The previous item published on this website was 16 Questions on the Assassination - a short essay written in 1964 by the world-famous philosopher and peace activist Bertrand Russell.
Why did Russell’s essay matter – then and now?
By 1964, when he wrote his list of queries about the report of The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (to use the Warren Commission’s official name), Lord Russell was an octogenarian. His international reputation built over many decades, Russell was still quite remarkably active, intellectually and politically – and extremely well-connected.
In fact, Russell garnered an impressive number of prominent English intellectuals to help raise the alarm about JFK’s murder, highlight the inadequacies of the investigative process underway at that time and support a call for a thorough and credible re-investigation of the assassination. Russell’s “Who Killed Kennedy Committee’ included some of the best-known progressive intellectuals in Britain at the time, figures of note such as Herbert Read, John Arden, John Calder, Michael Foot, Victor Golancz, J.B. Priestley, Kingsley Martin, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Mervyn Stockwood and Kenneth Tynan.
Yet despite his prestige and fame – and the caliber of his associates – Russell’s concerns about the assassination didn’t penetrate deeply into the mass consciousness of British society at that time. Russell’s doubts about the Warren Commission - shared by many of his peers – weren’t widely echoed in the British press. How it was that the clearly stated concerns of such prominent intellects were downplayed to such an extent in the British media is indeed an interesting subject for further research.
Of course, the critical issue was how Russell’s alarm-raising would be received inside the United States itself. After all, it was the USA whose President had recently been assassinated, the Warren Commission was exclusively a US institution – and if there was to be any hope of restoring due process, American society had the decisive role.
Within the USA, some activists were indeed raising the same questions that Russell asked. He obtained much of his information from them. What Russell offered their cause was support from a voice with international reach – the enthusiastic endorsement of a man respected not only because of his unique career as a philosopher and historian of Western philosophy, but also for his peace and disarmament activism going back as far in time as the Great War.
Russell’s 16 points were circulated to a few recipients within the USA, but as far as I’m aware it was never published or reproduced by the left-wing media. Crucially, many more left-wing Americans would doubtless have read about Russell’s 16 Questions, not by reading the short document itself, but via a hostile critique by the very well-known activist – journalist I.F. Stone. On October 5th 1964, Stone’s widely-read weekly newsletter featured an article by Stone entitled ‘The Left and the Warren Commission Report
I.F. Stone’s astonishing one-off faith in the CIA abd US government integrity
In the early 1960s Stone’s influence over the American Left was comparable to the prestige of Noam Chomsky today.
These two iconic figures of the American Left are not directly comparable, yet in some respects they are remarkably similar.
Stone was a declared Marxist; Chomsky, a generation later, eschewed Marxism and is commonly labelled an ‘anarchist’ (a rather odd political creed, given the US military has been a significant and ongoing source of funding for Chomsky’s academic linguistic work.
In the 1950s and 60s when his influence was so significant on the US Left, Stone’s Marxism was closer to the centre of gravity of leftist politics at that time – and both men had large followings within the Left Intelligentsia (Chomsky, of course, still has). Both, despite their apparently ‘extreme’ left-wing politics, were quite well-promoted by mainstream media. Both were popularly known for distrusting government and exposing US Government wrong-doing – domestically and overseas.
Hence when I.F. Stone’s weekly newsletter contained a barely courteous and quite damning critique of Russell’s 16 Questions, a lot of people on the American Left may well have found Stone’s analysis persuasive. Stone’s high profile as a ‘fearless muckraker’ and critic of government wrong-doing would have helped assuage the doubts of many of his readers. If Russell lit a fire with his 16 Questions, Stone helped to extinguish the flames. Clarity in questioning the official assassination narrative and subsequent investigative process was covered by a fog of confusion.
