Friday, November 22, 2013

11/22/13 (#634.)

For just this once, I'm going to play it straight, go with the historical record as it currently stands:

The conspiracy theorists are wrong.  Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.  He was the lone gunman.  He assassinated John Fitzgerald Kennedy fifty years ago today in Dallas, Texas.

Earlier this year, I read Stephen King's work of fiction, 11/22/63, which tracks one man's extraordinary chance to change history when he discovers a portal to the past, which deposits him just a few years before the assassination.  With the help of notes made by his predecessor, the man tracks Oswald's whole course.  It's fascinating reading.  King even goes so far as to suggest the most obvious way a conspiracy might have happened, but still ends up playing it straight, backing away from any real suggestion that it was anything but Oswald's idea.  I would suggest that if you read any one book about it this year, this would be it.

The thing about the book is that it sort of demonstrates an eerie, fearful symmetry in the course of Oswald's life.  Anyone who knows much about JFK's life should know how much of a prime motivator his father was in his decision to enter politics.  If you're not being generous, you could say Joseph Kennedy harassed and bullied his son into public service.  And as King depicts it, it was all but exactly the same for Oswald and his overbearing mother.

I would not go so far as to say Oswald was a monster.  A horribly misguided idealist, yes, but not a monster.  And a guy who was hounded all his life, maybe that above all else.  He was swept up in the Cold War era, certainly.  He went the full Communist.  He became a zealot.  He even petitioned for citizenship in the U.S.S.R. after serving in the U.S. military.  He took up the Cuba cause.  You have the Communist, Soviet, and Cuban connections the conspirarists are always looking for fit snugly in the one figure of Lee Harvey Oswald.

I think he managed to look as innocent as he did, gave all the fuel to the belief that he couldn't have acted alone, or perhaps wasn't guilty at all, because essentially he was the opposite of Kennedy in about every way.  He was a guy who tried to do what he felt was right.  He might have been wrong in every way, but he made every effort he could.

Even the day of his lasting infamy, the hand of fate seemed to be guiding him.  The conspirarists insist that the shots as recorded could not have been achieved by a single shooter.  There is still other testimony that he could have at least gotten off all the necessary shots in the allotted amount of time.  Let's keep the argument.  Suppose he pulled off the impossible.  Every other thing he tried Oswald was basically a failure.  But put him in the cross-hairs of history, and somehow he pulled it off.  He had to.  This was his moment.  He succeeded in getting his message across.  He struck a blow for all his most cherished beliefs.

Now, to be clear, I'm not condoning or exonerating Oswald.  I contend that the course of American history shifted for the worse that day.  Kennedy remains an idol of mine, flaws and all.  He was perhaps the last truly great citizen we've had.

I'm just saying, maybe today we can put some of those old ideas we've been entertaining for fifty years to rest.  Lee Harvey Oswald was a very small man.  In his head he was much bigger.  But the truth was he just wasn't.  He never seemed big enough, important enough to have done the deed.  But in the fearful symmetry, it's there.  Perhaps because he didn't seem big enough is the only reason you need to accept that he did do it.  Fates collided that day, an awful mark of destiny.

History may not soon forget either man.  In fact, I think we're only starting to know both of them.

Rest in peace, Jack.


Stephanie said...

I read Stephen King's book earlier this year, too, and it's definitely been on my mind today. Excellent post, Tony.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I've never heard of this book, but it sounds like a thoughtful exploration of the killer's life. He's not a monster to me, but he did a monstrous thing. Great review Tony.

Mark Koopmans said...


I read - and enjoyed 11/22/63, too and thought King did a great job telling the story the way he did.

I had the chance to visit Dealey Plaza in 1996 and was *amazed* to see the original white picket fence was still there...

Be interesting to see how history records it all in 2063...

Spacerguy said...

The seized man Oswald said "Well, Its all over now" Apparently he defected to Russia once, so this was bad news. Jack Kennedy had the will power to survive for 25 minutes after being shot. He was remarkable, the world lost a true champion and a dynamic inspirational "leader of the west."

Pat Dilloway said...

The book was on sale on Amazon today but no Text to Speech means no me buying it.

I'd have to agree with Pagel that we only think he's great because he died so young. If he'd served two terms people would have seen he had feet of clay, just like Obama now. Him and Lincoln became far bigger in death than they would have ended up had they lived.

Now really how come we don't eulogize those other assassinated presidents like Garfield or McKinley? Though actually Garfield was probably killed by his bumbling doctors rather than the assassin. Still, why not show them some love?

Tony Laplume said...

Stephanie, thanks!

Maurice, it's fascinating in a lot of ways, but that may be the best part of it.

Mark, I want to see Dealey Plaza myself some day. And yeah, what we're saying at the hundredth anniversary, I hope I'm there for it...The funny thing is, fifty years ago in a little less than two years was the hundredth anniversary of Lincoln's. And obviously we're still obsessed with him as well.

Spacerguy, unfortunately like Lincoln the part of Kennedy that held on wasn't really him anymore.

Pat, I disagree. Lincoln wasn't popualr because his politics were ahead of his time. By the time he died, and certainly because his war concluded before then, people started turning around. Kennedy was an especially sharp mind. Sure, he screwed up the Bay of Pigs, but the Cuban Missile Crisis was a moment of shear political genius. Heck of a thing to actually experience, I'm sure, but I'm convinced no president before or since would have been able to pull that off. And he set the course for an entire decade, with initiatives two succeeding presidents saw accomplished. It's highly doubtful that the results would have been any different had he lived. If he ? They would be a part of his legacy, undoubtedly, and then I don't think you or your friend would even think of hedging over him. And that's not even to say how Vietnam would have played out with him alive.

As for Garfield and McKinley, they probably would have had to have done something, anything, notable. Aside from having the last name Garfield, and being assassinated on a train (no offense, but that ranks as the coolest of them, easily), the former doesn't seem to have left a legacy. He was done in by an anarchist. McKinley? I have no idea. And that says everything.

Tony Laplume said...

Okay, I did some research. McKinley was assassinated by the anarchist (and succeeded by his vice president, the cowboy Ted Roosevelt!), Garfield by a disgruntled ex-federal employee (and succeeded by Chester A. Arthur!). Garfield was president for four months, 200 days, spent a long time dying after being shot. And examining his presidency again, I'm convinced this guy is another treasure of the office, and a lost one in more ways than one, at that.


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