Reuters/US National Archive
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner
Put simply, the United States has never fully recovered from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.
Kennedy, a populist-oriented, optimistic, intelligent, charismatic, young and energetic leader, had matured and evolved much in his first three years as president after successfully navigating a crisis that could have triggered nuclear war with Russia (then the Soviet Union), and he had positioned the United States in late 1963 to address the pressing domestic and international social issues in what his supporters -- the majority of Americans -- hoped would be his second term as president after re-election in 1964.
Further -- it cannot be underscored enough -- although he was a hawk on defense at the start of his presidency, Kennedy was rapidly moving toward peace and the easing of tensions between the U.S. and its Cold War rival, the Soviet Union, after the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis had nearly triggered a nuclear war between the superpowers.
In addition, in regard to Vietnam -- the U.S.’ other other Cold War flashpoint in the early 1960s -- although Kennedy had originally backed sending U.S. military advisors to aid South Vietnam's war against communist North Vietnam, the president clearly indicated he did not favor a U.S. war against Vietnam; at minimum, he did not favor a large escalation involving U.S. ground troops in the immediate year ahead.
Similarly, domestically, on the issue of U.S. civil rights, although Kennedy’s plan for social change was not quick enough for major civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Kennedy’s policies and program for change were far too fast for conservatives, including many of those in the Democratic Party.
In summary, then, as President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy traveled to Texas in late November 1963 on a political trip to shore up support from that key electoral state for the 1964 presidential election, the nation, despite still being in the throes of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, was looking forward to better economic and social conditions at home and a safer world in general in the years ahead in a second Kennedy term.
President Kennedy and the glamorous Jacqueline Kennedy brought a level of intellectual curiosity, sophistication, high culture, elegance, style and grace to the White House that had not been seen before in the modern era. They were both regal and everyday -- with their two grade-school children, Caroline and John Jr., despite the family’s patrician status, the first family symbolized the typical American family -- many of whom, as a result of the post-World War II baby boom, had two (or more) kids, just like the first family.
Into The Nightmare
Six seconds in Dallas changed all that.
The most important fact Americans -- and people around the world, for that matter -- need to know about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, is that 50 years on from the event we know everything about the attack, and yet we know nothing about the attack.
In other words -- in part due to more than 1,000 classified JFK assassination files that the Central Intelligence Agency continues to refuse to make public -- the nation still doesn’t know what really happened in Dealey Plaza on that ignominious day -- one of the most traumatic days in American history.
The scholar and assassination researcher Josiah Thompson, author of “Six Seconds In Dallas,” best summarized the status of the investigation into the worst murder in modern American history:
“A president of the United States is shot down, at high noon, in a public square, with some 400 or 500 people looking on, with maybe at least 38 of them taking film and photos, and now over 40 years later, uh, we don’t know what happened,” Thompson said in the 2007 documentary "Oswald's Ghost."
Of course, for supporters of the September 1964 Warren Commission report -- which said that on Nov. 22, 1963, at about 12:30 p.m. Central Time, Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots from behind the presidential motorcade on the sixth floor in the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) building using a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, as the presidential motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza, killing President Kennedy and injuring Texas Governor John Connally and one bystander, James Tague -- the issue has been resolved. Oswald worked in the TSBD. Oswald’s rifle was found on the sixth floor along with three spent cartridges from rifle shots. Oswald left the building immediately after the attack.
The aforementioned is hard evidence against Oswald, Warren Commission supporters argue. The problem is, save for an articulate minority, few Americans believed it in 1964, few do today, and there are dozens of substantive reasons to doubt the commission’s conclusion.
Collectively, they can be summarized thusly: By omission and commission, the Warren Commission botched the investigation into who killed President Kennedy.
Further, Oswald never got the chance to stand trial. That’s because two days after being charged with murdering the president and Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit -- whom authorities claim Oswald shot to death with a revolver while authorities were in pursuit of Oswald -- Dallas strip club/nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald, on Nov. 24, 1963, at 11:21 a.m. Central Time, as Oswald was being transferred by police from a Dallas police station cell to a nearby county jail.
The murder of Oswald was captured on live national television -- a day before President Kennedy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Moreover, one can not underscore the impact of Ruby’s murder of Oswald on the American public and the case. First, the American people had their popular, intelligent, charismatic, young, energetic president assassinated, then the accused assassin is murdered by an individual with a history of organized crime involvement on live TV? For many Americans and assassination researchers, Ruby’s act of murder looked like a classic rub-out of a loose end in a plot -- the silencing of Oswald to prevent him from talking about the conspiracy.
