I read a review of the some of the Kennedy material coming out on television for the fiftieth anniversary of Jack Kennedy’s murder in Dallas on November 22, 1963. You can get a feel for the review from the title:
JFK anniversary on TV: An onslaught of stale shows, and a nation stuck in a freeze frame, by Hank Stuever
If the title’s not enough, you can grasp Stuever’s patronizing attitude dripping down from his commentary about television documentaries that consider whether the Warren report is truthful or not:
And in the third category, tarted up with the latest “CSI”-style effects and forensic-ballistic obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a broad and depressing array of attempts to reopen the investigation. These shows most closely approximate the paranoia one can still encounter when chatting with conspiracy theorists who loiter near the actual grassy knoll outside the Texas School Book Depository building that is now a museum. Here, it’s all Oswald, all the time, except when it’s Jack Ruby, or bullet trajectories. PBS’s “Nova,” for example, gets a bit “MythBusters” with ballistics tests in the New Mexico desert (“Cold Case JFK,” airing Wednesday night).
History Channel’s “JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide” (airing Nov. 22) is the flashiest of these — a graphics-heavy clearinghouse of theories and potential conspirators (the Mafia, the communists, the CIA), justifying itself with a survey conducted by the network that found 71 percent of Americans in 2013 reject the Warren Commission’s finding that Oswald acted alone. (In 1964, History reports, only 31 percent rejected it.)
“The Definitive Guide” basks in a perpetual distrust. In that 71 percent of doubters it sees a story that never ends and TV specials that never do, either. It picks at the scab simply to ensure that it never heals. From experts to eyewitnesses to historians to conspiracy theorists, everyone has an investment in keeping the puzzle unsolved.
Even the man-on-the-street interviews in “The Definitive Guide” reflect a skeptical, know-it-all quality, a weirder version of “The Tonight Show’s” “Jaywalking” bit, in which everyday (unidentified) Americans insist, with no specific knowledge whatsoever, that something’s not right.
I kept waiting for the person who would think about it, shrug, and then say to the camera that it was a long time ago and we should get on with it.
This kind of attitude is maddening for a few reasons:
- First, it suggests the truth about this matter doesn’t matter.
- Second, it cynically suggests that the main reason people return to this unsolved crime is to “pick the scab to ensure it never heals.” Those tiresome truth seekers and hangers on, Stuever suggests, just want to make a profit, advance their careers, or hear themselves talk.
- Third, it suggests that our “obsessive-compulsive disorder” about Kennedy’s killing is unhealthy, that we should forget about this crime because it happened so long ago, and “get on with it.”
To all of which I say, “Geez. Has Stuever – and the people he confidently assumes agree with him – totally lost perspective here?” The reasons that Johnson, Hoover, and Warren lied about who killed Kennedy are just as important now as they were in 1963 and 1964. You don’t line up the most prestigious, powerful people in the country to back a kangaroo investigation and a fictional report without a good reason. Their reasons for covering up the truth about Kennedy’s murder didn’t go away after the Warren Commission published its report. The longer the truth remains hidden, the worse the consequences for all of us.
By this logic, the motivation for returning to this fifty-year-old crime, to solve it and to explain its significance, becomes stronger each day. We live together with a fictional history only if we choose to. Do we think the Germans would have done well to deny the Holocaust after World War II? Do we think the Turks do well to deny the Armenian genocide during World War I? The answer is no in both cases. We admire people who reconcile themselves to the truth, and we certainly do not admire people who try to escape it. Modern day Germans are not responsible for the Holocaust, any more than modern day Turks are responsible for the Armenian genocide, or modern day Americans are responsible for our treatment of Native Americans in the nineteenth century. But it matters that subsequent generations recognize the truth about what their country has done in the past.
Similarly, we corrupt ourselves, our history, and our common life together if we refuse to see that Kennedy’s murder in 1963 was a political assassination, not the result of some crazy, lone nut who took some lucky pot shots at the presidential limousine. Posner and other investigators even suggest that Oswald went over the edge, decided to seek infamy as a presidential assassin, because his wife Marina refused to sleep with him. I’ve always maintained that anything is possible, so we ought to be open to explanations that may seem implausible at first. Openness to various explanations, however, requires openness to all the evidence we have. Too much evidence contradicts the government’s conclusion that Oswald shot Kennedy, either by himself or at all. Too much evidence contradicts the government’s contention that Kennedy died due to one person’s actions.
To find the truth about what happened on November 22, 1963, is not an exercise in compulsive scab-picking. Yes, finding a solution to this crime has become a compulsion, for individuals and for our whole society, but not all compulsions are unhealthy. Some puzzles have to be solved. Some sins have to be confessed. Some truths have to be uncovered.
If a coup occurred in the United States in the fall of 1963, does anyone think it’s alright to pretend otherwise? If a coup occurred, and Kennedy’s successors acted vigorously to cover it up, does anyone think the consequences would be benign? More particularly, does anyone think our acceptance of their actions, our willingness to “get on with it,” have been or would be inconsequential? Our fifty-year history since the crime demonstrates that a hazy past, corrupt with deep secrets and horrific sins, infects and influences the future. We cannot find our way when we try to “get on with it” under a cloud of lies, betrayal and treachery. Who wants to travel a path of irredeemable corruption? Let’s get on with our life together under the light of truth, because the consequences of deep deception are the opposite of benign. They are malignant in the extreme, and they will kill us in the end.