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Final Thoughts on Nov. 22, 1963

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Before we leave the subject of the Kennedy assassination, I want to quote from a 1964 book called Dallas Public and Private, written by a onetime Morning News reporter turned corporate executive named Warren Leslie. The book provides a searching examination of Dallas during the weeks and months leading up to and following the assassination. Leslie has this to say of some of the city’s leaders:

“They have fought an emotional, predictable reaction, resulting from the death in Dallas of a young President, better loved, perhaps, than he knew. They have not faced up to more reflective criticism, which has posed questions such as:

* Why were there three murders in Dallas that weekend, instead of one? Weren’t two of these murders preventable?

*Why was Ambassador Adlai Stevenson struck and spat upon in Dallas? Why was Lyndon Johnson nearly mobbed?

*Why did Major General Walker, an ultraconservative, choose Dallas in which to live?

* Why did the Dallas News run a right-wing extremist advertisement on the day Kennedy arrived?

* Why do so many Dallas leaders keep saying, “It was not our fault. It could have happened anywhere. Dallas is a great city.”

* Is Dallas a part of the United States? Or is it some savage country of its own?”

Leslie answers that question by saying, “Dallas is indeed a part of the United States, but there are many, including a good many Texans, who believe that the city has become disturbed psychologically and confused morally, and that while such difficulties are scarcely unique in Dallas, they have been underlined there because of local factors which are unique.”

One such critic is Reese McGee, who was, at the time, the head of the sociology department at the University of Texas. Writing in The Nation shortly after the assassination, McGee said, “Barring the probability of Mississippi, in a doomed and fated way, it had to be Texas, and, in Texas, Dallas.”

McGee gave several reasons why Dallas was destined to be the place where something terrible happened. The reasons he stated were:

* The absolutist nature of local thought.

* The institutionalization of personalized violence.

* The proliferation of firearms and the habit of carrying them.

* The political respectability of the radical right, and the nonexistence, publicly of a radical left.

Robert E. Stolz, chairman of the department of psychology at Southern Methodist University, prepared a professional report on aspects of Dallas. He wrote that the current situation in Dallas could be described as follows:

A. There are elements in the city that encourage irresponsibility in the conduct of civic, political, and persona affairs. The best organized and most vocal are the extreme right-wing groups. This condition is by no means unique. It can be found throughout the country, but the influence of those groups is greater here than in most cities….”

B. Leadership of Dallas has given lip service to humane and moral values, but has shown that it values the physical and economic aspects of the community primarily. . . . A strong emphasis on materialism is evident in this community.

C. The lines of communication in the city are inadequate and the leadership is sharply stratified. We are developing a climate in which groups do not experience a mutual exchange of views. and situations where rational and reasonable evaluation of facts and hypothesis is impossible. The newspapers in our community have contributed heavily to this condition . . . .

D. Dallas today is frustrated. It would like to escape all blame and all its responsibilities . . . . But it finds that this is difficult. It would like to believe that these events could have happened anywhere, but it is having trouble convincing even itself.

* * * *

I know of no better source for a rational examination of Dallas and its civic agony in the wake of the assassination than Mr. Leslie’s book. Many critics of Dallas, then and to this day, take the position that a warped civic climate killed JFK. I do not subscribe to this theory. Lee Harvey Oswald did not kill the president because Dallas had a warped civic climate. He did so for reasons we can try to explain but will never fully understand.

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