I was 12 years old when John F. Kennedy was killed, old enough to sense the loss.
Fifty years later, I didn’t really want to think about the assassination again, but I guess I had to.
During the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death in November 2013, several television documentaries reminded us of his charm, charisma, leadership, intellectual capacity and heart.
I recalled how I felt from ages 9-12, a boy who aspired soon to be a young man. I felt honored and inspired that JFK was our president. He smiled. He moved quickly. He spoke energetically and knowingly. He quipped during press conferences.
I first paid close attention to many of the details of JFK’s death about 12 years ago, after watching Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, about Louisiana District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into the assassination.
When the three-hour movie was over, I stood up from the sofa and said to my companion: “Wow, those SOBs killed him.”
Not that I was sure of it, but I was compelled to say it aloud because people feel compelled to say something aloud if it is unbelievable, but might have happened. And, I wanted my companion’s reaction, but all I got was a glazed look.
For a few days, I brought up the subject of the assassination with friends and acquaintances, expecting to find similar interest, if not outrage, among those of us who lived through it. But instead, the general response was a tired shrug.
So, left alone to consider, I looked into arguments and counter arguments, went back and forth. Some investigators, including Garrison, said that no single bullet could have gone through both Kennedy and Gov. John Connelly the way early investigators said it happened. However, the two men were sitting in line with one another. Connelly was in a small seat in the limo that was slightly toward the middle of the car and could have been hit with the bullet that went through Kennedy’s neck.
But that does not explain how another shot, a fatal shot from the rear, could have blown out the back of Kennedy’s skull, forcing his head to snap back and to the left.
Some say that his head snapped back from the involuntary constriction of his neck muscles, countering the impact of the bullet from behind. That’s hard to believe, but believe it we must if we think that the bullet came from the only assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, firing a rifle from a sixth-story window behind him.
Of course it’s uncanny and unfortunate that Oswald was shot a couple days later before he could say little more than “I didn’t kill anyone. I’m a patsy,” as he passed by reporters in the Dallas police station.
The government’s official Warren Commission, which included CIA director Alan Dulles, conducted an extensive investigation, but several of its conclusions were later countered by a House Select committee investigation that studied the assassination for two years in 1977-79.
Stone’s famous film in 1992 showed how Garrison stretched the boundaries of his investigative jurisdiction out of a passionate search for truth and justice, stirring the public’s energy to seek more too.
All that was years ago.
One would think the truth would be known by now, if not by everyone, by those in the government most obligated to uphold the Constitution and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Besides, it’s depressing as hell to think that someone in the government, the mafia or a communist regime might have assassinated a sitting U.S. President and gotten away with it. We turn away from the thought with glazed eyes. It’s virtually unspeakable.
Coincidentally, a few days after the 50th anniversary of his death, I came upon a book called JFK and the Unspeakable.
I browsed the book. Then I bought it, thereby accepting the need to study Kennedy's presidency and assassination again, and the possibility that he was killed by a stronger force than a lone gunman.
The book was published in 2008, written by James Douglass, a teacher and religious scholar.
It is not a sensation-seeking skimming of the facts, but a 300-page consideration (backed with 100 pages of citations and footnotes) of the circumstances of the Cold War, when Kennedy forged a relationship with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The two men wrote long personal letters to one another as they considered how to work and live in peace instead of preparing for war. The letters became public in 1992.
Kennedy and Khruschchev agreed on a nuclear test ban and negotiated the neutrality of Laos. Kennedy also set out a plan to pull U.S. advisors out of Vietnam, and as many of us vividly remember, he and Krushchev negotiated a peaceful end to the Cuban missile crisis.
In so doing, Kennedy ignored the wishes of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wanted to conduct a preemptive strike on Cuba after nuclear warheads were discovered there, just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.
Kennedy, at age 45, remained strong in resisting the advice of top U.S. military commanders.
Douglass cites many facts, circumstances and documents that show that the military resented Kennedy’s peace plans with the Soviets. The military considered the Soviets an evil empire, as Ronald Reagan characterized it years later. Kennedy, however, noted that the Soviets had been decimated by the Nazis in World War II, had suffered more than any other country in that war, and were striving to become strong and be sure no invasion ever occurred again. What nation wouldn’t?
To Kennedy, that made the Soviets competitors, not bitter enemies, if he and Khrushchev could manage to speak to each other and find agreements as human beings, and they explored that in long letters to one another.
Meanwhile, the CIA, an arm of the military, was highly experienced in clandestine acts and the art of “plausible deniability.”
The CIA staged an attack on Cuba at the Bay of Pigs to give the U.S. justification to invade the island, and according to several sources, was disappointed that Kennedy did not go ahead and invade.
The CIA was also deeply involved in Vietnam, implicated in the death of South Vietnam leader Ngo Diem. Douglass gives evidence that the CIA deliberately stirred up opposition to Diem among the South Vietnamese, and virtually ordered his execution, during a time when Kennedy was trying to reach an agreement with Diem to withdraw U.S. military advisors.
Douglass’ book makes it clear the CIA was certainly capable of planning to kill a president and carrying it out.
You know, you hate to even think that, let alone say it or write it down.
Nevertheless, Douglass studied it and wrote it, joining other authors and investigators as well as movie maker Oliver Stone, to mention a few. The CIA had motive, means and opportunity. They could have hidden their work behind a sharp shooting, highly intelligent patsy, Lee Harvey Oswald. The could have hidden their work in a web of deception and the art of plausible deniability, which the CIA was instructed via a 1948 government order to practice, during a time when WWII was still sharp in everyone’s memory, and extreme measures were justified to prevent the rise of another Hitler or a similar enemy of freedom.
But by 1962-63, Kennedy also saw the extent of the CIA’s raw power, which was mostly hidden from view. He once said he wanted to “splinter it into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”
The concept of a CIA-led assassination is unspeakable, but yet, it has to be said.
Today, as then, we seek to live in peace instead of fear, to ensure freedom and security, knowing that security starts with the inalienable rights of individuals. Those inalienable rights include our right to know, check and balance the power of our government, including its covert operations.
All this is particularly instructive as we consider the incredible rise of the NSA (National Security Administration) and the electronic data about all of us that it is storing.
We are grateful for all the objections to the NSA, from businesses, from both political parties, from dissenters and from writers who look into the dimly lit areas of government to tell us who has too much raw power.
First published in the Jan. 22 and 29 print editions of The North Platte Bulletin.