Oliver Stone Discusses His Film JFK
On the Friday before Christmas, in 1991, Oliver Stone's epic film JFK opened in Washington. Shown in a theater on Capitol Hill for all members of Congress, their families and staffs, and for other invited guests, this movie with its stark portrayal of the death of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, has shocked the moviegoing public around the world. As the president of the National Press Club said a month later, when introducing Oliver Stone: "JFK may go down as the most talked about movie of the decade.
That movie was built upon the symbiotic relationship between the courtroom strategy of the Garrison "conspiracy" trial in New Orleans, the classic "anti-Warren Commission" lore of Jim Marrs's "Crossfire" narrative based upon the Dallas scene, and the electric shock treatment of the "Man X" question "Why?" and its stark analysis of the "power elite" of Washington's military - industrial arena.
The movie speaks to all people, and its tragic "Crime of the Century" story has had a global impact, and the dust has yet to settle. Its message lives. The response to that stark "Why?" is "President Kennedy was assassinated as a result of a decision made...from within the military industrial complex of power... at a level above the U.S. government to preserve the benefits (to them) of the war in Vietnam by denying his reelection in 1964." That answer was derived from the facts and content of this book.
As Oliver Stone has said so frequently, "Had President Kennedy lived, Americans would not have become deeply involved in the Vietnam War." Because of the enormous dollar potential of the War to the great military-industrial complex of the United States and because of other threats to the power elite, it had become absolutely necessary, for them, to bring about this coup d'état on the streets of Dallas. This book in its original form provided vital parts of the movies theme. In the final analysis, both the movie and book prove beyond all doubt that the government's Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of President Kennedy was contrived and is false; and that the government used the Warren Commission to cover up the facts of the crime with a diversionary story.
As a result of the opening of this movie and amid the uproar that was sweeping across the country, the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., invited Oliver Stone to speak before its members and a nation-wide audience on C-Span television. Stone appeared on January 15, 1992, before a packed auditorium. Katherine Kahler, president of the National Press Club asked Oliver Stone to clarify a major and frequently asked question: "Does the Deep Throat-Man X character played by Donald Sutherland really exist?"
Stone responded: "I'm very glad this is asked, because so many people have asked me, when they came out of the movie, 'Who is Man X?' Let me just say that Man X exists. He's here today on the podium. He is Fletcher Prouty. He served in the military since before World War II. From 1955 to 1964 he was in the Pentagon working as chief of special operations and in that capacity was with the Joint Chiefs of staff during the Kennedy years. He was responsible for providing the military support of the clandestine operations of the CIA...that is, "Black Operations."
Oliver Stone held visited Fletcher Prouty in Washington in July 1990 and asked about his work in the Pentagon, especially during the Kennedy years, 1961-63. Stone added, "I understood his own shock and disbelief at what happened to the President and what happened in the years that followed... here and in Vietnam.
"Col. Prouty had never met with Jim Garrison, but over the years he had written many letters to him and had worked on Jim's manuscript before its publication. They were well acquainted, by letters. I took the liberty of having a meeting take place between Mr. Garrison and Colonel Prouty because Jim Garrison had brought Prouty's work to my attention. Some people have misunderstood and claimed that Man X never existed and that I made him up. I never did. That information in the movie came from Fletcher: "
In summary, Oliver Stone added: "I think Fletcher has served his country well and retired a full colonel. He's written a book called The Secret Team. He has been critical of the CIA's illegitimate activities in the fifties and sixties. He knows a lot about it--he briefed people like Allen Dulles, knew them, knew General Charles Cabell, knew the atmosphere in the Pentagon and the CIA at the time, knew General Lansdale. He retired in 1964 from the Pentagon and became a banker"
Because "Man X" is Fletcher Prouty, the author of this book, the reader will find much more to support what caught the eye of Oliver Stone, among others. As an introductory comment on both his movie JFK and this book, Oliver Stone delivered the following speech before the Press Club.
