Friday, November 8, 2013

Who Killed President Kennedy?

The United States has had its share of Presidential assassinations, but none, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, has stirred up so much interest and so many theories as the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy 50 years ago this month. Generations have grown up not having any experience of that time during the campaign of 1960 or the few years that Kennedy was our President. But there is still so much interest because there is so much that smacks of mystery, distortion, hidden materials and “doctored” photos and that’s not even mentioning the favorite of the Warren Commission; the proverbial “magic bullet” that travelled a course seemingly incompatible with our understanding of physics.

We’ve been treated over the years to a plethora of photos, films and personal memoirs, books, books and more books. Much of it has been repackaged rehashed information that we’ve all read before, but despite that, they keep on coming. I guess there are many ways to make meat loaf and this is the publishing equivalent.

I was around when Kennedy ran for office and I saw at least one of his TV debates with Richard Nixon. I watched his press conferences, read about Jackie’s trips abroad, and devoured the books from Theodore White and his son. I was a believer, but I also came to see him as a man who knew how to use the media and cast himself in the light he found flattered him best. No problem there because every politician does this and has always done so.

But Kennedy became more than a President because of the efforts of those around him, especially his wife, to create the image of Camelot. Care was taken to never show him with a drink or a cigar, both of which he enjoyed. Few knew that he smoked Cuban cigars that were kept in a special humidor in a specialty store on New York’s Fifth Avenue.  No one, to my memory, knew that Jackie smoked. Their image was not to sullied. Of course, once he was murdered, little by little the darker side of his daily life began to be leaked to a waiting public.

We heard he didn’t really write his highly touted book, “Why England Slept” or even his later “Profiles in Courage.” The buzz has been that he may have had the idea, but the actual writing might have been by others. One who has been seen as the writer of Profiles was Kennedy’s speechwriter, Ted Sorensen. Kennedy’s contribution may only have been some editing of the text.

Once again, as this half-century mark of his death comes up, our focus is on that fatal day in Dallas, Texas. Several years ago, I found myself right at the spot where the actual shooting took place. I went into the Book Depository, stood behind the Plexiglas that protects the purported actual shooter’s spot and walked along the grassy knoll. It was all so small. The plaza is not capacious which I had been led to believe. The distance from the roadway to the window is alarmingly short and there in the roadway are two red “X” marks for two shots that were claimed to kill the President and wound the Governor of Texas, John Connolly.

I’ve read a lot about all of it and today I read an interview with Oliver Stone and I can see he has studied the material closely. Slowly, I have come to question what I’ve heard and I wonder if we’ll ever know how the President’s death was accomplished and who was actually involved in it. Maybe we will not know in our lifetimes and, if that’s the case, the books will keep on coming and churning out new theories, new villains and new evidence to “prove” the author’s point of view.

For me, I will never forget that day and how it affected the country as though a member of our own family had been killed. It was incredibly striking how it was almost palpable all over the streets of New York City where I happened to be working at the time. People cried, panicked and then were hit by an incredible somberness while waiting for the funeral.  It was collective sadness and sudden silence on streets, buses and subways. Striking. Ironically, I will never forget thinking on that beautiful, sunny New York City day that it was a “great day to be alive.” Little did I know that when I returned to the office that all of that would have changed in an instant when I opened the office door.

Staff were trying to calm one another as people were talking about a Russian invasion, expressing extreme anxiety about what would happen to us now. No wonder Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office in that plane on the tarmac. He knew that the country needed calming and continuity. Do we need it any less now?

My Pinterest board of the photos in Dallas, TX: