Director Oliver Stone’s professed disdain for big business and big government becomes the driving force for J.F.K.–the ultimate conspiracy film which should generate big box-office receipts in the theatre and the video store until the Warren Commission Papers are opened to the public in 2039 A.D. Both liberals who think that J.F.K. was done in by big business, the FBI and the CIA, and conservatives who know that a small group of international bankers are manipulating world politics will be enthusiastic about this extremely well-made, though far-fetched and tendentious movie.
Opening with footage of President Eisenhower’s farewell address, in which he eloquently warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex, J.F.K. turns out to be a classic soap-box for Oliver Stone’s pet peeve, as Tom Wicker noted on page 1 of his December 15, 1991 Sunday NEW YORK TIMES Arts & Leisure article entitled “Does J.F.K. Conspire Against Reason?” which posits that: “generals, admirals and war profiteers so strongly wanted the war in Vietnam to be fought…that when President Kennedy seemed to question these goals, he had to be killed so Vice President Johnson would take office.”1 Of course, Mr. Stone implies that Johnson was part of this conspiracy that led to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy’s on November 22, 1963.
To tell his story, Mr. Stone concentrates on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into Kennedy’s assassination. At first, Garrison is not involved, until he finds that some people are very happy that J.F.K. has been shot and that Lee Harvey Oswald was in New Orleans six months before the shooting–and he wants to know why. The more Garrison investigates, the more he gets caught up in the case.
As Director Stone clarifies: “New Orleans provided the only insight, at that time, that we could get, the only hook into the assassination, because Jim Garrison was the only person ever to bring official charges in the case, thereby throwing a hook of doubt into the official Warren Commission explanation. He was the only person to do that…. Here I am, 28 years later, saying, ‘Pay attention to what Garrison was saying. He uncovered some truth; he was on the trail of something that was overlooked.'”
However, the resultant movie actually picks up where Garrison’s research leaves off, and, in essence, conducts its own research in the wake of all the threads left dangling regarding J.F.K.’s death. Thus, the film gathers as much of the twenty-eight years’ worth of additional evidence as it can, along with re-examining much of what had already been done. Moreover, the conclusions arrived thereby point up many of Stone’s pre-conceived conspiracy theories regarding the 60s, the Vietnam War and the part J.F.K.’s assassination death played in it.
Basically, J.F.K. is no more than the same story that we have all heard: the story of Louisiana district attorney Jim Garrison who becomes caught up in the turbulent events surrounding J.F.K.’s shooting and dedicates his life to uncovering the truth. Of course, in the end, Garrison is frustrated about the fact that the Warren Commission sealed the documents they reviewed on the J.F.K. shooting until 2039. In court, however, Garrison points out in his closing arguments that our country is built on truth, and in this case, the government has squelched the truth, but in 2039, his son will be ready to take up the case again.
By the time you’re through seeing this film, you will be convinced that those two groups had the most to gain in that they wanted to continue to make money off the Vietnam war, and that J.F.K. was planning to wind down the American involvement in Vietnam. Again Tom Wicker’s insight is valuable:
“President Kennedy, historian Stone asserts, was considered ‘soft on Communism’ after the test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union and a conciliatory speech at American University, both in 1963. No doubt some in the military and the John Birch Society held that paranoid view; but, to anyone active in Washington at that time it’s ridiculous to suggest that such an opinion was widely shared.
“Mr. Stone’s film nevertheless insists that Mr. Kennedy had so enraged the nation’s hawks that the military-industrial complex, with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, actually planned and carried out the assassination, then covered it up through the Warren Commission (ostensibly set up to investigate the assassination and headed by Chief Justice Warren), with the aid of the Dallas police and the nation’s press and television. ***
“I know of no reputable historian who has documented Mr. Kennedy’s intentions, much less found them the motive for his murder. It’s true that this motive, among numerous others, has been speculated upon before, in more or less responsible terms, depending on who was doing the speculating.
“But this movie presents itself as more than speculation; it claims truth for itself. And among the many Americans likely to see it, particularly those who never accepted the Warren Commission’s theory of a single assassin, even more particularly those too young to remember Nov. 22, 1963, J.F.K. is all too likely to be taken as the final, unquestioned explanation.
“But if J.F.K. and its wild assertions are to be taken at face value, Americans will have to accept the idea that most of the nation’s major institutions, private as well as governmental, along with one of its Presidents, conspired together and carried out Kennedy’s murder to pursue the war in Vietnam and the Cold War, then covered up the conspiracy until Mr. Garrison and Mr. Stone unearthed and exposed it.
“In an era when mistrust of government and loss of confidence in institutions (the press not least) are widespread and virulent, such a suggestion seems a dubious public service, particularly since these dark allegations are only unproven speculations, and the ‘evidence’ presented is often a stacked deck.”2
While this fantastic conspiracy of the military-industrial complex does make for good drama, it is not very accurate history. In fact, there were many other groups that would benefit from J.F.K.’s death, including the Communists, who were trying to expand their evil empire into Central and South America at that time, and the Mafia which was upset with Robert Kennedy’s investigation of organized crime. Both of these theories, which Mr. Stone discounts in a facile manner, have been the subject of many of the J.F.K. conspiracy books.
