One of my long time interests has been behavior of Vice President Johnson during the hours immediately following the attack on President Kennedy – an attack which at the time could not have been known to be limited to an action against only the President. There has been a good deal of speculation, including some of my own, that Johnson’s actions were not what should have been expected of the Vice President. Others have suggested that there was a broader pattern of national security failure.

One way to test such speculation is to actually compare the response of the people at the very top of the national security chain of command during major crises, including events that would have produced fears that the nation itself might shortly come under attack. To do that effectively it’s necessary to really dig into what the plans and preparations for such crises have been and to study their evolution over time.  As it turns out there are ample incidents which do allow comparison, beginning with at least two instances under President Eisenhower when he was informed of an apparent, incoming Soviet attack on the United States. I’m not talking about some quickly resolved NORAD alert, but presumed incoming atomic bomber strikes which were tracked and monitored over several hours.

An even more direct comparison can be made concerning the Vice Presidential and national security response to the shooting and near death of President Reagan. One of the most dubious parts of Johnson’s response to President Kennedy’s death is his apparent ignorance of his responsibilities as Commander in Chief and his conduct in taking over those duties on November 22. Of course if he had prior knowledge that a Soviet “decapitation” attack was not actually in play, it would provide an explanation for what appears to be a dereliction of duty on his part. Some have painted the brush even more broadly, pointing to similar failure to act by the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser and other senior officials – indicative of a conspiracy involving one or even all of them.

The question then is how their actions compare to those of their counterparts during other crises, including President Reagan’s shooting or the attacks of 9/11. It is possible to explore that question in detail, even to the point of comparing events on and communications from the Presidential and Vice Presidential aircraft during major crises. I tackle those comparisons in Surprise Attack and while I’m not going to give away the conclusions I can say I found doing the research absolutely fascinating. The comparisons in the book apply not only to Johnson’s performance but to that of other positions, specifically that of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser and beyond that to the Presidential military aides.

I can also say that certain of Johnson’s activities on November 22, 1963 were impossible to compare – and for readers of Someone Would Have Talked, I refer to the calls from Presidential aides to Texas on the evening of November 22. What would be most revealing, and something someone should undertake, is a study of the phone calls and contacts made by Johnson immediately following the Tonkin Gulf incident and the attack on the intelligence ship Liberty. The question being, was it routine practice for Johnson to initiate major cover ups for any incident in which he failed his duties as Commander in Chief. I have gone down that trail to a certain extent and some of that is discussed in the book; there is a much expanded story to tell though, of that I’m sure.


About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

8 responses »

  1. Chloe Louise says:

    Dear Larry…..Just can’t resist mentioning…..just today I asked the guy at the dog park, “who do you think killed JFK,” as I had just been watching the you-tube show about Tippit by the author McBride…….

    I said to my friend it is so fascinating and I often spend my spare time looking at this kind of thing.

    He said he did not know who killed JFK and he did not care since it was 30 years ago and people have moved on.

    Well, not only does he have a problem with addition, but he should be more interested in the whole thing–this ultimate mystery of the century really should be solved–the cover-up won the minute LHO appeared on the cover of Life Magazine.

    Has anyone ever noticed how odd LHO acts in custody… me he does not act like the average 25 year old just accused of murdering the president……always admiring your work…..what do you think?

    • Hi Chloe, good to hear from you! You are absolutely correct about Ostwald’s behavior and I think there are multiple reasons for that. First off he was far more experienced than the average 25 year old or even 50 year old employee of the TSBD. He read broadly if not deeply, he had traveled extensively, he had a variety of contacts with intelligence agencies and he demonstrated at least a minimal level of intelligence street trade-craft (probably better than Howard Hunt but I won’t get into that dog fight). He was a moderately skilled speaker both on radio and in personal speaking, not good but far better than the average person who panics in front of a mike. Of course all that is not the image of a dysfunctional, lone nut, that needed to be projected. I once quickly one an online debate with a Lone Nut proponent who wanted to portray him as a bitter loner to a couple of dozen photos which clearly show him as socially outgoing from high school on… Now he may have been a pain in the rear arguing social issues (myself and a lot of my friends were in that era as well) and could be antagonistic in doing so, but hey, it was the 60’s. Beyond that I truly think that on Nov. 22 he didn’t feel immediately in jeopardy although he did fairly quickly come to realize he might be serving as a patsy simply because of his time in Russia and his Cuban activism. That took a few hours to fully jell though; he may also have felt that he had some sort of backstop that would protect him. I think you find him becoming more worried as time passed. On the other hand, given that some of his immediate concerns in jail involved shoes for his daughter, he was probably pretty conflicted. All that explains the LIFE magazine and related media blitz, it would not have done for the public to really get to know Lee Oswald too well.

  2. David Brown says:

    Cannot wait! And. Hoover… Let me know your take on the attached…

    Dave Brown

    Sent from my iPad


    • Hi Dave, actually I have just been on the phone with the leading producer and another team member of the Parkland Doctors production group. The story of how their effort started and came together is fascinating and there seems to be reason to believe that it could be explosive. Debra Conway of JFK Lancer asked me to reach out to them and given her and William Law’s similar work with the Bethesda staff she is very excited about the new video project. She will be connecting with them this coming week and we have offered a variety of support including working with them in Dallas and their participation in this November’s conference.

  3. It has always seemed to me that when Oswald asked for ‘someone’ to come forward, he didn’t mean someone he actually meant a specific person, a handler or someone who could come forward, vouch for him and he’d be in the clear. That request was either ignored or Ruby got to him first.

    • Steve, given that Oswald had volunteered to provide info to the FBI in Dallas, had certainly done so in New Orleans and may well have had contacts well beyond that I think at first he may indeed have thought that someone would quietly show up to vouch for him. Of course there is no way that would have happened, certainly not short term. Hard to see how that would play out longer term but I think he was a much greater risk given that at any point he might begin talking about all sorts of people he had been in touch with, outside the Bureau or Agency and that would have produced leads that could not be ignored. That is why Ruby had to have his mission changed so dramatically and quickly.

  4. Lisa hardy says:

    I am thinking about attending the Lancer conference this year, but can’t find out if anyone interesting will be speaking. Do you have any inside info to help me decide if I should spend the money to attend. I have never been to a Dallas conference but have always wanted to…
    Thanks for any info.

    • Hi Lisa, I’m glad you asked and I need to do a detailed post on the conference. It has really jelled over the past couple of weeks and we are close to finalizing the schedule. You will find a number of the speakers listed on the Lancer site at this link

      In addition we will have David Mantik, Gary Murr and John Hunt speaking. While many of the speakers such as David Talbot, Sherry Feister, Dr. Mantik and William Law have works in print some of the others may be less familiar to you. For example John Hunt had done ground breaking primary research on the medical evidence, its just rare that we manage to get him out to speak about it. Gary Murr has done similar work in the area of the Carcano ammo and on Gov. Connolly’s wounds and we also are lucky to get him out to talk. Folks like John and Gary are accomplished researchers and we are happy to have both of them this year. William Law will presented brand new interviews with Bethesda personnel and Jim Jenkins is expected to come with him. And we hope to have other appearances by individuals associated with the new Parkland Doctor movie, which is ground breaking in itself. As soon as I can I will post more details about the presenters and their subjects but its also good to keep following the conference info on the Lancer web site. Hope this helps a bit for the moment.

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