Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 23, 1963. For those of us old enough to remember that day, the pain and disbelief still remains. The national trauma is for us an unforgettable lived experience. May we never have to suffer through such a day again.
In my science fiction fantasizing, I have often envisioned having a time machine where I could go back in time and change history. At first I went to the grassy knoll thinking a second gunman, the person who fired the fatal shot, was certainly there. But, there was no one.
So, in future fantasy trips, I imagined confronting Oswald on the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository and scaring him off from his intended actions.
On reflection, I see this would have been a mistake. Changing the time line would have unintended consequences. We might wake up to find Mitt Romney as our president or John McCain with Sarah Palin as vice-president.
I imagine we’re fortunate that time travel is either not possible, or alternatively that some benevolent interdimensional overseers are protecting the time line so such a reversal of history does not happen.
Had Kennedy not been killed, it seems likely that the Vietnam War would not have happened, or at least not turned out to be the full scaled military intervention that ensued.
From another perspective, however, some of the things that Lyndon Johnson was able to get through Congress might not have happened as soon as they did. The Civil Right Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid and Food Stamps were all programs Johnson was able to pass using his influence and political skills with Congress.
Civil Rights was an issue Kennedy had championed in the latter part of his presidency. With his untimely death, there was momentum to complete part of the martyred president’s agenda.
From that date 50 years ago until the present time, we still wonder how this incomprehensible event come to be. The results of the official investigation, that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, shot the president from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository, have always been suspect in one way or another.
A recent poll showed 61% of the American public still believes that Kennedy’s death was part of some larger plot. That Kennedy’s death was almost a random act, a crime of opportunity by a single emotionally unbalanced individual acting on his own initiative is hard to take in versus the view that it was part of some larger political or geopolitical scheme.
How could someone as insignificant and unbalanced as Oswald kill one of the most powerful men in the world with no help from the outside? He would have had less than nine seconds to fire three shots at the president using a mail order bolt action rifle from a distance of 265 feet.
If the official story of the assassination were a novel, it wouldn’t sell. Too much suspension of disbelief would be required for the unlikely chain of events to unfold as they were said to have done.
The ten month long Warren Commission investigation which was supposed to uncover the truth ended up contributing to the uncertainty of what happened that day. This was due in no small part to the fact that the commission’s work was skewed from the beginning by a mandate to deliver a singular verdict of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone unassisted gunman.
If there had been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, Johnson didn’t want to know about it and he made this clear to the commission. He didn’t want to risk a war by invading Cuba, if the Cubans were behind it, or with the Russians, if they were responsible. So the evidence gathered was filtered to suit the preordained conclusion. The official investigation was anything but complete and thorough.
Thus was born the conspiracy universe, a vast industry of investigation, speculation, disinformation, and alternative reality construction. Trust in government as an institution that can be counted on to operate with integrity and truthfulness was dealt a blow from which it has never recovered.
After fifty years of taking in information about the Kennedy assassination, my reading is that, ironically, the conclusions of the Warren Commission, arrived at as they were, are basically correct. Oswald killed Kennedy from the book depository, and he didn’t have any help.
Although the conspiracy industry has generated unnecessary fear and suspicion in many areas, one service it has performed is actively pursuing whatever investigation leads were available in the Kennedy killing. And after fifty years, not a single credible alternative explanation to the Oswald as long gunman thesis has stood up to scrutiny.
Every single thread that purported to show that Oswald could not have been the shooter has been run to ground.
Here is one example from my own experience. I remembering watching the assassination drama unfold on television after I returned from school. I always thought it extremely odd that Oswald had been named a suspect so quickly.
He was taken into custody just 70 minutes after the shooting. Moreover, his shooting of police officer J.D. Tippit just before then came about when Tippit had received a radio message with a description of the suspect in the assassination that matched Oswald. When Tippit asked Oswald for identification, he was shot at point blank range.
I thought if they were on to Oswald so quickly, they must have had some advanced information about him that would warrant making him a suspect. And if so, why didn’t they do something to prevent his being a threat to the president?
The real story is different though. Shortly after the shooting, the police closed off the book depository and only Oswald was missing from the staff. Moreover, they found his rifle and the empty cartridges on the sixth floor where Oswald had been seen earlier. The manager gave Oswald’s description to the police.
When Ruby killed Oswald two days after the assassination, the opportunity to find out more about what was motivating Oswald was lost forever. Moreover, Ruby’s actions fed the conspiracy mill.
I doubt a surviving Oswald would ever have told us much. This was certainly true of the men convicted in the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
My reading is that the key to Oswald actions are revealed in an earlier assassination effort. According to his widow, Marina, he told her he tried to assassinate General Edwin Walker, an extreme right wing figure, on April 10, 1963 using the same rifle that was used in the Kennedy killing.
So, we see here someone with violent tendencies motivated by political considerations. Oswald didn’t need someone to persuade him to become a political assassin. He didn’t need someone to whisper in his ear. That was his ambition.
In my reading, there has been a cover-up in the Kennedy assassination that goes beyond the already well documented limitations of the Warren Commission.
Oswald, having defected to Russia and returned, was certainly someone with big CIA file. What did the CIA know about Oswald and when did they know it? Thousands of pages of CIA documents that deal with the assassination have never been disclosed. The disclosure has been put over until 2017 and even then some pages may be redacted.
The Secret Service, the FBI and the CIA were negligent in the assassination of President Kennedy. Someone with Oswald’s history should have never have been allowed to slip into relative anonymity especially when he has a job that is directly on the route of the president’s motorcade.
It’s sad and disconcerting that this part of the assassination story has never come fully to light. Maybe we could have learned some lessons that would have enabled security agencies to share information more effectively and avoided having to repeat the same scenario on 09.11.2001 when the dots were all there and no one connected them.
On balance, it’s probably a good thing to learn that we can’t trust the government to tell us the truth since protecting their own interests can trump all good faith attempts to reveal the full story. Even though the Warren Commission got it right, they did it in a way which undermined our trust.
In our own day, we’ve got to find the middle way between distrusting the government and believing everything we read on the internet. Yes, the truth is out there, but you have to keep your critical perspective to discern it.
Oswald’s killing of Kennedy was a wildly improbable event. Any one of a hundred different outcomes had to be just the way they were for this to happen.
Had the Secret Service not taken the bubble off of Kennedy’s limousine, for example, Oswald would not have had such a clear view of his target. The odds that he would be able to fire a fatal shot under the constraints of time and distance with the weapon he had are daunting. Yet he did.
Our universe is made up of improbable events. If you take a look in the mirror, you’ll see one. What are the odds that the one individual sperm out of millions would fertilize the egg to become you? I think this shows that the way the world works is still some steps beyond the power of our mental capacity to reduce it to simple explanations.
My belief is that we’re always in the perfect lesson. I think this is true for us as individuals and for the nation as a whole. Even an event as heart rendering as the assassination of our president has much to teach us.