I have been accused by a number of people, some of them journalists, of a distortion of history. If there is any common thread of attack running through those claims of those critics of JFK, it is a notion that somehow there is an accepted, settled, respected, carefully thought out and researched body of history about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. All of which I have set out deliberately to subvert, using as my weapon the motion picture medium and taking as my target the impressionable young, who will believe anything as long as it is visual. This distortion of history has come at me from all quarters, although almost entirely, it must be said, from people old enough to know better. And it ignores, deliberately and carefully, the fact that there is no accepted history of these events; and that these terrible times remain the most undocumented, unresearched, unagreed-upon non-historical period of our history.
One can read in history books the standard two paragraphs that John F. Kennedy was shot by a lone gunman, who in turn was killed by another earnest vigilante and lone gunman. End of story. But that theory, put forward in twenty-six unindexed volumes by the Warren Commission, from the day it was issued was never even believed by a majority of Americans. The number of people who disbelieve it increases each year. Are we really to believe:
1. That settled, agreed, sanctified history includes, that Lee Harvey Oswald wrote away, under an easy-to-trade alias, for an inaccurate mail-order Italian rifle, called by the Italian army the humanitarian rifle, because it never killed anyone when deliberately aimed, when he could have anonymously bought an accurate weapon at any street corner in Dallas.
2. Is it sacred history that this semiliterate high school dropout from Ft. Worth, Texas, professing Marxism, was taken to a secret, highly trained marine unit at an air base where the U-2 spy plane flights originated in Japan; given courses in the Russian language; and then permitted to leave the Marine Corps on three days' notice on a trumped-up claim of illness of his mother, who days after his death was the first to make the claim her was working for American Intelligence?
3. Is it settled history that he then defected to the Soviet Union with a request for travel that included a reference to an obscure Ph.D.'s only graduate institute in Switzerland?
4. Are we to believe it is now history not to be disturbed except by people like me, that he then went to the United States embassy in Moscow, announced his intention to defect and to turn over U.S secrets to the Russians, and was permitted to go his way?
5. Is it part of our history which cannot be touched, that he then returned eighteen months later to the same U.S. embassy announcing his intention to resume his american citizenship and was handed his passport and some funds to enable him to return home?
6. Must one be a disturber of the peace to question the history that says he was met by a CIA front representative when he returned to the United States and he was never debriefed although 25,000 tourists, that year, were so debriefed?
7. Must one be a distorter of history to question why he then merged into the fiercely anti-Communist, White Russian community of Dallas, although he kept up the absurd front of Marxism, or the entirely rabid anti-Communist circle of Guy Bannister in New Orleans?
8. Or how did Oswald just come to have the job a few weeks before, at the Book Depository, overlooking the precise point in the motorcade where Kennedy's car took that unusual eleven-mile-an-hour curve?
9. Or how Oswald came to be spotted by patrolman Marion Baker only ninety seconds after the sixth-floor shooting, on the second floor having a Coca-Cola and showing no signs of being out of breath?
10. Or the too-neat stashing of the rifle without hand prints?
11. And the three cartridges laid out side by side at the window?
12. Or Oswald's cool and calm behavior that weekend, or his claim, the statement, that he was a patsy?
Am I a disturber of history to question why, Allen Dulles, who had been fired by JFK from the CIA, which JFK had said he would splinter into a thousand pieces, was appointed to the Warren Commission to investigate Mr. Kennedy's murder. And so on, and so on, and so on.
To accept this settled version of history, which must not be disturbed, was to then call down the venom of leading journalists from around the country. One must also believe the truly absurd, single-bullet theory of the Warren Commission, which holds that one bullet caused seven wounds in Kennedy and Governor Connally, breaking two dense bones and coming out clean, no metal missing, no blood tissue or anything on it. Its path, as you know, utterly ludicrous, entering Kennedy's back on a downward trajectory, changing direction, exiting up through his throat, pausing for 1.6 seconds before deciding to attack Connally, then turning right, then left, then right again, hitting Connally at the back of his right armpit, heading downward through his chest, taking a right turn at Connally's wrist, shattering the radius bone, exiting his wrist; the bullet launches one last assault, taking a dramatic U-turn and burying itself in Connally's left thigh. Later, that bullet turns up five miles from the scene of the crime on a stretcher, in a corridor at Parkland Hospital in pristine condition.
