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Book asks, 'Did U.S. Help Assassinate JFK?'

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Knight Ridder Newspapers


PHILADELPHIA - There are some subjects - and the web of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy is certainly among them - that most members of the academic establishment avoid as much as possible.

And then there is Temple University's Joan Mellen, whose new book, "A Farewell to Justice," pins the murder on the U.S. government itself.

"Long live tenure," said Mellen, an English professor who has written an eclectic collection of 17 books.

Her latest, which was published last week, started out as a biography of Jim Garrison, the New Orleans district attorney whose investigation of the assassination was dramatized in Oliver Stone's 1991 film "JFK."

But in her research on Garrison, Mellen soon became fascinated by the assassination itself. After eight years of work, in which she says she conducted 1,200 interviews, Mellen concluded that Garrison had it right, and that the CIA - with the help of other government agencies - orchestrated the assassination and worked to thwart the district attorney's investigation.

"Intra-government warfare caused the death of President Kennedy," she said. "The evidence is conclusive."

Mellen presents her evidence in a dense and highly detailed 386 pages, with 140 additional pages of careful citations and sourcing.

In a review of the book, Publishers Weekly praised it for bringing "an astonishing amount of information to light," but complained that the narrative "confuses an already bewildering case by shifting timelines, authorial voices and locations with seemingly little cause."

For her part, Mellen considers the book a work of serious academic scholarship - even though she is a creative-writing professor and not a trained historian.

"If it weren't scholarship, it'd be worthless," she said.

Mellen, who was tenured in the early 1970s, said she was "not ambitious" and was unconcerned about any damage the book might do to her scholarly reputation.

Thus far, at least, Temple has been highly supportive of her work, Mellen said. The university public relations department has promoted her book, and university president David Adamany wrote her a letter commending her work as a "public intellectual," Mellen said.

"The serious historians have run away from this case," she said. "They don't want the taint; they want to be in the mainstream."

But poll after poll has demonstrated that a large majority of Americans do not believe the Warren Commission's findings that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

Despite that, the subject is "taboo" in most academic circles, Mellen said. It would also seem, if the reaction of publishers is any gauge, that the popularity of JFK assassination books is on the wane.

Mellen found no takers for her full 1,500-page manuscript, and only one - a specialist Virginia press called Potomac Books - for the whittled down version.

"A Farewell to Justice" will have to sell well if Mellen is to recoup the $150,000 of her own money she estimates she spent researching the book.

"It consumed my life, but I'd do it again," Mellen said. "It's my contribution to history."


(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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