Today, on the 48th anniversary of his death, I still vividly remember the day that Kennedy was assassinated. It was after lunch, and I was sitting in my 8th grade class at St. Brigid’s in Brooklyn, NY, when Brother Ralph, our Franciscan principal, announced over the loud speakers that President Kennedy had been shot. Later, while walking home from an after-school activity, I bumped into Brother Vianney, one of my teachers, who gave me the news of his death. Since then I have read several books on the Kennedy assassination, seen the Oliver Stone movie, viewed the Zapruda film, visited Dealey Plaza in Dallas, watched a Dan Rather investigative report, and listened to a televised debate.
After all this, I am convinced, more than ever, that there was a conspiracy and a cover-up. I say this without anger or even cynicism, but with a numbness. I remember the world before Kennedy and immediately afterwards. For a while I wondered how the world could ever be a happy place again. Those who weren’t alive in that era have no idea what America was like or how positively Kennedy was viewed by the nation and the world. He seemed to embody all that was good in America: War hero, Pulitzer Prize winner, educated, cosmopolitan, respected even by the opposite party. When he needed a break he would gather up his brother Bobbie and close advisors and play touch football on the White House lawn. His children played at his feet in the Oval Office. For a while after his death, colors seemed less bright, the world was a very puzzling place, and America was like a man trying to run in chest deep water.
And then came the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and it’s promise of “a big, bright, beautiful tomorrow sitting at the end of every day” sung hundreds of times a day at the General Electric exhibit (later to be dismantled and reassembled in Disneyland as the Carousel of Progress). Somehow the country recovered. Me too.
Why do I believe there was a cover-up? The answer is complicated and partially wrapped in the question “How and at what point does a person become convinced of anything he didn’t personally witness?”
I’ve read most of the arguments and counter-arguments on both sides of the debate. In the final analysis, after both sides brought up all their arguments and counter-arguments, there were only a few unresoloved points left on the table - and every one of those irrefutable points fell in favor of the conspiracy nuts.
1. The Zapruda film shows Kennedy being blasted backwards from the fatal head shot – meaning the shot had to have come from the front and not from the 3rd story of the Book Depository where Oswald was supposed to be lurking. Further, I have heard the theories attempting to explain how Kennedy could have been knocked backwards by a bullet from behind – and let me say, they defy common sense.
2. On the 25th anniversary of the assassination, Dan Rather did what was advertised to be a thorough, definitive, in-depth, impartial investigation’ of the assassination. However, the documentary addressed only those parts of the conspiracy theory it could reasonably explain. It never even discussed the truly troubling pieces of evidence such as the pristine bullet found on the stretcher in Parklan hospital that had riflling marks from Oswald's rifle, or the single bullet that supposedly caused seven wounds in Kennedy and Connolly.
3. In the 1970’s I saw a discussion on late night television between a conspiracy theorist and a man who had just written a book agreeing with the Warren Commission’s single-gunman conclusion. In the debate the theorist said that if you added up the weight of all the bullet fragments found in Kennedy and Connally, it definitely proved that they were hit by more bullets than was claimed by the WC, and therefore there had to have been a second shooter. In fact, he said the WC itself stated in one of its 26 volumes that the weight of all the bullet fragments added up to more than the weight of a brand new bullet. The WC apologist agreed that that would conclusively prove the existence of a second shooter, but he scoffed at the notion that the WC report provided any such proof. The show then cut to a commercial. When it came back, the theorist’s desk was covered with books and within a few seconds he found the reference in the Warren Report and read it out loud. The author and the host sat there stunned. Sitting in my living room, I was also stunned. After that there was much confusion and attempts to change the subject. Eventually the program ended.
Perhaps next week I’ll be talking about my writing again. But I must admit, the principle of reinforced behavior is certainly working here. I get far more hits on my blog when I talk about politics than when I do about writing. Maybe that will change after I write my first bestseller.