The first two paragraphs of Stone’s article contain the basics of his case:
All my adult life as a newspaperman I have been fighting in defense of the Left and of a sane politics, against conspiracy theories of history, character assassination, guilt by association and demonology. Now I see elements of the Left using these same tactics in the controversy over the Kennedy assassination and the Warren Commission Report. I believe the Commission has done a first-class job, on a level that does our country proud and is worthy of so tragic an event. I regard the case against Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer of the President as conclusive. By the nature of the case, absolute certainty will never be attained, and those still convinced of Oswald’s innocence have a right to pursue the search for evidence which might exculpate him. But I want to suggest that this search be carried on in a sober manner and with full awareness of what is involved.
Slander, Not Controversy
It is one thing to analyze discrepancies. It is quite another to write and speak in just that hysterical and defamatory way from which the Left has suffered in the last quarter century or more of political controversy. I want to start with my dear and revered friend, Bertrand Russell. He owes it to all of us who have looked to him as a world spokesman of the peace movement, as a great philosopher and humanitarian, to speak more responsibly on this subject, It was not responsible, on the basis of a transatlantic phone call from Mark Lane, to attack the report as “a sorrily incompetent document” which “covers its authors in shame” without having first read it. This is on a par, in its febrile prejudgment, with Lord Russell’s earlier statement comparing Lane’s defense of Oswald with Zola’s defense of Dreyfus, and declaring, “There has never been a more subversive, conspiratorial, unpatriotic or endangering course for the security of the United States and the world than the attempt by the U.S. Government to hide the murderers of its recent President.” This assumes instead of proving. It is slander, not controversy.
Russell must have read Stone’s newsletter and groaned.
There’s no evidence, as far as I’m aware, that he considered Stone’s response to be other than an honest disagreement. Fierce disputes have long been the warp and weft of radical politics. Russell, a founder-member of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, was well-used to the controversy and in-fighting that often surrounds new initiatives.
But unlike people reading this material for the first time nearlt 50 years ago, we have some benefit through hindsight.
Above all, we now know that Russell was essentially right – and Stone’s arguments were quite mysteriously fallacious. I.F. Stone – whose most famous quotation is “All Governments Lie!” – cashed in his popular credibility at a crucial time to assuage concern about JFK’s assassination on the American Left.
Why did he do that?
John Simkin, who runs a successful and impressive forum about the Kennedy Assassination, raised the question whether Stone was really working for the CIA in a thread entitled: “I. F. Stone and the Assassination of JFK”
A CIA guiding hand is possible – but no hard evidence has been adduced to support the contention.
However, a connection can be established between I.F. Stone in the late 1940s and the Zionist militia and forerunner of the Israeli Mossad.
Here’s a short extract from the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, Nov 29th 2001, as re-published by the Jewish Agency for Israel.
The son of ardent Labor Zionists, Zev Meir Siegel was a George Washington University student in 1946 when that school’s Hillel director contacted him about undertaking a mission on behalf of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Greenberg, the head of Hillel at George Washington University, was a recruiter for Haganah. It’s as simple as that,” Siegel said in a telephone interview this week with The Chronicle. “The crew of the Exodus came right out of his efforts.”
Siegel said that he and some others attended a meeting at the home of journalist I.F. Stone “and there was the future captain of the Exodus, Ike Aronowitz, and he and a few other people of the Mossad asked us to give up a year of lives to help Jewish people – to get them out of the camps”.
“I don’t care about that asshole case!”
How did Stone respond to critics of his damning article?
We can get an insight from the reports of some who tried to persuade him to look again at the assassination case.
Raymond Marcus is one such case, In 1964, Marcus was an early critic of the Warren Commission as well as a long-standing subscriber to Stone’s newsletter. In 1995 he reminisced about his interactions with Stone over the JFK assassination in an article entitled ‘Comments on I. F. Stone‘.
Marcus’ article is short and so relevant it’s worth quoting here in full:
I.F. Stone was born Isidor Feinstein in 1907 in Philadelphia to Jewish immigrant parents from Russia. Raised in New Jersey, he started his journalistic career at age fourteen with a liberal neighborhood monthly. While attending University of Pennsylvania he worked full-time for the Philadelphia Inquirer editing and rewriting articles. He then write editorials for the New York Post, was an associate and then Washington editor for The Nation, and then worked for P.M., the New York Star, and the New York Daily Compass. After the successive collapse of these three New York liberal dailies, Stone launched his newsletter, I. F. Stone’s Weekly, with 5,300 subscribers in 1953, which he produced at his home in Washington, D. C. with the assistance of his wife, Esther (circulation eventually reached 70.000).
