Book Review

by Carolyn Dane

Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy,
the Plan for a Coup in Cuba,
and the Murder of JFK

by Lamar Waldron with Thom Hartmann

According to the back cover, this book has been publicized on talk radio, the History Channel, and in Vanity Fair, but it has certainly been ignored by the mainstream media. I had never heard of it until I read the chapter devoted to it in Point to Point Navigation, the latest memoir from Gore Vidal, who knew the Kennedys and finds it quite convincing, as do I.

The book began about 20 years ago as an exploration of the relationship between RFK and the Cuban veterans of the Bay of Pigs. It ended up taking 18 years and involving the examination of the four million or so relevant documents that have been declassified in recent years (the rest of the information that hasn't been destroyed is scheduled to be declassified in 2017), interviews with the players and their associates, and correlation with publicly-available information such as congressional committee reports, newspaper stories, and books, particularly including the autobiographies of Alexander Haig and Joseph Califano.

The story that emerges is a complicated one that goes something like this:

After the humiliating defeat at the Bay of Pigs of 1961, and the terrifying Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Cuba was at the top of JFK's priority list in 1963. Elaborate top secret plans were laid for a coup against Castro, scheduled for 12/1/63. RFK was in charge overall, clearly acting for JFK. Only about 12 people knew about the coup plan in detail, including General Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who was scheduled to command the military intervention that would come to the aid of the new Cuban provisional government (to be headed by Juan Almeida, head of the Cuban army) after Castro was killed; Cyrus Vance, Secretary of the Army; Enrique Ruiz, aka Harry Williams, the Bay of Pigs veteran and close friend of RFK, who coordinated five groups of Cubans; and a select few CIA and military personnel. Other top government officials were involved in the planning under the impression that it was just a "what if" contingency plan. The countdown to the coup was to begin on 11/22/63.

Meanwhile, without the Kennedys' knowledge, the CIA continued with separate plans to assassinate Castro with the help of the Mafia.

The Mafia had relied on an understanding with the Kennedys that went back to Joe Kennedy's connections during prohibition. The mob considered RFK a traitor to that trust with his prosecution of the godfathers, whose lives were being made miserable by the RFK Justice Department. It looked like they were facing a choice between exile and prison. Three dons were RFK's primary targets: Santo Trafficante in Florida, Johnny Roselli of Chicago and Las Vegas, and Carlos Marcello of Louisiana and East Texas. Trafficante proposed a hit on Bobby, but Marcello said, "When a dog annoys you, you don't cut off his tail." JFK was killed by Mafia hit men firing from the grassy knoll.

The Mafia had been able to infiltrate the Cuban groups planning for the 12/1 coup because of their CIA connections to the other Castro assassination plots. They were able to take advantage of the extreme secrecy of the coup plans: if the CIA revealed who killed JFK, there was serious risk of revealing the Castro coup plot, which might have caused Khrushchev to send nukes in retaliation. Oswald was, as he said, a patsy, connected to both the CIA and the Mafia. Ruby was also Mafia; his assignment to kill Oswald had been set up as a contingency plan before JFK was killed.

As they say, conspiracies don't generally stay secret forever. Two CIA men made deathbed confessions. The authors of Ultimate Sacrifice have done a masterful job of putting the pieces together and organizing them so they make sense. One might think that 800 pages of details would be mind-numbing, but I find them riveting (though I'm only 200 pages into it) as they reveal the roles of people involved in one way or another whose names will be well remembered by anyone old enough to have been politically aware in the early 60s.

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