Today is the fiftieth anniversary anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination. There would be three more credible attempts on a president’s life afterward, none of them successful: Two on Gerald Ford and John Hinkley’s shooting of Ronald Reagan 100 years after the Garfield assassination. The Kennedy assassination, however, looms large in our national consciousness. Conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory abounds, including a questionable assertion from Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt that LBJ was in on it. (Most credible biographies and accounts of Lyndon Johnson suggest that our 36th president spent his entire term in office terrified that he was next. Wouldn’t you?)
Part of this stems from Kennedy’s death existing in living memory. For instance, I read one of McBain’s 87th Precinct novels from the mid-1960’s where one of the bulls (Kling, I think) went into an American Legion post to ask questions. The veterans were all from the Spanish-American War (which ended before 1900). When it was written, most Americans had either served in World War II or had relatives who did. When I grew up (the 1970’s), World War II was still a big scary thing, and many adults younger than I am now looked still looked suspiciously at Germany and Japan. Now World War II is fading into history as old age claims more and more veterans every day. Korea is forgotten, but Vietnam is now grandpa’s war, and most of us wonder why we couldn’t duplicate the rapid victory of the Gulf War in 1991.
Likewise, Kennedy is in the memory of a large number of Americans, up there with the Challenger disaster, the Reagan shooting, and 9/11. So naturally, people have strong feelings on the matter. It’s inevitable that books and movies, particularly Oliver Stone’s JFK, would muddy the waters a bit.
When I was younger, before I looked at why many of the theories got debunked, I believed there was someone on the infamous grassy knoll that shot Kennedy. What I also believed was this:
- Oswald acted alone, but missed.
- Oswald just happened to pick the same day someone else did to take a shot at the president.
- The shooting was a mob hit – an idea bolstered by Joseph Kennedy’s cozy relationship with the Mafia.
- When Oswald’s rifle was found an Oswald arrested, some mobsters probably did a happy dance having found a patsy to feed an angry FBI and Secret Service.
- Jack Ruby sealed the deal.
It’s possible, but I don’t believe it as strongly as I once did. At this point, it doesn’t matter to me now. Those responsible for both the killing and its aftermath are mostly dead. The repercussions have been supplanted by subsequent events and issues.
Still, it ended an era in America. I still feel robbed after all these years. Whoever was responsible (and anymore, I believe it was Oswald) stole from a large number of unborn Americans. For that, I have no forgiveness.