Monday, April 2, 2012

How Wilful Ignorance of Inconvenient History Ruins Kristine Kathryn Rusch's 'G-Men' (2008)"


I recently read Kristine Kathryn Rusch's short story "G-Men," which is an alternate history murder mystery set in October 1964 -- an important month indeed, when I personally entered the world, and also some minor stuff started happening in Southeast Asia.  FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, his personal assistant and possible lover Clyde Tolson, and three other FBI agents have been murdered outside a seedy gay hangout in New York City, and the question is:  "Whodunit?"

The story was interesting and engaging, and a fascinating examination of how attitudes toward crime and law enforcement were different almost a half-century ago.  But it seriously collapsed in its climax, because the author was forced to bend her interpretation of the history of LBJ and the Kennedys to fit the received wisdom as to the JFK assassination, as understood by the modern Left.

Dialogue and Monologue From the Climax

In the climactic scene, RFK (Robert F. Kennedy, JFK's competent younger brother, the Attorney-General) and LBJ (President Lyndon Baines Johnson), are facing-off over the secret political files of the deceased FBI Director.  Historically, J. Edgar Hoover had the dirt on virtually every politician and even celebrity in the country, and used these files both for occasional political blackmail and even more to prevent overreaching Presidents from using these files for systematic political blackmail).  LBJ can fire RFK, whom he hates, and seize the files, but RFK points out that LBJ can't do this without either taking a lot of time to go through procedures or creating a huge political scandal.

Here, LBJ and RFK talk, and RFK muses, about his brother's assassination.  LBJ says:

"... There's a lot of shit running around here that says your brother's shooting was a mob hit, and I know personally that J. Edgar was doing his best to make it seem like that Oswald character acted alone.  But now Edgar is dead and Jack is dead and the only tie they have is the way they kowtowed to your stupid prosecution of the men that got your brother elected."

Kennedy felt lightheaded.  He hadn't even thought that the deaths of his brother and J. Edgar were connected.  But LBJ had a point.  Maybe there was a conspiracy to kill government officials.  Maybe the mob was showing its power.  He'd had warning.

Hell, he'd had suspicions.  He hadn't let himself look at any of the evidence in his brother's assassination, not after he secured the body and prevented a disastrous autopsy in Texas.  If those doctors at Parkland had done their job, they would've seen just how advanced Jack's Addison's disease was.  The best kept secret of the Kennedy Administration -- an administration full of secrets -- was how close Jack was to incapacitation and death.


Now, this exchange and interior monologue makes literally no logical sense -- and worse, it makes LBJ out to be a virtual traitor and RFK out to be a coward, which is probably not what the author intended.  Note that LBJ is saying that he thinks the Mafia has decided to kill Presidents and FBI Directors of which it disapproves and he isn't going to do anything to stop them from continuing to do this (a blatant violation of his Oath of Office) and RFK is thinking that he had to acquiesce to letting go the people who had not merely killed a sitting US President  but also HIS OWN BROTHER because he is afraid that otherwise people would have learned the JFK was seriously ill (which is a fact that would have become entirely irrelevant the moment JFK died).  At a minimum, one would have to assume that both LBJ and RFK were imbeciles incapable of logical planning -- for instance, wouldn't it occur to LBJ that his number-one priority should be to take down this dangerous conspiracy which might target him next?

This makes no sense on the face of it.  If this were a story set in an entirely fictional world, one would accuse Ms. Rusch of an incapablity of handling basic reasoning as it applies to political maneuvering, conspiracies and even common sense.

But of course this isn't set in an entirely fictional world, and that's the reason why Rusch's logic here stumbles.

Two Assassinations

It is part of the received wisdom of the modern Left that JFK was secretly an enlightened Leftist who if allowed to remain President would have avoided the Vietnam War, ended racism in America, and accomplished all sorts of great Leftist things such as would have pleased the hippies of 5-10 years after his death -- and that for this reason he was murdered by a Right-wing conspiracy, probably including the CIA, Mafia, and (depending who you ask) everyone else from the Dixiecrats to the Boy Scouts.  It is also part of the received wisdom of the modern Left that RFK was also such a Lightworker who would have made the hippies happy, etc. etc., and was bumped off by the same people.