The questions those who see J.F.K. should ask are: if big business, the FBI and the CIA were so powerful and killed J.F.K., why haven’t they killed Garrison to stop him from exposing them in his books on the J.F.K. shooting? Why haven’t they stopped Oliver Stone from exposing them in this film? And, why are those big evil companies struggle to survive or going into bankruptcy, merger, or oblivion? Stone gives both the CIA and big business them too much credit, but his position does make for powerful drama. On the other hand, his contention that the American government is too big and must be cut down to size is worthwhile for people to consider.
The film tries to head off its critics by portraying them as part of this heinous conspiracy. As Tom Wicker points out:
“Mr. Stone built into his movie an all-encompassing defense. *** “Frequently in J.F.K., the District Attorney alleges that the media are engaged in a cover-up of a monstrous conspiracy, which Mr. Stone confidently depicts as having resulted in the assassination of a President, the war in Vietnam, the later killing of Robert Kennedy, perhaps even the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It is a measure of Mr. Stone’s heavily weighted storytelling that he gives only a fleeting glimpse of [a] one-hour documentary, which was broadcast by NBC on June 19, 1967 [and which exposed Garrison]. Its evidence–the script is available–establishes without doubt that Mr. Garrison and his aides threatened and bribed witnesses who then lied in court, and that they concealed the results of a polygraph test that showed one witness, Vernon Bundy, to be lying.
“So much for the advertising for the Stone film, which proclaims of Mr. Garrison:”He will risk his life, the lives of his family, everything he holds dear for the one thing he holds sacred–the truth.”
“In fact, of all the numerous conspiracy theorists and zealous investigators who for nearly 30 years have been peering at and probing the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Mr. Garrison may be the most thoroughly discredited–and not just by the NBC documentary. His ballyhooed investigation ended ignominiously when his chosen villain, Clay Shaw, was acquitted; and the whole Garrison affair is now regarded, even by other conspiracy believers, as having been a travesty of legal process.”3
Basically, Stone is still fighting the Vietnam war. He ignores the Vietnamese boat people and the pain and suffering that occurred at the hands of the Communists when the United States withdrew. He ignores the fact that the United States did not fight the Vietnamese war to win. He never mentions the reasons for our being there. And, he ignores the problems that the French faced in Vietnam.
Mr. Wicker puts his finger on the major problem with this dogmatic movie when he concludes:
“My dissent from Mr. Stone’s film is not that he believes that Oswald was a patsy or there was a conspiracy or even that he depicts the conspiracy as fascist, a corruption of Constitutional government so far-reaching as to threaten the end of the democratic system in America. He has a right to believe those things, even to believe against the evidence that Mr. Garrison’s shabby investigation was a noble and selfless search for truth.
“But I and other Americans have an equal right not to believe such things, a right to our own beliefs. Mr. Stone insists on one true faith about Nov. 22, 1963–as though only he and Mr. Garrison could discern the truth, among the many theories of what happened that terrible day. Moreover, he implies that anyone who doesn’t share his one true faith is either an active part of a cover-up or passively acquiescent in it.
“Finally, he uses the powerful instrument of a motion picture, and relies on stars of the entertainment world, to propagate the one true faith–even though that faith, if widely accepted, would be contemptuous of the very Constitutional government Mr. Stone’s film purports to uphold.”4
An interesting insight into the position of sixties radicals like Mr. Stone has been stated by the former leftist radicals Peter Collier and David Horowitz in their book DECONSTRUCTING THE LEFT, as quoted and summarized by Andre Silva-Sadder in “Political Converts Bash Left” in the Dartmouth Review, November 27, 1991, p. 14:
“During the sixties, radicals became ‘addicted to finding an American cause at the root of every problem,’ so that many could not recognize the success of the American democratic system in achieving withdrawal and in sustaining for the radicals ‘exactly the sort of flexible and forgiving society they were condemning it for failing to be.’ The crimes of Vietnam’s Communist government after the withdrawal received little attention, much less criticism from the left, because of “the original sin of the sixties movement: that its intentions were Marxist and revolutionary…anti-American and anti-democratic…from the start.”5
Even so, in spite of Mr. Stone’s prejudice, he has argued his case well, giving no quarter to the other side. The acting and direction are superb. It is a four-star film, which will grab your attention and hold it for the whole three hours. Also, Kevin Costner does a credible acting job–unlike his spotty performance in ROBIN HOOD.
Regrettably, there are two brief scenes where investigators enter a strip joint, but only partial nudity is seen, since more restrictions were imposed on nude dancing at that time. Further, although the film shows a scene at a homosexual party with Clay Shaw, no outward displays of homosexuality are glimpsed. The movie has about 50 obscenities and 30 profanities.
For a better understanding of J.F.K.’s shooting than offered in this polemic, try to find a copy of Robert Morrow’s book BETRAYAL (a Warner Paperback). At this point, however, probably only the Lord Himself knows the whole truth regarding this important turning point in our history, and we can only pray that Oliver Stone and all those who labor so hard to find out the truth about J.F.K.’s shooting will find the Truth that will set them “free” from the ghosts of our national past (John 8:32).
EDITOR’S NOTE: As I was editing the last line of this review, one of those blind calls from the Linden LaRoche (spelling?) organization came in urging me to fight some international conspiracy. When I said that I was not a mercantilist, they hung up, not knowing what that was. However, their call emphasized the passion of ideologues and the absurdity of many conspiracy theories. The moral is: when and if you enjoy the drama in J.F.K., be careful not to swallow the history or the ideology without chewing it over very carefully.
(LL, S, V) Roughly 50 obscenities & 30 profanities; partial nudity in two strip-joint scenes; and, homosexual party, but no overt displays.