Sunday, March 13, 2011

So I just finished John Lennon: Life, Times & Assassination by the Brit Phil Strongman (published by Bluecoat Press, available on Amazon and, I'm sure, elsewhere). The book generated some press attention in the UK, e.g. the Daily Mail article proclaiming "thirty years on, there's an extraordinary new theory". Ahem. It's only new to those who haven't been paying attention. But press attention is welcome, and as for the book, my overall impression: this is a fine piece of work and deserves to be widely read. It places Lennon in the global historic context viewed through the lens of anti-imperialism, weaving Lennon, and Chapman, into a chronologic narrative, well-told by Strongman, who takes us from FDR to today, giving Central America its due along the way. Readers of this blog know that this latter is my main motor here: I am convinced that John Lennon died to advance Uncle Sam's murderous counterrevolutionary wars in Central America greenlighted by Reagan's election. Phil Strongman has made a major contribution.

Fenton Bresler's Who Killed John Lennon remains the single most important contribution to our knowledge of John's murder, including as it does the evidence unearthed by Bresler's investigation, to date still the most comprehensive we have. But there's plenty in this book to dig into, including some material about Chapman and the assassination that I haven't seen elsewhere.

First, Strongman recognizes the depth of murderous depravity of the Central America wars. "With Reagan's election now in the bag, both the CIA's hawks, and the Latin American police states they supported, decided they were virtually untouchable... During 1981 the US sent the Salvadoran government $30 million as that regime presided over the deaths of another 10,000 of its own civilians, including woman and children, most of them murdered by the Salvadoran military or this death squads." Strongman definitely gets the connection and gives it its due.

Second, Strongman brings in the other high-profile assassinations of the Sixties and beyond: JFK, Malcolm X, RFK, MLK, the attempts on George Wallace and Reagan, others in Mexico and Rome. In fact, he devotes more pages to these executions than to Lennon's (I think...I didn't really count). And his compilation of connections amongst the "illicit establishment" and "alleged assassins" is impressive. When I first read Bresler's book (~1995) and had my epiphany that John had been taken from us because of Central America, I avoided the context of this history of political murders in Amerikkka. I wanted to focus on the specifics of Lennon and Chapman - why it makes so much sense that the Permanent Government would want John out of the way as they cleared the decks for slaughter in Central America, and all of the facts about Chapman's life that were just too inconvenient to fit the "deranged fan lone nut" cover story. It was, and is, a compelling case. But I also realize that of course this narrative means there is a CIA assassination force aided by their MK-ULTRA programmed-assassin project, and if one accepts the argument that they killed John Lennon, then one also has to accept the likelihood that they were behind other executions, and attempts. I didn't want to distract people with the ocean of material about e.g. the JFK assassination, into which one can easily submerge and never come up. But Strongman has done us all a service by embedding John in the sweep of this history, beginning with the natural sympathies of some domestic rightist elements (including some in the military) for European and Japanese fascism in the 30s, 40s, and beyond, and their successful importation (via Operation Paperclip) of Nazi technical experts and other war criminals (e.g. Martin Bormann) into the homeland (or to various allied subfascist countries) for the twin purposes of "loot and anti-Communism" as Strongman nicely summarizes. He takes us through the establishment of the OSS and its evolution into the CIA; the CIA's competitive relationship with J. Edgar Hoover's FBI; and the trump card held by the CIA: photos of Hoover in flagrante delicto with his longtime gay lover Clyde Tolson (not "Colson" - p25) - which enabled the CIA to poach on the FBI's turf - the USofA - supposedly prohibited by the CIA's founding charter. This enabled the CIA to "infiltrate every post-war industry, even those connected with the Arts." He reminds us that it was British military/intelligence, in Malaya, that first deployed the "hearts and minds" counterinsurgency strategy. He gives the RFK assassination appropriate attention, including acknowledging what I consider a smoking gun Herbert Spiegel, the Columbia psychiatrist and author of one of the standard texts of clinical hypnosis, concluding that Sirhan was hypnotically programmed to shoot RFK. I've said this repeatedly, so return visitors please excuse me, but I'm saying it again: if you haven't yet, see the film RFK Must Die, available on DVD, and listen to Spiegel make the case for the creation of a "programmed assassin".

