by Pierre NAU
The assassination of President Kennedy is often considered as an unsolved mystery. 50 years after, is it by mere chance or a clue of a deliberated will to let doubts going on ?
1. Mere chance
Some events in History are more reminded than others. The assassination of President Kennedy that caused a deep upset in the United States is one of them. Some of us remember Pierre Salinger the "Press Secretary" of the late President stating : "from now, you will remember forever the place you were the day President Kennedy was assassinated". His declaration pictured the shock of the time within the American nation and to a lesser extent abroad.
The American people needed to know what had occurred and how. As the Americans trust their system quite a lot, such an act challenged Democracy and the Constitution.
Quite aware of the shock within the country, the new President-in-Office appointed a Commission on December 1963, to make clear what had happened and to issue conclusions as quickly as possible. As a consequence, all technical and scientific support from the official agencies like the FBI and the Secret were put at disposal to it. However, the President Commission was time constrained, as it should have achieved its investigation before the end of 1964, less than one year after.
One cannot completely blame the federal authorities to have urged it. The people had to be reassured. On the other hand, by proceeding this way a thorough investigation was not possible.
Such were the conditions when the President Commission started to work.
James Earl Warren submitted his final report to President Lyndon Baines Johnson by October 1964.
The President was happy with the clear conclusions of the Commission and quite sure that they will reassure the nation. A lone nut had carried out the assassination, no evidence of a conspiracy was found.
The Americans were quite relieved and could trust their values as always.
So, the lone Oswald was pointed out as the lone culprit to be blamed. Case closed.
However, very quickly, doubts emerged. Hardly issued, the report was read by newsmen, lawyers and quite a few American citizens. Here came the first critics. Among prominent personalities, a lawyer from New York, Mark Lane, was one of the firsts to highlight the deficiencies of the Warren report. On 1966, he published a book, which sounded like a counter-investigation, underlining with accuracy, what the President Commission had failed to check. Quite convinced that two Americans out of three did not believe any more in the conclusions of the Warren report he considered the case as still open.
However Lane failed to gain support from the nation which preferred to cope with the conclusions of the Warren Commission. Except Jim Garrison and his ludicrous investigation, the next official commission to fully inquire into the case was the House Selected Committee on Assassinations in 1978. Though the Committee concluded, on a basis of acoustic evidence that a conspiracy had assassinated JFK, it was of a very low impact on the nation. Could have it been different as the Committee had confirmed most of the others conclusions of the Warren Commission ?
The true shock came later when filmmaker Oliver Stone issued his famous JFK movie. The impact was considerable. Oliver Stone paid a tribute to News Orleans prosecutor Jim Garrison to have carried out an inquiry and a lawsuit on the case. However, Oliver Stone’s credibility was weakened to have based the full content of his movie on a controversial inquiry. On the other hand most of those who had watched the film got the opportunity to see the Abraham Zapruder’s 8-mm footage, for the first time. As quite understandable they were very impressed, to say the least. Coming after the Watergate scandal and what had been hidden to the nation, people got the impression that they could learn more from the assassination. From this time, the Americans regained interest in one of their most shocking moment in their young History.
For years America had refused to confront reality. Too fresh in all memories, the upsetting of the assassination had not been exorcised yet. Perhaps the additional shock of the war of Vietnam could explain it. Americans were still coping with the reassuring idea that the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy was nothing but an accident in History. However, one can be surprised of such an apathy as the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Francis Kennedy (the late President’s brother) in 1968 should have provoked an awakening. Nevertheless, the ensuing inquiries concluded that both of the assassinations have been carried out by two lone nuts. So Americans could stick on the idea that those assassinations were two additional accidents in History.
As a consequence, the thirty past years had contributed for America to trust the reassuring official version, as accounted by the Warren Commission.
Americans are often seen abroad as a nation quite confident in its values and quite lost if they are challenged by whatever events occurring. The war in Vietnam and the infamous twin-towers attack had demonstrated it. Quite aware of this weakness, the official authorities had tried to hide some information to prevent the nation to be scared. Consequently and with logic, they proceeded this way with the assassination of President Kennedy in maintaining for official truth the Warren Commission report, so far.
