This is the premise of the fascinating novel, Surrounded by Enemies. Author Bryce Zabel has woven a plausible and thoroughly-imagined fictional series of events that might have taken place had Kennedy suirvived.
Maybe you have your own theory about how America would have developed over the years if Kennedy had lived? It’s a subject that many people – the general public and expert politicians alike – have pondered ever since that day in Dallas in November 1963.
Often, which is natural in the light of a tragedy, those who have speculated about the United States under the continued leadership of John Kennedy tend to look for the positives. They are more inclined to explain what improvements would have been made in the country and what Kennedy as president could have averted.
But in his novel Bryce Zabel shows us a darker side of how history could have been changed had the assassin’s bullet missed its target that day.
Who wanted to see Kennedy dead?
Of course, in reality this was what the country – indeed the world – wanted to know. But in the book’s alternative reality, logically no-one wanted to know more that Kennedy himself. Certainly, in our reality it caused a major crisis but thanks to the author of Surrounded by Enemies we see that had Kennedy lived, there would still have been a huge impact.
What had been shown to the world was that the government – in the form of the president – was not secure. In both realities, it was largely assumed that the assassin was not acting alone and was part of a larger conspiracy. The president had enemies who would stop at nothing. And there were many suspects. Was it the CIA? The Russians? The Mafia? Or was Kennedy targeted by his own government or army chiefs?
In the book, Jackie Kennedy puts it simply on the night of the attempted assassination: ‘Why do they want to kill you, Jack? What have you done?’
The other side of Jack Kennedy
Today we know a great deal more about John Kennedy than was known to the public in the nineteen sixties. We know now that he took a great number of prescription drugs, we know that he had various health issues. We also know that the image of a loving husband and father disguised his true desires for affairs with other women.
J. Edgar Hoover was the director of the FBI and the book describes how he had been collecting information about the darker side of John Kennedy for many years. In reality, Kennedy, along with his brother, attorney general RFK, considered removing Hoover from his powerful role. However they decided against it. In the novel however, they fire him from his influential position.
Hoover retaliates by contacting a magazine, called Top Story, and leaking his secret files to their reporters. Kennedy’s secrets are out – he is no longer immune to the probings of the press and the country realises that this man was not what they thought him to be.
This is the sort of book that you’ll want to read in one delightful sitting. Once you start, you’ll not want to put it away until you’ve read every last word. It’s remarkably realistic and incredibly well researched and the book is so well put together that you’ll sometimes believe that you are reading a true history of events.
I highly recommend this fascinating read that will make you too wonder if this alternate reality would have been the outcome if events in Dallas had been different.
From the publisher:
What if Kennedy survived Dallas?
President John F. Kennedy has lived through the ambush in Dealey Plaza. America holds its collective breath, seeing its president nearly executed in broad daylight. But as the country marches on, the office of the President finds itself under a much more insidious type of fire. Political scandal, an endless war, and a country coming apart at the seams take the 1960’s in a terrifying new direction, and both John and his attorney-general brother, Bobby, struggle to stay ahead of their enemies, political and otherwise, and steer America toward a greater future.
Bryce Zabel is a master of the cover-up and the conspiracy, creating the Emmy-award winning series DARK SKIES. SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES is the first novel in the new Breakpoint series—each book exploring seminal moments in popular history and taking readers on a journey into a mirror world where events are both unexpected yet startlingly believable.
This savvy, fiercely intelligent novel, perfect for readers of Harry Turtledove, brings together elements of political thriller and page-turning history, enthralling readers with a sharply written take on the America that was, and the America that could have been.
“I have some experience with shattered timelines and altered realities but this one kept me guessing every page.”
~ Damon Lindelof, writer/producer of LOST, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
“Plausible development, building from what we know about what really did go on, and a whacking good story…SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES delivers on both, big-time. So hold on to your hats, folks. You’re in for quite a ride.”
~ Harry Turtledove, alternative history author, HOW FEW REMAIN
Read an excerpt:
Excerpted from Chapter 1 of SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES
By Bryce Zabel
November 22, 1963
As the presidential motorcade turned left from Houston Street onto Elm Street and entered Dealey Plaza, Secret Service Special Agent Clinton J. Hill did not like what he saw. Hill, a stickler for following procedure, noticed that the driver of the presidential limo, fellow Secret Service Special Agent William Greer, had inexplicably hesitated and slowed his car to a near stop, a procedure opposite from what he had been trained to do.
In a series of photos taken by onlookers, Hill can be seen actually scowling in the direction to the left of the President’s car as he looked at an open, landscaped area at the western end of downtown Dallas. The agent was already in a bad mood because he had been told to ride on the left running board of the follow-up car instead of the 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible carrying the President, Mrs. Kennedy, and Texas Governor John Connelly and his wife, Idanell, or Nellie.
