The Kennedy Detail
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Kennedy Detail Reader's Review

"Keep the ivy league charlatans off the back of the car"
 CJA "CJA" (Minneapolis, MN) 

Blaine was a secret service agent assigned to protect Eisenhower and Kennedy; he resigned in 1964 to work for IBM. He did advance work for the Tampa motorcade that took place several days before Dallas, as well as advance work for the Austin stop that never happened. Although he was not present on November 22, 1963, he knows all the agents involved and was able to get everyone to talk many years later. The assassination was understandably traumatic for the agents, a trauma made worse by the absence of counseling or discussion of the trauma.

Through anecdote and then through a detailed accounting of the trips leading up to Dallas, Blaine gives a very good sense of the camaraderie and difficulties experienced by the Kennedy detail. Kennedy emerges from the account as a charismatic man who was loved and respected by his agents and who took time and effort to get to know his agents. The sordid Kennedy who supposedly used his agents to set up or cover up sex parties is not found in this account. Perhaps Blaine refrained from telling a few salacious stories. But more likely, the stories are themselves myths. Kennedy certainly had an active sex life, but clearly the man's focus was on being President, and he was fundamentally decent in dealing with others. It's interesting that we choose to measure "morality" on the basis of the extent to which one leads a conventional monogamous sex life. Kennedy's unconventional sex life was hurtful and was a character flaw. But it does not fully define the man. I'd rather have a guy with the decency and judgment of Kennedy with his finger on the button than monogamous guys like Nixon, Carter, or Bush.

The account is especially forceful in dismissing the elaborate conspiracy theories that defy logic and that take poetic license with the record. The eyewitnesses heard three shots and saw the back of Kennedy's head explode. Oswald had a clear and even easy shot. One agent thought he heard a shot from the grassy knoll, but it is clear that this was simply an echo effect.

The pain of Clint Hill -- Jackie's agent who ran to the vehicle after the first shot only to see Kennedy's head explode before he got there, and who threw Jackie back into the car and then covered both her and the President -- is well told. If only he could have gotten there sooner -- though it's hard to see how he could have acted any differently.

The real problem was the motorcade itself -- in a open top, unarmored vehicle completely exposed to a sniper. The problem was compounded by publishing the route in advance. One simply cannot protect the President under such circumstances.

One device the agents tried to use in such motorcades was to ride behind the President on a running board in the back of the vehicle. This tactic, however, was counterproductive. The whole ideal of the motorcade was to expose the President. Thus, Kennedy told his agents to "keep the ivy league charlatans off the back of the car." A classic bit of Kennedy wit. The agents weren't insulted by the remark and instead knew it was Kennedy's way of making and reinforcing a point.

Blaine points out that in the end even having the men on the back of the car would not have worked. First of all, the car was going through a thinning crowd and was going to speed up to hit an entrance ramp. So, even when agents rode on the running boards, the protocol was to jump off at this point. Also, Oswald's shot was so easy, it would not have made any difference any way.

This is a very moving book that inspires respect for the secret service and for Kennedy himself.

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