Thursday, June 01, 2017

Fake Valor and Fake History: The Strange Case of William Manchester



By David in TN
Thursday, June 1, 2017 at 2:08:00 P.M. EDT

Speaking of “Hatred for the President,” I’ve been re-reading William Manchester’s The Death of a President. Manchester spent a lot of time in the book on the “hate-filled atmosphere” in Dallas, Texas. He implied that since Oswald read the Dallas newspapers and imbibed the general tone, it drove the “unstable” Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot John F. Kennedy.

[N.S.: Oliver Stone must have either read the book, or had someone read it for him, since that description sounds exactly like the mythic Dallas of JFK.]

Manchester (like all liberals) didn't take Oswald’s Marxist viewpoint seriously and preferred to believe it had nothing to do with his actions. Well, Oswald defected to the Soviet Union in 1959. A very unusual thing for an American at the time.

He came back (with his Russian wife) in 1962 because “there was no place to spend his money, no bowling alleys or nightclubs.”

Manchester barely (and grudgingly) acknowledged Oswald tried to assassinate General Walker a few months before. Was killing a Bircher encouraged by the Dallas Right Wing?

Incidentally, William Manchester was the subject of an article in The American Spectator a few days ago.

Manchester told the NEH he had been awarded the Silver Star and Navy Cross as a WWII Marine. No, he wasn't. Manchester was seriously wounded by mortar fire, but received no special decorations.

Apparently, Manchester put forged documents for the Silver Star and Navy Cross in his papers.

He was in the “intelligence section” of a regimental headquarters company. Manchester was under fire at times, but most of the time back at company HQ.

Some critics thought William Manchester’s books were too much hagiography, superficial, and hyperbolic.

One of the most bizarre happenings of the 1960s was the so-called Manchester Affair. After the Kennedy family commissioned Manchester to write a book on the JFK assassination, they tried to stop publication. Bobby and Jackie refused to read the book, while simultaneously denouncing it. Jackie was going to haul Manchester into court.

In January 1967, Jackie deigned to read the book and liked it, calling it “fascinating.” It became a big best-seller.

[David’s essay reminds me of Joe Ellis, the Mt. Holyoke history professor (American Sphinx), who was caught lying about his combat experience, or lack thereof, during the War in Vietnam.]


Anonymous said...

Well written report.

Anonymous said...

"Manchester (like all liberals) didn't take Oswald’s Marxist viewpoint seriously and preferred to believe it had nothing to do with his actions."

Lee had communism as his cause but the killing of JFK was probably more an instance of a very little man wanting to play the big man. And Lee is the archetype in this regard.

Anonymous said...

"After the Kennedy family commissioned Manchester to write a book on the JFK assassination, they tried to stop publication. Bobby and Jackie refused to read the book, while simultaneously denouncing it"

Kennedy famblee always like to portray themselves as intellectuals reading books all the time. Nonsense. Anything but intellectuals. JFK thought have an IQ barely enough to be President.

David In TN said...

William Manchester differed from Oliver Stone in one important particular, but agreed on another. Manchester always said Oswald acted alone and there was no conspiracy. Manchester said (in a letter to the NY Times when Stone's movie came out) he sympathized with those who wanted to believe in a conspiracy in order to give more "meaning to the President's death, but there is no evidence of one."

Manchester wrote several times, including a 1983 hagiography titled "A Brief Shining Moment," that JFK planned to withdraw (presumably after the 1964 election) from Vietnam. He claimed JFK told him this in a private conversation. Manchester thus took the "John F. Kennedy would have kept us out of Vietnam" line, but not the idiotic fantasies of the conspiracy types.

Based on the revelations of Manchester inflating his war record, his story that JFK told him he was going to withdraw from Vietnam is very questionable.

Nicholas said...

Thanks for the background, David.

That Manchester was a real compulsive case. The notion that JFK would have gotten us OUT of Vietnam is ludicrous. That would have been Kennedy’s War, had he not been assassinated. Like just about everyone at the time, Communist and anti-Communist, Jack believed in the Domino Theory. And he was maybe the last great anti-Communist left in the Democrat Party.

Actually, I’ve long suspected that we were already fighting in Vietnam under Kennedy. How can you have thousands of “military advisors” in a small country, without any of them firing a shot in anger?

David In TN said...

Oh yes, our advisers were fighting with the South Vietnamese forces they were advising. I recall a Saturday Evening Post cover story on them arriving in our mailbox. We had something over a hundred KIA during JFK's presidency. He sent a personal letter to the family of each one.

Jacob Cohen (I think he's still teaching at Brandeis) wrote an article ( in the June 1992 Commentary refuting Oliver Stone's film point by point. Of Oswald's political views and motivation, Cohen wrote:

"Why would Oswald try to kill a right-wing general? An obvious hypothesis, the one Stone and the critics feverishly try to silence, is that the attempt had to do with Oswald's intense left-wing sympathies. Stone's campaign to turn him into a long-term right-winger, in league with Castro-hating activists, involves biographical surgery even more radical than the surgery which allegedly transformed the President's wounds the night of the assassination."

"Oswald was already a left-winger at the age of thirteen when he distributed pro-Rosenberg material in New York. He defected to the Soviet Union and attempted to commit suicide when, notwithstanding his offer of radar data, the land of his dreams refused him citizenship. Disillusioned with the Soviet Union, he returned to the U.S. and transferred his fantasies to a new hero, Castro, whose picture he kept by his bed. He monitored radio broadcasts from Havana on his shortwave radio."

"Oswald subscribed to the Communist Daily Worker and the Trotskyist Militant; these are the newspapers he holds in the authentic photos of him with gun and pistol taken in his backyard. He formed a one-person chapter of the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) handed out FPCC leaflets, which he himself printed, and spoke on the radio in its behalf. Imagining himself a Castro operative, and acting alone, as always, he briefly attempted to infiltrate an anti-Castro group in New Orleans but then immediately revealed his pro-Castro sympathies, to the group's considerable dismay. He visited the Cuban and Russian embassies in Mexico City in October 1963, seeking a visa to Cuba, and reacted in fury when denied his request."

"This recital only scratches the surface of Oswald's left-wing record and his unstable, lone-wolf personality. But it is enough to sustain at least the possibility that the sole assassin of John F. Kennedy was a left-wing fantasist who found himself working in a building in front of which would come the President of the United States, the man whom Castro had publicly named as responsible for assassination attempts on his, Castro's, life. The same fantasist who went to the Soviet Union expecting to be accepted as a hero (and told his Russian wife that someday he would be 'president of the world') now thought, incoherently, stupidly, that he would become a hero in Cuba as the assassin of Castro's enemies: General Walker and President Kennedy. Character, as the Greeks said, is fate."

William Manchester perceived none of this. Or didn't want to.