After fifty years, historians and writers are still scrutinizing facts surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. End of Days by James Swanson, is a gripping account of the days preceding and directly after Kennedy’s murder. Another book, If Kennedy Lived by Jeff Greenfield raises a number of key issues affected had Kennedy hypothetically survived the assassination.
End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy is written like a crime story. Unfortunately the facts are both true and sobering as Swanson recreates four of the darkest days in American history. The author gives minute-by-minute details that include new revelations, facts well known, and facts that might have been forgotten. He describes Lee Harvey Oswald’s attempt to kill another public figure, Major General Edwin A. Walker, the abuse by Oswald of his wife, Kennedy’s arrival in Texas, the shooting, and the aftermath.
Swanson commented to blackfive.net, “This is America’s version of a Shakespearean tragedy. For reference look at what the President said that morning in his hotel room, ‘If someone wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it.’ It was eerie because of the foreshadowing and symbolism. I also wanted to explore what Jackie Kennedy endured and how she did it with dignity and grace. She never abandoned JFK after he was shot. She helped to give him a legacy where he is respected and admired.”
One of the most interesting parts of the book is when the reader is allowed to speculate on the ineptness of the Secret Service. In the car with Kennedy were two Secret Service Agents, one who was driving and the other who was in charge of the detail. The book describes the wide first shot that hit the curb, and how people reacted to that shot: “But those in the motorcade certainly heard the gunfire…At that moment he (Kennedy) stopped waving to the crowd and lowered his right arm. Jackie heard it too.” Yet, the Secret Service did not speed away, did not swerve, and did not react by yelling to get down. Nor did they react to Jackie’s Secret Service Agent, Clint Hill, in the trail car, running toward the Presidential limousine.
The reader can also contemplate, with the many details provided, on why Oswald did it and why he never admitted to it, or why JFK was buried without his brain and what happened to it. Swanson noted, “Who took it and why have tissue samples and skull fragments along with the brain disappeared? All this unnecessary secrecy gave rise to the conspiracy theories. It allowed people to get suspicious. These multiple conflicting conspiracy stories had made us lose touch with the human drama and emotions of that day: a wife lost her husband, children lost their father, and a nation lost their President.”
Jeff Greenfield’s book, If Kennedy Lived, also discusses the assassination, but as an alternate theory, he has President Kennedy surviving. This is by far the most interesting part of the book when he shows how a slight change of circumstances could have altered history. He told blackfive.net, “It has been a long standing fascination with me in looking at what would happen if there were different leaders with different character traits in power during critical times.” The author explores a number of key issues that would have been affected if Kennedy had lived and was re-elected: exiting from Vietnam, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opening a dialogue with Cuba and China, as well as how Kennedy’s health and extramarital sex life would affect his decision making.
What is not believable and definitely a stretch is Greenfield’s attempt to have Kennedy viewed as a non-Cold Warrior by citing speeches given the last year of his life. The author seems to ignore the parts of the speeches that call Communism repugnant and evil. He never refers to the speech Kennedy would have given in Dallas had he lived. In fact, Swanson quotes it in End of Days, “voices preaching doctrines wholly unsuited to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons…our adversaries have not abanodned their ambitions, our dangers have not diminished, our vigilance cannot be relaxed.” When asked about this, Greenfield stated to blackfive.net, “Kennedy was no fan of the Soviet system. What he was saying is that he was not going to base a foreign policy on a risky approach. I tried to write a plausible history.”
Swanson’s End of Days and Greenfield’s If Kennedy Lived are interesting reads. The books give a detailed account of that era in American history where most Americans can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard that horrifying news. President and Jackie Kennedy are martyred, admired, and respected which is reflected in both books.