Setting the record straight

Thomas G. BuchananThomas G. Buchanan was my father. The impetus for creating this website was that I recently found some misinformation about him on a forum. I decided it would be a good idea to have an official website run by his family as a source of accurate information, and eventually (as time allows) more detail than is currently available elsewhere online.

In the meantime, I posted some corrections and comments on the forum in question. The thread is about his book Who Killed Kennedy? Here’s what I said:

I came across this thread while Googling JFK materials on the web on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. I was interested in particular in anything mentioning my father, Thomas G. Buchanan.

I just wanted to offer some clarification where some of you have had questions or doubts that I can answer, or have made statements that are incorrect or defamatory.

About my father’s birth and death:

First, a minor correction concerning his birth. According to John Simkin, the book jacket of the UK edition of Who Killed Kennedy? says my father was “born in the Deep South.” He was born in Baltimore, Maryland. I don’t think that’s considered the “Deep” South, although it did fall on the southern side of the slavery issue during the civil war.

To answer the question about his death: he died of multiple myeloma in January 1988. He was diagnosed in 1984, the same year his last book was published.

There are two versions of the Kennedy book:

John wrote:
“The publication date of the book was interesting. It was May 1964. In fact, it was based on a series of articles that appeared in L’Express in March, 1964. As you can see, this was before the publication of the Warren Report.”

The book was first published in 1964 in the UK and France, then other countries, and only later in the US. The US version includes additions and revisions based on material that came to light after the first publication. For instance, it includes commentary on the findings of the Warren Commission.

Regarding what kind of contact he had with Senator Edward Kennedy:

John also wrote:
“In the preface Buchanan writes that the reason he had written the articles was because he had been contacted by a staff member of the Warren Commission. This person had put him in contact with Ted Kennedy. He in turn had arranged for Buchanan to meet Nicholas Katzenbach “to whom Attorney-General Robert F. Kennedy had delegated responsibility in recent months”. Buchanan therefore implies that the Kennedy brothers were behind this book.”

That’s not what my father meant to imply. I don’t have the UK version of the book at hand, so I’m not sure in what way it might differ from the US version in this respect, but I do have the US version. It doesn’t have a Preface per se, just an Author’s Note, which is worded as follows:

“The major part of the report you are about to read—extracts of which first appeared in l’Express of Paris—was filed in Washington in March, 1964, with the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren. This action was taken at the request of a staff member of that commission, Howard P. Willens.
“Discussion of the case with a Commission representative followed an interview of more than an hour with Nicholas De B. Katzenbach, at that time Deputy Attorney General of the United States, to whom Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had delegated most of his responsibilities during the months that followed the assassination. This interview was arranged by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the President’s younger brother. The subsequent appointment with a representative of the President’s Commission was made by Mr. Katzenbach.”

I also have the book my father wrote about his FBI files, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, published in 1984 and titled Big Brother—Ma vie revue et corrigée par le F.B.I. (Big Brother–My life reviewed and revised by the F.B.I.). The latter describes the sequence of events to be as follows:

  • My father first started writing about the assassination about a month after the event, on his own, as a freelancer, without being commissioned to do so. He wanted to put down in written form an analysis of all the inconsistencies being reported by the media at the time.
  • He showed his report to friends who were able to bring it to the attention of the editors at l’Express.
  • L’Express published extracts of what he had so far, as a series of 6 articles.
  • L’Express then assigned my father to go to Dallas to cover the Ruby trial in real time.
  • The editor at l’Express also arranged for my father to have an interview with Edward Kennedy during that visit to the States.
  • Edward Kennedy arranged for him to meet instead with Katzenbach.
  • Katzenbach spoke with him for around an hour and then, in my father’s presence, called Howard Willens (liaison to the Warren Commission) to request that the latter speak with my father as well.
  • Willens had a similarly long discussion with my father and then invited him to submit his report to the Warren Commission.

So I think you read more into it than was there, John, when you wrote, “What appears to have happened is that someone on the Warren Commission realised that a cover-up was about to take place. Therefore, they had decided to leak what the WC had really found out to a journalist.” My father had not been contacted by Willens, Willens had been contacted on his behalf by Katzenbach. It was just the usual kind of journalistic interview gathering, initiated by the editor from l’Express. I’m not aware of any leaks to my father from anyone connected to the Warren Commission.

In response to Tim Gratz’s comments that the Kennedy brothers would never have associated in this way with a “known” communist, I think you overestimate my father’s notoriety at the time (although the FBI was certainly aware of him – but I’m not sure that would mean they would screen all contact that the Kennedys had with journalists), and you perhaps underestimate the willingness of the Kennedys to allow journalists to do their job without unnecessary obstacles and without scrutinizing their backgrounds. I imagine they offered the same redirection in interview opportunities to other journalists as well. In any case, my father didn’t claim to have met with either of the Kennedy brothers, he simply communicated the fact that the appointment with Katzenbach was arranged by the Senator.