This is called "retconning" when applied to fiction.  JFK was a hardline anti-Communist -- he was in short on the right wing of the Democrats on every issue other than race (the real right-wing Democrats on race were the Southern Democrats aka "Dixiecrats," who then and for the past century had worked hard to keep blacks down).  He didn't merely talk an anti-Communist line, he practiced it -- he invaded Cuba, upon the failure of this invasion repeatedly tried to assassinate Fidel Castro, and ramped-up American intervention against Communists everywhere from Central America to Southeast Asia.  He was one of the architects of the American involvement in the Vietnam War.

When he was murdered in 1963 -- based on overwhleming evidence, by a Castro-sympathizing Communist ex-US Marine by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald, who if he did not act alone was probably taking orders from Fidel Castro (who actually had a very good motive, means and opportunity) -- his Presidency was aborted.  And the kids who grew up admiring JFK, who then went to college and became the proto-Counterculture -- were free to imagine that their childhood hero believed and would have done any old thing that they wished he believed and would have done -- and those mean old Establishment types killed him to prevent him from doing so.

And so began and proliferated the conspiracy theories.

Amusingly, Rusch misses the most obvious conspiracy theory, the one which RFK if he had decided his brother was killed by conspirators including US Government officials and/or the Mafia helped by a US Government coverup, would likely have believed.

Who profited the most by JFK's death?  Why, his Vice-President, Lyndon Baines Johnson.  JFK hated LBJ and the hatred was cordially returned.  LBJ was going to be dropped from the ticket in 1968, but JFK's assassination instead catapulted LBJ into the Presidency.  And LBJ was the one man whom, if any other conspiracy was plotting to kill JFK, had to be brought on board in at least passive acceptance of the plot, because otherwise he would have been in a position to punish the conspirators for the murder of an American President -- a crime which his own power and safety demanded he not permit.

Yet in the confrontation, RFK does not even show a hint of suspecting that LBJ may have had his brother murdered.  Why?

Because LBJ is also a hero to the Left because of his Great Society program (they tend to forgive him the Vietnam War, because after all it was just a lot of redneck Americans and swarthy foreigners who got killed in that little fracas).  They can't have one hero of the Left getting mad at another hero of the Left for murdering yet another hero of the Left -- why, that might imply a certain degree of insane violence on the American Left, and we can't have that.  Better to blame the Mafia -- who really expects any better of the Mafia, anyway?  And as for the CIA ...

As for RFK, he was murdered in 1968, by Sirhan Sirhan, who was the prototype and first American example of the Angry Arab whom we all have to sympathize with because George W. Bush was such a meanie to them.  Even worse, Sirhan was a Palestinian, who killed RFK because RFK was sympathetic to the Israel (as was the whole Left, before the PLO started hitting Western targets and this scaring the Western Left into croaking "how high?" when the PLO asked froggie to jump).  This makes Sirhan Sirhan doubly sacrosanct and hence obviously the stooge of some Evil Conspiracy involving, um, the Mafia, the CIA, the Phone Company, and the Boy Scouts.  Or something like that.

RFK, of course, had decided to "get out front and lead" the New Left, much to the dismay of the actual New Left leaders, who were especially upset that their followers were forgetting that they were supposed to be rebelling against society, not joining the bandwagon of a rich Democrat who was very likely to become the next President of the United States of Amerikkka.  One could concoct a conspiracy theory involving the American New Leftists, except that those bozos clearly couldn't have organized a group of horny sailors on an outing to a whorehouse (as the Weathermen were shortly to begin demonstrating).

The Actual Denounement

I won't spoil the story, save to mention that the Mafia didn't kill J. Edgar Hoover -- and that the author sets up the real culprit quite professionally.  Which is to say, all that stuff in which LBJ and RFK are made to look like fools, cowards and traitors was just a red herring -- but of course Rusch didn't realize she was making LBJ and RFK look like fools, cowards and traitors.

She thought she was telling real history, the way she imagined those people actually thought.  They come off as imbecilic because she is resolutely avoiding confronting any historical truths which might blow the lid off just how imbecilic is the modern Left's version of the history surrounding the LBJ and RFK assassinations.


