JFK’s assassination has a special resonance that moves many of us who weren’t even alive in 1963. Reading comments on Twitter and YouTube, I am so surprised by the number of people younger than me, who talk of the loss as if it were fresh, who think of JFK as “the last good president”. There’s a certain naivete in their secondhand grief, that you almost hope they won’t lose. You don’t lose that by learning that JFK had mistresses, or about other instances of his clay feet. You lose that when you experience your own transforming “where were you” moment, when a new cultural touchstone is forged. Unfortunately, for every uplifting moment – MLK speaking at the Great March – or just oddball events, like the Election (2000) That Couldn’t Be Called – it’s usually tragedies that become transformative for individuals, and nations.
As a pre-teen, I remember marvelling at the fact that there was a singular event that my parents, and the parents of all my classmates, and all my teachers, could remember so vividly as if it had just happened. That was before the Challenger accident – my disbelief has somehow, never dimmed – or 9-11. JFK’s assassination was something that happened to adults I knew, even if they were children in 1963. As a child watching the Challenger accident in my school’s library, I couldn’t appreciate that I would later be friends with one of Christa McAullife’s students, or that my future husband would know not only people who worked on the Shuttle, but someone who was widowed in the tragedy. This made the event seem less surreal and more believable.
If you were not alive during some great national trauma, but are drawn to it, like many people are drawn to the JFK assassination… to be somewhat captivated by a mystery like that is understandable. It’s not morbid or weird to wonder about it. Those of us who were born after World War II are, absolutely, products of those times, whether it was the triumphs or the fears that stemmed back from 1941 or 1945. You can draw a straight line from World War II to the Cold War, during which millions of us had our entire worldview shaped.
Likewise, millions born after 1963 are products of that November day. How could we not be, when the grieving has never really stopped?
One totem I share with a lot of people in my generation: the history assignment, where you interview your parents or someone trusted, and you ask the question: Where were you? There was a strange wistfulness in my mother’s recounting of that day, because she linked November 1963 with her experience five years later, hearing about Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. My family was living overseas in 1968. Unlike 1963, when she could be united in grief with neighbors and strangers alike, my mother couldn’t just turn on Chet Huntley, or see her grief mirrored exactly in the people in the street. What was happening at home? What was going on?
For a few close friends I have today, who are American but were not in the US during 9-11, that event is slightly – or greatly – mystifying. “It was a tragedy, but I just don’t understand why people can’t get past it,” one of them said to me. It’s as if some great tectonic shift occurs, but they can’t quite pinpoint it, not being there. I think that’s what the JFK event is like for those of us born after 1963. We too are looking at our country, changed by trauma. Changed in an instant. Only it’s our country as it once was – in its own way, impenetrable, and a source of curiosity. Perhaps that mystique – this purportedly innocent world that existed before we did – encourages our believing in a conspiracy. I mean, otherwise, it would mean that one man’s singular act could tear down everything the nation held dear, its sensibilities and its sureness on how the world worked.
But my perspective changed dramatically after I went to Dallas. Like most Americans (70% in 2003) I suspected more than one person was involved. I knew Oliver Stone’s film had been factually debunked many times, but I didn’t rule out other people’s involvement in the assasination.
I’m not from Texas originally, so I did not visit the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas until I had to evacuate for Hurricane Ike in 2008. The Museum has an excellent audio tour you can listen to as you walk through the building. What really shocked me was the actual corner where Oswald was supposed to have fired the shots. It was so – ordinary. I realized, looking at the location, that certainly, someone could just – spit – or shoot – or throw a rock from there. The street with its small, shocking X in the road was just… there. Sometimes cars passed over it. It all seemed so quiet, so ordinary. It left me stumbling.
I had more questions than I came in with – so I bought a few books to read from the Sixth Floor gift shop. One was by Vincent Bugliosi. As I read about Oswald’s feelings of superiority, I was reminded of reading Bob Schieffer’s autobiography, in which he describes working as a newspaper man for the Fort Worth Telegram. Soon after news broke of the assassination, he received a call from Oswald’s mother, and ended up giving her a ride and getting an exclusive story. In these crazy moments, in which Oswald is charged with one death and suspected of killing the leader of the free world … Oswald’s mother is not as much concerned for her son’s welfare, but how other people will view her:
“She railed about how Oswald’s Russian-born wife would get sympathy while no one would ‘remember the mother’ and that she would probably starve.”
In short: a narcissist.
Bugliosi’s picture of Oswald is not so different.
Later that day, we tried out a diner not far from the Texas Theatre. Something else struck me in the pages of Bugliosi’s book as I munched – I love to read and eat – the number and street name of an address. We gassed up the car and checked the GPS. Strangely enough, we were kitty corner from the house where Oswald had roomed. Again – it was so ordinary. As we drove back, realizing that this neighborhood was the scene of another murder, it made me sad, realizing how Officer J.D. Tippit’s death is forgotten by most. A man who won a Bronze Star and jumped with an Airborne unit in World War II, leaving three kids at his passing, is treated like a footnote. What a shame.
Today? I am now part of that rapidly shrinking group, which believes Oswald acted alone. I wonder how many other people commemorating or exploring today’s anniversary will likewise change their minds.
On the anniversary of Nikola Tesla’s passing, it is our pleasure to present the world premiere “Tesla vs. the United States”, a new piece by Charles Moster, based on the life story of this fascinating and mysterious inventor. What do time travel, a death ray, the invention of radio and the FBI all have in common? Listen and find out!
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