Tim wrote:
“And remember Buchanan states that Sen Kennedy directed him to Nicholas Katzenbach. Katzenbach was of course the author of the infamous “cover-up” memo, we could even call him the architect of the cover-up. But, of course, Buchanan was unaware of the Katzenbach memo when he wrote the book. So I think Buchanan’s invocation of Katzenbach is probably further demonstration that he lacks credibilty.”

You’re right that my father would not have known about the Katzenbach memo at the time of his book, so I’m not sure how you feel it impacts his credibility. Even if he had known of it, why would it discredit him to relay the (basically clerical) facts about which people were involved in how his report found its way to the Warren Commission? I imagine that the mention of government officials by name was intended to cater to the needs of the kind of reader who wants to have a sense of proof that the author is a serious journalist who has gone through official channels rather than someone inventing theories off the top of his head, i.e. it is precisely about demonstrating credibility.

Tim also wrote:
“And again I think Buchanan’s credibility can be tested by determining whether he really had any contact with Sen Kennedy.”

I think the clarification I gave above addresses the doubts expressed about my father’s credibility and truthfulness in the matter of his contact with Katzenbach and Senator Kennedy. It would be nice to see a retraction of the disparaging suspicion of lies.

Regarding the importance of disclosure that my father was a communist:

Tim wrote:
“John, I assume when you posted you did not know that Buchanan had been a member of the Communist Party since at least 1948 (or you certainly would have so informed us). Since the Communist Party is an obvious suspect in the assassination, Buchanan is hardly a “disinterested” observor.”

We clearly have different personal experiences with the communists in our respective lives (or, more likely – correct me if I’m wrong — you have no communist friends or acquaintances, Tim, so you’re going solely on preconceptions about what the ideology is and how it translates in terms of human character). Since all the communists I know first-hand as real people are genuinely ethical, caring and compassionate people with noble ideals of making the world a better place for all people through peaceful means, I obviously don’t agree with your prejudice against them. But given that your prejudice is a commonly shared one in the US, I suppose I can acknowledge that many of the rest of you on this forum might think it relevant to know that my father was indeed once a member of the American Communist Party. To me, if it’s relevant at all, it’s by virtue of the fact that, as a communist, he was among those in the best position to recognize the fallacy of a communist connection. I won’t go into why, since John already quoted the passage from his book where he outlines the reasons why none of the communist groups or countries would have expected to benefit from JFK’s death, and could, on the contrary, be negatively affected by it, and therefore none had a proper motive.

Regarding the idea that all communists only tow the party line:

Tim also wrote:
“As the article notes, he could have written the book under Communist discipline.”

“Communist discipline” sounds like an assumption that anyone who is communist would automatically be indoctrinated to tow a party-line without thinking for themselves. In my father’s book Big Brother, he offers what he calls “Buchanan’s law”: that anyone who is 100% aligned with every single tactical or strategical decision made by party leaders, must be an infiltrator rather than a genuine Marxist; that it’s only when one has no true compatibility with the philosophy, and is trying hard nevertheless to appear to adhere to it, that one has to regurgitate doctrine defined by others rather than work out one’s own perspective and decide how closely (or not) it aligns with party lines. My father left the US Communist Party around the same time as many others did, around 1956, when they felt that the party line was not sufficiently integrating the lessons learned from Krushchev’s report on Stalin’s crimes. He was never under any state or party control even during the time he had a membership in the party. In fact, I would say he was very much his own man, it was one of the traits about him, hence going against the grain by being a communist even when it was an unpopular and dangerous thing to do. He continued to believe in Marxist ideals his whole life.

Regarding mistrusting anything that any communist says:

Tim wrote:
“So to say Buchanan cannot be trusted since he was a Communist is not a smear; it is simply a fact.”

It’s not a fact, it’s a preconceived opinion. Referring to him as a communist is not a smear because he was one. Some day, referring to someone as a communist who is not one, will also not be a smear, it will simply be a mistake. In the meantime, it’s only a smear if it’s intended to be disparaging, just like the word “gay” is used by intolerant people as an insult when it really should only be a matter of fact or misinformation.

Regarding the notion that he had CIA backing:

Paul Rigby wrote:
“Thus Thomas Buchanan’s Who Killed Kennedy? was published, in the UK, by a publisher at the very heart of the Anglo-American spook politico-cultural nexus.
“Nor is this the only evidence of CIA-backing for Buchanan’s book.”