In a photo taken from another angle a second later, Hill can be seen looking right, where he sees the Texas School Book Depository, toward which the President is waving. Hill’s glance appears to be angled toward the building’s higher floors. The driver of the follow car, Sam Kinney, thought he heard Hill bark “Sonofabitch. It’s a kill zone.”
Whatever he said, what this presidential bodyguard did changed the course of history.
It seems probable that he saw a glint of metal in the midday sun as it flashed from a window on the sixth floor. Whether Hill also saw a rifle barrel or a man holding it can’t be known. He may even have seen, as was described by several witnesses, a spectator on the side of the street pumping an umbrella up and down in the air. In any case, there was no time to look, only to act. He launched himself from the running board of his own vehicle and sprinted toward the President’s car, screaming, “Go! Go!” as he vaulted onto the trunk and scrambled forward where John Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline were riding in the back seat.
As the Kennedys turned to see what was happening, Hill screamed at them in a tone of voice usually reserved for men in combat, “Get down!” JFK, a war veteran, instinctively moved to push his wife down and cover her.
Hill was the agent assigned to the First Lady but, in an instant like this, his training was to cover the President, particularly when he saw that the agent in the front passenger seat, Roy Kellerman, whose actual job was to protect the President, was frozen.
Hill tried to push the President down, but Kennedy’s body was stiff; it wouldn’t bend, even under Hill’s muscle. The Secret Service agent instantly readjusted so he could move both President Kennedy and the First Lady into prone positions across the seat. He supported his body over them with both arms. The result was that within just over a second, the First Lady was being squashed beneath her husband who was being crushed underneath Hill.
Even as Greer mashed his foot down on the gas, swerving out of his lane, the first shot rang out. It scored a direct hit on Clint Hill, entering his upper back, cutting through his interior organs and exiting above the navel. According to Nellie Connally, she could hear the President of the United States shouting from the back seat, “We got a sniper!”
What happened next has never, even to this day, been established with complete clarity. What is known is that multiple shots were fired, seemingly from a variety of directions, according to numerous witnesses.
During this six-second period, the President, by his own testimony, under oath before his interrogators at his U.S. Senate trial, told his wife, “Jesus Christ! They’re going to kill all of us!”
The President was not alone in his fear. His advisers Kenneth O’Donnell and Dave Powers reacted similarly. O’Donnell was JFK’s appointments secretary and political sounding board, and Powers was the President’s long-time close friend. Because of their White House importance, the two men were riding in the car immediately behind Kennedy, and they, too, felt they were being targeted from at least two directions.
Agent Hill was hit once more after the bullet that shattered his spinal cord, and it was that bullet that ripped through his left temple, ending his life. The amateur film of Dallas resident Abraham Zapruder caught the action, including a spray of blood and brains that appeared to knock Hill’s head back and to the left. For over fifty observers, the head shot did seem to indicate that at least one bullet was fired from a grassy knoll area nearby and not from the upper window of the book depository, the likely origin of the first spine- shattering explosion.
Later testimony from witnesses told a tale of Secret Service agents in other cars who seemed asleep or operating in slow motion. All that can be stated for certain is that the heroic Agent Hill’s instant action had forced Greer to react quickly enough to make up for any other neglect. Kellerman had similarly snapped into delayed response and had climbed back to the jump seats that Governor Connally and his wife were using. Connally was bleeding badly but he wasn’t Kellerman’s concern. The Secret Service’s job is to protect the President first and the First Lady second, at all costs. The description says nothing about the governor of Texas. And so, even as Kellerman lay across the Connallys, he looked directly past them to Kennedy. “Mr. President, are you hit?”
The President and First Lady were covered in blood from the shots that had nearly taken off an entire side of agent Hill’s head and broken his back into pieces. Kennedy answered honestly, “I’m not sure. Maybe.”
With Greer now driving evasively, two more shots appear to have hit the Kennedy vehicle in its furious escape. One shattered Agent Kellerman’s shoulder, and entered Governor Connally’s chest, causing severe internal bleeding and collapsing his right lung. A final bullet was fired out of desperation by a would-be assassin who knew his chance at the target was nearly over.
Since the President’s condition was unknown, Greer zoomed the 350 horsepower Lincoln toward Parkland Memorial at speeds approaching eighty miles per hour. Even at this speed, driving with one hand on the wheel and another on the microphone, he managed to get off a concise status report to his superiors. “This is SS-100-X. I have Lancer and Lace,” shouted Greer. “We’re en route to Parkland. POTUS is conscious and responsive. FLOTUS same. Big Hat down. Agents down.”
