Now, just assume for a moment that it's a given that JFK's assassination was a matter of conspiracy, that Lee Harvey Oswald was not after all a lone gunman.
As Brad Meltzer writes in Identity Crisis, who benefits? This will not be an in-depth discussion, because I don't have the patience for something like that. Like most of what I write, it'll be a meditation.
I have a peculiar sympathy for men like Oswald, even Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibal serial killer caught when I was in middle school. He had such a placid look on his face. Clearly a fucked up individual. I don't have sympathy because I want to be them, but because I can identify with them as someone who hasn't had the best luck integrating myself into the rest of society. Aside from what Dahmer did, what else can you say about him? I've never subscribed to the belief that monsters are anything else than the casual everyday variety who affect lives more blatantly and subtly than Dahmer or Oswald ever could. Think whatever you want to about Dahmer, or Oswald. Oswald had a terrible upbringing, and it stunted his emotional development. Yeah he probably had a lot to do with the assassination. But who benefits?
In the 1990s it became increasingly likely that the media would report and feed on the emerging cult of personality, the fifteen minutes of fame at any cost that Andy Warhol told us about, Warhol another eccentric who could just as easily as Chuck Barris have been moonlighting as a CIA assassin. I mean, if you believe they put a man on the moon, right? We question everything these days. I was reading conspiracy theories about the Boston bombings within days of the marathon.
With Kennedy taken out the picture, who benefits? The whole goddam world, if you'll pardon my language, but mostly two countries full of cold warriors. Is it really so much of a stretch that two governments exchanged ideas about how to proceed after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis? So much of what the Soviet Union did was a giant bluff, but in those days, when they were beating Americans in the Space Race, who the hell was going to believe that the nuclear clock wasn't ticking? Alan Moore wrote a whole comic book at the very end of the cold war, Watchmen, that dealt with the nuclear clock as if it still mattered. Probably because of all those nuclear reactors that were having all those problems at the time. But that was it, really, wasn't it? In Star Trek, the Soviet parallels in the Klingon Empire were revealed to be at the end of their rope, too, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In the end, one half of the whole conflict simply couldn't be sustained.
And so that leaves the guy who was willing to go punch for punch, bravado for bravado, who just so happened to be taken out just before Vietnam, a war that went nowhere and was the only fighting that ever really broke out. If this were 1812, the English would have been fighting the Americans as well as the French. But after WWII, that was never going to happen again. After Hiroshima, never again.
But the governments wanted to make sure. It's not so hard to imagine. We take our hothead off the table, you take yours. Khrushchev was removed from power not so long after 11/22/63. I'm not following any specific conspiracy theories, here. Who benefits? The whole goddam world. That's what someone decided, and then agreements would have been met. Kennedy was one of the best pure politicians anyone ever saw. His father made sure of it. He became one because he couldn't help it, like a regular Manchurian candidate. Clinton repeated this mold, out of sheer force of will, decades later. Read all about it in Primary Colors. Everything else he copied from Kennedy, he didn't have the actual ability. He certainly didn't have Bobby. Hillary, I know Bobby Kennedy, and you're no Bobby Kennedy.
Kennedy's legacy eventually boiled down to two elements: the assassination and Camelot, which was eventually exposed, and continues to be exposed, by all the affairs he carried on while he was in office. And yet this is all a smokescreen. He was the best damn president this country could have ever hoped for. He pushed for the space program not out of personal conviction, but out of canny necessity. That's what you need to remember. He faced down two of the biggest crises of the twentieth century without military incident. How many other presidents do you know who did that?
And yet everyone feared that he would do the unthinkable and unleash the bomb, just because he might be forced into it, back up his words.
In my experience, it's not the good guys who do that sort of thing. In my experience, it's the bad guys trying to prevent the good guys from doing it. It wasn't Roosevelt who dropped the bombs, it was Truman, who considered it a tactical necessity. Truman was a soldier. So was Kennedy. But what do people remember about Kennedy's service? Oh yeah, going out of his way to save lives, not take them. What did he do as president? Go out of his way to save lives. He was a Berliner, remember? He talked better than anyone else, but he wasn't just talk, and he wasn't someone who would talk himself into a corner. He'd talk himself out of it. Hell would freeze over before John F. Kennedy failed his country, or the world.