Although Stone’s most important work was done in Washington, he was not part of the political/journalistic establishment, and he had no wish to be so. Instead of cozying up to important insiders, he based his work primarily on the study of newspapers and documents, employing his exceptionally keen and probing intellect to slice through the fog of official positions on national and international affairs so as to expose the underlying truth to his readers with characteristic brevity and clarity.
Stone was an independent leftist. Although it is probably true that in the earlier years of the Cold War he sometimes tended to minimize Moscow’s misdeeds while maximizing Washington’s, and that he was certainly wrong in concluding his 1953 book The Hidden History of the Korean War that South Korea and the U.S. were the aggressors, he was no friend of Communist dictators. He bitterly denounced the Soviet bloc after his trip to the Soviet Union in 1956, and wrote, “The worker is more exploited than in Western welfare states. This is not a good society, and it is not led by honest men.”
I was a charter subscriber to the Weekly. Having earlier subscribed to George Seldes’ “In Fact,” I found Stone’s newsletter a worthy successor and looked forward to each issue. The Weekly undoubtedly reached a readership for more influential than its small circulation would indicate.
In the months following the assassination I eagerly awaited Stone’s critical analysis. With his long demonstrated ability to demolish official falsehoods, I had little reason to doubt he would make mincemeat of the just released Warren Report; whose no-conspiracy conclusions had been leaked to the press and public for many months, and whose questionable veracity in many crucial instances had already been amply demonstrated.
Then came I. F. Stone’s Weekly of October 5, 1964, headed “The Left and the Warren Report.” It was a paean of praise for the Warren Commission and its conclusions. He chastised the Left on whose behalf, and for sane policies, he said he had been fighting all his adult life, accusing it of the same kind of slander, character assassination, guilt by association, an demonology of which it had frequently been the victim in the past. He praised the Report for criticizing the Secret Service and FBI by saying “There was insufficient liaison…between the Secret Service and the other Federal agencies…” He attempted to defuse the few items he mentioned questioning the official version by highlighting them in boxes “refuted” by his quotes from the “Speculation and Rumors” section of the Warren Report. He said, “…the Commission has done a first-rate job, on the level that does our country proud and is worthy of so tragic an event.” He regarded the case against Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer as “conclusive.”
Of the Commission members he indicated they were all honorable men. Of Cong. Gerald Ford, “He denies any association with the FBI, and there is no evidence of any such link” (later it was shown beyond question that Ford was reporting regularly to the FBI about proceedings of secret Commission meetings). He said Senator John Sherman Cooper had made a principled speech against the Anti-Communist Act passed in 1954. He said he knew John J. McCloy during the war as an unusually competent public servant. He said he had “…criticized Allen W. Dulles constantly over the years. But I would not impute to him or any other member of the Commission conduct so evil as to conspire with the secret services to protect the killers of a President.” And finally, of Warren himself. he said, “This is also to assume that Chief Justice Earl Warren, whom the right hates for his decisions protecting the Negroes and radicals, would be a party to a conspiracy to protect a cabal of rightist assassins.” He said those who, by rejecting the official conclusions could believe otherwise, “…belong in the booby hatch.”
What was totally lacking in I.F. Stone’s comments was any evidence of the kind of critical analysis he normally employed in assessing official statements. The Warren Report was made public just a few days prior to his October 5th issue . It is extremely doubtful that Stone had time to do more than glance through it. The Volumes were not even published until almost two months later. It was obvious that I.F. Stone, for whatever reason and completely contrary to his usual working methods, had accepted official handouts and published them uncritically. I was shocked, dismayed, and angered. I wrote a lengthy letter to Stone listing fifteen highly improbably separate sets of circumstances surrounding the case, all of which would nevertheless have to be true for the official conclusions to be true. I urged him to study the questions and reconsider his position. I received no response to my letter.