No offense intended, but I actually literally laughed out loud when I read that. But the CIA’s suspected interest in my father – an interest of a totally different sort – was not at all a laughing matter to us, his family, back in the days of his JFK articles/book coming out. My father was told by several editors that someone had come to them to dissuade them from publishing his writings. No person or agency would bother doing that unless “someone” wanted his version of the story silenced. I don’t know for a fact that it was the CIA who kept warning editors (both in the US and in Europe) about my father’s “subversive” leanings and urging them not to “collaborate” with such things – the “officials” claimed to be from the US embassy – but we believed it might be the CIA. Whoever it was, we lived in fear of our father being assassinated as well. [Update: I read too quickly what was written in the book Big Brother. It wasn’t that the two men “claimed” to be from the US embassy, it was that they were ‘representatives of what was euphemistically referred to in Spain as “the United States embassy” — from the context on surrounding pages, this appears to be the United States Information Agency (USIA).]

Regarding the notion that he ghost-wrote Farewell America:

William Turner wrote:
“In my opinion Thomas G. Buchanan was the ghost writer of “Farewell America.” He fits the profile given to me by Herve Lamarre, the French intelligence agent who fronted the Farewell project.”

I’d be interested to know what that profile said, but either way, you’re simply wrong. My father did not ghost-write Farewell America.

William also wrote:
“Buchanan was far from a Communist. He was a World War II veteran, an Ivy Leaguer and a correspondent for L’Express, for whom he covered the Jack Ruby trial.”

I can’t tell if you’re trolling. My father was indeed a communist. He became one when he was 12 years old, after reading Men Like Gods by H.G. Wells. How is that incompatible with having attended Lawrenceville school and Yale and George Washington universities, having fought in World War II, and having been a correspondent for a leftist paper?

Regarding the civil rights of communists:

Tim wrote in response to John:
“You ask whether it is right to “sack people because they are members of the Communist Party.” I certainly agree with free speech, within constitutionally acceptable limits (e.g. child pornography, etc.) But I also believe a newspaper has the right to fire a staff member who deliberately withheld the fact that he was a card-carrying member of the Communist party. Free speech does not mean a newspaper is obligated to employ Communists.”

A newspaper isn’t “obligated” to employ anyone specific – a specific woman, a specific Afro-American, a specific homosexual, a specific communist. But do you believe the Constitution supports the idea that it’s okay to base hiring and firing on prejudice — that a newspaper has the right to fire someone on the sole basis of their political views?

I can guess what you might be going to say, Tim: you probably believe that communism is the exception to the rule. Except for who the “bad guy” is, it’s the same argument that allowed water-boarding at Guantanamo. What were you saying about the ends justifying the means…?

I know I can’t convince anyone who has already closed their mind to the idea (in my experience, the reality) that people who believe in the communist ideal of what’s socially and economically fair (not to be confused with the failed attempts at implementation of that ideal) are generally motivated by humanitarian ideals. I can only hope that you haven’t closed yours and can re-evaluate your demonizing portrayal.

In any case, the whole point of having rights and freedoms is that they should apply to everyone, even Nazis, fascists, and — *shudder* 😉 — communists. Back in 1948, avoiding discrimination may not have been a legal obligation, but it’s always been a moral/ethical one.

My father’s editor stated very clearly, when he fired him, that his work was not at issue and had always been satisfactory. It was the first case of a journalist being fired explicitly for the sole reason of being a communist. As such, it triggered a debate in the American Newspaper Guild about whether or not to support the civil rights of their communist members.,9171,779896,00.html

Many of his colleagues were in favour of supporting my father’s right to his own views and affiliations, even when they themselves disagreed with them. A bunch of them even bought him a full-page space in a competing newspaper to give him an opportunity to express his views on his situation. The local chapter, however, voted against supporting him, saying that no one was keeping him from belonging to the Communist Party if he so chose, therefore they didn’t consider his rights to be violated. Never mind that it meant he couldn’t get employment as a journalist in the US while he was blacklisted. He couldn’t even keep a job in any other field, because of it. The Guild’s debate went on for a long time, and in the end the majority at the national congress ruled in his favour by 273 to 18, but it was too late for my father and he continued to lose subsequent jobs that were not in journalism.

One of the positions he held after he was fired from the Washington Star, was executive secretary of the Washington chapter of the Civil Rights Congress.

That job ended when their funds dwindled to where they could no longer pay his salary. In the meantime, it earned him the label of “key figure” in the eyes of the FBI. This was not the beginning of their awareness and surveillance of him, as they were the ones who notified the Washington Evening Star about his communist party membership in the first place. But the Civil Rights Congress position was the trigger for the FBI increasing their suspicion of him. Around 1952, they started intercepting him after work every so often, always the same two agents taking him to their black car for little “chats” to try to persuade him to give the names of other communists. As John Simkin has already guessed, he always refused. They put his file into dormancy when he moved to France in 1961, then re-activated it when he started writing about the Kennedy assassination.

I hope you’ve all found the above clarifications helpful.