Yet there were plenty of people who convinced themselves otherwise. He simply wasn't as popular as you might sometimes be led to believe. He was elected against Nixon, and it's said television made the difference. Not his big ideas or idealism, but his good looks. Well, bully on that. Nixon came back a decade later and became president after all, and then won a landslide reelection. It was Vietnam that was the legacy of the years that followed Kennedy's assassination, and what dogged even Nixon. No one was safe. Johnson carried out all of Kennedy's programs, and we reached the moon.
And we stopped talking about the Soviets. Really, go and look. In fact, after Vietnam we all started worrying about the Middle East. I mean, immediately after! And it was another quagmire, not right away. Even Vietnam wasn't a quagmire initially. That was something the French and Eisenhower worried about well before Kennedy. And yet the quagmire of Vietnam didn't start until after the assassination.
I'm saying the whole world benefited because we were all allowed to forget about the nuclear clock. We didn't even notice when it stopped being relevant. In Moore's Watchmen, Nixon is still president. Nixon became a pariah. In fact, everything became a pariah after Kennedy's assassination. If you believe the record, Kennedy himself became a pariah. Just as he was all along, for some people.
I'm not saying any of this is true, that a conspiracy in fact did exist, two countries deciding to take their troublesome chiefs off the table in whatever form such a move ended up taking (there's just some much monkeying around in the Kennedy affair, that if Oswald didn't have help before his death he certainly did after it, if only to apparently obscure and possibly cover up what perhaps only didn't happen but was considered...see how complicated all of this is?). What I'm saying is...Kennedy's assassination had one lasting effect, and it was that from that point onward, we started seeing shadows everywhere, and not just saw but created them. Woodward and Bernstein are still considered heroes for helping take down Nixon, that dastardly plotter (and Watergate was all about...stealing campaign secrets). Vietnam was a terrible awful thing, but it was also not nearly as bad as the reaction it provoked at home. Iraq and Afghanistan, the same but thankfully not as bad. We're still working on the level of our collective idiocy. (By the way, we put Saddam there. And then we took him out. The real problem is and always has been Muslim insecurity.) Clinton is hailed as a hero despite being a perfectly miserable typical politician. Gore is hailed as a martyr even though it's plain to see he never wanted to be president in the first place. (Figure it out.) And Bush is, well, a pariah. We use the smokescreen of oil to justify our hatred of him. And of course everyone who makes that complaint still drives their vehicles each and every day. Never mind the hypocrisy behind the curtain, Dorothy.
Oswald considered Cuba to be the model of utopia. He really did. He thought Castro was a great man. Me, I'll always side with another fallen hero, Che. And why not? Oswald defected to the Soviet Union, and then came back when he realized Marxism and communism were not the same thing. Today we talk about capitalism and socialists, but it's the same thing, always the same thing. I tell you, Billy Joel had it right. We didn't start the fire. Jefferson was elected president on the grounds that he wasn't John Adams. And Jackson was elected on the grounds that he wasn't Quincy. I tell you, these things don't always work out the way we think they will. Without Jackson, I'm convinced civil war might have been ultimately averted. Maybe even without Jefferson. I wonder how much the Louisiana Purchase affected the course toward 1812. Who's to say how these things work? Menelaus lost Helen, and Agamemnon declared war on Ilium. Then again, he might have been preparing to do that anyway.
All I'm really asking is that maybe we let cooler heads prevail every now and again. Stop discussing events with histrionics. That's the kind of thought that would actually convince someone that Kennedy was a bad president. He wasn't. He was the last of the greats. And we've all been trying to argue ever since that one party or another has been his successor. Funny thing is, Lincoln was a Republican. Kennedy was a Democrat. And yet they were after the same goals. The entire Union was scared shitless during the whole Civil War. If it hadn't won, we'd consider Lincoln a regular Kennedy today. And yet that's my point. Kennedy was a regular Lincoln, and Lincoln was a regular Kennedy. You need to look beyond the rhetoric. That's what damned Kennedy. And that's what's been damning us ever since.