Inside the vehicle, although President Kennedy’s condition seemed reasonable, the carnage among the other passengers was substantial enough to raise doubt. Hill was unconscious, probably dead, Governor Connally had been hit and badly injured, and agent Kellerman was losing a lot of blood. That left Jacqueline Kennedy and Nellie Connally still to account for but both of them appeared to have escaped being hit directly by gunfire. Even so, the agent with his foot on the gas pedal knew that there were no guarantees.
Later asked who “they” were, in response to his statement, “They’re going to kill us all,” President Kennedy famously told the investigators deposing him, “How much time do you have?”
At his Hickory Hill estate, in suburban McLean, Virginia, purchased years earlier from JFK, thirty-eight-year-old Attorney General Robert Kennedy, lunched with U.S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who represented the southern district of New York, and Edwin Guthman, RFK’s Justice Department spokesman. They ate hot clam chowder and tuna fish sandwiches.
The younger Kennedy had just finished a swim and was still wet, a towel wrapped around his shoulders. He appeared to be trying to relax and not succeeding, according to Morgenthau. “He had a lot on his mind but he could only share a tiny bit with me. I could see he was frustrated.”
The outside phone rang at about 1:45 p.m. on the other end of the pool and was picked up by Kennedy’s wife, Ethel. “It’s your office,” she said to her husband. “They’ve got Hoover on the line for you.” Kennedy moved quickly to take the call.
On the other end of the line was FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, someone who never called his ostensible boss at home. Neither man had ever had the slightest positive regard for the other. Never much of a conversationalist, Hoover said simply, “The motorcade was attacked in Dallas.”
The Attorney General asked the first thing to come to mind: “How is the President?”
Hoover delivered a spare précis of the news that the President was alive and had been taken to Parkland Hospital. When RFK asked about Jacqueline Kennedy, Hoover brusquely told him, “I have a crime to investigate, Mister Attorney General.” He recommended that Kennedy should call the hospital directly “if you have family concerns” and the two men hung up. In later years, each claimed to be the one to have ended the conversation.
Kennedy explained to Morgenthau and Guthman that the President’s motorcade had been attacked. Both his guests remember the first thought the Attorney General expressed to them. “I thought they’d move on me, not Jack.” They also both knew what this meant. The Mob.
Guthman immediately countered with the need for better security for his boss. “They could still be coming here,” he warned, concerned that whoever was behind the Dallas ambush might be coming to Hickory Hill next.
Even though Robert Kennedy had been notoriously dismissive of his own security needs in the past, he offered up the idea that they should enlist the federal marshals. “McShane’s loyal,” he explained, but should be directed to keep his men at a distance, given that the Kennedy children would be scared enough when they heard the news from Dallas.
Morgenthau offered his help in any way. The New Yorker was instructed to call national security adviser McGeorge Bundy on RFK’s authority. “Tell him to get the combinations on the President’s locked files changed right away.” Angry and focused, Kennedy left the men in order to work the phones from his upstairs bedroom. He did as much so feverishly that he would not change out of his wet swimsuit for more than two hours.
Within minutes, and without being ordered to, the Fairfax County police surrounded the grounds of the RFK compound. Within the hour, as discussed, Chief U.S. Marshal Jim McShane arrived. He brought seven agents and a collection of firearms with him. They dispatched the local police to an outer perimeter and assumed key positions in and around Kennedy’s estate. As McShane testified in late 1964, “If someone was coming to kill that man, we were prepared to make them kill us first.”
BRYCE ZABEL: Writer/Producer – Journalist/Author
Creator of Five Produced One-hour Drama Series… Chairman/CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences… Writer of a #1 Box Office Feature Film… Winner of the Writers Guild Award… PBS Investigative Reporter… CNN Correspondent… Nationally Published Book Author… Adjunct Professor, USC School of Cinematic Arts… member of Directors Guild, Writers Guild…
BZ Wordle 4
Worked with ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, HBO, Showtime, USA, SyFy, Disney, Warners, Columbia, SONY, Paramount, New Line, Twentieth, Universal, DreamWorks, Animal Planet, Hallmark, etc.
Produced screenwriting credits include Atlantis, Mortal Kombat II, Pandemic, Dark Skies, The Crow, E.N.G., Blackbeard, Poseidon Adventure, Lois & Clark, M.A.N.T.I.S., L.A. Law, Victim of Love, Official Denial, etc.
Appeared on Today Show, Primetime Emmys, E.T., Access, E!, Coast-to-Coast AM, Politically Incorrect, CNN, etc. Interviewed by Time, NY/LA Times, USA
Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.