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506px-Seal_of_Texas_Attorney_General.svgTexas more than other states indicates it may want to secede. Beginning with the anti-tax movement in early 2009, Texas has given the idea of secession more credence than it might otherwise have had. Traditionalists scoff and say it has no right to leave the union: the Civil War settled that question conclusively. Independence minded Texans would say, to the contrary: perhaps the north won the war, but that victory forces no conclusions about rights. It merely says the north possessed enough military strength to win the war.

For a relationship to continue, parties to the relationship must want it to continue. That’s the definition of a relationship. In line with that reasoning, constitutional scholars might follow the Catholic church, and investigate the relevance of annulment in this matter. A declaration that a relationship does not exist is less fraught, given our history, than secession. Legal scholars will say you can’t annul a state’s membership in the Union, but we know that when one party in a relationship wants out, the relationship is done. Our constitutional union is voluntary, or it is not a union.

The aggrieved party in a troubled constitutional relationship has several options available to conduct the conflict. One of them is war. We know from historical experience, in the United States and beyond, that war does not work in this kind of conflict. It is rightly illegal, and no more justified than using force against your family when you no longer want to be a part of it. More effective is to conduct the relationship so as to induce other parties to the union to acquiesce to your departure. The state that wants independence ought to conduct the conflict without violence until the other parties say, “You are correct: this situation has to end.”

The party that desires independence should spend its energy where it has the greatest effect. If Texas wants to secede, it ought to initiate a conflict where:

  • The outcome and consequences are unpredictable.
  • It holds a home field advantage.
  • Its opponent has no heart for the struggle, but has to enter the conflict nevertheless.
  • The conflict serves a purpose larger than the limited, legal aim of separation.
  • The state wins sympathy for its struggle from other states.

To accomplish these aims, Texas should initiate a thorough investigation into the murder of John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Fifty years after the event, it should do what President Johnson prevented in 1963 and 1964. Forensic investigation immediately after the murder differs from historical research a half century later, but historical reconstruction has a few advantages. One of them is that Johnson is no longer alive.

We already know that the FBI, at Johnson’s initiation, guided the investigation from Washington. Johnson moved to create a presidential commission no more than a week after Kennedy’s burial. After that, Dallas officials and the Texas attorney general were largely out of the picture. Allen Dulles, on behalf of the Warren Commission, took responsibility for finding out who killed Kennedy. Despite all the effort his staff members put into their work, the responsibility was not so heavy. Life magazine and many other outlets pinned the murder on Lee Oswald as the sole killer long before Dulles’s commission delivered its report. In fact, people believed they knew the killer’s identity before the commission conducted its first interview. Johnson wanted the commission’s imprimatur, not new information.

If the Texas attorney general reopened this case, Washington – the CIA and FBI in particular – would go nuts. Awkwardly, however, they could not appear to go nuts. Texas would force Washington into a conflict the feds do not want, yet they cannot walk away from it. To allow Texas officials a free hand in this case would yield far more truth than Washington could handle. We know how much the federal government depends on dishonesty in all its dealings to maintain its rule. We know that because it appeals so often to secrecy. Secrecy makes dishonesty possible. Dishonesty requires concealment. By contrast, transparent dealings force parties to conduct their relationships honestly.

For honesty’s sake, Texas should pick this fight. Aside from the events that occurred in Dallas November 22, 1963, it should investigate related events before and after that date. Naturally it should concentrate on events that occurred in Texas, though we know New Orleans is next door. An investigation based in Texas can pick up the investigative threads that Jim Garrison developed during Clay Shaw’s trial forty-five years ago.

The more locally based the investigation, the better. Texas investigators should not even look at the Warren Commission report. We already know what is in that document, and why it is there. Start fresh, the way a good historian would. Focus on:

  • What we know.
  • What we don’t know.
  • What occurred in Texas before the murder.
  • What occurred in Texas the day of the murder.
  • What occurred in Texas after the murder.

The Texas attorney general should investigate how and why Kennedy died. He might also explain – for the historical record – what should have occurred in Texas after the murder, but did not. That explanation helps us understand the investigation Washington actually undertook in 1963 and 1964, yet we understand now why President Johnson undertook that effort. The focus in Texas ought to be on the murder itself.

Everyone involved in this historical research – in Texas and in the rest of the country – knows its importance. Nearly everyone recognizes why. Key individuals in the federal government, including the attorney general, would act to stop the research. They could not ignore it, yet they would have no standing to block it. Texas should not back down: it should stoutly resist every attempt Washington makes to interfere with the research.

Who in Texas, a state with a lot of pride, would want to start a project that would reopen so sensitive a subject? Why risk the state’s reputation now, fifty years later? Didn’t the Dallas police already look incompetent when they let Jack Ruby shoot Lee Oswald? I would argue the opposite. This research could make Texas look better than any state has ever looked, in the whole history of the union. The truth in this matter is that important. Texas could pick a fight that determines not only its own future, but that of the whole country.