evidence found in files of the FBI and, he has sued the government for Zapruder Film records, especially relating to its acquisition and purchase.

Primary Sources

(1) David R. Wrone, Review of Gerald Posner's Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, Journal of Southern History 6 (February 1995)

Gerald Posner argues that the Warren Commission properly investigated the assassination of JFK. He claims to have refuted the critics, purports to show what actually occurred, and asserts simple factual answers to explain complex problems that have plagued the subject for years. In the process he condemns all who do not agree with the official conclusions as theories driven by conjectures. At the same time his book is so theory driven, so rife with speculation, and so frequently unable to conform his text with the factual content in his sources that it stands as one of the stellar instances of irresponsible publishing on the subject.

Massive numbers of factual errors suffuse the book, which make it a veritable minefield. Random samples are the following: Pontchartrain is a lake not a river. The wounded James Tague stood twenty feet east, not under the triple underpass. There were three Philip Geracis, not one; he confuses the second and the third. A tiny fragment, not a bullet, entered Connally's thigh. The Army did the testing that he refers to the FBI. None, not three, commissioners heard at least half the hearings. The Warren Commission did not have any investigators. Captain Donovan is John, not Charles, and a lieutenant. The critics of the official findings are not leftists but include conservatives such as Cardinal Cushing, William Loeb, and former commissioner, Richard Russell.

Posner often presents the opposite of what the evidence says. In the presentation of a corrupt picture of Oswald's background, for example, he states that, under the name of Osborne, Oswald picked up leaflets he distributed from the Jones Printing Company and that the "receptionist" identified him. She in fact said that Oswald did not pick up the leaflets as the source that Posner cites indicates.

No credible evidence connects Oswald to the murder. All the data that Posner presents to do so is either shorn of context, corrupted, the opposite of what the sources actually say, or nonsourced. For example, 100 percent of the witness testimony and physical evidence exclude Oswald from carrying the rifle to work that day disguised as curtain rods. Posner manipulates with words to concoct a case against Oswald as with Linnie Mae Randle, who swore the package, as Oswald allegedly carried it, was twenty-eight inches long, far too short to have carried a rifle. He grasped its end, and it hung from his swinging arm to almost touch the ground. Posner converts this to "tucked under his armpit, and the other end did not quite touch the ground" (p. 225). The rifle was heavily oiled, but the paper sack discovered on the sixth floor had not a trace of oil. Posner excludes this vital fact.

To refute criticism that the first of three shots (the magic bullet) inflicted seven nonfatal wounds on two bodies in impossible physical and time constraints, he invents a second magic bullet. He asserts that Oswald fired the first bullet near frame 160 of the Zapruder film, fifty frames earlier than officially held, and missed. The bullet hit a twig or a branch or a tree, as he varies it, then separated into its copper sheath and lead composite core. The core did a right angle to fly west more than 200 feet to hit a curbstone and wound Tague while the sheath decided to disappear. The curb in fact had been damaged. He omits that analysis of the curb showed the bullet came from the west, which means the bullet would have had to have taken another sui generis turn of 135 degrees to get back west with sufficient force to smash concrete, which he pretends was not marred.

He asserts proof of a core hit because FBI analysis revealed "traces of [sic per reviewer] lead with a trace of antimony" (p. 325) in the damage. What he omits destroys his theory. He does not explain that a bullet core has several other metallic elements in its composition, not two, rendering his conclusion false. He further neglects to inform the reader that by May 1964 the damage had been covertly patched with a concrete paste and that in August, not July, 1964, the FBI tested the scrapings of the paste, not the damage, which gave the two metal results.

He says the second shot transited JFK's neck and caused the nonfatal wounds striking Connally at Zapruder film frame 224 where Connally is seen turned to his right, allegedly lining his body up with JFK's neck, thus sustaining the single bullet explanation. He finds proof that a bullet hit then in Connally's lapel that was flapping in that one frame as it passed through. But he does not conform to fact. Wind gusting to twenty miles per hour that day ruffled clothing. And, there is no bullet hole in the lapel but in the jacket body beneath the right nipple area.

Posner crowns his theory with the certainty of science by using one side of the computer-enhanced studies by Failure Analysis Associates of Menlo Park that his text implies he commissioned. The firm, however, lambastes his use as a distortion of the technology that it had developed for the American Bar Association's mock trial of Oswald where both sides used it.

Posner fails. I believe that irrefutable evidence shows conspirators, none of them Oswald, killed JFK. A mentally ill Jack Ruby, alone and unaided, shot Oswald. The federal inquiry knowingly collapsed and theorized a political solution. Its corruption spawned theorists who tout solutions rather than define the facts that are locked in the massively muddied evidentiary base and released only by hard work.

(2) David R. Wrone, Review of Seymour Hersh's The Dark Side of Camelot, Capital Times (16th January, 1998)

In an interview given on publication of his alleged expose of John F. Kennedy's private life and public policies, the famed investigative reporter Sy Hersh said he wanted to make "a big score" and retire.

