No, I don’t know who killed JFK.
Nearly 50 years after that innocence-ending day in Dallas, I don’t think anyone knows for sure the who, how and why of the murder that shattered America.
It may have been Lee Harvey Oswald who shot John Kennedy. He even may have, as the flawed Warren Commission investigation claimed, acted alone.
He may have pulled the trigger, at the behest of others. Or he may have, as he famously declared hours before Mafia-connected strip club owner Jack Ruby killed – silenced? – him, been “just a patsy.”
A half-century after the act, the precise players and plot are as murky as ever.
I don’t want to sound like a lone-nut columnist. Countless conspiracy theories have been hashed and re-hashed over the years. Some of them are patently absurd – Lyndon Johnson with a six-shooter in a trailing car; a sniper firing from a sewer grate. Others are more plausible: Mafia revenge for Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s prosecutions, despite Mob help in CIA plots to kill Fidel Castro; anti-Castro Cuban exiles angered by JFK’s post-Bay of Pigs back-off on Cuba; right-wing wingnuts who considered Kennedy a traitor. The swamp of conjecture and speculation is so deep, and the murky netherworld of characters so bizarre, the truth seems impossible to unravel.
I dove into the JFK conspiracy stuff in the ’80s – read the notable books, briefly subscribed to a newsletter called the Third Decade (if it’s still around, it’s now into its Sixth Decade). But the rabbit warren of clues, characters, evidence and conjecture around a fatally flawed and officially limited investigation was fraught with blind turns and endless corridors. I had to pull back. The more years that have passed, the more the truth seems unknowable.
And that, ultimately, is the point.
None of us can say definitively what happened that day because the climate and culture of 1963 America prevented Kennedy’s killing from being fully investigated. To do so would have meant unearthing a horde of government secrets – while obliterating Kennedy’s family-man myth – to a childishly-naive, Cold War-immersed, uncynical America. Doing so would have rocked everyone’s world as much as the horror of a young, vibrant president getting his brains blown out in front of a cheering crowd in broad daylight as his lovely, sophisticated wife looked on.
It wasn’t going to happen.
Within hours of the shots, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover – himself a twisted, Machiavellian character – set the easily digestible, secrets-protecting narrative of a lone-nut gunman. He funneled facts and information that fit the theme while ignoring alternative threads.
What America didn’t know was the CIA was working with Mafia bosses on plots to kill Fidel Castro, at the same time the Attorney General Bobby Kennedy was fiercely prosecuting Mob figures. Or that JFK’s mistress list included the girlfriend of Mob boss Sam Giancana. Or that anti-Castro Cuban exiles – among the kaleidoscope of characters with whom Oswald crossed paths – were furious with Kennedy, whom they felt abandoned them after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. Or that strip club owner Jack Ruby, far from being a distraught patriot avenger, had ties to the same New Orleans mob figures involved in anti-Castro CIA plots, and had stalked Oswald in the days after his arrest. And on and on.
The prime suspect presented his own problems. Oswald was not some loner holed up in his basement, but one of the most bizarre and mysterious figures in American history. He grew up in a Mob-connected family in New Orleans. He spouted Marxist doctrine as a Marine given high-security clearance in Japan, He defected to the Soviet Union, then somehow waltzed back into the United States (with a Russian bride) during the height of the Cold War. He connected with far-right Russian ex-pats in Texas. He was a high-profile pro-Castro activist in New Orleans, while associating with anti-Communist right-wingers. Oswald – or someone claiming to be him – showed up weeks before the assassination at the Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico City seeking entry to Cuba. Why?
Speculation ranges from a re-embrace of his Marxist leanings to involvement in a CIA/Mob plan to assassinate the Cuban leader.
For a supposed lone nut, the guy got around.
I don’t think history will ever know who the “real” Oswald was, decipher the web of his connections, understand the motives behind his various activities, involvements and poses – and to what degree he may have been used or manipulated.
Kennedy’s killing – and the cynicism and speculation spawned by its flawed investigation – marked the beginning of the end of America’s innocence. A torrent of reality-bombs followed, from race riots in American cities to the mess of Vietnam, through Nixon’s criminal presidency and Iran-Contra, past our wrong-target, post-9/11 invasion of Iraq to revelations of the NSA’s cyberspace surveillance of Americans. We are long past being shocked or surprised by revelations of government misdeeds or official abuses of power.
All of it, I think, is traceable to that fatal shot in Dallas.
Whoever fired it.