Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fifty Years On

Interesting past week or so, what with all the anniversaries going on.

Last year I noticed that there wasn't much in the way of commemoration of the Kennedy assassination, which made me wonder if we're finally getting over that national trauma. After all, nobody remembers the Maine. Turns out I was wrong: they were just saving up for the big anniversary this year.

As a historical moment, it's fascinating in that it's well-known (the biggest news story of its time), well-documented (took place before hundreds of eyewitnesses, left behind a mass of forensic evidence, exhaustively researched immediately after the event), and relatively straightforward: Oswald, acting alone, shot Kennedy; Ruby, acting alone, shot Oswald. And yet people just won't believe it.

I've read several insightful comments on-line last week that made a good case for ours being conspiratorial times, and about our unwillingness to accept that someone as obscure as Oswald cd have killed someone as consequential as Kennedy. True enough, but I think they overlooked the element bloody-minded vengeance plays in all this. Since Oswald, the murderer, died within two days of the murder, there's no one left to punish. But for those who believe Oswald was working for someone else, or that another shooter was involved, or even that it wasn't Oswald but a double, the possibility remains that the 'real' killer or the mastermind(s) behind the plot cd still be tracked down and brought to justice.* At this point, I doubt that the conspiracy theories will ever die down, even after everybody involved has long since died from old age.

As for the event itself, so far as I can work out it's the earliest memory I can actually date.  I was too young to really take it in at the time, being not yet five; all I really remember is my father watching Huntley-Brinkley** and being terribly upset over something really bad that had happened.

And as for Kennedy, I think he'll remain one of those volatile figures historians argue about: more popular with the public than with the historians. Like Jackson or Wilson, the different elements of his character, the goods and bads of his actions, don't add up easily; it's hard to get a unified view of his character and achievements. And the what-ifs will always be there to confuse the issue.

--John R.

current reading (among others): WATSON WAS NOT AN IDIOT by Eddy Webb [2013]

*The same mentality holds with M.L.King's assassination, where King's children later posed with his murderer, James Earl Ray, lending their support to efforts to get him a new trial and locate the mythical 'Raoul' whom Ray claimed was the real killer. Oddly enough, everyone pretty much accepts that Sirhan Sirhan killed Bobby Kennedy.

**that much-watched bit of film of Cronkite breaking the news wd have passed us by totally, since we would have been watching Huntley-Brinkley instead.

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