AT LENGTH-Fifty years ago Nov. 22, is the dark anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which took place in Dallas, Texas’ Dealey Plaza. A lot of dredging up the past has already begun. The doubts and suspicions of this seminal historic act for the Vietnam War generation has cast a question mark over our nation ever since.
In the coming days, we will be treated to a series of documentaries recounting the events, reinforcing the conclusions of the Warren Commission report that the assassination was carried out by “lone gunman” Lee Harvey Oswald, while others assert the assassination was the result of a larger conspiracy involving more than one assassin. Will the truth ever be told for certain?
All I can say is that after all these years, I still find it very hard to write about this national tragedy, one in which the whole nation grieved for the loss of its symbol of youthful optimism. It was perhaps the last time, since the death of President Franklin Roosevelt, that we grieved as nation for a single person.
The tragedies that occurred during the 1960s seemed to cast an ever pervasive pall over the politics of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, shrouding the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy with doubt and suspicion.
Even more traumatizing and politicizing were the race riots that followed, the shooting of anti-war demonstrators by National Guardsmen at Ohio State University, and the police riot that took place during the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. All these and more left an indelible mark on our national psyche that can never be erased.
Some will confess that these traumas stigmatized an entire generation that lived through it and whose core politic emanates from the shadow of these events even today. Younger generations look upon these events as past history and wonder about their meaning in the light of the new digital age.
These might seemingly be at odds with each other, for we as a people are inspired by the future, not the past. In fact we are often told by our leaders that we are moving beyond this tragic event or that natural calamity.
In truth we are not over this history, as it still lives inside of us and is passed down from one generation to the next like an oral tradition. It was William Faulkner who said it best in Requiem for a Nun: The past is not dead. It’s not even the past.
This idea that, “the past is not dead,” actually flies in the face of our whole national perspective of living in the future while simultaneously denying our past. We focusing our lust for the new and our disdain for the old in this market driven live-for-ever youth culture of ours. None of us are immune to this ethos. And yet what we find in those rare moments of reflection are John and Bobby Kennedy and King’s ghosts in the shadows of our collective memories. This is what this dark 50 year-old anniversary will dredge up.
Of course a great deal of revisionist spin will once again try to steal the truth from the light of day. The controversy of lone assassin versus grand conspiracy will again be debated. But very soon, the John Kennedy files that were sealed by his successor Lyndon Johnson will come unwrapped. The significance of the 50th anniversary is that these documents, once hidden (to protect who?) will now be opened to inquiry by Kennedy scholars, historians and conspiracy hunters alike.
My own distrust of the official history of these assassinations in the 1960s was deepened by the very sealing of these Kennedy documents until half a century after the fact. What if, in the revealing of these records there is some evidence of an actual conspiracy to kill a sitting president? Would even President Obama have the gravitas, the political will, to prosecute those still living or condemn those of high position already dead? Or will it be just another excuse to say the past is the past, and let dead presidents stay dead, secrets and all?
My journalistic curiosity is twitching, and my gut tells me that if the truth is revealed, it will rewrite the history of the last five decades. If this were to happen, John F. Kennedy’s ghost might rewrite his own legacy –one that has been argued over since someone anointed his presidency as “Camelot.”
(James Preston Allen is the publisher of Random Lengths where this article was first posted.)
Vol 11 Issue 94
Pub: Nov 22, 2013