Third, Strongman makes a number of points that I've never heard before, and haven't fact-checked. I do wish that he'd cited his sources as he made each of these assertions, rather than just having a list of references at the end... they could well all be accurate, but in any case, here they are:

  • elements of the US military plotted to assassinate FDR in 1934 in a coup d'etat but were foiled by loyalists
  • the CIA, by infiltrating its assets throughout the art scene in the US, succeeded in promoting the ascendancy of artists whose work would never challenge the real-world status quo, e.g. Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol - and in fact, much of the pop and op art of the 50s and 60s, funding the "strong new tradition that increasingly demanded that "art" could be literally anything - from a blank canvas to a shiny cartoon to an unmade bed - as long as it was without practicality, meaning, or politics..."
  • lots of stuff about the JFK assassination. That Frank Sturgis confessed to being one of the shooters; that Jack Ruby had worked for Richard Nixon; that Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald had been "bedmates"; that part of Oswald's set-up as the patsy involved hypnosis
  • a record executive offered to arrange the murder of a girl dating one of the Jackson Five so that wouldn't affect their image
  • Mae Brussell thought the Manson murders were part of Operation CHAOS, Hoover's plan for the FBI and CIA to collaborate on dividing the New Left.
  • there exists an FBI memo regarding the John Sinclair Freedom Rally of 10 December 1971 which "shows a strange fascination with the event's security"
  • E. Howard Hunt refused a request from Nixon aide Charles Colson to break into Arthur Bremer's house after Bremer had attempted to assassinate George Wallace. Later that year Hunt's wife was on a plane that exploded on the approach to Chicago.
  • in NYC 1976 or 77 "Lennon first started to dream about a stranger who asked for an album to be autographed then returned, later, angry and with a loaded gun".
  • Chapman speaks Russian (p211)? I'd not seen that mentioned anywhere. Is it true?
  • chills are a sign of deep hypnosis (p215)
  • "thirty years later, Dr. Dorothy Lewis...examined Mark David Chapman and declared her belief that he might have been acting in response to a 'command hallucination' the day John Lennon was killed."
Importantly, Strongman asserts that Chapman was not a big Beatles or Lennon fan. This is also what Bresler says in his landmark investigation. But according to Jack Jones, whose Let Me Take You Down is based on the most extensive set of interviews of Chapman at Attica: as a child Chapman "would sit, sometimes for hours, playing Meet the Beatles, his only rock music album, while rocking back and forth..."(pp97-98). Jones also quotes Jan Reeves, the sister of Dana Reeves (the Georgia state cop who gave Chapman the hollowpoints he was to fire at Lennon): "I had a big collection of Beatles albums and he told me one time he didn't like them anymore because John Lennon had said that they were more popular than God." (pp117-118). I wish that Strongman had mentioned this history, if only for completeness.

And some Chapman material I've not seen before, including Chapman's playing audio tapes of the gunfire he'd recorded in Beirut in June 1975 to his friends "after he and the other YMCA visitors were pulled out." The only place I've seen that mentioned is the post by a visitor to this site, who regarded this a sign of Chapman's being an enthusiast for violence (Phil, is that where you got this bit?). Also, that Beirut at that time was "said to have been the home of the CIA's top secret assassination training" as was/is Hawaii. He also notes that the source of funding of Chapman's travels has never been identified -- Bresler says that Chapman's wife fronted his plane fares to and from NYC, but that doesn't include his travels prior to his marriage, e.g. his first trip to Hawaii in January 1977, when on arrival in Honolulu, he checked into the expensive Moana Hotel, according to Strongman, "money again seemingly no object." After a year of dead-end jobs, Chapman is admitted to the psychiatric unit of Castle Memorial Hospital after an alleged suicide attempt, then, as Strongman points out, he joins the unit staff in what appear to be "this incredible transition, from psychiatric patient to psychiatric staffer, within weeks." In July 1978 he begins his world tour, and on his return gets over 1200 Kodachrome slides processed; again, with funds from a yet-unidentified source. Strongman notes that the born-again Chapman somehow gets himself sent to the Middle East in 1975 but fails to visit the Holy Land, and to compensate for this apparent oversight in his handling, at the end of his world trip, "Chapman squeezed in a couple of days in Israel and there he gave a couple of the Holy Sites a cursory glance." I wish Strongman had documented these statements - maybe they're in the references he cites at the end. Also, "his October 1980 postcard to an Italian friend that spoke of New York and a 'mission', was later returned to the USA as undeliverable. When it finally arrived the original posting date had been changed to 1981 and the word 'mission' had been carefully removed." Again, I'd really like to know the source for this.