The Warren Commission disagreed, however, and as was the case with Oswald, whom the commission concluded acted alone, it concluded that Ruby also acted alone and murdered Oswald for personal reasons.
As noted, rather than close the JFK assassination case, the Warren Commission’s work and conclusions did just the opposite. Questions about the commission’s failure to interview some Dealey Plaza witnesses, and review the discrepancies between the Parkland Hospital physicians’ examination conclusions and the Bethesda [Maryland] Naval Hospital’s autopsy photos suggest to many a flawed investigation from the get-go. The commission also failed to investigate the destruction of vital forensic presidential limousine evidence, evaluate the Dallas Police Department’s interrogation of Oswald and other concerns, and it led most Americans, and many assassination researchers, to reject the Warren Commission’s conclusions as implausible, either in whole or in part, and argue that more than one person fired gunshots at President Kennedy that day in a plot/conspiracy.
Warren Commission: A Deeply Flawed Inquiry
What were the most egregious errors by the Warren Commission?
• Most of the physicians in the Parkland Hospital emergency room attending to President Kennedy described a large wound in the back of the president's head -- a wound consistent with a gunshot from the front.
• The wounds described in the Bethesda Naval Center autopsy differed substantially from the wounds described by Parkland Hospital physicians. Also, the blood, tissue and brain matter splattered on the presidential limousine -- a major piece of evidence -- was, incredibly, washed off the vehicle before crime investigators could properly examine the limousine.
• During the attack, 21 law enforcement officers and more than two dozen witnesses in Dealey Plaza thought at least one gunshot came from in front of the presidential motorcade.
• Oswald’s paraffin test indicated that “At best, the analysis shows that Oswald may have fired a pistol, although this is by no means certain. … There is no basis for concluding that he also fired a rifle.”
• Not a single witness who was not exposed to Oswald’s picture on a television news report was able to identify him as the man in the TSBD’s sixth floor east corner window with a rifle. In fact, not one witness spotted Oswald on the Sixth Floor of the TSBD at 12:30 p.m. Central Time.
• Victoria Adams worked in the TSBD and was on the back stairwell at the time the Warren Commission concluded Oswald walked down to exit the TSBD following the attack. Adams said that she and a co-worker descended the stairwell but did not see or hear anyone else descending the stairwell -- not Oswald -- not anyone. (The TSBD’s other stairwell did not go up to the sixth floor, so Oswald would have had to descend the same stairwell that Adams used to leave the building.)
• Ruby, fearing he could not get a fair trial in Texas, and also expressing concern over his life -- repeatedly asked Chief Justice Earl Warren, who headed the commission, to bring him to Washington, D.C., so he could testify in full. The Warren Commission refused to do so.
The commission ignored many anomalies, including the Parkland physicians who said they saw an exit wound in the back of Kennedy’s head; the 21 police officers who said a gunshot came from the front; Oswald’s paraffin test that demonstrated that he had not fired a rifle that day; the lack of witnesses to place Oswald on the sixth floor at 12:30 p.m. Central Time; Victoria Adams' failure to see anyone descend the stairwell from the sixth floor at 12:31-32 p.m. Central Time; Jack Ruby's inability to testify. Despite all of those anomalies and others, the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald, and only Oswald, fired shots in Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963. It also concluded that Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald two days later.
In short, the Warren Commission’s investigation was slipshod; some would call it a fiasco.
While there are many implausible theories regarding the attack in Dealey Plaza, the notion that only one person fired at the motorcades to rank among the least probable.
Then There’s The Matter Of Oswald Himself
The above anomalies are substantial, but perhaps the biggest anomaly is Lee Harvey Oswald himself, which brings us to the status of the Kennedy assassination investigation today.
In the initial months and years after the assassination, the accepted and widely circulated profile of Oswald was that of a “low-achievement, socially isolated, communist” or a “radical who sought a change in the economic order from capitalism to communism by violent means” or a “mentally unstable/crazy person,” or some combination thereof.
However, the documents obtained by historians, assassination researchers and other investigators indicates that Oswald was a much different person than the one initially portrayed after the assassination of President Kennedy.
Further, some of the recent, hard evidence on Oswald -- far from confirming a low-achievement individual -- reveals that he was a multi skilled person who had a number of extraordinary accomplishments. But while other hard evidence provides more clarity on various periods in Oswald’s life, much of the rest beg other questions.