2. A settled cover-up ?
In addition to the above, the officials had good reasons for not reopening a full investigation, likely to answer to questions raised by those unsatisfied of the Warren report. What was quite understandable as long as the war in Vietnam was not over and that Americans had to face the psychological consequences of this conflict, was not acceptable twenty years or thirty years.
In addition, to assume the Vietnamese trauma, the first time the United States was defeated at war, was as difficult to accept the assassination of a President, to say the least. So why to promote the Warren commission thesis as a definite one ? Why not to have taken the opportunity of the HSCA conclusions, a significant step 15 years after the assassination, to reconsider the case.
For the first time, a piece of evidence had led to the conclusion that an additional shot had been fired on the motorcade, that fateful day. An audio recording picked accidentally by a motorcycle of a police officer of the escort, contained impulses that made possible to count 4 shots and not 3 as established before. This new point was a capital one. As the evidence had led the Warren Commission to conclude that the lone Oswald had fired 3 shots any evidence of one or more shots put at stake their conclusions. At this time, the assumption of a plot made sense.
However, the HSCA was extremely cautious in its report. Though they conclude that there was a great likelihood for the President to have been killed by a conspiracy, they did not elaborate to name and to inquire into its extent. In addition and to prevent them to challenge the conclusions of the Warren Commission, they stated that the 4th shot fired from the Grassy Knoll had missed the limousine. Thos who already came to Dealey Plaza can understand how such an assumption looks odd, to say the least.
The HSCA is the last official authority appointed to fully inquire into the assassination of President Kennedy. The ARRB (1996 JFK Act) was set up to recommend declassification of official files and not to undertake a thorough investigation.
Until today, some do believe that a cover-up was set up to hide neglecting behaviour or collusion at the very high level. If true, we can understand their strong reluctance to re-open the case.
Why the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas still remains a taboo among American politicians and media ? Why some evidence is kept hidden on the pretext of National security ? Why to be so scared to declassify evidence as they repeatedly said that nothing was true but the official conclusion, that of that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin.
Facing the past is not always easy. The best way not to face it is to hide it, invoking Security matters for the country. That is not specific to the United States of America. My own French History is full of similar examples. Six decades after, speak about the infamous time of the Vichy government is matter of disputes.
The burden of History is sometimes too important. Moreover, the personality of President Kennedy does not help. In his time and now he exerts a real fascination. Even if legend sometimes exceeds reality, he is still remembered as the only President to have promised the moon to his fellow citizens and to have won this daring bid. It is a pity that assassins in Dallas prevented him to see it. In addition, as part of the American History, the Kennedy family and the President represented and still represents the reference as the royal family of England, even weakened by several scandals. More than in any other nation, the American identifies himself to his President. He is not so inaccessible as in others countries where chiefs of State come from microcosm or political caste.
Everyone can reasonably expect to become President, one day. Former elections in a recent past let a hero of the last world war, a peanut merchant and a movie actor to become President.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy had something else. He fascinated and made us dream. He had a plan for the future, a great sense of History able to project him in the future. His great "New Frontier" concept can be considered as the premises of our current world and global market. His fight for racial integration and the ensuing laws that his successor set up were the national counterpart of his world project. Of course, such bold projects could not please everybody.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was and will remain a symbol. Adulated when living, deeply missed and idolised once dead, somewhat demystified today, the charisma of the individual is still important. One can understand the Americans disappointment to have been deprived of a President who had so great intentions for the country. Quite unacceptable was his brutal death. Quite unacceptable was the death had came from the hand of a communist nut. That was enough. So we can understand the reluctance of the ensuing governments to reopen such an explosive matter, especially if a conspiracy had been exposed.
"Time needs time" had said a French politician, one day. The Dealey Plaza drama is perhaps too recent and the American people not quite ready to face the truth. Among the current generation of politicians, some were contemporary of the assassination. They are not ready to face what could provoke a seism in the country. Anyway truth always comes. It is just matter of time. It is up to the American people to hasten the process, if it wishes it. Just a last point before to end :
The Kennedy family did not make official comments, contradicting the official conclusion ? Why ? Are they quite happy with them ? Had Robert Francis Kennedy reopened the case if elected by the end of 1968 ? We will never know. Perhaps Sirhan-Sirhan could be very informative ? Sounds like a pure assumption ? Maybe, maybe not...