No, ladies and gentlemen, this is not history! This is myth! It is myth that a scant number of Americans have ever believed. It is a myth that an esteemed generation of journalists and historians have refused to examine, have refused to question, and above all, have closed ranks to criticize and vilify those who do. So long as the attackers of that comforting "lone gunman" theory could be dismissed as "kooks" and "cranks" and the writers of obscure books that would not be published by "reputable publishing houses," not much defense was needed. But now all that is under attack by a well-financed and, I hope, a well-made motion picture with all the vivid imagery and new energy the screen can convey. Now, either enormous amounts of evidence have to be marshaled in support of that myth or else those in question must be attacked. Those that question it must be attacked. There is no evidence; so, therefore, the attack is on.
Some journalists of the sixties are self-appointed keepers of the flame. They talk about "our history" and fight savagely those who would question it. But, confronted with the crime of the century, with no motive and hardly any alleged perpetrators, they stand here. Where, in the last twenty years, have we seen serious research from Tom Wicker, Dan Rather, Anthony Lewis, George Lardner, Ken Auchincloss, into Lee Harvey Oswald's movements in the months and years before 22 November 1963? Where have we seen any analysis of why Oswald, who, many say, adored Kennedy, alone among assassins in history would not only deny his guilt but would claim he was a "patsy?" Can one imagine John Wilkes Booth leaping to the stage at Ford's Theater, turning to the audience and shouting, "I didn't kill anyone--I'm just a patsy ?"
One might ask of the journalists who have suddenly emerged as the defenders of history, What is their sense of history? How much work has the "Sage of Bethesda," George Will, done in the twenty years he has been a columnist to try to uncover the answers to those dark secrets in Dallas 1963? Will Tom Wicker and Dan Rather spend their retirement years examining, closer, the possibility of a second or third gunman; or will they content themselves with savaging those who do? Why is no one questioning Richard Helms, who lied to the Warren Commission, when we know, now, that there was, as of 1960, an increasingly thick "201" file on LHO? Why is no one questioning Mr. Hoover's memo of 1961--outlining the fact that someone was using Oswald's name, while Oswald was in Russia, to buy trucks for the Guy Bannister apparatus in New Orleans? Why are none of the reporters questioning Colonel Fletcher Prouty, in depth, or Marina Oswald Porter, who says her husband was working for something bigger; or questioning the alleged hit man, Charles Harrelson, who is in maximum security? Let them deny what they will, but at least ask them!
There is more truth seeking going on now in Russia than there is in our country. What JFK has brought out is that those who talk most of history have no commitment to it. An essential, historical question raised by JFK has to do not with the "tramps" in Dealey Plaza, not with who might have been firing from the grassy knoll, not with what coalition of Cuban exiles, mobsters, rogue intelligence officers the conspiracy might have been concocted by; but the darker stain on the American ground in the sixties and seventies...Vietnam.
It is Vietnam which has become the bloody shirt of American politics, replacing slavery of one hundred years before. Just as we did not resolve, if we ever did, the great battle of slavery until a hundred years after the Civil War, when we passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, so it becomes clear that the Vietnam War remains the watershed of our time. And the divisions in our country, among our people, opened up by it seem to get wider and wider with each passing year.
JFK [the movie and the book] suggests that it was Vietnam that led to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, that he became too dangerous, too strong an advocate of changing the course of the Cold War; too clear a proponent of troop withdrawal for those who supported the idea of a war in Vietnam and later came to support the war itself. Was President Kennedy withdrawing from Vietnam? Had he indicated strongly his intention to do so? Had he committed himself firmly against all hawkish advice to the contrary to oppose the entry of U. S. combat troops? The answer to these questions is unequivocally "Yes!"
With this emphasis on the Vietnam policy of President John F. Kennedy, Oliver Stone is relying heavily on his adviser the author of this book, for these little known facts. Colonel Prouty was one of the writers of Kennedy's NSAM #263, which publicly announced his plan to have one thousand military men home by Christmas and all U.S. personnel out of Vietnam by the end of 1965. This book explains those JFK "Vietnam policies" authoritatively and in considerable detail.
As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has attested, President Kennedy signaled his intention to withdraw from Vietnam in a variety of ways and put it firmly on the record with his National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) #263 of October 11, 1963. Those who try to say it was no more than a call for a rotation of troops or a gimmick and that the Johnson NSAM #273, issued within a week of the assassination, merely confirmed the policy, ignore the obvious question. If LBJ was merely continuing Kennedy's policies, why was it necessary to reverse Kennedy's October NSAM #263?