The Status Of The Investigation
So where is the investigation today? Two researchers with the strongest arguments regarding what really happened on Nov. 22, 1963 are author/researcher Jefferson Morley, who is also the editor of JFKFacts.org, and lawyer/researcher Bill Simpich. The former is mounting the most substantive legal charge to obtain the truth -- or at least the full truth --about the assassination via the release of classfied documents; the latter has, arguably, the most compelling research regarding what superstructure surrounded the assassination and its aftermath.
Morley, a former writer for The Washington Post, has sought via his court case, Morley v. CIA, the release of 1,100 classified JFK assassination documents that are kept classified by the Central Intelligence Agency. One key file sought in the suit is that of former CIA Operations Officer George Joannides of Miami, now deceased, who guided and monitored the New Orleans chapter of an anti-Castro Cuban exile group, the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil (DRE), which Oswald had a series of encounters with in the summer of 1963, three months before Kennedy was murdered.
Later, in 1978, Joannides served as CIA liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, but he did not disclose this obvious conflict-of-interest to the HSCA about his role in the events of 1963. The CIA said Johannides’ file cannot be released at least until 2017, or perhaps never, due to national security reasons, but the agency has never presented an argument sufficient to convince the bulk of assassination researchers that the agency is refusing to release the records not for fear of harming U.S. interests, but because the information would reflect adversely on the agency, perhaps to such a degree that it would totally undermine public confidence in the agency.
Further, HSCA Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey said that had he known who Joannides was at that time, Joannides would have not continued as CIA liaison and instead would have become a witness who would have been interrogated under oath by the HSCA staff or by the committee.
What’s more, the classified files of CIA officer David Atlee Philips, who was involved in pre-assassination surveillance of Oswald; Birch D O’Neal, who as counter-intelligence head of the CIA opened a file on defector Oswald; E. Howard Hunt; William King Harvey; Anne Goodpasture; and David Sanchez Morales -- when made public, these files will also help the nation determine what really happened in Dallas, who Oswald was, and how the CIA treated and handled his file. But as with Joannides’ files, the CIA said these files must remain classified until at least 2017 or even longer, due to the needs U.S. national security. But it has been 50 years since the assassination of President Kennedy, assassination researchers retort. What event or act that occurred 50 years ago could possibly be in these files that could hurt U.S. national security?
Meanwhile, lawyer/researcher Bill Simpich may have the strongest argument for what set the assassination in motion, including key events leading up to and including its immediate aftermath.
A remarkable researcher, Simpich documents with meticulous detail how top CIA and FBI officials in Mexico City were paying close attention to a man named Lee Oswald in October 1963. They had suspected someone had impersonated him, and they tried to discover who was responsible. Simpich presents a very strong argument about why someone impersonated Oswald seven weeks prior to the assassination of President Kennedy.
Of course, you what you choose to believe about Simpich's conclusion is up to you, but consider this: Any strong theory regarding what occurred on Nov. 22, 1963 has to be documented -- based on the record -- and consistent with the known facts in the case. And, debatably, no researcher has documented an argument in such granular detail and with such meticulous study of the public record than Simpich.
Today’s Generation Isn’t That Interested
It doesn’t take a major national poll or a healthy sampling of Facebook comments to know that today’s generation isn’t much interested in the Kennedy assassination, or in probing for why he died and why he mattered. Assassination researcher Bill Kelly profoundly and aptly described the current generation’s stance and why it’s not the correct one:
“The current generation isn’t interested in the Kennedy assassination. But the CIA still is.”
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a popular, public interest-based leader who was becoming very liberal by the third year of his presidency: he was moving toward a withdrawal from Vietnam; he wanted to eliminate organized crime; he favored détente with the Soviet Union; he was trying to normalize relations with Cuba; he was beginning to see that a greater effort to end racial discrimination had to be made; and, above all, he wanted to check the power of the national security state apparatus, starting with the dismantling of the Central Intelligence Agency.
For the above reasons, there were public officials -- particularly in the Central Intelligence Agency -- who detested him. But did that animosity prompt some to consider assassination? There's not enough hard evidence to incontrovertibly conclude that, but given how the president's records are still kept classified, it's premature to rule out a plot/conspiracy. This extreme right wing element -- who were far from any overt "takeover of the U.S. government by a shadow government" (that’s the stuff of a Hollywood) -- knew that the balance of power in the United States, the balance of institutions, would be in their favor if Kennedy was removed.
Many Americans -- and pundits, for that matter -- assert that the decline in U.S. public confidence in government occurred with the Vietnam War, Watergate scandal, or the red/blue state divide. Not true. The pronounced decline in public confidence in the U.S. government started with the assassination of Kennedy.
The United States has never fully recovered from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. And it won’t until the American people learn the truth -- or at least the full truth -- regarding what happened in Dallas on that day.