I have a couple minor quibbles to air, some political, some factual, some really trivial:
  • I was surprised that in his review of the CIA's MK-ULTRA program of mind control, Strongman refers (p35) to CIA biochemist Frank Olson's having "leapt from a ninth-floor hotel window to his death" after being unwittingly dosed with LSD. The evidence is pretty potent that Olson was thrown through that window to prevent his talking about MK-ULTRA. His son, for one, is convinced of this and is devoting his life to re-opening the case and getting some justice for his father's murder - see his website; see also A Terrible Mistake: the Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments by H.P. Albarelli Jr and Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail by Bob Coen and Eric Nadler.
  • on p199, Strongman notes that on 2 December 1980, the same day the four U.S. churchwomen are raped and murdered by the Salvadoran military, Chapman boards a flight from Honolulu to Chicago and "although he has a grandmother in Chicago it's extremely unlikely that the armed Chapman really spends three days and nights alone with her." Regardless of how likely that may or may not be, Fenton Bresler, who made the discovery of the doctored plane tickets, also uncovered evidence that Chapman likely had flown to Chicago with his grandmother to bring her home after a visit, and thus had no intention of going on to NYC until he was re-oriented by his handlers during this 3-day layover.
  • Strongman refers to Vietnamese "Troskyites"...this term has historically been used primarily by those virulently opposed to Trotsky and his adherents, primarily Stalinists (e.g. the "Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre" of the Moscow trials of 1936). The precise, and preferred, term is "Trotskyist".
  • southern Vietnam's National Liberation Front (NLF) never referred to itself as the "Viet Cong" - that was the term chosen by the invader (Uncle Sam), and so using it unconsciously represents a choice for the imperialist telling of history.
  • Candlestick Park is not "some 4,000 miles" from Liverpool (p 109); it's more like 5400 (OK that really is trivial, but I think if you're writing a book that's, uh, gonna be controversial, it's best to fact-check everything great and small).
  • Less trivial is this (p117) "By 1 February 1968, over 1,400 troops had been killed or wounded [in Vietnam]" -- I'm sure this was a typo, since it was more like 16,250 killed (not counting wounded) by 1968.
  • on p137, a telex from J. Edgar Hoover to Special Agents in Charge in NYC and LA reads "While Lennon and the Harrisons have shown propensity [sic] to become involved in violent antiwar demonstrations" But there must be a typo (like, he meant "...have shown no propensity...") since on the same page is this: "And even the airtel admits that neither Lennon nor the Harrisons had shown any 'propensity to become involved in violent antiwar demonstrations'"
p176: "Madison Square Gardens"
p226: "Charlie Mansion's"
p257: "The fact that Chapman avoided the publicity..." repeats

Finally, Strongman concludes that "I am now as convinced as any human being can be that elements of both the FBI and the CIA were undoubtedly behind a 'cover-up' in December 1980." Phil, man, I'm with ya, and if you're reading this, well I really really like your book. I hope you take the above as suggestions as constructive criticism for tuning up the second edition...and while you're at it, maybe you could add an index?


Exiles800 said...


I've recently realized the formation of the OSS and subsequent CIA was done by the same group that tried to assassinate FDR. Only they did it with the excuse of total war powers for national security embodied by the overarching authority of the war state during WWII. A wise understanding of our nation would see that we never again returned to anything close to FDR's humanitarian progressiveness post WWII and that the power that then asserted itself was recognized and cited by Truman when he pointed-out the dangers of the "Military Industrial Complex". The next president to step out of line in a way that conflicted with this FDR assassination plotter cabal was president John F Kennedy, and we all know what happened to him, how, and why...

alan said...

Thanks, Exiles800. Once again you've brought the Lennon assassination back to the its roots. I did not myself know about the FDR plot until reading Strongman's book (funny the stuff so many of us have never heard of). Now after a brief Google search here's all this material, including an entry by a "Steven D" on the Daily Kos, 27 February 2005: "The Real Plot to Overthrow FDR's America" . And oh yeah, there's a Wikipedia entry, search on "Business Plot". This runs deep. But hey, I think you meant Eisenhower and not Truman with the military-industrial complex...

Exiles800 said...

Right, Eisenhower. I said Truman because I have just been reading how a month after JFK's assassination Truman wrote an editorial in the Washington Post warning that the CIA he signed into being had become something it wasn't intended to be and had assumed functions of making and enforcing policy it was never intended to. Gee, I wonder what Truman was trying to say 1 month after Kennedy's assassination?

Exiles800 said...

Interesting how Strongman mentions on page 47 that Elvis never really recovered his rock'n roll thrust after the army; Chuck Berry was jailed for violating the Mann Act; Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly died in crashes; and Gene Vincent had union problems that drove him to England. After establishing CIA was doing cultural manipulation it appears Strongman is trying to hint that these incidences were not accidents. He mentions it following a paragraph that tells how American music had turned away from rock to lighter ballads at the time. The only inference would be this was part of CIA influence seen in the arts at the time.