Declassified JFK documents speak volumes Cold War history is one of my hobbies. Just as Civil War buffs collect artifacts and fill bookshelves with volumes containing obscure information, so am I with JFK and Khrushchev and Nixon. One of the most critical eras in American history was the period 1961-"63, the thousand days of John F. Kennedy"s presidency. The nation went to the brink of nuclear war. Civil rights was exploding as an issue here at home. And, of course, Kennedy"s life came to a tragic end on Elm Street in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. The six seconds between the first and last shots that day have been endlessly written about and studied and are still being debated today. The end of the Cold War finally brought about the release of millions of pages of documents from both the United States and the former Soviet Union. Items once so secret that only the president could read them are now available for study by anyone with a modem and a Web browser. The Web site history-matters.com hosts thousands of pages of documents regarding the JFK assassination and the decision-making behind the Vietnam war. The JFK stuff, particularly the material from the 1964 Warren Commission investigation, is fascinating. Norman Mailer wrote in his excellent book Oswald"s Ghost that a writer could make a career as a minimalist author of the second rank by using nothing else but the Warren Commission testimony. There are many bizarre stories encapsulated within the 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits. With the passage of time, the depositions have been freed from their role as exhibits and have become little slices of history from a bygone era. The characters are more interesting now to dramatists and playwrights than historians or researchers. The volumes contain hundreds and hundreds of individual stories, sometimes only peripherally related to the JFK murder. People drawn in by one strange tie or coincidence to the historic event are brought in and their lives made snapshots of history. Cases in point: We are introduced in Vol. 6 to Mary Bledsoe, Lee Harvey Oswald"s grumpy onetime landlady, who kicked him out because he spoke a foreign language on the phone to his wife. She didn"t like him using the icebox, either. By freakish coincidence she saw Oswald on a Dallas bus shortly after the assassination. Mailer talks at length of how the Bledsoes of the world were contributing factors in Oswald"s isolation and disaffection from society. Mr. Ball: Why did you tell him you wouldn"t rent to him any more? Mrs. Bledsoe: Because I didn"t like him. Mr. Ball: Why? Mrs. Bledsoe: I didn"t like his attitude. He was just kind of like this, you know, just big shot, you know, and I didn"t have anything to say to him, and but, I didn"t like him. There was just something about him I didn"t like or want him - just wasn"t the kind of person I wanted. Just didn"t want him around me. And then, in Vol. 15, there is the saga of the Rubenstein family, escapees from Russia who came to America to find a better life and instead found alcoholism and psychological problems. In a testimony which could be the blueprint for a tragic opera, Jack Ruby"s brother, Hyman Rubenstein, talks about his abusive father and emotionally disturbed mother. A sister of theirs died at age 5 after tipping a kettle of hot soup onto herself, which started the family"s self-immolation. Mr. Griffin: While you were a child, did your mother have any peculiar ideas, any delusions of any sort, did she seem to have any mental problems? Mr. Rubenstein: Yes; she always felt there was a bone stuck in her throat and about once a month I had to take her downtown. I being the oldest, to a clinic for 50 cents, we had clinics, you know those days, and she insisted there was a bone stuck in her throat from fish, and every time we would go there the doctor would tell her, "Mrs. Rubenstein, there is nothing in your throat, you are imagining things. Why don"t you forget it?" Thirty days later, about 30 days, I don"t know, I would go back there with her again. She insisted and I went, she made me go. This kept on for a couple of years, and she finally got tired of going and then we quit going. One of the most haunting sections describes the nightmares of Abraham Zapruder, who stated he would see the famous 8mm movie he made of JFK"s murder "every night" in his sleep. He breaks down describing how the president was "shot down like a dog." Mr. Zapruder: For a moment, I thought it was, you know, like you say, "Oh, he got me," when you hear a shot - you"ve heard these expressions and then I saw - don"t believe the president is going to make jokes like this, but before I had a chance to organize my mind, I heard a second shot and then I saw his head opened up and the blood and everything came out and I started - I can hardly talk about it [the witness crying]. Those looking for evidence of a second gunman will be disappointed; virtually every witness backs up the official version of events. There are no smoking guns, literal or otherwise, in the testimony of the witnesses. Virtually all of them saw what the official investigation found: three shots from the building where Oswald worked. But their words make for compelling reading today in a way never intended. That sad day in Dallas spawned many things; interesting reading material just being one of them.

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