In September 1966, I was planning a trip to the east coast to meet in person with other critics with whom I had been corresponding. I also planned to visit the National Archives in Washington to view the Zapruder film.
From L.A. I phoned Stone at his home in Washington. I told him I had previously written to him about his position on the case, and requested a meeting with him so that I could present to him some important evidence, primarily photographic, during my trip. His answer was immediate, loud (very loud), and clear: “I DON’T CARE ABOUT THAT ASSHOLE CASE!,” he bellowed, and then hung up. The thought occurred to me that had he written in his Weekly, instead of the actual contents of his October 5, ’64 issue, that he didn’t care about the case (with or without the expletive deleted), it would at least have had the virtue of being honest, and incapable of misleading his readers; despite being an uncharacteristic position for I.F. Stone to take on so vital a matter of national interest.
Three years later, in his March 24, ’69 issue, Stone expressed his belief that the killing of Martin Luther King was the result of a conspiracy. He said, “J. Edgar Hoover, who hated and once insulted King, should be challenged to explain on what basis he announced within 24 hours of the killing that there was no conspiracy. How could he possibly have known so quickly?” He called for pressure on the White House for a complete investigation “…independent of the FBI and its chief,” adding that “The only virtue of the Memphis deal (Attorney Percy Foreman’s arrangement in which he persuaded James Earl Ray to plead guilty, ostensibly in order to avoid the death penalty) was that it keeps Ray alive someday to tell the full story.”
I again wrote to Stone, and suggested that Hoover (and Attorney General Ramsey Clark) “knew” within 24 hours that there was no conspiracy just as the federal establishment “knew” within 5 hours following JFK’s murder that a number of prominent individuals, including Walter Lippman and Harrison Salisbury, had changed their original views and were now calling for a compete new investigation (although very little media attention had been paid to their new position). Again Stone did not deign to respond.
The public record of public individuals, for reason of fairness and historical accuracy, should be judged in their entirely, weighing both their positive and negative contributions.
I.F. Stone was typically a fearless tribune for truth; a tireless fighter for civil rights and civil liberties; a consistent advocate for racial justice; a strong and principled opponent of the McCarthyites and other enemies of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms; a clear and constant voice against our military involvement in Vietnam, first under Eisenhower and Kennedy, and then during the escalating madness perpetrated by Lyndon Johnson. For all this he deserves to be remembered with honor, for it is the major part of his legacy.
But I.F. Stone, for whatever reason or reasons, willingly chose to endorse uncritically the Warren Report, and to excoriate and denigrate those of his fellow citizens, including those of his own readers, who chose instead to subject the Warren Commission’s findings to critical analysis and to draw reasonable conclusions, i.e., to treat this important official pronouncement as I.F. Stone himself normally treated such pronouncement. Buy so doing he lend his name, prestige, and considerable influence to the most monumentally fraudulent document ever foisted on the American public by its government. That also is and will remain an important part of his legacy.
This type of behaviour from Stone will be familiar to those who’ve followed the seemingly astonishing irrationality of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and other prominent “intellectuals” of our times regarding concerns raised by many others about the 9-11 official story.
Stone’s seemingly irrational intolerance for hard questions about the Kennedy assassination was a prototype for their own fatuous dismissal of similar concerns regarding 9/11. In Chomsky’s case (he was already prominent in the late 1960s), it was also the template for his dismissive attitude to people raising concerns about JFK’s assassination.
Surely it’s reasonable to speculate that all these prominent intellectuals are not exactly what they seem – quite likely for similar reasons?
Left-wingers and ‘progressives’ turned to well known opinion leaders on the same side of politics for honest and dispassionate analysis of the most important issues of the day.
By serving as gatekeepers on behalf of the planet’s most heinous killers, these ‘leaders’ betrayed our trust.
FURTHER READING ON SUSPECTED ISRAELI CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
Israel and the Assassination of JFK
Israel and 9/11