When one corrupts data, one corrupts the information one can construct from the data.  A lie or severe mistake regarding history will corrupt historical fiction derived from that history.  (Imagine if I believed that Europeans had possessed good maps and sailing instructions to the New World from AD 750 on, and then tried to comprehend the strategy of expansion of European polities under that belief!)

Here, the lies and mistakes which are required to keep JFK, LBJ, RFK and simultaneously Communists and the Palestinians as sympathetic historical actors, when it was a Communist (Oswald) and a Palestinian (Sirhan) who murdered JFK and RFK respectively, and LBJ who did nothing to avenge either death.

Truth will out.  Sometimes, by corrupting the conclusions of the liars.



  1. This to me comes off as "I don't like this alternate history because it's too alternate and doesn't depict commies and Muslims as evil."

    Maybe you should read Dan Simmons' latest instead.

    1. Then you have a reading comprehension problem. The story's not that "alternate" -- it takes place right after its own Point of Departure (the murder of J. Edgar Hoover), which is hardly far-fetched (one man decides to murder a prominent historical figure).

      The flaw in the story is that, by having the characters in-story believe an improbable account of the JFK assassination yet act only as they did historically, it makes the characters look stupid. The rason for this flaw is that the historical actions of LBJ and RFK are utterly-inconsistent with a belief that the Mafia had murdered JFK, if we want to see LBJ and RFK as heroic and responsible American leaders.

      Lee Harvey Oswald's murder of JFK was certainly "evil," and if LBJ didn't think so because he hated JFK, certainly John F. Kennedy's own BROTHER would have thought so. As for Sirhan Sirhan, he wasn't a Muslim, but rather a Christian Arab.

      What's more, in the ATL generated by the story, Sirhan Sirhan's assassination of RFK probably gets butterflied away.

      In any case, the issue isn't the evil of Communists and Christian Arabs, but rather that if LBJ and RFK had thought the Mafia killed JFK in 1963, they would have reacted not by backing-off their prosecution of organized crime, but by intensfying it, since the Mafia would have thus shown itself a deadlier threat to Ameica than they had previously imagined -- UNLESS we assume that they were fools, traitors or cowards.

      The solution to this dilenmna is simple. The evidence actually showed Oswald acted alone, and that if he didn't act alone, he acted in all probability as Fidel Castro's agent, not as the Mafia's agent. This solution is unacceptable to many in the modern Left because they really desperately WANT to blame the Right for JFK's assassination, in defiance of the evidence.

    2. I think your use of 'ruined' in the headline is a little strong. It's a stretch to pass such a judgement having only reproduced three paragraphs from the entire story.

      I haven't read this story since it was published but from what I remember the author uses the LBJ/JFK meeting to demonstrate hoover's leverage over the elite politicians and in return their desperation for self-preservation.

      Plus, your assertion that their reasoning is illogical takes no account of the fact that this meeting is a stand-off and both men have much to lose. Is it not plausible that LBJ was presenting himself falsely to get what he truly wants? And that RFK's response and monologue are those of a man caught in the moment (and that he might reconsider his views later when he truly has time to think everything through)?

      I think you're being overly critical and failing to weigh the characters actions and thoughts against the situation they're in. Plus, for an editor, you need to tighten up your writing. Too many hyphens needlessly joining clauses together. It's hard at times to grasp what you're saying.

  2. The problem is of temporal perspective. When one writes characters in a historical setting, one should limit the characters to what they would know and assume, not to what someone today might know and assume.

    The whole notion that JFK was murdered by a domestic conspiracy so immense that not even a sitting President aware of it could do anything to stop it or punish the perpetrators came out of the Counterculture. It would not be part of the ideological equpment of LBJ or RFK Both of them would assume that, if such a conspiracy existed and the President cared to crush it, he could do so.

    This leaves reasons why the President might not care to crush the conspiracy, which gets us right back to LBJ being a traitor, tyrant or coward. Which was not the point Rusch intended, so making it struck a very jarring note.

    Why the concern with historical accuracy? Because this is alternate history, and alternate history very much depends much depends upon accuracy for its plausibility. What Rusch did destroys verisimilitude, from the POV of anyone who remembers or knows the history and culture of the Early Sixties.