So the protectors of Vietnam, the new "Wavers" of the bloody shirt, leaped to attack the central premise of JFK. "Oliver Stone is distorting history again, and again they say, even suggesting that John Kennedy was positioning us for a withdrawal from Vietnam, by even suggesting that...that I am distorting history.
But these defenders of history had very little to say five years ago when it was suggested in the motion picture that Mozart had not died peacefully; but had been murdered by a rival and second- rate composer. Where were all of our cultural watchdogs when Peter Shaffer was distorting history with Amadeus?" The answer, of course, is that it wasn't worth the effort. Eighteenth- century Vienna, after all, is not twentieth century Vietnam. If Mozart was murdered, it would not change one note of that most precious music; but if John Kennedy were killed because he was determined to withdraw from Vietnam and never send combat troops to a Vietnam War, then we must fix the blame for the only lost war in our history, for 56,000 Americans dead, and for an as yet unhealed split in our country and among our people.
I've been ridiculed and worse for suggesting the existence of a conspiracy as though only kooks and cranks and extremists suggest the existence of such a thing. But this is the wrong city in which to ridicule people who believe in conspiracies. Is it inconceivable that the President of the United States could sit at the heart of a criminal conspiracy designed to cover up a crime? We know that happened. We would have impeached him for it had he not resigned, just one step ahead. Is it so farfetched to believe in a high-level conspiracy involving the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the air force, and the CIA to bomb a neutral country and then lie about it in military reports to the rest of the country? But it happened, perhaps more than once.
Is it inconceivable that the National Security Council leadership, with or without the knowledge of the President of the United States and with the collaboration of the director of Central Intelligence...not just a few rogues...could be engaged in a massive conspiracy to ship arms to our sworn enemy with the casual hope that a few hostages might be released as a result? But it happened. Does it offend our sense of propriety to suggest that an assistant secretary of state for Latin America might have regularly lied to Congress about raising money abroad to perform things that Congress had forbidden us to do? But that happened!
Is it inconceivable that a campaign manager, later to become the director of Central Intelligence, negotiated with a foreign country to keep American hostages imprisoned until after a presidential election, in order to ensure the election of his candidate? We shall see?
But I think, no one thinks it is out of the question anymore. So when JFK suggests that a conspiracy involving elements of a government, people in the CIA, people in the FBI, perhaps people associated with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all in the service of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about, might have conspired to kill JFK because he was going sharply to change the direction of American foreign policy. Is it not appropriate at
least to look there for evidence? What was Allen Dulles really up to in those months? Or Charles Cabell, also fired by JFK; or his brother, Earle Cabell, the mayor of Dallas in November 1963?
Thomas Jefferson urged on us the notion that when truth can compete in a free marketplace of ideas, it will prevail. There is, as yet, no marketplace of history for the years before the Kennedy assassination and immediately afterward. Let us begin to create one. What I've tried to do with this movie is to open a stall in that marketplace of ideas and offer a version of what might have happened as against the competing versions of what we know did not happen and some other possible versions as well.
I'm happy to say, thanks not only to the nine million people who have already seen the movie but to the attitude toward the facts they take with them away from the movie, that our new stall in that marketplace of ideas is doing a very brisk business. And we expect by the time this film is played out in video cassettes, etc., that another fifty million Americans will have a little more information on their history.
I am very proud that JFK has been a part of the momentum to open previously closed files in the matter of the assassination. Congressman Louis Stokes of Ohio, the chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, has announced his willingness to consider the opening of the files, closed until, you know, the year 2029. And I am hopeful his consideration will ripen into approval. In addition, Judge William Webster, formerly the director of the FBI and of the CIA, has indicated his strong opinion that all of the files--all of the files--House Committee, CIA, and FBI among them, be made public...a proposal, I was extremely pleased last weekend to see, endorsed by Senator Edward Kennedy. In the meantime, we are grateful to Congressman Stokes, Congressman Lee Hamilton, Judge Webster, Senator Kennedy, and others who have indicated a willingness to consider opening these files.
Now if the army and navy intelligence services will join suit, it is my hope the American people will have the full truth of this assassination.