To this end the Pulitzer prize winner has prostituted his nation's history and, at the same time, sustained the intelligence and military forces that bitterly opposed JFK - those who among other infamies sunk us in Vietnam and who tried and failed to initiate nuclear war over Cuba. Hersh does it with a corruption of scholarship perhaps unequalled in recent times.

He uses not a single source note, but employs caption notes that refer to many books and no pages, so a reader cannot easily check his truthfulness. Hersh has corrupted the facts. On major issues he is coy, strongly using suggestive language with a statement of fact where none exists. Sources are often made up to fit his perceived beliefs. In addition he relies on interviews with people bitterly opposed to JFK's policies and usually not identified as such.

Hersh reviews JFK's rise to power and then largely concentrates on the foreign policies of his presidency, alleging that the crude principles of his reckless and corrupt personal life - astutely masked during his lifetime by his power and friends - led the United States into one disaster after the other.

Hersh suffuses the book with putative accounts of JFK's sex scampers but these are a honey trap to snare a reader into accepting Hersh's false presentation of his foreign policy - which is the true intent of the book.

How bad is Hersh's scholarship? Consider the Section of The Dark Side of Camelot in which Hersh states that JFK "endorsed" the CIA assassination of Lumumba of the Congo. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since CIA thugs beat Lumumba to death on January 17 and JFK was sworn in on January 20, Hersh must overcome a serious chronological problem. He does this by baldly asserting Kennedy vigorously supported and emphatically agreed to Eisenhower's policy to kill the African leader.

Hersh carries this subterfuge off by only quoting former CIA men who were ideologically opposed to JFK's policies, by refusing to cite the copious well-known record affirming an opposite interpretation, and by not interviewing the numerous individuals who would have provided a true picture.

Early in January 1961, Kennedy's staff and special Congo study group had alerted the CIA that American reactionary policies in the Congo would change and that a JFK emissary had warned Belgium intelligence services not to "liquidate" Lumumba. By February 2, Kennedy had devised a plan for a new Congo policy that would ultimately include Lumumba. He did not learn of the murder of Lumumba until February 13; a famous photograph depicts him receiving the news, his head bowed in anguish.

Hersh also devotes much attention to "proving" JFK tried to assassination Castro using the CIA and Mafia. In the course of this effort, he asserts that President Kennedy used Judy Exner, a sex partner, to carry cash to the mob bosses to pay for making the hit.

A key document of the Castro murder attempts is a 1962 Department of Justice memorandum by the CIA's inspector general Sheffield Edwards. Hersh uses parts of the document in other contexts, but when he comes to the attempts on Castro's life he carefully omits what it says about them, since the document's contents would destroy his framing of JFK.

The CIA-Mafia attempts on Castro began in August 1960 and ended in November 1960, before JFK took office in 1961. Only six people knew of it, all CIA men, and they only orally. No one else knew - not Ike, not JFK - until many months after the fact when the FBI stumbled onto a bungled CIA phone tap for a mobster and it exposed the affair. A shocked Robert Kennedy ordered a complete explanation.

As it turns out, the CIA had set aside $150,000 for the job, but the Mafia said no and refused to accept any money. Exner could not have carried money, as she told Hersh; there was none to carry and the affair had occurred and was over before he entered office. There were, in fact, no JFK directed or encouraged attempts on Castro's life.

Hersh frequently castigates JFK for using private back channels to negotiate a secret deal with Khrushchev to end the Cuba missile crisis - a deal Hersh suggests Kennedy pursued in order to improve his standing with the American people. The fact is back channels worked and, after the crisis, the executive branch institutionalized it with direct phone lines and other systems, which later presidents have found to be quite useful.

The real reason JFK kept the pact secret was spelled out in Khrushchev's memoirs, Khrushchev Remembers, and in Robert Kennedy's writings on the subject. It had nothing to do with self-promotion. The Kennedys were intensely afraid of an American military coup d'etat and overthrow of the U.S. government accompanied by a launching of a massive nuclear strike against the whole of the communist world. Only through this private method could and did JFK hold the irate military in check.

It can be argued today that nuclear war was avoided by President Kennedy's unparalleled action.

Even in the minor themes of The Dark Side of Camelot, Hersh perverts our history. He states a high-ranking Navy officer told him that, "at the request of Robert Kennedy", the notes containing vital information about JFK's postmortem were not published. By exclusively relying on that prejudiced source, Hersh sustains the generation-old effort of many federal officials to blame the failed inquiry into JFK's death upon his brother's refusal to give them access to key medical records.

But in well-known sources, which were spurned by Hersh, we know RFK by letter gave explicit permission to use all autopsy materials. The same definitive sources also show it was the FBI that, after realizing the materials might hold data incompatible with its invented lone assassin theory, manufactured the libel that Robert Kennedy had denied access.

Significantly, prosecutors did take the critical notes. They were not destroyed and were, in fact, placed in Navy hands. They were released by the Navy for Arlen Specter, Warren Commission counsel, who used them to examine the autopsy doctors. They were supposed to be part of Exhibit 397 of the Warren Commission, but it does not contain them. They are not in any archive or known agency files. On this serious issue--which genuinely is worthy of discussion - Hersh is embarrassingly silent.