Special Report-Gus Russo's Live by the Sword

by W. Tracy Parnell

Gus Russo's Live by the Sword released in 1998 by Bancroft Press, was generally well received by both reviewers and JFK researchers. Max Holland writing for The Nation said, "Exhaustively documented, it not only utilizes many of the records made available by the review board but exploits the author's more than twenty-year investigation into the assassination...". In the New York Times Book Review Charles Saltzbegr wrote, "...compelling, exhaustively researched and evenhanded book... ".

As a believer in the "lone assassin" theory, I was intrigued by the book's thesis and more than ready to embrace it. Simply stated, that thesis is that Oswald alone killed JFK for Castro. I checked the book out of my local library when it became available in order to read and review it for this website. My initial impression however, was not as positive as I had imagined it would be. Here is my original review of the book.

Mr. Russo, it turns out, took exception with my review and contacted me through an intermediary. Russo wanted equal time to rebut my arguments and I must admit he did a good job of this on several points. Here is his rebuttal.

Was I too harsh in my treatment of Russo? Perhaps. After all, I still essentially agree with the basic premise concerning Oswald's likely motive. And there is no doubt that this is one of the more important JFK titles in recent years. The early chapters offer an excellent overview of Cuban-American relations preceding and including the Castro takeover. Also very strong is the chapter on the assassination itself.

Recently, however, I discovered the full text of the afore-mentioned Nation article by Max Holland, and it seems that I was not the only one who had problems with the Russo methodology. Holland writes:

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While Russo is an indefatigable researcher, he also appears to be nearly incapable of discrimination and not much inclined to take a hard look at sources he likes. Much of what he has dug up is superb, such as pages from a copy of the 1975 Senate report on assassinations annotated by no less than one Bill Harvey, who actually ran the CIA component of Operation Mongoose, as the post­Bay of Pigs plan was called. But as often as he wows the reader, Russo disappoints, spoiling his story with unsupported allegations tossed in casually, such as the notion that Richard Nixon, while Vice President, "secretly undertook an anti-Castro operation that operated outside of Presidential and Security Council controls."

Russo is so intent on proving his thesis, which is that Oswald acted because the Kennedy brothers were trying to get Castro, that he routinely recites half-truths, and on occasion even bends a quote to mean something entirely different from what was intended. For example, in testimony before the Warren Commission, Michael Paine, whose wife had befriended Marina Oswald, told of a conversation he had with Oswald about Lee's subscription to The Daily Worker, official newspaper of the US Communist Party. Oswald "said that you could tell...what they [the party] wanted you to do by reading between the lines," Paine testified. In Russo's book, Oswald's remark to Paine becomes, "You could tell what they (the Kennedys) wanted to do [i.e., reinvade Cuba] by reading between the lines."

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Here is a link to the full text of the article which covers several recent assassination titles and offers a discussion of the ARRB documents.

So read my review and Russo's rebuttal and be sure to read Holland's excellent piece. Then decide for yourself if my criticism was misplaced. And if you haven't done so please read the book!

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